Friday, 24 June 2011

'If you tolerate this...' Manic Street Preachers shoehorned into Springwatch

Please click here to comment
If you're a fan of Springwatch, and an even keener fan of the Manic Street Preachers then you may have spotted Chris Packham's seamless intergration of Manic song titles in to this years show. It's not the first time he's used his extensive knowledge of music to keep keenies interested last Springwatch it was The Cure, the year before it was The Smiths. Next time I see him I may suggest he tries the extensive back-catalogue of my favourite west-country band the Wurzels... 'I'll never get a scrumpy here' 'Mother nature calling' 'Make hay not war'... You can't get more Springwatch than that!

Video from BBC NatureUK

Thursday, 23 June 2011

#W00T Panning timelapse head & egg timer! Nom nom nom... @camarush

Please click here to comment
#W00T. Another cool gadget for my ever expanding camera bag. The Camalapse - it's not just a cheap and cheerful panning timelapse head but it's also a nifty little egg timer too. Nom, nom, nom...

It's size means that it has limited use for broadcast TV unless you're using a mini-camera like the GoProHD (which just about squeezes through into the list of cameras that we can, and can not, use depending on the situation). For me, it's good fun and another way to play with my iPhone camera.

Zoologists mourn as Archaeologists rub their hands - Amazon - Unnatural Histories

Please click here to comment
Unnatural Histories, Amazon, 23rd June, 9pm, BBC4

As a wildlife filmmaker I'm fortunate to be able to travel to remote and 'wild' locations as part of my work, but after watching Unnatural Histories I'm beginning to see some of these 'wilderness' places in a different light (How natural is the natural world? 5th June). Next week I'll be travelling to Brazil, as I fly over the vast rainforests and expansive cerado landscapes I'll be thinking just how wild is this place? What great human endeavors lie entombed within the thick, moist rainforest? I'll be thinking back to tonights episode  - The Amazon.

Zoologists Mourn

The Amazon rainforest is the epitome of a last great wilderness, a vast expanse of rainforest sprawling 5.5 million square kilometers over South America. It's unparalelled in its biodiversity, home to 10% of all known species. It has the worlds highest plant diversity with some estimates claiming that there are more than a thousand types of tree, and thousands more species of plants, in any square kilometer. To date over 128,000 invertebrate species, 40,000 plant species, 3,000 fish, 1,294 birds, 427 mammals, 428 amphibians, and 378 reptiles have been scientifically classified in the region. These figures are astounding, and the task of identifying and naming them is seemingly endless... But unless we act now, the human endeavor to discover the wonderous creatures of the amazon could be cut prematurely short.

Sadly, since the 1970s this green jewel has become an international symbol of nature under threat. Powerful agricultural and industrial interests bent on felling trees encroach ever deeper into virgin forest, and now more than 25% of the Amazon has been chopped down - slashed and burned, leaving nothing but pasture for cattle and a desert of monoculture. That's a loss of over 720,000 square kilometres (2008), equivalent to the size of Texas and New Jersey combined. The rate shows no signs of slowing. A report in the Financial Times today stated that in March and April of this year, the area of the Amazon that was deforested rose nearly sixfold compared with the same period a year earlier. What is even more shocking is that scientists estimate that as a result of global deforestation as many as 130 species go extinct, every day, many of these are undiscovered species in the amazon.

Archaeologists rub their hands in glee

So, I hear you ask, 'what has this got to do with tonights Unnatural Histories programme?' Well, it turns out that while zoologists and environmentalists mourn the loss of thousands of species, archaeologists and historians are rubbing their hands in excitement. New discoveries suggest that the Amazon is not what it seems. As more trees are felled, the story of a far less natural place is revealed - enormous manmade structures, even cities, hidden for centuries under what was believed to be untouched forest. All the time archaeologists are discovering ancient, highly fertile soils that can only have been produced by sophisticated agriculture far and wide across the Amazon basin. This startling evidence sheds new light on long-dismissed accounts from the very first conquistadors of an Amazon teeming with people, and threatens to turn our whole notion of wilderness on its head. If even the Amazon turns out to be unnatural, what then for the future of wilderness?

Since the late 1980s deforestaton in the Amazon has revealed huge earthen structures called geoglyphs. As more and more of these ancient sites come to light, archaeologists are trying to unravel the mystery of who built them.

Friday, 17 June 2011

I'm wearing blue socks for Boobies @galapagossip

Please click here to comment
To donate (UK): TEXT 70070 quoting 'BFBD11' and the amount you wish to give e.g. £2  BFBD11£2

I'm donning my blue socks in recognition of Boobies.  Yes, it's Blue-footed Booby Day and your chance to help save the Galapagos Islands. Friday 17th June.

