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Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program (VWMP)

The Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program (VWMP) is for enthusiastic and sharp-eyed, sharp-eared volunteers who have a passion for wildlife and its conservation. With more than 800 species in our state, the wildlife staff can't possibly keep track of all these critters in every corner of the state. We need volunteers that are willing and interested in collecting data on two important and sensitive groups of wildlife.

More: Volunteer Wildlife Monitor Program Brochure

The Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program (VWMP) is for enthusiastic and sharp-eyed, sharp-eared volunteers who have a passion for wildlife and its conservation. With more than 800 species in our state, the wildlife staff can't possibly keep track of all these critters in every corner of the state. 

We need volunteers that are willing and interested in collecting data on a few important and sensitive groups of wildlife: Bald Eagles/Ospreys/Peregrine Falcons, Frogs and Toads, and Bats.

The Bird Nest Monitoring Program focuses on three species of raptors: Bald Eagle, Osprey and Peregrine Falcon. These top predators are particularly sensitive to environmental changes, making them not only fascinating animals to observe but also important animals to monitor.

To become a nest monitor, volunteers must go through some training.  At a Bird Nest Monitoring workshop, volunteers learn about the bird’s nesting ecology and biology, and what data to collect on a nest site and how do it without disturbing the birds. Volunteers then report this data to the Wildlife Diversity Program and it is used to monitor the bird’s status in the state.  Two to three workshops are held annually around the state.  The schedule is posted on this page.  Alternatively, if you are very interested in becoming an Eagle Nest Monitor but can't make it to a training you can check out the Bald Eagle training video to get started!

Volunteers interested in becoming Bald Eagle nest monitors but who cannot attend one of the offered training workshops may receive training through this video and associated materials. To participate in the survey you must:

  1. CONTACT: Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program Coordinators about getting a nest assignment either by VWMP@dnr.iowa.gov or calling 515-230-6599
  2. WATCH: Watch the 20 minute training video (hosted by YouTube) or request a hardcopy of the video from coordinators.  
  3. READ: Download, read through and use all the materials found within the Full Reference Guide (Full guide includes all documents listed here individually)

For other conservation agencies or organizations: The video and accompanying materials are available for use and adaptation by your organization. Please contact the Iowa Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program coordinators to request a cd of all documents and media.

Every year starting in late March to early April, the chorus begins. The Western chorus frog is usually the first to find its voice with its ascending, constantly repeating crrreeek and it is quickly, if not simultaneously joined by the soprano chirp of spring peepers or the rumbling, snoring leopard frog bass. The singers are all males, and they are trying to attract a female for mating. The chorus can be deafening, but for those of us listening it is a welcome and sure sign of spring. And every year, since 1991, at wetlands across the state, dedicated volunteers have been there, listening and collecting data on what's singing. 

These volunteers are a part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' Frog and Toad Call Survey. This survey is coordinated by the DNR's Wildlife Diversity program and our survey is one of the longest running in the country. In its long history, over 13,000 call surveys have been done on more than 1200 wetland sites in 82 of Iowa's 99 counties. Amphibians are currently in global decline and face many environmental stressors.

The value of this survey is multifaceted. The wildlife diversity program is small and without the dedication of these volunteers, it would be impossible to collect data over such a large area (statewide) and time period. The survey provides us with data that allows us to: 1) determine distribution range extensions, 2) monitor population trends and 3) have an index for water quality. 

The survey was started because of serious concern over the global, precipitous decline of many amphibian species. This decline is most often attributed to ever - increasing pollution in aquatic environments. All amphibians spend at least part of their life in the water and due to their highly permeable skin they are very sensitive to pollutants. Declines can also be due to other factors such as habitat loss (Iowa has drained ~ 95% of its wetlands), or invasive species such as the bullfrog which in Iowa has been expanding its range. It is an aggressive predator of other frog and toad species.

Interested in getting involved?  By attending a VWMP frog and toad training workshop, you can help with this important work. Routes are set up across Iowa and trained volunteers are needed to adopt and survey these routes.  Participants in the Frog and Toad Call Survey workshop will learn to identify Iowa's frogs and toads by sight and sound, and then how to collect and report data to the Wildlife Diversity program. Volunteer-collected data is used to monitor the status of these amphibian species in the state.  Keep an eye on the website for dates and locations.

To find out more about how to get involved in the Frog and Toad Call Survey, contact the state coordinator, Stephanie Shepherd at 515-230-6599, vwmp@dnr.iowa.gov. Thanks for your interest!

In 2015, the Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program began a partnership with Iowa State University to establish some survey routes in select counties for Acoustic Monitoring of bats.   Bats have been experiencing a number of challenges in recent years, particularly with the onset of a disease, White Nose Syndrome, which causes high levels of mortality mostly during hibernation.  It is critical therefore to begin monitoring bat population trends and that is what the Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program does.   

Acoustic surveys involve special equipment which can pick up and record the echolocation calls of bats.  The microphone is attached to the roof of a car and then driven very slowly (20 mph) along a pre-determined ~30 mile route on country roads.  In the lab, we can then analyze the recordings to identify the species of bat and how many individuals of each species flew over the vehicle during the route.  Data collected each year on the same route can then be used to monitor the trend in different species abundances in the area. 

We are looking for some special people, dedicated to the conservation of these special critters, who would be willing to commit their time and personal vehicle to survey these routes.  For more details about the counties which contain routes and what will be required of volunteers please read thoroughly the pdf entitled: Bat Acoustic Monitoring Information Sheet.  If you are in one of the targeted counties and think this is something you can firmly commit to, download, fill out and return the form entitled: Volunteer Interest Form.

Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Workshops

Workshops require a $5 registration fee which pays for training materials, a frog and toad call CD or bird identification guide, and certification costs. To register, please download and complete the registration form for the desired workshop and return it with the $5 fee per person, per workshop to: VWMP; Boone Wildlife Research Station; 1436 255th St.; Boone, IA 50036. Deadline for registration is one week prior to workshop date and will be first come, first served. Attendance is limited to 15 people per workshop.

WORKSHOP REGISTRATION FORM


Bird Nest Monitoring Workshops
Anyone interested in being a Bald Eagle Nest Monitor must participate in some training.

  • There will be no in person Bald Eagle Nest trainings in 2020 but if you are interested in getting involved please contact the VWMP Coordinator to learn more about the online training. To learn more about this process click on the "Bird Nest Monitoring" blue bar above to pull down additional information. 

Frog and Toad Call Survey Workshops
Anyone interested in participating in the Frog and Toad Call Survey must attend a training.

ALL 2020 FROG AND TOAD CALL SURVEY WORKSHOPS HAVE BEEN CANCELED as of 3/18/2020. Contact vwmp@dnr.iowa.gov with questions.

If you like this program...

Here are some other programs that may interest you:

Volunteer Water monitoring and Project AWARE - Volunteer-based water quality testing and clean up.

Iowa DNR Volunteer Program

We can always use your help and it's great outdoor fun!

Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring

The Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program is based at the Boone Wildlife Research Station, 1436 255th Street, Boone, IA 50036.

Questions?
 vwmp@dnr.iowa.gov

Eagle Nest Monitoring, Video

[20 Minutes]
Ravenswood Media


Resources for Current Volunteers

The following are resources for current volunteer wildlife monitors.

VWMP Online Database Link

Frog and Toad Survey
Traditional Frog and Toad Survey
(Datasheet)


Bird Nest Monitoring:
Nesting Location Form w/out Map

Bald Eagle Nest - Data Sheet

Nest Monitoring Form
(Raptors and Restored Species)

Bird Nest Monitoring Survey
(Colonial Waterbird: Datasheet)