Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Kite Aerial Photography in Antarctica

A long, long, time ago in a land far, far away I once conducted research on Adelie Penguins. One aspect of my intended research involved getting accurate locations and counts of the penguin colonies. Lacking access to lots of resources, I was stymied trying to figure out how to accomplish this. Until my Dad pointed me to an article in Bird Watchers Digest that described how Kite Aerial Photography (KAP) could be used for environmental work. I was skeptical but desperate so I contacted the author (who's name escapes me right now along with the actual citation of the article) and he put me in touch with a wonderful resource on KAP - a gentleman name Brooks Leffler. Brooks wound up building the KAP rigs I have used over the years and provided me with lots of information. We even did an article on our work for the now defunct KAP magazine Aerial Eye (Vol. 3, No. 2, Spring 1997). Below are a series of photos from that time period. Click on the photos to make them larger.

This is a photo of my wonderful co-workers flying the kite from a zodiac in the pack ice. I was on land judging where the kite and camera were in relation to the penguin colony we were trying to photograph and I turned and tilted the camera (with the remote control of the unit) to take this photo back down the kite line.

Another photo of the same scenario except this time the kite line is a bit easier to see.

This is the edge of an Adelie Penguin colony early in the spring when both members of the pair of penguins are present at the nest site.

Later on when the birds are incubating there is only one penguin present at the nest at any one time and the birds become very regularly spaced in the colonies.

But as the season progresses and the chicks begin to hatch that regularity in spacing begins to disappear and the nests start to show up with light colored rings around them as the guano starts to accumulate.

This colony had a few Elephant Seals hanging around the edge later on in the incubation period.

These wallows of belching, farting Elephant Seals even outdid the numerically superior penguins when it came to the biggest stink contest.

At one point we even used the photos to help the support staff at Antarctic Support Associates determine if the new supply ships would have issues with rocks near the pier since it was a much longer ship then had previously been used at Palmer Station.

Here I am on the top of Cormorant Island, probably my favorite island in the area that we visited on a regular basis for our work.

And another self portrait from that same year taken with the KAP rig in my room. It looks like I have that same Antarctic stare I see in many other photos of people working there.

All of this work was before the advent of digital photography. The reason the photos are all black and white was because I had access to a film lab at the station where I could develop black and white film and I needed to know what I had captured on film right away so I could know if I needed to re-photograph a colony. I will pull up some more photos and also talk about the KAP process a bit more in future posts.


Clare said...

Awesome post and photos John. I especially like the fifth photo in the series.

Camera Trap Codger said...

Always been interested in this, but never tried. Thanks for the post.

Cat Urbigkit said...

Excellent post - great photos!

Ma Meng said...

Hi, my name is Molly and I am writing to you to ask if I can use some of your images from your blog.

I am an architecture graduate student at Cornell University. Recently I was given a project to design the aviary for penguin species. I saw some of your KAP images of Adelie penguins, and I think they are spectacular shots! I wonder if I can use some of them to for my studies, which include mapping and layering to make collage? If I could I would really appreciate it!

Looking forward to hearing from you! my email is mm2945@cornell.edu

Best regards,
Molly Ma