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There is a great variety of GPS available, and most will do a great job at getting your position.

These are websites where you can get comparative prices: For reviews, you should just Google "handheld GPS" and read a few sites. This varies by the month. After you find out what you want, for finding compatative prices, you can try and request handheld gps. That lists hundreds of them from dozens of shops with the lowest prices. Also try


The accuracy of most cheap hand-held systems in sufficient for most biological monitoring and research uses. Of course, the producers like to sell you more expensive models, so I expect that they list higher accuracies for their more expensive models than for their cheaper models. 

In order to get the highest accuracy possible from your equipment consider this:

  1. Wake / Warm Up - Turn on the GPS unit at least 5 to 10 minutes before you plan to use the unit for biological monitoring and research purposes.


  2. Keep it on - Nowadays a GPS can run several days on a set of batteries, so leave it on as it will give you locations and times during your entire field work.  Avoid putting the unit inside your jacket or pack.


  3. Differential Correction - Use some form of differential corrections (DGPS) such as the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) in the USA.   Most differential corrections will allow accuracy of 3-5 meters and WAAS will allow accuracy to 1 to 3 meters.  See my GPS Accuracy Testing page for test results of a WAAS unit vs. non-WAAS unit.  Keep in mind that on some GPS units that have WAAS still must be turned on or enabled. 


  4. Average - Use "Averaged" waypoint to locate the point.  Most units will start Averaging once the unit sits still for a few seconds or there is a way to tell the unit you want to start averaging.  Allow the unit to average for 30 to 60 seconds. 


  5. Record the Data  - Use the unit to store the "waypoint" vs. writing it down.  This reduces the chance of a transcription error. Get a download table so you can transfer the data directly into your computer so you can later combine the georeferences with your biological monitoring or research field notes.


  6. Know the Units - If you do record it by writing it down, make sure you record down to a unit that will give you the precision you require.  To get down to around 1 meter or so, you will need to record to:


    00.00001°  (Decimal Degrees)


    00° 00.001' (Degrees, and decimal minutes). This is best as it is most commonly used in GIS applications.


    00° 00' 00.01" (Degrees, minutes, seconds). This is convenient for use in combination with topographic maps, but needs re-calculation for use in combination with GIS systems.


  7. Avoid Blocks - Make sure the unit is not blocked from the satellites.  If you are beside a building or cliff (especially if it is to the south) it will partially block the signal from the satellites.  If you are under thick tree cover, you will have reduced coverage and accuracy.  You may need an external antenna.  Some of these will increase the signal in areas of poor reception.


  8. Avoid Bouncing - Avoid getting a multi-path error which is caused by being close to an object that is bouncing the signal.  Again, avoid standing close to buildings or other reflecting objects. If bald, wear a cap and cover other gear with hard surfaces.


  9. Data Quality -  Most GPS units will provide you with an indication of the quality of data.  For example, Estimated Position Error (EPE) or Position dilution of precision (PDOP).  The smaller these numbers are the better (for PDOP less than 6). 


  10. Plan - Plan your biological monitoring or research well before going to the field. Calculate how much time you will be in the field and always bring enough batteries. If you are on and isolated location, you may want to use rechargeable batteries and bring a solar battery charger along and charge your batteries daily. Due to the way satellites orbit the Earth, there are times when coverage is good and poor.  You can download Mission Planning Software from Trimble or Thales .  Once installed, you will need to download the most current Ephemeris Files aka Almanac (Click here for Trimble and here for Thales.  

When using external biological monitoring or research data, be aware of their inaccuracies. Before 2005 hardly anybody used a GPS and it is probably safe to say that before 2007 or 2008 few scientists used a GPS. Often, non-georeferenced biological monitoring or research data, nowadays, have been given a position based on a known location, which usually is a geographic range or protected area. Such data may refer to a specific known location in that area or the central point in the area. Hardly ever do those positions reflect the correct georeference of the data itself.

Since people started using GPS units, many have used them inaccurately in many ways. When doing biological monitoring or research, some people only take a position once and then move about in the study area. This may particularly be the case in dense forested areas where GPS readings are poor or absent. Particularly when monitoring or inventoring, ornothologists are dealing with a dilemma. As they are observing birds, they have to write down their observations at a very high speed, as new observations are coming in continuously and often in questions of minutes or less. They continuously move towards the newly heard or seen exiting bird in very random directions. It is impossible to write down the name, observation details and GPS reading all at once. So the postions are always an approximation. Continuous GPS streams may help pindown the location more precisely. But wildlife data in general deal yet with another problem: the GPS location refers to the position of the observer and not to the location of the datum. Particularly soaring birds may be as far away as a km and at completely different elevation from the observer. GIS people always tell field observers that they should record how they have made the observation, but you know what? Most people who thell you that, don't even know how to hold a binocular and have never identifield a plant or filled out a fieldform. If you go by strict digital protocols, you get hardly any data at all and your biological monitoring or research programme becomes so time consuming and costly that it will never be carried out at all. So be practical and make wise compromises between accuracy and efficiency.


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