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They say the weather’s going to be unpredictable over the weekend, so here are some ideas for indoor and outdoor ventures.

 

  1. zebra-butterfly.jpgButterflies in the house. Wing your way to our Butterfly Explorers exhibition. Just this week some beautiful new species have arrived. The vibrant zebra butterflies are already making their presence felt in the butterfly house and the shy glasswings are still hiding out, but in about 9 weeks these will be much more noticeable. Did you know the zebra butterfly (right) was declared the Florida State Butterfly? And that if you ever decided to eat a glasswing it would have a nasty taste (due to the poisonous sap it sucks on heliotrope leaves). Inside the butterfly house, the vegetation is thriving with bright bromelias and milkweed. Also look out for the peanut plants, a hit with the blue morpho caterpillars. Outside in the British garden, all the border seedlings and nasturtiums are really starting to show. Kids are loving the outdoor treehouse, log pile house and maze in the garden area. So let’s hope the sun shines for some of the weekend.
  2. Butterflies in the cocoon. Continuing on the butterfly theme, and to check that you’ve actually learned something at Butterfly Explorers, head into the magnificent Darwin Centre Cocoon and spend some time at the ‘Organising nature’ butterfly interactive display. Have fun using the touch screen to play at identifying butterfly species. There are lots of fun interactive games and displays in the Darwin Centre. At the Darwin Centre you can also catch a family show or talk in the Attenborough Studio, so check what's on. Browse the Darwin Centre Cocoon highlights on our website.
  3. Wildlife in the garden. This is one of the best times to explore the Museum's Wildlife Garden and after the last 2 weeks of sunshine and recent rain, it's really a pretty sight with the apple blossom and bluebells. The latest excitement in the garden is that a family of foxes and little cubs have been spotted recently, but we can't say where as we wouldn't want them disturbed.fossil-festival-beach.jpg
  4. Life's a beach for a fossil fan. Discover the Jurassic Coast at the free Lyme Regis Fossil Festival (above). Over 20 of our Museum scientists will be there identifying fossils, and leading talks and walks. This popular family event mixes science with music and the arts, on the beach. 'Dead...And Alive!' is the theme of this year's festival, which celebrates the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity. Find fossils in fossil digs, go on 'fossilteering' walks and learn about the seashore. We celebrate some extraordinary fossils in our Species of the Day this weekend.
  5. Walk on the wild side of Brighton. Head down to Brighton seafront and experience our free Wild Planet outdoor exhibition featuring some of the best wildlife images in the world. 80 panels make up this stunning promenade display of winning photographs from past Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitions.
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At last Friday’s popular and final After Hours for the winter 2009-2010 season, Ludo Graham, Executive Producer of BBC Two’s Museum of Life, proved a warmly enthusiastic advocate for the Museum (although we hadn’t paid him), at his Attenborough Studio talk about the making of the series about the Museum.

 

Although we ourselves have been living with the project for the past couple of years, it was fascinating to hear things from the programme makers’ point of view, as Ludo took us through how the BBC and the Museum had been persuaded to accept the project; the fine art of choosing the presenters; and what from the vast kaleidoscope of Museum science stories here and in the field were finally focused on.

 

I met conservator Lorraine Cornish today, who featured with presenter Kate Bellingham in the Archaeopteryx casting in episode one of the series. Lorraine told me about the BBC Two's fascination with her red shoes, how they took lots of shots of her trundling down a corridor with a trolley whilst wearing them and that she was amused to see that one of ludo-after-hours.jpgthe shots made it into the final cut.

 

Ludo (right) finished up with a particularly arresting point when he mentioned that Johannes Vogel, our Keeper of Botany, had said that if, by watching Museum of Life, people understand what goes on behind our doors, then we will have succeeded in our objectives.

 

One of the most memorable afternoons I’ve spent here was when invertebrates curator Claire Mellish, who featured in the beautiful section which Ludo showed, (particularly beautiful in high-definition in the Studio) talking about the attempt to extract dinosaur DNA from insects trapped in amber, took me around the trilobites collection and I got to see staggering things such as the evolution of the trilobite crystalline eye lenses.

 

The three BBC series producer events we ran at this season’s After  Hours were an excellent forum for people to discover how natural history can be communicated in different ways, and we have seen exactly how much effort goes into creating BBC natural history programmes.  We are very grateful to the BBC producers who supported these events.

 

We bid farewell to the last Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2009 exhibition (below) as far as the late openings for this season, but the exhibition itself runs until 11 April. So you still have a chance to catch it over the weekend.

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If you came to After Hours this winter, we hope you enjoyed the experience and thank you for coming. Come back for more when we launch the summer season and The Deep Sea exhibition opens.

 

We were amused by the chutzpah of the young ladies who smuggled in an attractive-looking picnic, complete with picnic rug, and set up in Dinosaur Way at Friday’s event. We may need to start frisking people for strawberry cheesecakes next season. News of our summer After Hours coming soon...

