I am very excited to finally be able to share with everyone my short film titled ‘spring on the river’. This project is something a bit different for me in that, it is my first attempt as a wildlife film. I would like to say a quick thank you to all the people that I’ve spoken to when out filming the dippers. I really appreciate all the interest and encouragement people have shown me along the way. For those that are interested I thought I would write a blog on how I went about creating this short film
A link to the competition website is here here
How it started
As I mentioned, I have never produced a wildlife film before. The most I have ever done is record a few isolated clips in between taking photographs. When I discovered a nesting pair of dippers at the start of the year I knew it would be an ideal opportunity to work on a film.
As with everything else this started out as a photography project. Dippers have long been a favourite species of mine and so when I spotted one on a local river I set out to photograph it. I spent a long time walking the length of the river and watching this one bird. After a few trials and error I found a spot where I could lie in wait without disturbing the birds and at same time be close enough for photography. Only later would I realise that the place I had chosen was directly opposite the birds nest site.
Switching to film
After a couple of weeks I got into a steady routine of visiting the dippers. I would walk down to the river dressed in my waders and winter clothing. I would then wait for the birds to leave the nest area, cross to the other side, don my ghillee suit and lie down to wait. The birds never showed any signs of distress at my presence. They recognised something new had appeared on the river but it didn’t deter them from going about their usual business. The birds would often pass within just a few feet of me.
From this privileged position I was able to watch the dippers as they collected moss, caught food and interacted with each other. Putting aside the discomfort of lying of a cold riverbed, I enjoyed every moment watching this dipper pair. The problem I had was trying to capture this behaviour in photographs. I took hundreds of pictures in the coarse of just a few weeks but none of them were that compelling. It’s at that point I decided to switch over to film.
This was a difficult decision. I don’t think it’s possible to take quality stills and video at the same time. I knew that I had to stick to one or the other and I wasn’t sure if video would pay off. Looking back, I can say that it was absolutely the right decision.
Capturing a story
I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed my time watching these aniamals. I feel I have learned so much about them just from time spent down by the river. As an example, I came to realise the birds would change over their position on the nest every 40 minutes. It was only after filming that I would discover that this is a well documented behaviour.
I visited this pair of dippers almost every day for just over two months. I went from watching them build their nest right up to them appearing with mouths full of food for the hungry chicks. I was filming the birds in the morning and editing the clips in the afternoon right up to the deadline for the BWPA competition.
I had planned for my video to capture this whole story, with the grand finale being the emergence of the chicks. Sadly that wasn’t to be the case. One morning I went down to the river, setup as usually to find the nest strangely quiet. On closer inspection I found rocks and branches wedged in the pipe immediately above the nest. I don’t believe that this was an attack on the birds and I’ve no reason to believe that they were harmed in any way. The river runs next to a well used footpath and I assume that this was a result of kids playing in the river.
Although I’ve seen the adults I never saw any sign of the fledglings after that. It is said that if disturbed fledging will leave the nest early, so I hope that they simply moved further down river.
For me this was a real disappointment. After spending so long watching this dipper pair and listening to the sound of the chicks, I was generally excited to see them fledge. It was also an unfortunate end to my filming. It was for this reason that I edited the film as I did. In the end I think I made the best of the footage that I had captured.
Finally I need to say a big thank you to my brother Harrison Marsh who produced the music for the video. I am beyond impressed with what he came up with and I think you’ll agree it matches the video perfectly.
This has been a really exciting project for me. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into this despite it’s very short run time but I think it was worth it. I hope you agree.