Finalists: Bird photographer of the year

April 9, 2021 • 8:00 am

The Bird Photographer of the Year Contest is recognized as the premier competition of its type, and is sponsored by companies like Svarovski Optics, F-stop, Zenfolio, and Olympus.  Some of the finalists are displayed on the My Modern Met page (click on screenshot below).  As the Met site notes, competition was keen:

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.

Here are my selections for the most striking photos, with the captions and credits above the photos (indented). Be sure to go to the Met site to see the other finalists.

“Mute swan” by Andy Parkinson. (Photo: © Andy Parkinson/Bird Photographer of the Year):

“Great cormorant” by Tzahi Finkelstein (Photo: ©Tzahi Finkelstein/Bird Photographer of the Year):

“Black-and-white warbler” by Raymond Hennessy. (Photo: © Raymond Hennessy/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):

“Hooded crane” by Taku Ono. (Photo: © Taku Ono/Bird Photographer of the Year):

“Southern giant petrel” by Eirik Grønningsæter. (Photo: © Eirik Grønningsæter/Bird Photographer of the Year):

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

h/t: Malcolm

Guess the Nobel Prizes, redux

October 4, 2020 • 8:30 am

We didn’t get many entries in the “Guess the Nobel Prize” contest, with the prize being an autographed book with a special commissioned drawing by yours truly. To enter and see the rules, go to the earlier post and leave your guesses there (or below). (You have to guess one person who will win in the three science categories plus the literature prize.)

I have no guesses myself, but I already have plenty of books!

Guess the Nobel Prizes

October 2, 2020 • 9:00 am

It’s Nobel Prize season again, and again I’ll have my annual contest, which almost nobody ever wins.  Your job is to guess the Nobel Prizes for this year in all four following categories:

  • Physiology or Medicine
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Literature

You must get all four right to get the prize, which is an autographed copy of either Why Evolution is True or Faith Versus Fact (your choice). And in the book, besides making it out to you, I will add a genuine PCC(E) drawing an animal of your choice.

You can make only one guess per category (no saying “it could be X or Y or Z”). For areas in which more than one person can win—science prizes can be shared by up to three people—it’s best to name just one person, for if you name someone who doesn’t win, you lose the whole category.

Put your choices below. What do you have to lose?

If several people guess all four right, the first entry wins.

The Prize Awards will begin on Monday, with announcements on these dates:

PHYSIOLOGY OR MEDICINE – Monday 5 October, 11:30 CEST at the earliest
The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet, Wallenbergsalen, Nobel Forum, Nobels väg 1, Solna

PHYSICS – Tuesday 6 October, 11:45 CEST at the earliest
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien, KVA), Sessionssalen, Lilla Frescativägen 4A, Stockholm

CHEMISTRY – Wednesday 7 October, 11:45 CEST at the earliest
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sessionssalen, Lilla Frescativägen 4A, Stockholm

LITERATURE – Thursday 8 October, 13:00 CEST at the earliest
The Swedish Academy (Svenska Akademien), Börssalen, Källargränd 4, Stockholm

Joey Chestnut sets world record in Nathan’s July 4 contest: downs 75 hot dogs in 10 minutes

July 4, 2020 • 6:19 pm

Every year I post a video of Nathan’s July 4 hot-dog-eating contest, and every year readers respond with a near-universal “ECCH!” And the results are nearly always the same. This year, competitive eater Joey Chestnut, 36, won for the 13th time in 14 years, beating his previous record by one dog. Remember, these are dogs with buns, and remember that the pace was 7.5 dogs per minute!

Here’s Chestnut’s world-record performance, conducted under pandemic conditions this year: no crowd to cheer on the gluttony, contest inside rather than outside, and only five contestants.

I do love my dogs (I’m from Chicago after all), preferably dragged through the garden.

The woman’s record was set by Miki Sudo:

The Coney Island tradition allowed betting this year. The coronavirus crisis forced some changes, too. Spectators weren’t allowed to watch in person. Competitors were separated by clear barriers. And the people bringing them fresh supplies wore masks.

“It was hard, but I knew I was fast at the beginning,” Chestnut said on ESPN. “The dogs were cooked really well today. At minute 6 is where I missed the crowd. I hit a wall. It took a little more work to get through it.”

Miki Sudo ate 48.5 hot dogs to win the women’s division and set a world record. It’s her seventh title, more than any woman ever.

