2014 BBC Camera Trap Pictures of the Year Announced

BBC Camera Trap Competition Winner's Gallery

BBC Camera Trap Competition Winner’s Gallery

The results are in for BBC’s Camera Trap Photo of the Year Competition. I have entered some of my SLR camera trap pictures every year into this camera trap photography contest and this year the quality level of images has definitely stepped up in this competition. I think it was smart of them to separate the contest into a research and photography category as that allows for the lower resolution research pictures to shine on the same level as the SLR camera trap shots.

I’d like to first highlight that a good friend of mine, and an amazing biologist, Laila Bahaa-el-din, was commended in the Rare Species category with a beautiful picture of a red morph African Golden Cat. This stunning photograph perfectly fits in the rare species category since it is extremely difficult to get even a camera trap picture of this cat. After nine weeks trying to get a high resolution picture of this species, I was only able to photograph two individuals. Laila has hundreds of pictures and videos of this cat! You deserved this recognition, nice job Laila, I am really happy for you!

I had the honor of sharing an award in this same category of Rare Species with Laila, as the picture of the Marbled Cat got runner up (behind an Iranian Cheetah so, I mean, that’s a given first place!). This picture was a total team effort, to read more check out both of these past blog posts. (Borneo Bay Cat and Thank you for 2013).

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Rare Species Catergory Runner Up: Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

The magazine’s editors always do a separate selection from the winners of the category, in their Editor’s Choice Gallery. This too is another great collection of images (I love the tiger coming out of the darkness), and I was again truly honored to have one of my images associated with such great pictures, photographers, and biologists. It is of a Malay Civet, captured as it is crossing over a buttress root in the dense rainforest of Malaysian Borneo (my friend Andy Hearn and I were trying to get a Sunda Clouded Leopard here, but we’ll take what we can get).

Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

There are a few things I am really excited about in regards to the results (I am of course happy that two entries placed, but that’s not important). One, is that the competition winners are filled with cats — in fact nine out of the 39 winning photographs depict one of our feline friends. Better yet, it highlights some of the least known and endangered species in the cat family. This contest allows a lot more people to be exposed to these amazing amazing animals, hopefully converting a few people out there into cat conservationists, or at the very least into more environmentally aware people (how can one not be excited about that?!?!).

I am so very glad BBC has started this competition and it is truly blooming into a great project that is not only entertaining, but also will drive environmental change.

 

The Ten Photo Expedition Essentials

All 225 lb (102kg) of gear packed up, ready for international departure!

All 225 lb (102kg) of gear packet up, ready for international departure!

Photographing wildlife in your local state park is one thing, traveling across the world to try and capture images of elusive species in remote areas is another. You have to start thinking beyond picture taking to managing staying out in the field for ­extended periods of time. Convenience stores aren’t around every corner and if you are missing something you may just be plain out of luck. Though the list of things to bring is extensive I wanted to explain my top ten essentials that I take every time I head into the field.

1. Camera Gear

About half the photography equipment I bring on assignment (not counting camera traps)

About half the photography equipment I bring on assignment (not counting camera traps, for those multiply everything by four)

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: without camera equipment you wouldn’t be doing much photography. Having multiples of items, especially cameras, is essential. This way, if something breaks, you don’t have to give up shooting altogether. I have had two cameras break on me while I was on location, though inconvenient, it didn’t halt my photography as I could just keep going with the back-ups.

2. Paperwork

Passport, immunization records, photography permits, and tickets.

Passport, immunization records, photography permits, and tickets.

In most foreign countries you can’t just show up, pull out your camera, and start shooting — especially not for extended periods of time. Many countries require you to get visas before you even depart your home country. Others require you to provide your immunization history to make sure you aren’t bringing in any disease or may be contracting on during your stay. Finally, if you are working in any public areas, you most likely need a permit to conduct your photography project from the governmental department responsible for the environment (sure makes shooting at home sound way more appealing, doesn’t it?!).

