Category Archives: Birds, wildlife

Amusing Monday: Amazing nature photos from around the world

Some of the best photographers in the world contribute to National Geographic magazine. So it’s no wonder that a photo contest sponsored each year by the publication draws in some incredible photographs.

Last year, more than 7,000 entries were submitted by amateur and professional photographers from 150 countries, and I would expect an equal number this year. The deadline has passed for submissions in 2014, and the winner of the $10,000 grand prize plus several runners-up will be announced later this month.

For now, with permission from National Geographic, I’d like to share 10 water-related images from a gallery of the judges’ favorite photographs for 2014. To see more pictures, visit National Geographic’s Photo Contest 2014 Galleries.

When Gregory Lecoeur jumped into the Salish Sea near Vancouver Island’s Race Rocks, the water was cold, visibility was poor and the current was strong. When he sensed shadows moving about him, he slowed his movements. Soon, curious Steller sea lions were trying to play with his camera and nibble his fingers.
When Gregory Lecoeur jumped into the Salish Sea near Vancouver Island’s Race Rocks, the water was cold, visibility was poor and the current was strong. When he sensed shadows moving about him, he slowed his movements. Soon, curious Steller sea lions were trying to play with his camera and nibble his fingers.
Rick Loesche caught this decisive moment in the life of a crab, which was about to be eaten on Sanibel Island, Florida.
Rick Loesche caught this decisive moment in the life of a crab, which was about to be eaten on Sanibel Island, Florida.
Dave Kan was finishing up a photo shoot in Queensland, Australia, when a kangaroo appeared out of nowhere and bounded across the edge of a lake on the Noosa River, as if the animal were walking on water.
Dave Kan was finishing up a photo shoot in Queensland, Australia, when a kangaroo appeared out of nowhere and bounded across the edge of a lake on the Noosa River, as if the animal were walking on water.

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Amusing Monday: Amazing drones bring us new stories to tell

Unmanned aircraft, commonly known as drones, are taking over the world. At least it seems that way. If you don’t believe me, search for “drone” on YouTube. You’ll find amateur aviation specialists — and a variety of professionals — demonstrating what drones can do. Some of the things are pretty amusing.

I’ll mention some water-related drone stories below, but the first video on this page shows a hawk attacking a drone owned and operated by Christopher Schmidt, a 30-year-old software developer. I think Chris did a nice job of protecting the bird by throttling down the props on his Phantom FC40 quadcopter. The final result is a great up-close view of an angry bird, well deserving of a place in “Amusing Monday.”

Chris was using the drone to get images of changing leaves in Magazine Beach Park in Cambridge, Mass., last Wednesday, when he saw a bird circling a good distance away. The circling continued as the bird moved closer to the drone.

“Overall,” he told me in an email, “I was surprised by how quickly he moved from 400 feet away to on top of the quad. When he was very nearby, my initial thought was, ‘Okay, stay still, so he can avoid it’ — which obviously didn’t work out for me.”

Christopher Schmidt with his Phantom drone. Photo courtesy of Christopher Schmidt.
Christopher Schmidt with his Phantom drone.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Schmidt.

He said he saw no evidence beforehand that the bird was upset or likely to attack. Over the six months he owned the drone, nothing like that had happened, except for a few crows squawking at the aircraft. After he posted the video, he learned from bird experts that immature red tail hawks have not yet learned to hunt efficiently, so they may attack anything that moves.

As the hawk attacked, Chris cut power to the props, which caused the quad to drop. The bird hit the chopper and it flipped. Chris was unable to recover the flight, still worried about the bird, though he powered back up at the end.

“If I had done nothing,” he wrote, “I expect the quadcopter would have done the flip (which it did) and immediately recover — possibly losing about
10 feet of altitude. My fear in that case was that the hawk would still
see it as a threat and come back a second time. Well, really, it was
about a half second, so I was not really thinking that much through it.

“I still would do the same thing if I had to do it all over, even if it might have put the quadcopter at less risk.”

The hawk appeared to be fine after the attack. Photo courtesy of Christopher Schmidt
The hawk appeared to be fine after the attack.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Schmidt

As it turns out, the quad sustained almost no damage from falling out of the sky and hitting the ground, except for a slightly bent landing gear. And the hawk was no worse for wear.

Lots of media have been using the footage that Chris took. Based on a suggestion from a coworker, he is donating any money raised from YouTube ads to the American Audubon Society. Thanks to Gene Bullock of Kitsap Audobon for alerting me to this video.

