Headline of the month!

December 13, 2021 • 9:15 am

I found this story mentioned on Facebook, and tell me: who would not want to read further? In fact, the story is true.

Saudi camel owners are illicitly injecting botox and giving their camels plastic surgery to make them more beautiful! I, for one, didn’t know that there was pride involved in owning a beautiful camel. Click the screenshot from NBC to read:

I will simply reproduce the whole story and try to find some pictures or videos of the beauty festival (my emphases below):

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi authorities have conducted their biggest-ever crackdown on camel beauty contestants that received Botox injections and other artificial touch-ups, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported Wednesday, with over 40 camels disqualified from the annual pageant.

Saudi Arabia’s popular King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, which kicked off earlier this month, invites the breeders of the most beautiful camels to compete for some $66 million in prize money. Botox injections, face lifts and other cosmetic alterations to make the camels more attractive are strictly prohibited. Jurors decide the winner based on the shape of the camels’ heads, necks, humps, dress and postures.

Judges at the monthlong festival in the desert northeast of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, are escalating their clamp down on artificially enhanced camels, the official news agency reported, using “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

This year, authorities discovered dozens of breeders had stretched out the lips and noses of camels, used hormones to boost the beasts’ muscles, injected camels’ heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands and used fillers to relax their faces.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report said, adding organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

The camel beauty contest is at the heart of the massive carnival, which also features camel races, sales and other festivities typically showcasing thousands of dromedaries. The extravaganza seeks to preserve the camel’s role in the kingdom’s Bedouin tradition and heritage, even as the oil-rich country plows ahead with modernizing mega-projects.

Camel breeding is a multimillion-dollar industry and similar events take place across the region.

Now I understand: it’s all about the money! Sixty-six million bucks for the fastest and most beautiful camels!  If I had any desire to go to Saudi Arabia, I would go for this festival.

Here’s a 15-minute VICE video of a day at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in 20l8, including shots of camel racing (8 km in the desert with robot jockeys, but there’s cheating there, too!), and the famous beauty contest, which starts at 8:40.  What is judged is the collective beauty of each herd of 100 camels. A Saudi explains the criteria for a beautiful camel, including a long neck and lovely lips. They also explain the cheating (in that year 12 camels were disqualified for having Botox injections).  A prize camel can go for half a million dollars!

At the very end, the most beautiful herd is paraded past the spectators with much ceremony.

You MUST watch this video!

Some winners: 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

October 20, 2021 • 1:30 pm

NPR has a selection of fantastic winning photos from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest run by the London Museum of Natural History.  I just have time to show you a few of my favorites before I go to feed our few remaining ducks. Honey, Dorothy, and their swain, Prince Charming, need fattening up before they head south.  There are thirteen photos, and I’ll show six with the NPR captions and credits (indented).

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Head to head, by Stefano Unterthiner, Italy, winner, behaviour: mammals category. Unterthiner watched two Svalbard reindeer battle for control of a harem. Unterthiner followed these reindeer during the rutting season. Watching the fight, he felt immersed in “the smell, the noise, the fatigue and the pain.” The reindeer clashed antlers until the dominant male (left) chased its rival away.

Stefano Unterthiner/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Nursery meltdown, by Jennifer Hayes, U.S., winner, Oceans – The Bigger Picture category. Hayes recorded harp seals, seal pups and the blood of birth against melting sea ice. Following a storm, it took hours of searching by helicopter to find this fractured sea ice used as a birthing platform by harp seals. “It was a pulse of life that took your breath away,” says Hayes.

Jennifer Hayes/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The intimate touch, by Shane Kalyn, Canada, winner, behaviour: birds category. Kalyn watched a raven courtship display. It was midwinter, the start of the ravens’ breeding season. Kalyn lay on the frozen ground and used the muted light to capture the ravens’ iridescent plumage against the contrasting snow to reveal this intimate moment when their thick black bills came together.

