Sunday, 31 August 2008

Bahamas debriefed

It has been over a month now since returning from the Bahamas shoot, and thinking back it was a remarkable experience. 
The bbc natural history unit have sunk a boat off  Stuart's Cove at the western end of Nassau.  The decommissioned tug had to be cleaned and scrubbed before being sunk, explosives expert David Jones had the job of overseeing the sinking. There were a number of cameras bolted to the ship to record the actual event, two of these were trashed. Much to everyones amazement the ship landed perfectly bolt upright on the sea bed, which just what was wanted. The location was carefully selected to be sheltered from hurricanes and also fairly shallow at 14 metres. After a year there is a profuse growth of algae and a wide assortment of marine life growing on the hull. It lies on a white sandy bottom in a slight hollow between coral reefs. the sandy sea bed is carpeted with Flat-Top Bristle Brush algae (Penicillus pyriformis), between these swim Goat Fish attended by usually 2 or 3 smaller silvery fish who stick with the Goat Fish hoping it will kick up morsels of food.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Tiputini blog 15th April 2008

Up at dawn, had a cold shower in the very pleasant cabin in the Tiputini research station. Breakfast is from 6.30 to 7.00, and consisted of bacon and eggs with bread and cereal. There must be 30 or 40 people here, students and working biologists. The first objective of the day was to photograph a large tree with enormous buttress roots. The buttresses were covered with small epiphytes, some climbing plants lie flat to the bark and make beautiful patterns against the lichens. Morley noticed a terrestial flatworm crawling along a buttress wall. I set up the HD camera on it, as it had stopped moving. As i waited for it  to start off again I was distracted by a large cricket that looks superficially like a stick insect. The head appears stretched in an absurdly comic way, so I proceed to take stills using my Zeiss luminar 40mm, which enables big close ups with astonishing detail. After several attempts and checking the image on my camera screen I feel satisfied with the result, and walk back to the Terrestial flatworm, of course it has cleverley buggared off! I search all around the area as it could not have gone far, and I was about to give up when I notice a ball of yellow slime wrapped around a stick with bits of dead leaf sticking to it, yes it is the flatworm! What a brilliant disguise, it must have sensed my presence and adopted this remarkable attempt at concealment. I unravel it from the stick and place it back on the buttress in order to film it. Again it sits there motionless, so I wander off to look at a remarkable termite colony. There is a fallen tree trunk with a cut end lying parallel to the laboratory building. From a crack in the wood a steady stream of workers and soldier termites are collecting on a small area of wood surface, here the larger workers are gnawing into what looks like a microbial crust, the soldiers with their long snouts are standing guard. These make great subjects for filming so I deploy a number of different techniques including the 5mm endoscope that I have with me. This small area next to the lab has all sorts of interesting subjects, including a leaf hopper attended by ants presumably being rewarded by honeydew secretions, also Morley filmed some amazing Heliconis butterfly courtship display. I finally get back to the terrestial flatworm and of course it is gone. Kelly Swing the director of the research station gave us a Peripatus, a strange missing link animal that has its own phylum which sits somewhere between Annelids and Arthropods. It has a worm like body with hundreds of legs, a head with eyes and antennae and a very elegant walking motion. I was getting a fantastic close up shot as it walked through frame when Morley said watch out for the Trumpet bird behind you, and in an instant the Peripatus was plucked from the log and was descending  into the bird's stomach!

Lunch was at midday, and here Maricella offered to let us photograph her baby turtles ( Podocnemis unifilis ), she has been rearing the eggs in a hatchery with the eventual release back into the wild. Also she takes blood samples for DNA sequencing back at the lab in Quito. The hatchlings still have their egg tooth protruding from the front of the beak, and when placed on a white surface for photography they don't want to hang about. So there is endless wrangling the little chaps into position for a picture. This is all fairly exhausting so it is time for a siesta back at the cabin. Suppertime is at seven, and we have an interesting conversation with a group of primatologists about the evolution on primates and the evidence for a common ancestor back n the Oligocene.

A night walk along the Matapalo trail begins around 8.30, and I am cursing the decision to bring the HD camera along with the still equipment. The night is hot and sweaty and I am being eaten alive by mosquitos, Morley hears a frog call that he thinks might be Rheibo guttatus,  so we proceed off the track into dense primary forest following the bird like high pitched rasping call. We enter an area of steep sided gullies, and Morley sensibly uses the old Huaorani method of breaking banches of trees to guide us back in case we get lost. Of course we are soon distracted, firstly by a dung beetle sitting on a leaf and then a giant bush cricket with incredibly spiny front legs. We decide to return to the path, and I am disorientated and would have gone in completely the wrong direction, showing how easy it is to get lost, so the Huaorani method convinces me that we are going in the right direction. Back on the path I notice an enormous Ctenid spider sitting on a fern frond hanging over the path. It just shows how easy it would be to brush against vegetation and have it crawl into ones clothing. I set up the video camera and can see that it is eating a large Scolopendramorph centipede. Getting close to such a large spider in the dark is fairly scary, but the dramatic footage makes it worth it