OK, so what are some other odd things that drones can do? How about helping out with an ALS ice bucket challenge? In the second video, Austin Hill of Spark Aerial uses a massive DJI S1000 Octocopter to lift a bucket of ice water and pour it rather slowly on his head.

I’ve shown you videos of the Flyboard®, an apparatus developed in France by Franky Zapata. See Amusing Monday, Oct. 15, 2012. Martin Schumacher goes one better by using a DJI Phantom and GoPro Hero 3 to shoot an up-close demonstration video around Saint-Tropez in Southeast France.

It was only a matter of time before someone got the idea to use a drone for fishing — no matter how inefficient that might be. Check out this 7-minute video by NightFlyer (the action starts about 5 minutes in) or this shorter 1.5-minute video by RYOT. Both these guys now have fish stories to tell. But, after all that work, even they would admit that the fish they caught are rather amusing.

On a more serious note, there are many legal issues related to drones, which are not yet approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for commercial use, and there are many concerns related to privacy. People also are raising questions about whether drones should ever be used for hunting or fishing. Michael R. Shea tackles the subject for “Field and Stream” magazine.

If sportsmen are thinking about using drones, game wardens are not far behind, as they consider how drones might be used to catch poachers. “National Geographic” looks at the use of drones in high-seas fisheries enforcement.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington vetoed a bill that would have limited the use of drones by law enforcement. He then set up a task force to look at the entire subject. A representative of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said in one task force meeting that there could be applications for enforcement and research by the agency. The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Force is expected to make recommendations before next year’s legislative session.

Amusing Monday: New worlds explored with GoPro

The GoPro action camera is the force behind hundreds of amazing videos. Thanks to this unique camera, we have raced across the land, soared into the sky and dove beneath the waves.

We have not only followed people closely as they’ve undertaken wild adventures, we have traveled with a variety of animals through their natural habitats. One of my favorite videos, shown first on this page, includes some of the best animal shots taken by many photographers and compiled by the producers of Tastes Like Pizza.

The GoPro is no longer the only compact, rugged and mountable high-definition camera around, but the name has become synonymous with the type of videos I’d like to highlight today. The history of the GoPro was the subject of an interesting “60 Minutes” segment, in which Anderson Cooper mentions that the GoPro has been used again and again to capture video for the television program.

If it’s action shots you like, check out the second video, a compilation by GoPro, created as a promotion for its Hero3 camera. If you’re like me, you will be intrigued by the time-lapse photos in this video and transfixed by the action shots.

How about some more great animal shots? Of course, all these videos should be viewed full-screen:

Jellyfish Lake: Photographer Nana Trongratanawong of Bangkok, Thailand, shot this amazing video in a lake in Palau. She used different music in the video she posted on her website.

Humpback whales: Drone photographer Justin Edwards captures some amazing shots of a young humpback whale and its mom swimming off the coast of Maui in February of this year. About halfway through, you can see the baby riding on its mom’s back.

Shark Riders: Free divers Roberta Mancino and Mark Healey create a dreamlike video that tells a story of becoming one with the ocean and its creatures.

Teaching a pelican to fly: After a storm, a young pelican was found stranded on a beach in Tanzania>The staff of the nearby Greystroke Mahale resort adopted the animal, named him “Big Bird” and reminded him how to fly. With a GoPro attached to his beak, the pelican investigated the waters, then swooped back around to the beach where the flight instructors were waiting.

Amusing Monday: Baby turtles race for the sea

The sand was smooth and still. Waves lapped at the distant shoreline. A sign, stuck in the sand, stated, “Do not disturb. Sea turtle nest.”

That was the scene on a beach in the Florida Keys for the past few weeks, as it was in June, when I posted a blog entry listing cameras that were capturing live action in bird nests as well as other wildlife locations. A quiet patch of sand was not much to look at, so I didn’t mention it.

On Friday, that patch of sand came to life, as you can see in the first video on this page. I thought it was time to share the brief action, as about 100 loggerhead turtles emerged from the sand and headed out to sea about 9 p.m. Check out the action in full-screen.

The camera on the beach uses infrared lights to capture the images, thus avoiding visible light that could confuse the young turtles. The project is supported by Save-A-Turtle, a volunteer non-profit group dedicated to the protection of rare and endangered sea turtles and their habitats in the Florida Keys.

Meanwhile, some of the young ospreys shown in their nests back in June have fledged, but there is still plenty of action in the nest at Missoula’s Riverside Health Care Center, where the camera is operated by the University of Montana. Check out the images in full-screen, high-definition while you can, because these growing chicks will soon be gone.

Another still-active osprey nest is operated by Chesapeake Conservancy on Maryland’s eastern shoreline.

