Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Eric the Belgian crisp-loving gull gets mapped in CartodB

Peter Desmet's temporal map of Eric's movements

I'd already had a brief look at CartodB to make my Shiants seabird map and intend to explore it in more detail shortly, but in the meantime, here's some fabulous examples of its use by researchers in Belgium who've been looking into foraging patterns of gulls since last year. "Eric" the Lesser Black Backed Gull was fitted with a GPS tracker and his movements tracked during the breeding season. In this post Peter Desmet - one of the researchers from LifewatchINBO - experiments with the data collected from Eric's tracker.

The birds: Eric's movements indicate he changed his foraging behaviour as the breeding season progressed, with him spending the incubation period feeding inland on agricultural land as well as on "discarded potato chips unfit for human consumption" in a container in Moeskroen 65km away from his nest in Zeebrugge, and moving to foraging at sea when his chicks were needing to be fed a higher energy diet.

The project is continuing with many more Lesser Black Backed Gulls as well as Herring Gulls now being monitored. All their movements can be viewed now - and you can see how some individuals appear to favour foraging at sea whilst others far prefer to do all their foraging inland, with Moeskroen and its free reject crisps being a favourite hangout.

The maps: Peter Desmet has not only shown how he created 'routes' showing Eric's flight patterns, but he also made use of CartodB's temporal mapping functionality to show an animation of Eric's movement over a period of two months. I like the choice of background colour too to highlight the data being showcased rather than the map.

I didn't think I had any tracking data to play with but Peter's even kindly uploaded this data dedicated to the public domain, so no excuse! I do have some ideas of how I could try some temporal maps using data such as nesting dates for nest boxes, plus the cluster maps look pretty straightforward. I'm looking forward to trying out CartodB myself!


  1. Hi Liz,

    Thanks for the nice write-up! I thought you might be interested to know that we have just released all our gull tracking data from the 2013 breeding season (from 27 gulls) as open data:



    PS: Out of curiosity, how did you discover Eric?

    1. Hi Peter, brilliant - I shall have a look! That's great this is being made open. I actually discovered Eric when investigating Cartodb - it was listed as a sample map on one of their example galleries.
      Did you see the BTO released an article on their Demog blog last week about similar tracking work currently being carried out in Wales? It was just coincidence that I found your map the day before! Looks like the Welsh Lesser Black Backed Gulls are following similar patterns to the Belgian gulls regarding foraging locations changing during the breeding season.
      Cheers, Liz

    2. Thanks for the link to BTO: they use the same trackers. Will pass this to our researchers.