Here’s Sudo’s new record:

Winners of Nature TTL’s wildlife photography contest

March 26, 2020 • 2:00 pm

Reader Laurie sent me a link to the BBC’s presentation of some winners of Nature TTL’s Wildlife and Landscape Photography Contest.  I’m having trouble braining today (enforced solitude does that), so, for your delectation, here are my favorites. The BBC’s captions are indented. The fourth photo is a stunning example of crypsis (camouflage).

First, the winner among 7,000 entries.

French photographer Florian Ledoux took the winning photo, entitled “Above the Crabeater Seals”, in Antarctica.

Landscape winner: “Shadow Game” by Marek Biegalski.

“An aerial image taken in Tuscany in autumn light. A flock of sheep was hiding in the shade from the sun under the shadow of a tree.”

Wildlife category, highly commended: “Breathing”, by Bence Mate, taken in Romania.

“A brown bear growls a warning of its presence to an interloper, his breath vanishing slowly in the windless forest.”

Macro category, highly commended: “Nothing here but this tree” by Catilin Henderson, taken in Australia.

“The lichen huntsman (Pandercetes gracilis) is an incredible species of tree-dwelling spider from Australia’s tropical north. Its astounding camouflage enables it to blend perfectly with tree bark and lichens, and it’s nearly impossible to spot by day.

“At night, I went searching for these spiders with a torch, using their reflective eye-shine to discover their hiding places in plain sight.”

Landscape category, highly commended. “Flower Power” by Brandon Yoshizawa, taken in USA.

“An incredible display of man and nature. The exhaust plume of a SpaceX rocket is lit by the low sun at twilight.

“The plume takes on the shape of a flower with the trail almost looking like a broken stem, as it shoots out from behind the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains.”

You can read more about the photos, and see more, at the BBC site.

Six pounds of steak in 13 minutes! (not to mention salad, fries, and onion rings)

February 12, 2020 • 2:15 pm

Meet (or should I say “Meat”?) Leah Shutkever, who specializes in eating large quantities of food in short periods of time. In other words, she’s a competitive eater, a job (or avocation) which fascinates me. She’s not fat or anything, and she’s probably a landsman, which makes me kin—and proud. Her performance here is unbelievable: she demolishes a six-pound steak, complete with fries, onion rings, and a side salad, in only 13 minutes. (The restaurant where she’s meeting the challenge, Catllemens Grill Harrogate, gives you a whole hour to finish to get the meal for free. She finishes, setting a record, in less than a quarter of that time.)

Somehow I found this video mesmerizing, and watched the whole thing. If you wish to skip the intro, start at 3:22 . Her YouTube channel is here, where you can watch her dispatch pancakes, burgers, and chicken with equal speed and alacrity. A notable one is where Leah polishes off four Big Macs, four McDonald’s milkshakes, and four large fries in—get this—6 minutes and 15 seconds! Eight pounds of pigs in blankets in 33 minutes!

Winners, Bird Photographer of the Year contest

January 21, 2020 • 12:30 pm

It looks as if today’s post will be on science, which is good because I’m sure that you, like me, are tired of the endless and often depressing news about politics.

My Modern Met (click on screenshot below) has a selection of winners from the 2019 Bird Photographer of the Year contest, now in its fourth year. (You can see all the winners here.) I’ve chosen seven that appeal to me, but you can see all the winners at the link in the last sentence.

I’ve put the captions and credits below the photos, but My Modern Met has more information on how each photo was made and the circumstances of its making.

“Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus.” by Caron Steele (United Kingdom). Winner, Bird Photographer of the Year and People’s Choice Category. Gold Award, Best Portrait. Photo taken at Lake Kerkini, Greece.


‘Black-crowned Night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax.’ by Thomas Hinsche (Germany). Winner, Best Portfolio. Photo taken in Kiskunság National Park, Hungary.


“Reeves’s Pheasant Syrmaticus reevesii.” by Hu Yi (China). Bronze Award, Bird Behavior. Photo taken in Xinyang City, Henan Province, China.
“Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus.” by Chad Larsen (Canada). Gold Award, Garden and Urban Birds. Photo taken in Saskatchewan, Canada.


by Liron Gertsman (Canada). Bronze Award, Birds in Flight. Taken in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador.
“Black Skimmer Rynchops niger.” by Nikunj Patel (United States of America). Gold Award, Birds in Flight. Photo taken in Ocean City, New Jersey, United States of America.

And of course we must have a duck!

“Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis.” by Martin Eschholz (Germany). Bronze Award, Garden and Urban Birds. Photo taken in Port of Vardø, Varanger, Norway.

h/t: Merilee

This year’s Miss America had a science demonstration as her talent

December 22, 2019 • 9:15 am

If you’re as ancient as I, you’ll remember the time when the Miss America pageants were a big deal. Everyone reserved the evening to watch the finals on television, often eating before the screen on t.v. tables (remember them?). And whoever won was given big-time publicity.

