Category Archives: Humor

Amusing Monday: Film students find creativity in eco-comedy videos

The Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University in Washington, D.C., holds an annual “Eco-Comedy Video Competition,” based on a different environmental theme each year. This year’s theme to challenge student creativity was “Clean water, clean air.”

The winner of the Grand Prize and Viewers’ Choice awards this year was a video called “Dude, or the Blissful Ignorance of Progress” (shown in video player).

Other finalists:

More than 60 videos were entered in the contest. I was able to find only about a dozen or so on the web, but I found a couple other amusing entries worthy of note:

The Center for Environmental Filmmaking was founded on the belief that films are vitally important educational and political tools in the struggle to protect the environment, according to Professor Chris Palmer, who started the center. The goal is to train filmmakers to create films and new media that promote conservation in ways that are ethically sound, entertaining and educational.

All the contest entries can be found in the comments section of the YouTube webpage about the contest.

I found another video on the center’s website that was not involved in this particular contest but was both educational and amusing. It was a public service announcement called “Tap Water.”

Amusing Monday: Videos capture beauty, allure
of national parks

I recently discovered a series of 58 fascinating videos that capture the highlights of the diverse national parks in the United States.

The five-minute videos, by photographer Dennis Burkhardt of Oregon, take us on trips into some of the most amazing wilderness areas in the world. The scenic photography and accompanying narration make me yearn to visit every park to see them for myself.

I’ve posted on this page three of the videos, including the one that describes our familiar Olympic National Park. The complete set of can be viewed on the YouTube channel “America’s 58 National Parks.” Be sure to go full-screen.

I’m sure every park has a story to tell, and these videos briefly tantalize us with the possibilities of exploration. I recall stumbling upon a rich history and some amazing tales while researching a Kitsap Sun story for the 75th anniversary of Olympic National Park. It is called “At 75, Olympic National Park has grown amid push-pull of forces.”

In 1872, our first national park was born when President Ulysses S. Grant signed a law creating Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone was followed by Mackinac in 1875, then Sequoia and Yosemite in 1890. Mackinac was converted to a state park in 1895 — one of seven national parks to go out of existence in the national park system.

National parks are selected for their natural beauty, unique geological formations, rare ecosystems and recreational opportunities. In contrast, national monuments, also administered by the National Park Service, are selected mainly for their historical significance.

California has nine parks, the most of any state, followed by Alaska with eight, Utah with five and Colorado with four. Washington has three — with North Cascades National Park created in 1968.

New parks are still being created, with Pinnacles National Monument in Central California becoming a national park in 2013. (Pinnacles is the 59th national park and is not included in the list of videos.) The largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska, is larger then nine entire states. The smallest is Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.

A handy list of all the parks with links to more information can be found on Wikipedia.

Amusing Monday: Dogs and other animals join
in madness of March

With the NCAA basketball tournament coming into the home stretch, I thought it might be fun to show some animals sharing the hoop dreams.

Petey, a border collie previously known as the volleyball dog, has the best shooting ability of any dog I have seen. You’ll find him practicing his skills in the first video on the page.

It appears that most dogs, in fact most basketball-playing animals, require a lower basketball hoop to make a basket. That’s the case with Zeke, who can dribble, catch and shoot, as you’ll see in the second video player on this page.

If you would like your dog to learn to shoot baskets from a low hoop, check out this seven-minute video called “Teach your dog to play basketball.” In similar fashion, dogs can be taught to jump and dunk the ball into the basket, as in “Murphy: Dog Playing Basketball.” Who can forget Buddy’s amazing talent for both acting and basketball in the 1997 movie “Air Bud.” One scene in the movie shows Buddy revealing his unique talent for the first time.

With all this talk about dogs and basketball, I thought it would be only fair to include cats. As any cat owner will tell you, cats do things in their own time and with their own methods. As you’ll see in the third video player, they also play basketball in their own unique way.

When I first saw a video of a sea otter shooting baskets, I questioned why anyone would train a sea otter to do this. Then I saw the original video by Oregon Zoo in Portland. It describes how Eddie the otter is undergoing physical therapy for arthritis, and basketball is one way to get him to stretch his front limbs. The description says Eddie’s basketball feats are not put on display for the general public visiting the zoo. Check out the fourth video player on this page.

