Monday, 23 February 2009

Review: BBC Wildlife Magazine March 2009 Issue

If you're a regular follower of GiantsOrbiting and its themes, I hope you are also aware of the spectacular periodical embracing all things relating to Natural History that is, BBC Wildlife Magazine.
BBC Wildlife Magazine has moved from strength to strength since it was founded in 1963 as Animals Magazine. Amongst its array of impressive advisors are included David Attenborough (Planet Earth, Nature’s Great Events), Jane Goodall (The Jane Goodall Institute), Simon King (Big Cat Live) and Stephen Moss (Springwatch and A Guide to Garden Birds).

The BBC Wildlife Magazine March 2009 issue is, true to form, another wonderful exploration into wildlife behaviour and imagery; from stunning freeze-frame photography to insightful ideas for your bookshelf and fascinating examination of behaviour. In this issue discover the dynamics of a great white shark attack (Image: Chris Fallows), learn how to distinguish between many different common caterpillars, ascertain how to trap slugs using beer and take note of the best wildlife television offerings in March.

When you have contained your excitement and settled down to read, turn to page 68 for a wonderful guide to attracting birds to your garden (Image: Chris O'Reilly). Written by Steve Harris of Bristol University this article is one of many found in this issue that gives you advice on how to engage with nature where you are!

This is, in my opinion a hot topic of the moment. The ever popular Springwatch and Autumnwatch series have been great catalysts for focussing the public eye back on our British Wildlife. The BBC (amongst other production groups) is now churning out fantastic programmes such as It’s not Easy Being Green and Wild About Your Garden; programmes designed to help you bring wildlife to your doorstep and create a symbiotic relationship with the environment. And you don’t need a huge garden to do it!

How to...Attract birds to your garden by Steve Harris describes how to source your seeds, make birds feel at home and monitor the changes you’ve instigated in your new bird haven. Birds, besides being beautiful to watch and pleasant to listen to, are also helpful pollinators and pest-deterrents (Image: David F) and you may find that their presence improves your garden flora.
It is important that your garden meets the needs of the birds throughout the year if you are to encourage them to be regular visitors, but this can be compensated for by putting fat blocks out during the winter, buying substandard cast-off apples for when your trees are out of fruit and planting a range of seasonal shrubs and trees.
And it’s not just food that birds require. We all know the excitement of seeing birds collect for their young in spring, so put out a nestbox now while the birds are seeking shelter and you may find yourself witnessing the young’s first flight in the summer.

Some birds prefer to forage on the ground and some at the birdfeeder but all are vulnerable to predators. Almost all animals must find a balance between feeding and being vigilant against attack whilst foraging: By keeping your feeders in a position where birds can see predators such as cats or sparrowhawks (Image: Duncan Carrier) coming, you will be ensuring that your garden provides a place where birds feel safe and are sure of a good meal.
They’ve thought of everything from deterring squirrels to avoiding the spread of disease by sterilising feeders regularly. This is a comprehensive and thorough guide to attracting birds to your garden and if you turn to page 82 you’ll discover more about the birds that may soon be reaching the British shores from across the world.

In next month’s issue the BBC Wildlife team review whether Grow-Your-Own Butterfly kits actually work, and teach us skills to help us sneak up on Wildlife for a better look!
If you want a copy of BBC Wildlife magazine it will cost you £3.45 per issue. Alternatively a year’s subscription is £31.20 saving you over a pound per issue and delivery is free to the UK.

If you want to learn more about how to create a place for wildlife in your garden or near you take a look at the Breathing Places website.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

BBC News: Remarkable footage of the elusive Narwhal

A BBC team used aerial cameras to film the creatures during their epic summer migration, as they navigated through cracks in the melting Arctic sea ice.

Narwhal are sometimes called "Arctic unicorns" because of the long, spiral tusk that protrudes from their jaws.
The appendages can reach more than 2m (7ft) in length; scientists believe males use them to attract potential mates.

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Arctic
'An amazing sight'
The BBC crew headed to the Arctic in June 2008, to film the tusked animals' summer migration.

At this time of year, temperatures begin to rise above freezing and the thick sea ice starts to melt, creating a complex network of cracks that cover the white expanse.

These animals are just so completely unreal - they are like something from mythology
Justin Anderson, BBC producer

Every year, thousands of narwhal use these narrow fissures to travel thousands of kilometres, from the south of Baffin Bay to the high Arctic fjords.

But tracking these animals down is not easy.

Justin Anderson, who produced the programme, said: Even though they are quite large animals, the area we had to cover was enormous - the size of Scotland.

It is like finding a needle in a haystack.

A "dive" crew, equipped with underwater cameras, spent four weeks on the ice trying to locate the mysterious whales. But just as they caught a glimpse of them, the sea ice had become so dangerously thin that filming was forced to halt.

However, an "aerial" team arrived by helicopter to take up the mantle.

Mr Anderson explained: It took us seven days to travel to the place where the whales had been spotted [Lancaster Sound] - we were stuck by possibly the worse thing you can encounter in a helicopter in the Arctic - fog.
But then we got there, we 'lucked out'; the skies cleared and we had eight days of 24-hour summer sunshine.

Using a special mount, cameraman Simon Werry filmed the creatures from the helicopter, as the narwhal swam through the melt-water leads.

Mr Anderson said: This is the first time the narwhal migration has been filmed this way. It has been filmed from the ice, but this is the first time it has been filmed from the air.

It was an amazing sight. These animals are just so completely unreal - they are like something from mythology - and we were all just completely gobsmacked when we saw them.

Thanks to their elusive nature, narwhal can prove difficult to study and there is still much to learn about these Arctic mammals.

