Monday, 30 December 2013

Obscure bird of the week: Obi Woodcock

If I ever win the lottery, I know what I'm doing. The dream bins, the uni-fund, grandma's Greek villa, it can all wait. I'm getting a one way flight to Jakarta, then hopping on an eagle emblazoned Gurada Indonesia plane to the small island of Ternate. Why? Not for the wealth of endemic cuscuses - eerily cute cat/monkey/ET hybrids. Not for the Syzygium aromatics tree, the flower buds of which were once the only source of cloves in the world. Not even for the planet's largest bee species; the formidable Megachile pluto, a black, jawed leviathan, an insect larger than a wren and with a penchant for nesting within active termite colonies.

No, my pilgrimage to Ternate is for a boat service. The only boat service, in fact, for the island of Obi.

About 50km at its widest point (the UK’s is just under 500km), it's a forested, mountainous tropical island the same size as the urban area of Rennes in France, but a population of 170,000 fewer; a mix of ethnicities living on seafood and money made from logging and gold mining. I'm not here to take in the climate (warm and wet with two monsoon seasons), the culture (not much unless you like fishing or cutting down trees) or the culinary delights (I don't even like lobster). No, I've made this 12,600km trip for a dumpy brown bird with nocturnal habits and no character. 

I feel like I’m not selling this well.

The bird in question is the Obi Woodcock Scolopax rochussenii (also known as the Moluccan Woodcock) and it’s a forest-dwelling, orangey-ochre, swivel-eyed mystery. First recorded by Heinrich Bernstein, who collected a single specimen from Obi in 1862 (he then died of illness in New Guinea in 1865, leaving the bird undescribed until 1866 when his specimen arrived in the Netherlands), it had been seen in life only twice by western scientists until 2012. Up until then, a mere 7 additional individuals were recorded in the 150 years since that first male woodcock succumbed to the Dutch scientist’s gun. Even expeditions as recent as 1989, 1992 and 2010 yielded no visible avian fruit, although its voice was recorded for the first time in 2010; a squeaky tit-like witter performed whilst roding.

The events of 2012, however, are a huge milestone for ornithology; a big red pin on the Obi Woodcock timescale. Between July and August, a team from the Royal Geographic Society visited Obi to fully assess this black hole of a wader and its habits. Surveying 21 sites whilst camping in the hot humid montane forests for a month is a feat in itself, but the team managed to record the bird (by sight or sound) on 51 occasions! The first ever pictures of the species were also obtained, the most exciting grainy brown smudges I have ever laid my woodcock-popping eyes on. Amazing! 

The first photographs of an Obi Woodcock -ever!
©John C. Mittermeier
Whilst the information gained from this expedition gives little information about the birds habits compared to that available for other more accessible and more intensively studied species, it was ground-breaking for the global knowledge of this bird. For example, the long-assumed fact that it was a bird of purely montane forest was dispelled when the team flushed a woodcock along a coastal river. Later it was discovered that the birds actually occurred at higher densities in lowland areas than in highland ones.

I guess it’s the unknown element of the bird that attracts me to it so much. I relish the thought at being the first person to see some of its terrestrial habits, to be able to add something new to the vast world of ornithology. The age of exploration is largely over, how many more times will be able to feel like pioneers in a field?
I want to find out how it feeds? What on? What are its predators (not humans, it seems that Obi-ites prefer lobster to woodcock)? Is it threatened (with the scale of mining and logging on the island, probably)?

Even just sitting on the damp forest floor, the Moluccan night sky stretched above me, with the twittering score of roding Obi Woodcocks mingled with the insect and frog chorus would do it for me, as I’d feel the smug privilege that only a handful of people had experienced this too.

Harmless game of "Where's Woodcock? - Moluccan version"
Read (and watch!) more about the RGS findings in Obi here and here

-Jonnie Fisk
Jonnie is an 18 year-old Yorkshire-based birder, invertebrate enthusiast and frustrated artist. When not being oblivious to every local rarity, he enjoys autumn vis-mig and being distracted by bugs.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

In memory of Cameron Bespolka

Cameron Bespolka
1997 - 2013
 NGB began as a small Facebook group of birders, many who knew each other in 'real life', created so that they could stay in touch despite being miles apart. This quickly grew into the group of 120 young birders it is today. 
Whilst almost all communication is done over this social media site, and therefore it's likely that most members have not met the vast majority in person, it is quite surprising how quickly friendships can spark up and characters shine through. This is the case with Cameron Bespolka. 

