UWOL17- More than a Monument- Mike Sims at DVinfo.net

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Old September 22nd, 2010, 09:58 AM   #1
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UWOL17- More than a Monument- Mike Sims

First, here are the video links for those who just like to watch.

428x240 60Mb (same as on UWOL server):

768x432 250Mb:

If you have trouble playing either file, try downloading it and play off of your hard drive.

Second, many folks wonít know the background (and I couldnít really go into it in three minutes), so here is some info.

Passenger Pigeons were large migratory flocking doves which inhabited the eastern two-thirds of North America. At the time they were the most numerous bird on earth. Scholarly estimates of their population size range from two billion to seventeen billion. For the purpose of this video I have assumed a somewhat conservative estimate of five billion. During the late 1700ís to mid 1800ís they supported a huge market hunting industry. (They were the bush-meat of their day.) Birds were killed with everything from sticks to rifles and shotguns to, eventually, even cannons firing many pounds of bird shot. They were skinned, packed in barrels of brine, and transported by wagon, and later by train, to cities on the Atlantic coast where they were regarded equally as a delicacy and as suitable feed for pigs and dogs. As agriculture expanded westward they were seen increasingly as a pest. Their roosts were painted and sprayed with arsenic (which they absorbed through their feet). Roosts were burned after dark when they were reluctant to fly using kerosene, coal oil, and gasoline. (This was one of the earliest recorded uses for gasoline which was a, until then, unwanted by-product of kerosene production.) The species became commercially extinct by about 1880. The last large flock was seen in 1885. It was burned on roost. The last bird seen in the wild was killed in 1889 by a fourteen-year-old boy who found it foraging pitifully for corn among his barnyard chickens. A doctor in Ohio had a captive flock of thirty birds which he then donated to the Cincinnati Zoo. They did not thrive. Very few eggs were laid. The last male died in 1912. The last bird, named Martha, died in 1914. Until very recently she has been on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

The six billion estimate for human population is certainly low. We are well on our way to seven billion and some authors report we have now passed it.

When I began studying for my first degree, in wildlife management, the first thing they bade us read was Aldo Leopold. Of all the materials I read at that time, I find that his words are the ones I return to most frequently. Although the art of wildlife management has been around for tens of thousands of years, it became a science when he began the first systematic investigations of its techniques and relationships while working as a biologist for the U.S. Forestry Service. His best known work, ďA Sand County AlmanacĒ, is a collection of his essays organized around a calendar of events on the Wisconsin farm that he retired to. It was published in 1949, the year after his death. The text in the video is adapted (some lines left out to make the three minute deadline and two words added to make the result flow more smoothly) from an essay that he wrote using his notes from a speech he gave at the dedication of the monument in the videoís opening. The monument was dedicated on May 11, 1947 at Wyalusing State Park, Wisconsin.

The portraits in the video are my great-grandparents. The grave at the beginning and in the foreground at the end is my uncleís.

The stone tools are from archeo-Indians (Clovis culture, ~12,000 years old)- not Cro-Magnon. If you look you will see a spear point, a hand ax, and a hide scraper- not too dissimilar from the Cro-Magnon toolkit. I found them in my backyard.

Finally, UWOL is no place for politics, but I must point out one thing. The last line refers to Mr. Vannevar Bush, who, as chairman of the National Defense Research Committee was responsible for the weaponization of American science. He oversaw the improvements to and huge stockpiling of atomic bombs and was chief architect of such public policies as MAD (mutually assured destruction). For this work he received fourteen honorary doctorates. The line only seems prophetic to those of us that have lived through recent events, and who hope still to survive their malingering effects.
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Old September 22nd, 2010, 12:31 PM   #2
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wow, Mike. very informative and amazing little film - I really like the way you start at the end, with the monument and work your way back through the history of the annihilation of the species. unfortunately, these woeful stories are becoming altogether too common to our age.

this feels a little unfinished - I'm sure you know that - but I bet with a little bit of re-working, you could use this as a fund-raising trailer for an extended piece on this topic, if you were up for a bit of activism. the shooting is certainly high-quality stuff - great jib shot - it takes a little effort to shoot a jib shot of a bird jumping around, that's for sure.

you've got some great shooting and storytelling skills - good luck with your future projects and thanks for all you've brought to the contest.
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Old September 22nd, 2010, 12:32 PM   #3
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Hi Mike:

Powerful and sobering documentary. Technically, it was well executed and the use of fast cuts instead of soft fades enforced the hard message. This is a job that is extremely effective and well done.

