SciBlogs

Archive October 2009

Jacana or Jesus Bird Photos Brendan Moyle Oct 30

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One of the more appealing birds of the Wetlands is the Jacana. This has enormous feet, which mean it can almost walk on water (it rests on weeds just under the surface). Another name for it is the Jesus Bird because of this ability.

The birds don’t like you coming too close, but in a boat you can drift in a bit closer than on land. So these shots are from the Mary River.

This is the comb-crested jacana, and is found from Borneo to Northern Australia.


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Sea Eagle Photos from the Mary River Brendan Moyle Oct 29

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One of the other attractions of the Northern territory is the abundant bird-life.
For someone coming from NZ, this is quite an experience. Most of our surviving forest birds are small, furtive and dull in colour. Taking good photos (as opposed to snapshots) is actually challenging. There are common NZ forest birds I’m still trying to get good photos of.

In comparison, Australian birds are much less secretive. Heck, they practically wander down to see what you are doing, pass out some advice on shutter speeds, then go back to pose for you. (Okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get the point.) If you’re used to NZ birds, photographing Australian birds is actually a lot easier.

This is a sea eagle sequence I got on the Mary River when the crocodiles weren’t being photogenic. There’s enough of them that getting the eagle perched ina tree is easy. So I just had to wait for a chance to get a short flying sequence.

If you’ve got the time, look at how long the talons are on those feet.

# Liftoff

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# Down

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# Up

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These were also taken at the Mary River in the NT, near Shady Camp.

Saltwater Crocodile Photos I Brendan Moyle Oct 29

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Just a couple more saltwater or estuarine crocodile photos

#1 I am not a morning reptile!

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As you can tell, this chap does not floss.

#2 Lurking in the lilies

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Tiger Poaching and the Kathmandu Conference- Kiwi Connection Brendan Moyle Oct 28

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As expected, the newspapers are starting to pickup news about the tiger conservation conference in Kathmandu (Stuff Link).

This is largely a World Bank initiated effort, as IUCN pulled out of the planning a few months ago. Relations with the World Bank had deteriorated and with the loss of IUCN, my participation also went. Still, I understand that Steve Broad from TRAFFIC cited my research and was kind enough to mention some of our discussions at the start of the meeting. You have to wonder though at a meeting that’s looking at tiger poaching that couldn’t get the only expert on the Chinese black-market in tiger-bone present. (In case you’re wondering, that’s me).

The political maneuvering began long before the conference. Some conservation organisations, including the Environmental Investigation Agency, continue to blame China for a lack of enforcement. But the root problem they are so often focused on the West (i.e. Tibet) that they ignore the fact that China has arrested- and convicted- more tiger part conspiracies than the rest of Asia combined. In a recent case where a Tibetan conspiracy was caught with 32 tiger skins, sentences ranged from 20 years to death.

In contrast, Sansar Chand operated in India for almost 30 years, and sent hundreds of tiger skins and thousands of leopard skins to Tibet. He got a sentence of five years, was then released an appeal, whereupon he vanished. He was later recaptured, but the softness of this Indian approach leaves the Chinese aghast. In Sumatra we know that dozens of tigers get poached every year and end up in local markets (there is no really big Chinese connection here). There’s been one arrest in the early 2000s. And that was of a conspiracy that operated for ten years. Expecting to defeat poaching by enforcement at the end of the supply chain has never been done with any animal before. You beat poaching by working in the start of the supply chain, not the end.

In general the line that the problem is that China is too soft isn’t being swallowed by governments. I guess it’s for the consumption of the general population.

This though all highlights the big problem. You can’t stop tiger poaching through law enforcement. The networks that move wildlife products through have existed for hundreds of years. They exploit the porous borders (mountains and forests and river valleys) to move products, often within the same ethnic communities. They can do so almost invisibly. And it is a hard product to stop because it moves in small quantities and irregular shipments.

What we really know about poaching is that it is done by locals. It is the people who live near or amongst tigers that poach tigers. It is not foreign conspirators.

The reason is simple. Local people do not have the same fondness for tigers as people in the West. Tigers kill people and livestock. Bangladesh alone estimates that 40-50 people a year are killed by tigers. If we expect poor rural people in Asia to sacrifice family members and livestock willingly to save the tiger, then the tiger is doomed. Poverty is one of the important drivers of extinction here.

Note that this would probably worsen if local people realised what conservation plans are. We’re not intending to stabilise tiger numbers. The conservation plan is to double the number of tigers.