A 16 year old Hampshire birder, son and brother, Cameron joined the Next Generation Birders in early 2013 and quickly became settled in the group dynamic of NGB. Always quick with a joke or witty retort, Cameron became well known within NGB thanks to his dedicated patching, love of the South Coast and inability to twitch a nearby Semipalmated Sandpiper as he was 'pressing apples'!  

Frequent updates from Cameron on the state of birding on his patch (Winchester Sewage Farm) quickly showed him for the die-hard patcher he was, and many of us were impressed with his amassed total, but especially his enthusiasm for birding simply for the joy of birding itself, an example being the 4 wigeon that dropped in early December, unremarkable to many birders, but an extreme rarity for Cameron's patch, and a record which he suitably celebrated. Another Cameron-ism was his determination to find a Yellow-browed Warbler on his patch, a feat which he did not achieve this autumn, despite many hard hours trying. 

Some of Cameron's tweets showing his dedication to his Hampshire Patch
 Fondly nicknamed 'Ron' by some NGB members, on account of his red hair, Cameron had many firm friends, as is apparent from the huge number of tributes paid by his fellow schoolmates. Alex Berryman, a fellow Hampshire birder, who knew Cameron well, said: 
On the occasions I had the pleasure of meeting Cameron personally, he was always one of the nicest people you could hope to meet. We often spoke frequently about the current birding events in Hampshire which he discussed with so much enthusiasm and excitement; he had a successful future ahead of him which makes his premature death all the more tragic. My feelings are with all those closest to him, may he rest in peace. 

Cameron died on Tuesday the 17th December 2013 whilst skiing in Lech am Arlberg in the Austrian Alps. Cameron, his father and their ski instructor were buried by an avalanche, his father and the instructor escaping with injuries. This is a truly tragic event and one which devastated the NGB member base when news came on Wednesday evening. Within minutes, messages of disbelief, condolences and tributes were being paid on the NGB Facebook group and on twitter. 

We had just had contact from him on that Monday, noting that he was "loving the snow" and that he'd had sightings of Dipper, Golden Eagle and Alpine Chough, despite forgetting his binoculars. A true birder through and through. 

It gives some justice to the tight-knit community that birding has created when one looks at the outpour of admiration and sadness shown for Cameron on Twitter by many birders from all walks of life. It's so heartening to see that in this hobby, which is too often picked over for its occasional pettiness, there will always be individuals caring for each other. 

Tributes were paid by much of the birding community through social media such as Twitter
All of us at Next Generation Birders would like to offer our condolences to Cameron's family, we know that the thoughts of every member will be with you all at this time. We also wish his father, Kevin, a swift recovery from the injuries he sustained in the devastating event. 

Patchwork Challenge and NGB have discussed a suitable way for Cameron to be remembered. It is with great thanks to Patchwork Challenge that together we have dedicated the NGB minileague in his memory and the Cameron Bespolka Prize has been created, to be awarded to the winner of the minileague. It is hoped that the minileague will encourage all NGB members to visit their patch more regularly, hopefully resulting in improved ID skills, a more fulfilling birding experience and perhaps even a few nice self finds.

Cameron was heavily involved with PWC and we hope that this serves to remind all birders what a dedicated patcher this young man was. As Jake Gearty, another South Coast birder, put it: Where ever you are now mate, hope you're still watching out for birds, especially that Yellow-brow. 