Shane Kalyn/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Creation, by Laurent Ballesta, France, winner, category: underwater. Ballesta peered into the depths as a trio of camouflage groupers exited its milky cloud of eggs and sperm. For five years Ballesta and his team returned to this lagoon, diving day and night to see the annual spawning of camouflage groupers. They were joined after dark by reef sharks that were hunting the fish.

Laurent Ballesta/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Where the giant newts breed, by João Rodrigues, Portugal, winner, behaviour: amphibians and reptiles category. Rodrigues was surprised by a pair of courting sharp-ribbed salamanders in this flooded forest. It was Rodrigues’ first chance in five years to dive into this lake, as it emerges only in winters of exceptionally heavy rainfall, when underground rivers overflow.

João Rodrigues/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Elephant in the room, by Adam Oswell, Australia, winner, category: photojournalism. Oswell draws attention to zoo visitors watching a young elephant perform underwater.

Adam Oswell/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

h/t: Laurie

Winners: Nature Conservancy photo contest

October 10, 2021 • 2:00 pm

There are about two dozen winners in the Nature Conservancy’s 2021 Global Photo Contest. I’ll show six of my favorites, but go over to their site and look at them all: all of them are gorgeous or fascinating. I’ve put the name of the photographer in bold. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

First, the Grand Prize Winner:

MALUI Western lowland gorilla female ‘Malui’ walking through a cloud of butterflies she has disturbed in a bai. Bai Hokou, Dzanga Sangha Special Dense Forest Reserve, Central African Republic. December 2011. © Anup Shah/TNC Photo Contest 2021

First place, wildliife:

A TURBULENT SWIM Five male cheetahs, were looking to cross this river in powerful currents. It seemed a task doomed to failure and we were delighted when they made it to the other side. © Buddhilini de Soyza/TNC Photo Contest 2021

Honorable mention, Wildlife.

SEARCHING Orangutans are accustomed to live on trees and feed on wild fruits like lychees, mangosteens, and figs, and slurp water from holes in trees. © Thomas Vijayan/TNC Photo Contest 2021
Honorable Mention, Water.
SUMMER ON THE LOTUS POND The lotus ponds across Vietnam are entering the growing season, flourishing. © Manh Cuong Vu/TNC Photo Contest 2021

 

Second place, People and Nature.

SAND STORM A guide in the Sahara Desert enduring a sand storm. © Tom Overall/TNC Photo Contest 2021

People’s choice winner

FIREFLIES Just before Monsoon, these fireflies congregate in certain regions of India and on a few special trees like this one, they are in crazy quantity which can range in millions. © Prathamesh Ghadekar/TNC Photo Contest 2021

h/t: Laurie

Dentally handicapped Otis won the title of “Fattest Bear”

October 6, 2021 • 11:30 am

The people have spoken and the Fat Bear has sung: we have a winner of the 2021 Fat Bear Contest. And it happens to be my favorite of the final pair: Otis (bear #480).  See below, and look at that weight gain on Otis in less than two months!

If you read their biographies, you’ll see that Otis was at a physical disadvantage here. He’s a Senior Bear, about twenty-five years old. Walker, in contrast, is a spry youngster of fourteen. Further, as you can see in the photo below, Otis has dental issues. As the bio states:

As bears age, they experience a variety of challenges and Otis is no exception. In particular, he is missing two canine teeth and many of his other teeth are greatly worn. Otis must also compete with younger and larger bears who want access to his fishing spots. Otis is more likely to be displaced by these bears than he is to displace them.

That’s one seriously messed up set of choppers!  So, as the disadvantage Underbear, Otis got my vote, and won handily, by nearly 6,400 votes.  Sadly, I don’t think the bears get a prize from the Park Service for winning: their reward is fitness coming from fatness: they have a higher chancing of surviving the winter hibernation.

So congratulations to Otis, and let’s hope he’s back next year. As the National Wildlife Federation notes, most grizzlies are dead by the time they’re twenty-five.

The Fat Bear finals!

October 5, 2021 • 11:05 am

We’re down to the last two Fat Grizzlies, and today’s your day to vote for the Championship Porker. You can vote between noon and 9 p.m. Eastern U.S. time at this site (or click on the screenshot below). When this post appears, you can start voting (one vote per person). Each bear has survived three pairings to get to the finals.