I’d also like to share a video of a monkey shooting hoops, and another video of two bears kind of slapping around a b-ball in Katmai National Park in Alaska.

Amusing Monday: Wolves found to catch and eat wild salmon

I’m amused by this looping video, which shows a bear waiting for a fish to appear. In the background, a wolf reaches down nonchalantly, bites into a large salmon and carries it away.

Not long ago, it was widely believed that bears love salmon but that wolves prefer deer, elk, moose and related animals whenever they can find them. Now we know, from careful observations in Alaska, that wolves will go after salmon when they get the opportunity.

Researcher Dave Person of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says wolves will seek out tidally affected streams where they can find salmon passing through shallow water and trapped in pools.

“They’re not as skillful as bears at fishing,” Person told Riley Woodford, reporting for Alaska Fish and Wildlife News. “Each year, they spend over a month in estuary areas, with the pups. It’s right in middle of pink and chum runs, and we watch them eat salmon all the time. There are lots of places they could go; I think they go there for the fish.”

Based on the video, I would have to say that wolves are pretty good at catching fish upstream as well.

Salmon may have gone unnoticed as a staple in the wolves’ diet, because the entire salmon, bones and all, are digested by wolves, leaving no signs of fish in their scat — unlike the bones and fur discovered after they eat a deer or other mammal.

Another Alaskan biologist, Shelly Szepanski, has been studying the stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in wolf bones to see whether the bones are made of elements that come from the land or the sea. She found that salmon appeared to make up as much as 20 percent of the diet of wolves living in coastal areas of Southeast Alaska, compared to 10 percent of those living farther inland.

As I continued to look at the video of the bear and wolf fishing for salmon, I wondered if they ever interacted and how things might turn out in a head-to-head fight. I was able to find a video that demonstrates that a bear might get the best of a wolf in a one-on-one battle, but we can never forget that wolves often travel in packs. If you watch to the end, you will see who takes charge of the meal in question.

For another video showing wolves eating salmon, in which a bear plays a minor role, check out this video posted by Tinekemike.

Speaking of fights, I am still amazed at the video below, which shows a leopard swimming across a stretch of water, grabbing onto a crocodile and dragging it back into the water. I never would have guessed that a croc could be defeated in or around water like that — but it looks like he never saw the cat coming until it was too late.

Amusing Monday: Snow dogs and snow cats with winter now behind us

Each winter, I look for an opportunity to share amusing photos and videos of household pets encountering a fluffy white blanket and playing in the snow.

Guess what. Spring has arrived, and the Puget Sound region did not experience a heavy snow this past winter. I know that many people — especially those who dread driving in the ice and snow — are rejoicing how they managed to escape what they consider an annual nightmare.

For the skiers among us, the shortage of snow in the mountains has been heartbreaking. We can all hope this is not the beginning of the end for our incredible winter sports in Washington state.

Meanwhile, most of us have friends on the eastern side of the United States who have no sympathy for the snowless conditions in the West. They have seen one snowfall after another build up layers of snow that they must dig through. They received our share of snow and much more.

In honor of those living in the East and coming through one of the harshest winters in history, I’m pulling up some amusing images of snow dogs and snow cats. For those sick of snow, I hope this can be a humorous glance at the season in the rearview mirror. For the rest of us, we can take a moment to consider what we missed.

In the first video, Tiger Productions has put together a nice compilation of clips of animals playing in the snow, including some of my favorites. Another video by Official Dogs focuses on the canines. A new video by Ann Got shows us why a cat won’t be stopped by a little snow.

Also amusing are some still photos of dogs, cats and other animals in the snow. Check out:

Amusing Monday: Science adventures revealed in videos

Starfish that live symbiotically inside a tube sponge were long believed to assist the sponge with its cleaning activities, while the starfish received a protective home for being such a helpful companion. This type of mutually beneficial symbiosis is called “mutualism.”

But this long-held assumption — that both the brittlestar and gray tube sponge were benefitting from the deal — turned out to be wrong when researchers took a close look at the relationship.

The video describing this whole affair and the research behind it became a finalist in the Ocean 180 Video Challenge, judged by 37,795 students in 1,600 classrooms in 21 countries. Ocean 180 is all about connecting science to people, and the video challenge is designed to help scientists turn their discoveries into stories.

