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.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sage Grouse Initiative

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) just went live with their new sage-grouse conservation website here. Lots of great information and stories of private land conservation in sage-grouse country.

Sage-grouse conservation on private lands in conjunction with efforts on public land are all part of the ongoing efforts in sage-grouse conservation. These cooperative efforts are especially important for effective conservation in those parts of the west like Montana where public and private lands are highly interspersed.

Monday, March 12, 2012

John Carter

Last Friday Laura and I were able to get away for the evening to see the new movie John Carter. Unless you are a fan of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian Tales you probably have no idea what this movie is about (something the marketing for this movie did little to help). In short the movie is based on the first installment in a series of books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of another series of books about an orphaned boy raised by apes in the wilds of Africa that you probably have heard of. That boy is named Tarzan. The John Carter story was first published as "Under the Moon of Mars"; a six part serial in the All Story Magazine in 1912 under the pseudonym Norman Bean. It was later published as a book titled "A Princess of Mars" which was rather inexplicably re-titled "John Carter" for the movie. Doesn't "A Princess of Mars" sound more interesting and adventurous?
This series revolves around a Civil War veteran - John Carter - who stumbles on a pathway between Mars and Earth and is unexpectedly transported to Mars (a Mars as the author imagined based on the knowledge of his time). He encounters a variety of strange creatures and not so different human inhabitants and the stories in the series describe the adventures he encounters with the creatures he finds on this new planet. They are good fun (or at least that is how I remember them - it has been a few years).
I first encountered the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs during a rather rain soaked vacation to Minnesota in the late 1970's. It started with the first Tarzan book, and after I had devoured that series, purchased 2 or 3 at a time to read during the downpours, I raced through the Martian tales. Below is the cover art from the Del Rey series I read published in 1979 (I still have every book in this series and the Tarzan series from that summer - thanks Mom). I don't think that I have read them since, but you can see what might have drawn the interest of a fourteen year old boy.

When I heard that a movie was being made of these books I was excited. I have thought for quite a few years that if they could make Star Wars they certainly could make a decent movie with this story. I had hoped that this effort would not fail my expectations and for the most part I have to say it was all that I had hoped it would be. It was great fun. In particular, the characters were much as I had imagined them, probably greatly influenced by the cover art of Michael Whelan. I highly suspect the designers of this movie were greatly influenced by his interpretation of the characters as well. In particular, the four-armed green men (Tharks) in the illustration above look just like those in the movie.
The movie is exactly what it should have been - an imaginary adventure to strange places with a basic plot of doing what is right. With lots of great action scenes and believable aliens all rolled into the mix.
I hope that there will be sequels to this first go-around but I am afraid that the poor marketing (which appeared to assume that everyone knew the premise of the story, not just middle-aged men) and the large price tag of production of this movie no matter how well it does will doom more John Carter adventures on the big screen. That will be a shame. These are good stories that I feel I can share with my boys at the movies. At least I still have the books though and perhaps that will be enough. They too can enjoy the written words and make their own mental movie like I did so many years ago. The movie has certainly gotten me interested in going back to Mars with John Carter again.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Teaming with Widlife Award

About a week ago Senator Jon Tester of Montana received an award from the Teaming With Wildlife Coalition and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies for "his consistent support of State and Tribal Wildlife Grant Programs and fish and wildlife conservation funding as a member of the Senate Interior Appropriations Committee." More information about this award can be found here.
The reason I am mentioning it here is because the award was a photo I took of a Greater Sage-Grouse. The photo above is of Senator Tester and Whit Fosburgh from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership with the award.
Thanks to Shawn Cleveland for sending them my way.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

New Greater Sage-Grouse Research

Today the Interntional Journal of Conservation - Oryx published a paper I am a co-author on. The paper is titled "Greater sage-grouse Centrocercus urophasianus migration links the USA and Canada: a biological basis for international prairie conservation." and the abstract reads -

Migratory pathways in North American prairies are critical for sustaining endemic biodiversity. Fragmentation and loss of habitat by an encroaching human footprint has extirpated and severely truncated formerly large movements by prairie wildlife populations. Greater sage-grouse Centrocercus urophasianus, a Near Threatened landscape species requiring vast tracts of intact sagebrush Artemisia spp., exhibit varied migratory strategies across their range in response to the spatial composition of available habitats. We unexpectedly documented the longest migratory event ever observed in sage-grouse (> 120 km one way) in 2007–2009 while studying demography of a population at the north-east edge of their range. Movements that encompassed 6,687 km2 included individuals using distinct spring and summer ranges and then freely intermixing on the winter range in what is probably an obligate, annual event. The fate of greater sage-grouse in Canada is in part dependent on habitat conservation in the USA because this population spans an international border. Expanding agricultural tillage and development of oil and gas fields threaten to sever connectivity for this imperilled population. Science can help delineate high priority conservation areas but the fate of landscapes ultimately depends on international partnerships implementing conservation at scales relevant to prairie wildlife.

The paper is based on the work that Jason Tack did for his master's thesis that I wrote about previously here.and here. As the abstract states, the migration was something we hadn't really expected. We just wanted to find out what habitats the birds were using during the breeding and brood rearing in this rather unique (for sage-grouse) silver sagebrush habitat. When Jason first went looking for his radio marked birds early the first winter, the couldn't find any of them in Canada or the northern part of the county and it was only because he had the receiver on as he transited back to the airport that we first found out where these birds were spending the winter. Jason did a great job with this research and I am happy to have worked on this with all the co-authors.