Thursday, 16 January 2014

#HiddenKingdoms - Wildlife cute fest & family fun on #BBCOne

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A real Natural History landmark event happens TONIGHT (8pm BBC One) 'Hidden Kingdoms'. 

If BBC's 'Planet Earth' were to be fused with Pixar's 'Bugs Life' then this show is something akin to what would be created. It's an epic, cinematic and honestly-upfront recreation of the real life dramas of a select bunch of the cutest critters in nature, accompanied by the animated tones of Stephen Fry. It's completely loveable, funny and endearing, with everything from a few scary Harry-Potter-type moments to loveable lol-catz moments that'll make you chuckle and coo at the sheer cuteness.

This show is upfront about the whole filming process, there's no pretence - this is an animal drama based on real life behaviour and events. 

"We feel this is an interpretation of the world these animals live in," Mike Gunton, Executive Producer, said"Audiences do understand that these are films," he added. "You don't turn up, press a button, film for 50 minutes then turn off. They understand editing happens, compression of time and highlights." 

Just check out the website, packed with behind the scenes interviews and DIY guides to creating the magic. 

Hidden Kingdoms is a perfect Christmas family watch, so its a-shame that it's missed the merry season by a few weeks, but it'll surely be a cracking start to another awesome year of wildlife on the BBC.

Episode 2: Chipmunk and Owl, Composite image created for the first episode of Hidden Kingdoms BBC

Episode 2: Tree shrew and python. Composite image created for the first episode of Hidden Kingdoms BBC

Episode 1: Elephant Shrew

The show was inspired by the adorable elephant shrew sequence in 'Life', and you'll be pleased to know that in 'Hidden Kingdoms' our rodent hero returns. Known by its African name of 'sengi', this is a creature that spends its whole life on the run. Unlike most small mammals, it doesn’t have a burrow to shelter in, but instead constantly races through the miniature jungle of the savannah grasslands. The sengi must survive in the world literally beneath the feet of some of the largest and most deadly animals on Earth. The sengi’s answer is to rely on its incredible speed and some remarkable trail-building skills. A sengi constructs a meticulously maintained network of tiny trackways through the undergrowth, using them to race through its territory in search of food, and evade even the fastest predators. But while these trails are the source of a sengi’s strength, they are also its greatest weakness - the racetrack is a prison: without it, the sengi cannot survive in the dense undergrowth.

Episode 1: Shrew and Elephant. Composite image created for the first episode of Hidden Kingdoms BBC

Episode 1: Shrew and monitor lizard. Composite image created for the first episode of Hidden Kingdoms BBC

Episode 1: Grasshopper Mouse

Another adorable animal that stars in episode one is the tiny grasshopper mouse, a fearsome fidgety creature constantly hopping about and capable of disarming the desert's deadliest scorpions. It warns others of its presence like a tiny wolf, standing on hind legs, throwing back its head and howling at the moon - without doubt one of the funniest moments in wildlife TV. Its home in the Sonoran desert is not only a world of relentless heat and bleached-out sunlight, but a realm of reptiles, ruled over by a posse of pack-hunting Harris Hawks. When you are a few inches tall, the desert becomes a real life Jurassic Park. You cant help but warm to these creatures.

Episode 1: Composite image created for the first episode of Hidden Kingdoms BBC

- Paul Williams

Monday, 13 January 2014

Meet the cute & wonderful cast of BBC #WildBrazil - An Intimate Trilogy

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I've been fortunate to spend a good amount of time filming in Brazil and I know how wonderful, diverse and abundant the wildlife is there, which is why I am particularly excited about this weeks Natural History trilogy on BBC2. In a year when all eyes will be turned to Brazil for the football world cup, Wild Brazil promises to give us a tantalising taste of life in the wild of this spectacular country.

The team only had 18 months to produce a 3 part series about a country which is larger than the whole of Europe, and ranges from the vast Amazon rainforest in the north, to the Cerado savannah and the Pantanal - the worlds largest wetland. "There's no way you can show a country like Brazil in just 3 hours," Adam White, series producer, told me "but what we can do is give you a fabulous insight into one of the most spectacular countries on earth." "It's a little like being a tourist, you can either spend a few days in each place, always on the move, or you can spend your whole time staying with one family, and really get a flavour of Brazilian life. That's what we did, only the families in question were animals.".

