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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.

On the Way Home

Sunday 22 May 2011

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.

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.

Jellyfish Lake Palau

Tuesday 10 May 2011

We recently posted a photo essay on the amazing Jellyfish of Palau.  Every day millions of golden jellyfish migrate – no big surprise there.  However, you might not expect them to migrate horizontally across a lake.  Still, a visit to Jellyfish Lake on Eil Malk, an island in Palau, in the Pacific Ocean, will confirm just that.

We looked for a video at the time but didn't find one we liked (that much) until now.  This great piece was shot by Sarosh Jacob - who filmed the amazing contents of the lake.  Add a soundtrack by Radiohead and it's perfect!

Sir David Attenborough - WWF at 50

Sir David Attenborough reflects on the early days of conservation and more specifically the work of Peter Scott, who was instrumental in the formation of WWF - the World Wide Fund for Nature.

He talks about the issues facing environmental organisations today and speaks passionately about the need for conservation groups such as WWF.

On a lighter note he touches on his career in the broadcast industry and the love he holds for the natural world.

Cat in a Box

This may not be the highest quality of videos, but nevertheless I found it very amusing. Who can say what goes on in the head of the average cat – let alone one like this.

This cat likes to play with boxes – or more accurately I should say that this cat likes to be in boxes.

It may be a case of go figure, but if it’s happy and it’s not hurting anyone – who can argue? It does, after all, take all types to make a world.

Springtime - A Journey Into Macro Space

Friday 6 May 2011

When spring had arrived in Vienna, Gunther Machu thought about showing the beauty of nature in terms of the landscapes and the insects – to take a journey in to macro space.

He started initially to just reverse mount his 50mm f1.4 lens (taping it to the adapter on his Lumix GH1), but then for quality reasons he bought a used 50mm f3.5 FD macro lens with a 25mm extender.

Almost everything was filmed in his garden, apart from the first sequence which was on a small hill very close to his house – he realized that the flowers there became extremely rare and are under severe protection!

It makes for a fascinating glimpse in to a world we only rarely consider – that which is right underneath our noses. Enjoy!

Cahuita National Park

Shawn Landersz recently visited Cahuita National Park in Costa Rica. The animals seemed so chilled that when he put his footage together the only tune he could possible accompany it with was Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. You have to admit, it does go extraordinarily well with the footage of animals just doing their own thing!

If you would like to know more about the park, here is a little clip from Wikipedia:

Cahuita National Park is a National Park in the Caribbean La Amistad Conservation Area of Costa Rica located on the southern Caribbean coast in Limón Province, connected to the town of Cahuita. It protects beaches and lowlands and attracts tourists and other visitors who are able to scuba dive and snorkel in the protected marine area which contains the Coralline Reefs, as well as being a nesting ground for sea turtles. This is also one of the nicest and least developed beaches in Costa Rica.

What do You Have to do to Get a Drink Around Here?

Monday 2 May 2011

Water! From a purely biological point of view water has a number of properties that are paramount for the proliferation of life on this – or any other – planet. Its life giving and sustaining properties is what sets it apart from all other substances.

From the largest mammal to the tiniest insect we all have to drink. If we don’t we die. Here, we focus on the little guys, the ones which you can hardly imagine need much water. Indeed, sometimes they can be in danger of being carried away in their enthusiasm to sate their thirst. Thanks to some wonderfully macrophotography we get to see this most vital of functions being carried out – with some gusto – by a host of insects.


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