How I began, where I’m going..

Posted in Birds, Films, Mammals, Reptiles on October 5, 2010 by Ram

Its October and the end of my first year here at the University is a week away. It has been a huge learning curve for me. I wont be lying if I say I got way more than what I expected out of this course. My being here would not have been possible if not for the month long course I did at the Wildlife Film Academy last year in South Africa. Cant help but think that the 3 minute film I made there played a big part in me getting accepted here.

The film was shot over a period of one week and edited for another week. This was my first ever film and although it seems a bit cheesy to me now, I’ll never forget the experience of making it. It sort of made me doubly sure about what I was going to do with my life.

The theme of the film is pretty obvious. The dreaded ‘C’ word. Yep, Conservation.  People realizing the importance of natural spaces in keeping diversity of species at a sustainable, sometimes optimal level and actually doing something about it.  Now, more than a year later, the theme of my next film which I will be producing with my film partner for my Master’s is quite similar. The film’s still in the developing stages and we haven’t finalized the story yet, but the idea is to show why some people dedicate a better part of their lives to the conservation of one species of animal. What drives them? I don’t know. That’s what we’re setting out to find out.

More updates soon.

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Podcast series: Impact of Music in Films Ep.3

Posted in Podcasts on September 7, 2010 by Ram

Photo by Imma

And so we come to the end of the podcast season. I’ve learnt quite a bit about mixing audio and music while making them. I hope the podcasts have be useful in some way or the other. The final episode below is a little different to the first two. Have fun listening. Peace.

Episode 3

Click here to Download Ep.3


Podcast series: Impact of Music in Films Ep.2

Posted in Podcasts on September 6, 2010 by Ram

In this episode, I will be talking about the history of using music in films. Films have not always been as aurally impressive as they are now. Go back a century and you will find that every screening was accompanied by live musicians who played various instruments while the movie was being screened. Would have been quite a distraction for the audience.

1915 : Charlie Chaplin playing a cello

The second episode can be played below. Thanks for listening.

Episode 2

Click here to Download Ep.2


Podcast series: Impact of Music in Films Ep.1

Posted in Podcasts on September 5, 2010 by Ram

If someone asked me what my life was all about, Id have two words for them. Movies and Bed. Yes, if I din’t have school work Id be watching movies all day, taking time out to rest for a while, waking up to watch more movies. Id get a few meals in between but thats pretty much what I would do.

When you watch as many movies as I do, you tend to start analyzing them. You stop looking at the actors and start trying to figure out how the shots are framed, how the story unfolds and how good the music is. Over the past couple of months Iv’e been looking at how effectively music is used in films. Every fiction and non-fiction film today relies on music to a certain extent. I am surprised by how two very similar films can end up going in different directions depending on how they are scored. Music can transform a shot of a gutter from something people cringe at to an aesthetically pleasing entity. No kidding.

Photo from Point Blank Music college

So for my latest assignment, which was to create a series of three podcasts related to my research interest, I’ve decided to talk about something I believe we don’t understand very well. Music in Films. The first episode can be played below. Hope you enjoy it.

Episode 1

Click here to Download Ep.1

BotanicAves

Posted in Birds on August 23, 2010 by Ram

While filming Dunnocks at the Dunedin Botanic gardens, I noticed many other species of birds which emerged at different times of the day. Though I was tempted to get some footage of these birds, I couldn’t as I had to focus on the job at hand, which was to get as much footage of the Dunnocks as possible. I went back to the gardens a few days later, this time with my stills camera and started looking for these birds. I had no clue what time they would come out, how long they would stay or even if I could get close enough to get a decent photograph.

So I waited, walked up and down the gardens a few times. The first bird I spotted was a Fantail. This funny little bird hovered around me for a while letting me get very close. Fantails are generally easy to approach as they look for insects that we stir up while walking.

Fantail

Also called the Piwakawaka, Fantails are extremely restless birds. They get their name from their tail-feathers which resemble a fan when fully spread. Their tail helps them hover in a single spot like a helicopter.

Fantail with tail-feathers spread

The next day, higher up in the gardens, I spotted a few Silvereyes. Silvereyes are approachable to an extent. As long as I walk quietly and not make any sudden movements, they don’t seem to be too bothered however close I get to them.

Silvereye

The Silvereye is also called Tauhou in New Zealand and Whiteeye in other parts of the world. These birds breed between the months of September and February. If I am lucky, I should be able to capture some breeding behavior and nest building this season.

One of the birds that was annoyingly hard to photograph was the Grey Warbler. These guys like treetops and are hard to spot most of the time. So I decided to head up to the upper gardens where I could find smaller trees. I was following yet another Fantail when I saw a little Warbler frantically hopping down the branches of the tree next to me. Warblers cannot stay still for more than a second. They look like they are on a constant sugar rush. They get hyperactive when they are on the hunt for insects and all I could do was to be as frantic as the warbler and take as many pictures as possible in the hope that at least one or two would turn out good. Luckily, the warbler was close enough for me to get some decent shots.