The contenders are 480 (“Otis”), versus 151 (“Walker”)

WALKER (1000 lb) with the site’s biography below his before-and-after photos. He’s had a lot of salmon!

Identification

Walker is a large adult male. He has a long, tapering muzzle and widely spaced, upright ears. In early summer he has prominent dark eye-rings and in late summer his fur is dark brown.

Biography

Walker was first identified as an independent two-year-old in 2009. He’s a frequent user of Brooks Falls where he prefers to fish in the far pool and on the lip. Downstream, he is often found fishing in the riffles.

Walker remained a tolerant bear during his young adult years. He allowed other bears to approach him and sought sparring partners for prolonged play fights. However, his priorities have changed as he matured into a fully grown adult. Walker now ranks among the river’s largest bears and he’s become less tolerant of other bears, including some of his former playmates. With his increased body size and a more assertive disposition, Walker is a more dominant bear compared to his younger days. His actions demonstrate that the behavior of bears can vary considerably over their lifetimes. Walker was estimated to weigh about 1,000 pounds (454 kg) in September 2020, but appears to be larger this year.

OTIS, who’s older and has worn teeth. He seems to be the underbear, though he won the championship in 2016 and 2017. Despite his teeth, he’s clearly fattened up a lot (you can see his ribs in the first photo):

Identification

Otis is a medium-large adult male with a blocky muzzle and a floppy right ear. He has light brown fur in early summer. By autumn, his coat becomes grizzled brown and he sports a patch of blonder fur on his right shoulder.

Biography

Otis was four to six years old when he was first identified in 2001, and he’s now one of the older bears at Brooks River. As bears age, they experience a variety of challenges and Otis is no exception. In particular, he is missing two canine teeth and many of his other teeth are greatly worn. Otis must also compete with younger and larger bears who want access to his fishing spots. Otis is more likely to be displaced by these bears than he is to displace them.

Still, he recognizes that patience is a successful strategy. Otis rarely makes an effort to chase salmon like younger, more energetic bears. Once access to his preferred fishing spots becomes available, he takes advantage of the opportunity while expending little energy. While Otis occasionally appears to be napping or not paying attention, most of the time he’s focused on the water, and he experiences a relatively high salmon catch rate as a result.

Otis returned to Brooks River later than usual in 2021. Yet, he quickly made up for lost time by utilizing his patience and mastery of fishing. He was the inaugural Fat Bear Tuesday champion in 2014 and Fat Bear Week champion in 2016 and 2017.

I’m for Otis, as he’s overcome physical issues to fatten up nicely. Plus he’s a Senior Bear!

Now how do they estimate the bear’s weight? Reader Laurie sent me this link from CNN (click on screenshot) that tells you how they estimate weights by using laser photography (“lidar”):

 

An excerpt:

[Joel] Cusick, who works for the National Park Service’s Alaska regional office, creates maps and trains people on GPS and the use of scanners in the field. He typically uses a laser scanner — specifically, a terrestrial lidar scanner — to measure the volume of stationary objects in the park like buildings and gravel piles. It’s a $70,000 industrial-grade tool that sits on a hefty tripod. That evening, Cusick aimed it at Otis, and took a scan.

Lidar is short for “light detecting and ranging” and is probably best known for its use in autonomous vehicles. A lidar scanner sends out millions of pulses of infrared light and measures how long it takes for them to return after hitting an object, such as Otis. These measurements form a point cloud that can then be used to build a three-dimensional map of the object.

In a matter of seconds, Cusick could see what looked like pinpoints comprising Otis’s rear on a tablet linked to the scanner. Computer software later processed the scan, creating a 3-D model that could be used to determine the width of the bear’s behind.

After making the model they can then estimate the bear’s weight from its dimensions (which yield a volume), and the assumption that a bear is 60% water and 40% fat.  Here’s one such scan of contender Walker:

But remember, you’re voting on the basis of the photos, not on the weights, which aren’t even given for some bears.

h/t: Laurie

Don’t forget to vote in the Fat Bear Contest!