The Puffin Cam at Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge in Maine is picking up some excited feeding activity at the nesting area, where experts are establishing a new colony of puffins after hunters wiped them out in the 1800s.

Brown bears are now feeding on salmon along Alaska’s Brooks River in Katmai National Park, according to bloggers on the site. Check out the live video below to see if you can spot a bear, including a subadult mentioned by observers.

You may wish to go back to the June 23 “Amusing Monday: A visit with wildlife via webcam” to see what other cameras are picking up activity. You can generally count on Pete’s Pond on Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana, Africa, for some exotic animals coming to the watering hole.



Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Amusing Monday: A visit with wildlife via webcam

It seems kind of strange that we can spy on wildlife in a very personal way, thanks to modern technology.

The animals never notice the hundreds of humans peering over their shoulders via webcam. If they could know what is going on, I actually think they’d prefer the camera to the disturbance that even one person would create by crowding in that close.

It’s the time of year when many birds are active on their nests, so I thought I’d bring you some of the best videos on the web, weeding out those that are inactive or don’t have much going on right now.

The University of Montana operates two live osprey cams at part of its Montana Osprey Project. I believe the nest at Riverside Health Care Center in Missoula (shown in first video player) contains two chicks, while the nest at Dunrovin Ranch in Lolo contains three chicks.The high-quality video and sound make you feel you are right there with the birds.

Alberta Conservation Association and its sponsors have set up cameras to observe three prime nesting boxes for peregrine falcons in Edmonton, Alberta. Chicks have hatched in each nest, and we can watch (in real time) the mothers taking care of their little bundles of fluff. Each bird has a story listed with the video.

Chesapeake Conservancy is in charge of an osprey cam on Maryland’s eastern shore. The live video features Tom and Audrey, who have returned to the nest after spending the winter in South America. I have seen two chicks in that nest.

For a bird of a different character, check out the Puffin Cam at Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge in Maine, where Audubon’s Project Puffin operates a field station. The puffins on the island were wiped out by hunting in 1887, but they were reintroduced by bringing puffins from Newfoundland. More than 50 pairs nest there. (Three live videos are set up to show the puffins.)

If you are interested in watching brown bears feeding on salmon, stay tuned for live videos from Alaska’s Brooks River in Katmai National Park. The action should begin in July, according to information on the website. Meanwhile, you can watch recorded videos from previous times.

One of my favorite live cams is still Pete’s Pond (video player at right), a watering hole on Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana, Africa. It began as a National Geographic project and is now operated by WildEarth, which features several other wildlife cams. Operators, working remotely, turn the camera to find the best action at any moment.

The Vancouver Aquarium has live cams showing:

If you’d like to see blacktip reef sharks and other fish, check out the video below from the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Md.

Amusing Monday: Creative cakes take you places

I’m still amazed — and amused — by the idea that talented artists can create edible cake sculptures depicting just about any object or scene — including underwater realms and seaside landscapes.

osprey

The water-related themes are especially amusing, because water is one place you would never want to put a cake.

One amazing artist is Kim Simons, who got her start in cake decorating about five years ago while watching cake shows on television. As she told “Dessert Professional” magazine:

“I said to myself, ‘I can do that!’ So I taped the shows and freeze-framed the shots to learn of all the products they used. I started to play around with the materials and found my true passion in the process.”

The magazine listed Kim, a New Jersey resident, as one of the top 10 cake artists of North America last year.

Since then, she has won numerous awards for her specialty cakes, including the osprey cake, which was named best of division for show cakes at last year’s “That Takes the Cake! Sugar Art and Cake Show” in Austin, Texas. No one photo can capture the intricacy of this cake, so check out Kim’s website for a variety of shots of the osprey cake, and click each one to enlarge. The details are truly amazing.

The same goes for the painted turtle cake below. The detail shots help you take a closer look, as if you were seeing the cake in front of you. This cake won several awards at the 2011 National Capital Area Cake Show in Annadale, Va., where the theme was “Under the Sea.” I would have loved to have seen that show.

If you’re intrigued by these cakes, you must check out all of Kim’s creations under the tab “Award Winning Cakes” on her website, Cakes by Kim Simons.

See also previous “Water Ways” entries on cakes:

turtle

Amusing Monday: Flipping for the bird

In case you missed this letter to the editor from Richard C. Yerk of Suquamish, I will repeat it here:

Print by Phil Jones. Click on image to purchase.
Print by Phil Jones // Click image to purchase

“I would like to suggest a common-sense approach to protect the endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin (‘Terns to be driven from islands,’ Feb. 9).