Grey Warbler

The Maori name for Warbler is Riroriro. They weigh about 6.5 grams and are tiny, slightly larger than a human thumb.

Over a period of three days I had seen quite a few species, not all of which I could photograph. I couldn’t get within a hundred feet of a few birds, however slowly I crept up to them. Towards the end of the third day I spotted a Song Thrush standing at the foot of a tree. Initially I thought it was a female Blackbird but after going through my identification list back at home, I realized it wasn’t.

Song Thrush

Song Thrushes were introduced to New Zealand from Europe in the 1860′s and are now fairly common in gardens, scrub, native forests, orchards and exotic plantations. Their song is a string of repeated, clear musical phrases.

To see such a variety of bird life in a small area is quite astonishing. It goes to show how these creatures can easily adapt themselves to a human environment if only we can maintain natural spaces like the botanic gardens.

There are many more species in Dunedin that I’d like to capture. Will put them up here as soon as I manage to.


Dunnock? What’s that?

Posted in Birds, Films on August 2, 2010 by Ram

We take a lot for granted. The trees near sidewalks, insects around our houses, even the birds we see everyday. Truth is, not paying attention isn’t really going to hurt us in any way.

But what if we did? What if we actually looked at something that we barely glance at everyday and asked ourselves a simple question; ‘What is that’? More often than not, we would be surprised by the answer.

New Zealand is a land of birds. Some native species like the Kakapo, Kea, Kaka or the Tui are quite unmistakable in appearance and garner a lot of attention wherever they are seen. But there are other non-native species here, those that have been introduced into the country for various reasons by settlers, those which can easily go unnoticed.

One of the many non-native species of birds here are the Dunnocks. They are also known as Hedge Sparrows, though they are not related to the Sparrow family. Their resemblance in color and size to the common house sparrow has earned them this name. But the similarities end here.

Photo by Karsten cc by sa

Dunnocks are found almost everywhere in New Zealand from forests to suburban gardens and even in the hedges lining the footpaths. They are not particularly striking in appearance but they more than make up for it with their mating behaviour.

During the breeding season, the Dunnocks display an amazing pattern of breeding behaviours which involves Monogamy (one male and one female), Polyandry (one female with two or more male mates), Polygyny (one male with two or more female mates). This type of mating system exists in about 2% of all the bird species in the world. In other words, it is very rare. Most reasons for this kind of mating system points toward one direction, extra care for the chicks thereby giving them a better chance of survival.

Cloaca Pecking in Dunnocks

Photo by Harres cc by

The way they participate in this mating ritual is incredible. Lets take an example of a Polyandrous system with one female and two males. The female mates with the first male and while he isn’t looking, she slips away slyly and mates with the second male. Later, when the chicks hatch they are fed by both males as each male believes that he is the father of the chicks. As a result the chicks have a much better chance of survival.

I chose Dunnocks as the stars for my two minute film which I made as an assignment for class. The film also includes an interview with an Otago University scientist, Eduardo Santos who is studying these birds for his PhD.

So its probably easier to get on with our daily lives without noticing much but maybe, just maybe if we did, our lives would become a tad more interesting.

Frog killer!

Posted in Amphibians on May 15, 2010 by Ram

Photo by Forrest Brem cc by

Chytridiomycosis is quite possibly the worst disease to have affected amphibians in recorded history. This potentially lethal skin disease is caused by the Chytrid fungus; Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis which has been detected on at least 385 species of frogs and other amphibians from 36 countries. The fungus was first described in North America in the late 1990’s and is thought to have originated in South Africa. It has since caused amphibian population declines in  Australia, North America, South America, Central America, New Zealand, Europe, and Africa, and is likely to be responsible for extinction of over 100 species since the 1970’s.

The major causes for the spread of this fungus are thought to be pet and food trades which remain largely unregulated. The fungus invades the thin, permeable skin of amphibians. As amphibians breathe and drink through their skin, this causes severe problems and eventually leads to death.

The video below is something I made as an assignment for the camera techniques class. The scientist I interviewed was Michel Ohmer, a Zoology masters student at the university whose research involves investigating the spread and affects of the fungus in New Zealand and its native frogs.

While methods exist for curing infected animals in the laboratory, it is not currently possible to eradicate the fungus from wild amphibian populations. Nor is it possible to protect natural wild areas prior to the arrival of the chytrid fungus. Waiting for a cure for the fungus in wild habitats may mean watching many more species go extinct. The human activities which aid the spread of this fungus should be stopped first. After all, prevention is surely better than cure. Yes?