I only have 2 minor stylistic observations that is simply my personal impression:

First, at first impression, 5 billion strikes me as more than 5000 million. I think this may be due to the fast passing of the image and so your mind latches onto 5 and million and doesn't process the zeros.

Second, for some reason the choice of font at the beginning looks like a "friendly" font that might undermine your message. I found this to be a sober and hard hitting documentary, and a more formal font would have complimented the message better.

These are just comments based on first-impression instincts!

Now for the content:

I understand and can identify with your sentiments. I think all of us UWOL folks are drawn to this medium and forum because we share similar values and are like-minded when it comes to our natural environment and the celebration of the creatures that live in it.

I have my own pigeon saga (we probably all do!). Here on our ranch we have chickens, geese and ducks. We also used to have a hefty variety of wild birds at our feeder. In the summertime, we would log upwards of 25 different varieties of birds at our feeder!

One day, a pigeon showed up which was fine with me. Over the years though, their numbers steadily increased until we were dealing with a problem. Until recently, we had upwards of 500 pigeons (+/-) and no more diversity of wild birds. The stressful thing was they were fee-loading off of our chicken feed in the hen compound. It became a nightmare. They were overrunning the hen houses, devouring about 100 lbs of chicken feed in a week and stressing our own birds. There was no more free-feeding for our chickens. I had the stress of baby-sitting our chickens in the morning to allow them to eat while I chased off pigeons and then I had to lock up the food until evening. It was a stressful time.

Don't get me wrong, in all of this I love pigeons... I just hate the overwhelming numbers they can become.

So I read a really good book entitled: Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's most Revered and Reviled Bird by Andrew Blechman. I learned so much from this book, and have come to respect pigeons! They are amazing creatures with skills us humans could never equal. This book also documents writings describing the Passenger Pigeons before their extinction where people witnesses that the birds in flight would block out the sun and sound like rushing water like Niagra Falls!

It was from this book that I found our only solution to our problem. We bit the bullet and covered our hen compound with chicken wire. This was no easy feat... for I'm sure we have 1/4 to 1/2 acre dedicated to our chickens! But since we did this, life has been bliss. Our chickens can free feed, I don't have to babysit, our pigeon numbers naturally decreased in a non violent way and yes... I take the responsibility for the 75-100 pigeons we still have left. I throw out food for them too, but they now have to manage their population according to the ration I give them, NOT me adjusting my rations for their increasing numbers!

So that's my pigeon story. Your film is excellent and forces our conscience as caretakers of this planet. As far as fitting the theme of renewal, I felt it didn't quite take us to the renewal part. Perhaps you intentionally left the renewal aspect for us to wrestle with our own selves to heed the call and take responsibility in making this world a better place for all living things.

Way to go, Mike.

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Old September 22nd, 2010, 05:50 PM   #4
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Ahhh, aldo leopold!!!!

He also said there is something wrong with a man that shares his favorite fishing hole!! (paraphrase to be sure).

He is required reading in my book, but much like charles Darwin, everyone talks about him but has never actually read origin of species.

an amazing amount of information in a short time, almost to much to take in. I think Mereym is right, this is a good promo to raise funds for a full length!!

Personally it was a little to fast for me. I loved the personalized pictures!!

