Every now and then we are afforded the chance to witness something truly amazing in nature. Zach Vincent and his colleagues came across such a chance in 2014, while filming a documentary on Blue Swallows for South African wildlife series, 50/50. Zach was searching for nests with local wildlife authorities in KZN. They came across an aardvark burrow with a nest and amazingly found a chick mid way through hatching!
Blue Swallows are distributed patchily in the grasslands of South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, DRC, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland. They are intra-African migrants, breeding in Southern Africa and wintering in East Africa. Globally they are considered Vulnerable but in South Africa they are Critically Endangered. There are less than 40 breeding pairs left in South Africa. They breed in aardvark burrows and sinkholes in the grasslands of KZN and Mpumalanga, habitats which are being rapidly transformed for timber and agriculture.
A historic portrait of the Blue Swallow from “A monograph of the Hirundinidae” by Richard Bowdler Sharpe
Birdlife South African and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife are working actively to conserve the remnants of breeding habitat in South Africa. They have a program called the Blue Swallow Stewardship Program which encourage private landowners to conserve Blue Swallow habitat on their land. With these efforts we can hope that the Blue Swallows keep returning to South Africa to breed.
This unique footage of a Blue Swallow hatching shows a new generation of swallows entering into an uncertain world. We asked Zach what impact he hopes this footage to have and he says:
“It’s hope. It’s new life despite the odds, which are so great for tiny creatures in our world. The tiny shell helmet is a metaphor for the war the little bird would be facing its entire existence just to be able to return one day, find a mate and reproduce. I’d like the clip to spread some joy and hope! There are so many people trying their best to save the animals some would give up on. I would like people to gain some interest into the Blue Swallow and other critically endangered yet, not big and sexy, animals.”
Zach is a film maker and producer, living in Los Angeles. He grew up in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and completed his Masters degree at the University of Cape Town. His parents were in the wildlife film-making industry and Zach has followed in their footsteps, filming and producing in South Africa before moving to LA in 2014 to work on the wildlife series Ocean Mysteries.
At the end of each day, she sends her findings and photographs via a mobile app to her supervisors, who log it onto the SMART patrolling system –software that allows for better planning of rangers’ and WWF’s joint protection efforts.
“When I go on my motorbike, it is to check where the animals come out and give that information to the tourists,” she says.
Over the years, Kui Buri has become known as one of the best places in Thailand for spotting Asian elephants and mighty gaurs (also known as Indian bison). If you’re lucky, you might even see a rare banteng, a species of wild forest cattle, among the herds of gaur. Because Kui Buri’s wildlife attracts visitors from all over the world, one of Kwan’s responsibilities is to look out for the people admiring the animals and share information with the park’s guides as to the wildlife’s whereabouts.
She also engages in habitat improvement. The activity— which includes removing weeds from the park’s open fields with fellow rangers and WWF staffers and replanting native vegetation—ensures elephants have enough food within the park and don’t venture out in search of food in neighboring plantations.
Kwan lives for much of the year at a ranger base camp in the park. That, and the collaborative nature of her work means that close alliances are formed quickly. “The way we make jokes and talk to each other it’s really like family,” she proclaims when talking about her seven-person ranger unit.
That’s not to say she doesn’t miss her loved ones. Kwan admits her close-knit community is no substitute for her two teenage sons, who live with their father in another province.
A species in need Even with the welcomed bump in population numbers, Indus river dolphins remain endangered and in need of continued conservation action. Currently confined to just 20% of their natural habitat range due to the construction of numerous dams and barrages along the Indus River, the dolphins are also threatened by worsening water pollution, stranding in irrigation canals, and accidental capture in fishing nets.
WWF has led an innovative and collaborative approach to save the species, integrating research, effective law enforcement, and critical community engagement. Since 1992, WWF-Pakistan and the Sindh Wildlife Department have led a dolphin rescue program, which has saved 131 dolphins from being stranded in irrigation canals and safely released them back into the main river. We’ve also established a dolphin monitoring network in collaboration with local communities, Sindh Wildlife Department and other important government stakeholders , along with a 24-hour phone helpline that people can call if they see a dolphin in distress.
“Indus river dolphin numbers would still be decreasing if it were not for the active participation of communities along the river,” Khan said. “They are our eyes and ears, and have helped bring these iconic animals back from the brink. Our efforts to save the dolphin are also critical for these communities since the species is an indicator of the health of the river, upon which tens of millions of people depend.”
