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ABC Natural History Programme (1997)

 

ABC Natural History Programme

International Wildlife Film Festival (Missoula, Montana USA): Best Narration, Tied winner: Hugo Weaving, Narrator, Jonathan Holmes, Writer

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With Wings on their Fingers
Producer: Mark Lamble ACS
Editor: David Luffman
Narration: Hugo Weaving
Script: Jonathan Holmes
Music: Tom Fitzgerald
Dur: 28mins 13secs

Hidden away in Australia’s tropical north, up to 10 million Little Red Flying Foxes inhabit a monsoon vine thicket. “With Wings on their Fingers” journeys inside this crowded city, exploring the day to day lives of its residents, over the seasonal cycle of wet and dry.


Mother’s Little Helpers
Producer: Annette Cooper
Editor: David Luffman
Narration: Hugo Weaving
Script: Jonathan Holmes
Music: Tom Fitzgerald

Cooperative breeding is one of the hottest topics in science at the moment. It’s a phenomenon where animals relinquish the chance to breed in order to stay at home to help raise their younger brothers and sisters. It seems to fly in the face of everything we’ve been taught about Natural Selection and the spreading of one’s genes. But it’s exactly what many Australian animals do – from marsupials to birds and bees.

Our native bees help to defend the vulnerable young in the hive from predators by blocking the nest entrance with their shield-like abdomens and spitting fluid in the face of any intruders that manage to get past.


Natural Born Cheats
Producer: Klaus Toft
Editor: David Luffman
Narration: Hugo Weaving
Script: Jonathan Holmes
Music: Tom Fitzgerald
Dur: 28 mins 7 secs

Do animals cheat? This film explores this interesting question and comes up with some fascinating evidence to suggest that indeed, cheating is rife in the natural world.
Rather than doing their own fishing, Whistling kites steal the catches of Sea eagles and Brahminy kites on the wing in spectacular aerial combats. A spider called Portia pretends to be a struggling fly caught in another’s web, luring the resident spider to its death. Cosmophasis spiders blend into the ranks of fierce Green tree-ant battalions, and when the ants aren’t looking, promptly devour their young.

In the Great Victorian Desert, tiny marsupial Dunnarts gate-crash the burrows of the prehistoric-looking Thorny Devil lizards, and use the lizards as ‘accidental’ baby-sitters of their young.

Cheating by creatures of different species is not unusual in the wild, but the less well known and perhaps more surprising examples are found in interactions between animals of the same kind.

The film exposes honeybees – long thought of as the most cooperative and selfless of creatures in the insect group – to be not only anarchists, but insurgents constantly looking for ways to topple the queen.

Birds come under the spotlight also. Male Satin bowerbirds build and decorate spectacular bowers to impress the females, but spend just as much energy stealing and tearing each other’s “love nests” to shreds. Generally, sex seems to bring out the worst in animals. Cattle egret couples build nests together, raise chicks together and generally show all the trappings of monogamy, but in fact constantly keep a lookout for ‘a little on the side’. Transvestite-like Cotesia wasps mate with a female, then “make” like a female, letting other males mount them while the real female slips quietly away.

Even that most sacred of relationships, that between family members, is not safe. Mother and young Eastern grey kangaroos bicker over when is the best time for joey to vacate the pouch, while Laughing Kookaburra chicks do their best to kill one another only three days after hatching.

Cheats do prosper, and this film reveals the true dangers of entering into natural relationships. Creatures have to be very careful with the company they keep, and should not be surprised to discover their partners are really the most natural of cheats.


Bobby and the Banded Stilts
Producers: David Luffman, Jeremy Hogarth
Editor: David Luffman
Narration: Hugo Weaving
Script: Jonathan Holmes
Music: Tom Fitzgerald
Dur: 28 mins

Banded Stilts – they have been called the flamingos of the Australian inland. Because of the vastness of Australia, the breeding habits of the Banded Stilt have remained one of the great riddles of Australian Natural History.
Banded Stilts are wading birds of the coast, but can only breed when conditions are exactly right in the Australian desert.

In the hot summer month of February 1995 a cyclone built up in the Indian Ocean, it increased in intensity and was given the name Bobby.

Cyclone Bobby hurled itself upon Western Australian where it dumped 380mm of rain in four days of continuous downpour into salt lakes of the desert. Lakes that had been dry for a decade became instant seas, and before the rain had even stopped, the first Banded Stilts had arrived from the coast over 1000 kilometres away.

The specific requirements that Banded Stilts need for breeding had been met. Shallow and warm water with an abundance of brine shrimp, and a low island in the middle of the lake where the birds can nest.

Within days, 5000 nests had been scraped out of the sand, and more birds were arriving all the time. The first eggs were laid in early March, less than 12 days after the rain had started. As soon as the chicks hatch they are taken to the water by one of their parents.

The first chicks were met with incredible hostility from other adults, who pecked at them and jumped on them while their parent tried to shield them. Once at the water, the chicks form crêches, feeding themselves on the billions of brine shrimp that have also reacted to the rain, for without these minute shrimps the Banded Stilts could not survive.

The eggs of the brine shrimp, Paratemia, lie for decades in the dry salt of the lake. It is only when rain falls that the eggs hatch. The shrimps rapidly multiply, for like the Stilt, this is their one chance of breeding. Rain is such a rare event in the Australian deserts that Banded Stilts have only been recorded nesting twenty times in the two hundred years of European settlement, and has never before been filmed.

‘Bobby and the Banded Stilts’ tells the story for the first time of this remarkable dependence between the shrimp, the Banded Stilts and the year when Cyclone Bobby for a brief moment made a dry salt lake an inland sea.