In this post, I will attempt to give a brief overview of some common methods of recording data and provide some tips for the method that has worked best for myself.
GPS (global positioning system) units come in many shapes and sizes, the most common of which are small hand-held units, such as the Garmin eTrex, and vehicle navigation units, such as the Garmin Nuvi. I personally prefer Garmin products for the best results and user-friendly interfaces, although Magellan is another popular brand. I won't go into all the pros and cons of the two brands, there are plenty of reviews on the internet for that! If you really want to study the nitty-gritty details, this is a good place to start: http://www.gpsinformation.org/dale/mvsg.htm
A serious lepidopterist needs to record detailed location information for any butterfly records, therefore a GPS device is essential. While I used three different GPS units through my early years of records-keeping, I have now switched over to the following system because 1) it is combined with my phone, so I don't have to carry extra equipment, and 2) I find it easier to use and more flexible.
Avenza PDF Maps
Avenza is a free app for Apple and Android devices. It uses the built-in GPS in your smart phone to tell you if you are on a particular map, and allows you to add waypoints and track a path (hiking, biking, etc.) similar to a standard hand-held GPS unit. This app came out a few years ago and has been rapidly gaining in popularity. Many companies are now using it to collect data because it is so easy to use, reduces the equipment (everyone has a phone, now they don't also need a GPS unit), and allows them to use custom company maps. Avenza has a map store where you can purchase standard maps (on Apple devices, it is linked through your iTunes purchase account). They are constantly adding new maps and have a wide range of options, anywhere from historic maps to standard road maps, National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps (my personal favorites!) and other recreation maps. Some maps are free, but most range from around $2 to $15 and are comparable to or slightly cheaper than paper versions.
Because I am a GIS analyst by profession, I am able to make my own custom maps in ArcMap (ESRI software) and upload them to the Avenza app on my phone. However, I primarily use the National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps purchased through the Avenza store. They have proved to be the most accurate for trails here in Washington and I like the cartographic style (symbols and colors). The specific maps I have purchased are:
821::Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
822::Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams
825::Alpine Lakes Wilderness
It appears their 810-series are Oregon maps and 820-series are Washington. Most of these maps are currently $12 and include both sides of the paper version of these maps (i.e. the purchase will download two PDF maps).
Another series I find useful are the Benchmark Recreation Maps. They are a single map of an entire state, exactly the same as you find in the front of Benchmark Atlases. Avenza doesn't offer them for all 50 states yet, but most of the western states, including Oregon and Washington, are available for only $5 each! While they lack the detail you'll see in the trails maps, if you are in an area you're very familiar with or otherwise don't need to see any of the details, they are very useful as a cheap alternative for simply allowing you to save waypoints to the map to store the same information you would on the detailed maps. I used these Benchmark maps for all the states I visited during my two week road trip this summer (the LepSoc conference I blogged about). They worked great because 1) I wasn't always sure which location I'd be catching butterflies in, so a statewide map covered my bases, 2) it was cheaper than buying detailed PDF maps of everything, and 3) I still like to be old-school and use paper maps (mostly state gazetteers/atlases) for general navigation and trip planning. So, I planned out the general route using my road atlases (yes, I brought a book bag full of them!), entered the general route into my Garmin Nuvi GPS for turn-by-turn navigation, then saved placemarks in Avenza whenever I stopped, both to mark the coordinates and easily enter notes about the butterfly species I saw, all of which I transferred to my notebook each evening for easy reference and as a backup.
I strongly encourage everyone to try out this app, it may not be for you, but it is certainly worth trying if you are looking for a simple and easy way to record information when you're out and about in the woods!
|Avenza app - views 1 and 2|
|Avenza app - views 3 and 4|
If you click on the arrow in the bottom left corner of the screen, it will turn blue and the map will center on your current location if you are within the extent of the map, otherwise it will say "not on map".
|Avenza app - views 5 and 6|
|Avenza app - views 7 and 8|
View 8 shows some of the options available in the map (click on the wrench button in the bottom right corner of the screen in the map view to get here). The measure tool allows you to measure distances or areas on the map by hand. If you wish to track your movements during a hike or bike ride, use the Record GPS Tracks tool. It will record information even if you close the app. This tool needs to have a clear GPS signal, so I recommend keeping your phone in a shirt pocket or outside pocket of your backpack. I covered it up too much one time and it kept losing the signal, so the final track had lots of sharp zigzags and said I traveled twice as far as I actually did!
|Avenza app - views 9 and 10|
View 9 shows several layers that are within a single map. In views 5 and 6, if you click on the symbol on the bottom right that looks like a pin with three lines next to it, it will take you to this view. As you can see here, I've grouped the placemarks (pins) by year to help separate different trips to the same area. It also shows one layer, the "Lost Creek Old Growth", which is a polygon feature I exported from ArcMap and brought into Avenza for a hiking trip. The two buttons on the bottom right are the import (left) and export (right) options. When you click on the export button, you'll see something like view 10. You can choose to email a KML file (as shown) or pick a different option and format. If you choose the email option, once you click Export (top right of screen), it will open an email window where you can enter a recipient (I usually send to myself) and it will automatically attach the KML file. You can then open the file in Google Earth on any computer to view your points! It usually keeps the same point color and style as seen on the maps, and you can click on them in Google Earth to view the data (same info as in view 7), including any photos that you may have added.
The KML files are also easy to bring into ArcMap using a conversion tool.
Overall, Avenza is very easy to use but takes a little bit of exploring to figure out where all the options are. They do have a "Getting Started" map that tells you what most of the buttons do, but I learned more just by playing around with everything. It's almost impossible to mess up anything, so just explore and experiment. Go to their website for more information: https://www.avenzamaps.com/maps/features.html
In summary, these are my recommendations...
Save good butterfly locations using a vehicle navigation GPS (eg. Garmin Nuvi) and Avenza.
When I'm driving around in the mountains and find a particularly good butterfly spot in an area I'm unfamiliar with, I'll save the location in my Garmin Nuvi so that I can navigate directly to it in the future. If I collect any butterflies in that spot, I'll also save a waypoint in Avenza so I have the date, time and lat/long coordinates for future reference.
Navigate to butterfly locations using a vehicle navigation GPS.
You'll need a GPS unit that provides turn-by-turn navigation. A smart phone may substitute for this, but it is usually hard to find a particular location in the mountains on your phone.
Record butterfly data in Avenza PDF maps.
Allows you to save waypoints that include lat/long coordinates, date and time, along with any photos you might take with your smart phone, and is very easy to enter additional notes. Also will record hiking tracks with approximate length and elevation changes. Is easy to export all points and tracks as a KML file that can be opened in Google Earth or converted to a shapefile for use in ArcMap (GIS software).