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A Big Catch Up

Looking for Svalbard bears
Gould Bay Emperor Penguin colony
Living accommodation on Svalbard - for a few days!
Coming down Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon
Transport to the Emps - ever see a sky so blue?

Anyone looking at this site for what I’ve been up lately would think I’ve dropped out of sight. Look at that – over 14 months since I last filled in this blog. Well I do tweet occasionally but you’re right, I’m pretty piss poor at putting stuff in here.

So let me bring you up to date ….. opens cobwebbed diary …..

Svalbard Polar Bears
After Rangiroa over April and May last year I was in Svalbard filming polar bears for my old mate Brando Quilici and his feature film Midnight Sun. The story of a young boy and his adventures to reunite a young polar bear cub with its mother, I was tasked with shooting some intimate mum and young cub behavior for what would be the climax of the film. Not an easy assignment, as mums with very young cubs tend to want to keep their distance from any people. I was in Svalbard for 2 weeks with no success, then learned of a pair in Templefjord, which were being seen every day by tourists on snowmachine trips. Aha, kind of habituated so that might simplify things. So I swapped day for night so when there were no tourists there and managed to spend four nights watching the pair of them. I more or less stayed in one place, waiting for their normal wanderings and seal hunting to bring them close enough. Eventually patience paid off, as it always does, and I saw some lovely loveable behavior between them. It was a bit tricky as the bear actually had two cubs and the movie line called for just one, but I knew they could green screen one of the cubs out of picture. Look out for the movie in UK theatres I think later this year.

Bimini and Grand Canyon
Late June I was in Bimini filming dolphins with Chris Packham for BBC Scotland’s series on Animal Intelligence, then in July took almost a month in the States with Liam. He’d just finished his A-levels and was about to start his gap year but first we had this paddling trip planned 240 miles down the Grand Canyon. Check out AZRA rafting – they’re the best for this kind of thing. All paddle, 3 inflatables with 6 folk in each plus a guide, and 2 other boats carrying all we needed for the two week trip. Just magic, though have to say the mud and sand is totally ingrained by the end and you’re dreaming of cool drinks. But the rapids are pure adrenaline, particularly Lava Falls where Liam and I were the only 2 left in the boat after we came within a hairsbreadth of a flip over. Then six days in Vegas and San Diego before heading for home. Car rental company screwed up my booking, didn't have the 2 seat economy model I had paid for ……but “we can offer a convertible Ford Mustang as a replacement”. Well I’d say not a bad deal really. So armed with that we drove to Vegas and both basically had heatstroke by the Hoover Dam. You just don't notice the sun strength with the top down.

Don't Drown with Liam
Liam left for Thailand mid September. Had his PADI Divemaster and Instructor rating by November and is still out there freelancing. He’s yer man if you want advice on resorts or dive training on Koh Tao –

Tongan Humpbacks
While Liam headed for Thailand I was in Tonga, taking a private client to look at the humpbacks. Karen was great, she showed a sensitivity round them that made the experience a real gentle pleasure. She was tenacious, went out on some less than ideal days for weather. Too many folk expect it all to happen more or less immediately, she was patient. Lole with the boat was as good as I remember from 2007, we had one memorable young calf that was just super curious, all over us in the water, eyeball to eyeball.

Talky Tour No 3
September to October was my third talky tour. I took in Ireland this time as well as a dozen venues across UK. Great audiences everywhere, thanks to everyone who came. Interesting that the Irish seem to be bigger book buyers than across the water. I normally reckon on 10-12% of the audience buying a book, but over there it was closer to 20%. So did well on that score. But man it was a lot of driving - UK is just no fun at all in that respect. You have to allow heaps of time for any sort of roads, one accident on the motorway can clog up the system for hours. And a tech check at the venue two hours before the 730 start means coping with rush hour traffic sometimes in the middle of a busy city. Chuck in radio or press interviews that always end up being done close to the date of the talk, some of which are ok on the phone but others want you live or prerecorded from a studio and you’ll appreciate why the talky tours are a full on hectic month. But they are great fun, I get a big buzz out of the live performance feel.

South Pole and Emps
December and back to my old hunting grounds in the Antarctic, again for Karen and her friends. To the Emperors at Gould Bay and the South Pole. I still can't quite accept the ease with which you can now fly to Antarctica. Well I write ‘ease’ but we did have a five day wait in Punta Arenas due to bad weather on the southern continent. But we finally took off and 5 hours later were circling the ANI camp at 80 degrees south. We were supposed to do the Emps first but you can’t waste good weather at the Pole so after less than six hours in camp we were in the air again. Pole weather pretty mild, about minus 22 and only a light wind. Even better at the Emps, 3 days of calm and clear weather. You sit in ANI’s camp and then when you want, any time you want (24 hour daylight) you head down over the sea ice to the colony about 2k out. It wasn’t as big as in previous years – the sea ice had broken out all the way back to the coast the previous summer and I think that caused the returning penguins to change their breeding pattern slightly.

Penguin Post Office
I was supposed to do an Arctic trip in January 2014 for the new Brian Cox series, but they pulled that for budget reasons, so it was mid Feb before I left again. Once more to the south, to film for BBC Penguin Post Office Natural World. The intention was for me to cover leopard seals hunting the young Gentoo chicks but turned out to be a classic lesson about the unpredictability of things even down there. We were in the right place, over the right time but the leps just didn't turn up. Sure we saw the odd individual but never consistently hunting. The last ship came, the post office closed, we moved to a bigger colony for the last few days but had no luck there either. You win some, lose some …..

Talky Tour 4
I was back less than 10 days before another talky tour. New content completely from the previous three tours, this time we thought we’d try the best attended venues from the first two tours back in 2012. Figured good numbers then, they’d be back for a new content show. And you know what – didn't hold true at all. Or at least not consistently. Explanations? None that held up. I think despite the NEW title, the NEW flier, the emphasis on the NEW content, folk just saw my name and assumed same as before. Or maybe I was piss poor the first time round and they said not going to see HIM again. That’s a joke by the way.

So a zoomy year up until mid May. Took a holiday then for a month, did some work on my house in Ireland, refined and pitched a couple of ideas and now I’m looking for filming work. Anyone out there reading this with a project looking for a cameraman do give me a call please.

Oh yes and there was the ultimate accolade. 45 minutes with Kirsty Young on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. Transmitted in July but on the web as a podcast forever. Only have to do it three more times to catch with Sir D’s number of appearances.