Stefan’s HD Cam sits on a sturdy tripod amongst Common mare’s tail and Arrowhead on a sandy strip that would normally be covered knee-deep with water. A nest of crested grebes has fallen dry close by and the pair has built a new one in a shallow bay next to a line of artificial nesting platforms which are occupied by a lively bunch of squeaking Black terns.
The Millingerwaard is a dry place this spring: The resident beavers rather paddle than dive to the underwater entries of their dens. The many Yellow irises that would normally line the banks of the ponds and abandoned quarries blossom far away from the shorelines. And the forest’s vegetation looks as if it was mid summer already.
Filming conditions are perfect though! Well, only bug-wise to be honest: strong winds, driving rain and a temperature drop of about 15°C makes us shiver and makes the local army of mosquitos hide in the vegetation. On a sunny day they would have turned the protagonists of our documentary into arm-wagging lunatics with swollen faces and crazy eyes in just a few minutes time. “The rain will add a wonderful tension to the footage”, smiles Stefan, the cameraman. Well, yeah, nice…
Wild Wonders of Europe photographer Ruben Smit suggested the place. He had been filming here before. A great choice we think as we pass a small herd of Galloway cattle cows and calves munching on the lush vegetation of an open meadow. Together with Konik horses they had been introduced to the area after nature started claiming back old territory here in the Millingerwaard, close to the Dutch city of Nijmegen, which is part of the nature development project “De Gelderse Poort”. 300 ha which have been set aside as a nature reserve are owned by the Dutch Forestry Department and the companies “Delgromij” and “De Beijer”, the latter managing the reserve together with the ARK foundation since the early 90ies. After 50 years of clay extraction the reserve looks pretty wild nowadays: what has been agricultural fields and quarries turned itself into a young alluvial floodplain forest habitat.
Bordering Germany the area along the river Waal is well known as a wintering ground for greylag, white-fronted and bean geese and other waterfowl. Whilst beavers have been reintroduced, Kingfishers, Golden orioles, Black terns and many other species have all returned by themselves making the Millingerwaard a wonderful example for a rewilding success story.
We are here to produce a set of DVDs that will tell the story about Wild Wonders of Europe. Eleven of our photographers and project directors will be interviewed, telling the unheard adventures of their photo missions into the unknown corners of our continent. It is a view over their shoulders, where they speak about conservation and team-work, about the focus of their photography and tech-tipps, about the “making of” of the world’s largest ever nature photography initiative and how they tried their best to turn the unseen of our natural heritage in Europe into stunning pictures.
“So much about my “very unique” approach!”, sighs German photographer Sandra Bartocha: “Did you ever try to say something clever or even inspiring in a foreign language and into a camera whilst lying on your belly in the cold and wet grass pointing your camera at something, well, not really interesting?” Luckily the team around Mark Verkerk and Ton Okkerse from EMS films manages to keep us motivated and focussed despite of the rather unfriendly weather conditions.
Born and raised in Zambia now standing at the grey shores of a wind-beaten Dutch pond, Wild Wonders of Europe Exhibition and Media Director Bridget Wijnberg tries not to show that she is “f…” cold, whilst trying to look “inspired” across one of the ponds for the camera.
In the final interview session Ruben Smit feels reminded to Serbia’s alluvial forest when wading through a beaver pond explaining how he took split level shots of leeches and other critters during his Wild Wonders mission to Gornje Podunavlje at the Croatian border.
The day ends in the “Wilderniscafé”, where a hot chocolate, some Beerenburg Schnaps and wonderful asparagus soup convince us to believe that the day was not too bad after all…
On Friday, May 20, we will be filming at Kootwijkerzand in the Veluwe nature reserve. Stay tuned!
Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.