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Manukura - The Little White Kiwi

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The most successful kiwi breeding season in the history of New Zealand’s National Wildlife Center has ended on an extraordinary note with the surprise hatching of a rare white kiwi chick. The North Island Kiwi shown here is not albino, just naturally white. It is considered a sign of good things to happen by the local Maori community.

The flightless birds are as a rule only seen in the wild every couple of years and the last one born in captivity was released almost a hundred years ago - in 1915. The kiwi is a brown bird (as shown in the video) and this is an incredibly rare occurrence.

She has been called Manukura or Chiefly One by the local Maoris and is being hand-reared in a specially maintained nursery where the keepers will care for her for a minimum of twelve months before hopefully she is released in to the wild.

Robins: 4 Eggs, 4 Weeks

Fred Margulies is a lucky man.  A pair of robins decided to nest in a flower basket on his porch.  Being a film producer he captured this wonderful footage over the next four weeks.  Add the most appropriate soundtrack – When the red red robin comes bob bob bobbin’ and you have something magical.

Billions to None: The Passenger Pigeon and Species Extinction in America

Sunday, 29 May 2011

This is a rough cut of a proposed documentary by David Mrazek but you can see from this fifteen minutes or so that the finished product is going to be something really special. It tells the story of the demise of the great American species the Passenger Pigeon, the numbers of which went from the billion to none by the early twentieth century.

It details not only how the destruction of the species was speeded up by what amounted to industrialised harvest but warns that we are still doing the same thing to the planet – and depriving future generations of possibly countless species.

The documentary points out that at least our ancestors had the benefit of ignorance (with which I disagree a little it has to be said – that is letting them off the hook too easily!) yet that is something we most certainly do not have.

This documentary is already extremely well put together and I really look forward to seeing the complete version. The story of the Passenger Pigeon is tragic – if you have never heard of it you really should watch this eye opening film.


Saturday, 28 May 2011

This is simply stunning. Loom tells the story of a successful catch. A moth inadvertently flies in to a spider’s web and its fate is sealed. As it disturbs the web with its struggles so its nemesis advances upon it from behind. This will – hopefully – blow your mind, as it did mine!

It is the creation of Polynoid, the design and storytelling loving collaboration of Jan Bitzer, Ilija Brunck, Csaba Letay, Fabian Pross and Tom Weber.

Founded in 2007 as a creative platform and playground for their own films and experiments, Polynoid today uses that same spirit but combines it with the resources of a production studio. It looks, from this superb animation, to have a very bright future ahead of it.

Colors I

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Alessandro Carillo started shooting this short film in March when the parks are relatively free of people and the first signs of spring begin to appear in London. Here you can experience the first flowers, the first hungry insects and just the general joy of spring through his wonderful photography.

The parks of London have never looked so beautiful as here and the film is infused with marvelous colors and moving bokeh which lends a certain romanticism to it – you would hardly think it was shot in one of the busiest cities in the world.

On the Way Home

Spring is such a magical time of year and it is wonderful to come across a piece of film which captures it in all its majesty. On the Way Home was shot over two days at FreezeOut Lakein North Central Montana in the US this spring.

The shots of the migrating birds, especially the geese are captured on HDV and the music is absolutely spot on here. So, go and grab a coffee (or whatever you drink while near your computer keyboard!) and take in this amazing spring spectacle for yourself.

Two Unlikely Friends at the Bronx Zoo

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Bronx Zoo is home to many animals, all of which deserve the attention of the photographer. Yet one day in 2010 Tom Warren spotted something different about the gorilla enclosure.

A tiny motherless duckling had wandered in. At first the gorillas were bemused but as they became used to their miniscule visitor their wariness grew in to acceptance.

One of the pictures that Warren took became the winning photo in the 2010 Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards, in the Zoos and Aquariums Category.

The photo will be on display in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. until September 25, 2011. The photos are by Tom Warren. This is the story behind that amazing picture.

Weaver Ants Show Their Teamwork Skills

When you are building a new home sometimes you need some help. A little teamwork goes a long way and these green tree ants (or weaver ants) from Australia could teach us a thing or two about that. Their own task may, to begin with, seem almost impossible but with some supreme acrobatic skills anything, it seems, is possible.

The ants climb on top of each other to form a kind of any pyramid or bridge to reach from one small twig or branch to another. This collaboration has to be seen to be believed. First they survey potential leaves by pulling at them with their mandibles.

Then, a group of ants will join together to pull the leaf to where they want it – to the edge of another. They hang on to each other by gripping on to each other’s petioles which is the ant equivalent of a waist.

There can often be a number of large chains working together to draw the leaves close. What happens next is just as remarkable. Some workers will then go and retrieve larvae from nests which have already been built. They are then squeezed so that they produce a kind of silk.

The worker ants then bind the leaves together. Once done the larvae can be placed inside the nest. However, because there is only a certain amount of silk that a larva can produce the offspring of the green tree ant must pupate without a cocoon.

What is at the center of all this activity? Why, the queen of course, ready to bring the next generation in to the world once the nest is complete. This remarkable incidence of working together as a single team is not unique in the ant world, yet it must be said that most species do not possess the acrobatic prowess of the Australian green tree ant.

Doggles – Dogs in Sunglasses

Friday, 20 May 2011

How do I look in these?  That age old question about sunglasses is now not only restricted to our own species.  Now the dogs are getting in on the act too.  A surprise hit, it has been described as one of those money making ideas that should never have worked but in fact makes millions.

