Thursday, 31 March 2011

Michael McIntyre - the floppy haired master of comedy, announces his 2012 tour dates

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I know this isn't Natural History but I do have interests outside of wildlife and photography.

I've just booked tickets to see my favourite comedian of them all - Michael McIntyre at the Sheffield Arena. Sadly I have to wait about 18 months until October 2012, but I had to book early as it seems lots of dates are already selling out.

I was present at a BBC interview with him in London once, and Michael said 'in every room there’s someone who doesn’t like you'.. he then pointed to me and jokingly said 'You sir... you don’t like me...' I embarrassingly shouted out 'Michael I love you!' to which the wife-to-be raised her eye-brows.

If you're a fan of the floppy haired master of comedy then check out his tour dates:

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Red Kites flock for a feeding frenzy

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Last weekend I visited Red Kite Feeding Station in Llanddeusant at the western edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales. 

The Kites soared majestically above us, waiting for their gory feast of bones and meat.

Flocking for a feeding frenzy

It was 15 minutes to 2pm and already more than 50 red kites had gathered, taking their positions in the trees and gently soaring back and forth above us. Their enchanting whistles filled the chilly welsh air.

When the owner of the feeding station appeared the kites tensed in anticipation, they knew what was coming. Since 2002 the same thing has happened every day - a bucket of meat and bone unceremoniously dumped out into the middle of a field. The switch was flicked in these elegant  gliding birds as they became voracious scavengers. Immediately dozens of kites plummeted, all focused on a meaty morsel, while others began chasing and mobbing those who had already made haste with the goods. Aerial dog-fights took place around us, several birds flying in formation to chase a juicy chicken leg that was swiftly being carried through the air. More and more birds arrived for the onslaught until the last scrap had been pinched, then all of a sudden the air was still and quiet. It was 3pm and time to go home.

The kite in the middle is attempting to steal some meat from the kite on the right. Meanwhile the kite in the upper right is getting away with a hefty chunk. (Photo: Paul Williams)

Technical Info: The biggest problem is that there is very little time for composition as so much is happening so fast. I just pointed my lens into the flock, trying to follow some birds and hoping for the best. Unfortunately the sun hid behind clouds for most of the feeding so to compensate for less light I increased the ISO to 800 and speed to 1/4000 aperture 6.3. The birds come really close overhead and so I only needed a focal length of 90mm. This image was originally against a dull gray sky.

'Shitehawks' - a brief history of Red Kites in Britain

Red kites were once ubiquitous scavengers thriving on the carrion and garbage that gathered in the towns and villages of medieval Britain. They were known as Shitehawks and William Shakespeare described London as 'a city of Red Kites and Crows'. In the 15th century King James II of Scotland took a dislike to these flying vermin. He decreed that they should be 'killed wherever possible', and signalled the beginning of what was to be a rapid decline in the species north of the border. In England and Wales however, the kites services to waste disposal didn't go unrecognised, here they remained protected and continued to keep the streets clean of rotting food.

Sadly things took a turn for the worst in Tudor times, when new 'vermin laws' rebranded red kites as 'food theifs' and black-listed them as one of a number of animals who were in competition with humans for produce grown in the countryside. Local parishes paid bounties for their carcasses which were nailed to church doors alongside that of Weasels, Stoats, Badgers and Foxes. Such persecution continued until, at the end of the 18th Century, increasing numbers of gamekeepers were employed on country estates. They killed many more birds, and by the late 18th Century Red Kites had bred for the last time in England. Only a handful remained in Wales.

Little was done to reverse the red kites fortunes in Britain until the 1980s. A widescale reintroduction programme saw them recolonise large parts of the country, from Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland to the Derwent Valley and the Chilterns, and in 2010 four pairs were released in Northern Ireland. Today over 600 pairs are breeding in Britain and in 2006 the first Red Kite for over 150 years was recorded in London.