The series follows three charismatic animal families; capuchin monkeys, giant otters and coatis, as they strive to raise their families against a backdrop of extraordinary landscapes and huge extremes of weather - a beautiful yet dangerous world full of jaguars and caimans.

The seasonally flooded Pantanal wetland (Photo: Paul Williams)

"This was one of the first countries to stop hunting animals for fur back in the 70s. That means that much of the wildlife is incredibly tame - even the jaguars!  So we could get comfortably close to film some incredible and intimate stories."

Chocolate - The Cutest Tufted Capuchin

(Image courtesy of Wild Brazil/BBC)

"Soon after we arrived on location, one particular monkey caught our attention. He was just a few months old, and he had been named Chocolate by zoologist Camila Coelho (she is to these capuchins what Dian Fossey was to the gorillas). For the next year, we followed the whole group, but always kept a close eye on Chocolate as he grew up. Watching him grow up, take his first steps and learn from the rest of the troop how to be a clever monkey was one of the highlights of this series."

The Baby Giant Otter

(Image courtesy of Wild Brazil/BBC)

More than any animal filmed for Wild Brazil, giant otters lives are affected most by season and water levels. Predicting where and when they would give birth was a huge challenge. All the more remarkable then that the crew managed to film the moment when a new born kit was taken outside for the very first time. “These otter families are trying to bring up their babies in the roughest neighbourhood possible,” says Adam. “How can a baby otter learn to swim when the banks are patrolled by jaguars and the swimming pool is filled with caiman?” The otter’s only defence is to adopt a gang culture. “Otters have the power of family, that’s why they’re so big and that’s why there are so many of them. It’s a thing we can all relate to – the power of the family united against a common threat.”

(Image courtesy of Wild Brazil/BBC)
(Image courtesy of Wild Brazil/BBC)

The Curious Coati

"Having located a group of coatis the challenge was to keep them close and find the right moments to film. A Pantaneiro cowboy was sent ahead of the crew to spend several weeks with the coatis, so they would grow used to a human presence. Cameraman Barrie Britton then spent months following the group, watching them from a distance before eventually filming some remarkably intimate moments."

(Image courtesy of Wild Brazil/BBC)

The Jaguar Face-off

(Image courtesy of Wild Brazil/BBC)

"We spent more than nine weeks trying to film Jaguar in the Pantanal, and scanned an estimated 10,000 miles of riverbank in search of them. Here they are the biggest of all and they specialise in hunting caiman, killing them by piercing the skull with one of the most powerful bites in the animal kingdom. We filmed tender moments between these cats, including privileged views of cubs as well as courting and mating, but one of the highlights is when a group of otters has a face off with a jaguar."

Jaguar in the shade (Photo: Paul Williams)

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Massive Mudflats - photos from the air, Western Australia

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Here's a few photos I took of the vast mudflats on a recent flight over Broome and Derby in Western Australia. To read about the process I use to photograph through a plane window, and to see some of my other aerial images please click here. Thanks, Paul.

The coast that wraps around the towns of Broome and Derby in Western Australia has one of the highest tidal ranges in the world. In addition to the powering action of the moons gravity, the tide here is also hugely influenced by the shape of the coast and by the particularly shallow north-west continental shelf. As water is pushed in from deeper offshore (attracted by the pull of the moon), it's squeezed over the shallow continental shelf. This increase in pressure causes the currents to increase and these force the water further and faster towards the shore. In Broome tides can reach as high as 9 metres but the effect of 'continental shelf squeezing' is even more pronounced around Derby...

Mudflats South of Broome, photo from a plane, Paul Williams

Mudflats South of Broome, photo from a plane, Paul Williams

Derby is located on the south coast of King sound, a 120km long channel of shallow continental shelf. Here the water is constrained on both sides and as it's squeezed into the channel it's forced up the sound at speeds of up to 20cms per second, resulting in tides as high as 11.8 metres (the highest occur in the Bay of Fundy, Canada, where tides can be as high as 15 metres.) When the tides retreat they expose a vast area of mudflats, home to a unique intertidal ecosystem and a feeding ground for millions of birds.

Derby is located on the southern coast of King Sound, NASA World Wind Programme 

Derby mudflats, Paul Williams

Road across the mudflats at Derby, Paul Williams

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

2013. Amazing People, Inspiring Places, Awesome Wildlife. Thank You #BBCMonsoon

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