With such a connection to the Arctic ice, researchers are trying to establish whether narwhal will be affected by changes in the Arctic ice cover.

Dr Heide-Jorgensen has been using satellite tags, which, as well as keeping track of the whereabouts of narwhal, are also able to monitor the temperature of the waters where the whales swim.

He said: They give us the temperature profiles in the wintering grounds and we can see the temperature of the deep areas has been increasing over the past 50 years.
However, we cannot yet see any direct effects of climate change on the narwhal.

From BBC News by science reporter Rebecca Morelle

Nature's Great Events: The Great Melt is on Wednesday 11 February on BBC One at 2100 GMT

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Darwin's Struggle: The Evolution of the Origin of Species

As many of you are aware the BBC is dedicating a series of television and radio programmes to the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of 'On the Origin of Species', under the title
Doubtless many of you will have watched David Attenborough's Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life on BBC1 last Sunday night at 9pm, and if not you can still catch it on the BBC iPlayer. This programme gives us a brief overview of Darwin's life's work interspersed with much library footage showing the young David Attenborough's discoveries of the same patterns in nature. It covers arguments for and against theories of natural selection and evolution, and takes us on a journey through evolution from single-celled organisms up to the top shoots of the tree of life, and all with some very snazzy graphics!

However, more fascinating, I found was the rigorous exploration of Darwin's life leading up to his great works as is conveyed through Darwin's Struggle: The Evolution of the Origin of Species.

Jeremy Bristow's production gives us a brutally accurate description of the truly tragic life Charles Darwin lead: His family touched by the tragedies of the deaths of three of his children finally causing him to lose his faith and to damn religion... The influence of his daughter Anne's death on chapter 3 of On the origin of species as he sees the face of nature stricken as her face was with the struggle to survive...
His concern for his wife Emma's fear that he will be damned to hell.

It is easy to forget, amongst visions of his great works and great voyages that Charles Darwin was a man leading a man's life with all the pressures we experience today and more. His personal growth is almost as amazing as the theories it precedes.

Darwin's Struggle unravels myths surrounding the roots of his theories, noting, for example, the overstated significance of the Beagle voyage from which his natural history collections were in fact meagre and badly classified. His true epiphanies appear to take place not in some glamourous exotic country but in the chalk banks and unmown lawns of his Kentish home. Simple experiments he conducted recording survivors and losers in the struggle for existance in patches of grass gave the strongest base to his hypotheses. He even wondered at his own children whom he considered in relation to orangutans in the zoo. His exploration of artificial selection through pigeon breeding, laws defining hive structure from bee keeping, and complexities amongst barnacles all seem to have been overlooked by the media in the past.

Terrified of the reception of his book Darwin lived through years of torment and self doubt. Losing himself in research, desperate to shield his theory from anticipated criticisms Darwin endured years of secrecy only to become distraught at the possibility of his work being undercut by that of Alfred Wallace: All my originality smashed.

Eventually Darwin published his book only highlighting the effects of his theories on species and avoiding the implications of the origins of mankind; but these implications were not lost on his close teacher and mentor Adam Sedgewick who brutally denounced his work in a devastating letter to him.

He was open to vast ridicule from religious leaders as well as devout christian scientists of the time.

Darwin's Struggle: The Evolution of the Origin of Species is a fascinating exploration of the life-long torment which lead to one of the most important theories in science today. One of the most honest portrayals of Darwin to date, I'd recommend anyone interested in his great works to watch Darwin's Struggle and learn about the true evolution of the origin of species.

You can watch Darwin's Struggle on the iPlayer until Monday the 9th February and it will also air again tonight (Tuesday 3rd) at 7.30pm on BBC4.

Darwin's Struggle was produced by Jeremy Bristow of the BBC's Natural History Unit.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Sunday, 1 February 2009

BBC NHU position available...! (from Wildlife Film News)

After six years as Head of the BBC's Natural History Unit, Neil Nightingale is to stand down and return to programme making. Neil's first project will be a six part BBC One landmark series, Africa – a definitive television series on the greatest wildlife continent on earth.

During his time as Head of the NHU its output has gone from strength to strength, including a diverse range of natural history programmes on television, radio, online and for the cinema. The unit has constantly excelled and created a world-class reputation for ambitious and groundbreaking factual programmes that inform and entertain audiences.

Recent output from the Natural History Unit on television includes Life In Cold Blood, Planet Earth, the Saving Planet Earth season, Wild China, Big Cat Live, The Secret Life Of Elephants, Lost Land Of The Jaguar, Expedition Borneo, Springwatch, Autumnwatch, Galapagos and Natural World.

On radio, recent series include Nature, Living World, Soundscapes and a major live event, World On The Move.

Peter Salmon, Chief Creative Officer, BBC Vision, says: "Neil has made a huge contribution to the BBC’s Natural History Unit. His in-depth knowledge, passion and skill for programme making meant that he was a first-class head of the BBC's Natural History Unit. I wish him every success with his next move, to return to programme making. Thanks to Neil and his teams the NHU is at the top of its game and in great shape for the challenges that the future will bring."

Tom Archer, Controller, BBC Factual Production, BBC Vision, says: "I am thrilled that Neil will be staying within the BBC to resume his brilliant programme making career. He's been a superb head of the NHU and I am sure he will now make some world-class programmes across the BBC."

Neil Nightingale says: "I have enjoyed my time as Head of the NHU immensely. It has been a great privilege to lead the world's most innovative group of wildlife producers but now I feel is the right time to return to my first love, programme making. Africa is an ambitious project and I can't wait to get started on it."

An announcement about the new Head of the NHU will follow in due in course.

Wildlife Film News

There's many a great producer around the NHU suitable for the job... Brian Leith, Tim Martin. Any guesses?
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