September 29, 2021 • 11:05 am

As I announced yesterday, today at noon eastern time begins Fat Bear Week! Every day (from noon to 9 pm Eastern U.S. time, you can vote for one or two pairings (depending on the day) up to October 5, when the Champion Fat Bear is announced. (You can see all the pairings and the schedule here.)

Today you’ll be able, as of this posting, vote for the fatter bear in the two pairings below. To vote, go to this site, see the pairings at the bottom and then choose your bear for each.

Fat Bear Week is from September 29th to October 5th, your vote decides who is the fattest of the fat. Matchups will be open for voting between 12 – 9  p.m. Eastern (9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Pacific). Click the bear you would like to vote for. That bear will then be outlined in blue.  Then enter your email in the space and hit enter. You know that you have successfully voted if you see the total votes for each bear.

Holly’s biography is here, and Grazer’s is here.

Popeye’s biography is here, and Walker’s biography is here.

When this post goes up, the voting will be open. Remember, it’s survival of the fattest!

Winners: 2021 Bird Photographer of the Year Contest

September 6, 2021 • 1:30 pm

The “Bird Photographer of the Year Contest” is one of the better nature/wildlife photo contests around, and My Modern Met presents the winners. I’ve chosen six favorites, but you can see them all by clicking on the screenshot below. I’ll give the captions (indented), which come from the page.

This first one is my favorite:

“Floral Bathtub” by Mousam Ray, India. Gold, Bird Behavior.
“This image was taken at North Bengal Agricultural University in Cooch Behar, West Bengal. To set the scene, here in India autumn days (when the photo was taken) are typically hot and humid – sporadic rains interspersed with sweltering heat – while the nights are cold. I was keen to capture images of Crimson Sunbirds drinking nectar from banana flowers. Typically, these flowers point towards the ground, but in some ornamental species they point skywards and some of their outer petals open up like cups, holding water from rain or dew. Late one evening, a female Crimson Sunbird suddenly arrived and started sipping nectar. Her thirst quenched, she then started bathing in the water stored in this banana flower petal. It’s quite common to find birds refreshing themselves in the evening, visiting puddles and pools, dipping their heads, and wetting their wings and body. However, it was a unique experience to see this sunbird immersing herself upside down in water contained in an ornamental flower petal, like a lady in a bathtub. Her relaxed and indulgent manner, lit by the glow of sunset, was truly a sight to behold.”

“Wing Stretch,” by Kevin Morgans, United Kingdom. Portfolio Award Winner.
“Back-lighting is strongly represented throughout this portfolio. Combining the technique with the beautiful golden hues of sunset can transform an image, and birds, in particular, look fantastic using this approach. The light shining through their feathers creates an almost translucent effect.”

“Thirsty” by Tzahi Finkelstein, Israel. Gold, Birds in Flight.
“Common Swifts live their lives on the wing and are a challenge to capture in flight. With a diet of flying insects, they need to drink from time to time, and even that behavior is performed on the wing. I had had this image – of a swift skimming over water – in my mind for a long time. I finally found a suitable place to attempt it, and to get the photo I had to sit in water wearing a wetsuit, shrouded by a portable hide, every day for three weeks. Eventually, I got this photo on the final day – the day after the birds had all gone.”

Underwater Portrait” by Felipe Foncueva, Spain. Gold, Best Portrait.
“This underwater image of a Brown Pelican was taken off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, near the mouth of the T.rcoles River, where there are small fishing villages. Groups of pelicans await the return of fishermen and take advantage of the scraps they throw into the sea. Looking at this image, I am struck by the similarity between the way the pouch beneath the pelican’s bill functions and the throat of a feeding baleen whale. At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking you are looking at a marine mammal rather than a bird!”

“Funnel” by Kathryn Cooper, United Kingdom. Silver, Creative Imagery.
“Between November and March, tens of thousands of Common Starlings migrate to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Potteric Carr Nature Reserve. My aim was to depict the fluid-like movement of a murmuration and capture its essence. I am interested in transient moments when chaos briefly changes to order – moments when thousands of individual bodies appear to move as one. Here, I’ve captured the flock’s swirls, twists and turns, forming shapes like funnels and tornadoes as the birds seek a suitable spot in which to land. Rather than using a typical long exposure, I adopted a technique whereby I merged aspects of consecutive images using my own coding.”

