The bird mummies of Natron: Lake’s waters petrify animals that fall in

 Photographer Nick Brandt collected and propped up small dead animals, including this calcified swallow, from Lake Natron's shores for a series in his new book, "Across The Ravaged Land."

Photographer Nick Brandt collected and propped up small dead animals, including this calcified swallow, from Lake Natron’s shores for a series in his new book, “Across The Ravaged Land.”

The Rift Valley’s Lake Natron is the chosen mating ground of the endangered lesser flamingo. The long-legged waterfowl may flourish, but to any other living creature, Lake Natron is hell on earth. The lake’s steeply alkaline waters are a graveyard for thousands of small birds. Wildlife photographer Nick Brandt used the corpses littering the Tanzanian lake shores as posed models for a haunting new series of photographs. Continue reading

The Sweet Sounds of Endangered Birds

Cyprus -  A whitethroat, en route to winter grounds in Africa, is caught on a lime stick. © David Guttenfelder/National Geographic

Cyprus – A whitethroat, en route to winter grounds in Africa, is caught on a lime stick. © David Guttenfelder/National Geographic

David Guttenfelder has spent much of his 17-year career at The Associated Press photographing armed conflict in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. His 2009 photo of a soldier fighting the Taliban while wearing pink boxer shorts after being awakened was one of the most discussed images from the Afghanistan war.

So the thought of Mr. Guttenfelder photographing songbirds for National Geographic magazine might seem odd at first glance. After all, their sweet sounds couldn’t be more different than the cacophony of war.

Yet documenting the story about the survival of songbirds throughout the Mediterranean involved many skills that were familiar to him, including, he said, “the ability to befriend and travel with men with weapons, work in an embed style with rangers, and go to places that are potentially dangerous.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


[Related: See the complete slideshow of David Guttenfelder’s photos for the National Geographic article “Last Song for Migrating Birds”]

But for Mr. Guttenfelder, it is too simplistic to see the songbird story as a conflict story just because of how he covered it. Rather, it is a conflict story because of the slaughter of innocents.

“I tried to cover this like any another conflict that I have in the past,” he said. “I tried to give a voice to those under attack. I’ve spent the past 20 years covering human cruelty and human suffering. This time I’m covering human cruelty, but it’s the persecution and suffering of other animals. A lot of what I saw was very cruel. Cruel to species that I came to really cherish. Beautiful, fragile, wild, free birds.”

Billions of birds migrate across the Mediterranean Sea twice a year, and hundreds of millions of them are shot, snared, netted or stuck to lime sticks. Their habitats are being destroyed, and bird populations are declining rapidly. Much of the killing is indiscriminate.

In the article “Last Song for Migrating Birds” published in the July 2013 issue of National Geographic, Jonathan Franzen writes:

To a visitor from North America, where bird hunting is well regulated and only naughty farm boys shoot songbirds, the situation in the Mediterranean is appalling: Every year, from one end of it to the other, hundreds of millions of songbirds and larger migrants are killed for food, profit, sport, and general amusement. The killing is substantially indiscriminate, with heavy impact on species already battered by destruction or fragmentation of their breeding habitat. Mediterraneans shoot cranes, storks, and large raptors for which governments to the north have multimillion-euro conservation projects. All across Europe bird populations are in steep decline, and the slaughter in the Mediterranean is one of the causes.

Mr. Guttenfelder admires the serious conservation stories of wildlife photographers like Nick Nichols and Brent Stirton but says that most photojournalists tend to focus on human conflict stories. “I don’t mean to diminish the importance of human suffering, human rights, war and its aftermath, but other species need a voice too,” he said.

“I was very moved as I learned more and more about the scale of the attack on birds and the viciousness of the methods. I think I’ve developed a thick skin over the years covering war. I was surprised to be so moved by the life and death of birds.”

Pride and shame: Saving PH hornbills

A RUFOUS hornbill as painted by David Tomb, one of the images on exhibit at the Ayala Museum in Makati City.

A RUFOUS hornbill as painted by David Tomb, one of the images on exhibit at the Ayala Museum in Makati City.

It is both “a source of national pride” and “a shameful situation.”