3. First Aid Kit

The first aid kit I bring (make sure yours is waterproof as well)

The first aid kit I bring (make sure yours is waterproof as well)

Alright, so you have made it to your remote location finally. You are pumped up and ready to conquer all photography challenges when a major bout of diarrhea leaves you weak and lying in bed for days. You get a bacterial infection and have no way of treating it. A simple injury can all of a sudden become life threatening. All of these scenarios are quite possible, and could have happened to me, if I did not have a first aid kid to nip the problem in the bud right when the issue started to present itself. It’s not much to carry, but it can literally save your life. Check out the CDCs website to see what health issues you should be prepared for at your destination.

4. Water Purification

Water filtration system including a pump and steripen

Water filtration system including a pump and steripen

That brings me right to my next item, well items really. We take clean water for granted, but guess what, in most parts of the world that is simply not the case. So will you just bring gallons and gallons of water with you? Carrying the extra weight is just not feasible. So you have to be able to purify the water you naturally encounter in the environment. A water pump (for sediment extraction) along with a steripen (which kills the bacteria and viruses) are essential to alleviating any kind of water problems.

5. Rain Protection

Osprey raincover - perfect for most rain situation. If its a storm, I place items in waterproof bags.

Osprey raincover – perfect for most rain situations. If its a storm, I place items in waterproof bags.

Talking about water, in the tropical environments I have worked in the most, finding water is no problem, simply because it rains in these ecosystems almost daily. Great for drinking water, not so great for keeping your photo and traveling equipment dry. I always carry raincovers and waterproof bags with me, so if a downpour comes in, I know all is safe.

6. Silica Gels

Silica Gels - I have even needed these in the desert

Silica Gels – I have even needed these in the desert

Related to the waterproof bags are silica gels. In tropical environments, even when it isn’t raining, the humidity is absolutely absurd (my baseball hat was growing three different species of fungi the last time I was in Borneo), which can lead to health issues and fungus growing inside of your photo gear. To ensure that the air within your bags is less humid, silica packets are absolutely essential.

7. Pocket Knife

Most important item I own (partially due to sentimental reasons) -- my grandpa's pocket knife

Most important item I own (partially due to sentimental reasons) — my grandpa’s pocket knife

Another duh item really. It allows you to eat food more easily, cut most anything, and repair a lot of your kit. I use my pocketknife daily when I am in the field and it is the item I would least want to lose.

8. Hand Sanitizer and Toilet Paper

TP and Hand Sanitizer - explanation is hopefully unnecessary

TP and Hand Sanitizer – explanation is hopefully unnecessary

Going to the bathroom in the wilderness is somewhat of an acquired taste. Whether you hate it or don’t mind it, you won’t get around it when you are in the field for extended periods of time. To do things properly though, both toilet paper and hand sanitizer are required. If you don’t have toilet paper, you can always use a leaf, but grabbing the wrong kind of vegetation will guarantee that you won’t forget the tp in the future.

9. External Hard drives

External hard drive - I have two of these that are clones of each other

External hard drive – I have two of these that are clones of each other

All is well, you are safe, your equipment is safe, and you are having amazing experiences taking amazing pictures. Life couldn’t be better. You are filled with happiness as you see your pictures loading onto your computer and there is no sense of nervousness as you do so because you thought ahead and brought plenty of external storage. When I am in the field, each photograph I take is stored on three different devices, so even if one fails, I still have two back-up copies. I would recommend doing the same for you.

10. Compass and GPS

GPS - life saver (literally)

GPS – life saver (literally)

Assuming that you’d like to return from your adventurous journey, I would recommend bringing both a compass and a GPS to lead you back to civilization. Having worked in the desert and the dense jungle now, I can attest that these two items are probably the biggest life savers. When you are totally away from civilization it is incredibly easy to get turned around. I have stepped 10 feet off the trail in the jungle, closed my eyes, spun around, and had no idea where the trail was when I open my eyes again. You may think all you need is a GPS, but that would also be incorrect. My good friend Andy Hearn and I have walked in circles in the rainforest in Borneo trying to go straight, even while looking at the GPS the whole time. Using the GPS with the compass allowed us to get a proper bearing and get back to our camp.

