Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) Flight Testing

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The objective of this task is to test the capabilities of the Raven (A) onboard cameras to determine if it is a useful and effective tool to inventory various flora and fauna important to USGS partners and collaborators. In the first application of the Raven system to a natural resource management need, the USGS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are comparing the sUAS video imagery with simultaneously collected data from ground-based counts to estimate the population of sandhill cranes migrating through Colorado’s San Luis Valley. Cranes are large, upright birds (up to 4 ft tall) that migrate through the refuge in early spring. The birds can be counted while aggregated in this important “staging area” on their migratory route. This initial work seeks to determine (1) to what extent vehicle noise affects the birds at various altitudes above ground; (2) whether the birds can be seen well enough to count from different altitudes; (3) how views compare between the two camera types (color and infrared) used on the sUAS; and (4) how closely the sUAS aerial counts align with those conducted by observers on the ground. Over the course of this and several other planned studies, scientists will identify which types of field applications will benefit most from using the Raven A, what species can be detected with the cameras, and the efficacy of this method for aerial surveying in different environments.