Tuesday, 23 December 2008

From the field: Vogelkop Bowerbird filmed for BBC Life series

Please click here to comment
From: PapuaExpeditions
Physically speaking the Vogelkop Bowerbird Amblyornis inornatus may be a rather uninspiring 'brown job' but a male's so-called 'roofed maypole' bower — nothing less than the most complex and largest structure known in the avian world — more than makes up for that. Now add to this a frantic obsession to collect colorful or shiny environmental items to decorate this bower, plus a vast array of electronic, almost extra-terrestrial-sounding territorial vocalizations, haphazardly interspersed with convincing mimicry, and a male has everything to impress the ladies as well as make a good bird program. Not just 'any good bird program' if you will. As it turns out, the BBC Natural History Unit back in Bristol (UK) has been staging the making of 'the best bird program ever made': 'Life of Birds'. And wacko bowie is to be its grand final!

From September 3 to October 8, 2008 Papua Expeditions assisted a BBC production team in the remote and trackless Moari area of the Arfak Mountains, situated in the northeastern extremity of the Bird's Head Peninsula in Indonesian New Guinea. PE resident birder Iwein Mauro said: 'The BBC wanted pristine, natural-looking bowers, quite lit(t)erally a world apart from the 'trash-bowers' tended near accessible human settlements where fashionable male bowerbirds nowadays resort to discarded wrapper plastics, fish cans, and battery hulls to aspire to the ladies. Last April a PE exploratory tour into the Moari region disclosed a high density of unspoiled bowers and produced a promising venue for the shoot. However, the site's positioning on a secluded ridge-top at 1,700 m elevation meant prolonged camping under challenging conditions, and that in excess of 800 kg of filming equipment and logistics had to be carried in on foot.'

MEET THE ALFA-MALE! One of two dominant males Vogelkop Bowerbird Amblyornis inornatus that quickly became the focus of our attention, indefatigably working and calling in and around its awe-inspiring roofed maypole bower. Copyright © BBC Natural History Unit and Stephen Lyle.

Two selected dominant bowerbird males with tastefully decorated bowers 80 m apart were on show in and around their respective monuments throughout much of all dry field days. Soliciting females appeared fairly regularly too and a first mating was witnessed on only the fourth morning out. But in order to obtain the ultimate dream-sequence of courting and mating birds — a world first — cameraman Barrie Britton eventually spent nearly 200 hours sequestrated in hides.

In addition to filming the Vogelkop Bowerbird up-close and personal, the BBC-team took the opportunity to film the dawn display of the adult male Black Sicklebill Epimachus fastuosus, and eventually even extended its stay in order to accommodate a last-minute shoot devised for King Bird of Paradise Cicinnurus regius in the adjacent foothills.

Stephen Lyle, Assistant Producer 'Life' said: 'We came out specifically to film vogelkop bowerbirds but were treated to displaying Black Sicklebill and King BOP on top, two cracking species we had secretly hoped rather than expected ever to get to grips with, especially at such short notice without pilot survey.'

The logistically complicated filming expedition generated big dividends for indigenous Hatam and Sougb communities holding customary land rights over the Moari area, with over US$ 5,200 disbursed through local employment opportunities alone. Doubtlessly, a high-profile natural history documentary the caliber of 'Life' will help raise awareness among the channel's vast international audience for the awesome Vogelkop Bowerbird, both as a not-to-be-missed ecotourism experience and a flag-ship species for the conservation of an entire suite of regional Bird's Head endemic birds that almost exclusively depend on healthy sub-montane and montane forests for their long-term survival. Stephen Lyle said: 'We parted with traditional village leaders and landowners in the conviction that local communities essentially are keen on preserving Moari's rich natural heritage, and also are receptive to ecotourism development as an alternative income-generating mechanism to the present often deleterious usage of forest resources.'

Barrie Britton added: 'If only a small fraction of the BBC's massive pool of viewers could trickle through to the Arfak Mountains to see with their own eyes the amazing vogelkop bowerbirds, then the influx of these international tourists would not only bring financial benefits to the local people but would also be a huge incentive for the preservation of these birds and their beautiful forest habitat.'

Additional information
A bower is not a nest but a terrestrial display site. Bowerbirds Ptilonorhynchidae (except the monogamous catbirds Ailuroedus) have a highly complex polygamous mating system whereby males site, construct, maintain, own and defend bowers from where they compete to monopolize copulations, while females in turn also visit multiple bower-tending males in search of 'good genes'. Indeed, good genes are all a female bowerbird could hope for from a mate because males play no role whatsoever in subsequent nesting or parental care.

