Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about using a drone for wildlife population estimates. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.
I am trying to do population estimates in the Texas Hill Country. I am mainly looking at white-tailed deer but would also like to look at smaller, horned lizards, which are a species of concern to our Texas Parks and Wildlife. Could you give me an idea of a drone that will do autonomous flights and record infrared images?
What an excellent use of a drone! Coupling a drone with an infrared camera has been a useful trend in wildlife industries, not just for doing population estimates but also cases like spotting poachers and hog hunting, which is an effort to stop invasive species.
Since I’m no expert in drones for population estimates, I reached out to Jeff Jackson, the senior Wildlife Enforcement Officer with the Nisqually Indian Tribe in western Washington State. He operates an Inspire 1, Version 2.0 with the Zenmuse X3, Zenmuse Z3, and FLIR cameras onboard, and his specific experience with drones is doing pinniped surveys regarding the depredation of salmon in the south Puget Sound.
The first thing to note is that executing this task as far as deer goes is going to be very different than the approach you’ll need to take when estimating lizard populations. (And fair warning: estimating populations for a very tiny animal, like a lizard, is going to be much harder.)
“Deer are a nice large target with a body temperature that usually contrasts well with it’s surroundings,” Jackson said. “Early morning, or cool day missions are best for thermal difference between the background and the target animal. These targets can be hard to get during daylight hours with just a visual camera but the FLIR really makes them pop out with a good temperature difference.”
But as far as the lizards? You’re going to run into some trouble not only because of their small size, but also their body temperature.
“The lizards — a cold blooded animal whose temperature is going to be close to ambient air temp with low variation — are going to be his hard target,” Jackson said.
Drone gear you need for doing population estimates
The Inspire line
The Matrice line
- Definitely spring for a second (or third or fourth or fifth) battery to extend your air time, since the Inspire 1 only provides about 18 minutes of air time on its own. (Jackson personally has eight batteries!)
- Consider a drone with dual remotes, so one of you can focus on just flying, while another person on your team can act as a camera operator, concentrating on getting the pictures and wildlife counts.
- Consider getting a zoom camera for your drone. That gives you the ability to zoom in visually for a count while not affecting the animals, who otherwise may be scared of due to the sound from the drone.