Friday, June 27, 2008

The Whale

If you read the front page story of the San
Francisco Chronicle, you would have read about a female humpback whale who had become entangled in a crazy spider web of crab traps and lines.

She was weighed down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat. She also had hundreds of yards of line rope wrapped around her body, her tail, her torso, and a line tugging in her mouth.

A fisherman spotted her just east of the Farralone Islands (outside the Golden Gate) and radioed an environmental group for help. Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived and determined that she was so bad off, the only way to save her was to dive in and untangle her . . . a very dangerous proposition. One slap of the tail could kill a rescuer.

They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her. When she was finally free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each diver, one at a time, and nudged them, pushed gently around-she thanked them. Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives.

The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth says her eye was following him the whole time, and he will never be them same.

I received this story in an email from a friend and wanted to share it with others. It is one of the most touching stories I have ever heard. It brings tears to my eyes whenever I read it or relate it to others.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Inside A Bear's Brain

Excerpts from an article written by Michael Jamison and published in the Jackson Hole Star Tribune about Dr. George Stevenson, a pioneering neurosurgeon, and his presentation, "Grizzly Bear Brain, Central Nervous System Structures," before a group of Glacier National Park personnel during a seminar in West Glacier, Montana.

"These bears are amazing creatures," Stevenson said. "I believe they have the most impressive olfactory system of any animal on the planet. Their nose is the very best."

Mostly, he was pointing out the snout, a full nine inches of highly evolved scent detection. It is, he said, like no other nose in the world.

A run-of-the-mill dog's sense of smell is roughly 100 times greater than a human's. A good hound dog's nose is perhaps 300 times better.

But a bear's scent system, Stevenson said, is at least seven times better than the hounds. "It's remarkable," he said. "It's how they know the world."

When humans think about their hometowns, they think in terms of visual maps - down this street to that avenue, turn left at the bank, right at the stoplight. But bears don't see thinks that way. To get to their favorite huckleberry patch, they don't follow the trail to the tree with the broken limb, and then turn left at the big mossy rock.

"No, they have an olfactory map."

Take the scent of the trail to the smell of the anthill, then follow the smell of water to the perfume of huckleberries.

It is difficult, Stevenson said, for humans to imagine such a way of knowing, but to bears it's essential.

Each spring, when they emerge from the den, they are literally starving. There's no time to wander around and look for food, to look for tracks in the snow  and to follow them, perhaps, to a protein meal.

"They have to smell food over hugh distances, and go straight to it," Stevenson said, If they can't, they die."

. . . the percentage of a bear's brain devoted to scent is at least five times greater than the percentage of human brain allocated to olfactory systems.

In other words, humans smell in black and white, while bears enjoy the full kaleidoscope.

"A polar bear will walk 100 miles in a straight line to reach a female ready to breed," he said. "That's what the bears nose can do. They smell a million times better than we do."

A human brain weighs in at about 1,500 grams, huge compared to a 450-gram bear brain. And yet our olfactory bulb is the size of a pencil eraser. The bear's is the size of your thumb. That's a lot of smell power for such a small brain.

And even before the brain, he said, the bear's body is built to sniff.

The black pad on the bear's snout, like a dog's nose, is wired with hundreds of tiny muscles. Bears can manipulate their nostrils the way dexterous people control their nimble fingers.

The smells then travel up two 9-inch channels, with hundreds of times the surface area of a human's nose, to a spot where 10 million nerve strands and a billion receptor cells fire electrical signals directly into the brain, through countless tiny pathways and onto the brain's cribiform plate.

The large hippocampus "remember" the scent, adding it to the mental map.

Just imagine the blinding brain punch a blast of pepper spray must deliver to that system.

"It's not just heat and discomfort," Stevenson said. "It actually scrambles the brain."

"They definitely see in color, but not the way we do. We're totally visual. There's no way bears see as well as you and me. I thinks their hearing is quite good. It's nothing compared to that nose, though."

"This is a whole new way of knowing the species," Stevenson says.

"For me, this is absolutely fascinating - like getting inside a bear's head and seeing with his eyes, smelling with his nose. It gives people as idea of how they see us, which is not something people think about very much."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bird Photography: Where To Go

The ability to locate birds is critical to successful bird photography. Even more important, however, is to know where to find subjects that are easily photographed.

Birds accustomed to people are typically easier to photograph. Likewise, those that are accustomed to being fed are obviously easier to approach than those that experienced buckshot zooming past them the day before.