I really like the concept of this contest. Joseph Pawlik, one of the researchers involved, did a good job telling the story of the starfish and the sponge in the video production, assisted by Jack Koch of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. They called the video “The maid did it! The surprising case of the sponge-cleaning brittlestar.”

I won’t give away who killed whom, but answers to the murder mystery are revealed toward the end of the 3-minute video.

A much more extensive research project involves monitoring the largest active volcano off the coast of Oregon, a location called Axial Seamount. University of Washington researchers and students conducted the research and produced the video about the equipment used in an extreme environment and how the data are transmitted back to land via a fiber optic cable.

While the videos of the starfish-and-sponge and offshore volcano were among the top 10 finalists, neither were among the top award winners.

You may wish to watch the two first-place videos:

“Drones at the Beach” (amateur category), including University of Miami and Delft University researchers.

“Dolphin Research Center Blindfold Imitation Study” (professional category), involving researchers at the Dolphin Research Center, Grassy Key, Florida.

Second place: “How to Treat a Bruised Flipper” by Claire Simeone at Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito, Calif.

Third place: “Rescuing the Gentle Giants,” led by Charles Waters at the University of Auckland, Institute of Marine Science.

All 10 videos can be viewed with links at 2015 Finalists.

First-place winner Kelly Jaakkola of the Dolphin Research Center said Ocean 180 is a way to make a connection with the next generation of ocean scientists:

“For a lot of students, science can have a negative, scary image. They picture people in white lab coats talking about topics that nobody understands in the most boring, unimaginative way possible. If we want to get kids excited about science, we need to change that image.”

Third-place winner Charles Waters said some of the most inspiring science writing uses analogies, metaphors and similes to describe the scientific process and research findings:

“Video helps lift images from print, and the message comes closer to being an experience for the audience in contrast to a mere information stream.”

The Ocean 180 Video Challenge is sponsored by Florida Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence.

Amusing Monday: Art contest teaches students about natural oceans

Wyland Foundation’s annual “Water is Life” mural and art challenge always seems to attract a sizable number of entries — some 3,500 last year, according to organizers.

One of last year's winning entries, "Catch and Release," was created by 11th grader Sayo Watanabe of Elmwood Park, NJ.
One of last year’s winning entries, “Catch and Release,” was created by 11th grader Sayo Watanabe of Elmwood Park, NJ.

I’m always impressed with many of the winners in the individual competition for grades 1-12 along with collaborative work on a variety of murals.

Last year’s theme for the contest was “Our Ocean.” The foundation provided 100 packages of art supplies, including a large canvass. Also included were educational materials for students and teachers to study ocean issues and work together to paint a mural.

Theme for the 2015 contest will be “Our Coast and Climate.” For details about entering individual entries and qualifying for free art supplies, visit Wyland’s website. The deadline for this year’s contest is Nov. 25.

Below are more of the individual winners along with the winning mural.

"Ocean Life" by third-grader Faith Martin of Wyoming, Ohio.
“Ocean Life” by third-grader Faith Martin of Wyoming, Ohio.
"Saving the Sea Turtles" by fifth-grader Sarah Khan of Sugar Land, Texas.
“Saving the Sea Turtles” by fifth-grader Sarah Khan of Sugar Land, Texas.
The winning mural by Bergen County Academies of Hackensack, N.J.
The winning mural by Bergen County Academies of Hackensack, N.J.

Amusing Monday:
Art contest features beautiful duck portraits

For the past 22 years, students from across the country have been painting and drawing some amazing pictures of ducks, swans, geese and related water birds.

The 2014 winner of the Junior Duck Stamp Contest is 16-year-old Si youn Kim of Tenafly, N.J., who painted a king elder with acrylics. Photo: USFWS
The 2014 winner of the Junior Duck Stamp Contest is 16-year-old Si youn Kim of Tenafly, N.J., who painted a king elder using acrylics. // Photos: USFWS

Each year, the best pictures are printed up as Federal Junior Duck Stamps, which can be purchased from participating post offices and sporting good stores. With the deadline for the 2015 art contest approaching, I thought it would be a good time to share some of these great artworks.

The Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program is sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The $5 junior duck stamps are modeled on the $15 Federal Duck Stamps, purchased by hunters and used by others as a pass for national wildlife refuges.