By: Nejma Belarbi, based on an article published on Voices for Biodiversity
Wearing the mantra of Standing Rock Sioux, Water is Life, a young woman at the Oceti Sakowin camp looks out over an estimated ten thousand people gathered there. To the Sioux, fighting for water and land is not an intellectual exercise— it is a fight for the health of the people.
My Life for the Land, written by Nanai photographer and writer Kiliii Yuyan, illuminates the importance of viewing conservation through the Indigenous lens. The scientific community has begun to recognize Indigenous knowledge as pivotal to conservation efforts. One commonly overlooked reality is the direct connection between the wellbeing of a ecosystem and the basic human rights of Indigenous people. Cultural survival, food and medicinal needs in Indigenous communities all require the existence of a healthy ecosystem, so Indigenous peoples have a strong vested interest in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. For some of these communities, however, attempts at protecting the environment can be a life-threatening endeavor. Yuyan’s article sheds light on the important correlations between ecosystem health and the health of humanity — now and for future generations.
Kiliii Yuyan’s insights and photographs are truly inspiring. He weaves connections among different Indigenous groups and explains the barriers they face as they strive to both conserve and continue stewardship of ecosystems.
His article depicts the struggles faced by Indigenous people on the front lines of conservation, from the Brazilian rainforest to North Dakota’s Standing Rock to the Alaskan Arctic. He begins with the tragic loss of Indigenous leaders who were involved in — and often spearheaded — conservation efforts to protect their lands and ecosystems from corporate exploitation, a sad reality we are continuously witnessing.
Yuyan connects Indigenous-led conservation with biodiversity by exemplifying ecosystem management and subsistence practices that have often proven to be beneficial to the well-being of many species. He highlights the clear connection between community-led ecosystem management and positive impacts on species such as bowhead whales in the waters of Alaska.
“…under Iñupiaq management, the whale population had risen to almost 17,000 whales, which is believed to be even more than before the arrival of European whalers in the 1800s! Today the Beaufort Sea Bowhead population continues to grow at 3.7 percent annually, and serves as a prime example of how a modern Indigenous people can self-manage sensitive wildlife, even while hunting for subsistence.”
Flora Aiken gives a silent blessing to the first bowhead whale of the spring season. The Iñupiaq have a rich spiritual life which centers around the gift of the whale to the community. Foster Simmonds offers a prayer, saying, “Hide something for me. Look at the food, the whales. Look at the sea, the whalers. A blessing for them. Take that and hide it in your heart.” The whale here is tied up after being towed to the ice’s edge and is awaiting the village to come and help haul it onto the ice.
Yuyan explains that conservation efforts based on colonial concepts have sometimes caused great harm to Indigenous groups, who have had to fight back for their right to manage their homes and ecosystems. One such example is the Alaskan Eskimo Whaling Commission, initiated in response to the 1977 moratorium on whaling. At the time, commercial whaling and Indigenous subsistence whaling were put in the same category, most likely due to the lack of understanding of the role these communities played as ecosystem stewards. Yuyan writes that:
“The Iñupiaq have been hunting whales here for at least 2,000 years. Yet the fact that they have the rights to whale today is remarkable — they nearly lost this way of life when the International Whaling Commission declared a moratorium on whaling in 1977… The Iñupiaq refused to give up and started their own Alaskan Eskimo Whaling Commission, fighting for the right to hunt whales and to manage their own bowhead whale population.”
The importance of Indigenous peoples’ lifeways in conservation is well illustrated throughout, with many examples of ongoing efforts to preserve ecosystems, which in turn protects countless species. His maps clearly show that Indigenous lands in Brazil, are least deforested regions.
Yuyan breaks down the myth that Indigenous land management and modern tools are mutually exclusive. He explains that:
Indigenous land management practices have evolved over thousands of years — and continue to evolve. Today the Ka’apor use game cameras and GPS to monitor wildlife activity and illegal logging. The Iñupiaq share information about whale observations and ice conditions over an extensive network of VHF radios. These modern additions are a natural adaptation for Indigenous people who live in a changing world with changing demands.
A truly salient point, which leads us to address our own biases regarding technology and subsistence living. Yuyan illustrates the shift in perspective by different cultures dealing with a changing world, with many now standing up to protect land and water. He speaks of his own experience at Standing Rock and witnessing the changing values of non-Indigenous people who gathered to support the interruption of the Dakota Access Pipeline:
“I witnessed thousands of people — from all races and cultures — gathering in support of the Lakota people and their land rights. I saw outsiders running into new values in a camp structured around Indigenous priorities.”
The photographs found throughout the article are rich and rare — true testimony to the power of imagery. With salient writing, a passion for the natural world and a desire to create greater opportunities for Indigenous knowledge to be recognized, Yuyan shows us an alternative vision of humanity’s greatest treasures — community, culture and the earth.