Blue-Footed Booby Day, created by the Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT), aims to raise awareness of the need to protect this amusing but vulnerable bird and other species at risk on the islands.  They ask that you wear blue socks and donate £2. While the Blue-Footed Booby is officially listed by the IUCN (the organisation that rules on how endangered a species is) as 'least concern', recently researchers have agreed that their numbers are in-fact  in decline. Nesting and feeding sites have been destroyed through the impact of fishing, introduced species such as the black rat eat their eggs, and the growing human population is also taking its toll. Irrespective of how endangered the boobies are at the moment, they remain an icon representing the many Galapagos species that are in trouble, and unless something is done this charming bird could face an uncertain future.

The Rosetta Stone of Evolution

Nearly 9,000 species call these islands and their surrounding waters home. Their isolation in the  pacific for up to 5 million years, has resulted in some of the highest levels of endemism on the planet - species found nowhere else on Earth. Fred Kaufman, of Boston University, describes them, as the "Rosetta stone of evolution", this is the place where Charles Darwin found inspiration and evidence.

Sadly since humans first tread on the islands less than 500 years ago we've left a hefty footprint. Just consider the 109 vertebrate species that have been recorded. 13 of these are already extinct, 16 are endangered and 34 are classed as threatened or vulnerable - mostly due to human activity, and more recently the impact of climate change. These are staggering statistics - less than half, only 42% of Galapagos vertebrate species are listed as 'least concern' - meaning thumbs-up for now. For butterflies, moths and snails this is only 40%, and for the 180 endemic plant species that were evaluated by IUCN, this is as low as 32%.

When you include all assessed species it's clear to see that the Galapagos needs help. A report, published in the journal Global Change Biology, in 2009 came to the conclusion that 45 species have become extinct or are tinkering very close to the edge.

Included in these species is the Mangrove finch that was once studied by Charles Darwin. According to Matt Walker of BBC, there are fewer than 200 of these birds remaining, “all of which are dependant on mangroves that are susceptible to further climate change.”
Included in these species is the Mangrove finch that was once studied by Charles Darwin. According to Matt Walker of BBC, there are fewer than 200 of these birds remaining, “all of which are dependant on mangroves that are susceptible to further climate change.”
When spanish explorer Tomas de Berlanga first discovered the islands in 1535 he wrote to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V that "the birds are silly, they know not how to fly", conveniently the bird he was speaking about was also pretty tasty - the flightless cormorant. Now there's less than 900 remaining. Let's hope the Blue-Footed Booby doesn't go the same way.

"We can screw up Galapagos in the way that we can very easily screw up the whole planet. These Islands are an example, a parable, for how we treat the natural world. Get it right in Galapagos and the Islands can provide a model for the world- Sir David Attenborough

To donate send a TEXT to 70070 quoting 'BFBD11' and the amount you wish to give e.g. £2  BFBD11£2

What is a Blue-Footed Boobie?

The Blue-Footed Boobies are most famous for their bright blue feet and hilarious mating dance. The colour of their feet ranges from light to deep blue - males and younger birds have lighter feet than the females. How they got their bright blue feet is a mystery, but the blueness plays an important part in courtship. The name possibly derives from the Spanish term bobo meaning ‘clown’ and this comes from their mating dance, which has to be seen to be believed. After this they use their feet to keep their chicks warm, as they are one of the few breeds of Booby that raise multiple offspring at one time.

The Booby Prize

Funds from Blue-Footed Booby Day will help support a crucial research project to establish a more accurate picture of the population size and breeding patterns of the Blue-Footed Booby and to understand what is causing the decline in their numbers. This two year project begins this May and builds on the success of similar monitoring work that is already helping to save the endangered Galapagos Penguin and critically endangered Floreana Mockingbird.

“Please join in and support Blue-footed Booby Day. Simply by sporting blue feet and making a small donation of £2 for doing so, you can help us to save what Sir David Attenborough calls ‘the most astonishing place on earth’” - GCT’s chief executive, Toni Darton

Facts source:

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Milk from male cows! Are Britons becoming nature nitwits?

Please click here to comment
I was awake and travelling for more than 24 hours yesterday, arriving at my hotel in Maine pretty shattered. Unfortunately I can't sleep - darn jet lag. Or maybe it's this article from the daily mail, that's playing on my mind...

Acorns fall from sycamore and elm trees, honey made from pollen, milk from male cows, beware of frogs! Surely this can't be true? These people obviously don't watch Springwatch, or didn't catch my previous series 'Animal's Guide to Britain'.  Either it's the curse of Jade Goody, or the survey was carried out on the cerebrally challenged cast of that TOWIE monstrosity I keep hearing about (aka Televisions Onerous, Wooden, and Intellectually Engineered reality soap). Apologies TOWIE fans, I'm being a little mean - when you think about it both shows are pretty similar. One is a candid view of vacuous humans and the other our glorious wildlife. Surely it's a matter of national pride that Robins & Sparrows live here all year - and every Briton should know that.
Posted by ShoZu

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Out of the office! Filming wild lynx kittens in Maine, USA

Please click here to comment
By the time you read this I'll be somewhere over the atlantic ocean (the wonders of auto-posting!) on my way back to a remote part of northern Maine in the north west USA. Earlier in the year I was filming wild lynx in the deep snow. Now cameraman David Wright and I are heading back to film wild lynx and their newly born kittens in their den. Last time the snow was three metres deep and it was a real challenge to get around, even by snowmobile. This time I'm expecting a plague of black flies and ticks.

