Who Knew Caterpillars (& Other Little Beasties) Were Such Stunners!

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“Scientist and photographer Igor Siwanowicz has made a name for himself previously documenting the phenomenal range of shapes, colors, and structures of creatures in the natural world. His many images of unique caterpillars include wild variations like feathery blue spikes, curling burnt-orange horns, and long black whiskers. Siwanowicz also works as a neurobiologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus in Virginia. He shares more than ten years of his photography on photo.net.”

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And if you think those are spectacular, you will be awestruck by the incredible wonder of life on Earth as seen under Igor’s laser-scanning microscope

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Midge pupa
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Barnacle

Pariphyses & Sporangia

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Isopod appendage
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Front leg of Whirligig Beetle
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Moth antennae
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Acilius diving beetle male front tarsus (foot) 100x

Every life is precious

 

More of Igor’s incredible nature photography here

Sources

Radically Unusual Caterpillars Captured by Photographer Igor Siwanowicz

The Extraordinary Details of Tiny Creatures Captured with a Laser-Scanning Microscope by Igor Siwanowicz

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Wild Wolf Wanders into Belgium – 1st in 100 Years

Canis Lupus, the grey wolf, “a fundamental element of our natural European heritage.”

So says the Bern Convention of 1979. The wolf was not always seen this way. Its image among the human population used to be more in line with the cunning and terrifying vulpine of Little Red Riding Hood: a danger and a scourge. Add industrialisation and urban sprawl to ruthless hunting, and by the beginning of the 20th century, the animal had all but disappeared from Western Europe.

Thanks to the work of environmental groups like Euronatur wolves are now recognised as an important apex predator; strategies are in place to encourage their recolonisation of Western Europe; and they have been granted the highest protected status in many European countries.

The animal is the keystone of a ‘trophic cascade effect’. To find out how astounding is the presence of wolves in bringing about an explosion of life, both plant and animal, watch this beautiful short video about wolves in Yellowstone. It will gladden your heart.

Belgium is the last country in mainland Europe a wolf has honoured with its presence. The environmental group Landschap announced the first sighting on Saturday. Can you imagine how excited the person or people who spotted it must have been?

The wolf, wearing an electronic tracker, made its Belgian debut in the northern province of Flanders. The tracker identified the beast as having come from Germany, via a tour of the Netherlands, travelling 300 miles in the last 10 days. Have tracker will travel!

Welcome news to lovers of Nature, but not everyone is so thrilled. Livestock farmers in particular are unhappy. In France for instance, 8,000 farmed animals were lost to wolves last year. In Spain, Italy and Switzerland, there are also tensions between the farming community and wolf protectors.

Interestingly, in countries that have always had wolves and learned over millennia to rub along with them, like Romania and Poland, loss of livestock to the predator is shrugged off as a natural misfortune, “like an accident, like a flock that falls into a ravine”, says Farid Benhammou, a specialist on predators.

If reintroduction/recolonisation plans are to be successful, getting that balance right between wolf protection and the interests of farmers has to be top priority. Schemes to compensate farmers for losses to predation are usual in countries blessed with a population of wolves. The Belgian government is now being urged to implement a similar scheme.

I hope 2018 will bring more good news about this intrepid traveller and his kind.

We can help wolves

Like & Follow the Save the Wolves Facebook Petition Site

Sign petition Stop the Killing of Slovenia’s Wolves here

In North America

Sign petitions

Stop the Unjustified Killing & Hunting of Montana’s Wolves here

Save B.C. Wolves here

Don’t Allow Slaughter of Any More Alaskan Wolves here

 

Sources

A wolf has been spotted in Belgium for the first time in 100 years

Wolf found in northern Belgium, first time in 100 years

 

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67 Year Old Mum in a Million Does It Again!

(Photo Jodie Spross/USFWS – Pacific Region)

Pictured is Wisdom, the world’s oldest known living wild bird, incubating her newest egg in December 2017. Behind her you can see her life partner Akeakamai – otherwise known as Mr Goo – who is dutifully taking his fair share of egg-sitting with his venerable spouse.

Every year for over 6 decades this amazing lady has flown thousands of miles to return to the same nesting site in Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, and has successfully raised more than 30 chicks.

“Because Laysan albatross don’t lay eggs every year and when they do, they raise only one chick at a time, the contribution of even one bird to the population makes a difference,” says Bob Peyton of the USFWS.