And this is the grand prize winner:

“Blocked” by Alejandro Prieto, Mexico. Winner, Bird Photographer of the Year. Gold, Birds in the Environment.“The 3,000km-long US–Mexico border traverses and straddles some of the continent’s most biologically diverse regions. It is home to uniquely adapted mammals, reptiles, birds, and plants, some of which are found nowhere else on the planet. Numerous species will be affected if the US government decides to build a wall along the border with Mexico. Border infrastructure not only physically blocks the movement of wildlife but it also destroys and fragments habitats. Many desert animals are, to a degree, nomadic wanderers, and a wall would sever habitat connectivity and prevent them moving freely from one place to another. In this photograph, a Greater Roadrunner approaches the border wall at Naco, Arizona, with what almost looks like a sense of bewilderment.”

h/t: Malcolm

Wildlife photographer of the year

September 2, 2021 • 2:00 pm

London’s Natural History Museum has once again opened its Wildlife Photographer of the Year Contest, with the prizes awarded on October 12. But in the meantime, you can look at some of the entries at TimeOut. I’ve chosen a couple to stimulate your eyes this lovely afternoon (well, at least it’s lovely in Chicago). Captions and info from TimeOut; click on the photos to enlarge them.

The first is awesome:

Teeth-gritted, waves sloshing around them, these cheetahs don’t exactly look like the keenest of swimmers. The photograph was taken just after the group of males jumped into Kenya’s River Talek – and clearly regretted their decision.

The water-averse big cats are known in the area as the Tano Bora: Maasi for ‘magnificent five’. The group comprises two sets of brothers and another male, who apparently go everywhere together (even into uninviting waters).

The photographer, Buddhilini de Soyza, said it took them hours to decide to go for a dip, because they couldn’t find a way to cross the river without getting their paws wet. Eventually – and after much grimacing – the gang paddled their way across the crocodile-infested river. We don’t blame them for making a fuss at all, really.

The photo was highly commended in the ‘Behaviour: Mammals’ category at this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards. More than 50,000 photographers from 95 countries entered the competition this year, tackling subjects ranging from the minutest of sea creatures to the disastrous effects of climate change.

Highly commended, Animal Portraits: ‘Storm Fox’ by Jonny Armstrong

Is this the late Statler, the geriatric flying fox?

“A caring hand” by Douglas Gimesy:

“Mushroom magic,” by Juergen Freund:

“Lynx on the threshold” by Sergio Marijuán:

And a winner from last year: “Great crested sunrise” by Jose Luis Ruiz Jiménez. One grebe parent feeds babies riding on the other parent:

h/t: Rich

The 2021 Audubon photography awards

July 11, 2021 • 12:00 pm

The Audubon Photography Awards regularly present some of the finest wildlife and nature photos around (birds are the star of course, though the name “Audubon” may be on the way out), and I’ve chosen a selection for your delectation. Click on the screenshot title below to see the winners and honorable mentions.

There were a lot of entries:

Focusing our attention on the winged wonders that share our planet can reveal everything from the finest details to the largest patterns of life, as shown by many of the 8,770 images and 261 videos entered in this year’s contest. From the admissions focused on native flora for our Plants for Birds category to the more artistic compositions for the Fisher Prize, our judges were once again amazed by the beauty and breadth of entries. We thank all 2,416 photographers for sharing their visions with us.

This year we expanded the competition with two new prizes: a Video Award, for a new video category, and a Female Bird Prize, awarded to the best photograph of a female bird across all divisions. We also continued our tradition of bestowing the Fisher Prize on the image that takes the most creative approach to photographing birds, and a Plants for Birds Award to the top photograph depicting the relationship between native plants and birds.

I don’t quite get the female bird prize: either it’s an attempt to flaunt virtue, or to make up for all the previous years’ photographs of spectacular male birds whose colors and feathers were molded by sexual selection.

