Winged Migration

March 23, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

I’ve got a short attention span. In fact, my 9-month-old daughter can stay on task longer than I can. I say it’s a factor of society, the internet, email and cell phones – the “right now” culture that seems to have us trapped.

But somehow, that all changes when we get outdoors. Outside, the world goes by at a slower pace and I can always find something to hold my attention.

I tell you this only because I watched a movie the other day and stayed with
it for its 90-minute entirety. That’s a rarity for several reasons. One, I’m not much of a movie or television watcher; two, I was at home, with the movie in a DVD player; three, I was on vacation, hoping to keep my children out of the kitchen, where my wife was trying to paint the walls; and four we seldom revert to popping in a “sing-along” video to try to hold our kids’ attention.

But on this Thursday afternoon, circumstances were such that it seemed an ideal time to at least take a look at the movie “Winged Migration” that I had borrowed from a friend. I fully expected the video to wear out both my daughter’s and my attention span in a matter of minutes, even though the subject matter, nature and birds and the mysteries of migration, was right up our alley.

I had heard various people praise the movie, but I had no idea we would stay tuned in, nor that I would consider it as a topic for this column.

“Winged Migration” came out in theaters last summer. It is a remarkable product of five film crews working over four years to simply document the migration of birds. The final product takes viewers to 40 countries and to each of the seven continents. I can hardly imagine what 17 pilots, 14 cinematographers and the 450-person crew encountered.

Having attempted to shoot home video of wildlife, the footage is nothing short of exceptional. The subject included species familiar to North Dakotans, such as the snow goose and sage grouse, to migrating Arctic terns and African white pelicans.

Canada geese migrating through industrial areas are just one example of how humans influence bird migrations

Canada geese migrating through industrial area's are just one example of how humans influence bird migrations

Not shying away from the true depiction of birds and migrations, scenes of geese migrating through metropolitan areas, and even the real world of hunting are included. While I didn’t really expect hunting to be a part of such a film, hunting is synonymous with bird migrations in many cultures, and has been for thousands of years.

The movie portrays the beauty and majesty of the albatross, and my personal favorites, the cranes of the world. However, one segment stands out from the rest and it had nothing to do with actual bird migration.

The scene was along the Amazon River in South America. A small, loaded boat was floating downstream, heavy on cargo and light on passengers. Within the array of captured monkeys, toucans and exotic creatures was what appeared to be a species of parrot or blue macaw.

The short segment showed the bird, trapped inside a small cage, skillfully maneuvering the wooden stick-lock on the door out of place and escaping into the wild world. In one short scene the story depicted human influence on migrations and the world, both directly and in-directly.

If nothing else the seemingly impossible film work brings the beauty of so many birds into light. One particularly memorable scene brings the viewer almost side-by-side with the graylag goose flying across Haiti.

I couldn’t help but marvel at the displays of flight, and understand why humans have always been fascinated with flight from the beginning of time.

I’ll never make it as a movie critic, but for all of us who love nature and the outdoors, if you find yourself muddling through a rainy day or night, “Winged Migration” is worth 90 minutes of time indoors. It’s a welcome treat in outdoor programming and a great way to enhance your appreciation of the winged creatures in our world.


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