My friend and frequent collaborator Nate Dappen has started his own blog here on daysedgeproductions.com. Nate’s interests and mine are pretty similar, both artistically and scientifically. He’ll be using his blog to post regular updates from the field (he’s currently studying some really interesting lizards in Spain’s Pityuses archipelago) and other items of interest. Be sure to keep an eye on his blog as well as mine! You should also take the time to check out Nate’s academic and photographic websites.
My friend and colleague Geoff Hill (Auburn University) has just published a new book, Bird Coloration, through National Geographic Press. In 2006, Geoff and his collaborator Kevin McGraw published a two-volume edited set by the same name, which has become a standard reference for biologists studying color in birds and other organisms. This new Nat Geo book represents the distillation of everything that’s known about the colors of birds into a single volume written for non-scientists.
Eight of my photos appear in the book, alongside some awesome images created by my friends Glenn Bartley, Brandon Holden, Judd Patterson, Bob Steele, and others. Geoff also provided many great photos himself. My complementary copy of the book arrived yesterday. It looks like a fascinating read for anyone with even a passing interest in birds, animal colors, or evolution and ecology in general. I don’t get any royalties if you buy the book (NG paid a one-time license fee), so that’s an honest assessment! Check it out.
Wow, I haven’t contributed anything here for a while. My field season is coming up fast; later this week I’ll be on my way to Florida, where I’ll be spending the better part of three months in South Miami doing fieldwork and captive behavioral experiments with Anolis lizards. I study interspecific territoriality between two invasive Anolis species, A. sagrei from Cuba and A. cristatellus from Puerto Rico. As the season progresses, I’ll try to highlight some of the more interesting aspects of my research in the blog.
Believe it or not, my life isn’t the only thing happening right now (even thought it may seem that way to me!). BBC/Discovery’s Life debuted in the U.S. last weekend. Many of my friends are biologists and/or photographers, and everyone I know has been raving about the series. For me, some of the highlights in the first two episodes were the high-speed footage of chameleons capturing praying mantids with their tongues, and an incredible sequence of three cheetah brothers taking down an ostrich.
Despite the remarkable visuals, however, I found the script and narration a little disappointing. Part of it, certainly, is that Oprah’s voice doesn’t have the immediate believability that nature lovers have come to associate with Sir David Attenborough’s inimitable narration. But there were also some factual errors in the first two episodes. For example, the first episode, “Challenges of Life,” featured remarkable footage of grebes performing their courtship dance, in which the male and female run across the water in perfect synchrony. The problem? Oprah told us we were watching Western Grebes (Aechmophorus occidentalis), when the birds on screen were actually Clark’s Grebes (Aechmophorus clarkii), a closely related species. In “Reptiles and Amphibians,” the cinematographers used high-speed cameras to give a unique view of a basilisk lizard running across the water. The problem? The “raptor” from which the basilisk was purportedly fleeing was clearly a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), a scavenger that poses no threat to a basilisk.
Do these inaccuracies matter? In the end, probably not – most viewers won’t notice them, and the series still does a brilliant job of making nature captivating. Nevertheless, I find such careless mistakes irksome, especially in a series that reportedly had a £10 million budget!
On a tangential note, the Pebble Toad (Oreophrynella nigra) featured in “Reptiles and Amphibians” is an endemic resident of Venezuela’s Mount Roraima, which I described in my last two posts. Liz and I saw this tiny black toad on our first day on the Roraima, but unfortunately I didn’t come back with any photographs!
Lots more news to come, so stay tuned.
Timelapse videos of natural processes have always blown my mind. Planet earth had some of the most impressive timelapses. What made them particular was how the images panned. The way this works is that a track or a motor moves or turns the camera from one place to another very slowly over a programmed period of time.
A colleague of mine rescently showed me how these can be accomplished relatively cheaply using motorized telescope heads, and firmware on a Ti-83 calculator.
First, here is an awesome examples of panning timelapses using this technique:
The TimeIsMotion project offers free custom firmware for motorized Meade telescope mounts. This will let you program the pan speed and angles. Info found here: http://www.openmoco.org/node/25
This site tells you how to use a calculator to trigger the shutter at set intervals: http://www.instructables.com/id/Turn-a-TI-Graphing-Calculator-into-an-Intervalomet/step1/Parts-Needed/
This is the guy who go it going in the amateur world: http://www.youtube.com/user/milapse a lot of his videos are guides and instructions.
About a month ago, a friend sent me a link to a commencement speech given by Robert Krulwich at California Institute of Technology. He called it “Tell Me a Story.” In this speech he passionately and eloquently gets at the heart of communicating science to non-scientists and why it’s important to do so. His speech inspired me and touched on some issues that I also care deeply about. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And thought you might too.
Check out the speech right here: Tell me a story from radiolab
While exploring a series of rocky pools, we spotted a huge cricket walking toward the water. To our astonishment, the cricket didn’t even slow down as it entered the water, continuing about a meter down to the bottom of the frigid, crystal-clear pool. An aquatic cricket? Later, when the insect emerged from the pool, I snapped a couple of photos. When I asked our guide about the creature, he said he’d seen them before, and they were called “grillo de agua” – literally “water cricket.” But he didn’t know much else about them.