You might think that they are a complete waste of money, but simply as a fashion accessory they seem to be a hit – and the dogs, so we are assured, love the attention that they receive once they have donned their doggles.

However, several medical uses have been found for doggles with some fitted with prescription lenses for dogs with poor eyesight.  Other dogs born without tear ducts have also used them so that their eyes do not dry up and become infected.  Yet, it must be said that for most dogs and there human companions the doggles are just a little summer fun.

The idea for doggles came from a couple – Ken and Roni di Lullo after they saw their dog squinting in bright lights.  Some experimentation with human sunglasses later and the couple soon developed a pair of sunglass which would fit the shape of a dog’s head.  Much ringing of cash registers later they must be at least a little bewildered by the success of their project.

It is a little surprising that no one had thought of them before.  After all, when you were young, how many times did you try to place a pair on the bemused head of the family dog? So, here they come – some very cool canines sporting their sunglasses with poochy pride.

The Silkie – Tribble Rabbit Muppet Chicken Thingy

Monday, 16 May 2011

Marco Polo wrote about them. Sideshows exhibited them as a cross between a chicken and a rabbit. Some say it is the closest thing the bird world gets to a tribble. Others that it must be some kind of refugee from The Muppet Show. This is the Silky. It is quite probably the coolest breed of chicken on the planet, particularly when it comes to its fabulous plumage. The general fluffiness of the Silkie makes it unusual, not to mention attractive, but it has many other endearing qualities as well as an interesting history.

They are one of the calmest chicken breeds and they generally never run around like, well, like a headless chicken.  In fact they love nothing more than to grab a perch and just watch the world go by.

They are kept for pets but the hens are renowned for being wonderful mothers. As well as incubating eggs they have laid themselves they are quite happy to do the same thing for any other eggs you might wish to pop underneath their fluffy frame.

In fact, it is not unusual to see them trotting around a farm yard with a host of (not so) ugly ducklings in tow behind them.

The Silkie makes a great mother and is unusually docile and trusting, even for a chicken.

Perhaps too trusting. BEHIND YOU!!!

I said, BEHIND YOU!!!  I can't look! You may not want to see the third picture in this sequence, reader. Seriously, rest assured that no silkies were injured in the creation of these pictures. In fact, cats and silkies have been known to share a crib.

"Excuse me? Could you make a little room? Just a little? Oh, sigh. Never mind."

Though sometimes a silkie can get home and discover unwanted house guests crashing the place. If that ginger tom could talk he would be just about to say one short sentence.  "What d'ya want, birdie?"

However, back to the breed itself rather than interspecies mingling. The plumage of the Silkie is what instantly attracts and the feel of it gives the bird its name. It also makes the Silkie unique among chickens. The light and soft feathers, so reminiscent to the touch of fur, can appear in individual chickens as a result of a recessive gene. However, the Silkie is the only chicken to possess it as a breed.

They come in a variety of different colors, from white to black, taking in red, blue and buff in-between. What you can’t see, however, is their black flesh and bones below, very unusual among chickens. Other features that set them apart from most chickens are their five (instead of four) toes and those striking blue earlobes.

The species is thought to have originated in China and, true to say, there in something eastern in their look and certain inscrutability. They arrived in Europe (and from there the New World) via the Silk Route. The most famous European to follow that path was Marco Polo and his accounts tell of a furry chicken which was possibly the Silkie.

They certainly didn’t fly out of China. Their feathers, so soft and downy render them incapable of flight. You may have noticed that in some of these wonderful pictures the bird(s) seem to have a muff of feathers under their beak which covers their blue ears, while some do not. These are not separate breeds but varieties and are known as bearded and, you guessed it, non-bearded.

It took quite a while for the breed to be formally recognised in the US. In fact it was accepted in to the Standard of Perfection in 1874 (which was, admittedly the first time it had been published0. Yet despite this acceptance rumors about the Silkie have abounded and persisted.

One of the most unrelenting tales is that the Silkie is, in fact, a hybrid of a chicken and a rabbit. While you can see – obviously – while the more credulous people may have believed this in centuries gone by it is a legend which has proven fairly difficult to dispel. In Victorian times they were often shown in travelling shows and billed as such an interspecies cross, with people being told that they had mammalian fur. You can just imagine Barnum buying a dozen and crossing his fingers. You can see why, perhaps.  Do these chickens have heads?

Today, however, the Silkie has become a popular breed of ornamental chicken. They are popular with smallholders not only for their looks but because the hen is about the broodiest bird on the planet. Any extra eggs from any breed of poultry will be gladly welcomed in to the brood to be of a mother Silkie who herself produces around three eggs each week.

Some of you are probably asking the question, yes, but what do they taste like? Perhaps because of their black skin (see a dead pair here if you must!) the breed has escaped intensive farming in the West – or it could be the simple fact that it does not produce as much meet as other breeds of chicken. Underneath that ball of fluff is quite a skinny chicken, believe it or not. In China, where they are known as wu gu ji – literally the chicken with black bones – they are regarded as suitable for gourmet tastes.

Although this is not a site that marks out animals as pets (or tells you where to buy them or how to look after them), it has to be admitted that if you want a chicken as a pet then the Silkie is an ideal. They are composed, amicable and sociable and they like children. In other words they are quite docile. Although this means that they can be bullied by other birds they tend to do well in human company.

We have now, hopefully, firmly established that the Silkie is not a rabbit – or indeed a tribble – but very much a bird. It has to be said it is an unusual looking winged, bipedal, endothermic, egg-laying, vertebrate but you know something? However, this, with apologies to EB White and Charlotte is some bird. Some bird indeed.

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