Food: I didn’t list food as a top ten essential because it isn’t something I bring from home; I buy the necessary supplies locally before heading into the field.

Power: If you are out in the field for more than a week at a time, I’d highly recommend setting yourself up so you can charge your camera batteries with solar power. Otherwise you are carrying a ton of batteries around. (Batteries would have made the list if I didn’t take them out before traveling due to weight restrictions — trust me paying for an extra 175lb in excess baggage fees is not fun, so any weight you can lose is worth it).

As mentioned this list can go on and on, but I think this is a good start. Am I missing something on this list that you think is essential? Let us know in the comments!

Do you want to know less about the gear and more about how I take my pictures? Join me on one of my workshops!

Free Nature Wallpaper for Download – Olive Baboon

Baboons are found from the savannas of western and eastern Africa, to the cape in southern Africa, as well as the tropical rainforest of central Africa. This male Olive Baboon (Papio anubis) was resting in the dense jungle of Kibale National Park in southwestern Uganda. I think the reason so many people love primates is because their facial expressions are similar to ours. To me, this male looks like he is relaxing, day dreaming about something. That of course is anthropomorphizing him, but in a way I think that’s ok, because it lets people connect with the animal.

As always, just click on the image for the wallpaper sized image or use this link Olive Baboon.

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Olive Baboon (Papio anubis) male in rainforest, Kibale National Park, western Uganda

Project Puma: How Cougars are Better for our Health

How can a wild animal like a mountain lion be better for our health? We have all heard about the web of life, how all things are connected, and that there is a natural balance within an ecosystem. Pumas show us how removing part of that system shifts that balance and creates a system that is more detrimental to us people.

Let’s first look at the web of life that a puma lives in:

The web of life for a Puma (very simplified)

The web of life for a Puma (very simplified)

In this very simplified (though accurate) system, pumas feed primarily on deer, which in turn feed on grass. Besides mountain lions, deer only have humans as predators (and sometimes the odd coyote), but are parasitised by lots of organisms including ticks. The mountain lions keep deer numbers in check, which in turn keeps tick numbers in check, as does it keep grass from being under-abundant. (If you are a school teacher and would like to incorporate this concept into your curriculum, contact Felidae Conservation Fund for their CAT Aware Program).

Let’s look at this same system on the east coast of the United States, where Cougars are no longer found.

Web of life without the Puma

Web of life without the Puma

Without the pumas, deer numbers have grown tremendously, these animals in turn feed on the local vegetation, which leads to overgrazing since their numbers are too large. More importantly for us people, because there are more deer, there are more ticks that feed on those deer.

This is where the health aspect comes in. Ticks carry disease, including Lyme disease. With more ticks present, there may not be a larger percentage of ticks that carry Lyme disease but there will be a larger number of individuals that are vectors of it. Due to the fact that cougars are not controlling deer numbers on the east coast, more Lyme disease carrying ticks are around, which leads to a higher rate of incidence for the disease in the area.

Let me illustrate the point with some maps.

Tick species ranges that carry Lyme disease in the US

Tick species ranges that carry Lyme disease in the US

In the US, both the Black-legged Tick (Ixodes scapularis)  and the Western Black-legged Tick (Ixodes pacificus) carry and transmit Lyme disease.

This is the area in which Lyme disease has the highest incidence rate (or, where it happens the most):

The fifteen states with the highest incidence rate of Lyme disease in the US

The fifteen states with the highest incidence rate of Lyme disease in the US (see Lyme Disease Association Analysis) — the darker the red the higher the number of incidences

As you can clearly see, the highest chance of infection is limited to the east Coast.

Now let’s look where Pumas currently live in accordance with the above data:

Mountain Lion presence and their relation to Lyme disease infection

Mountain Lion presence and their relation to Lyme disease infection

Even though Lyme disease and their vectors are present on the west coast of the US, mountain lions keep the tick numbers low (by keeping the deer numbers lower), therefore creating an overall healthier system for people. More mountain lions eventually means a lower chance of getting Lyme disease.

