Sunday, 8 May 2016

Happy Birthday Sir David #Attenborough90

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7pm BBC One. This evening, to celebrate his 90th Birthday, Sir David Attenborough shares extraordinary highlights of his life and career with broadcaster Kirsty Young, including the inspiring people he has met, the extraordinary journeys he has made and the remarkable animal encounters he has had across the globe.

It was an honour to be in the audience for this special event. I was surrounded by colleagues that David had worked with over his many years in natural history television, including many legendary cameramen such as Martin Saunders who filmed the famous gorilla sequence. 

I first worked with David Attenborough on Life in Cold Blood in 2007. The first time we met I was high up on a cherry picker in Red Rocks, Colorado, preparing for David to arrive to film a sequence about T-Rex. As soon as I was lowered we began discussing the finer details of the script, which covered recent discoveries in the debate over cold versus warm bloodedness - I was relieved that we agreed on what could be said in the script, and that I had done my research! 

Visit the BBC website to find out more and see what else is being shown as part of Attenborough season. I am most looking forward to Zoo Quest in colour.

After the interview Sir David took time to speak with the many colleagues and friends that were there. 

Here I am with Sir David in 2008 after we won the Wildscreen Golden Panda for Life in Cold Blood...

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Falling in love with the Heart Tree - #EarthsGreatestSpectacles #BBC2

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'New England' - episode 1 of Earth's Greatest Spectacles
Original broadcast date - Feb 5th 2016. On BBC iPlayer.

In this film we reveal the magic of the New England forest and how this is the stage for the most incredible colour change on Earth - when the vivid greens of summer give way to the golds and reds of the fall. This film revels in the full glory of the spectacle, and reveals how this vibrant fiesta is created by the battles between the trees and the forests inhabitants.  Moose, chipmunks, rattlesnakes and a bizarre mixture of caterpillars all play a crucial role; but surprisingly the forest itself was made to be so colourful, thanks to a combination of hard work by beavers, ants and humans.

A love affair with New England 

New England, is made up of 6 states in the North Eastern corner of America. Stretching from Maine in the North to Connecticut in the South. It's a place that I have had a love affair with for many years. Upon leaving University I spent a few years living in the New England forest, where I taught people of all ages about the rich ecosystem and fascinating wildlife. It was a wonderful time of discovery for me, and one that very much led to me working in the BBC Natural History Unit when I returned to the UK. I was overjoyed to be given the opportunity to produce a film about this magical corner of America, and visit a place that I had fallen in love with 15 years earlier.

The Heart Tree

To illustrate how the forest changes with the seasons I searched for spectacular forest locations that I could visit several times through the year to create seasonal timelapse shots. My first trip, in March 2015, was to the White Mountains, New Hampshire, when the forest was still in the grip of winter. Driving along the Kancamagus Highway I was excited to discover this heart shaped maple tree. In the winter the trees barren branches looked just like the arteries and veins running through a human heart. To me it was the perfect symbol of just how beautiful this forest is, and how the trees are the lifeblood of this corner of America. New England is 80% covered in trees, more than anywhere else on the continent and its autumnal display draws millions of people to these forests every year. I was sure that in the autumn the heart tree would turn bright red and orange - and 8 months later it did! 

I visited the tree 5 times through the year in order to take a series of timelapses showing it in it’s
different seasonal foliage. One night I slept by the tree in freezing conditions as my cameras captured timelapses of the stars moving overhead, which took 5 hours to complete. I would often have 3 timelapse cameras and a video camera running at once, to capture the tree in different ways and from different perspectives.

Every time I visited I had a frame from my previous shot loaded on my camera, a simple camera hack (magic lantern) allowed me to load this onto the LCD screen of my 5D MarkIII camera as a semi-transparent ghost image, and this allowed me to line up the tree in exactly the same position as last time. For the realtime camera I printed a frame from the previous shot onto a sheet of acetate, which was the same size as the screen of the monitor I was using. Back in the UK I combined these shots to create a seasonal timelapse showing the tree as it changes through the year, and on my last visit I was able to film it as the red leaves started to fall. Through the year I fell in love with this maple tree and it is the first shot of the film.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Help Wildscreen & Arkive and vote for your favourite #UnderappreciatedSpecies

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Please help Wildscreen and Arkive and vote your favourite Underappreciated Species

I voted for this fella - The Lake Titicaca Frog. It's a species that I've always wanted to film for its peculiar looks and funky adaptation of baggy skin. It has a amusing predilection for doing aquatic press-ups to help circulate water, and extract as much oxygen as it can, in its high altitude lake-home in the Peruvian Andes.

 Please go and vote... 

 You'll be surprised what other species make the list...

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Duck Wars - when sex-starved mallards fight

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Early Spring is a feisty time for male mallard ducks. In March female ducks will nest and lay their eggs while the males stand by to protect them. As March approaches single males get more desperate to sire a clutch and seek out any females that appear unattached - this is when tensions can flare and males fight for the attention of the females.

I was with my daughter in Stourhead, Wiltshire, watching the ducks in the picturesque lake, when I noticed a pair of males in head-lock as a female watched on. The fight went on for at least 10 minutes as the females grazed around them, and occasionally looked on to see what all the kerfuffle was about.