This matters because although Midway hosts 400,000 breeding pairs which sounds like a lot, and despite an expanding population, “they are still susceptible to entanglement in fishing lines and plastic ingestion, which killed an estimated 15,000 birds in 1990. The species is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List.”

It takes nigh on 7 months incubating and caring for the chick until he/she fledges, and those long months hold many challenges, dangers and uncertainties. It needs 100% care from both parents. That means both need to be lucky enough not to get tangled in fishing lines and nets. And even if both mum and dad survive, many chicks die when parents mistake plastic objects like cigarette lighters, toothbrushes and fishing floats, for food, and bring them back to the nest along with the flying fish eggs that are the chick’s staple diet. Yes, even in this Pacific paradise our plastic habit is killing animals.

That, and considering also the millions of flying miles Wisdom has clocked up over her long and illustrious life, make her maternal achievements all the more remarkable. Very probably unique. Could it be Wisdom the Laysan albatross that has given us the expression, “she’s a wise old bird”?😄

Long may you flourish Wisdom and Mr Goo, and continue gracing the world with your  beautiful offspring.

The BBC’s comprehensive overview of the plastic pollution problem

Ten tips for living with less plastic

And these adorable albatross chicks are just a couple of the animals at stake

laysan albatross chick wish sun rays

leucistic laysan albatross chick spreads its wings

 

Source

67 year old Wisdom lays another egg

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Bringing Us Up Close & Personal

“Even though the science is out there, until we feel it in our hearts and minds we are not moved to take action.”  Photographer Tim Flach

Tim’s aim in his new book ‘Endangered’ is to demolish the barrier of ‘otherness’ that prevents us seeing the fellow creatures we are in danger of losing forever, as the persons they really are.
Philippine Eagle Tim Flach
Philippine Eagle © Tim Flach
With the wildlife crisis we find ourselves in today – with 30%, or even as many as 50% of all species heading towards extinction by the end of the century¹ – “there is an increasing acceptance that highlighting the emotional connection between humans and animals can help reverse this destructive trend.” The Telegraph
Polar Bears Underwater Tim Flach
Polar Bears Underwater © Tim Flach
And that is exactly what this remarkable photographer does with superlative skill – he shows us the person behind the species label – not just a pangolin but this particular unique pangolin person. And look – she, like us, has a mother.
White-Bellied Pangolin Baby Tim Flach
White-Bellied Pangolin Baby © Tim Flach
“Now here we are in this mechanistic world where for most of us our only contact is with a dog, or a cat, and we are more likely to encounter a chicken in the supermarket than one with its feathers on. How do we engage with animals? We have somehow been separated. We know animals in a virtual sense better than ever before through the films of David Attenborough and such. Yet in actuality, we have never been more separated.”
Hippopotamus Under Water Tim Flach
Hippopotamus Under Water © Tim Flach
Giant Panda Mother & Cub Tim Flach
Giant Panda Mother & Cub © Tim Flach
Proboscis Monkey Tim Flach
Proboscis Monkey © Tim Flach
Beluga Sturgeon Tim Flach
Beluga Sturgeon © Tim Flach
Snow Leopard Tim Flach
Snow Leopard © Tim Flach
whiteback vultures Tim Flach
Whiteback Vultures on Carcass © Tim Flach
Egyptian Vulture Tim Flach
Egyptian Vulture © Tim Flach
Ruma & Vali Mother & Son Share a Tender Moment Tim Flach
Ruma & Vali Mother & Son Share a Tender Moment © Tim Flach
We are in danger of losing everyone of these beings with whom we share the planet. If Tim’s portraits don’t bring the tragedy os such a loss home to us, nothing will.
Shoebill Tim Flach
Shoebill © Tim Flach
We may never have the chance to encounter these amazing beings in the flesh, but the next best thing is Tim’s exhibition at London’s Osborne Samuel Gallery.
If you can’t make it to the exhibition, I urge you to check out the entire Endangered collection here. It will blow your mind.
You can also buy Tim’s book

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And here is a list from the Endangered Species Coalition of 10 Easy Things We Can Do to Save Endangered Species
Plus probably the MOST important one that’s not on the list – #EatForThePlanet

Sources

¹According to the Center for Biological Diversity

Stunning new photos show creatures on the verge of extinction

Stunning photo series highlighting endangered animals

https://phys.org/news/2017-11-captures-human-endangered-species.html#jCp

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And the Winners Are … Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2017

We’ve seen the nominees. Now for the best of the best. (You may recognise a few familiar faces – and rear ends!)