That’s how organizers of a recent conference and ongoing exhibit in Makati City described the state of one of the country’s wildlife treasures, the native hornbill.

The urgency of saving the Philippine varieties of the forest-dwelling bird amid man-made threats moved conservationists around the world to hold the quadrennial International Hornbill Conference in the country, from April 24 to 26 at the Ayala Museum. The photo and painting exhibit on the museum’s second floor runs until tomorrow.

Out of sight and out of mind for most city dwellers, hornbills were spotted in Metro Manila last year, but the rare sightings were taken as an alarming sign that they probably sought refuge in the city due to rapid habitat loss in the countryside.

But they could also be “escapees” or pets that got away from urban households, since native hornbills are not known for island-hopping, according to Mike Lu, president of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) which mounted the exhibit.

“Other countries share borders so their hornbills travel. Ours stay put,” Lu said of the fruit-eating birds, which are known as excellent seed-dispersing agents and as natural alarm clocks because of the noise they regularly make at certain hours of the day.

And yet they seem to be unloved in their own homeland: Nine of the 57 hornbill species worldwide have been found to be endemic to the Philippines, but the country is now bleakly on the bird lovers’ radar for losing the Ticao Tarictic of Masbate province, the first hornbill subspecies on the planet to become extinct.

A PAIR of Rufous hornbills stands out in this photo taken by Neon Rosell.

A PAIR of Rufous hornbills stands out in this photo taken by Neon Rosell.

“This is almost certainly the first time a hornbill has been driven to extinction by human activity anywhere in the world— a shameful situation for the country as a whole,” according to the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, whose posters formed part of the exhibit.

Seven of the Philippine hornbill species are now considered endangered, the WBCP added. “These magnificent birds are a source of national pride and yet are threatened to the brink of extinction due to human-related pressures.”

Organized by the Thailand-based Hornbill Research Foundation, the conference saw the relaunch of a nationwide conservation program to be led by the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (PBCFI).

The program will include intensified campaigns to protect forests, rescue and breeding efforts, island-wide surveys and research, and mobile education teams targeting communities near or within hornbill habitats, PBCFI director William Oliver said in his presentation.

For city folk, the first step is awareness—and not keeping hornbills as pets, Lu said. Just imagine the consequence: The males of some hornbill species are known to feed their nesting mates. Catch one for your amusement and you practically kill his entire family that is left behind.

“So many people capture them, keeping them just for fun,” Lu noted. Due to hunting, nest poaching and deforestation, “they are getting harder to spot. They’re no longer seen in areas where there were flocks before.”

And if these threats go unchecked, the Philippine hornbill may indeed just end up as pictures in a museum.


Yosemite Area Audubon Society Program Showcases The Arctic In Oakhurst On May 9, 2013

Everyone treasures one or more places in the world, near or distant, that are special to that individual.  Those places fill our memories with yearning, they inspire our spirit to commune with the eternal, and best of all, they nurture our hearts to love.  It might be a white coral beach, a forest grove in winter, a canyon landscape at sunset–or simply a nearby foothill setting that evokes those personal memories and a sense of connection with what matters to us. Continue reading

Complementary Actions Protect Both Rare Birds and Water Resources in Northern Peru

Four communities in Peru have agreed on complementary land actions that will protect 930 acres of vital cloud forest and double the size of an increasingly popular bird reserve – generating benefits for all.

In one action, the communities of Miraflores, Chido, and San Lorenzo in northern Peru have formally agreed to protect 930 acres of vital cloud forest and headwaters of the Rio Chido, which provide water to these communities and the larger community of San Lucas de Pomacochas downstream.

In return for helping to protect its water supply, the community of Pomacochas has agreed to extend the 96-acre Marvelous Spatuletail Ecological Easement (also known as the Huembo Reserve) by an additional 89 acres, nearly doubling the popular reserve’s size.

These conservation actions were facilitated by Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN), the local Peruvian conservation organization that has worked closely with American Bird Conservancy (ABC) to achieve significant advances in bird conservation in the country.

“This is a truly innovative project that benefits multiple communities by securing their rights to land and water resources,” said Tino Aucca, President of ECOAN.