There’s a story behind each shot, but I’ll just give the title and photographer. Do click on the photos to enlarge them.

First, the grand prize winner:

Photographer: Carolina Fraser

  • Category: Amateur
  • Species: Greater Roadrunner
  • Location: Los Novios Ranch, Cotulla, Texas
  • Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon 500mm f/4.0 lens; 1/3200 second at f/6.3; ISO 2000

Amateur Award winner: Robin Ulery

  • Species: Sandhill Crane
  • Location: Johns Lake, Winter Garden, Florida
  • Camera: Sony A9 with Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/800 second at f 6.3; ISO 1600

Amateur Honorable Mention: Tom Ingram

  • Species: Peregrine Falcon
  • Location: La Jolla Cove, California
  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon 600mm f/4 IS II with Canon 1.4x III Teleconverter; 1/1250 second at f/8; ISO 2500

Youth Honorable Mention: Joshua Launstein

  • Species: Canada Goose
  • Location: Burnaby Lake, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
  • Camera: Nikon D7100 with AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4D IF-ED lens and Nikon TC-14E II 1.4x Teleconverter; 1/640 second at f/7.1; ISO 720

Professional Award Winner: Steve Jessmore

  • Species: Northern Cardinal
  • Location: Rural Muskegon County, Michigan
  • Camera: Sony a9 II with Sony FE 200- 600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/5000 second at f/6.3; ISO 250

Plants for Birds Honorable Mention: Karen Boyer Guyton

  • Species: Anna’s Hummingbird
  • Location: Quilcene, Washington
  • Camera: Sony a7R IV with a Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens; 1/5000 second at f/4; ISO 800

JAC: I love this one: it’s a female hummer collecting cattail fluff for nesting material.

h/t: Malcolm

Bird Photographer of the Year contest

June 27, 2021 • 2:00 pm

Once again the My Modern Met site has put up the finalists of the Bird Photographer of the Year contest, and they’re stunners—as usual. Click on the screenshot below to see ’em all. (h/t Malcolm)

Some background from the site:

Wildlife photographers take some of the most adventurous and exciting shots. The recently released 2021 finalists of the Bird Photographer of the Year Awards are no exception. From a confrontation between an enormous eagle and a fox to an adorable fluffy duckling exploring its pond, this year’s gallery is a collection of magical moments in the animal kingdom.

The Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 competition saw a stunning 22,000 entries from around the world. The hopeful photographers hailed from 73 countries. According to Will Nicholls, director of the competition, “The standard of photography was incredibly high, and the diversity in different species was great to see.” The final winning images in categories such as “Bird Behavior” and “Black and White” will be announced, alongside all winners, in September 2021. In addition to the Bird Photographer of the Year title, the ultimate winning photographer will take home a cash prize of £5,000 (~$6,900). The finalists—and other standout images from this year’s competition—will also be included in a fine art book available on the BPOTY website.

There are thirty photos in total, and I’ve chosen my favorite 8 (but it’s hard to choose!). Go see ’em all! The captions are from My Modern Met. And click on the photos to enlarge them.

“Great cormorant” by Irma Szabo. (Photo: © Irma Szabo/Bird Photographer of the Year)

“Fiery-throated Hummingbird” by Gail Bisson. (Photo: © Gail Bisson/Bird Photographer of the Year)

“Mallard duck” by Zdeněk Jakl. (Photo: © Zdeněk Jakl/Bird Photographer of the Year)

Untitled, by Gábor Li. (Photo: © Gábor Li/Bird Photographer of the Year)

“Red-billed oxpecker” by Daniela Anger. (Photo: © Daniela Anger/Bird Photographer of the Year)

“Black-and-white warbler” by Raymond Hennessy. (Photo: © Raymond Hennessy/Bird Photographer of the Year)

“Great grey owl” by Scott Suriano. (Photo: © Scott Suriano/Bird Photographer of the Year)

“White-tailed sea-eagle” by Fahad Alenezi. (Photo: © Fahad Alenezi/Bird Photographer of the Year)