But times have changed, and I think for the better. It’s no longer acceptable to see women flaunt their bodies in swimsuits as a criterion for the crown, and many of the “talents” were laughable. Ratings and viewers for the show have plummeted, and it’s been decades since I watched it.

We can thus take it as both good news and a sign of the times that, as Dallas station WFAA reports below (click on the screenshot), a talent this year involved science, the swimsuit competition is gone, and the science performer, Camille Schrier, who was Miss Virginia, actually won, becoming Miss America for 2020. You can read about her victory below, and see the “experiment” that helped her nab the title.

From the report:

Camille Schrier, a biochemist from Virginia, says she hopes to “break stereotypes” about what it means to be Miss America in 2020.

The 24-year-old wowed the crowd at the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, with a science experiment, a first for a Miss America winner.

She wins a $50,000 scholarship.

Schrier’s victory comes as the 99-year-old contest tries to change its image and focus on women’s accomplishments and not appearance.

Here’s Schrier’s demonstration when she won the Miss Virginia pageant.

She did a similar demonstration at the Miss America pageant, below, but here you can see her explanation of what she’s doing. More good news: it’s not just a “gee whiz” moment, for she describes exactly what’s happening.  She also had some good answers to the panel’s questions:

Well, I could quibble: I’d call it a “demonstration” rather than an experiment, as does the New York Times in the text below (Schreier herself says it’s a “demonstration”, so the exaggeration isn’t her fault). But the important point is that it is a demonstration of scientific principles, and it sure isn’t baton-twirling! I could also quibble with the term “biochemist” applied to someone in the process of getting a Doctor of Pharmacy degree—perhaps “budding pharmacist” would be better. But that’s not important.

This excerpt from the Times article tells what happened above. The piece also tells you how you can do a similar demonstration at home:

When she walked onto the stage for the talent portion of the Miss America competition, Camille Schrier wore a simple white lab coat, stood in front of three flasks containing hydrogen peroxide and joked, “Don’t try this at home.”

Soon-to-be-Dr. Schrier (who is studying to obtain a doctor of pharmacy degree at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond) picked up a beaker of ominous yellow potassium iodide, dumped it into the peroxide and sealed her legacy as a Miss America who would be remembered for winning over the judges with science.

. . . The 24-year-old’s classic chemistry demonstration showed that hydrogen peroxide decomposition can be sped up to fantastic effect. But lower concentrations of hydrogen peroxide that are typically found in stores and used for cleaning cuts and scrapes can be safely used to reproduce the experiment at home.

. . .What Ms. Schrier demonstrated in her experiment was that semi-stable compounds like hydrogen peroxide need a little help to speed up the decomposition process at room temperature.

“You can imagine that it’s like trying to go over a hill,” Dr. Morris said. “It takes some energy to walk up the incline and you’ll sweat a little bit, but once you get past the top, you can keep going really easily.”

Adding a catalyst, such as potassium iodide, essentially bulldozes a path through the hill. The substance helps hydrogen peroxide form less stable compounds that can stroll through the newly opened path to the other side. Basically the catalyst helps produce water and oxygen, while releasing some heat.

Store-bought yeast also contains a chemical called catalase that can help break down hydrogen peroxide, although its effects are not as dramatic as potassium iodide. This means that adding yeast to a solution of hydrogen peroxide will break down the peroxide. The oxygen gas that’s released will form bubbles and try to escape.

Mixing in a little bit of dish soap in the reaction will create enough surface tension that oxygen bubbles will get trapped, Dr. Morris said.

“It helps you visualize what’s happening by creating foam.”

Schrier was celebrated by Virginia Tech, her alma mater.

The only question that remains, and I have no strong opinion about this, is whether the entire concept of a “Miss America” and the attending pageant is outmoded. After all, beauty is still part of it, and the ladies parade their evening gowns. But I’ll leave this one to the readers.  In fact, let’s have a poll:


h/t: cesar

Comedy wildlife awards

September 25, 2019 • 7:45 am

Due to the dearth of readers’ wildlife photos (yes, I still have some), I will be posting them only sporadically until more arrive. So today I’ll post a selection of my favorite finalists from the Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards for 2019. These are reproduced in The Guardian.

Look at this poor egret!

Family disagreement. Photograph: Vlado Pirsa/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2019.

And two from the competition’s website, with photographers credited on the photos:

h/t: Robert and other readers (thanks!)