I seriously doubt anyone could dispute Tibor Kerccz’s right to be crowned Overall Winner 2017 and Winner of Amazing Internet Portfolio Prize with these fabulous 4 images

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Another worthy winner with “The Laughing Dormouse”, Andrea Zampatti

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Highly Commended “Wtf” By George Cathcart

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Highly Commended “All Dressed and Ready for Church” by Carl Henry

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Highly Commended “Must Have Three-Putted” by Douglas Croft

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Highly Commended “Hitching A Ride” by Daisy Gilardini

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Highly Commended “Cheering Sea Otter” by Penny Palmer

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Winner Of The Padi Under The Sea Category “Slap” by Troy Mayne

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Highly Commended “Caught In The Act” By Bence Mate

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Highly Commended “Monkey Escape” by Katy Laveck-Foster

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Highly Commended “Animal Encounters” by Jean Jacques Alcalay

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Highly Commended “Eh What’s Up Doc?” by Olivier Coll

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Winner of The Kenya Airways In the Air Category “Duck Speed” by John Threlfall

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Highly Commended “Mudskippers Got Talent” by Daniel Trim

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Source Funniest Wildlife Photos of 2017 Have Been Announced

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Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2017

ENJOY!

Article by Angela Nelson

Brian Valente's photo of a laughing seal is a finalist for the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards.

Brian Valente’s photo of a laughing seal is a finalist for the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards. (Photo: Brian Valente/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

The 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards finalists have been announced, and this year’s crop doesn’t disappoint in the humor department with hilarious expressions, amusing antics and even a little fun with perspective.

While you may laugh out loud (or at least crack a grin), keep in mind the contest has a serious goal: highlighting wildlife conservation efforts.

 ‘Let Me Clear My Vision’ is one of 40 finalists in this year’s contest. (Photo: Arkaprava Ghosh /Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

This year, more than 3,500 entries from 86 countries were submitted to the contest, which was started by photographers Paul Joynson-Hicks and Tom Sullam.

From 40 finalists, the category and overall winners will be announced Dec. 14. The overall winner gets a week-long, all-expense-paid, photographer-led safari in Kenya.

‘Hitching a ride’ is a 2017 finalist. (Photo: Daisy Gilardini/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

“Conservation was always at the heart of the competition, along with the fact that people seemed to enjoy images of animals doing entertaining things,” said Sullam in a statement. “But essentially living in a country that has some of the best wildlife in the world — Tanzania — and seeing how destructive human actions can be to this wildlife, made us want to do our little bit to help.”

 A terrifyingly big grin in ‘Smile.’ (Photo: Eugene Kitsios/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

Joynson-Hicks and Sullam recently released a new book of some of the funniest photos (the “best of the best,” they say) to come through the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. Some of the proceeds go to the Born Free Foundation, a wildlife conservation charity.

 Any mom will immediately understand why this photo is called ‘MOM MOM MOM MOM.’ (Photo: Barb D’Arpino/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

Take a look at more of our favorite finalists, including the fed-up mother owl above who has had it with her little ones.

 ‘Animal encounters’ is a 2017 finalist. (Photo: jean-Jacques Alcalay /Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

He needed to get a better view — or maybe he really likes crowd-surfing.

 ‘WTF’ is a thing even in the animal kingdom. (Photo: George Cathcart/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

Redditors would have a field day with this elephant seal photo as a meme.

 Fun with perspective in ‘Outsourcing seatbelt checks.’ (Photo: Graeme Guy/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

It looks like this giraffe is peering into the plane as it comes in for a landing. Maybe this airport employs wildlife as part of the security team.

 All aboard the ‘Foster Monkey Escape’! (Photo: Katy Leveck/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

These two monkeys in Indonesia are making a getaway on a borrowed motorcycle.

 What a cutie in ‘Cheering sea otter.’ (Photo: Penny Palmer/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

This sea otter is living his best life and loving it. We should all be so lucky.


Source: These comedy wildlife photo finalists will make you belly laugh

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The Parrot who Cried “Don’t Shoot” – & Other Feathery Feats

The African Grey Parrot, prince of prattle, pre-eminent among a small bevy of birds with the ability to speak the language of humans.

