Winners of WSC19: Wildlife and Nature

The following post list the winners of WSC 2019.

Searching for Abbott’s boobies in dense rain forest canopies – spot the two birds!

The winning image of the Wildlife and Nature category shows us what a drone sees when it explores the canopies of a dense rain forest of Christmas Island for potential nesting sites for the endangered Abbott’s Booby. It was taken by Christina Lipka.

Comment from the author:

I am a PhD student with La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, specialised in the field of seabird ecology. Amongst other researching goals I am currently working on a novel monitoring technique for the breeding population of the endangered Abbott’s booby (Papasula abbotti), which today is only known to nest on Christmas Island. I first experienced Christmas Island in 2010 as a field volunteer of a former seabird researcher from the University of Hamburg, Germany – where I studied Biology at that time. During one of multiple revisits in the years after graduating with a Master in Science, I was lucky to meet my present supervisor during one of his research field trips on Christmas Island which resulted in the opportunity to start a PhD project that focuses on one of the most charismatic seabird species and, for an ecologist, many technically interesting aspects.

This photo was taken during one of the initial trials to determine if we could detect Abbott’s Booby nests from the air with an off-the-shelf drone. A ground-based survey for this species is extremely labour intensive as Abbott’s Boobies breed sparsely in mostly 30-40 m high dense rainforest canopies with thick and sometimes difficult to traverse understory due to invasive species, historical forest clearing, and climate change impacts that altered the native forest over years. The use of a drone eliminates some of these difficulties but does not come without challenges. The high trees and the often small and rare tracks in the jungle of Christmas Island for drone operations while employing line-of-sight direction as per air traffic regulations are one of them. Nevertheless, we were able test this method for a good percentage of potential Abbott’s Booby habitat and we are hoping to present the results soon. In cooperation with the University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom, we are currently working on automated detection – an important step to proceed this methodology to an efficient tool for the population assessment of the Abbott’s booby.

Having searched for nests on many hundreds of photographs manually already, I still find the view from above to the dense rainforest canopies like a refreshing oasis full of clean oxygen, and personally am sometimes slightly jealous of the bird’s perspective to life. With this novel approach of drone technology applied to wildlife monitoring, I am honoured to share this view through the Wikipedia Science competition.


Killer whales spyhopping to locate a crabeater seal on an ice floe in Antarctica. Author: Callan Carpenter from the USA
Aurora in Kandalaksha, Murmansk region. Author: Gornaevv from Russia
Ringing of an Ural owl (Strix uralensis). Author: Yana Dombrovskaya from Russia
Immature Phidippus jumping spider in Pennsylvania. Author: Ryan Kaldari from the USA
Common Coot or Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) scoots across the water on Chambal River. Author: Amitava Dutta from India
Caenolyda reticulata. Author: Gubin Olexander from Ukraine

Images were published under CC BY 4.0 or CC BY-SA 4.0 or CC0 1.0 licenses.