Over the course of ten years, Cornell ornithologist Edwin Scholes and biologist/photographer Tim Laman trekked through the least accessible forests of New Guinea 18 times in search of all 39 species of birds of paradise. After spending thousands of hours in blinds, they have over 39,000 photographs documenting the resplendent colors and courting behaviors of the earth's most strikingly unusual birds. Bonnie and I saw some of the shots and a few amazing videos at their National Geographic Live presentation at the Goodman Theater in Chicago this week.
You may also see these birds in their article in the December 2012 issue of National Geographic, starting with an impressive greater bird of paradise on page 70. You will then want to get their new book Birds of Paradise: Revealing the World's Most Extraordinary Birds. I await the book to learn more than Laman and Scholes were able to say and show in a short hour and 45 minutes. I suspect Bonnie and I will have dueling bookmarks when we get it.
The Goodman was a wonderful place to attend National Geographic Live. The seats were really comfortable and a brilliant screen mostly hid the set of a current play. We were close - no need for binoculars. I also enjoyed eavesdropping on conversations before the lecture. We were among an interesting crowd full of world travelers. I suspect keepers from both of Chicago's zoos and members of the Chicago Geographical Society were there. It did not look like the opera crowd.
I enjoyed the question period at the end also. Someone asked if there might be more than 39 species of birds of paradise. Scholes said there might be and explained how museum collections had been studied to arrive at the current number. He and Laman hope to return to New Guinea to seek out any proposed candidates.
National Geographic Live appears in over a dozen American cities, including Austin, Phoenix, and Seattle. Check the NG website for its events.