For the Birds Radio Program: DVD Review: Robert Baldwin's A Loon Story
How would you like to sit in comfort while watching a pair of nesting loons? They don’t know you’re even there, so without disturbing them in the least you can see up close and personal exactly how they lumber up onto the nest and settle down on the eggs, how they lurch up and reach down with their beak to turn the eggs, how they pant or sit quietly or shuffle around, and how, when their mate approaches to take over, they slide back down into the water. You can watch them swimming along in the shallow water near the nest, their head submerged and neck moving subtly as they search the water for fish. You can see the pair as one swims and one sits patiently during a fierce thunderstorm, even as they’re pelted by hail. And you can watch how they deal, surprisingly gently, with the ever increasing numbers of painted turtles that climb up to the nest for sunning.
An entire nesting season was filmed and edited by Robert Baldwin for the DVD, “A Loon Story.” Normally I do not like watching nature on TV or even in the movies. It’s too easy in our age of short attention spans to edit out the quiet moments when birds are simply being themselves and not doing anything dramatic. I’m particularly dismayed when I notice a nature program on TV—even National Geographic specials now stick in over-the-top musical soundtracks that soup up the action, and based on the shows I’ve seen, you’d think all animals do is stalk, kill, and chomp down, minute after minute of every day. All this quick drama is bad enough, but sometimes what natural sounds they use don’t match the video. I don’t know which is the more tragic reason—that the producers don’t know the difference, or that they presume their listeners won’t.
But Robert Baldwin’s Loon Story is different. Many of the scenes are long, drawn out glimpses of the loons not doing anything dramatic—just living their lives. And the sound is directly from the scenes as filmed. When the baby loon hatches, you get to watch it first peeking out from under its mother, and see how exactly it creeps under her wing from the side and climbs onto her back. You get to see its first swim, and its first taste of a tiny fish—and, after it drops it and one of its parents fishes it out of the water again, its second taste.
You also get to spend a bit of time with the loon family’s neighbors. There’s the Great Blue Heron who strikes at, catches, and swallows a large crappie or sunfish of some kind. The Song Sparrow who sings his heart out in the background much of the time. The Red-winged Blackbird who occasionally lights on the nest to search for bugs. The dragonfly taking a break from catching mosquitoes to light on a sedge. And a host of painted turtles who you start thinking of as part of the family.
This is a cosmically good DVD—the kind of thing I wish they’d put on TV sets in restaurants instead of talking heads when you can’t hear the sound anyway. It’s beautifully produced, with no narration whatsoever, letting the loons and nature do the talking. I recommend A Loon Story highly.