Monday, 23 December 2013

Obscure bird of the week: Ferruginous Partridge

It's the most festive week of the year and it wouldn't be Christmas without a partridge! This week, I'd like to introduce you all to a creature that I think is subtly one of the most beautiful birds I've ever seen!
The ferruginous partridge (Caloperdix oceluea) of Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. 
What a beast
Now there are many threatened and obscure species of partridge, dove, geese, swans and 'colly birds' that I could have chosen to focus on to make this a Christmas-themed blogpost, but I am somewhat charmed by the beautiful ferruginous!
This lovely bird frequents a mixture of lowland dry forest, evergreen and semi-evergreen forest, swamps and has even been recorded on moist forests of 1,200m.
As you can probably imagine, a forest dwelling small game bird that doesn't have an elaborate breeding behaviour, song or courtship, is a right dump truck to see! They are so elusive, that even though their range is quite widespread through South East Asia and Oceania, their population has never been properly estimated, so there is little way of knowing just how rare, common or threatened they are.
However, in Thailand, a bit of concentrated effort has been made to monitor the species and the current estimation is that 'they are rare' and currently undergoing a population decline. Therefore, our old friends at IUCN have categorized ferruginous partridge at 'Near-threatened'.

Skulking birds are always best ©Thaibirder
Habitat loss seems to be the main contributing factor to the decline of almost every species included in obscure bird of the week. Ferruginous partridge is by no means the exception that proves the rule.

Now, at this point in the blog post, I can imagine that some of you reading may well be world-experts on partridges and can think of many other 'Perdix' that would better fill the Christmas theme such as chestnut-breasted partridge (Arborophila mandellii), snow partridge (Lerwa lerwa) or even a partridge that frequents a pear tree (which, {un?}surprisingly, I can't seem to find!). Whilst I agree that these may be more appropriate, that's not the point of the 'obscure bird of the week'. It is to raise the awareness of the 'unsung hero'. And what a copper-chested, zebra-striped, black polka-dotted hero we have!
On the first day of Christmas, NGB gave to me...
Merry Christmas from all the Next Generation Birders!

-Zac Hinchcliffe
When Zac's not counting birds on patch, he's usually ringing birds on his regular Bangor site or is depressed that he does't have the money or time to twitch the latest big thing. Zac is 21 and currently studying a Research Masters at Bangor University and investigating Welsh Twite; adding a touch of science to his birding.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Ivories in art through the ages

As December rolls over us, there's been one rarity that's made a gleaming white impression on the newsfeeds of internet scrollers and on the retinas of those lucky enough to see them. Yes, Ivory Gulls

These Northern exiles, carved by Larius, the angel with a penchant for gulling, seem to soil their reputation somewhat with their food choice. Seeing one tucking in amid a mass of rotting cetacean or seal doesn't really appear to do justice to their persil white plumage, delicate blue bills and soft black eyes. Ferrero Rocher and rainbows seem a more suitable diet. However, it lends them to sticking around, which pleases cold-fingered birders, and also means they're getting a square (if somewhat putrid) meal, pleasing to see with a rarity off course. 

This got me thinking, in Britain's (not to mention much of the rest of the world) heydey of routine marine mammal slaughter, were Ivory Gulls attracted? How many English whaling ships were graced by these pearly beauties, drawn by the incessant need for man to have lamp fuel, soap and corsets? How many East Coast fish markets had a gleaming gull slurping down entrails like spaghetti?

With tongue so far in cheek it almost came out my ear, I investigated this by searching the artwork depicting ancient whaling and beaching, and turned up trumps. I wonder if these could count towards rarity records? BBRC, hello?

Ivories in pop culture: A gallery
Beached whale engraving, made by Jan Saenredam in 1602. Are the people flocking for the Sperm Whale or the Ivorys frolicking around it?

Native American art shows hunters pursuing a dolphin. Themselves pursued by a Ivory...

'Cagelot of Potwalvis' 
by Cornelis van Noorde, 1764.
Wow, the birds can even be aged. Nice job Cornelius!

Sam McDowells painting of the whale hunt in the West Indies. I presume this was painted as a 'recordshot' of the 3 gulls. Nice find Sam!

Engraving of a juvenile Ivory in Arctic North America, Right Whale seems to have 'engravingbombed'; a shame.
(on a serious note, the barbaric kind of actions seen in some of these ancient pictures still occurs in some 'developed' nations today. For more information visit:
-Jonnie Fisk
Jonnie is an 18 year-old Yorkshire-based birder, invertebrate enthusiast and frustrated artist. When not being oblivious to every local rarity, he enjoys autumn vis-mig and being distracted by bugs.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Obscure bird of the week: Musk Duck

We’re birdwatchers, are we not. Now, I’m a man with a fine eye for beauty, and I ask myself, do we cut it? Are birders attractive? 