Marvelous Spatuletail © Dubi Shapiro, from the surfbirds galleries.

Marvelous Spatuletail © Dubi Shapiro, from the surfbirds galleries.

By protecting their forests and watershed, the communities help secure their land rights, which are threatened by invading squatters as well as commercial interests in natural resource extraction. Likewise, securing water is important to the Pomacochas community downstream. Forests in this area have been rapidly cleared in recent years for pastures and agriculture.

“This is a two-for-one deal. By doing the work to protect the Rio Chido watershed, we also get more land protected at Huembo downstream. It’s a real bargain for conservation and perhaps for the local economy as the reserve continues to generate tourism interest,” remarked Dr. Daniel Lebbin, Conservation Biologist at ABC.

The communities have formally submitted applications to the Peruvian agency in charge of protected areas to recognize the 930 acres under two Private Conservation Areas (PCA) – a legal type of protected area incorporated into the Peruvian national system of protected areas. While the Peruvian government evaluates these proposals, the communities have begun protecting these forests and erected signs to announce this policy change.

The forests of the Rio Chido watershed support several threatened and endemic bird species, including the Russet-mantled Softtail, Pale-billed Antpitta, Rusty-tinged Antpitta, Johnson’s Tody-Tyrant, and Rufous-browed Hemispingus. For this reason the Rio Chido area has long been popular with intrepid bird watchers willing to explore the remaining forests. Meanwhile, the drier and lower forests of the expanded easement at Huembo support two threatened hummingbird species: the Marvelous Spatuletail and Little Woodstar.

These newly protected community lands are just part of the recent success achieved in northern Peru by ECOAN and ABC. Previously in 2013, ABC and ECOAN purchased three properties spanning 412 acres to secure former private lands to expand the Abra Patricia Reserve (formally known as the Abra Patricia-Alto Nieva Private Conservation Area). The area is recognized by the Alliance for Zero Extinction as a critical site for both the endangered Long-whiskered Owlet and endangered Ochre-fronted Antpitta.

Reforestation work continues in the area as well, with 89,000 trees and coffee bushes planted or scheduled for planting during April 2013 in communities surrounding the Huembo and Abra Patricia reserves, involving the communities of San Lorenzo, Chido, and Pomacochas. ABC and ECOAN also completed a tree nursery with the capacity to produce 13,000 saplings annually at the community of La Union, just north of the Abra Patricia Reserve.

Birdwatchers interested in visiting the San Lorenzo area can do so while staying at Huembo or Abra Patricia, and can consult Conservation Birding for more information on lodging at these sites.

Support for the land protection, land acquisition, community programs, and reforestation efforts was provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, New England BioLabs Foundation, DJ & T Foundation, Patricia & David Davidson, Jeff & Connie Woodman, the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust, David Harrison and Joyce Millen, Warren & Cathy Cooke, Mike and Lorna Anderberg, Jeniam Foundation, The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, and the IUCN NL / Small Grants for the Purchase of Nature (SPN), sponsored by the Netherlands Postcode Lottery.


Rocky Mountain Raptor Program seeks photos of native birds

The Rocky Mountain Raptor Program is asking amateur and professional photographers to submit their favorite photos of birds of prey native to Colorado.

Photographs may be taken in the wild or in captivity.

The top 13 photographs will be included in its 2014 Raptor Photo Calendar and on the organization’s website. Winning photographers will receive a free copy of the calendar, retain copyright of their photos and must give grant the Raptor Program the right to publish their photos.

The photo contest is an important source of revenue for the nonprofit organization. A $20 fee will be collected for each photographer’s first entry, and a fee of $5 for additional photos.

Photos must be received by July 1. Final judging and notification will occur by Aug. 1.

Judy Scherpelz, RMRP executive director, said the photos must be at least 300 dpi at 12 inches wide — approximately 1 MB or larger. “Minor photo image editing is acceptable, but please indicate it,” she said.

All entries must be submitted on a CDR, flash drive or comparable electronic media. Email entries will not be accepted. for details, call 4

The top 13 photographs will be included in its 2014 Raptor Photo Calendar

The top 13 photographs will be included in its 2014 Raptor Photo Calendar

For details, call 484-7756, email or visit