Thursday, 22 September 2011

BBC Dinosaur programmes that I'm missing - catch up on iPlayer while you can.

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I can't believe that I didn't work on any of these Dinosaur programmes and that I'm away in the soggy wilderness when they're being broadcast. Too many great films and not enough time to work on, or watch, everything! I only hope that they linger on BBC iPlayer long enough for me to catch up when I get back to the UK.

So while I'm sitting inside our storm-battered, and soggy, house-boat in British Columbia, thinking excitedly about the episodes of 'Planet Dinosaur' awaiting my return home, I notice that I've also just missed...

Extinct: A Horizon guide to Dinosaurs

Dallas Campbell delves in to the Horizon archive to discover how our ideas about dinosaurs have changed over the past 40 years. From realising that lumbering swamp dwellers were really agile warm blooded killers, astonishing new finds, controversial theories and breakthrough technology have enabled scientists to rethink how they lived and solve the mystery of their disappearance. And they can even reveal whether dinosaurs might still be with us today (watch on iPlayer while you can)

Dinosaurs, Myths & Monsters

I also missed this one from last week - Weds 14th Sept BBC One (watch on iPlayer while you can)

I used to present a talk with the same title so I can pretty much guess the content - most of which was probably taken straight from two excellent books by Adrienne Mayor - Fossil Legends of the first Americans and The First Fossil Hunters:Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times

In an epic story that takes us from Ancient Greece to the American Wild West, historian Tom Holland goes on a journey of discovery to explore the fascinating ways in which our ancestors sought to explain the remains of dinosaurs and other giant prehistoric creatures, and how bones and fossils have shaped and affected human culture. In Classical Greece, petrified bones were exhibited in temples as the remains of a long lost race of colossal Heroes. Chinese tales of dragons may well have had their origins in the great fossil beds of the Gobi desert. In the Middle Ages, Christians believed that mysterious bones found in rock were the remains of giants drowned in Noah's Flood. 

But far from always being wrong, Tom learns that ancient explanations and myths about large fossilsed bones often contained remarkable paleontological insights long before modern science explained the truth about dinosaurs. Tom encounters a medieval sculpture that is the first known reconstruction of a monster from a fossil, and learns about the Native Americans stories, told for generations, which contained clues that led bone hunters to some of the greatest dinosaur finds of the nineteenth century.

This documentary is an alternative history of dinosaurs - the neglected story of how mythic imagination and scientific inquiry have met over millennia to give meaning to the dry bones of prehistory. Today, as our interest in dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures continues unabated, it turns out we are not so far away from the awe and curiosity of our ancient ancestors.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Geology of Music - London event inspired by life 650 million yrs ago @LolaPerrin @alexiskirke

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On October 2nd I'll be in conversation with Princeton Professor Dr Adam Maloof, discoverer of  the earths oldest known animal life. This will follow a unique musical performance by composers Lola Perrin and Alexis Kirke who were inspired by the incredible fossil find, and its implications for science.

The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, London, NW1 7NL
Sunday October 2nd, 7pm

You can purchase tickets to this unique event here.

The event will be recorded and hopefully available online shortly afterwards.

An Incredible Discovery

To look at it's just a jumble of small sponge-like fossils that wouldn't be out of place on Britain's Jurassic coast, but uniquely they are a lot older than that, dating back to more than 650 million years ago. They were deposited during a period of time known as the cryogenian or 'snowball earth' - a hostile period in earths history, when for 200 million years, the planet was locked in a deep freeze. For great lengths of time the oceans were covered with ice, and temperatures were around -74°F. Few people believed that animal life could have existed before, or survived this period, but this new discovery proves that it did, and extends the history of animal life by up to 90 million years.

one animal somewhere must have survived so that it could continue on and eventually become humans” says Maloof. Read more on the Princeton University website  

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Dinosaurs - Big, Bad & Bizarre - hold on to your seats for Planet Dinosaur on BBC One

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 Planet Dinosaur, BBC One, 8:30pm, Weds 14th September.