Birding's next top models 
Personally, I’m not the greatest fan of pie-bellies, buzzcuts and khaki shorts and I wouldn't buy a calendar featuring the UK500 club. Perhaps I’m in a minority of one here, but I don’t consider birders the adonites of human society, the pinnacle of masculine beauty. But why judge someone on such a shallow checklist? Birders, more than any group of society, ought to be able to find the inner beauty in a creature. Which is why I’m championing a bird with inner beauty, not one of those dumb blonde sibes or 90% silicon yanks.

You can tell from the name it’s going to be peculiar, and, quite possibly, smelly. Enigmatic to the last, it’s still leaving us debating it’s taxonomy, and while it’s not what the aesthete would call 'beautiful', it's certainly unique looking among Anatidae. Found in Australia, home of all the world’s best weird creatures. This is my championed bird, the Musk Duck(Biziura lobata)!

lets talk about those looks first. In ordinary plumage it kind of resembles a female Common Scoter, the same greyish tones, with a paler patch under the eye. it’s also got a remarkable tail though, which betrays it’s real origins; being most closely related to the stiff-tails the Ruddy and White-headed Duck. Like many seaducks, they float very low in the water. But the undipsuted highlight of clapping eyes on this bird comes if you see a male in breeding plumage. A little black flap of skin hangs down from the lower mandible, looking like a dandy’s black handkerchief. Think Frankenstein dressed as Oscar Wilde and you have some idea. Someone will probably correct me, but I believe this is the only duck to have decorative breeding garments hanging off of its lower mandible? that’s certainly pretty cool.

They’re also somewhat of an enigma to classify. Presumed related to the stifftails (Oxyurinae), but it’s peculiar morphology suggests this is a distant relation. it has no living relatives, but a prehistoric species in the genus Bizuria is known from New Zealand. it may be even be closely related to the equally weird (and disputably dead!) Pink-eared Ducks (malachorynchus), and it may be able to trace it’s divergence from other ducks back to the prehistoric continent of Gondwanaland! Almost qualifying as a living fossil in the process. 

How to make a Musk Duck; an idiot's guide to taxonomy 
The breeding process of the Musk Duck remains somewhat of a mystery, but one remarkable thing is known. They tingle with the ole’ olfactory; omitting a slightly pungent and very eminent musk during the breeding season! Don’t judge, they probably think you have horrible BO too. Plus, studies have shown that the stink of the duck and the size of his lobes (the skin flaps hanging off of the mandible), are directly related to how many girls he gets. I recommend men of the world stop wearing deodorant and clip a lead weight to the loose skin beneath their chin!

Available in all good retailers. 
So there you have it. Musk Ducks are the real birder's bird. What they lack in beauty, they can make up in balls, brass and bizzarity!

-Liam Curson
Liam fancies himself as a jack of all trades when it comes to nature, but his longest and most dedicated fascination is with the Order Aves. He's based in East Sussex, but also loves travelling to other countries when he can. His favourite bird is the Wallcreeper. He likes patching and seawatching, and spends his summer months delving into the murky waters of entomology.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Friday, 13 December 2013

October in Iceland: Photographic portfolio by Oscar Dewhurst

Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta), Snaefellsnes peninsula
Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus), west coast between Keflavik and the Snaefellsnes peninsula
Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria), Snaefellsnes peninsula
Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima), west coast between Keflavik and the Snaefellsnes peninsula
Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus), Snaefellsnes peninsula
Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta), Snaefellsnes peninsula
Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus), west coast between Keflavik and the Snaefellsnes peninsula
All photographs ©Oscar Dewhurst
-Oscar Dewhurst
Oscar Dewhurst is an 18 year-old wildlife photographer and birder based in London. He is currently on a gap year, and after he's finished 3 months of unbelievably boring work, he hopes to spend it photographing wildlife as much as possible. When not photographing obscure brown herons in reedbeds he enjoys failing to find something decent on his patch. His other interests include running around on a cricket pitch during the summer.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Albatrosses, penguins and farting seals: A trip around the Southern Ocean Islands

Australian resident NGBirder Joshua Bergmark recently took part in an Enderby Trust Scholarship with Heritage Expeditions for a mind-blowing birding boat trip around the Southern Ocean Islands. Read his accounts, gasp at his photography and suppress that green-eyed monster...Prions, set, go!