A colloquial name was all the information I had about this remarkable creature until a couple of weeks ago, when I met Harvard entomologist (and incredible macro photographer) Piotr Naskrecki at the NANPA Summit. Piotr gave a fascinating lecture called “Photographing the Sixth Extinction,” focusing on his travels to remote, often highly imperiled areas to find and photograph their unique inhabitants before they are lost forever. He is also a world authority on the Orthoptera, so I sent him my picture of the “grillo de agua,” hoping he could give me some more information.
Amazingly, he was able to identify the cricket immediately: Hydrolutos roraimae, in the family Anostostomatidae. Even more incredibly, I learned that this species, and indeed its entire genus (which includes four species, all endemic to the tepuis), was only described scientifically in 1999. According to the species description, these crickets subsist on algae that they find growing on rocks underwater, and they can stay submerged for 20 minutes at a time. They can also swim at the rather alarming rate of 1 m/sec! The individual I photographed was a female, as evidenced by the curved ovipositor (egg-laying organ) protruding from her abdomen.
I hope I can get back to the tepuis someday. Each one has its own unique complement of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth, and if an entire genus of finger-sized crickets went undescribed until 1999, I’m sure there’s still lots to be discovered up there!
Five years ago today, I was literally in “the lost world.” In March 2005, Liz visited me in Venezuela (where I had a job as a field technician on a stream ecology project). We met in Caracas and headed southeast toward Venezuela’s border with Brazil and Guyana. In the town of Santa Elena de Uairen, we met up with Eric Buschbell’s Backpacker Tours (highly recommended, by the way) to climb Roraima, the tallest of the tepuis, or “table mountains.”
We knew it would be a fascinating trek – the tepuis are the remnants of the Guianan Shield, a 1.7 billion-year-old rock formation that covers much of northeastern South America. Most of the Shield has eroded away, leaving only the distinctive steep-sided, flat-topped tepuis. Organisms living on top of the tepuis have been isolated from other tepuis and from the forest and grassland below for millions of years. Weird carnivorous plants and other creatures inhabit the wet, labyrinthine dreamscape of the tepuis’ surface. The Venezuelan tepuis are thought to be the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel The Lost World.
After a 2-day hike through the Gran Sabana grasslands, we ascended Roraima on March 15. Here are a couple of pictures from the surface.
One of the highlights of the 2010 NANPA Summit was a keynote address given by Swedish photographer Staffan Widstrand. Staffan’s work is first-rate, but he came to NANPA to talk about Wild Wonders of Europe, a project he started with fellow nature photographers Peter Cairns and Florian Mollers. The scope of the project is enormous: to raise awareness for European wildlife and wild places, Staffan and his collaborators assembled a team of more than sixty of the best photographers in Europe and sent them “on assignment” to more than 100 locations representing every one of the 48 countries in Europe.
Most people, including most Europeans, tend to think that Europe isn’t the place to go if you want to see wildlife. Living in a relatively small land area and competing for space with more than 700 million people, it’s not surprising that Europe’s wildlife isn’t as conspicuous or plentiful as wildlife in many other parts of the world. But the photographs speak for themselves: Europe has plenty of “Wild Wonders” left!
The NANPA audience – myself included – was awestruck as Staffan showed some of the fruits of the project’s photographic expeditions. There were animals – big animals – that we had never even heard of, like the bizarre bulbous-nosed Saiga antelope. More recognizable wildlife were well represented too, often portrayed in creative new ways. At the end of the lecture, I overheard a man sitting in front of me say to his friend: “There were only a couple of images in that whole presentation that COULDN’T have won Wildlife Photographer of the Year” [referring to the prestigious Veolia/BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition]. I couldn’t agree more!
To see some of the incredible images the photographers involved in this project have produced, and to learn more about the project, check out the Wild Wonders of Europe website.
A friend of mine (thanks, Jess!) posted a link to this video last week, and it’s just too cool not to share. It’s a short excerpt from the BBC series Life, written and narrated by the great David Attenborough. The series is produced by the same folks who created the amazing Planet Earth series in 2006, and it shows – the cinematography is stunning!
In this clip, time-lapse photography is used to show the profusion of animals living on the seafloor in Antarctica’s McMurdo Sound. Here, 10-foot nemertean worms, multi-colored sea stars, urchins, and other invertebrates teem in slow motion. Time-lapse photography allows the filmmakers to portray these creatures’ lives at a less alien pace, revealing their remarkable natural history in a way that the human visual system simply can’t appreciate in real time. Time-lapse certainly isn’t a new technique, but most time-lapse sequences I’ve seen are quite static, whereas these sequences use slow pans and zooms that make the shots much more dynamic. My favorite sequence begins about 30 seconds into the clip, where the camera is shooting down onto the seafloor. I can only imagine the difficulty of orchestrating some of these shots!
Life makes its US debut on March 21 on the Discovery Channel. Oprah Winfrey will be narrating the US release of this series. I’m a bit disappointed by this – I’m sure Oprah will do a good job with it, but there is only one Sir David!
There are some terrific young nature photographers out there. In my opinion, one of the best is my friend Kari Post. Kari is based in New Jersey and has a great collection of bird, wildlife, and nature images from the mid-Atlantic region. To learn more about Kari’s work, you can visit her website. You can also follow her photography on her blog and by becoming a Facebook fan.