Occasionally when one of these awesome birds is thrown into the human mix, strange things happen. And so it was that in one utterly bizarre murder case that involved a crossbow, psychics, and mysterious death threats between members of the victim’s family, the bizarrest element of all was the key witness to the crime – an African grey by the name of Bud. What began as a domestic dispute in the home Bud shared with his humans, ended with a 48 year old woman shooting her husband.

After the calamitous incident, Bud was heard saying in a deep man’s voice,”Get out,” followed by the woman’s voice saying, “Where will I go?” The man’s voice answered, “Don’t f—ing shoot.” Extraordinarily, Bud appeared to be repeating the couple’s final argument.

Damning evidence in the case? “The case’s prosecuting attorney said he wasn’t aware of a precedent allowing a parrot into a trial, but would look into whether Bud could serve as admissible evidence.” In the event, Bud wasn’t called to take the stand. After all, who’s to know if he was giving testimony to that tragic event, or simply imitating a TV show he’d once seen? Despite the lack of testimony from the crime’s only witness, the woman was convicted.

Experts, acknowledging the incredible brain power of these birds, admit it is possible Bud could verbally re-enact an incident observed just once – but unlikely. The fact remains though, these birds are truly remarkable mimics. Not only can they produce the sounds of human words, but they can even imitate to near perfection different voices and tones of voice, a feat that is pretty exceptional among their fellow avians.

How do they do it?

Physically:

  • Like most other birds, parrots have a syrinx above the lungs for producing sound. But what’s unique to them is the complicated set of muscles controlling the syrinx that give them enormous versatility in sound production
  • Like human use of tongue and mouth, parrots use their tongues and beaks to speak
  • What they can’t use like us, are lips and teeth, so they use the esophagus to ‘burp’ their Ps and Bs, and press their tongues against their beaks to make L (with us it’s tongue and teeth)

Cognitively? An extra layer, literally, of grey matter inside the little psittacine skull.

Why do they do it?

In the wild, a lone parrot is a dead parrot. Learning new songs and sounds helps them bond with their mate and fit into the flock. In captivity, by learning to speak like us, the parrot is saying to its humans “Please let me be in your flock”.

More

Now to another member of the clever parrot family showing off its talents

cockatoo-1129586__340The Goffin’s cockatoo. A study reveals that these cockatoos who are not tool-users in the wild, can learn to create tools to solve a problem reaching food. If that doesn’t seem surprising, we should take into account that these birds had never experienced this kind of test before, and yet actually performed in it better than many 8 year old children.

In one test the cockatoos were shown a tiny basket with a handle containing food inside a vertical tube, and a straight pipe cleaner. To get the food the birds needed to bend the pipe cleaner into a hook that could lift the basket by the handle out of the tube. The second test involved a piece of food lying in horizontal tube, with a bent pipe cleaner. This time the birds needed to straighten the pipe cleaner to poke out the food. Many of the birds managed one of the tasks, and one little genius managed both!

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Their beauty is their downfall

Of course it’s not just the parrots’ cheeky personality, startling ability to mimic us, and sheer brainpower that make these animals so appealing. Their plumage makes a vivid splash of colour in their forest habitat, and sadly it’s that very plumage that puts them in jeopardy. It seems humans suffer from feather envy and covet that finery for themselves. In the 19th century, thousands upon thousands of these dazzling creatures were killed so their gorgeous feathers could decorate fashionable ladies’ hats.

Today in spite of CITES they are still – illegally – being plucked from forests and jungles, with the result that 66 parrot species out of 375 have been put on the Endangered Red List. The South American Blue-throated Macaw is one of the rarest – there are only about 250 birds left.

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And the beauty of this parrot creates a particular problem. On the Moxeño plains of Bolivia ‘macheteros’ (meaning anything from ‘cane-cutters’ to ‘revolutionaries’ – take your pick) hold fiestas where they dance to the music of bongos and flutes in celebration of the colours of nature – the colour that ironically by this very celebration they are causing to disappear. Because macheteros traditionally wear brilliantly coloured headdresses made from the feathers of 4 types of macaw, including the Blue-throated.

But there is good news. The Asociación Armonía (BirdLife Partner in Bolivia) has come up with the ‘Alternative Feather Programme’. It involves workshops held in local schools to teach the macheteros to create their own ‘feathers’ out of organic materials found locally. Since each headdress is made of approximately 30 central tail feathers, “one headdress of artificial feathers saves at least 15 macaws,” explains Gustavo Sánchez Avila, Armonía’s Conservation Programme coordinator for the Blue-throated Macaw.