It was not until three weeks ago (right before my English HSC* exam) that I received an email notifying me that I had won an Enderby Trust Scholarship, allowing keen young people like me to travel to the Southern Ocean with Heritage Expeditions, courtesy of Rodney Russ. After cancelling all my schoolies* plans with friends in the warmer climes of Queensland, I was soon prepared to head off on an expedition to one of the most remote places on Earth. It was to be an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.

Joshua and some friends - including Australia's 3rd Chinstrap Penguin!
Part 1: Snares Is, Enderby Is, Aukland Is:

Salvin's Albatross (Thalassarche salvini) ©Joshua Bergmark
Part 2: Macquarie Is and Australia's 3rd Chinstrap Penguin!:

Campbell Shag (Phalacrocorax campbelli) ©Joshua Bergmark
Part 3: Campbell Is, Antipodes Is, Bounty Is, Chatham Is, MAGENTA PETREL:

Royal Penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli) ©Joshua Bergmark

Heritage Expeditions and Enderby Trust Scholarships offer incredible opportunities for young birders to experience the overwhelming wealth of birdlife to be found in the Southern Oceans:

-Joshua Bergmark Josh is an 18 year old (soon-to-be-university) student from Sydney, Australia, who asked for his first field guide from Santa when he was 5, but it was only a few years ago when looking at a Mallee Ringneck drinking from a puddle in the Australian outback that he decided to tick it off in his trusty book. Twitching and listing were an inevitable extension to Josh's love of birds and nature. Whilst the number of young birders we know of in Australia is less than a dozen, they are all extremely enthusiastic and are looking forward to a lifetime of birding - the Next Generation of Australian Birders!

*(to any non-Aussies: English HSC = A-level equivalent. 
schoolies = Christmas school holidays which occur during the Australian summer)

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The life of birds: BTO Annual Conference

I’m pretty sure that someone mentioned something about a book…

Nope. Can’t remember what it was called – I’ll have to come back to that. Luckily, there’s plenty to tell you whilst I try and remember what on earth it was…

First off, Steve Roberts – the Rhod Gilbert of ornithology, being Welsh and hilarious – gave an ‘up close and personal’ view of Honey Buzzards on the Friday night, opening the conference with a bang – including one getting blown out of a tree, and a chick getting chewed up by a Goshawk. Having never seen either bird, this presented a somewhat conflicting idea for me. Nature red in tooth and claw, indeed.

Eimear Rooney (“there’s crap all mammals”) and Lianne Concannon (“geriatric Pink Pigeons”) followed on the first session of the Saturday, doing something that I didn't think was possible. I was a bit nervous about listening to sessions purely on single-species science and feeling out of my depth - I’ve always preferred bigger-picture ideas addressing broader issues – but these women not only really knew their stuff, but made it funny, relevant and completely accessible, relating species to wider issues that even I could get a handle on.Pip Gullett and David Norman’s respective talks on Long-tailed Tits and Sand Martins built on this theme, giving a different perspective on two species that I have adored since I took up birding. Fab stuff and I’m sure they all mentioned something about that book, too...

Moving on.

Skipping through some of the sessions, not to undermine how eloquent and interesting they were, I want to spend a moment considering the brilliance of the BTO President Baroness Barbara Young. Whenever people ask me about my role models, people I truly admire, she’s always the first person I mention. Not only does she have a rare skill for turning an AGM from something rather tedious into an absolute riot, she has the enviable skill of being to calmly mediate any argument, whilst still putting her point across firmly and clearly. Self-deprecating and modest, she commands the attention of the whole room and is possibly one of the most widely known and respected active figures in British nature conservation.