The Art of Photographing Crocodiles Brendan Moyle Oct 28

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Crocodiles are a challenging photographic subject for a number of reasons. At one level, they’re easy. When they do occur, there are often a lot of them. So I was up in an area that had the highest concentration of salt water crocodiles in the region. Plenty of choice means you have the chance to get a lot of variety.

What makes them hard is that they’re big and long. The size makes it extremely hard to get them all in focus- your depth-of-field is too narrow. So mostly I’m trying to get the eyes and teeth as the sharpest feature-

Male- Adelaide River (#2)

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The length means that getting all of the body in the shot is now difficult. So you’re looking for twisted bodies…

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…or just concentrating on part of the body

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Compounding this is the fact that most of the time, they live largely underwater and just wait (#33).

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Some of the tricks to shooting underwater aren’t going to work. You can’t go diving with saltwater crocs. And the water is so murky, there’s no real visibility. You can’t put the camera in glass and drop it into the water.

Now, one of the big reasons for going up to Darwin is that most croc photos I’d seen, were of crocs basking on the river bank. I completely understand why people get these shots. But they’re not very exciting. I wanted to get a range of shots that showed crocs in their natural environment.

You have three options. One is to go and shoot from the river bank. This is where a lot of the ‘basking crocs’ shots originate. This alas, gives a very poor success rate with photos. If you want to photograph crocodiles, you have to get on the water with them.

The second option is to go on a commercial tour. To be honest, these are better than I expected. The main problem is that you’re shooting to their schedule, not your own. And commercial boats tend to be taller and hence safer for tourists. There’s little risk a croc will jump into the boat with you. That means getting low-angled shots is almost impossible. But hey, it is safer.

The third option is to go the completely private route. I found that this was the best way to get the photographs. You can get a small boat that will give you the low angled shots you need. And you can shoot entirely to your own schedule, not some tourist schedule. This comes back to another point. Photographing crocodiles is actually a team effort. You can’t go by yourself in the way that bird photographers can.

So, if you are using a small boat (we tried to maintain a 5-10m gap to any croc) you then hit your next photographic challenge. Small boats move. The currents and prior momentum of the boat is going to produce a considtent pitch and yaw. The engine will send a steady vibration through the boat. So you really need a stabilised lens or body, and you have to push the shutter speed very high. I ended up shooting at ISO400- not because of the lack of light- but to get the shutter speed up to 1/2000 sec or more. And you have to take a lot of pictures. You cannot use a tripod from this platform.

In terms of lenses, I used the 300/4 G most of the time and supplemented it with the 70-300 G zoom. A 70-200/2.8 would probably have been the best single lens option, but the combination of a zoom and prime works well.


Back from Darwin with some wildlife photos Brendan Moyle Oct 26

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I made it back from Darwin yesterday with what I think is a good collection of bird and crocodile photos. I’ll expand a bit on the challenges of crocodile photography later (hint- it is a team effort, not a sole shooter exercise). In the meantime I’ve been really focused on processing my photos.

One of the common birds of prey is the whistling kite. This bird is a superb acrobat.

The shot below is from a sequence where the kite is chasing a heron- who has a fish in its mouth. The kite is trying to get the heron to drop the fish to steal it. This scene played out at Bird Billabong near the Mary River. The main challenge here was the 40 degree heat and sweat trickling into the eyes (and the damn flies sucking moisture from the mouth, nose, eyes and ears).

Anyway, for a brief second the two birds banked towards me and I got the shot.


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There will be a short break- taking cameras to Australia Brendan Moyle Oct 14

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I’m having a break from blogging (and much of everything else) for a bit. The reason is I’m going to be up in the Darwin area (Northern Australia) for a bit. Mostly it’s a chance to go "feral" in the outback, and get some photos of some top-end Australian wildlife :)

For those of you interested in such things, I’m taking a fairly mobile mix of lenses. I’ve got two cameras (one being the excellent Minolta Dynax 7 film SLR, the other the Sony a700 DSLR). I anticipate most of the wildlife work will be done with a pairing of the Minolta 300/4 G and the Sony 70-300 G. The Minolta gets a bit more reach with the addition of a 1.4x TC.

