Whenever I do any type of formal bird survey, I make sure to record not only the route I take and the time I'm in the field, but also the approximate distance I travel. This information is required for participants on Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs), because measures of effort are needed in order to do any sort of data analyses.
A GPS unit is obviously the tool of choice for acquiring this information, and they are relatively inexpensive and ubiquitous these days. Still, it's my experience that the majority of people just guess at how far they have traveled on foot during a CBC. I consider myself a pretty educated guesser, but once I started using a GPS, I was surprised at how inaccurate my estimates were.
I've found a cool new tool that many people might find fun to use and encourage them to keep more accurate bird survey data -- EveryTrail. It can be used with a GPS unit, but I use it with the free mobile app for my Blackberry (there are apps for iPhones, Androids, and devices running Windows Mobile, too). It provides the usual route tracking, including time, distance, and speed, with pause and resume tracking if needed. The coolest aspect is the route sharing.
When I'm done with a survey, I can save my trip and upload it to the EveryTrail web site right from my phone. It will appear on the site under "My Trips," on a Google Maps map. I can make the trip private, or offer it to the public to be added to the tens of thousands of other routes around the world on the site. Best of all, I can take photos along my route which will automatically be pinned to correct points along the route. More on that in a bit.
Here is an example of my typical route for RRBO's annual Winter Bird Population Survey. The default view for embedded routes like this is either really basic, or a "statistics" view which will require you to click the "x" in the upper right to clear the graph for a full view of the route. It's a better experience to view the trip at the EveryTrail web site.
My default view is the "statistics" mode. The graph will show speed and elevation and there will be a blue ball that travels the route in the direction and relative speed at which it was created. While still in the statistics mode, an "info" link will give distance, speed, time, etc. If photos were taken, they can be viewed in order, with each photo pinned to the correct place on the route, in "slideshow" mode. Modes are changed by placing your cursor over the map, exposing icons along the lower right corner.
It was a gray day when I did the survey above, so I didn't take any pictures. My Blackberry takes pretty high-resolution photos, so I have found that the files are so large that they take too long to upload through the phone. I just cancel the upload after the route is sent but before the app tries to send photos. Later, I transfer photos from my phone to my computer, make any edits, and transfer them to the trip on EveryTrail. Because they are geo-tagged, they all go to the right spots on the route automatically. You can add captions and descriptions as well.
There are some quirks to the app, but overall I'm pretty pleased with it, especially since the price is right! At least with my Blackberry, the route appears accurate and without gaps even when the phone is buried in a pocket. This weekend, I'll use the app on the Rockwood CBC and post the results.
Give EveryTrail a try, and please post your thoughts and experiences in the comments!