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
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.
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.”
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
see it as a threat and come back a second time. Well, really, it
about a half second, so I was not really thinking that much through
“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.”
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.
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
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
“National Geographic” looks at the use of drones in high-seas
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.
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
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
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
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
The sand was smooth and still. Waves lapped at the distant
shoreline. A sign, stuck in the sand, stated, “Do not disturb. Sea
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
cake, and click each one to enlarge. The details are truly
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
In case you missed this letter to the editor from Richard C.
Yerk of Suquamish, I will repeat it here:
“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
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
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,
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!”
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.
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
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).
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
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
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
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.”
“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
“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
“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
“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.”
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
“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.
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?”
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
Puget Sound has about 70 common species of marine birds. Many
populations are in decline but some appear to be stable and a few
The winter population is about four times as large as the
summer population, reaching a peak of roughly half a million
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
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
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.