“The Caspian terns that nest on the man made islands apparently have a voracious appetite for juvenile steelhead salmon. The Army Corps of Engineers plans a test planting of willows to the open ground the terns favor for nesting.

“A more viable and cost-effective solution would be for the federal officials to plant marijuana, not that it’s legal. Those of us who remember the 1960s warnings from the National Institutes of Health of the personality changes associated with pot would surely endorse such a plan. The terns would nest among the plants, develop an insatiable appetite for the buds, and perhaps eventually wean themselves off salmon.

“I believe, to ensure future runs of endangered salmon, that it is incumbent that federal officials leave no tern unstoned.”

I have heard the phrase “no tern unstoned” before but never with such a strong connection to current events, including efforts to save endangered salmon and marijuana legalization. That was a nice touch.

Here are some more bird jokes:

Vultures on a plane: Two turkey vultures were preparing to migrate north for the summer but, after talking about it, they decided they were too old to fly all that way, so they decided to take a plane. When they were about to board the aircraft, the flight attendant, noticing that both buzzards were carrying a dead armadillo, asked, “Would you like to check those armadillos through as luggage?” “No thanks,” the buzzards replied, “they’re carrion.” WildBirds.com

Penguins on the loose: This guy in a station wagon is riding down the road with the back full of penguins. A cop sees him and pulls him over and says, “I want you to take those penguins to the zoo right now!” The guy says, “O.K.” Next day the cop sees this same guy going down the road with the penguins in the back. This time the penguins are wearing sunglasses. He pulls the guy over again and says,”I thought I told you to take those penguins to the zoo.” The guy answers, “Yeah, that’s right, we went and had a helluva time. We’re going to the beach today!” WildBirds.com

Crow or raven: I understand that a crow has one less pinion feather than a raven. Therefore, how can you tell a crow from a raven? It’s a matter of a pinion. WildBirds.com

Watch parrot: A postal carrier is working on a new beat. He comes to a garden gate marked BEWARE OF THE PARROT! He looks down the garden and, sure enough, there’s a parrot sitting on its perch. He has a little chuckle to himself at the sign and the parrot there on its perch. The mailman opens the gate and walks into the garden. He gets as far as the parrot’s perch, when suddenly, it calls out: “REX, ATTACK!” Planned Parrothood

Three riddles from Funology:

Q: When should you buy a bird?
A: When it’s going cheep!

Q: Why does a stork stand on one leg?
A: Because it would fall over if it lifted the other one.

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road, roll in mud, then cross the road again?
A: He was a dirty double crosser!

Kitsap County acquires prime forest, shoreline

It’s official. Kitsap County has become the proud owner of 535 acres of prime lowland forest, including 1.5 miles of shoreline on Port Gamble Bay. See the story I prepared for tomorrow’s Kitsap Sun (subscription).

Port Gamble Bay shoreline // Photo by Don Willott
Port Gamble Bay shoreline // Photo by Don Willott

This is prime property, both from an ecological and recreational viewpoint. It is extremely rare to find a place where so much shoreline belongs to the public, especially in a populated area like Kitsap County. With restoration work and time for nature to respond, this property could return to a near-pristine condition.

This is the first property sale completed by the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project. More than two years ago, I attended a kick-off meeting to launch the fund-raising effort. It all began with an option agreement to buy up to 7,000 acres of forestland from Pope Resources. See Kitsap Sun, Oct. 19, 2012.

The effort followed a disbanded plan by the county to trade the land for increased housing density near Port Gamble. (See Kitsap Sun, Jan. 19, 2010.)

The new effort was spearheaded by Cascade Land Conservancy, now called Forterra. CLC President Gene Duvernoy spelled out the task ahead as he announced that Michelle Connor, a vice president of CLC, would be put in charge. Duvernoy declared:

“This is probably the most important project we can accomplish to save Puget Sound… Anytime we have a real thorny project, we hand it to Michelle to make it happen… This option agreement is a reason to celebrate, but now we need to get serious. Now, we can look at all the financing and funding possibilities. Until today, we were unable to do that.”

Other acquisitions are expected to be completed soon, but it remains unclear how much of the 7,000 acres can be acquired from Pope.

In celebration of the completed sale, I would like to share the statements made in a news release by a variety of people involved in the project:

Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder:

“This acquisition has been years in the making and the beginning of a series of great things to come in 2014. We are lining up funding to protect additional lands from Kingston to Port Gamble as part of this preservation effort.”