NO PLAYING HOUSES? Not surprisingly, it took the first natural history collectors to penetrate into the Arfak Mountains a good while to recover from their ascertainment that the roofed maypole bowers of the Vogelkop Bowerbird Amblyornis inornatus indeed were no playing houses made by the indigenous children.

The Vogelkop Bowerbird Amblyornis inornatus inhabits sub-montane and montane forests between 1,000 and 2,000 m elevation in the Arfak, Tamrau, Wandammen, Fakfak and Kumawa ranges of the Bird's Head (or Vogelkop in Dutch) region of western New Guinea. However, only populations in the Arfak, Tamrau and Wandammen mountains construct the formidable roofed maypole bowers. In the Fakfak and Kumawa mountains, males Vogelkop Bowerbird build much simpler maypole bowers similar to those of the geographically separated MacGregor's Bowerbird Amblyornis macgregoriae, which inhabits New Guinea's central dividing mountains and some outlying northern ranges. These large qualitative differences in bower structure in spite, the Vogelkop Bowerbird exhibits only minor morphological and genetic variation throughout its disjunct range. This suggests that the marked changes in bower structure evolved rapidly, and were driven by divergent female choice, consistent with the speciation by sexual selection hypothesis.

Vogelkop Bowerbird is part of a suite of ten so-called Vogelkop endemic birds that are confined to the mountains of the Bird's Head region in eastern Indonesia and occur nowhere else on Earth. The nine other avian Vogelkop endemics are: White-striped Forest-Rail Rallina leucospila, Vogelkop Melidectes Melidectes leucostephes, Western Smoky Honeyeater Melipotes gymnops, Vogelkop Scrubwren Sericornis rufescens, Vogelkop Whistler Pachycephala meyeri, Long-tailed Paradigalla Paradigalla carunculata, Western Parotia Parotia sefilata, Arfak Astrapia Astrapia nigra, and Grey-banded Munia Lonchura vana. Gateway city to the Arfak Mountains is Manokwari, capital of the novel West Papua Province (formerly known as West Irian Jaya Province) and situated on the northeastern tip of the Bird's Head Peninsula. Batavia Air currently operates four flights a week to Manokwari from the Indonesian capital Jakarta, stopping-over at Makassar (Ujung Pandang).

Related links
Read on about the birdlife of the Arfak Mountains.
Read on about our short birding break to the Arfak Mountains.
Read on about our prolonged birding expeditions visiting the Arfak Mountains.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Oceans - Arctic Ocean

Please click here to comment

Tonight BBC 2 9pm
(repeated on the HD channel on Saturday at 17:05 )

Last in the series.....

In this episode the team ventures into one of the world’s most hostile environments.
The Arctic Ocean plays a crucial role in controlling our climate. Expedition Leader Paul Rose, Environmentalist Philippe Cousteau Jr, Maritime Archaeologist Dr Lucy Blue and Marine Biologist and Oceanographer Tooni Mahto head to this hostile and remote ocean where they plan to dive beneath the polar ice cap to explore how the ice, the dominant feature of this ocean, is shrinking and how this could affect the rest of the world.
The polar bear is threatened by the retreating ice – but it isn’t alone. The team risks diving in sub zero temperatures to collect samples of the tiny creatures that are the basis of the Arctic’s complex food chain.
As the seas warm, the Atlantic walrus could be a global warming winner – in the short term – and the team attempts to find out why. And they search for a glimpse of the world’s only white whale – the beluga.
Produced and Directed by: Daniel Barry
Series Producer: Helen Thomas
Executive Producer: Anne Laking

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Wild About Your Garden - Milton Keynes

Please click here to comment

Thursday, 18 December, 8pm BBC ONE
Episode 5/6: Bumble Bees, Honey Bees and Robins

The ‘Wild About Your Garden’ team are in Milton Keynes, home to the Gibbons family. Builder Pete’s idea of gardening is to bring in a JCB and a blow torch. His meddling has managed to cause nigh-on irreparable damage to the family’s garden, much to wife Anne’s despair. Their teenage son Andrew wants wildlife but the only thing visible from the kitchen window is the family’s huge dogs.

Dad Pete has to stand by as Nick Knowles and the team strip out all of his building ‘projects’ in order to transform this ‘junkyard with rats’ into a wildlife haven. Before anything can grow in this urban wasteland, Designer Chris Beardshaw must perform a minor miracle to make the soil fertile enough to plant anything at all. Wildlife buff Ellie Harrison wants to help dangerously declining bumble and honey bee populations and offer one of our favourite garden birds a place to call home. It’s a massive task but somehow even the dogs end up doing their bit to help.

