I live in Drew Valley, a great neighborhood in the northeast area of Atlanta. If you live in Drew Valley, you may have seen me walking my dogs early in the evening, and if you did see me walking my dogs, you might have seen me often stopping to check my phone. Well, I was not checking my phone for calls or emails, I was probably taking a GPS location of an owl that I just heard. I think owls are amazing animals, so I created an app called Tracking the Drew Valley Owl, and I was most likely testing my new app.

Here’s a little background: I work in a field called GIS which stands for Geographic Information Systems.  For people who do not know what GIS is, I like to say, “It’s a fancy term for making maps.” Cross a cartographer and an IT specialist and essentially you have a GIS Analyst. I really enjoy my work, and in-fact, I often refer to myself as the “self-proclaimed map nerd.” Around a year ago, I started working with a software package called ArcGIS Collector. This software gives a trained GIS Analyst the ability to quickly create applications with a focus on maps. I set out to test my application development skills creating an app that combined my interest in maps with my interest in our Drew Valley owl. I created an app called Tracking the Drew Valley Owl and released it to the world.

That was about a year ago.

This app allows the user to pinpoint the location of the owl using GPS collection and individual observations. Conventional GPS collectors take a GPS position of the point where you are standing. This app uses the GPS in your phone and offsets (or moves) the pinpoint to the approximate location of the owl based on only a couple of easy questions: How far…? and What direction…? (The app is also designed to help the user answer these questions.) With 3 simple clicks, I’m able to input criteria that will allow the app to calculate the approximate location of the owl. Doing this over the span of an entire year, I was able to use this information to do additional advanced GIS analysis techniques called hot spot analysis to further pinpoint the owl’s location.

Any time I walked my dogs or played in the yard with the kids and heard the owl, I would record the position. I even got my 4 year old and 7 year old kids involved. I would teach them about owls, maps, directions, how to use a compass, nature…all sorts of things. The kids really enjoyed it. After a while they would hear the owl and say to me, “Daddy, I hear the owl, put it on your phone!” I would ask the kids to observe the distance and locations, I would input that information into the app and we would instantly see a point on map show up where the owl was likely to be located. My kids were becoming experts in hearing and locating the owl.

Essentially, I was crowdsourcing myself. Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining services or content from people in an online community. My plan was to bring this app to our Drew Valley Civic Association meeting and present it to my neighbors as a fun community-building project. I thought it could bring a further sense of pride to our already great neighborhood. I thought it could be a great learning experience for kids. I thought we could gather this information and potentially present it to our City Council representatives to protect the habitat of our owls. I was even going to go so far as suggest that our community should adopt the owl as a mascot: the Drew Valley Owls! Kind of cool, right?

I had big plans for this app.

Then it happened. Last week I came to a realization…

As I was walking my dog Ziggy I heard the owl, it was very close. I turned and located a small bird on the crest of a roof of a nearby home. I thought I was hearing things, but as I was looking at this small bird on the crest of the roof I watched it go “whoo-whooo.” I could see its body contracting with the sound it was making. I think I blinked several times to see if this was really happening. I was astonished. I starred at this bird for a bit, the bird made the sound again “whoo-whoo.” I suddenly realized that this small bird was the bird I’ve been tracking for the past year!

I’m certain there is an owl in Drew Valley, I’m 100% sure of it because now that I heard this small bird’s owl-like call, I distinctly can tell the difference between this birds call and an owl. As I thought back over the past year I can now remember hearing the owl sound vs this bird’s sound. I’m guessing about 5 or 6 out of 40 “hearings” I collected over the year were owls.

I went home and googled “birds that sound like owls,” and there was my answer…90% of the birds I’ve been tracking for the past year were Mourning Doves!

It was a harsh lesson learned about data collections: I’m an expert GIS analyst and data collector, but I’m a real amateur at bird calls.

So I thought to myself:  how can I fix this? I’ve spent the past year developing and testing this app to track our beloved Drew Valley owl.

After a few minutes of thought I was able to come up with the solution…name change…Tracking the Drew Valley Mourning Dove.


Mike Edelson, GISP
GIS Manager  – InterDev