It’s her last year as President, which I think is a great shame. Luckily, the nomination for her replacement, although somewhat controversial, is in my opinion a brilliant and inspired choice who will do the organisation proud – despite the grumblings of a few sceptical members, I truly hope it comes to pass! It’ll be a well-timed shake-up for the organisation judging by some of the negative comments, and falls much in line with the dynamic BTO that seems to only be growing in stature, presence and membership.
A few themes developed this year throughout the Conference, fostered in the debate on Sunday morning. Interesting enough to wake up even the most bleary-eyed amongst us, it was great to have a Question Time with panellists who actually answered the queries of the audience, and gave real, personal reflections. The question posed at the beginning: “What are the big conservation questions for the BTO in the next ten years?” was immediately challenged: “Does the BTO see itself as a conservation organisation?”

Overwhelmingly, the answer seemed to be that the BTO was not inherently a 'conservation organisation', but was undoubtedly an integral part of the wider conservation movement that brought validity, evidence and clear-thinking to complement the more campaigning organisations. That is one of the great challenges, of course, for an organisation such as the BTO. Think just how difficult it is to fundraise without an emotive motivation? So many people are happy to Save the Tiger, or protect a nature reserve, or sign a petition, but the evidence that supports many of those campaigns comes from organisations such as the BTO, who have to maintain their scientific integrity. One member highlighted the international reputation of the Trust for thorough and relevant science, and that is something that their members should be proud to be a part of. 

There were other great questions raised: the validity of bird ringing as a science in this modern world, the possibility of expanding into other taxa, and the attitude of the BTO to engaging new, younger members. I crimsoned up dramatically when A Focus On Nature got a nifty little mention on the stage from Andy C, and we’re looking forward to working with the BTO in the future on new projects that communicate BTO science to younger audiences with other groups, too (hopefully NGB!). I also love the way that the staff and many people in the audience, communicate (seemingly every five minutes) the issues being discussed on stage via social media; it stops the proceedings from becoming exclusive and narrow, and allows others to get involved.

And still, there was this book that everyone kept going on about. It’s quite big (well, you wouldn’t want to drop one on your foot), and represents the biggest citizen science project ever undertaken in this country. An impressive achievement by any standard, let alone an organisation with c.100 staff. Luckily, as it turns out, there's a few volunteers who got stuck in, as well.

But I’ve gone on enough, though. I’ll have to come back it to another day.

-Lucy McRobert
Lucy McRobert is a 23-year-old environmental journalist, nature writer and freelance Researcher for the Wildlife Trusts, working with Tony Juniper on his forthcoming publication. She has set up the network for young nature conservationists in the UK, A Focus On Nature, which she is expanding with the help of several generous sponsors and mentors, to include projects in 2014 such as University Birdwatch Challenge, in partnership with BirdTrack. She firmly believes in promoting birding and natural history to younger generations, and can be found often on the North Norfolk coast, at Rutland Water or on the Isles of Scilly with binoculars firmly in hand.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Zac and Jake's 'CyberBirding' Footit challenge!

Since the invention of games consoles, satellite television and even social media websites, parents have been encouraging children to get out, play and enjoy a bit of fresh air. Lets be honest though, when you're in a nice warm chair, the idea of putting in all that effort to get dressed and go outside seems all too much effort

It is regularly mentioned on Facebook and Twitter that the key to getting children involved with the natural world is to capture that passion at and early age and encourage children to venture outside and experience nature first hand.
We have come up with another solution to capture the imagination of children, teenagers, students and even adults if they fancy it! If we're struggling to get people outside to enjoy and discover nature, lets allow nature to come to them! We have created an adapted version of Foot It (A birding competition which doesn't allow the use of any transport other than your comfiest shoes!) that allows you to go birding without the need to vacate that oh so comfy chair!

One evening, whilst procrastinating, Jake was aimlessly wandering the streets of Norwich looking for possible habitats to cover on the up and coming January 2014 Foot It competition, when he came across a Coot.
Now, this isn't too out of the ordinary, until we mention that when we say 'wandering', we mean the streets of Google Streetview!

So, as you can imagine, when Zac discovered this, he was eager to retort with something even more 'juicy' than a Coot.

