Monday, 26 January 2015

Bird of Paradise in Qatar - David Attenborough gets upstaged!

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David Attenborough might be a master of words but getting them out can be a challenge when you're repeatedly upstaged by an excited Greater Bird of Paradise.

Attenborough's Paradise Birds - Thurs 29th January, BBC2

'For me birds of paradise are the most romantic and glamorous birds in the world. And this is a film I have wanted to make for 40 years.'  - Sir David Attenborough.

When the nine-year-old David Attenborough was given a book about birds of paradise, revealing an extraordinary family of birds unlike any he’d ever seen, it began a lifetime’s obsession. These extraordinary birds inspired him to embark, aged 31, on an epic three month long adventure to the dangerous and remote island of New Guinea, with the hope of filming one of their bizarre displays for the very first time. And he succeeded. David Attenborough continued to film the displays of these wonderful birds in his series over the last 50 years – many for the very first time.

"Recently an American team, Tim Laman and Ed Scholes have spent nearly a decade filming all 39 species. And so for the film we had to bring them over so they could meet David and show him footage of a display they had filmed that even he had never seen before" said Producer Miles Barton.

In the plumed birds such as the Greater Bird of Paradise, males display in the forest canopy, in groups known as leks. They dance to compete for the attention of females. © Tim Laman/

In this very personal film, David uncovers the remarkable story of how these 'birds from paradise' have captivated explorers, naturalists, artists, film-makers and even royalty. He explores the myths surrounding their discovery 500 years ago, the latest extraordinary behaviour captured on camera and reveals the scientific truth behind their beauty: the evolution of their spectacular appearance has in fact been driven by sex.

Birds of Paradise in Qatar

"We wanted to bring David face to face with a living bird displaying as he first witnessed it more than 50 years ago" said Miles Barton. In a final modern twist  to this story of obsession and royalty, David and the team visited the desert of Qatar, and a state of the art facility which houses the largest breeding group of these birds in the world; a Qatari Sheikh’s very own private collection.

"For me as producer that was the most nerve-wracking part of the filming." "I went ahead to meet our bird stars. A few of the males had become imprinted on their carers, (believing them to be other birds of paradise) and so would court human visitors. I duly stood in to test the first candidate. He was somewhat over enthusiastic, seeing me as a rival and was more interested in attacking me with beak and claw rather than courting"

"Only the Curator Simon Matthew’s patience and understanding of our highly strung lothario meant that on our final day of the shoot the bird finally strutted, danced and posed right beside David, almost brushing his face with its plumes. So it was a great relief when he was finally able to come literally face to face with his lifetime obsession."

A captive Greater Bird of Paradise bows during his courtship display. Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation, Qatar.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Meat-eating monster crab of Christmas Island #EarthOnLocation

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For the BBC Two series 'Wonders of the Monsoon' the team recorded extraordinary new behaviour of the worlds largest crab - the robber crab, hunting amongst the millions of migrating land crabs on Christmas island, 2000 kms of the west coast of Australia. Although the significance of this footage seems to have been overlooked, it does reveal for the first time that the robber crab, believed to be mostly vegetarian, also has a taste for meat.

Robber crabs powerful pincers that are adapted for opening coconuts, and they have been observed feeding on carrion, but the new footage reveals robber crabs actively predating by pouncing, and using their pincers to puncture the red crabs shell before opening it up to eat the soft parts.

Robber crab sizing up a smaller Christmas Island crab

The moment of attack

Robber crab punctures the shell of the Christmas Island crab before tearing it apart to eat

The Christmas Island crab migration is triggered by the monsoon rains. 45 million red crabs migrate en masse from the forest to the sea to spawn. It’s a flowing river of glistening red crabs - one of the worlds most amazing natural spectacles.

Christmas Island crab photobomb

It may be that the robber crabs hunting streak is tuned into this seasonal migration. This is when the christmas island crabs are loaded with nutrient rich eggs stored in their bodies. Feasting on this rich food may be a huge boost for the robber crabs in preparation for developing their own spawn. It was a lucky find for the crew when they eventually found a scene of carnage, and the robber crabs waiting in ambush.