In 6 years this program has saved 6000 individual birds of the 4 macaw species, involved thousands of local people in the conservation of Bolivian nature, and provided work and income for locals selling their vivid headdresses of hand made ‘feathers’ to tourists.

And more good news for Blue-throated Macaws: conservationists from Asociación Armonía discovered an entirely new roosting site of this rare bird. Hopefully a sign that these gorgeous creatures are making a comeback.

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So how do birds get their colours?

We already know why all the colours and patterns in birds’ feathers. They serve one of two purposes: camouflage as protection from predators; or finery to attract a mate. No-one knew where the colours came from until a recent study undertaken by Dr Ismael Galván and his team.

Their findings?

  • melanins provide the range of blacks, greys and browns in birds’ plumage
  • carotenoids taken up by specialised feather structures create the brighter shades

Interestingly, birds cannot themselves produce carotenoids. So if they want bright feathers, they have to eat foods rich in the stuff. The carotenoids are carried in the bloodstream to the feather follicles. Melanins on the other hand are synthesised in birds’ bodies by cells called melanocytes.

One third of the 9,000 species of bird studied had complex plumage patterns, most of which are produced by melanins. So the rule is, patches of bright colour – carotenoids. Subtle and complex patterns – melanins.

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But that’s not the whole story

Some Canadian woodpeckers are seeing red – that is if they’re looking at each other, because their feathers have taken on an inexplicable rosy hue. It’s like this: the Northern Flicker woodpecker has two populations, the “yellow-shafted” in the east and the “red-shafted” in the west. The shaft is of course, the feather’s central ‘spine’.

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Where the two different populations cross paths in the middle of the country, you get a blend of both colours. But for years ornithologists have puzzled over the ‘yellows’ that are too far east of the hybridization zone to have picked up the genes of the ‘reds’, yet also sport a blend of both colours.

Well, now the puzzle is solved. In the autumn the eastern birds feast on a bounty of bright red honeysuckle berries. It turns out that the red of the western birds does indeed come from carotenoids, but the red in the eastern birds comes courtesy of the berries, from another compound altogether – rhodoxanthin. That to me has a toxic ring to it, but clearly the Flickers are not getting poisoned.

There is a downside. The berries in question are the fruits of two invasive species of honeysuckle. And because the new red hues they are creating in the birds come from rhodoxanthin not the usual carotenoids, other Flickers could be bamboozled into picking the wrong mate. Normally, bright colours equals plenty of carotenoids. equals a well-fed bird, equals a fit and healthy prospective partner. It “could have major implications for mate selection if plumage coloration no longer signaled a bird’s body condition.” Who knows how that could affect the population long term.

And it’s not just the Flickers. Cedar Waxwings’ feathers are turning orange too. Dr Hudon of the Royal Alberta Museum is afraid this is not the last we will see of birds displaying unexpected colours.

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From colour to camouflage

We all know that animals’ fur or feathers is often the perfect camouflage ‘design’ for concealing them in their own habitat. Some are hiding from predators, and others are concealing themselves from their prey. And as we also know, though all tigers have stripes, no two tigers’ stripes are quite the same.

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Ground-nesting nightjar

But what scientists from Exeter and Cambridge Universities discovered about animal camouflage is mind-blowing. In this instance they were looking at not a predator like the tiger, but 9 species of birds who, as ground-nesters, have a particular need to mitigate their chances of being prey. And they found that not only are those species wonderfully camouflaged for their habitats, but individuals within a bird species choose a place to nest that best matches their own individual colours and markings.

“This is not a species level choice.” Prof Martin Stevens tells us. “Individual birds consistently sit in places that enhance their own unique markings, both within a habitat, and at a fine scale with regards to specific background sites.”

And even more amazing, the individuals are tailoring their choice of nesting sites to the visual systems of their main predators! Like seeing themselves through the predator’s eyes. Isn’t it remarkable? How do they do it? How do they even know what they look like? As yet no-one knows, so exciting as this is, there could be more to come.

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Looking back, it seems we have travelled quite a distance from Bud the African grey, witness to murder. But from each little piece of this post (for me, and I hope, for you) emerge two common take-aways  – the ever-amazing genius of birds, and the wonder of Nature. The mysteries and marvels of Nature we will never fully fathom. Nature is an irreplaceable treasure, and to lose even the smallest scrap of it is tragic beyond measure.


