Friday, 21 November 2014

Kandimalal - The Wolfe Creek Meteor Crater, Western Australia

Please click here to comment
Whilst travelling in Australia recently I had the chance in to visit Wolfe Creek Crater in Western Australia. I've known about this spectacular impact scar for years, having read about it in a 'Wonders of the World' book as a child. I've always been surprised by its relative lack of fame compared to its bigger brother - meteor crater in Arizona. However this changed in 2005 when Wolfe Creek was featured in a horror film of the same name. The Australian Tourist board claims that the movie has made this a popular tourist destination but we were there for 6 hours and we didn't see another person.

Wolfe Creek is the second largest visible meteor crater on earth and is well worth the 45km drive down a dirt road from the town of Halls Creek. This part of Australia is so vast, and still relatively unexplored, that it wasn't until 1947 that Wolfe Creek was spotted in an aerial survey.

Satellite image (Cnes/Astrium)

The crater is approximately 880 metres in diameter and 60 metres from rim to crater floor (naturally it was far deeper in the past). It's estimated that the impact occurred 300,000 years ago by a 100,000 tonne meteorite travelling of speeds 15kms a second (40 times faster than a speeding bullet). 

Clouds build over the crater

At the crater’s center, the ground rises slightly, and includes gypsum - responsible for the craters white centre, visible in the aerial images, and home to some surprisingly large trees. The trees likely draw moisture from the crater’s water reserves that remain after summer rains.

Kandimalal in Aboriginal Dreaming Stories

The local Djaru (Jaru) Aboriginal people refer to the crater as Kandimalal. There are multiple Dreaming stories about the formation of the crater. One such story describes the crater's round shape being formed by the passage of a rainbow snake out of the earth, while another snake formed the nearby Sturt Creek. 

Aboriginal art depicting the formation of Kandimalal (read more about these images here)

"A big star fell and made Kandimalal (the Crater). We call that star kiki in our language. There was a Rainbow Serpent traveling inside the ground and it came out from the crater. That snake was traveling underground. He came out right in the center of the crater. That’s where the water comes from in the middle of the crater. It comes from Sturt Creek. Sometimes, you can see that snake. In the wet season you can see him. He appears like a big light in the middle of the water. That rainbow — big snake, water snake. The name of the snake is Kalpurtu." - Boxer Milner, Billiluna 

Satellite image (Cnes/Astrium)

Another story, as told Aboriginal Elders Jack Jugarie, and Stan Brumby, is that one day the crescent moon and the evening star passed very close to each other. The evening star became so hot that it fell to the ground, causing an enormous explosion and flash, followed by a dust cloud. This frightened the people and a long time passed before they ventured near the crater to see what had happened. When they finally went there, they realised that this was the site where the evening star had fallen to the Earth. The Djaru people then named the place "Kandimalal" and it is prominent in art from the region.

 Walking on the rim

Monday, 17 November 2014

How to build a Dinosaur - a T-rex decal for your house.

Please click here to comment
How to build a Dinosaur... find a blank wall, buy a wall decal and slowly apply. 
The perfect addition to any hallway!

Applying the finishing touches!

However, it's not as easy as it looks, this T-rex is composed of hundreds of individual little pieces which need to be carefully applied. 

Firstly, we had to separate the two layers ensuring that the black decal elements came away with the transfer layer. We needed a good set of fingernails to help with this and so I enlisted my sister-in-law. Next, we precisely positioned the sheet and pressed it into position. Using a credit card we squeezed out any air bubbles. A quick soaking with warm water and we began to peel off the white layer to leave the black decal behind. 

A few days later the decal started to peel. A hairdryer partially melted the decal plastic allowing it to bond to the wall. Job done!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Giant Shrew Vs Monster Pitcher Plant - How we filmed it! #EarthOnLocation

Please click here to comment
For episode 4 of Wonders of The Monsoon we wanted to film the peculiar relationship between a giant mountain shrew and one of the worlds biggest pitcher plants on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu, Borneo.

It was once believed that the sweet nectar on the pitcher plants lid was part of a trap that enticed the shrew onto the slippery rim from which it would fall and drown in the pitchers cup of digestive juices. However, the truth is even more bizarre.

The only time this behaviour has been filmed before involved sitting in a hide for many days watching one of these plants in the hope that a shrew would turn up. This was also my plan. But shrews are incredibly nervous animals and so this technique is very limited for filming the different angles usually needed for a wildlife sequence - one rustle and the shrew would be gone.

Cameraman Richard Kirby and I were filming a number of stories on Mount Kinabalu. Whilst climbing on a section of trail used daily by climbers we stopped for a break. I sat down opened a piece a chocolate and took a minute to admire the view. That’s when a shrew jumped up beside me, grabbed my chocolate and ran off. It wasn’t long before he was back for more. We realised that unlike shrews elsewhere here, close to the trails on Mount Kinabalu these small mammals are incredibly habituated, used to seeing climbers and being able to get food. 

Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Borneo

A few days later and close to our camp we found some giant Kinabalu pitcher plants. The local guides assured us that if we waited we would see shrews coming to feed on them. Sure enough it wasn’t long before one turned up, and it wasn’t alone, we saw several shrews in the area hopping back and forth between pitchers and licking the pitcher lids for their sweet nectar. This was an incredible opportunity and I decided to drop our plans to use a hide and instead we were able to film the natural behaviour of wild shrews at close quarters - allowing shots to be filmed that just wouldn’t be possible with shrews elsewhere. We filmed the shrew cautiously hopping on the pitchers rim and licking the nectar from the lid.

