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.


  1. Excellent! I'm a big fan of Streetview birding, having 'pioneered' it several years ago:

    I got my British list up to about 50, but then had to give up due to RSI in the wrists from too much 'navigating'. If only Google would come up with a direct mind-computer interface for Streetview...

  2. I just found my old Streetview list - it was nowhere near 50, memory playing tricks. I got to 37 before I gave up. It's the small birds that are the problem - apart from Corvids, the only passerines I ever managed to find were Starling, Blackbird, Pied Wagtail, Swallow and House Martin.