Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Rare bird the star of Nature Video Festival

        When a bird from Europe showed up at Snake Den State Park in Johnston last fall, Deb Eccleston was one of hundreds of birdwatchers from throughout the Northeast to rush to see the bird. She captured still and video images of the unusual species, a common cuckoo that had only been seen twice before in the continental United States, and turned it into an award-winning video in the 2021 Rhode Island Nature Video Festival.
        A native of Coventry who now lives in Moosup, Connecticut, Eccleston is a graphic designer who makes numerous videos of her birdwatching adventures under the moniker the Bird Nerd.
        “I started making videos about two years ago because I wanted to share how many cool birds there are in the state,” she said. “I wanted to show people that they can go to a lot of local places and see some neat birds.”
        Eccleston especially likes to showcase bird behaviors in her videos.
        “I’ve caught some cool little things the birds do, like when the cuckoo caught a wooly bear
Common cuckooo in Johnston (Deb Eccleston)
caterpillar,” she said. “You get to see a moment in their lives, like when they’re gleaning insects or performing their courtship displays or singing. That can pique people’s interest, and if they get interested, maybe they’ll pay more attention to the birds in their backyard or in their neighborhood and support Audubon or other environmental organizations.”
        Her cuckoo video is one of the first videos she produced that tells a complete story, she said, from rushing to the park and seeing the bird to discussing how it may have arrived in Rhode Island and the species’ connection to cuckoo clocks.
        Eccleston’s video won the People’s Choice Award at the Nature Video Festival, selected by those who watched the virtual festival live or viewed the 20 entries later on the internet. It’s the first year the festival has featured a competition. The award was announced on March 9.
        The video festival is the brainchild of Greg Gerritt, a staff member for the Environment Council of Rhode Island and a naturalist who produces nature videos about the wildlife he sees at the North Burial Ground in Providence.
        “I started making videos about 10 years ago, starting with toads and tadpoles, and I have my own style of how I produce them,” said Gerritt. “I wanted to see what other people were doing, because I don’t see a lot of people seriously trying to make nature videos. I wanted to see who was doing what, how good they were, and if there was a way to help present environmental values to the general public in an easily consumable way. So I thought about putting on a film festival.”
        The first festival received 70 entries from about 30 different people, all of which were shown over four hours at the RISD Auditorium. After skipping two years, a second festival was held in 2018, and it has been an annual event since then. For the last two years, the event has been held in partnership with the Rhode Island Natural History Survey.
        “Most of the videos are done on cell phones, since not many people carry a video camera around with them,” Gerritt said. “Hardly any of them are professional quality, but they still tell a good story.”
        He said the voters agreed “pretty decisively” that Eccleston’s cuckoo video was the best of the festival, in part because “everybody had heard about the cuckoo and it became such a celebrity.”
        Receiving the second most votes for the People’s Choice Award was a video produced by Cathy Cressy and Mike Russo, who live at the edge of a swamp in Scituate and maintain a network of wood duck nest boxes around the swamp. Every year they install an inexpensive video camera in two of the boxes that run continuously for the two-month breeding season. They link the video footage to a monitor in their house so they can watch the activity in the nest boxes as it happens.
        The objective of their videos is to capture what they call jump day, the day after the duck eggs hatch and the nestlings jump out of the nest box to the ground – a 20-foot drop --to follow their mother into the swamp. Because they know when the birds are going to take the plunge, Russo and Cressy install a video camera outside the nest box to capture their leap and landing.
        “Making the video is hard for me, it’s an uphill slog, but we’re so fascinated by these ducks that show up by the dozens all over the swamp, creating their own little universe,” said Russo. “We love that. And because I love to get jump day, everything else is done to produce a jump day video.”
        This is the second year in a row that Russo and Cressy have entered a wood duck video in the festival, and they are considering making a video next year about the nesting activities of hooded mergansers, another duck that nests in some of the boxes around their swamp.
        “It’s going to depend on what happens during the season, though. It will depend on what the animals do,” Russo said. “We don’t want to be a one trick pony, so there will definitely be something different next year. We just don’t know what it will be yet.”

        This article first appeared in EcoRI.org on March 17, 2021.


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