Second-place in the 2014 contest went to Andrew Kneeland, 16, of Rock Springs, Wyo., for his acrylic painting of a trumpeter swan with cygnets. Photo: USFWS
Second-place in the 2014 contest went to Andrew Kneeland, 16, of Rock Springs, Wyo., for his acrylic painting of a trumpeter swan with cygnets.

Proceeds from the junior duck stamps are used for conservation education, including a national curriculum for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. The national program involves elements of science, art, math and technology.

The deadline for the art competition is March 15. At the state level, students are judged in four groups by grade: K-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 10-12. Numerous awards are given in each group, and one “best of show” from each state are entered into the national competition in April. Participants are encouraged to include a conservation message with their entries.

The third-place winner was Jiahe Qu, 15, of Chandler, Ariz., for an acrylic painting of a hooded merganser.
The third-place winner was Jiahe Qu, 15, of Chandler, Ariz., for an acrylic painting of a hooded merganser.

Information on the contest and overall program is available on the website of the Junior Duck Stamp Program or download the junior duck stamp brochure (PDF 20.3 mb). Older artists may enter the Federal Duck Stamp Contest held in September.

All the top entries in the 2014 Junior Duck Stamp Contest can be seen on the Flickr page of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the top entries for the Federal Duck Stamp contest.

The 2013 winner of the Junior Duck Stamp Contest was 6-year-old Madison Grimm of Burbank, S.D., who painted a canvasback.
The 2013 winner of the Junior Duck Stamp Contest was 6-year-old Madison Grimm of Burbank, S.D., who painted a canvasback.

Running with a boy: Film captures the joy of being around wild waters

American Rivers, an environmental group, has released an inspiring new short film that captures the sense of wonder and adventure people can experience in the wild outdoors.

The video features one little boy named Parker who exudes enthusiasm as he runs, jumps and explores the rivers of the Olympic Peninsula. We listen to fast-paced music as the scenes change quickly, jumping from one place to the next, while Parker demonstrates his “top 50 favorite things about Northwest Rivers.” (Be sure to watch in full-screen.)

“We wanted a video that would connect with people on a fun, personal level, reminding all of us why healthy rivers matter and why rivers make the Northwest such a special place to live,” Amy Kober of American Rivers told me in an email. “Wild rivers are amazing places for kids and adults; they can make us all feel like Parker.”

Amy said she chose filmmaker Skip Armstrong of Wazee Motion Pictures “because of his talent, unique style, and creativity — and his own love of rivers.”

Hayden Peters, left, Parker Arneson and Skip Armstrong review footage shot at the Elwha River delta.
Hayden Peters, left, Parker Arneson and Skip Armstrong review footage shot at the Elwha River delta for the new American Rivers video.

Skip says he got the idea for a simple film about unbridled enthusiasm and curiosity while watching his fiancee’s nephew playing on the beach. When it came time to shoot the American Rivers video, that particular boy was not available. Skip looked around his hometown of Hood River, Ore., and found an equally energetic and curious youngster named Parker Arneson, son of Emmie Purcell and Shane Arneson. This high-powered 8-year-old is an avid snowboarder and skateboarder.

Skip spent three days last summer scouting out locations on the Olympic Peninsula, then came back in the fall with Parker for an eight-day shoot, traveling the Highway 101 loop around the Olympic Peninsula in a counter-clockwise direction. Being a home-schooled student, Parker did not miss any school.

“We just followed Parker around when we got to locations,” Skip said. “He literally did everything else. He’s an amazing person. What struck all of us on the shoot was his ability to engage us and the camera and to come up with ideas. He’s a ton of fun to be around.

Parker gets a ticket for running too fast in Olympic National Park. (It's a joke.)
Parker gets a ticket for running too fast in Olympic National Park. (It’s a joke.)

“We only had one comical setback,” he said. “Hayden Peters and I set off to scout a location and got a bit lost on the way back to the van. It was pouring rain. We finally got to a hillside that looked like the road was above it, so we set off to climb the hill. Only problem was a benign-looking puddle that I stepped in with great confidence, only to sink immediately to my armpits.

“Shortly thereafter, we arrived back at the car, me smelling like a swamp and totally soaked. Parker thought it was pretty funny.”

Parker took some pretty good falls while running around, but he always bounced back and was ready to go again, Skip said.