Backyards are great places to begin, providing you have a number of strategically placed birds feeders. The Mountain Chickadee image accompanying this post was made as it visited my feeders. I simply opened a window and photographed it as I sat in my easy chair while surrounded by all the comforts of home.

Use different types of feeders. A suet feeder will attract different species than one filled with a mixture of wild bird seed. Similarly, a platform feeder will attract yet another group of birds. A good book on feeding birds will help you determine which feeders attract which birds, as will a talk with those working at your local wild bird store.

City, state, and national parks are great places to photograph birds. Check out picnic areas, where people sometimes leave scraps behind. Some species hangout at frequently visited roadside pullouts where they beg for handouts.

Zoos provide numerous opportunities to photograph wild birds that often share meals with the residents.

I enjoy photographing birds at national wildlife refuges. You may have to work a little harder, but few places can provide the variety and sheer numbers of birdlife. It's always good practice to inform refuge personnel of your intentions. I have found them to be more than eager to share information on the best spots. Don't hesitate to ask questions.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Backcountry Power

Planning an extended photo adventure into the backcountry away from all modern conveniences, including ELECTRICITY?

Are you asking yourself, 'How am I going to charge my laptop, digital wallet, and my all-important camera batteries?

This was the dilemma I faced several years ago while planning a photo safari into Botswana's remote bushveld. Not only did I need electricity for charging my own equipment, more importantly, I needed it for charging the items of those who would join me; and, it needed to be light enough to pack into my duffel bag along with my clothing.

What does Botswana have more of than anything else? Sunshine! Therein was the solution to my problem.

Solar power would supply our much needed electricity. I began searching the internet for equipment that would meet our electrical demands. Here's what I settled upon . . .

A NotePower 30 solar charger, consisting of three 10-watt solar panels, is the heart of my backcountry electrical system. The panels are built into a ballistic nylon notebook-sized binder complete with shoulder strap. Unzip the binder, lay it flat in the sun, plug in the adapter cord and you have solar power at your fingertips. Best of all, when folded, it becomes a compact 12" x 13.5" x 1.75" carrying case and weighs just a few ounces over four pounds.

In addition, I pack a sealed lead acid battery for storing the electricity produced by my solar charger, a triple-outlet DC receptacle, a variety of adaptors, and an accessory cable sporting twin alligator clams on one end and a DC receptacle on the other that allows me to connect either the triple-outlet receptacle, or directly to a 12-volt battery, should the need arise.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

WARNING: Arca-Swiss Z1 Ballhead

The following notice comes from Wimberley Design . . .
We have learned that Arca-Swiss has recently changed the stem configuration of their Z1 Monoball. The stem is now two parts adhered together instead of one solid piece. We are not sure exactly when this change occurred.
Should the adhesive bond between the stem pieces fail, the upper portion of the stem, along with any camera gear that is attached can spin freely and potentially fall completely off.
We feel this is not a trivial safety risk, especially when the head is used in conjunction with our Sidekick, which creates greater twisting forces on this joint.
(To determine if your ball head has a 2-part stem, click on the link below)
Do not use Sidekick with the 2-piece stem version of the Z1.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Environmental Wildlife Portrait

Images depicting our wild brothers and sisters in their environment allow us to begin understanding our relationship with them and planet earth, and their relationship to us. We are connected. This is the essence of nature - and the environmental wildlife portrait.

Simply put, an environmental wildlife portrait is an image depicting a subject in the context of its environment.

All the elements that go into making beautiful landscape images are found in the environmental portrait. However, they have an added dimension - they tell a story. A Bald Eagle, for example, perched atop a log in a snow storm provides a glimpse into its struggle for survival during the harshness of winter. An Alaskan brown bear standing before a majestic mountain range provides not only a breathtaking image of their environment, but indicates the bear's dependency on a wild and unspoiled world. A mountain goat standing on a precarious rocky ledge overlooking distant mountain ranges provides insight into its day-to-day life and the ability to excel in an unforgiving alpine habitat.

Our wild brothers and sisters are the product of their environment. As we learn to capture their loveliness in our images, let us also capture their world in that same image.

As we work to preserve the remaining species on planet earth, the preservation of habitat is critical. I am convinced the environmental wildlife portrait will have positive effects to that end. We have, I believe, a responsibility as photographers to portray them in that environment.