But there was one final shot that I hoped to film in order to reveal the whole story. I had special permission to insert a camera inside one of the pitchers. I had hoped that this pitcher-cam would reveal what the shrew gives the plant in return for its nectar? Sure enough, the shrew completely ignored the camera. He jumped on, licked the lid and... 

...pood straight into the cup, and on to my lens. Revealing that in return for sweet nectar the shrew feeds the plant by pooing into its cup - a dose of concentrated nitrogen rich fertiliser. It’s one of the strangest relationships in nature, and this is just one of the stories that we filmed which reveals how a lack of nutrients on the rainwashed slopes of mount Kinabalu has driven species to adapt and evolve strategies to get what they need to survive.

The sequence

How we filmed it...

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Putting my camera down for life's most precious moment

Please click here to comment
Exactly two weeks ago I did something very unusual. I put my camera down. I decided to see something with my own eyes and experience one of life's most precious moments without the need to focus and click. This was the birth of my little girl Ammony. 

L-O-V-E by Nat King Cole played in the background as the caesarian section was carried out. I excitedly held my wife Donna's hands, and within minutes a little cry signalled the arrival of our little life changer. The 'curtain' was dropped like a magic show and we could see our little girl. From now on there would be three of us, and I would treasure that moment for the rest of my life. Ammony opened her eyes in our arms, seeing the world for the first time. She peered up to see the two people who would cherish and look after her. What wonders those eyes would see, and what adventures we would have together.

The remarkable thing is that the anaesthetist standing by Donna's head took my camera and clicked this image for us, preserving a digital copy of the raw and beautiful moment our daughter was born. I was just pleased to have seen this with my own eyes.

Ammony's eyes open for the first time
Mummy and Daddy 

Now two weeks later she's already started to learn about wonderful wildlife from the present and the past... 

A is for Ammonite
D is for Dinosaur
G is for Giraffe
O is for Orangutan
P is for Pteradon
R is for Rabbit
T is for Tyrannosaur

A lifetime full of fun, adventure and discovery awaits.

Only time will tell where these tiny feet will tread...

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Electrifying! Catching the spectacular storms of Northern Australia #EarthOnLocation

Please click here to comment
For the recent BBC2 series ‘Wonders of the Monsoon' we needed to film the power of the weather and how it influences wildlife, people and landscape. As you'd expect, it's an incredibly difficult subject, always changing, always on the move and despite our best efforts, it's never easy to predict. When we needed wet weather it wouldn't rain at all, when we wanted to film a drought story it was torrential. Storms in particular have a mind of their own, and like filming a wild animal, it pays to study your subject, learn its temperament and have patience - and get the experts on board!

Fortunately there is one place in the monsoon region where spectacular weather is pretty much guaranteed - Northern Australia. Here, at the Southern end of the Monsoon region, some of the worlds most powerful storms can be witnessed, and the best time to see these is in November and December. We teamed up with world renowned photographer Murray Fredericks to try and capture unique footage of the powerful weather events. I hope you'll agree that the results are some of the most incredible shots of storms ever to be seen on Television. Here is how we managed to catch and film them.

You can watch our 'behind the scenes' film below. 

The Chase

To track them down we were dependant on storm chasers Jacci Ingham and Mike O’Neill who used radar and their local knowledge to monitor over a million square kilometres, an area four times bigger than the UK. The storms could have started to build anywhere at anytime, and so we had to be ready.

Storm clouds build over Western Australia
 Our tough off-road vehicles that kept us moving 

The Heat

Whilst searching for storms we also stumbled across a seasonal side-effect of this dry time of year - wild fires, probably triggered by lightning strikes. The plumes of billowing smoke can be seen from many miles away and up close the heat is tremendous.

 A huge plume of smoke from a distant wild fire
 Cockroaches attempt to escape the heat by climbing high 
 Murray Fredericks films a wild fire

A Spectacular Setting

It wasn’t just footage of the storm itself that the team were after. It had to be a storm in a spectacular setting in order to reveal the whole story of the buildup and the seasonal impact of these weather systems on the landscape. We needed to get ahead of a storm and we needed to get up high.

Double rainbow over a boab tree, Western Australia
 Storms building over the Kimberley region, Western Australia

Wall of white

We were capturing time-lapses to speed up the action and reveal the storms as they developed and moved towards us. It can be a slow process and once we had a position we needed to leave the cameras running, and without water on the lens, for at least 10 minutes. We’d have to wait until the last possible moment, until the rain was upon us, and then we’d run for the car. This allowed us to capture beautiful shots of rain washing over the land and a wall of white obliterating the view and sweeping towards us.

 A wall of white obliterates the view - within a few minutes the rain was upon us

An Electrifying Moment

Getting our cameras drenched was one concern but we also wanted to film lightning and we were fully aware of the dangers, so we had to have our wits about us. One evening, after a few days with little storm activity, we managed to get ahead of a promising build-up, it looked like the perfect opportunity to film lightning against the reddish evening sky. As the sun set the flashes started to build, becoming more and more powerful, it quickly became the most spectacular storm I’ve ever seen. It moved much faster than any of us had anticipated, and suddenly it was on top of us. I could feel the static in the air. We had to grab the cameras and run down the hill for the safety of the car. It was an electrifying moment.