Saturday, 15 December 2012

Why Do Hummingbirds Hum?

Because they don't know the words!

Tyrian metaltails

White-bellied woodstar - male

White-bellied woodstar - female

Chestnut-breasted coronet

Glowing puffleg

Hummingbirds really do know the words, they just hum because they beat their wings so rapidly (12-80 times per second)!

All photos were taken Guango Lodge, at 2700m in the cloud forest on the eastern slope of the Andean Mountains in Ecuador.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

I Love Evolution

One of my favourite questions at work is "Do you believe in evolution?" Of course, it is not a matter of belief; it is a matter of science and of evidence. No-one asks whether you believe in gravity or not or whether the theory of relativity is has been made up just to annoy Christians. I go with what makes the most sense, based on scientific evidence. Well, I am a scientist, what did you expect? 

 Evolution is a topic of much controversy, not based on any sound scientific arguments, but on personal religious beliefs. To me, evolution is a thing of beauty, which usually ends up resulting in the most amazing, spell-binding organisms that are superbly adapted to their environments. Note, I specifically use the word adapted and not designed. Evolution does not give a crap about what something looks like. All that really matters is whether it works, despite what it might look like. Does the organism survive and pass on its genetic material?

There are any number of examples of incredible organisms that survive because of their obviously fantastic and wondrous abilities - the speed and agility of the cheetah, the power and all the razor-sharp teeth of the shark, the reproductive prowess of the apparently defenseless cute little bunny rabbit. I could go on...........but then you would get bored..........

Back to evolution. The thing that I love best about evolution are the bizarre and head-scratchingly odd organisms that sometimes result from natural selection. Let's face it, people, a male peacock may be a sight to behold, but can anyone seriously think a tail that cumbersome could really be a good idea? How on earth can it help the male to survive? Well, frankly, it doesn't. But, and here is the thing, it does help to get a little action with the ladies. And that is what counts with evolution - passing your genes on to the next generation.

So, let me introduce to you one of nature's little oddities - I bet you can't look at this little fella without a big smile making its way on to your face.

This little gem is a sword-billed hummingbird. It is the only bird with a bill that is longer than its body. It was found at Guango Lodge in the cloud forest of Ecuador.

You have to ask yourself how on earth a bird with such a comically long bill could actually survive. Just imagine........

Harold: "Careful Howard, you'll have someone's eye out with that!"

Howard, turning round to respond to Harold and nearly taking his head off: "Ooops, sorry mate! Didn't see you there!"

That bill really must be incredibly difficult to maneuver with, let alone hover in front of a flower for long enough to feed. So how does such a bird evolve? How does such a bird ever outcompete more agile hummingbirds with less ridiculous bills? The answer is, of course, flowers with their nectar at the bottom of stupidly long tubes that only the sword-billed hummingbird can reach!

I love evolution!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Macro Monday - Shimmering Jewels of the Cloud Forest

I have recently spent three weeks in the rainforest and cloud forest of Ecuador. Now, before you all start chirping on about how lucky I am, I would like to point out that most of the time I was running around looking after 17 students and worrying about what they might do next to maim, injure or kill themselves. It was an exhausting experience, let me tell you. Still, we managed to get all 17 students home, all in one piece, and no law suits are pending, so the trip can now be declared a success.

I did manage to get a couple of peaceful, if very rainy days, all to myself in the cloud forest. It was beautiful bliss. The rain was a blessing - I finally had an excuse to do nothing for hours on end. And, the best part, hummingbirds apparently don't care about the rain. These shimmering jewels of the cloud forest went about their frenetic activity despite the torrents of rain falling from the leaden skies. What a joy they were, streaks of bright, radiant colour darting and flitting through the air, lighting up the dark forest like random Christmas lights strung up on the trees all around. Miniature rainbows, vibrating the air with their impossibly fast wings, making the air sing their song with no words.

I just loved every single one of the feisty, fierce, seemingly fragile fragments of light and beauty.

I did not love how difficult it was to capture the beauty of the fast little buggers with my camera. That was as frustrating as trying to pass a camel through the eye of a needle!

For more Macro Monday, go here.

P.S. I think these little spitfires are Tyrian metaltails, but I could be wrong. My bird ID is about as bad as my DIY - no, I take that back. Nothing is as bad as my DIY!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Macro Monday - Creeper

No, not creepy, but creeper - this adorable brown creeper (Certhia americana). This happens to be one of my favourite birds. I have no idea why, but I like little birds with lots of attitude. These cute little guys always look as if they are scowling at the camera and always look very annoyed to see you. I just love that!

 These birds are common in mature coniferous woodlands, but can be found in mixed woodlands in suburban habitats. Look for them spiralling up around tree trunks, searching in crevices for insects and spiders. These tiny little birds are full of energy and are always on the go and so can be difficult to spot and even more difficult to photograph!

For more Macro Monday, go here.
For I Heart Macro, go here.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Have Aliens Landed?

I have to say, I am getting a little tired of this Juneuary weather. Some sun might be nice.......

Still, it means that I am not out birding, which means that I can do "things" around the house. This generally involves installing doors of some description, drywalling or putting up shelving and usually ends up with me in a foetal position on the floor, wimpering and crying, having first put enough change in the swear box to fund a nice holiday in Hawaii. If you haven't got it yet, DIY and I are NOT friends.....

So, since I have just acquired six delightful new companions, I thought I would return to the much safer and less swear-wordy and tear-inducing pastime of macro photography. And here, for your veiwing pleasure (or nighmare-inducing terror), is the result:

And no, it is not really an alien - rather a giant prickly stick insect, Extatosoma tiaratum, all the way from its native Australia (well, to be honest, the local pet store in Ladner, British Columbia).

For those of you with a photographic inclination, the photo was taken with my Nikon D80, 105mm macro lens and this one image is actually a composite of 17 images stacked on top of one another using Helicon Focus stacking software - hence the imprint on the image. I am not actually deliberately advertising the software, I just haven't got around to paying for it yet.........

For More Macro Mondays - go here

Thursday, 3 May 2012


Hmmmmm - I fear I might be getting a bit boring. A bit too birdy nerdy, perhaps? It seems that recently I have only posted photos of birds. Birds, birds and more birds. Admittedly, they are all very beautiful birds, but I fear I may be becoming a one-subject wonder. Or perhaps a one subject bore?

Oh well, since there doesn't seem to be much else happening in my life at the moment, I shall have to stick with the birds. Two gorgeous, but slightly different yellow-rumped warblers - can you spot the difference?

Audubon's warbler (Dendroica coronata auduboni)

Myrtle warbler (Dendroica coronata coronata)
On a positive note - I have unpacked 6 more boxes this week! I know, still unpacking boxes after being here for near-as-damn-it two years. I dare anyone to ask me how the renovations are going.........

World Bird Wednesday