Miles van Blarcum

Badgers, Barns, and Boats: How Lens Supports Field Monitoring

Key change

Field visits always keep you on your toes. In my time as a steward in Colorado, I learned to expect the unexpected when conducting on-site monitoring for conservation easements. I recall one day when a particularly large badger charged at me out of a burrow - I’m not sure which of us was more startled. I jotted down a cautionary note for next year’s monitor and retreated to my truck to drive across the property.

The next surprise came when I went looking for a road I saw on my map, but which had been restored three years prior. As soon as I got myself oriented and figured out what had happened, I stumbled across a new barn that was also nowhere to be found on my map. Site visits will inevitably come with some uncertainty, such as stumbling across critters, but up-to-date imagery helps monitors know more about what to expect. 

With Lens, you can say goodbye to outdated basemaps on your field monitoring apps. Our new WMTS feature takes Lens beyond your desktop, with the ability to stream recent, high-resolution imagery right into GIS. With just a few clicks, you can access recent high-resolution imagery ordered through Lens in GIS or mobile apps like Avenza Maps.

On a recent rafting trip down the Arkansas River, I decided to give this a test drive. What follows is a step-by-step of how Lens helped me find a prime campsite along my journey.

1. Planning began before I embarked on my journey, when I was picking out campsites. A friend mentioned that a flood in October of 2021 created a sandbar that made for a fantastic river-side campsite. The only challenge was finding said sandbar, since the Google Earth and ESRI satellite basemaps showed no sign of the recently-created sandbar.

2. Next, I opened up my Lens account and loaded the approximate area as a new property, where I could then order an image captured in the last six months. I chose a 0.3m resolution image from November of 2021.

Copyright Maxar Technologies, image from 11/28/2021

3. In the time it took me to pack my camping gear in the car, my imagery was processed and ready for inspection. Navigating around in Lens, I could see the rapid just upstream of where the campsite was supposed to be. Zooming in, I spotted what appeared to be a sandbar on the west bank of the river. I dropped a pin in Lens, which saved the GPS coordinates and created a note to mark my prospective sandbar campsite.

Copyright Maxar Technologies, image from 11/28/2021

4. My next step was to create a simple map that I could use to navigate to the campsite in the field. I copied the streaming link and created a new WMTS connection within QGIS, which immediately displayed the high resolution image.

Copyright Maxar Technologies, image from 11/28/2021

5. I created a simple map with a red dot marking the coordinates of the pin I dropped in Lens, then transferred the map into Avenza Maps. Avenza allows you to bring georeferenced PDF maps into the field and displays your location on a map from your mobile device. 

6. A day later I was floating down the Arkansas, admiring the beautiful river that I had been poring over in Lens. Once I came to the area included in my map, a blue dot appeared on the screen showing my location and direction. I was amazed how much river bank detail was shown on the satellite image. I marveled at boulders as I passed them, and could even spot them on my map by their shape. 

7. I began to approach the potential campsite and was relieved to see that my observations in Lens were accurate. A perfect sand bar existed in the spot I marked on the map! Seeing a place in person after observing it remotely has always brought the process full-circle for me.

8. And when I returned home from my trip, I went back into Lens to attach some photos to my note as a record of what that area looked like on the ground.

A recent basemap image can truly make all the difference. Being a steward is no longer my day job, but I’ve had fun using these tools on river reconnaissance. I’m excited about how this can help Lens users plan site visits, navigate efficiently to target areas of change, read a landscape from remote imagery by cross-referencing it with field monitoring, and more. Though we can’t guarantee that you won’t stumble across a badger den, recent imagery from Lens can make it easier for you to plan ahead and focus your time in the field towards where it matters most. Get in touch with our team to learn more about Lens and how it can help support your workflows.