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The Kid Should See This

How a baby albatross encounter changed this wildlife filmmaker’s life

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Wildlife filmmaker Abigail Lees traversed the rugged landscape of Bird Island, South Georgia with her BBC Natural History crew to film endangered grey-headed albatross chicks in their cliffside nests. “We had just been filming three different chicks in the colony and three different three different spots and getting to know them,” she explains in this BBC Studios: Close Encounters video.

Note: This story is intense but important. Though the immediate outcome is mostly positive, the video includes a brief image of a deceased chick just after the 3-minute mark. Prescreen as needed for sensitive viewers.

filming a chick
Lees’ job was to direct the island shoot, documenting the “largest breeding stronghold of grey-headed albatross,” a species that has recently experienced catastrophic population decline. Among other goals, the team hoped to capture daily life for the fluffy young birds, the cliffside environment, their parents’ caregiving, potentially the parents’ inability to recognize their chicks outside of their nest, as well as the local impact of fishing practices and climate change caused by fossil fuel use.

“So when we were out filming, we noticed that the wind was starting to pick up and it was getting stronger and stronger by the moment. We were certainly getting buffeted about and our three chicks were certainly getting the worst of it.

“It’s really hard to leave a situation like that because you know that the evening is going to be really, really difficult. The winds were getting stronger and stronger and you just don’t really know what you’re going to come back to the next morning. So I don’t think any of us slept very well that night. We were wondering whether they’d be still there in the morning.”

cliffside nesting grounds
When they returned, the team was faced with an impossible decision, and that experience would change Lees’ life.

“Chicks fall off their nest when it’s really windy and climate change has caused storms to be stronger, which means more chicks are falling off their nest… And you’re seeing it with your own two eyes, and it was, it was terrible…

“As human beings you know, we’re not, we’re not just filming robots. We’re seeing this vulnerable thing in front of us that you could potentially save. So me and the cameraman had 10 minutes to deliberate, sort of how comfortable we feel with filming this…

“I think it was one of the most tense moments of my life and as a director, also just one of would have potentially been one of the hardest decisions I had to make if that parent hadn’t come.”

albatross chick illustration
Watch this next: Living with a Wild Bird: What’s it like to become a falconer?

Other related videos include:
β€’Β Rangers candle a Royal Albatross egg
β€’Β The efficient rollercoaster flying style of the albatross
β€’Β The Orphan Owl
β€’ How do you film flying squirrels at night?
β€’Β How does the BBC make Planet Earth look like a Hollywood movie?
β€’Β How are mushroom time-lapse videos filmed? Louie Schwartzberg explains

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