Michelle Connor, Forterra’s executive vice president:

“Conservation of these lands will help sustain the cultural heritage and health of our communities, the functioning of our environment and diversity of our economy. Moving the whole effort forward is a testament to the leadership of local residents, Kitsap County, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, the Suquamish Tribe, and the state of Washington.”

Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman:

“The public purchase of the shoreline block at Port Gamble Bay is an accomplishment worth celebrating. The Suquamish Tribe is grateful that this critical marine habitat will be protected for time immemorial and help in efforts to protect the water quality of Port Gamble Bay.”

Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe:

“One of my tribe’s ongoing priorities is to ensure that Port Gamble Bay remains productive and healthy for future generations. The conservation of this property furthers that goal by protecting water quality, preventing development and limiting stormwater runoff and other associated impacts.”

Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, Pope Resources’ real estate subsidiary:

“We are proud to be working with the community to protect these forests, beaches and trails for future generations. This purchase is a prize that has been earned through nearly a decade of dedicated efforts by the local community.”

Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of Great Peninsula Conservancy, a key player in the acquisition:

“The many community partners involved in the Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition have dedicated countless hours to help achieve this historic land purchase, handing out trail maps, speaking to community groups and marching in parades. And when it came down to the wire, the coalition raised over $10,000 in three days to fill the final funding gap.”

Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology:

“Restoring and sustaining the ecological systems that support Port Gamble Bay is critical for Hood Canal, Puget Sound, and all of us who call Washington home.”

Amusing Monday: Animal antics and football feats

I’m sharing a silly animal video with you today in honor of Eli, the orangutan who successfully predicted the Seattle Seahawks’ win in yesterday’s Super Bowl.

The video at right is a compilation from the BBC’s TV series “Walk on the Wild Side,” which first aired in 2009. If you would like to see more, there’s a second compilation, “Animal Crackers 2,” as well as a collection of short segments in “The Inspiration Room.”

As for the Super Bowl prediction, it can be seen in the second video. As you may observe, Eli, who lives in the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, ran over and decisively knocked down a blue paper-mache helmet bearing a Seahawks logo. He ignored the orange helmet representing the Denver Broncos.

Eli has now correctly predicted the Super Bowl winner seven times in a row without missing yet. That’s a record that the harbor seals in Connecticut’s Maritime Aquarium can only hope to match. They have now picked the wrong team three times in a row.

Orange, the name of one harbor seal who participated in the selection, may have chosen the Broncos’ colors to match his name. But anyone who has spent any time around harbor seals knows how unreliable they can be. Check out the video of the seals trying to predict a winner with a couple footballs and associated team colors.

For more animal predictions, review the piece by Time magazine, which gives you an idea how little puppies, pandas and manatees know about football.

‘Pulse of Puget Sound’ series halfway done

Sunday marked the halfway point in my ongoing series “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound,” which examines the health of our waterway and asks the question, “With all the money being spent on restoration, are we making any progress?”

food web

For me, the series so far has been an adventure and a learning experience, thanks to abundant help from the many great scientists and smart policy makers we have in this region.

The first half of the project has focused largely on species, including humans; herring and organisms at the base of the food web; salmon and marine fish; marine mammals; and Sunday’s piece on birds (subscription).

Still to come are stories about marine water quality, freshwater quality, upland habitat, water quantity and the future.

As a reporter, I regret that everyone can’t read all these stories immediately without a subscription to the Kitsap Sun, but I have to trust that these kinds of business decisions will allow me to keep doing my work. Still, many of the stories, photos and graphics in this series are available now with or without subscription, starting with the lead page, “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound,” and moving through the series:

Some of the larger points from the latest seabird story:

  • Puget Sound has about 70 common species of marine birds. Many populations are in decline but some appear to be stable and a few are increasing.
  • The winter population is about four times as large as the summer population, reaching a peak of roughly half a million birds.
  • Because birds can fly from one place to another, their choices of location can tell us something about the health of one place compared to another in Puget Sound.
  • If the population of a wintering bird species is in decline, you need to know something about its migration route and nesting area before you can conclude that conditions in Puget Sound are to blame.
  • The marbled murrelet, a “threatened” species, is an odd bird, first identified by early explorers in the late 1700s but whose nesting habits weren’t discovered until 1974.
  • Researchers are trying to learn why two similar birds — tufted puffins and rhinoceros auklets — are faring differently in Puget Sound. Steep declines are seen for tufted puffins, which may be headed for an endangered species listing, while rhinoceros auklets are on the increase. Their varying behaviors are at the center of discussion.
  • Ecosystem indicators for birds, as chosen by the Puget Sound Partnership, are more involved than most other indicators. They focus on the densities of four bird species and also consider food supply and reproductive success.