Historically, cougars used to occupy the east coast where Lyme disease is so prevalent now, but they were extirpated from the region in the early 1900’s. Could a case be made for re-introducing cougars to the east coast, now that they have been gone from the region for hundreds of years? Is there even space for them? Even though the western United States has greater areas of fully protected land, the eastern states still have plenty of habitat for pumas as well.

US population density - Copyright Ian Offord

US population density – Copyright Ian Offord

The population density map shows that cougars have no space left on the eastern coast, nor would you want them to wander into New York City or Boston, but once you are more inland, the population density is low enough where you can have successful co-existence between these cats and people. Having an action plan would help of course but even naturally, pumas are moving more and more east as time passes. Maybe sooner than later, Lyme disease will be less of an issue in the States, and all due to a wild cat.

 

Atlantic Puffins of Skomer Island

The largest breeding colony of Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica) south of Scotland is on Skomer Island, on the western coast of Wales. Over 10,000 pairs breed in underground burrows here. Sometimes they burrow the holes they lay their eggs in themselves, sometimes they simply kick out the rabbit that was using it before (considering the size difference, that is an amazing feat). All of the burrows are close to the coastal cliffs. This means they can take flight easily if danger approaches (in the form of Peregrine Falcons) and there isn’t much time for gulls to steal the catch the puffins are bringing back to their chicks between landing and disappearing underground.

The Breeding Colony:

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) group at coastal breeding colony, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) group at coastal breeding colony, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Puffins at their Burrows:

IMG_117237_Atlantic_Puffin_United_Kingdom_Sebastian_Kennerknecht

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) at nest burrow at sunrise, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

IMG_116900_Atlantic_Puffin_United_Kingdom_Sebastian_Kennerknecht

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) at nest burrow, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

IMG_116908_Atlantic_Puffin_United_Kingdom_Sebastian_Kennerknecht

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) at nest burrow, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

To collect food for their one chick (also called a pufflling), they forage in relatively close waters (most within 7km from this colony) by diving underwater and catching small fish. They collect multiple fish at one time by pressing the caught ones to their upper mandible with their tongue (amazing or what!?!). Eleven species of fish are common prey (mostly sandeels), but up to twenty four different species of fish have been recorded to be used as food by these guys.

IMG_117288_Atlantic_Puffin_United_Kingdom_Sebastian_Kennerknecht

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) carrying fish prey, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

When on land without fish, they engage in a few different behaviors.

Like many other birds, a male and female pair bond by touching their bills together in a behavior called billing.

IMG_117517_Atlantic_Puffin_United_Kingdom_Sebastian_Kennerknecht

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) pair billing, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Flapping their wings is also quite easily seen. Ornithologists interpret this as both a comfort and/or displacement behavior.

IMG_117154_Atlantic_Puffin_United_Kingdom_Sebastian_Kennerknecht

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) flapping wings, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

When you are this cute, it’s understandable when one needs a rest.

IMG_117203_Atlantic_Puffin_United_Kingdom_Sebastian_Kennerknecht

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) resting, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Towards the late evening, you may start seeing individuals head-flicking, which is a way to communicate between individuals and may partially serve to synchronize the departure from the colony.

IMG_117213_Atlantic_Puffin_United_Kingdom_Sebastian_Kennerknecht

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) head-flicking, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

The amazing thing about this particular colony is that the puffins let you get extremely close, often even running right by your feet. Scientists on the island are currently figuring out if our human presence is having a negative impact on the Puffins. Instinctively, I would wager that to be the case but I talked to one scientist who said it may be balanced by the fact that our presence often dissuades the gulls from coming in and stealing the puffins caught fish. I sure hope that’s the case and I am interested to hear the final results of that study. At the very least, it allows for amazing portrait opportunities.

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) in breeding plumage, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) in breeding plumage, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) at sunrise, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) at sunrise, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

I really didn’t feel like I had enough time to hang out with these amazing creatures and only tried for a few minutes to get a flight shot.

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) flying, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) flying, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

or a on the water shot for that matter.

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) on water, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) on water, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom

If you want to see more Puffin pictures from the trip, click here, if you want a free desktop wallpaper, check out this blog post.