Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Google Street View Birding II: Midway Atoll

I don't care what crabby commenters say, I think Google Street View Birding is fun as hell.  Whenever I am bored for a few minutes at a computer, I can whisk myself away to far-off birding locations with the click of a mouse.  Screw you, I'll get my jollies where I can.

Street View birding is hard, though.  The resolution is never very good, and birds are rarely as close to the road as you want.  I think I did a pretty good job my first time around, but I've stumbled onto something that makes all my previous attempts seem like watching an empty feeder in March.  I've found what just might be the Shangri-La of Google Street View Birding: Midway Atoll.

As you (hopefully) remember, Midway Atoll was the site of a major battle in WWII and is still under the control of the U.S. government, which manages the island as Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.  And holy moses is there wildlife.  Situated as they are in the middle of the Pacific, thousands and thousands of pelagic birds visit them to breed.  I mean, thousands.  Albatross, noddies, frigatebirds, terns, tropicbirds.  And some lovely person from Google strapped on a camera backpack and walked around.  Check it out:

HOLY LORD LOOK AT ALL THOSE BIRDS.  The ENTIRE island is like this (Google maps only Street Views the western of the two breeding islands).  It's insanity.

Using this very helpful website, I cruised around the island and tried to find as many species as I could.  Midway is extra helpful from a Street View birding perspective because seabirds like this generally let folks come right up close, so you can see a lot of these birds in detail.

The majority of birds on the island are Laysan Albatross.  In fact, 71% of the world's population - more than 452,000 pairs (over 1 million individuals) - breeds on Midway.  Street Viewing your way around the island these birds are absolutely everywhere - on the runway, near the shore, in the bushes.  So incredible.  Wisdom, a 62-year old Laysan Albatross, also lives on the island.  I tried to find her in Street View but could not (where's the green building shown here?). 

Also numerous are Black-footed Albatross, including some with their faces blurred for some reason.  There are more than 25,000 breeding pairs of these guys on Midway.  There are also one or two Short-tailed Albatross on Midway, but I couldn't find them in Street View.

The island is also covered with the beautiful White Tern. In Street View they can be seen flying around almost everywhere, but above are some I caught in a tree.  Gray-backed and Sooty Tern also breed at Midway, but on the other island.

It's difficult to tell, but perched in that tree is a Great Frigatebird. Check for the long split tail. I'm sure there are other shots of these birds in the air in Street View, but I couldn't find them.

Finally, this is a noddy, I think a Brown Noddy.

Great times Street View birding on Midway. I encourage others to check it out, for the spectacle alone. If you find any additional species, let me know.

This Google project is especially nice because these shots were taken in June 2012, just a year after a tsunami did major damage to the island's bird population. If you wonder whether the scientists of the island are proud to have their work catalogued in this way, check out this Street View shot from the middle of the island. Good work to all involved.


Seagull Steve said...

Very cool...I just spent ten minutes trying to find a Red-tailed Tropicbird nest (I used to work there)...think I found a chick but it's hard to say for sure.

cerulean warbler said...

Not sure if you knew, but the island of Laysan also has street view. I saw lots of albatrosses, brown, noddies, and sooty terns, as well as red-footed boobies, wedge-tailed shearwaters, white terns, and frigatebirds.

Patch Davis said...

How lucky are we to live in this age when we can view the birds of distant lands while sitting in our own
homes? To take the journey was once a risk to life and limb and resources. I'm not the biggest fan of
technology (ask anyone who knows me) but if there are benefits, then this one, where one can experience parts of the world where one would never travel, has got to be up there!

halal said...
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