As a trained palaeontologist I've been waiting for this series since I watched the last episode of Walking with Dinosaurs with my colleagues at the Natural History museum in London in 1999. 12 years later and the BBC has finally put its sharp teeth back in and brushed down its scaley armour to present an even more ambitious new series - Planet Dinosaur. The next generation of children won't be talking about Tyrannosaurus Rex or Diplodocus because bigger, badder and altogether more bizarre dinosaurs are taking their place at the top table of the prehistoric world. More dinosaurs have been discovered in the past 10 years than the previous 200. From Spinosaurus, the biggest killer to ever walk the Earth, to the immense sea-monster Predator X, and the deadly cannibalistic Majunasaurus – dinosaurs were more monstrous and horrific than ever before imagined. 

As a child I gazed at Charles R Knights classic dinosaur paintings that adorn the walls of the American Museum of Natural History - I wanted to dive in and see these dinosaurs brought to life. This series does just that, not in a wet-your-pants Jurassic Park kind of way, where everything looks terrifyingly real, but in a 'hyper-real' dreamy sort of way. To me this is Knights paintings writ large on our Television screens. Planet Dinosaur combines a rich 3D graphic world with incredible CGI to bring us a whole new perspective on these 'terrible lizards'. Find out more on the BBC programme page 

Charles R Knight 1897. Illustration of a Brontosaurus (nowadays called Apatosaurus). The idea that Apatosaurus was wholly or mostly aquatic is now considered outdated (AMNH)

Predator X didn't mind the fact that he was technically not a Dinosaur so long as he had a cool super-hero name, but he got pi***d off when other marine reptiles taunted him!

Spinosaurus got to grips with life at the top of his game. All the dino-girls were impressed that he was considered the biggest land predator ever.

BBC 4 looks beneath the scales

Meanwhile BBC 4 will be less 'what big teeth you've got' and more 'mmm, I wonder what else these odd creatures can reveal about life on earth' with an equally fascinating line-up of programmes exploring the legacy of Dinosaurs.

How To Build A Dinosaur, BBC Four
Dinosaur skeletons are some of the most popular exhibitions in the world – each year, hundreds of thousands of children flock to the Natural History Museum to see the world famous diplodocus, Dippy. But how do these skeletons get from the ground to the museum hall, traversing millions of years in history to educate and entertain? For every museum, reconstructing a dinosaur skeleton is a fine balance between science and art. Science presenter and anatomist Dr Alice Roberts guides viewers through the entire reconstruction of a museum's new dinosaur exhibition from the raw bones to the final skeleton.

Survivors, BBC Four
It is estimated that 99 per cent of Earth's species have become extinct. Professor Richard Fortey of the Natural History Museum discovers what allows the very few that survive to carry on going – perhaps not for ever, but certainly far beyond normal species life-expectancy. What makes a survivor when other species drop like flies?  From the jellyfish to the crocodile this series focuses on the survivors whose biographies stretch back millions of years and who can teach humans how it is possible to survive a mass extinction event.

Dinosaurs, Myths And Monsters, BBC Four
Prehistoric bones posed an enormous conundrum in the past. What were they? What did they signify? And what were the implications of those findings? How could they be reconciled to beliefs and myths about the origins of humans and indeed, the planet? For centuries, dinosaur and other fossilised bone remains have perplexed, challenged and amazed humans. This film tells the story of the impact of the gradual discovery of dinosaurs. It's a story which explains how ideas, explanations and philosophies altered and evolved through time and how humans developed theories to explain the mysteries of the bones.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Is Tony Blair a fan of Deadly? Live 'n' Deadly starts saturday BBC2

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BBC2 & CBBC from 9am

Live 'n' Deadly bursts back on to our TV screens this Saturday morning with more deadly animals and daring adventures from Steve and Naomi.  

PS. Just discovered where Tony Blair has been hiding - he's a big fan of Steves too (see photo below)...

Here's a sneaky peak of Naomi's Big Challenge on the first show, where she'll be wing walking and feeling what it is like to fly like a hobby. Steve and Naomi will also be joined by world freestyle kayaking champion James Bebbington. The Deadly team want to know what you've been up to? If you've had an adventure, let them know. The lines are open for your Beat Backshall questions. Can you outwit Steve?

 Also, don't forget - you can now be a mini-Steve in the Deadly Dash online game

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Animal baby cuteness overload - It's Nature's Miracle Babies!

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Episode 2, Sunday 11th September, 6:30pm, BBC One

All over the world, species are on the brink of extinction. Springwatch presenter and wildlife TV producer Martin Hughes-Games, brings us a heart-warming series exploring their plight and meeting the babies born against the odds. For some species captive breeding is their only hope.