I'm not expecting to have mobile signal but if I do I'll be sure to post photos and updates on Twitter. 

Photo source: Discover Magazine

The last time I was in Maine!
Waist deep snow on a beaver flowage - needed a hand to get out.

Dive into the tumultuous world of the waves. Watch a short masterpiece as featured on @bbc_Springwatch

Please click here to comment

If you're a fan of Springwatch then you may have caught the surf on yesterday's show with bodyboarder Mickey Smith's inspiring film about the raw beauty and power of the ocean. It's a creative and stylish masterpiece filmed mostly around the coasts of Ireland and Cornwall, and utilising a mixture of good 'ol Super 16mm film, as well as HD footage from the Canon 5Dmk11 DSLR. 

“I wanted to create that something that would give insight into what it takes to grind out a living as a water-based photographer in the surfing industry, to provide a short, experimental glimpse into life lived in the shadow of what is, for me, an obsessive pursuit.” - Micky Smith

I've posted the film here for you to dive back into the tumultuous world of the waves.
Jeremy Torrance brought this to my attention when he posted it on the BBC Nature Blog.

Monsoon hits India & me! A lifeline for wildlife, people & leeches

Please click here to comment
I've just heard from my friend Kalyan Varma in India that this years monsoon rains have started pouring - a time of celebration and thanksgiving. In 2009 I visited Kerala on the south west coast to experience the full force of the monsoon as it arrived on mainland India. During the previous few days we had endured sweltering temperatures in the high 50s (oC), so the onset of the rains was exhilarating! Within minutes we were happily drenched to the bone. This was the beginning of our journey following the monsoon north as it passed over the Western Ghat mountains. You can see more videos and read about our monsoon adventure here.

We get drenched as the monsoon hits Kerala

Mountain meets monsoon

The Western Ghats form a 1600 km long barrier that forces the moisture laden monsoon clouds to rise. In the process they deposit most of their rain, drenching the mountains with as much as 9,000 mm (350 inches). No wonder that some parts of the Western Ghats are said to be the wettest places on earth. The deluge is critical in the life cycle of thousands of endemic species that live here, especially the numerous frogs such as the Purple frog which emerge from their underground hideaways for a brief period to breed in the first rains. By mid-July the monsoon has spread north to cover the rest of India and neighbouring countries including Bangladesh and Bengal.

Oh yes, the leeches also love it too!

A lifeline for India

On a normal year 80% of India's entire annual rainfall, as much as 390 inches, will fall in just four months - the rainy season. We may complain in Britain when we get a thimble-full of our annual 37 inches, but in India rain is celebrated. In 2009 it arrived at Kerala early, on 23rd May, but it was a particularly weak monsoon and it took several weeks longer than usual to reach central India. The rains are a vital lifeline, providing relief from the dryness and heat of June, but more importantly directly irrigating 60 percent of India's farms - the main food supply for a booming population of more than 1 billion people. In a country where agriculture accounts for 25% of the GDP and employs 235 million people, a late or weak monsoon can have devastating effects on crops and the economy.

The Times of India closely monitors the monsoon

The monsoon approaches Kerala

It's difficult to keep dry when it rains heavily throughout most of the day

A typical monsoon drenched town in the Western Ghats. Photo: Paul Williams

David Heath filming in a drenched Indian forest

David happy in the mist - filming the rare Nilgiri Tahr 'cloud goat'

Monday, 6 June 2011

The real Dave channel? David Attenborough @eden_TV #AskAttenborough

Please click here to comment
Ask Attenborough, Monday 27th June at 7pm
Eden Channel, 532 on Sky/HD or 208 on Virgin Media

Last week I was invited to be part of a small studio audience during an exclusive question and answer session with Sir David Attenborough called 'Ask Attenborough'. This was a chance to celebrate and question the man who has been the voice of natural history TV for more than 50 years. The event was broadcast live on the eden channel website to over a million people around the world. You can watch the highlights below.

Is eden the real Dave channel?

