Check it out and you will find a huge amount of material on many aspects of the birds and the project itself.
People around the world seem to be captivated by Birds-of-Paradise! The five minute video introduction to Ed Scholes and my Birds-of-Paradise Project posted on YouTube on 10 October 2012 has reached 1,000,000 views today, 23 Jan 2013.
This video was produced by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Multimedia department’s Eric Liner and John Bowman using video material shot by me, Ed Scholes, and Eric Liner. Eric and sound recordist Ian Fein, who also contributed to the video, accompanied us on one of our expeditions to New Guinea in 2009 to gather material for this video.
Why has this video captured the interest of so many? The birds are spectacular, and their behaviors otherworldly, but I think a big part of it is the story of exploration. I think it surprises people that in this day, there are still places on the planet that harbor such spectacular creatures as the birds-of-paradise that remain relatively unexplored. Ed Scholes and I were able to be the first to document all 39 species of this famous family of birds in the wild. If we are just documenting such a extraordinary group of birds for the first time, just imagine all the other little-know life forms out there in the wilds of New Guinea and elsewhere that remain to be documented and studied!
It is our sincere hope that the Birds-of-Paradise project will inspire others to keep exploring our planet. There is much to discover, document, and protect.
On one of our first Bird-of-Paradise Project trips back in 2004, we were driving a rural road in the Western Highlands of New Guinea. Passing a small village, we noticed a huge gathering of people. There appeared to be a traditional ceremony going on. We stopped and saw that indeed, there was a ‘singsing’, or traditional dance in progress, with dancers wearing huge headdresses of bird-of-paradise feathers, faces and bodies painted, muscles rippling and carrying battle-axes. This was exactly what I wanted to photograph, since I was very interested in documenting the use of bird-of-paradise plumes in New Guinea culture. This was not a performance for tourists, but a real village ceremony where bird-of-paradise plumes still played an important role. As I approached the fringes of the crowd, I pulled my camera out of my shoulder bag. Just then, I noticed a man striding toward me from the right. He was a dancer who had finished performing. His face and torso were painted in bold patterns, and his headdress made him look even more imposing. As he moved toward me, he was shouting something I couldn’t understand, and at the same time he was pulling his stone axe out of his belt. I became a little concerned. I tried to signal my friendly intentions with a forced smile and started shoving my camera back into the bag thinking that perhaps the sight of my camera was what had offended him. Then I finally understood what he was saying. “Snap me! Snap me!” he was yelling. He wanted to pose for a picture (with his axe)! I obliged and received a friendly reception after that. We visited the village again the next day for the continuation of the ceremony, when I took the photo above of a group of dancers sporting a huge number of bird-of-paradise plumes.
This is one of my true “dream shots”. I had imagined a shot like this with a bird-of-paradise in the foreground and a view out over the rain forest for years, but never found a place where I might be able to make it. Finally in the Aru Islands in 2010, I saw my opportunity. But the problem was getting the camera in the right place. I solved the problem by developing what I called the “leaf-cam”, a camera well hidden in leaves, and controlled remotely.
Here is a short video that tells the story of how I set this up, and finally got the shot.
Indonesia is one of the biologically richest countries in the world, and I have had a long-term interest in exploring remote corners of this amazing country. From the rain forests of Borneo to the coral reefs of the Raja Ampat Islands, to the mountains of Papua, I have made dozens of expeditions all over the archipelago, and will continue to do so in coming years. There is so much to explore here.
See my full gallery of images of the biodiversity of the Raja Ampat Islands at www.timlaman.com.
Borneo is where I got my start in exploring the tropical rain forest and getting really serious about my wildlife photography. I first went to Borneo as a research assistant for a year. Then I did my Ph.D. research there over several years. I turned my Ph.D. project exploring the rain forest canopy and studying strangler fig trees and associated wildlife into my first National Geographic magazine article back in July 1997. Since then, I have been back to Borneo over 25 times working on various National Geographic articles and other projects. It will always hold a special place in my heart.
This photograph of Rhinoceros Hornbills in the rain forest canopy is one that I dreamed about for years. It was actually on my very first day in the rain forest in Borneo that I saw a Rhinoceros Hornbill flying over head, way up in the upper canopy, and thought “I have to find a way to get up there to get pictures in the canopy”. It took many years for me to perfect my tree climbing skills and create the opportunity to get this shot by rigging a blind very high up in a large dipterocarp tree on a hillside near a fruiting Ficus tree. I spent a great many hours in that blind over many days, until one day a group of hornbills stopped in this tree before visiting the Ficus, and I got this shot.
See a full gallery of my Borneo rain forest images at www.timlaman.com.