I’ll never forget the time when, as a teenager, my mother pulled the car off to the side of the road in winter and told me to look out the window. Just about 100 feet away. standing on the ground, was a specimen of Bubo scandiacus – a snowy owl. I learned that day that, although snowy owls are thought of as Arctic birds that prowl the tundra, they make their way down to the temperate of the lower 48 states every now and then.
Seeing an animal for yourself, when you don’t expect it, brings a new level of learning about the creature that can’t be obtained from merely reading about it in a field guide. Finding the creature where it really lives confirms the reality of its existence, and allows us to understand in a direct way how its activities are connected to our own.
The people who run Ebird understand the importance of direct observation, and give us the opportunity to add our individual bird sightings to the collective realm of science. We can see maps like this one, which shows sightings of the snowy owl recorded into the Ebird database, and we can add our own observations to the list.
Compared to the mundane meteorological maps of the Weather Channel, the maps of Ebird show us a more subtle flow of movement in nature, silent like the owl itself.