Energetic and colourful courtship displays are used by many bird species to attract a mate and show readiness to copulate. These displays vary widely and include the use of colourful and ornate breeding plumage; melodious songs; energetic dances; and gift giving. Once a mate is chosen pairs may strengthen bonds using behaviour such as allopreening, and feeding each other.
Some of these displays are a sight to behold, and we were lucky to have submissions for a wide variety of species. Thank you to everyone that submitted photographs for this week’s theme; here we present the Top 25 photographs of courtship displays.
Lesser florican male performing a display leap in which the head is arched and the legs are folded, in Pradesh, India (Praveen K Bhat)Brahminy starling male displaying for a female, he will sing, and stand erect while puffing out his feathers (Sandeep Beas)Black-headed gull males will feed females as part of their courtship, as shown here in Surrey, UK (Edwin Godhino)Lesser flamingos perform ritualised group displays involving small movements of the neck, head wagging, and broken-neck posture (Wishwas Thakker)Male peafowl displaying his tail feathers to attract the attention of a female (Mann P Arora)Laughing dove pair in Patiala, India allopreening; usually feathers that are hard to reach for an individual will be preened by its mate (Tarika Sandhu)Green bee-eater displaying in Punjab, India (Baljinder Pal Singh)Great egret displaying breeding plumage, males will choose the display area which later becomes the nesting area (J Bernardo Sanchez)Mississippi kite pair feeding each other in Green Cove Springs, Florida, USA (Jola Charlton)Pin-tailed wHydah male in breeding plumage coming in to land on a branch in Punggol Barat Island, Singapore (Ananth Ramasamy)Sarus crane pair calling and posturing together, pairs will jump and bow together as part of the courtship display (Hitesh Chawla)Atlantic puffins are monogamous; pairs will strengthen their bond upon returning to land by approaching each other, wagging their bills side to side, and then rattling their bills together (Anthony Roberts)In waved albatrosses of the Galapagos Archipelago, courtship involves bill circling and bowing, and beak clacking (Dot Rambin)Yellow-crowned night-heron males will display for females by raising and lowering their heads, and fanning their shoulder plumes (Teri Franzen)White-bellied treepie pair in Thattekad, Kerala, India, preening each other (Shantharama Holla K)Scaly-breasted munia males perform soft and complex songs in the breeding season, when a partner is chosen he will land close and bend towards her to wipe his bill (Baljinder Pal Singh)Red munia male in breeding plumage in Uttar Pradesh, India (Vijay Madan)Northern gannet stretching its head vertically, females will use this posture to let males know that they’re available for courtship, mated pairs will then engage in a fencing display using their beaks (Owen Deutsch)Black-rumped flameback pairs will feed together, photographed here in Bangalore, India (Ramesh Aithal)Grey crowned cranes are monogamous for life, and both males and females perform a courtship dance using bobbing and bowing movements as shown here (Edwin Godinho)Ashy prinia calling to its partner (Vivek Sharma)Male baya weavers will spend approximately 18 days building a nest, before it is complete he will hang from the nest flapping his wings and calling to passing females (Jasvir Faridkot)Anhinga female, with male in breeding plumage. Males initiate courtship by soaring and gliding (Leslie Reagan)Wood stork males are aggressive to females in the breeding season, once the female is accepted however the male will offer her sticks and preen her feathers (Jola Charlton)Intermediate egret pair performing flap flight together in Haryana, India (Sanjay Solanki)
Our mission is to build a global community around the freedom and beauty of birds in the wild as ambassadors for the natural ecosystems that they depend upon. They are the music, decoration, and character of every terrestrial habitat on the planet and have been around since the dinosaurs. They are the witnesses and ambassadors of the awesome power of nature. The wide availability of good, cheap optics has opened their world to us for the last few decades. Amazing, affordable DSLR cameras with long lenses are delivering brilliant digital bird imagery to online communities.
We are in a day-and-age during which more bird species are threatened with extinction than ever before. The Wild Birds! Revolution aims to publish the “Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week” to 1 million people every week by the end of the year. That is a revolution that will change the world! Join thousands of other weekend naturalists, photographers, birders, experts, hikers, nature-lovers, guides, scientists, conservationists and artists that share the thousands of wild bird photographs submitted to the Wild Bird Trust website and Facebook page. Thousands of wild bird enthusiasts are going out every day to photograph our planet’s beautiful birdlife. Pick up your camera, fill your bird feeder, open your heart, and join the Wild Birds! Revolution!!