Zac's findings
So, what do you do when you want to find a cool bird that is easy to see from a road? You look for gulls and swans!
Black-tailed Gulls in Japan
However, when swans and Black-headed Gulls just didn't cut the mustard in terms of clarity of image or excitement, you can understand why he decided to head abroad.....a competition was unfolding before our very eyes!
First stop Hakodate in Japan...obviously. Here it didn't take long before the first gulls were seen. A lovely flock of loafing Black-tailed Gulls on one of the beaches by a coastal road.
Azorean Yellow-legged Gulls - Azores
After wandering the streets of Japan, he headed to Cape Town in search of Cape Gulls and other assorted larids. These were surprisingly tricky to find, but before too long, a few Hartlaub's Gulls were obvious on lamp posts along the coast. This was quickly followed by a trip to the Azores where there were many Azorean Yellow-legged Gulls in the harbour
A lonely Blackbird in Barcelona
Now, Zac has a special spot in his heart for Caspian Gull, so he spent more time in eastern Europe than he cares to admit. This was not meant to be however and he conclusively dipped! To ease his pain, he thought about possible places where obvious species might occur. After a visit to Barcelona a few years ago, the idea of getting Monk Parakeet and various lovebird sp. on the list was just too tempting. He spent the next hour or so wandering around Barcelona Zoo seeing Hippos, Peacocks, Camels and other assorted Zoo animals, but the only wild birds seen were Feral Pigeons and a lonely Blackbird! He soon looked at the time and felt it was wise to get to bed and stop this madness (It was now much closer to dawn than dusk by this time!).

As with 'real' Foot It, it's remarkably addictive and you feel the need to always push the boundaries. Therefore, the following night, he was hungry for more, so first stop was intended to be albatross colonies in the southern Atlantic, but sadly, Google Streetview hasn't made it to these islands occupational set back to this niche area of birding!
Best screen shot of the competition! Laysan Albatross! (Subsequently also found this image lurking on the web...someone must have had a similar idea to us!)

Midway Island, Hawaii - The land of the Laysan Albatross!

Therefore, he googled colonies of albatrosses around the world and came across Midway Island on Hawaii, which looked great for Laysan Albatross....he really wasn't disappointed! You can't drop the 'little man' anywhere on the island without there being numerous albatrosses right in front of the camera! Remarkable! Other birds seen were Black-faced Albatross and numerous Fairy Tern.

News that Jake has scored a Yanky Robin in Central Park, New York, Zac rushed over, but wasn't able to connect with it. He did however discover a small flock in another area of the park as well as some Blue Jays and a few unidentified passerines, probably House Sparrow.
Zac's Great-tailed Grackle to grip off Jake

Jake was also getting on well down in Texas finding a raptor sp, but neither Zac nor Jake were able to decipher what it was. Zac thought it was a harrier or kite,  but Jake has learnt not to trust Zac on such matters! Zac then gripped back Jake by walking a few 100 metres down the road to discover a Great-tailed Grackle, much to the bemusement of his competition!

The following morning, feeling triumphant with his major grip, Zac wanted to cool off as it was going to his head. He decided to head south and found a small area of blue in Antarctica. This had to be good! It was!
Chinstrap Penguin in Antarctica
It was a small area of research where hundreds of Chinstrap Penguins were right in front of the camera! Not only this, but the little orange man on the aerial map turned into a Penguin! AWESOME!
Crisp close up of Cape Penguins
Finally, Zac remembed the penguins of South Africa that wander around the streets, so he googled the town to see where to look and came across Simon's Town. This was incredible and he was rewarded with great views of lots of Cape Penguins and some distant Cape Gulls.

Jake's findings

After Zac’s interest, it became apparent that this had quickly become a competition and that suddenly Jake was finding himself frantically searching beaches and water bodies across the world in search of fuzzy specs trying to work out they were in order to outdo Zac! It’s got to the point where he thought he may have spent more time scanning the world than actually getting out birding, but he reassured himself otherwise…
His first interesting find, to his surprise, was not even a bird! At Oare Marshes, Jake figured if the google car had timed its journey right there might be some waders but alas no. However the bloomin' car had found something equally as brilliant: birders! Three of them showing well along the road but not much else.