I did not feel it led me to the theme renewal, however I think you could do that with a little tweaking.
Great job.
Dale W. Guthormsen
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Old September 22nd, 2010, 06:27 PM   #5
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Very provocative, Mike. I thought I knew a lot about Passenger Pigeons, but was completely unaware of the use of arsenic and fire at the roosts. I wonder why people did that, because in many places the coming of pigeons was seen as a time of feasting and plenty (if only for the hogs).
I live in Miami and have a flock of 60 or more Aratinga parrots that visit my bird feeders daily. These birds don't darken the sky, but they are loud and form a nice cloud as they descend on the yard, much like Carolina Paroquets did before they went the way of the Pigeons.
I agree with Dale, in that your images went by too fast. Especially the ecclectic shots of tropical and subtropical species. While I was trying to identify one, or decide where you shot it, it was gone. On some of them, a fade in would have been easier on the eyes. Also, you might want to fade in and out on your sound effects so they are less blasting.
I would be interested to know how many places you had to visit to get that large selection of mounted pigeons. Are you interested in divulging where you got some of your old hunting scenes?
We need more videos like this one to get people aware of what we are doing to this planet. I hope you are planning more of these. Finally, are you familiar with this quote from William Beebe?

"The beauty and genius of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed; a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer, but when the last individual
of a race of living things breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again."
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Old September 23rd, 2010, 04:45 AM   #6
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Mike, excellant video. I can only imagine what it must have been like to see one of those massive flocks flying over head. It is so sad what we have done to nature. It seems that all we did for generations was take, and gave nothing back. It also seems that more and more of us on UWOL are seeing the ruin of our habitats, maybe it is because we spend time in th field and are so close to it. Anyway, you did a great job both technically and emotionly. Last year I was in Baraboo, Wisconsin shooting a video and had the oppertunity to visit the cabin where Aldo Leopold wrote ďA Sand County AlmanacĒ, here are a couple of pictures of the place. Bob
Attached Thumbnails
UWOL17- More than a Monument- Mike Sims-2004-0011.jpg   UWOL17- More than a Monument- Mike Sims-baraboo-042.jpg  

UWOL17- More than a Monument- Mike Sims-baraboo-045.jpg  
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Old September 23rd, 2010, 06:43 AM   #7
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Sad story. You did a great job with telling it. I like the use of the old images throughout. Very informative, a little fast in parts but I had no problems keeping up with the story.
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Old September 23rd, 2010, 07:02 AM   #8
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You are without a doubt the Ken Burns of UWOL. :)
This was a great piece. Lots of information packed into a short amount of time.

Kind of funny that this year on Facebook I commemorated Martha's passing.

Hard to fathom that we could totally wipe out such an abundant species. But it clearly shows that if there are not checks in place, we can't be trusted to police ourselves.

It's really a sad story but wonderfully executed. I've wondered to myself many times how could we have let this happen. But we're still letting it happen today. Tigers, snow leopards, countless species are on the brink yet I feel that we've really not learned any lessons from the past.

Powerful work!
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Old September 23rd, 2010, 01:21 PM   #9
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Thank-you Meryem. Yes, I found the three week deadline sort of restrictive this time. The video is more ended than finished. I had hoped to do some 2.5D shots and some more sophisticated pan-and-scan but- no time. I just upgraded from CS2 to CS5 and I havenít learned Soundbooth yet (and donít have Audition or all of its presets that I had saved installed now) so the sound is remedial. I used the DNxHD 10 bit 4:2:2 codec for the first time and I like the results but it adds a lot to the processing time. The jib shot was done with the new motorized slider I built after getting inspired by Matís entry last time. It was set up vertically and attracted a lot of unwanted attention. I did fourteen takes before I completely lost the sun and that cyclist kept circling around ruining shot after shot. I almost got one without her in it!
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Old September 23rd, 2010, 02:31 PM   #10
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Hi Mike,

Most have been said already, so I'll just say that I found your story very interesting.
Thank you for sharing.
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Old September 23rd, 2010, 04:32 PM   #11
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Thanks Cat. Thatís an interesting experience you relate and it somewhat parallels one of my own. When we first moved here all the trees had been cut down and we saw few birds. As the trees we planted matured we began to see quite a number of species at out feeders. My favorites were the tiny little Inca Doves. We used to have up to 150 roosting in our yard at a time. At that time White-winged Doves, which are much larger- the size of your pigeons, were only found in the U.S. in the extreme southern tip of Texas. There was a three-day hunting season with a limit of six because TPWD was worried that hunting pressure would wipe them out in our area. They were colonial nesters much like the Passenger Pigeons. As an undergraduate we took a field trip to see one of the colonies. Then in the mid Ď80s something changed. They stopped nesting in colonies and began nesting individually like Mourning Doves. (I have never been able to convince anyone to study this!) They began associating with humans and their population exploded and their range rapidly expanded north. We now have many millions living in San Antonio where fifteen years ago one would have been an unheard of rarity. As the numbers swelled they pushed the other birds from the feeders. I now rarely see an Inca Dove and have 300-400 White-wings roosting in the yard each night. No telling what will ultimately happen.

