Space: Where was the bird seen? There is a lot of room for tradeoffs here. Ultimately it would be a fine thing to have a GIS (Geographic Information System), with its highly flexible mechanism for representing points and larger areas in space.
Setting up a GIS takes a lot of time and effort. What we need for a first approximation is a less formal system that will not create too many problems if the geography is formalized more in the future.
For this system, we'll represent locality as three levels:
The region code is the code for the state or province. This code will be the U.S. postal code for U.S. states (e.g., NM for New Mexico). We won't worry about countries yet (since the author has done no birding abroad), but it should be straightforward to add region codes for foreign countries, and infer the nationality from the region code.
The location name is a single string describing the location within the region. It may be very broad (e.g., “Roosevelt Co.” for an entire county) or more specific (the name of a town).
A good way to add more flexibility to location names is to use an informal but hierarchical structure, enumerating a series of areas from larger to smaller, separated by colons. Example: “Bosque del Apache: Headquarters”. Three or more levels might be used.
Sometimes you need to describe the locality very precisely. For this situation, we'll allow an optional location detail level, consisting of unstructured English text as needed. For example, “In the northeast corner there are some rusted oil drums that have standing water on them from the recent rains. The birds were coming in here to drink.”
The region code is required, because both scientific and recreational consumers of the data need to know in what state the bird occurred. The location name will do most of the rest of the work for most of the cases, with location detail being added where necessary.
Because location names can be rather lengthy, we resort
to a formalized shorthand code for the location names
used within a single day's records. This
location code is used to save
typing in the bulk of records. For example, for the
location name “Bosque del Apache NWR” we
could use the code
codes must start with a letter and may contain only
letters, digits, hyphen (“-”), and underbar
Coordinates obtained from a Geographical Positioning System (GPS) are extremely useful in nailing down the exact locality of bird sightings, road junctions, and such.
In order to represent GPS coordinates precisely with a minimum of fuss, we use an encoding system for waypoints discussed fully in A Python mapping package.
Here's an excerpt from that document that describes what we call flexible angle format:
Numbers with 1, 2 or 3 digits are assumed to be in
degrees. For example,
34” is assumed
to be 34°, and
Numbers with 4 or 5 digits are assumed to be in the
DDD is degrees and
MM is minutes. So, for
3456 means 34°
Numbers with 6 or 7 digits are assumed to have be
SS is seconds.
34° 16' 38", and
1075301 means 107° 53'
A trailing decimal point and fraction are always
allowed. The fraction is assumed to be in the same
units as the smallest unit to the left of the
decimal point. For example,
interpreted as 34° 01.57'.
The syntax of a waypoint is:
That is, start with the latitude using the flexible
angle format described above, followed by
for north or south latitude, followed (optionally) by
whitespace, followed by the longitude in flexible angle
w for east or west longitude.
Here are some examples:
|51°30' S. Lat., 0°7' E. Long.|
|34° N. Lat., 107° W. Long.|
|34.0242° N. Lat., 107.1811° W. Lat.|