Friday, May 26, 2017

Sad Ending for Leucistic Hummer?

Over the past year or so, a beautiful little leucistic hummingbird has drawn quite a bit of attention at the UCSC Arboretum in Santa Cruz, California.  People have flocked to see this little beauty as it made the local news, birding sites and newspapers!  I had the unique opportunity to spend a couple of solitary hours with the bird on a gloomy, rainy morning at the arboretum.

October 2016 vs May 2017

Sadly however it appears to be on a downhill path based what I saw yesterday morning and is in a very much bedraggled state.  Once I had located the bird, I zoomed in with my telephoto lens and noticed distinct deformation to the beak. The overall appearance was not good with many feathers missing particularly on the back and wings which explained its lack of sustained or frequent flight.

As it rested, it exhibited labored breathing and I also wonder with the lack of plumage and the chilly, rainy morning yesterday, if it was also lacking sufficient insulation.

I am curious as to the cause of this drastic change in appearance although I am aware that leucistic hummingbirds are more prone to disease.

Audubon California posted an informative story last October entitled "Rare White Hummingbird Steals the Spotlight at California Garden". It details the rarity and excitement of the sighting, in addition to the challenges the bird may potentially face due to the lack of pigmentation, which it now clearly is exhibiting.  Very sad to see.

I subsequently contacted the Santa Cruz Bird Club and received this response:  We have known for some time that "Moby Dick" was not doing well.  I think everyone is surprised it has survived so long.  We don't have any avian disease doctor contacts, but ornithologists at UCSC are well aware of it's plight.  There was a good discussion a few months back about whether or not to intervene and the consensus was to "let nature take its course".

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Antarctica you did not know!

If your view of Antarctica is that of a barren and white landscape, well think again!

During my three week assignment this past March in Antarctica with G Adventures we visited one of my favorite locations, Petermann Island.  Just north of the Antarctic Circle, Petermann Island is a small low rounded island 1.8 km (1.1 mi) long and 1.2 km (0.75 mi) wide.  On the two occasions we visited, both were entirely different.

For the first visit, we were met with sparkling white snow, yet only one week later, I could not believe my eyes as the entire landscape had turned bright pink and green!  I was to learn that this was due to the formation of algae.

When I returned home and started to process my images, I wanted to learn more about the phenomenon.

Here is an explanation by Luis Georg which I came across on a website named PerfScience.

 "In a new study, researchers have described about red-pigmented, snow-dwelling algae that has turned Arctic glaciers’ snow into pink. After analyzing red snow algae present across 21 glaciers in the pan-European Arctic, the researchers have raised concerns as snow algae accelerates the melting of Arctic glaciers. 

 The algae are present all over the world in polar and alpine settings from Greenland and Antarctica to Iceland and the European Alps. In the winter, the red snow algae are present in dormant state in the snow as spores. But as the spring and summer take place and their icy habitat starts to melt, they start to produce pink landscapes.

As per the researchers, the algae are helping the snow melt faster. Glaciers are known to keep the planet cool by reflecting sunlight. But when glaciers melt, they give way to ocean surfaces having a lower albedo, which makes earth to absorb more sunlight and heat. 

 In the case of red snow algae, they reduce the albedo by 13%. Study’s lead researcher Steffi Lutz of the University of Leeds said that red snow algae blooms could quite widespread in the Arctic by summertime. 

The researchers said that current climate change models include black carbon, but they should also include algae too. For now, the researchers do not have a clear idea on the level of role algae plays in melting glaciers. 

“Based on personal observations, a conservative estimate would be 50 percent of the snow surface on a glacier at the end of a melt season. But this can potentially be even higher”, said Lutz. Now, the research team is working to find out the level of the melt because of the red snow algae. 

 It is an important aspect as Arctic has witnessed quite a hot year. A concern being raised by the researchers is that even if red snow algae have a smaller role to play on Arctic ice cover today, their role could increase has human carbon emissions warm the planet. 

In order to bloom, the algae need liquid water. Therefore, if there would be more melting, there would be more algae. It is expected that as temperatures are rising globally, the snow algae phenomenon would also increase leading to an even bigger bio-albedo effect. 

The algae are green in color, but they produce a natural sunscreen that turns the snow pink and red. The addition of color darkens the snow color, making it to heat faster and causing it to melt more rapidly. Now, the researchers are aware of what causes the snow turn pink but it was a high-latitude curiosity when Arctic explorers like the British Captain John Ross reported about it. 

In fact, when the London Times reported about it in 1818, it was speculated to be the result of meteoriciron deposits. The current study highlights the far-reaching effects of climate change."

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Survival of the Fittest

This image was taken on a bleak day at Danco Island, just off the Antarctic Peninsula. The sky was dark and overcast with sprinkles of snow as I made my way across a rocky surface on my way up to a lookout point.  En route I encountered a pair of large Brown Skuas (Stercoraius antarcticus lonnbergi) feasting on a dead Gentoo Penguin.

Skuas predate on penguin chicks, so how this adult penguin met this fate is unknown, but the scene demonstrated to me how wildlife survives in this harsh, unforgiving environment.

I got down and dirty, lying on my stomach among penguin guano in order to capture an intimate view of the behavior.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Nesting Bald Eagles of Milpitas

Today I ventured out to see a pair of nesting bald eagles on the grounds of Curtner Elementary School, in Milpitas, California.  Since the school is naturally off limits during school hours and today being a holiday, I figured it was as good a time as any and to avoid weekend visitors.  As news of the birds spreads, more and more people and photographers are showing up to get a glimpse of the pair and their fast growing chick. The school has apparently revised the times that people are allowed on the grounds limiting it to after 6:00pm during school days, as I am guessing this is becoming an issue.

I waited for about three hours as one parent remained in the nest while the other left in search of breakfast. It managed to capture a ground squirrel in the field behind the school and while a couple of other people with cameras went in pursuit, I chose to remain.

Chasing wildlife just to get the shot is ethically wrong and something I teach in all my photography classes. I strongly adhere to the North American Nature Photography Association's Ethical Practices concerning wildlife photography.  Allowing the bird or animal to go about its natural behavior takes precedence!  The bald eagle in this case was unable to remain on the ground and ultimately took flight, but thankfully with its catch.

My strategy paid off, as I waited in a shaded area with the sun behind my back to avail of the best possible light and angle. When the parent returned, which I knew it ultimately would, it had in its talons the ground squirrel and I was able to fire off a few images as it passed by en route to the nest.

Bald Eagle with Prey

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Sierra Club's DAILY RAY OF HOPE!

It is always an honor to have the Sierra Club select my images for their "Daily Ray of Hope".  I love their inspirational quotes.  To subscribe, go here: