Photographer #042: David Burdeny

Monday, May 31, 2010
David Burdeny, Canada, 1968, is an award winning photographer. He is well known for his black and white photographs of landscapes taken in near dark situations. Due to the long exposures the images show something not able to be seen by the normal eye. Burdeny has no degree in photography, but a background in architecture and interior design.

In 2007 he made an impressive series on Greenland and Antarctica.

The following images come from the series Sacred & Secular.


Portrait of a Wetland III

Continuing with our selection of species from the marismas, today it's the turn of one of the most elegant of its inhabitants - the Purple Heron. A ground nester, usually deep in the reeds, this year has provided ample cover for these birds to nest in.

This bird arrived from south of the Sahara in March. Like many of the other wetland migrants, for example the Collared Pratincole, this bird attempts to raise its young before the start of the dry season. That is now with us and temperatures are soaring into the upper 30s in the shade. In the treeless marismas it is a stressful time. By July these wonderful birds, along with the pratincoles and others, will be on their way south and we will have to wait another year to see them once again.

With so much water around we might expect the birds to be scattered but it seems that some ponds and pools are better than others and these are the places to see the gatherings. Purple Herons are often found alongside Little Egrets.

Photographer #041: Brian Smith

Sunday, May 30, 2010
Brian Smith, USA, 1959, is most known for his celebrity portrait photography. When looking at his collection we see a vast number of Hollywood stars portrayed by Smith. Recently he has been working on a project called Art & Soul. Portraits of celebrities with personal notes on how exposure to arts positively impacted their lives. These photographs will be collected in a coffee table book and was already presented to the White House to lobby for more funding for the arts and art education.

On his website we find a large number of portraits in the category Fine Art, displaying once again the large number of people that have worked with Brian.


Portrait of a Wetland II

Friday, May 28, 2010

Continuing with our exploration of special species that breed in the marismas (marshes), today I post photographs of the Collared Pratincole. This species is a trans-Saharan migrant which winters in the Sahel and semi-arid areas south of the Sahara Desert's edge. The birds that breed in the marismas arrive during the course of March. These photographs have been taken between March and May this year.

Collared Pratincoles nest in colonies, usually between 20 and 30 pairs but sometimes more. They are scattered across the vast steppes, dry salt marshes and other arid open areas on the edge of the marismas. They are never far from water. They nest on the ground and feed by catching insects in the air.

Collared Pratincoles are highly social and noisy. Watching a breeding colony is an exhilarating experience as birds to and fro noisily. The arrival of the male back to the nest is marked by a posturing display (below) which reveals the spectacular chestnut underwing.

When seen on their own, male and female may seem indistinguishable from each other. But when together at the nest (below) the larger male (back) is clearly distinguishable from the smaller female.

The Collared Pratincole remains an abundant and colourful bird of the marismas. Let us hope that they continue to grace its skies for a long time.

Portrait of a wetland I

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I return to the marshes of the lower Guadalquivir and I will dedicate the next few posts to some of the special species that live there. The marshes are now splendid. After the record winter rains, the early spring saw an excess of water in many parts of these wetlands. It is only now, that water levels are receding and aquatic vegetation taking, over that birds are breeding. Geraldine and I spent many hours there last Sunday. We have never, in all our years of fieldwork, seen the marshes as splendid as this year so they deserve some time dedicated to them.

The first batch of 2010 generation Swallows is now out (above) and the abundance of flying insects will ensure survival of many young birds. Soon the adults will be starting a second clutch. Curiously, today I saw Swallows coming in from Africa heading north, probably to the northernmost European populations. So, some Swallows have not arrived in the breeding grounds yet while others have raised a brood!

So the next few posts will focus on the wetland's gems. Today, it is the turn of one of the scarcer herons. The following pictures (and that at the head) reveal the beauty and elegance of the Squacco Heron.

Photographer #040: Simen Johan

Simen Johan, Norway, 1973, makes photographs consisting of many layers of images. These photographs really impress once seen in real size because there are many things to be discovered in them. For instance, the fox in the image below is crying tears. All of the animals in the series Until the Kingdom comes show some kind of human behaviour.

The following photographs come from the series Evidence of things unseen, about the fascination of children for the unknown.


Photographer #039: Taisuke Koyama

Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Japanese photographer Taisuke Koyama, 1978, zooms in on the city of Tokyo. With his macro lens he makes photographs of organic abstractions. The images may look like graphic objects at first glance, but when one looks closer you will see overlooked transformations of the city. These photographs come from the series Entropix that he is still working on today, but was also released as a publication in 2008.

Currently he is working on a series called Rainbow Form. He states: "At a glance, these photographs look like graphic design due to its flatness. On the contrary, In reality, this image is composed with more layers; printing dots that compose a image of rainbow, dust of paper, surface condensation, scratch and adheres on the invisible plastic board which exists in the front of the paper, and the shadows on the paper caused by those."

(Video in Japanese)

Photographer #038: Vanessa Winship

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Vanessa Winship, Great-Britain, 1960, is a documentary photographer. In her series Sweet Nothings she has been taking photographs of schoolgirls from the borderlands of Eastern Anatolia. She continues to take all photographs in the same way; frontal and with enough distance to capture them from head to toe and still include the surroundings.

Winship now lives in Turkey and focuses on stories on countries around the black sea. The following photographs come from the series Imagened States and Desires: A Balkan Journey 1.


Iberia - at the crossroads between Europe and Africa

In recent posts, with the brief interruption from migrating Griffons, I have been looking at the Iberian mountains. Today I want to expand this theme a little and gradually get us back to the lowlands. The photographs have all been taken within the last month, barring some of the Blue Rock Thrush which were earlier. The northern Iberian mountains - the Pyrenees and Cantabrians - are the most southerly outpost for some birds that are typical of the forests further north. They belong to what biogeographers call the Eurosiberian zone, distinguishable from the Mediterranean zone to the south. The Eurosiberian, definable by climate characteristics, penetrates Iberia in these mountains and is marked by trees typical of western Europe and not the Mediterranean. Among the species that breed here, in their most southerly outposts, is the beautiful Bullfinch. The photographs (above and below) were taken in the Pyrenees so these are southerly Bullfinches!

But some species, typically those of more open habitats, have managed to penetrate (or at least survive the global warming that followed the last ice age) further south. We already met the Bluethroat (above) in our post of 30 April and another species typical of these mountain shrublands is the Hedge Accentor (below). Broadly speaking these are Eurosiberian birds that find adequate habitat in mountain peaks.
There are, of course, some remarkable Eurosiberian species that are able to live even in the lowland humid forests deep in the south-west, but they are not many. The European Robin is an example (below).

But not all Iberian mountain birds follow this pattern. The Red-tailed Rock Thrush (above and below) is a species that is typical of the chain of mountains that runs from Iberia eastewards to the Himalayas. I call this the mid-latitude belt (MLB) and it has its own set of species. These are not Eurosiberian birds, they are birds of the MLB, which in the west we equate with the Mediterranean mountains.

The closely-related Blue Rock Thrush is also a species of the MLB and it gives us a great comparison, a natural experiment, with its cousin. The Blue Rock Thrush is resident across many rocky areas, hillsides and low mountains in the western part of its range. Blue Rock Thrushes from the north and the more continental eastern parts are migratory. But in the mild west they can survive the winters without migrating. The smaller Red-tailed Rock Thrush is fully migratory, crossing the Sahara Desert to winter in tropical Africa. It seems to obey an unwritten rule which is that in closely-related species the smaller one migrates more than the larger. It could be a signal of competition between the species in some distant past or it might be that the larger species survives the northern winters better - having a lower surface-to-volume ratio which reduces heat loss. The net effect is that a lot of suitable but empty rock thrush territory opens up in the spring. Some may be filled by Blue Rock Thrushes moving up the slopes but most is left vacant. When the Red-tailed Rock Thrushes come in from Africa in April there is not much for them low down where the larger Blue Rock Thrush is by then established in breeding territories. So these birds find most opportunities high up in the mountains, in places that were inhospitable in the winter and could not support any kind of rock thrush.

Thrushes and chats are very versatile and Iberia, with its wide range of climates and habitats, harbours many species. Away from the mountains, at the other end of the climatic gradient, is an MLB species that is at home in the warmest and drier climates within the Mediterranean zone. It is, not surprisingly, among the last to arrive in spring from sub-Saharan Africa. The Rufous Bush Chat (above and below) is thus at the opposite end of the Iberian climatic gradient from its cousin the Bluethroat. They are here with us now and provide us with a good bridge to future posts that will return to the lowlands. Because we have accummulated a lot of material in recent weeks, when fieldwork has been intense, I will speed up the next few posts. So keep visiting!