Will be shown in Scotland on 30.12.08 at 18.30

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Nature is for Life not just for Christmas - Breathing Places

Please click here to comment

Fantastic!! Engaging with Viral-Fun to get a message across.

The BBC project "Breathing Places" was created to encourage anyone and everyone to help create spaces for wildlife.

Check out the "Breathing Places" website to find out more, helpful hints for providing space for wildlife - everything from pond construction to developing your very own compost heap.

Oceans: Mediterranean Sea

Please click here to comment
Tonight BBC 2 8pm
(repeated on the HD channel on Saturday at 16.55)



Photo: Tooni Mahto by Ian Kellett

The team embarks on an expedition to explore the profound effect that man is having on the Mediterranean Sea. Western civilisation developed around its shores, but now human activity is threatening to destroy it.

Expedition Leader Paul Rose, environmentalist Philippe Cousteau Jr, maritime archaeologist Dr Lucy Blue and marine biologist and oceanographer Tooni Mahto investigate how the Mediterranean gave rise to one of Europe's first superpowers by diving the remains of a Roman shipwreck. Under the cover of night, they brave the treacherous waters of the Straits of Messina to search for one of the largest predatory sharks in the world - the increasingly threatened, prehistoric six gill shark.

They dive a perilous network of submerged caves to look for evidence of enormous changes to the Mediterranean Sea and they try to discover whether the feared great white shark could be breeding here.

Location Producer: Ingrid Kvale
Edit Producer: Hannah Robson
Series Producer: Helen Thomas
Executive Producer: Anne Laking

"Exquisitely filmed"...The Metro

"A shimmering Series".... The Sun

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Natural World: Cork - Forest in a Bottle

Please click here to comment
Tonight, BBC 2 at 8PM
Every time we weigh up which bottle of wine to buy, we hold the fate of nightingales, rare black storks, secretive wild cats and one of the world’s most remarkable trees in our hands. It’s all to do with the stopper. If it’s cork, it probably came from the bark of one of the ancient cork oak trees from the Montados, in the Alentejo region of Portugal. The cork oak is the only tree in the world whose bark can be periodically removed without killing it. But this tree is amazing in other ways. It survives in poor soil and searing heat and provides not only nesting places for Booted Eagles but also space for some of Europe’s rarest wildflowers. This exquisitely-filmed portrait of the Montados reveals one of the last places in Europe where a sustainable local economy still dovetails harmoniously with nature. Cork producer and wildlife enthusiast, Francisco Garrett explains what will be lost if cork stoppers are replaced by plastic or screwtops.

Producer: Mike Salisbury
Assistant Producer: Paul Morrison
Series Editor: Tim Martin
Narrated by Monty Don

Monday, 1 December 2008

Academic PhDs wanted by the BBC Natural History Unit - Deadline Imminent

Please click here to comment
It’s the sort of opportunity I know some of you would give your eye teeth for - the BBC are looking for PhD biologists with potential as onscreen contributors for their radio, TV and web content. It’s not a guarantee of work, and it’s not linked to a specific project in production or development, but their aim is “to explore a pool of potential on screen talent”.

You must have a PhD (and preferably several years of research experience - post-docs very welcome) in a biological science which has a firm link to natural history - they suggest zoology, ecology or animal behaviour.

I’ve only just been told about it but the deadline’s the 8th December, so take a deep breath and get started on your application. This must consist of :

A CV including details of your academic qualifications, field experience and any previous media work. A strong postgraduate academic background is essential.
A DVD taster/showreel of yourself. (You do have one of these in your drawer, don’t you? Get filming now!)

A single side of A4 describing why you want to be a presenter, what natural history stories or concepts you’d be passionate about presenting, and why.

The DVD should be a max of 5 minutes long and can feature “anything you like that you think shows your onscreen communications skills. We’re not going to be judging these on production standard, we’ll be looking at your performance.” [Yeah, yeah - others may think that postgrads are high brow intellectuals, but we know what you're thinking...]

In return, successful applicants will be invited to a further selection day. They also say they will make every effort to respond to all applicants, even if they’re unsuccessful. However, they are “only interested in hearing from individuals who meet the criteria specified and cannot assist with applications from people looking for opportunities for presenting in other genres.”

If this is the one you’ve been waiting for, send your application to

Sally Cryer, BBC Natural History Unit, Whiteladies Road, Bristol, BS8 2LR

Noticed by Manchester University Careers Service