Jake then thought it'd be sensible to travel to the other side of the world in search of some thrushes, frustratingly the only bird he could find in Meiji Park’ was a probable Japanese thrush though the view was pretty poor and he couldn't be sure and so therefore it wasn't going on the list! Jake noticed that the time was now 02:00am and figured maybe he should give it a rest for the night and persevere tomorrow!
Potentially the prettiest find of the trip - Magnificent Frigatebird
The next day Jake had a new approach and soon found himself on-board a boat circling the Galapagos in search of indigenous species, immediately he recognised a huge bird in the sky, could it be? FRIGATEBIRD! This was a major grip back, a truly brilliant bird and with the help of google streetview he even managed to find an adult on the ground, puffy red breast and all! A further check around the island and he manage to locate a shearwater sp and a probable lava gull, probable because the quality wasn't too fantastic. Jake did however also get a pretty good tick in the form of Galapagos Giant Tortoise, four to be precise, munching on lettuce somewhere on the magnificent islands.

Jakes discoveries weren't done there, the day was still young and he still had time to find a few more interesting species. He really fancied seeing a black skimmer and so decided to follow the coast around from Florida in search of one. Despite covering all potential habitat he couldn't find one, however Jake did find a few brown pelicans and was also pleased to find three species in one area. Reddish Egret, Laughing Gull and Lesser/ Greater Yellowlegs. This brought his total up nicely and was able to take a breather.
Brown Pelican, Galapagos
Your eyes are not deceiving you...this can be found on Streetview!
His breather was short lived as he had learned that Zac had discovered Laysan Albatrosses and Fairy Tern, Jake knew that he had to get back out there but where next? He knew Zac had been skulking around zoos so figured why not take a similar approach? SeaWorld seemed the next logical step. Jake was pleasantly surprised to find both Snowy Egret and Great Egret in with the sea lions. However the find he was most pleased with was an Orca, this was getting silly now…

After slowing down on the number of finds, Jake actually had to go to some lectures this week. He thought he’d go big or go home, and decided to spend a good hour or so checking the cliffs around Trigrad in hope of finding Wallcreeper. He did think that he may of been slightly ambitious and it probably won’t surprise you that no Wallcreepers where found. However it was a pretty spectacular view!

Zac's totals - 32 - Double-crested Cormorant, Mallard, Black Duck, Tufted Duck, Mute Swan, Laysan Albatross, Black-faced Albatross, Fairy Tern, Black-tailed Gull, Cape Gull, Black-headed Gull, Moorhen, Laughing Gull, American Herring Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Slaty-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Azorean Yellow-legged Gull, Silver Gull, Hartlaub's Gull, Chinstrap Penguin, Cape Penguin, Feral Pigeon, Great-tailed Grackle, Large-billed Crow, American Robin and Blackbird, Blue Jay.

Jake's totals - '18' - Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Laughing Gull, Coot, Moorhen, Reddish Heron, Lesser/ Greater Yellowlegs, Magnificent Frigatbird, Chough, American Robin, Feral Pigeon, Great-tailed Grackle, Great Black-backed Gull, Harrier sp, Gull sp, Thrush sp, Swift sp, Too Fuzzy to ID sp, 

There you have it. While this is all just a bit of fun really and a very good excuse to procrastinate from the ever looming deadlines of University work! We don't seriously believe this is a precursor to a lifetime interest in birds, but I guess it could always spark the idea of a 'Big Year'-style Xbox game? 

Google Streetview is an incredible collaboration of a huge number of countries and is really something to look at in awe. We enjoyed the ride, lets just hope you did too! 

-Zac Hinchcliffe
When Zac's not counting birds on patch, he's usually ringing birds on his regular Bangor site or is depressed that he does't have the money or time to twitch the latest big thing. Zac is 21 and currently studying a Research Masters at Bangor University and investigating Welsh Twite; adding a touch of science to his birding.

-Jake Gearty 
Jake is a former Sussex birder whom now resides in Norfolk where he is studying Adult Nuring. Despite being fairly new to the county, he has already settled in nicely and is enjoying the plethora of birds that Norfolk has to offer. Despite classing himself as a birder, he goes on the occasional twitch to see something unusual. He's also recently taken up photography.