Thanks in part to breeding stations like the one at Llanddeusant, Wales continues to be a stronghold with over half of Britains population.

Read more about the Llanddeusant centre here:

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Become a voice for conservation at Shamwari game reserve

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I This could be an awesome opportunity for a young conservationist to get their first experience working with animals.

The competition calls for someone who loves animals and social media to become the Voice of Conservation at Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa. The position is for 1-3 months this summer, depending on your availability. It's all expenses paid.You 'll be working with the animals there, as well as speaking out about wildlife conservation issues online.

The deadline is April 10th 2011

More info can be found here:

Springwatch needs you! - a message from Martin Hughes-Games

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A message from Martin Hughes-Games, Springwatch Presenter

Do you need Springwatch?

Each year I spend a lot of my time looking through all of the fantastic videos and photos that everyone sends in wishing I could have been there myself to see that bizarre animal moment or to help solve that wildlife mystery. Well, this year it’s possible as Springwatch have let me out of the office and instructed me to come visit you, the Springwatch viewers, to help solve any wildlife questions/queries that you have and to experience the weird and wonderful things that happen in and around your garden. And to top it off I’m able to delve into the treasure chest of camera gadgets and gizmos that Springwatch has and use them to help you get that little bit closer or to find that missing piece of the jigsaw.

All I need now is to hear from you about what’s happening in and around your garden!

I need to hear about all of those unique wildlife moments that you all witness, I need to hear about all those mysteries that you have that need solving and need to hear about the stories behind your videos and photos.

Do you think a family of stoats has moved in under your shed but your not quite sure and need our special cameras to find out? Is your garden being torn apart by an unknown creature and need our infra red cameras to catch the culprit? The more unusual and unique the better!

Please get in touch with us either through this blog, on email or through our Twitter account.

Thank you!

Martin Hughes-Games

Barrrr'illiant! Lambing Live is back on BBC2

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BBC2 8:30pm Mon 4th - Friday 8th April, with a highlights show on Saturday night.

Kate Humble and Adam Henson are back with what is becoming the BBC's annual lamb-fest. Broadcast live from the Marston family farm in Cumbria, it promises to be another action-packed week of births and bleats.

Kate has a good grasp of the shepherding basics but, since September, she’s been discovering that hill sheep demand a new set of skills and a whole new language. She’s been apprenticed to the Marstons, helping with the ‘fell gather’ (bringing the sheep down from the hills), learning about ‘hefting’ (teaching the sheep to stay on the fell) and discovering what goes into producing a prize Swaledale.

How many lambs will be born? How many will survive?

You can see clips and biogs of the presenters and the Marston family on the BBC web pages

There's also a mysteriously literate sheep on the farm that's started tweeting or should that be bleating?

Lamb 120

Photo: Paul Williams

Monday, 28 March 2011

2 Horizon eps to watch 'Japan Earthquake' & 'Predators in your backyard'

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Japan Earthquake: A Horizon Special with Iain Stewart

Watch on iPlayer (while you still can!)

Original TX: Sunday 27th March 2011, 20:00, BBC 2
Professor Iain Stewart examines the powerful geological forces that unleashed the devastating Japanese earthquake, and explores how the release of this power of the planet brought Japan to the brink of a nuclear meltdown.

He follows moment by moment how the earthquake was generated under the Pacific Ocean, travelled to the Japanese mainland, and the rare conditions that unleashed a tsunami. He also reveals the latest science behind earthquakes - from why we can't predict them, to what causes some of them to reach such power. Iain shows why our civilisation has developed such a dangerous relationship with earthquakes, and why millions of us continue to live in earthquake zones across the world.