Episode 1 saw Martin begin his journey in China with the pin-up of the natural world, the giant panda. Without the extraordinary advances in reproductive science, it's possible that these bamboo chewing balls of fluff would be extinct. He also followed the story of the pied tamarin - a tiny and tenacious monkey teetering on the edge, and a chunky baby one-horned Asian rhino who's adult horns are still tempting prizes for poachers. The episode was a 60 minute cute-fest but more importantly it gave a real insight into the work of extraordinary people around the world who's dedication these babies depend on.

WARNING - This video may cause men to vomit and women to go mushy.
Prepare for cuteness overload it's a bably animal montage.

 Baby panda at the Chendu research base, China (Photo: BBC)

In episode two Martin meets arguably one of the most beautiful and rarest cats in the world - the amur leopard. There's estimated to be less than thirty five surviving in the wild - a result of poaching and deforestation in their native eastern Russia. Martin visits the last place they can be found and discovers how zoos around the world are attempting to breed them in the hope that they can one day be safely released into the wild. Other cute miracles of human intervention featured in the episode are baby elephants in an orphanage in Kenya, and an incredibly rare barbary lion, extinct in the wild, whose first breath could also have been her last.

 Martin Hughes-Games meets captive bred amur leopard cub (photo: BBC)

Baby barbary lion (Photo: BBC)

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Dung carpets to prissy bower birds - Attenborough's Animal Architects on BBC2

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Animal House, 8pm BBC2, 7th September

David attenborough delves into the world of animal high rises and subway systems to show us that animals are way ahead when it comes to modifying the world around them. From prissy Bower Birds who constantly decorate and tidy up every inch of their nest, to hornets who build electric central heating systems. Now if all this talk of DIY is making you feel hungry then consider the burrowing owl  He flys miles to collect cow dung in just the right condition to carpet the entrance to his burrow with - there's no complaining from the family though as droves of juicy bite-size beetles are attracted by the pong. If you prefer a less crunchy meal then the home of  the star nosed mole could be just the ticket - it's built so that tasty worms literally drop in for dinner. To find out how watch 'Animal House' on BBC 2 tonight.

'Delightful film’, 'breathtaking footage'  - Wildlife Magazine

Producer: Mark Fletcher
Series Editor: Steve Greenwood
Executive Producer: Chris Cole

 Sir David Attenborough visits the decorated nest of a bower bird (Photo: BBC)

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Vast expanse of the Pantanal as seen from Mount Caracara

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At the heart of Brazils Pantanal national park is a hill that the locals call Caracara, it's named after a common bird that you can often see rising on the thermal currents here (see my post from August 2011). This hill is part of the Amolar mountains and affords a breathtaking view across the otherwise flat expanse of the Pantanal - the largest wetland in the world. The lush vegetation, rivers and baias spread 195,000 square kilometres over Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay and from up here you really get a sense of scale. I've posted a couple of iPhone Photosynths below to help give you a feel for what it's like at the top of Caracara.

Back in the remote & pristine wilderness of Matagrossense NP, Pantanal
 iPhone photo of the Amolar mountains.

 Caracara (related to the Peregrine Falcon) soars high on the mountain thermals

From Lake to Savannah

If you were to stand on Caracara at different times of the year you'd witness a spectacular transformation. In April the view would rival that as seen over the great lakes of North America. By November the landscape more closely resembles the savannah of Africa. The Pantanal is one of the most dynamic landscapes on earth, where the weather, the floods and the wildlife are constantly in a state of flux. You never quite know what to expect, how wet it's going to be, or what wildlife you're going to see, but you can always be sure that it's going to be spectacular. (see my post from July 2011)

Spot the cameraman!

Backshall's 'Deadly top 10' & 'Live 'n Deadly' on BBC2

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This week, in the lead up to Saturdays launch of the new series of Live 'n' Deadly, Steve Backshall takes us on a series of missions to choose his ten fiercest, fastest, smartest and most toxic animals. Tonight he'll unleash his list of top 10 leathal weapons from talons to tusks, bloodthirsty plants with killer spines, and the world's most painful sting. Ten fabulous weapons used to hunt and fight, but which will Steve choose to be crowned as number one? BBC Prog page

Live 'n Deadly vans lined up at the BBC ready for the next series: Sat 10th Sept.

Live 'n Deadly vans lined up at the BBC ready for the next series: Sat 10th Sept.