Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Nature Documentary Offers Unscripted Glimpses of Wildlife

Guest Post by Ernest Marshall 

"There is no staging, baiting, blinds, etc., the standard practice and appurtenances of major nature productions such as Disney, National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, and the like.  Since it is not contrived and selected, you get the real deal."

STRS Productions is completing work on its latest film, REFUGE -- ALLIGATOR RIVER, for both DVD and WUNC-TV broadcast.  This is the fifth film in REFUGE – THE SERIES, nature documentaries on the National Wildlife Refuges of North Carolina.

Photo Property of STRS Productions -

At over 150,000 acres and about 28 miles north to south and 15 miles east to west, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is the largest of the ten National Wildlife Refuges in North Carolina.  For example, it is three times the size of Mattamuskeet NWR, which is about 50,000 (including 40,000 acre Lake Mattamuskeet, our state's largest natural lake).  It is located in mainland Dare and Hyde Counties, and it's bounded on the west by the Alligator River and the Intercoastal Waterway, on the north by the Albemarle Sound, and on the east by the Croatan and Pamlico Sounds.

Filming this expansive refuge and its vast variety of wildlife and habitats was a challenge.  Habitats include high and low pocosin, fresh and brackish water marshes, hardwood, cypress, and Atlantic White Cedar swamps, fields, and hardwood, pine, and mixed forests.  The wildlife seen in the film includes all manner of birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and invertebrates.  A number of rare and endangered species are recorded, including the Red Wolf, Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, and Red-cockaded Woodpecker.

What might be called the philosophy guiding the production of these films involves several elements:

Rhythms of Nature

Firstly, all of the films in the series take one through the cycles of the seasons from spring, to summer, to fall, to winter, to spring again.  Our aim is to make one aware of the rhythms, cycles, and patterns of nature, such as birth and death, predator and prey, stages of life, ecological connections, webs of dependence, and cause and effect.  There is renewal in death, a new day and fresh season.  The cycle continues.

Photo by Jeff Lewis copyright 2012

Unscripted Glimpses of Nature

Also the film project is dedicated to showing you what can be seen by anyone who will muster the time, patience, and interest in nature to be a witness.  There is no staging, baiting, blinds, etc., the standard practice and appurtenances of major nature productions such as Disney, National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, and the like.  Since it is not contrived and selected, you get the real deal.

The films are full of information about our natural world, carefully researched and reviewed by wildlife consultants, but not at the sacrifice of the daily and seasonal drama of this wonderful world. There is much to amuse and amaze, including grandeur and beauty and both the tender and terrifying.

Nature, so openly displayed in our National Wildlife Refuges, becomes a stage on which the lives of wild creatures can be observed.  Much of their lives is occupied with finding a meal and/or avoiding being a meal.  An action-packed sequence in one of the films is of a mink in pursuit of a water snake.  The snake escapes (that time).  In another sequence a bobcat stalks a mouse.  Unbeknownst to the bobcat, a gray fox is stalking the same quarry and manages to seize it first.

Photo by Jeff Lewis copyright 2012

Life Cycle of Black Bears

The Alligator River NWR has one of the largest populations of American black bear in the eastern U.S.  Accordingly  REFUGE – ALLIGATOR RIVER has lengthy footage of bears.  Some of the wildlife dramas played out are touching.  Nature has pathos too.  A mother bear with three young cubs looks for a place to cross a canal.  They cross and two of the cubs do not make the crossing.  She searches for them but to no avail.  Finally she moves on. American black bears typically have two cubs per litter, occasionally as many as six.  Only about half of baby black bears will make it to adulthood.  Many die of starvation, predation, falls from trees, colliding with vehicles, and other accidental causes (although rarely from disease).

In another bear sequence, a yearling cub wanders about aimlessly.  It has been excluded from its family by its mom.  It is time the young male learns to fend for itself. Black bears typically give birth every two years, so Junior has to move on to make room for a new litter.  The bear has much to learn and many dangers to avoid if it is to survive.  (Cases that make the news of bears turning up in suburban areas are usually yearling males recently ousted from the family and now “lost” and searching for new territory.)

Photo by Greg Koch - US Federal Wildlife Service -
Returning Red Wolves from the Brink of Extinction

To turn from a sad story of lost cubs to a success story, the film includes rare footage of a litter of red wolf pups that survived the Paines Bay fire that last year burned 45,000 acres of the refuge.  There is also extraordinary footage of an adult red wolf, ordinarily shy and reclusive, relaxing in the open.

Although once a common wolf species throughout the southeastern U.S., its numbers dramatically declined. In 1967 the Red Wolf was listed as an endangered species, and in 1980 declared it was extinct in the wild.  From a few captured animals, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service began the process of bringing the red wolf back from the brink of extinction.  In 1987 four pairs of red wolves were released at Alligator River NWR to initiate a reintroduction program.

The following year the first litter of pups was born in the wild, and as of 2010 about 130 Red Wolves roam five counties on the Pamlico-Albemarle Peninsula.

Photo by Jeff Lewis copyright 2012

REFUGE – ALLIGATOR RIVER includes plenty of species of wildlife not seen in earlier films in the series. Notable among these are a timber (or canebrake) rattlesnake, the largest venomous snake in our region, and the rare and endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. 

As a last word on the philosophy behind REFUGE – THE SERIES, we hope the films convey, without promoting any political or environmental agenda, a respect and appreciation for all creatures of the wild.


  1. I do enjoy watching these types of programs. I find them interesting and informative as well.

    1. I do too. I find nature endlessly fascinating.

  2. I love nature documentaries (although I have to stop watching when they show snakes). I didn't know we had so many Wildlife Refuges here in NC. Perhaps I should get to know my state a bit better!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Kristen. :) I lived in N.C. for over half my life, and there's so much I never explored. It's a beautiful state.

  3. This sounds really neat. Nature documentaries can be a lot of fun, and really enjoyable. Thanks for posting about it!


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