The eden TV channel is fast becoming for wildlife, what Dave is for witty banter. In fact if the name wasn't already taken, eden might just as well have called itself Dave in recognition of the man who is the face and voice of the channel. Sadly Dave had been christened in 2007 -  a new name for UKTVG2. It wasn't until 2009 when TV execs of UKTV Documentary finally realised that their channels name was also a bit dull. As it was impossible to find anyone else as worthy as Sir David, to name the channel after, it was decided to call it eden - an appropriate home for what many call the voice of god. With this new name came a regular and reliable lineup of Sir David Attenborough's top hits - Life of Mammals, Life of Birds, Life in the Freezer... Now, if you've had enough of Jeremy Clarkson wattling on about the price of fuel on Dave, you can just press 532 on Sky/HD or 208 on Virgin Media, and relax to assuring tones while you witness the finest spectacles of nature (ofcourse most of the programmes are re-runs of BBC documentaries).

So after 2 years of working to make eden the go-to place for your Attenborough fix, this event meant a lot to the channel, and it meant a lot for me to be a part of it. Although I have worked with Sir David it's always a pleasure to see him, and be inspired by his insatiable appetite to learn, and to share knowledge of the natural world.

Fossils Don't Burn!

I was given a prime position, in the front row, and I was allowed to ask Sir David a question. One thing came immediately to mind, it was from the first time I visited him at his home in Richmond whilst making Life in Cold Blood. He knew that I was a palaeontologist and so the first thing he did, after greeting me and the crew, was to take me over to one of his cabinets from which he uncovered some of his fossil collection. Thrusting a range of peculiar items into my hands, one by one, he asked me to identify them. Most of which I thankfully guessed correctly, but I have to admit that I failed when it came to the coprolite - dinosaur poo. Since then I've built up my own collection of curios and enjoy playing the same game with my visitors!

So my question was...
'You famously have a collection of historical artifacts, fossils and other curios but if your house was burning down what would you save and why?' he laughed and said 'He'd rescue the family album because fossils don't burn!'
The eden channel kindly sent me a selection of some of the highlights. You can watch the full version on eden, Monday 27th June at 7pm.

Ben Fogle takes questions from the audience - Images copyright of Eden

Eeek! Spiders - a hunt like no other (via BBC Wonder Monkey)

Please click here to comment
Excerpt from Matt Walker's BBC Wonder Monkey blog

'How a short film called Loom offers a new perspective on the natural world: telling in CGI a simple story of how a moth is captured in a spider’s web, and how despite its best efforts to wriggle free, it succumbs to the spider which feasts upon it.' - Matt Walker

According to Jan Bitzer, one of Loom’s directors, they started out by watching a number of clips of spider behaviour filmed by the BBC’s own Natural History Unit, to which BBC Nature online is affiliated.

Read more about this, and other wierd and wonderful stories from Nature on Matts Blog.

A scene from the movie Loom, depicting a spider and moth (image: Polynoid)

A scene from the movie Loom, depicting a spider and moth (image: Polynoid)

Sunday, 5 June 2011

How natural is the natural world? Unnatural Histories BBC4

Please click here to comment
BBC Four, 9pm, Thursday 9th June

If you're a fan of wildlife on TV then you've probably sat agog, captivated by the marvels and migrations of the Serengeti. Gasped as wolves take down elk in Yellowstone National Park, and gazed in wonder at the colourful diversity of Amazonian amphibians and birds. Wildlife TV programmes are made all the more pleasurable by reminding us that somewhere out there remains a natural wilderness untouched by humans. 

On Thursday night, Unnatural Histories on BBC Four will turn this notion on its head by posing the question - just how natural is the natural world? 

Exploring the history of three of the worlds most iconic, and filmed, natural wildernesses, this inquisitive series uncovers how each has been fundamentally shaped by humans. The Serengeti first became wild when a colonial disease crippled the economic livelihoods of local people, emptying the land and allowing the modern vision of Africa as a pristine wilderness to take hold. In the American West, Yellowstone was born when a romantic European ideal was imposed on the homelands of Native Americans by ambitious politicians and railroad tycoons. And today, as the loggers move deeper into the world's last great wilderness, strange earthworks emerge from the destruction of the virgin forest – evidence of ancient cities in the very heart of the Amazon. 

With the purity of even the most pristine wild places under question, what is the future for wilderness?

Episode 1: Serengeti

More than anywhere, the Serengeti is synonymous with wilderness and has even come to represent Africa. But the story of the Serengeti is just as much about humans as it is about wildlife. Right from the origin of our species in Africa, humans have been profoundly shaping this unique wilderness - hunters and pastoralists with cattle and fire, ivory traders and big game hunters, conservationists, scientists, filmmakers and even tourists have all played a part in shaping the Serengeti. Probably most powerful of all was a tiny microbe unknowingly brought to Africa by a small Italian expeditionary force - Rinderpest, a deadly virus that swept through the continent decimating cattle and wildlife alike and forever changing the face of the wild. The Serengeti is far from timeless, it is forever changing - and wherever there is change, the influence of Homo sapiens is not far behind.
BBC programme Page

Posted by Paul Williams