If we want to help stem the loss, here are 50 Easy Ways to Save the Planet Although this list dates from 2002, it’s still entirely relevant. We can all make a difference.

The single biggest adjustment we can make to our lifestyles though, is missing from that list – cutting back on meat and dairy. “Human carnivory—and its impact on land use—is the single biggest threat to much of the world’s flora and fauna.” Science

So here are 6 Easy Ways to Cut Back On Meat If You’re Not Ready to Give it Up Just Yet

Come on ecowarriors, let’s go make a difference!


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A Cutting Sword Lays Open the Miracle of Nature

‘Cutting Sword’ – that’s what ‘Kiri Ken’ means in Japanese. And these exquisite masterpieces cut from paper are the work of artist Kiri Ken.

That may not sound like the best name for someone making artwork of this fineness and delicacy. But Japanese swords are revered as works of art themselves, each one individual, and of consummate precision, balance and beauty.
Kiri’s ‘sword’ though is miniature. She makes her matchless marvels with a scalpel.
Kiri Ken is keeping alive a long tradition of Japanese paper cut art (Kirie) dating right back to 610 AD when Buddhist monk Doncho brought Chinese ‘Tesuki Washi’ paper into the country for the first time.¹
kiri-ken-paper-cutting-13
© Kiri Ken
“The method she uses includes drawing the image out by hand on the reverse side of the paper, before cutting it out. This intricate technique, which takes hours to complete, represents the artist’s fascination with wildlife.”
Kiri Ken
© Kiri Ken
And that is the sum total of what I can find out about Kiri Ken. Maybe she wants to let her incomparable art speak for itself. Speak of “harmony, asymmetrical balance… impermanence and unity with the universe”  – the fundaments of so much Japanese culture and art.²

Kiri Ken

© Kiri Ken

The breathtaking intricacy and beauty of living beings

Kiri Ken

© Kiri Ken
Kiri Ken

© Kiri Ken

paper-7

© Kiri Ken
The web of life, joining all living things together, human and nonhuman
Kiri Ken

© Kiri Ken

The impermanence of all living beings, life as fragile as the paper on which it’s displayed

paper-4© Kiri Ken

Kiri Ken

© Kiri Ken

 

“We still [don’t] think of ourselves as only a tiny part of a vast and incredible universe. But man is a part of nature. In nature nothing exists alone” – Rachel Carson

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better” – Albert Einstein

¹Papercutting – Wiki

²Japanese Way of the Artist – H.E. Davey

Sources

Fragile paper cuts reveal the intricate, swirling forms of nature : TreeHugger

AZ Quotes

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Just Wow! Best Bird Photos of 2017

Is it the level of artistry, technical ability and superhuman patience of the image makers, or the wonders of nature, perfection in feathers they’ve caught on camera – which is the more awe-inspiring? I can’t decide. Either way, these pics are stunners.

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Winner, Bird Photographer of the Year 2017. Feeding Flamingos by Alejandro Prieto Rojas
This is the third year of Nature Photographers Ltd partnering with the British Trust for Ornithology to hold the Bird Photographer of the Year competition. Grateful thanks to them for giving the impetus that prompted these treasures into life.
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Birds in Flight, Gold. Australian Pelican landing on water by Bret Charman
The pelican. Amazing combination of action and tranquillity. And the colours…. My favourite, Which is yours?
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Snowy Owl by Markus Varesvuo. Snowy owls are native to Arctic regions in North America and Eurasia. Juvenile snowy owls have black feathers until they turn white
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Birds in the Environment, silver. Crane flock misty lake by Piotr Chara. Cranes are opportunistic feeders. Unlike the similar-looking but unrelated herons, cranes fly with necks outstretched, not pulled back. Cranes live on all continents except Antarctica and South America
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An Andean condor ( Vultur gryphus) circles the thermals looking for prey in its dramatic habitat of Torres del Paine national park, Chile; by Ben Hall
Just wow
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Attention to Detail, Silver. Grey Heron looking under wing by Ahmad Alessa
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Birds in Flight, Honorable Mention. Seagulls and fox by Gabor Kapus
Like something from a horror movie –  powerful, atmospheric. And how on earth …?
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Fighting Coots by Andy Parkinson. Two common coots (Fulica atra) fighting in a dispute over territory, a rather common behavior
Ok, I surrender
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The Battle By Jose Garcia, US. Bird Behaviour Category
Hard to tell who’s in the most trouble here
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Barn Owl Hovering By Roy Rimmer, UK. Bird Behaviour Category
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Blue Tit On Berries By Markus Varesvuo, Helsinki, Finland. Winner Of Best Portfolio 2017 Category
See, one hand. Easy!
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2017 Bird Photographer Of The Year Cover
Delicate as a Japanese painting
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Full Speed By Faisal Alnomas, Kuwait. Bird Behaviour Category
Look at me go!
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Catch Of The Day By Vince Burton, UK. Winner Of The Nature Photographers Ltd People’s Choice Award Category
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Goosander And Brood By Jonathan Gaunt, UK. Bird Behaviour Category
You’d better watch no. 4 mum. He’s gonna be trouble!
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Albatross Eye Close-up By Jessica Winter, Bronze In Attention To Detail Category
Now tell me animals don’t have souls
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Bearded Sunset By Markus Varesvuo, Helsinki, Finland. Winner In Best Portfolio Category And Honourable Mention For Best Portrait Category
See more, all the winners in the different categories here
Help BTO’s conservation work by buying a special photobook of the shortlisted and winning entries