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Coming around faster than I’d have thought possible, we are now approaching the last in this season’s late night openings of Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and the Darwin Centre. It’s been an excellent if short run of After Hours this time around, and we are very pleased with the very good numbers we have been getting.

 

People seem to engage very deeply with the wildlife photographs in the exhibition, which is wonderful to see, because they are engaging with nature in its myriad forms, as well as the photographic skills on display. Pictured left is the exhibition's wall display of 1000s of wildlife competition images, closely studied by an After Hours visitor. Visit our After Hours web page to book for the exhibiton.

 

At this Friday’s After Hours on 26 March, we welcome Ludo Graham, the executive producer of BBC Two’s Museum of Life series about the Museum, who is giving a talk with film clips in the Attenborough Studio about the making of the series. Find out about the After Hours BBC tallk with Museum of Life executive producer on our website.

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Our feisty arachnid curator Jan Beccaloni is back for another stint in the Darwin Centre's specimen preparation lab. She'll be there with some of her beloved specimens between 18.30 and  21.30 approximately.

 

The Darwin Centre bar will also be open again, as well as the Central Hall and Fossil Way bars.

 

And the great news is that although After Hours is finishing its winter season on Friday, it'll be back in the summer. So watch out for more updates in my blog and on the website.

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The salsify canopy. Ana Retamero's close-up of salsify seed-heads won the In Praise of Plants category in 2009.

There are 2 weeks left for photographers to enter the world's most prestigious wildlife photography competition, as the closing date is Monday 8 March 2010, 9.00am GMT. You can enter the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition online.

 

The competition attracts more and more worldwide interest and submissions. There were over 43,000 entries for the 2009 competition. Compare this to the very first 1964 competition with its 600 entries and 3 categories, and you'll realise just how phenomenal it's become.

 

The competition now has 18 categories. For photographers still wanting to enter, it's worth noting there is the new Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year award this year, which allows you to enter a sequence of pictures that tells a memorable story.

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There may also be less competition for categories like Urban Wildlife, which can include wild plants or animals in an urban or suburban environment, or In Praise of Plants, which can feature wild flowering and non-flowering plants or fungi. One of the most magical photographs from 2009 is the In Praise of Plants category winner. The salsify canopy, shown above, is an exquisite close-up image of a meadow of salsify seed-heads and a real stunner in the current exhibition. Read the news story about the last call for best wildlife photos 2010 and find out more about the competition.

Last chance to visit the 2009 exhibition

You've got until 11 April to visit the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2009 exhibition in the Museum's Waterhouse Gallery. And one more chance to see the exhibition at our After Hours night on Friday 26 March. Last month's late-night exhibition, pictured above, was very popular, so make sure you book your tickets in advance. Click to enlarge image.

 

 


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Late-night visitors wowed by the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition

We had the biggest turn-out for Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year at After Hours so far this season on 29 January, and as many people went to visit the Darwin Centre on the night. All of which was great to see.

 

after-hours-renouf-talk-as.jpgAt his sell-out event in the Darwin Centre's Attenborough Studio (left), Jonathan Renouf, series producer of BBC Two's illuminating How the Earth Made Us gave us a diverting account of the making of the 5-episode series. It's about how our human history has been shaped and developed by the planet’s elementary forces.

 

The footage Jonathan showed included arresting film from the ‘Fire’ episode with the likeable and enthusiastic presenter, geologist Iain Stewart, in a special fire-proof suit walking through a wall of orange fire. Jonathan told us how, out of shot, a horde of firemen and fire equipment stood ready to douse Iain as he walked through the flames - it being particularly dangerous if he fell over. His fire-protective suit was so heavy, he’d have been unable to right himself. Other fascinating shots were those from ‘Wind’ taken from the peak of Mt Connor in central Australia, which pulled right up to the atmosphere to show the immense wind forces that circulate the mountain. He also told his fascinated audience how a succession of shots were taken by helicopter and then stitched in with satellite images. And how, if you looked very carefully, you could see the join! I’ve looked several times at these shots on BBC iplayer and I still can’t see it. The film clips worked brilliantly in the studio as they are so immersive. Jonathan also brought along a nice surprise for us - some very amusing outtakes from the series, which the audience loved.

 

affer-hours-climatecchange-wall-600.jpgOther Darwin Centre hotspots included the Climate Change Wall (right) just outside the Attenborough Studio. And up in Cocoon, another great communicator, our entertaining curator of arachnids, Jan Beccaloni, attracted quite a crowd in front of the glass-fronted specimen preparation area. It was great to see people engaging so enthusiastically with science on a Friday night out. Showing the public our behind-the-scenes science is of course one of the driving factors behind the Darwin Centre, but that people are doing this as an evening-out experience is really fantastic.

 

Explaining that she was behind glass because of pest control requirements, Jan was working on British arachnid specimens destined for the new Angela Marmont Centre. She had, as promised, also brought along an example of the world’s biggest spider, as well as a black widow and a scorpion. ‘I feel I may have erred in not pointing out these are not British,’ said Jan jocularly, as her audience measured up mentally the goliath bird-eating tarantula in the large specimen jar beside her.


