December through early March is Winter Raptor Survey (WRS) season. HMANA has recently revised our WRS guidelines to simplify recording and insure that collected data are scientifically useful for analysis. Find detailed description of WRS, recording suggestions, and the full protocol and recording forms at http://www.hmana.org/winter-raptor-survey/ .
It is easy to get started. First, prospect for a good survey area. Choose a vehicle route of 10 to 100 miles in good, open, raptor habitat which you will be able to repeat two or three times during the winter. Then, create a map of your route. (see the webpage above for more details of creating a .kmz file on Google Earth).
We recommend a survey party of at least two people, at least one of whom should be experienced in raptor identification. Each observation is recorded on a paper form based upon a GPS coordinates referenced location with the distance from road noted. Besides location and species information, optional details of sex, color phase, subspecies, behavior and age may be noted. Most essential metadata, including coordinates will be available from simple apps on your smart phone.
After your day in the field, record your data in the Winter Raptor Survey data base in a procedure similar to that used on HawkCount.
We expect the most useful data from the WRS will result from repeated observations through the winter and in successive winters for the same route. As with HawkCount and the Raptor Population Index analysis for seasonal monitoring site count data, the more individual routes and the greater the number of successive years of data, the more useful the information we can derive about changes and patterns in winter raptor populations. This is a good year to start your survey!