Friday, January 23, 2015

Google Street View Birding IV: Florida

It's easy to look down upon Google Street View Birding. "It's for lazy people," they say. "It's not real birding if you're just using a computer," they whine. "Get a goddamn life," they snort.

I don't care what anyone says, Street View Birding is not only hard work, but a worthwhile pursuit. It requires stamina (eye strain), commitment (boredom), and patience (boredom). It's birding on the frontiers of the information superhighway, and baby I've got my pedal to the metal.

This installment brings me to Florida.  I was in the Sunshine State over the holidays and was reminded what a fantastic place it is to bird.  There are birds in every pond.  There are birds at every feeder.  There are birds covering the beaches. I'd venture to guess that there are more birds per square inch in Florida than anywhere else in the states.

So it stands to reason that there would be birds in Google Street View.  I found some downtime and took a look.


For most of Street View's history, the images were all captured from cars.  This made Street View Birding quite the challenge because, like, how often to birds fly right next to cars, right? Telephone wires and bridges were really the only places to look.  Recently, more mapping is being done by folks on foot.  This was clearly a boon for SV Birding on Midway Atoll, still the best vicarious internet birding experience available.

And it's also come to Florida. Some folks have taken it upon themselves to strap on the ol' backpack and walk nearly the entire walkable coast of the state.  It was clearly a Herculean task, but it resulted in some better images of birds that I had found anywhere else.

Yup. Great Blue Heron. Can't remember what I got this screenshot.

Laughing Gulls, Surfside Beach, FL

Two species! Great and Snowy Egrets, Honeymoon Island State Park, FL

Snowy Egret.

Tons of Brown Pelicans, I forget where. For as great as it was, the beach-walking could also be sort of frustrating, as birds (as birds do) would fly away as soon as the camera man got close. For miles of beach you can chase birds or a group of birds down the beach, or see as they take off and fly around the walker and back on the beach behind him.  I could never get closer than this to these pelicans and all the peeps with them.

There were times when smaller shorebirds were visible, though, and DAMN is that exciting as a Street View Birder!  Here's a Willet.

Here are some Sanderlings at Jupiter Beach Park.

Dag!  Dag!  Look at this! Sanderlings, mostly, but also on the left side of the flock at least one Ruddy Turnstone (the leftmost bird is also a RUTU I think).  Ruddy Turnstones on Google Street View! I feel like a champion!

Here's a yellowlegs sp. creeping around on Honeymoon Island State Park. I want to say it's a Lesser Yellowlegs, but who knows.

Oh, uh, not all the birds are good birds. Here are some garbage Rock Pigeons on Surfside Beach.

And it's not just birds, there are also birders! These two dudes both have binoculars, though they could just as easily be looking at bikini babes than they are at birds. The silent mysteries of Google Street View.

Southern Florida

I was just in the Everglades and Miami, and I got started in SVBirding Florida to see if I could pick up any of those exotics species down there, and also to see if anyone with a backpack walked the Anhinga Trail in the Everglades, which is famous for its proximity to lots of birds.

Long story short: there WAS coverage of the Anhinga Trail, but I couldn't find much except the Anhinga above.  Not that there's anything wrong with an Anhinga!

I really wanted to find exotics - Purple Swamphen or Egyptian Goose.  The strategy is to basically zoom in on any street that crosses or comes close to a body of water in the Miami area.  There are a million little ponds down there, and according to eBird they've almost all got at least Egyptian Geese in them.  I couldn't find any of them anywhere, though. Bummer.  I did get a good look at this little guy, a Common Gallinule.

I did some looking in the Kendall area, hoping to find a Red-whiskered Bulbul or something. These birds in the neighborhood across from the famous Kendall Hospital sure look like parrots to me, but no idea on what species.

Terns. A super cool addition to Street View Birding down there is that they've got to the Dry Tortugas. Someone took a backpack all over the Tortugas, then on a boat over to Loggerhead Key. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed overall, as I couldn't find really anything on the Tortugas despite my dreams of picking out a Black Noddy from a flock of Browns. 

On Loggerhead Key, though, there were a bunch of terns. Royal Terns were relatively easy to pick out (unless I'm IDing them incorrectly, which is certainly possible!), and there's one at the left in the image above. These black-billed ones are a tougher ID for me. They could be Commons or Sandwich, I suppose.  These Street View photos were taken in September, and eBird doesn't have any September records for Commons on the Keys, but the bills on these birds look too thick for Sandwich. I dunno, I think they're Sandwich Terns, which are very common down there.

Walking around on the Loggerhead Key dock I spied these two swallows cruising around. I believe they are Northern Rough-winged Swallows. Cool.


What the hell is going on in Lakeland, Florida?  What's the deal down there?  I think I Street View Birded my way over there looking for Limpkin (unsuccessfully), and I was just amazed at the craziness I found.  Specifically at a place called Lake Morton. It started innocently, with good looks at cool, normal birds:

Common Grackle.


A pair of Ospreys (how I found these guys was pure luck).

Some lady feeding a White Ibis and what looks like a female Mallard.  But then it got weird. First was a pair of gross endemics (and also, ironically, 2014 400th ABA bird) - some Muscovy Ducks.

OK that's cool but - hey, is that a Mute Swan? I thought there were only in the Northeast...

Yeah a Mute Swan for sure.  But, shit, what about those two? Behind the Laughing Gull. Are those...what are those?

They're not Egyptian Geese, they're...Swan Geese? What about those black, Loch Ness Monster-looking things down there?

Black Swans? Good lord. Turns out that Lake Morton - like Florida as a whole - is a complete mess.  Its more of an aviary for exotic waterfowl than anything else and its eBird checklists show it: Mandarin Ducks, Black Swans, Black-necked Swans, Greylag Geese, Common Shelduck, and others. Crazy.

On the upside, Lake Morton did allow me to get a screenshot of the most species I've ever found in one Street View view. From left to right in this image are: Laughing Gulls, White Ibis, Mallards, Great Blue Heron and Ring-billed Gull. Five species in one shot!

Google Street View, I love you.


Michael Olsen said...

I discovered, after reading this, that it is impossible to explain Google Street View Birding to a non-birder without being met by raised eyebrows and a puzzled, "What...?" That's okay -- I think it's great. I may try some neighbourhoods in and around Phoenix to see if I can spot some thrashers.

Amy said...

Here are a couple of birders at Ponce Inlet: :)

cerulean warbler said...

Tried on loggerhead key where I found a huge flock of Royal Terns. On Dry Tortugas there were lots of Brown Pelicans and Laughing Gulls.

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