There are only two more late openings of Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year this season on 26 February and 26 March. So do book your tickets well in advance to avoid disappointment if you want to see this year’s competition winners after hours.

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There will be over 2,000 stunning wildlife prints for sale from tomorrow, Friday 4 December, in the foyer of the Museum's Flett Theatre (nearest entrance is Exhibition Road).

 

The print sale is on throughout the day during Museum opening hours until Sunday 6 December when it ends at closing time.

 

These are ex-display prints of winning images from previous Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibitions, from 1997 up to and including 2007, that have toured the world. They are on sale for the first time.

 

From breathtaking landscapes to personal animal portraits, like this cute stoat, you'll get the chance to buy a print from £30 unframed and £50 framed. Art and nature-lovers will be spoilt for choice.

 

What's so brilliant about this Ermine at home image (which you can buy at the sale) is the contrast of the curious little stoat's ermine coat against the granite and ochre wall behind. Read Swedish photographer Peter Lilja's description of how lucky he was to get the shot.

 

The annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition tours over 60 cities around the world each year. It is a spectacular celebration of the best wildlife photography and goes to museums, zoos, science centres and other venues. Check our website to find out when the 2009 and 2008 exhibitions may be on tour near you.

 

If you haven't already, visit the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2009  exhibition currently showing at the Museum. You can buy gorgeous prints from this exhibition in the shop or order them online.

 

Go wild for Christmas.

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Cry wolf, no... Fly wolf
It’s amazing. You have to go and see The Storybook wolf image at the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, open today at the Museum.

 

The Spanish photographer José Luis Rodríguez took several months to set up the shot of the Iberian wolf leaping through the air over a wooden gate in pursuit of its prey. ‘It was a dream shot,’ says Jose, ‘it took ages to find the ideal location, let alone a wolf that would jump a gate. When I got the shot of my dreams I couldn’t believe it. I think the Spanish can be proud to have such a beautiful animal.’

 

The fairytale, night-time atmosphere of the photograph was captured with a traditional analogue Hasselblad camera (Jose ditched his usual digital camera for the shot). He spent several months beforehand in preparation and hope, and set up an infrared camera trap as a trigger. Judging by the light, he thinks the image was probably taken at very early dawn. The image is one of a handful of the 95 winning photographs in the exhibition that were not taken with a digital camera.

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At the packed press opening of the exhibition yesterday in the Museum’s Waterhouse Gallery, 100s of media photographers and journalists witnessed Jose’s joy at receiving the award. He spoke of his wish to dissolve the superstitions that many Spanish people have for their emblematic wolves with his photograph that shows the agile grace of the creature.

 

The much coveted Veolia Environnement Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award went to teenage Fergus Gill for his dramatic Clash of the Yellowhammers picture taken in his own garden in Scotland.

 

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Other striking winners, that will no doubt be pleasing visitors to the exhibition, include the pretty-in-pink ant of Raindrop refresher by András Mészáros, and the proud silhouetted Richmond Park deer in young Sam Rowley’s Royal headgear image. Browse all the winners in our online gallery and choose the one you wish to vote your favourite.

 

Lots of the images are availalabe as prints in our Museum shop and you can customise them to your preference.

 

Have a look at some of the early enthusiastic press coverage for the winners:

 

BBC News

Guardian

Mail online

Nature


The exhibition is also open late on the last Friday of the month (except December).

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Who's walking on the wild side? Footprints by Robert Friel

At this very moment, the most outstanding wildlife images from photographers around the world are being mounted for display in their new bigger gallery for this year’s Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2009 exhibition. The popular exhibition of the competition winners, now in its 24th year, opens to the public on 23 October.

 

The Museum's iconic Waterhouse Gallery (home to previous sell-out Darwin exhibition) will enable us to show off the winning wildlife photographs in larger format than was possible in the exhibition's former Jerwood Gallery. This year's event also features an atmospheric new design themed on a pavilion of shadows. Very intriguing. Hopefully I can take a peak soon.

 

Another new highlight of the exhibition experience this year is an audio guide with judges, photographers and scientists comments, and an audio guide for the visually impaired (the latter is a first for the UK).

 

We are also very proud that this exhibition is the most eco-friendly one staged yet, boasting the latest power-saving LED light panel technology.

 

To whet your wildlife appetite, get a preview of the highly commended winners on our website from Monday, 5 October. You can find out who the overall winners are on 21 October.

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Algae, leaf, forest? Think again

Personally, I love the brilliant green image on the website banner. But do you know what the 'filter-feeding forest' - the image's name - really is? Most people reckon it's algae, I think it looks like a weirdly lit under-water jungle, but it is in fact the inside of a sea squirt's mouth. This species of sea squirt, photographed in the Philippines by Lawrence Alex Wu, is fairly common in tropical waters. Alex spent years looking inside the little creatures' mouths to get this ghostly image. It's the chlorophyll of the microbes inside the food-trapping, tree-like water filters that cause the vivid green colour that Alex captured. I just wonder how he managed to get the 3-cm long squirters to be still enough to get his open-mouth shot?