New films about condors, grassland birds, and more

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A new series of three short films titled Giants of the Big Sur by documentary filmmaker Ross Thomas takes viewers into the world of the California Condor and the Ventana Wildlife Society biologists who work to protect it. Thomas accompanies Joe Burnett, a Ventana wildlife biologist, to a wild condor’s nest deep in the Big Sur wilderness and watches as an adult condor interacts with its young chick in the crown of a giant redwood tree. The two visit the Big Sur Sanctuary, which was destroyed by the Dolan Fire in 2020, and we see archival footage of the 2008 Basin Complex Fire that burned most of the Big Sur wilderness. The films show biologists climbing a burned redwood tree to save a young condor, Phoenix, and later, we meet Iniko, who captured the world’s heart during the Dolan Fire.

As Thomas learns, the greatest threat to condors is not wildfire but, rather, lead ammunition that condors ingest when they scavenge hunted animals. The films conclude with a call to action of how we can all help these magnificent birds.

The films are available to watch for free on YouTube and to stream on Ecoflix or Cinema Verde. Learn more at www.ventanaws.org/giantsofbigsur.html. The site includes a guide for educators to help them use the films to share the condor’s story with classrooms, civic groups, and others.

A Shared Vision for Grasslands

A Chestnut-collared Longspur from one of the new Cornell University films.

Across the U.S. Great Plains, over half of native grass- lands have been permanently lost to cropland, energy and urban development, and the encroachment of trees. This loss threatens human economies and cultures, as well as wildlife communities, as land is claimed for other uses.

Cornell University’s Center for Conservation Media has made a powerful argument for grassland conservation with the release of four documentaries on various aspects of the problem. The nine- to 12-minute films, available at birds.cornell.edu/conservation-media, cover these topics: reducing the impacts of widespread fencing on migratory wildlife while meeting ranchers’ needs in Montana; combating the spread of the eastern redcedar in Nebraska; monitoring grassland birds in South Dakota to determine how changes in cattle grazing methods are improving ecosystem health; and highlighting the cooperation and collaboration essential to communities living and working in Montana.

Watch the films here

Our Planet II and Life on Our Planet

A scene from Our Planet II. Cr. Netflix © 2023

For decades, PBS, the BBC, and various cable networks were primary out- lets for nature documentaries, but now with the popularity of streaming services, such films arguably have a wider audience than ever.

In 2019, Netflix debuted an eight-episode series called Our Planet, and the company says more than 100 million households have tuned in to watch it since its release. Birds, including penguins, cormorants, albatrosses, and manakins, all make appearances.

Late last year, Netflix announced that it is deepening “our commitment to landmark natural history documentaries with six new series premier- ing over the next few years.” The first of the series is Our Universe, which debuted in November and is narrated by Morgan Freeman. Later this year, Netflix will drop Our Planet II, narrated by David Attenborough, and Life on Our Planet, narrated by Freeman. Our Planet II promises to unravel “the mysteries of how and why animals migrate to reveal some of the most dramatic and compelling stories in the natural world.” Meanwhile, Life on Our Planet will explore the rise and fall of wildlife that have existed over the eons on Earth. The series “uses the latest technology and science to bring long extinct creatures back to life,” according to Netflix.

New films shines light on Golden Eagles

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