Parker shows off his speeding ticket.
Parker shows off his speeding ticket.

Parker even got a speeding ticket from an Olympic National Park ranger for running too fast in the Staircase area near the North Fork of the Skokomish River. It was a joke, of course. The ranger was one who accompanied the film crew as part of the permit requirements for shooting video in a wilderness area.

Emmie, Parker’s mom, said he had a great time shooting the video.

Skip has produced numerous films with a water theme. Check out “featured work” on his website, WazeeMotionPictures.com. He says it is important to remember the joy we feel in wild places.

“To me, there is no faster access to unbridled joy than through the eyes of a young person or child,” he wrote me in an email. “It was refreshing for our team to spend so much time with Parker, and it’s cool to see audiences connect with his enthusiasm, too.

“American Rivers works so hard to protect our precious resources, and I love that Parker shows us why this is important. When we were shooting, we met so many wonderful people of all ages enjoying the rivers and sights of the Northwest.”

Skip’s film reminds us that some of our best times can be had outdoors. As the weather improves, I’m inspired and eager to get back to some wild places with my own kids and grandkids.

I also want to thank Skip for sending along the still photos that show Parker and the film crew out and about on the Olympic Peninsula.

The film crew and supporters, from left, Jay Gifford, Skip Armstrong, Emmie Purcell, Hayden Peters and Parker Arneson.
The film crew and supporters, from left, Jay Gifford, Skip Armstrong, Emmie Purcell, Hayden Peters and Parker Arneson.

Amusing Monday: ‘BirdNote’ telling stories for the past 10 years

Saturday will be the 10th anniversary of “BirdNote,” a public radio program about birds from all over the world, with frequent references to Puget Sound and the Pacific Northwest.

The well-produced audio segment resembles “StarDate,” which was the inspiration for the show, as founder Chris Peterson describes in a program to be aired this week. Check out the page “BirdNote at 10: 10 years of stories about birds and nature!” or listen to this clip:


Marty, the marsh wren, is BirdNote's mascot. Click image for info about his travels.
Marty, the marsh wren, is BirdNote’s mascot. Click for info about his travels.

BirdNote originated in 2005 at a single station — KPLU in Tacoma — and expanded to 50 participating stations by 2010 with about 200 stations today, according to a list of facts put together for the anniversary. Birdnote began as a once-a-week segment before expanding to daily segments in 2008.

The searchable archive covers more than 1,200 shows, featuring more than 650 species of birds. Besides the daily audio clips, each webpage links to related sources — including photos or videos; a little history or biography; scientific explanations; occasional notes or blogs; and often more information about the featured birds.

In honor of the 10th anniversary of BirdNote, and since this is a blog about water issues, I’ve picked out 20 clips from the past two years or so that I think you will enjoy:

Marbled murrelets: As fish go, so go the murrelets (December 2012)

Winter on the Columbia: It may be winter, but there’s a lot to see… (December 2012)

Seabirds in decline: What’s become of them? (January 2013)

Red-throated Loons of Deception Pass: They can’t walk on land, but they’re graceful in flight! (March 2013)

Double-crested cormorant: What are they doing with wings like that? (April 2013)

Probing with sandpipers: The right tool for the job (April 2013)

Citizen scientists monitor pigeon guillemots: Dedication, information, and …. a tattoo? (September 2013)

Tony Angell reflects on nature: From Puget Sound through an artist’s eye (October 2013)

Buffleheads in Winter: Our smallest duck returns from the north! (December 2013)

The Ballet of the Grebes: Birds do the strangest things! (May 2014)

Monitoring Rhinoceros Auklets on Protection Island: Auklets are fascinating research subjects! (June 2014)

Amazing aquatic American dipper: What’s that bird doing in the river? (August 2014)

The heron and the snake: It’s a rough world for a young blue heron (September 2014)

Chorus line in the sky: sandpipers in elegant fashion (October 2014)

Gull identification: Black, white, gray… how do you sort them all out? (October 2014)

The oystercatcher’s world: Life in the wave zone! (November 2014)

The music of black scoters: A mysterious, musical wail… (November 2014)

Diving birds — below the surface: If only we could see them under water! (December 2014)

A swirl of snow geese: Barry Lopez and Snow Geese (January 2015)

What happens when birds get wet? Their rain shell shields their down layer (January 2015)