From a fiery red spider to a butcher with feathers: these are the five unexpected protagonists of the film “Our nature”

The title of “Our nature” perfectly describes what you can expect: an excellent print that focuses on the Belgian natural beauty. It can compete with the best BBC documentaries. It took no less than 960 shooting days.

There was also a lot to film, because Belgium is chock full of fascinating creatures. Iconic animals such as the fox, the deer or the wild boar, of course, but also animals with a lesser celebrity status. Which of those cult heroes should we keep an eye out for when we look at “Our Nature”?

Foresters Wouter Huygens and Jef De Winter (Nature and Forest Agency), Natuurpunt employee Koen Van Keer and cameraman Pim Niesten all contributed to the film in their own way. They guide us through their five favorites.

The spring fire spider, the Loch Ness monster from Lommel

In Lommel there is one of the last populations worldwide of a spider that only comes above the ground a few days a year. The spring fire spider, that’s the name of the hermit bug. The male is sexually mature after four years. It then turns bright red and starts looking for a female, which stays underground for the rest of her life.

The spring fire spider was only discovered in 2009 by Natuurpunt veteran Koen Van Keer and his brother, after the animal was declared extinct in our country for a hundred years. “After a report, we launched a search called Operation N for Nessie, the Loch Ness monster,” Van Keer recalls. “Everyone was looking for them, but no one found them. Until my brother saw one crawling under his feet just before we wanted to quit!”

The film features two scenes of the spring fire spider that have barely been seen, and have never been filmed before

“It is a very beautiful animal with beautiful colors that was immediately very high on my wish list”, adds “Our nature” cameraman Pim Niesten. “It’s kind of an ambassador for spiders. Spiders are the underdog for me, the less valued animals I want to champion. Although I still wonder how I can get such a fat house spider outside when one is walking around at home.”

The film features two scenes that are barely seen and never filmed before: a fight between two males for a female, and a mating scene. That last scene in particular was a lot of work. The cave in which the female burrows had to be fully excavated and fitted with a glass wall so that filming could be done.

Pim Niesten at work for "Our nature"up to his knees in the water.

“And then you have to get a small ray of light in there,” Niesten continues. “I hung a microscope light above it. Fortunately, that didn’t bother the spiders, the romance was clearly still there (laughs).”

The makers do not want to say exactly where the spiders live, so as not to disturb the peace of the animals. “In Great Britain, where they are also very interested in the species, they are very secretive about it,” Van Keer outlines. “On a study trip there, it was almost ‘Allo Allo’-like situations. The guide just didn’t say ‘listen very carefully’ as she unfolded the map of the locations in the pub, and looked over her shoulder to make sure no one was listening.”

The pike, the freshwater barracuda

Behind the scenes of "Our nature": cameraman Pieter Germeys with a pike.

A predatory fish with 700 teeth, a cannibal, an omnivore… and an Antwerp native. That’s the pike, or at least the ones filmed for “Our Nature”.

“They were filmed in the Wolvenberg pond in Berchem”, Van Keer agrees. “A lot of willow trees have fallen into the water there, so you get a sort of mangrove effect with the sun’s rays. And that between the ring around Antwerp and the Singel!”

“There is a pond there that we manage as naturally as possible, but we didn’t really know what was in it. Until diver-camerman Pieter Germeys descended into it. When he came up again, he had a smile up to his ears. Apparently there were several pike swimming around, more than a meter in size. That was a surprise for us too.”

The crane, a welcome tourist

“I don’t know whether the average Belgian knows how powerful cranes are,” says cameraman Niesten. “They are big, beautiful birds. They come from Germany and Scandinavia to winter in the south. Sometimes they make one stopover in our country with their young, before they move on the next day.”

“There is a mass scene in the film that was not obvious. You just have to be in the right place. All weather conditions must be right. Not only here, but also in the country where they leave. Then you are waiting in vain for the High Fens because the wind direction has changed, or because the over there is still too cloudy. Frustrating.”

VIEW – On Monday September 12, Pim Niesten told De Afspraak about “Our nature”.

Fortunately, there is a whole crane network all over Europe, of enthusiasts who keep each other informed about where the birds are. In the end, the team stayed on site for two weeks.

“I was able to film cranes when they landed in the evening. At night, thousands more cranes arrived. That was one of the hardest efforts I’ve had to put in for the film: plodding through the mire up to your hips without light, only to arrive just before morning at the pool where they all sat together, without picking them up. to startle.”

“The spectacle we filmed then hit me harder than I expected. It completely blows you away, those cranes that stand there calling and flying overhead. You then feel small and insignificant, hiding in the forest edge. You feel in the middle of the wilderness, and that just in Belgium.”

The moor frog, blue with ‘lust’

Unlike the red spring fire spider, the moor frog turns blue once a year during the mating season. The male then has exactly three days to find a female.

Forest ranger Jef De Winter, who manages the Kalmthoutse Heide, knows the moor frog well. “In the film you can see in detail how they turn bright blue and start calling. In nature, this can only be done from a distance. They are very shy animals that immediately go into hiding as soon as they feel something coming.”

Do you want to admire the animals from “Our nature” in real life? Then be sure to explore the Belgian nature reserves yourself. But, the rangers ask, don’t specifically look for one of the species from the film. This creates stress for the often already small populations. “Take the moor frog: if disturbed, it will dive under water for up to 20 minutes. That reduces the pairing chances”, explains Jef De Winter. “So be sure to visit Belgian nature, but be aware that it is also vulnerable.

Niesten had exactly one day to film the animal. Not obvious. “It was much too dry because of climate change,” he says. “Then my contacts in the field called: if you want to come and film three frogs now, you can come by. There were no more, the new generations did not survive.”

It wasn’t until the third year of filming, the last, that conditions were right. “It was a beautiful morning, very early in the spring. We were able to film the ice in the pools melting under the spring sun, and how the male moor frogs had to fight for a female.”

“It was exactly what we needed, but you can’t control anything. When I went back the next day, the frog activity was already much less.”

The Great Gray Shrike, a butcher with feathers

One of the most gruesome scenes in the film is the one with the Great Gray Shrike. “In documentaries from Africa you see how a lion grabs a gazelle. Well, this is the same: a gray shrike that grabs a mouse,” says forest ranger Wouter Huygens. “I think this is one of the best shots in the movie.”

However, the scene is not one for sensitive viewers. Because the gray shrike has a special way of preserving its food. It pricks its prey in a thornbush, usually a hawthorn. “It seems as if he is poking the mouse on skewers. But that’s nature: one person’s death is another’s bread.”

“That was the most unique image from the film for me,” says Huygens’ colleague Jef De Winter. “We know that the gray shrike does that, because we already find an animal perched on a bush on the property. But if you also want to see it happen in nature, you have to be very lucky.”

“I did not film that scene, but my colleague Dick Harrewijn”, explains Pim Niesten. “I now notice that there is quite a bit of reaction from the audience, and that the scene is rather sinister. The funny thing is, it didn’t come to me like that. But apparently the average public doesn’t expect anything like that.”

“For me it is a special winter story: how the gray shrike survives the winter by storing its food supply in a tree. This is how he survives times of scarcity. By the way, did you know that it is not a real bird of prey, but a songbird? Although he does have a modified hookbeak to be able to tear his prey.”

The film “Our nature” will be shown in Belgian cinemas from today. A seven-part documentary series will follow on Canvas in January.

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