UAVs (unpersoned aerial vehicles)

It’s hard to name a technology that’s advancing faster than drones. Reviewing pictures of my UAV’s (yes multiple editions so far!) from just a few years ago is like looking at model-T-era cars. I suppose rate-of-improvement for all technologies eventually begins to plateau-out, but it doesn’t feel like we’re there yet with unpersoned flight—and definitely not with the cameras and various remote sensors that drones are starting to carry.

In November, 2014, I bought my first quadcopter, something I’d been dreaming about for several years. Viewing hundreds of youtubes and vimeos of low-elevation flights over forests and beaches and mountains all over the world, I was impressed but also felt a little competitive. Those were awesome terrain perspectives, I thought, but almost all pretty tame. None would compare, I figured, to flying, say, up a wild Alaskan salmon stream, or circling a snow-clad 200-foot spruce.

Bob Armstrong shot of my (late-lamented) 3DR Solo, heading northeast up L’óox, silty water (Herbert River), Oct 2015. This is an expensive hobby!

It turns out there’s a kinda steep learning curve to this drone photography. For one thing, I was a complete newbie to film, period. For another, drones, um, crash.

But all that trial and error is forgotten when you get back from a successful flight, download the gopro, and watch the Southeast landscape glide below through Raven’s eyes. Below is a stitched-together sequence taken on the divide between Shgóonaa Héenak’u, schooner’s little creek (Lawson) and Bear Creek watersheds, behind Crow Hill, above Anax Yaa Andagan Yé where sun rays hit first
(Douglas)

Especially with “first-person view” (when you can see what the camera sees in real-time, steering according to the view on a tablet attached to your controller), it’s tempting to get close to wildlife. As a fairly inexperienced and timid flier I haven’t had much chance to test the responses of critters to drones. In general, from what others are reporting, the overt (!) response has a lot to do with whether the bird or mammal has an instinctual reaction to aerial predators. Small critters often flee, while larger ones stand impassively or even approach with apparent curiosity.

However, with some species, fear may be hard to judge. Here’s a study suggesting black bears’ heart rate more than doubles, even when their behavior scarcely changed. Researchers also noted that some waders and shorebirds allowed drones within 12 feet. I know one Juneau flier who approached a bald eagle on its nest to about that same distance. When I asked what month, he couldn’t remember. He was lucky he didn’t try a stunt like that when chicks were aboard.

In this section

Bear-Lawson flight

Quadcopter views behind Anax Yei Andagan Yé, where the sun’ rays hit first (Douglas, harbor area)  Launched from divide between…

January, 2016 | Richard Carstensen | 3 minutes

Skiing at Spaulding Meadows

Skiing at Spaulding Meadows, above Auke Bay. spaulding from Discovery Southeast JuneauNature on Vimeo.

2017 | Richard Carstensen |

Behrends avalanche

Three days after an avalanche came down Behrends Slide, near Juneau, Alaska, I went up for some raven’s-eye perspectives. The…

2017 | Richard Carstensen | 2.5 minutes

Natural history of Kupreanof

Introduction to the natural and cultural history of Aansadaak’w, the town before (Kupreanof), hosted on the City’s vimeo site along…

2017 | Richard Carstensen | 20 minutes

Amalga flight

Low-elevation views of the Amalga Salt Chuck and the Eagle Valley Center, under renovation in spring, 2017. amalgaflight from Discovery…

2017 | Richard Carstensen | 3 minutes

Raven’s-eye views of postglacial succession

Aerial views of post-glacial succession. Combines UAV perspectives with high-res orthophotography plus forest profile views in the LiDAR point cloud.…

2017 | Richard Carstensen | 20 minutes

Cowee flight

100 seconds of aerial video over Ch’eet’ Taayí, murrelet fat (Cowee Creek), on the north end of the CBJ. End…

2017 | Richard Carstensen | 2 minutes

Eagle beach aerials

Out to the scout campside of Eagle River today, Sept 10, 2017. This is where I became a naturalist in…

2017 | Richard Carstensen | 2 minutes

Eaglecrest aerials

In September, as deer cabbage turned gold, I flew some of the new trails on ridges above the lifts. eaglecrestaerials…

2017 | Richard Carstensen | 2 minutes

September in Granite Basin

Vignettes from an evening visit to Granite Basin, just a couple hours above downtown Juneau. Thoughts on the connections between…

2017 | Richard Carstensen | 2.5 minutes

New tools for old naturalists

The 21st-century cartographer New tools for old naturalists In March, 2015, I gave a fireside presentation at the Mendenhall Visitor…

2015 | Richard Carstensen | 31 minutes

Cowee walk video

20160526  Quadcopter video of Ch’eet’ Taayi, murrelet fat (Cowee Creek) over uplift meadow and blooming wildflowers. Cathy Pohl, Steve Merli…

2016 | Richard Carstensen | 2:42