Produced and Directed by  – Ben Lawrie and Tristan Quinn
Editor – Aidan Laverty

For further details, please visit the programme link below:

Horizon: Predators in Your Backyard

Original TX: 8th March 2011, 21:00, BBC 2
Across the world scientists are releasing predators, nature's ultimate killers, close to where people live. In Florida, a new population of panthers, feared as ambush predators, have been released near to the busy town of Naples. In the Italian Alps, bears have been reintroduced after they became virtually extinct, and now try to get into people's homes in the middle of the night. And in Yellowstone National Park, wolves have been brought back 70 years after they were exterminated. Horizon meets the scientists behind this radical scheme, and the people who now have to share their backyards with these dangerous predators.

Producer/Director – Nick Clarke-Powell
Editor – Aidan Laverty

For further details, please visit the programme link below:

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Jonathan Scott and the Truth About Lions

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9pm, BBC 2, Wednesday 23rd March 2011

You may think you've seen it all before but lion expert and BBC Big Cat Diary presenter Jonathan Scott reveals that there's still more to learn about lions in this fascinating two-parter which promises to take us into their secret lives.

In tonight's programme, Jonathan's intimate knowledge of the 'Marsh Pride', who you may remember from Big Cat Diary, helps him explore the possible reasons for the lion's social lifestyle. While there are some apparent benefits to living in prides, from co-operative hunting to raising cubs, none appear to be a reason enough to evolve social living. Now, after 30 years of intensive study, the Serengeti Lion Project, lead by Professor Craig Packer, may have finally found the answer and it could have direct consequences for the survival of the lion as a species. (BBC)
Read more on the BBC Programme page

Monday, 21 March 2011

Call of Nature - Audiotastic romp with Chris Watson - the one show

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For fans of soundie extraordinaire, founder of Cabaret Voltaire, and utterly fab northern bloke Chris Watson, tune into the One Show tonight and all week at 7pm. He'll be taking Miranda Krestovnikoff on an audiotastic romp where they will experience the heartbeat of a tree, the sounds of a rockpool and tonight's treat 'Chicken Carcass'... one can only wonder where Chris's journey in sound will take them next!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

David Attenborough & Brian Cox Vs Tyson - What I'm missing on British TV

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I'm in the woods of Northern Maine filming Lynx, Deer and Moose. The only thing I'm missing, other than my fiancee, is British TV... and I can't wait to watch 'Attenborough and the Giant Egg'. I saw a preview of this film before I flew to the US and I was completely absorbed in the story, I could have watched the whole thing then and there.

In 1960 David Attenborough visited Madagascar to film one of his first ever wildlife series, Zoo Quest. Whilst he was there, he acquired a giant egg. It was the egg of an extinct bird known as the 'elephant bird' - the largest bird that ever lived. It has been one of his most treasured possessions ever since. Fifty years later, he now returns to the island to find out more about this amazing creature and to see how the Madagascar has changed.

Read more on the BBC programme page

Attenborough and the Giant Egg was broadcast on BBC Two on the 2nd March. If you haven't seen it then watch it on BBC iPlayer before it's too late!

Wonders of the Universe

Another much anticipated telly blockbuster that is packing a punch back in Britain is 'Wonders of the Universe', a follow up to 'Wonders of the Solar System', presented by Professor Brian Cox.

Who are we? Where do we come from? For thousands of years humanity has turned to religion and myth for answers to these enduring questions. But in this series Brian presents a different set of answers - answers provided by science - and they are more beautiful and more profound than we ever imagined. In this episode, Brian seeks to understand the nature of time and its role in creating both the universe and ourselves.

Read more on the BBC programme page.

Wonders of the Universe was broadcast on BBC 2 on Sunday 6th March - watch it on iPlayer NOW!

Stuck with Tyson!

While 'Wonders of the Universe' was being broadcast in the UK we had a respite from camping in the frozen back woods of Maine, and a chance to watch some TV in a cosy lodge. Sadly, all we had to entertain us was some telly trash on Animal Planet called 'Taking on Tyson' about Mike Tyson's passion for pigeon racing. Nice idea, but a shame that it glamourises a convicted criminal and thug!

David Attenborough and Brian Cox knock out Tyson any day.