For those not familiar with these birds I should point out that the pigeons Catherine refers to are the introduced Rock Dove or Rock Pigeon (originally from India and introduced to parks and cities around the world). There is one native pigeon in her area but the Band-tailed Pigeon is a somewhat solitary (small flocks) inhabitant of high country wilderness and quite intolerant of humans (smart bird).
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Old September 23rd, 2010, 04:44 PM   #12
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Thanks Dale. Yes, I love that line too! As you may guess, I have read Origin of Species once or twice. My favorite thing by Darwin is still his treatise on earthworms. Sorry about the pace. I had to read a little faster than normal to meet the three minute limit. I think several didnít get the renewal connection so I guess I blew it. I was trying to show the renewal in our relationship to other organisms and that it hasnít completely happened. Yet.
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Old September 23rd, 2010, 05:26 PM   #13
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This was tough to watch. I had no idea there were ever Passenger Pidgeons. What the heck were those idiots thinking? A great historical account. I'll spread this around.
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Old September 23rd, 2010, 06:19 PM   #14
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Hey Steve! Iíd love to see your parrots! Thanks for the helpful suggestions. The exotics were all filmed in the San Antonio and Houston Zoos. The idea behind them going by so fast was that you take in the varied form rather than be caught up in any one. I always expected the hard-core types would pause on each to ID it! ;) Hereís the list:

Scarlet macaw
Emerald tree python
Blue duiker
African bullfrog
Tilapia and Texas cichlids
Red hog
Sunbittern (on nest)
Spiny lobster
Komodo dragon
Prevostís squirrel
Flamingo (mixed species)
Soft corals (Alcyonacea)
Black-and-white lemur
Sonoran rattlesnake
Rift lake cichlids
Scarlet ibis
Red kangaroo
Pond slider-marbled teal-nishikigoi
Whooping crane
Indian gavial
Yellow-billed turaco- white-headed buffalo weaver

The modern hunting shots were begged from a hunting forum. The historical stills are from the Smithsonian and Library of Congress collections. Aside from the specimen from the National Collection, the stuffed birds are from the taxidermy collection of the Pearl Brewery Buckhorn Saloon- Hall of Horns and the collection at the Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR.

Thank-you for the Beebe quote- heís another of my favorite authors! (For those who donít know him, Bill was the long-time president and driving force behind the New York Zoological Society.) I still remember reading ďHalf Mile DownĒ in elementary school. Imagine having yourself bolted into a three-and-a-half foot steel sphere and lowered over two thousand feet down on a winch knowing that the previous three times it was tested the window broke and it flooded. He just had to see what all those exotic critters that were coming up in the deep-water trawls really looked like when alive. To me thatís a truly heroic act!
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Old September 24th, 2010, 07:30 AM   #15
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Thanks for the kind words Bob! That visit to the old farm must have been a thrill. Thank-you so much for posting the photos. I hope you donít mind that I saved them!

Yes, Mike, itís a sad story. Unfortunately itís just one and we are busy writing many moreÖ

Thanks, Kevin. My biggest fear is that by using so many stills it comes across more like a powerpoint presentation than a video. I wrote the numbers at the beginning and end in a nonstandard way both to make people think about large numbers (which is hard to do) and because not everyone in the world uses the word billion in the same way. The point is that the two numbers arenít that dissimilar and that if we can do this to the pigeons we can certainly and easily do it to ourselves.

Hi Trond. Thanks for watching, Iím glad you found it interesting. I hope to see you in next time. Good-luck with the new job!

Hi Bill. Passenger pigeon, heath hen, Labrador duck, Carolina parakeet, great aukÖ weíve lost a lot of birds in America, but our greatest (and ongoing) loss of bird species has occurred in- Hawaii. It might make for a good story.
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