My shot-list is basically crocodiles, other reptiles and birds, and creepy-crawlies. I’m afraid Australian mammals don’t really do much for me. Perhaps it is the NZ conservation-culture where we have come to regard mammals as pests. Or maybe I’m just being contrary… :D

Two more tauhou (silvereye) photos Brendan Moyle Oct 12

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One of the most entertaining visitors to local gardens is the tauhou or slivereye (Zosterops lateralis). This species is of Australian origin, and was only established in NZ in the 19th Century. This was a natural colonisation, and typical of the steady drift of Australian birds across the Tasman Sea to NZ. The Maori name tauhou means stranger.

The bird is quite the acrobat, able to drop from a perch, twist and resume flight with just a flick of its wings. It also has plenty of attitude. It’s not intimidated by bigger species, and will scold or fly at larger birds that encroach on its "personal space".

Here’s a couple of photos. Don’t forget to click the link to the larger images.


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This is also likely to be the last blog post I make for a couple of weeks. I’m heading to Australia shortly for a photographic expedition around Darwin.


Photos of blue-tongued skinks Brendan Moyle Oct 07

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Some days it’s hard to blog on anything terribly important. The newspapers seem short of inspiration. No great policy events are being played out. The tasks at work have piled up into a truly, scary, lengthy to-do list.

So, today I’m going with the ‘shiny-object’ approach to blogging. This is a slideshow of blue-tongued skinks. I took these photos in November last year. The blue-tongued skink is also becoming quite a popular reptile on the NZ pet scene.



These days I’m thinking a lot about Australian wildlife, as I’m heading to Darwin shortly. It’s a good spot to explore if you’re keen on crocodiles. I’m quite keen on crocodiles. :) :)

Recent tiger poaching story Brendan Moyle Oct 06

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The Bangkok Post reported on the rescue of a malayan tiger, caught in a trap- Malaysian officials save endangered Malayan tiger. Quotes below are from the article.


Malaysian wildlife authorities rescued a five-year old Malayan tiger, badly injured in a snare set up by poachers near the country’s jungle border with Thailand, officials said Monday. …

"We received a tip-off on Saturday and a joint patrol with the World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Malaysia’s wildlife protection unit found the injured animal," northern Perak state wildlife and National Parks director Sabrina Shariff told AFP.



The Malayan tiger was only recognised as a separate subspecies to the Indo-Chinese tiger in 2004. It’s range includes southern Thailand as well as Malaysia.


"We face a major problem from Thai and Malaysian poachers who set up numerous snares in the Belum-Temengor forest reserve area between the two countries, with such traps normally located close to roads as the animals are attracted by sound and food smells."



This reinforces a point that is often over-looked in wildlife poaching. The people that actually poach wildlife are typically locals. They are often drawn from hunting cultures, and in many parts of Asia, have less than amicable relations with the authorities. Poachers aren’t foreign criminals ranging through forests trying to kill tigers.

The smuggling conspiracies for tiger parts depend heavily on these local experts to kill tigers for them. Without the cooperation of local communities amongst- or adjacent to- tiger populations, there would be very little poaching.


Sabrina said authorities were also concerned that poachers were targeting other wildlife in the area including Bucking deers, whose footprints were found around other snares near the tiger.



Again, this point was made in my paper in Global Crime on the black market for tiger parts. Tigers typically make up a minority of the species that are poached. Indeed, it’s often more true to say that most poachers are leopard poachers who occasionally take tigers.



"This incident clearly demonstrates the need for a stronger enforcement presence in the Belum-Temengor area," WWF-Malaysia chief Dionysius Sharma said in a statement.

"If this isn’t enough of a clarion call for the government to afford more resources to form an anti-poaching Task Force, I don’t know what is," he added.



Unfortunately enforcement is not proving to be a very efficient way to reduce tiger poaching. The problem is that tigers are secretive animals that live in low densities, in a mosaic of habitats. Poachers have a lot of strategies to beat enforcement agencies.

Malaysia doesn’t actually have a good track record of catching poachers (none in the roughly decade-long sample period I looked at). That’s probably not assisted by the close proximity of the Thai border.



The government said in July it had sought the help of the military to battle poaching, adding that Malaysia was committed to an ambitious plan to double the tiger population to 1,000 by 2020.



This is part of the IUCN global plan to save the tiger. So far we’re not making a lot of progress.

I note that the NZ Herald and some other newspapers that have picked up this story, mention the demand for tiger parts in traditional medicines. This is only partly correct. The market for skins (which are not used for medicine) is also large and in some parts of Asia, far more important than the medicine markets.