Thursday, July 7, 2016

New eBird Media Search

Last November eBird allowed photos, video, and audio to be uploaded with your eBird checklists and stored on the Macaulay Library archive. So, when you take a photo and add it to your checklist you add to the scientific collection. By May of this year over a half million bird photos have been uploaded. Numerous video and audio files have been stored, too.

And now you can search these photos!

Each photo becomes what they call a "digital specimen." What does that mean? Well, it allows scientists and anyone interested to view rare bird records, for instance, and actually see the bird. In the not-so-distant past, rare birds had to be shot, killed, skinned, and sent to museums where the specimen was kept forever as verifiable physical evidence supporting an identification. These archived photos kept at the Macaulay Library of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology now do the same things with digital evidence, and no birds were killed!

But it doesn't have to be a rare bird, such as a first state record, or something like that. It can be a common bird. Did you get a really great photo of a bird common to your area? Add it to your eBird checklist. Birds vary across their range--they may not all look exactly alike everywhere they occur. Your photo could be used to find heretofore unknown variation. Even more exciting, such variation may even reveal cryptic, or "hidden," species--a new species hiding among some common bird that we didn't even know existed. These cryptic species are not just found in some far-way, never-birded, jungle somewhere. New species are being described from well-birded areas all the time--birds that look alike but don't breed with each other when they meet because of song or courtship differences (take for example the recent splitting of a former single species of small little brown Holarctic wren into three species: the European Wren, Winter Wren, and Pacific Wren). Your photos could be valuable for discovering some of these. And even if not, just having your bird photos put in a digital museum is kind of neat, isn't it? You can be the local collector for a notable museum! How cool is that?!!! ("Cool" and "neat"? Yes a child of the 60's.)

Here is a recent checklist with photos that I submitted. ("Yes, I'm a local collector for the museum at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology." Ooh, I like it!)

So, besides storing your own bird photos with your checklists, what do you do with this new feature?

Well, here's a link that takes you to the most recent photos of San Diego County birds. Change the filter to search your own county or state,... or somewhere else, even far away.

How do I use this? I check out the new photos added recently from my area. ("Oh, the rare bird that's being seen nearby is a dull first-year bird and not the full adult male as in the field guide?") That helps me form a search image when I go look for the reported rarity... or just keep my eyes open for finding my own rarity in my own patch. Or, perhaps you note the unique habitat ("Oh, it's on the ground in the cattail marsh. And here I was looking for it in the tops of the spruce trees."). There's no limit of what you might learn just by looking at recent photos of birds in your own area.

I expect to discover even more uses for the photos, video, and audio in this digital museum. What will you use them for?