 

Sources

The best photos from the 2017 Bird Photographer of the Year – ZME Science

10+ Best Bird Photos Of 2017 Have Been Announced, And They’re Truly Amazing – Bored Panda

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An Enchantment of Birds

Chances are, when you wake up in the morning the first thing you hear is the joyful chirruping of birds. And does a day ever go by without at some hour being graced by their presence, even in the middle of the busiest metropolis?

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Of all wild animals, birds have to be the most familiar to us all, the least secretive, the easiest for us to spot. They usually – but sadly far from always – have little need to conceal themselves from dangerous humans, for it is they, not we, who possess the kingdom of the air.
With their dazzling colours, extravagant variety, and incredible abilities – the sheer magic they impart to our lives – isn’t An Enchantment of Birds exactly the right umbrella-term for the avian life of Planet Earth?

Here I’ve pieced together a crazily random patchwork of the new and not-so new, the bright interspersed with patches of a darker hue. And a few small ways we can give a helping hand to these animals that so enrich our lives.


It doesn’t get darker than murder. ‘A murder’ is the collective name bestowed – surely undeservedly – upon the common crow

What a slur on these sociable and clever birds. A murder of crows. Possibly acquired because where there were corpses there were crows. In times gone by, they cleaned up the human detritus from the gallows and the battlefield, and superstitions sprang up like a thicket around them. Nor has it done anything for their sadly besmirched reputation that their feathery finery is entirely black, the colour of night and dark deeds.

And that these remarkable animals actually hold funerals for their own deceased, serves only, in human eyes, to put the seal on their association with death.

The raven, another member of the the clever corvid family, is likewise cloaked in mystery and superstition
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Legend has it for example, that if ever the ravens abandon the Tower of London, the Tower and the kingdom will fall.

(Legends are engaging, but there is a sadness behind this one. By the time of King Charles 2nd in the 17th century, these magnificent birds had been nigh on exterminated throughout their natural range, including in the city of London. They were only able to find refuge at the Tower under the king’s protection. Then and ever since, 6 ravens have been kept at the Tower – with one wing clipped to prevent their flying away. Read why this is harmful to the birds and sign the petition here or below)

The Guardian in its report on some recent raven research incidentally cites other examples in myth and fiction of the bird’s supposed prescient powers:

  • Ravens have long been associated with powers of foresight
  • Their collective name is ‘a conspiracy’
  • In Greek mythology, they are associated with the god of prophecy
  • In the TV hit Game of Thrones a three-eyed raven appears in a prince’s prophetic visions
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s haunting 1845 narrative poem The Raven, a cornerstone of American literature, features a raven as an uncanny harbinger of doom.

Enchantment indeed.

Who knows whether ravens can truly see into the future – nonhuman animals have such a variety of astonishing abilities that nothing would surprise me. Whatever, it did come as a surprise to the pair of Swedish scientists featured in the Guardian report, that ravens show great ability in planning for the future.

It’s little more than a decade since we humans were forced to concede, with the discovery that other Hominidae/Great Apes have the mental capacity to plan ahead, that our species is not, as was previously assumed, unique in this respect. Now it seems that in this exclusive but expanding club, ravens too can claim their rightful place. And indeed completely outshine species much closer to homo sapiens, like monkeys. No doubt many of us humans as well!

Researchers Mathias Osvath and Can Kabadayi reveal their discoveries

Is this perhaps another example of science finding ‘proof’ of something we’ve intuitively known for millennia?


There’s recycling, and then there’s recycling

What are nests but beautiful and ingenious examples of natural recycling? A new usefulness is found for dead twigs and leaves, moss, straw, feathers and sheep’s wool snagged on fences. But also man-made litter: string, twine, ribbon, lace, cotton, jute, yarn. Even the odd rubber tyre.

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And plastic. But it must be white. Transparent or green plastic will not do. Black kites have taken to adorning their nests with the stuff. Why? Not to dazzle a mate with their artistry, like the male bower bird. In the kite nest-building enterprise the male and female are equal partners. These embellishments of trash seem to serve pretty much the same purpose in the kite world as screwing an alarm box to the front of our house does in ours: sending a message to would-be intruders and thieves – Keep Out! This fascinating article in Science magazine will tell you more.

Recycling just got quirkier
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Image BBC News

In Mexican and Latin American cities today, house finches and sparrows are also busy recycling the waste humans leave behind. They are collecting discarded cigarette stubs from the streets to weave into their nests. This strange behaviour doesn’t arise from any shortage of nest-building materials. Or from dubious taste in architectural ornamentation. These little birds have discovered that the nicotine in the stubs works as an effective anti-parasitic, keeping their chicks free from infestations. Birds have long been known to line their nests with vegetation rich in compounds that drive away parasites, says Nature magazine. In the city, such vegetation may not come so readily to bird’s beak. But stubs there are a-plenty.

So, more feathered creatures putting human waste to good use – what’s not to like? Sadly, there is a dark side to this quirky story too. Cigarettes may possibly be as injurious to bird health as they are to ours. If the concentration of the tobacco parasiticides from the stubs in the nest becomes too great, it can harm the chromosomal development of unhatched chicks, with who knows what long term results. Read more – I promise this too is interesting stuff.


Meanwhile, members of the parrot family (collective name ‘a prattle’) – those Einsteins of the flying squad – have a different but equally remarkable trick up their feathered sleeves

The males have a nice line in rhythmic drumming to woo prospective mates. And they all create their own drum solos. As Science Advances rather stuffily puts it, Over 131 drumming sequences produced by 18 males, the beats occurred at non-random, regular intervals. Yet individual males differed significantly in the shape parameters describing the distribution of their beat patterns, indicating individual drumming styles.

What’s more, they’re very picky about their choice of drumsticks. Here is a male palm cockatoo showing us how it’s done.

(Thanks to AwarenessHelps for this little gem)

Enchanting as all members of the parrot family are, here’s Why We Should Think Twice Before Getting a Parrot for a Pet


And finally to a bird that endears itself to everyone, the penguin (collective name ‘a huddle’)

Is it because they remind us of comical waiters we have an especially soft spot for these cute and snappily-suited birds? Their precarious existence though is far from ‘cute’. Theirs is a harsh world full of dangers, many of them man-made – commercial fishing depleting the penguins’ available food source, entanglement in fishing nets, pollution, habitat disturbance, and of course climate change. 10 out of 18 of the world’s penguin species are sliding towards extinction.

As part of their “Protect a Penguin” campaign, BirdLife International joined forces with virtual reality producer, Visualise to bring us an amazing 5 minute immersive experience,”Walk with Penguins”, a 3D 360 nature film, the first of its kind.

Using 3D 360 film, we can get people closer to penguins and give people that magical feeling of being with them—and ultimately that can lead to a greater support for their conservation. 

As the sun sets on the penguin colony within which you stand, and you learn of their plight through the voice over, you can’t help but feel an emotional connection. Director of Conservation BirdLife International Richard Grimmett

To get the very best from the immersive experience check info here

Click on image if you would like to #ProtectaPenguin

Petitions

Free the Tower of London ravens

Stop Unregulated Domestic Breeding of Parrots in Canada

Save Newly Discovered Australian Parrot Species From Extinction

We’re well passed World Penguin Day (April 25th) but you can still sign this petition to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources asking them to establish what would be the world’s two largest marine sanctuaries around Antarctica

7 Penguins Drowned at Calgary Zoo: Shut Down the Exhibit!

 

Other sources

Ravens of the Tower of London – Wiki

Collective nouns for birds

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The App that Wakes You to s Sweet Dawn Chorus Any Time of the Day

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