Chattanooga, Tenn. (Oct. 25, 2022) – From the majestic formation flying of Canadian Geese and the gravity-befuddling aerial acrobatics of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to the glossy iridescence of the humble Common Grackle, birds are astounding examples of diversity and adaptation.
In most places on Earth, birds exist beak and jowl alongside humans, flitting about in the background of our lives. In the United States, birding is one of the fastest-growing hobbies, with an estimated 47 million Americans describing themselves as bird watchers, according to data tracked by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Yet for those who aren’t actively looking for them, the consistency and familiarity of these winged wonders can cause them to all but disappear from view, becoming such a common sight that they fade into the background.
But to overlook or underappreciate birds would be a tremendous shame, says Marshall Johnson, the Chief Conservation Officer for the National Audubon Society.
“I often say birds are our playlist in nature, the song to our experience in nature,” Johnson says. “It is the power of birds and people who love birds that keep a grip on me.”
In Wings Over Water 3D, the latest film by the giant-screen experts at SK Films, avians graduate from background extras to seize top billing by the talons. By zeroing in on a trio of species — Mallard Ducks, Yellow Warblers, and Sandhill Cranes — the filmmakers remind viewers how extraordinary birds are while also exploring the phenomenal diversity and ecological importance of a hidden haven for winged and terrestrial wildlife: North America’s Prairie Wetlands.
Johnson leant his expertise and passion for birds to Wings Over Water and appears in the film. On Tuesday, Nov. 8, he will appear as a guest speaker following a special 6 p.m. screening at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater.
A Fargo, North Dakota resident, Johnson lives right in the sopping heart of the prairie wetlands, a swath of the Northern Great Plains, which is three times larger than the United Kingdom and stretches from the American Midwest into Canada.
During his appearance in Chattanooga, Johnson will speak about the importance of living a more conservation-minded life and the wonders of the wetlands, also known — less flatteringly — as the Prairie Pothole Region for its seemingly endless abundance of lakes, marshland, and ponds created by retreating glaciers.
For all its enormity and abundance of animal life, particularly waterfowl, this biologically rich landscape is largely unappreciated beyond its own borders. Raising the profile of a special place full of “subtle wonder” was all the incentive Johnson says he needed to agree to participate in Wings Over Water 3D.
“The population of Nashville is larger than the entire state of North Dakota, so not a lot of people know this place exists,” he laughs. “That’s why I think the film is so important.
“This is an opportunity to speak about something that’s in my backyard, yes, but in relatively few people’s backyard. The more people who know about it, the more they’ll be inspired to protect, save and secure it for the next generation.
Narrated by Academy Award nominee Michael Keaton (Batman, Birdman), Wings Over Water 3D has received high praise from audiences and a number of noteworthy nods from the film industry since its debut earlier this year. The film was a finalist in the prestigious Jackson Wild Media Awards and swept several categories at the 2022 Giant Screen Cinema Association industry awards, including film (short subject), cinematography, sound design, visual effects, and film for lifelong learning.
Wings Over Water 3D’s residency at the IMAX 3D Theater coincides with the eagerly anticipated arrival of another special guest from the film: the Sandhill Crane.
These broad-winged, elegant waterfowl have already started arriving in the Chattanooga area, which is along the migration route for the eastern population of Sandhill Cranes. Their migration will increase in tempo in November and December, with many stopping within prime viewing distance at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge about 40 miles north of Chattanooga.
With a mask of crimson feathers around their eyes, a wingspan of up to six feet and a haunting bugle to announce their coming, these cranes are anything but subtle. They are also, Johnson admits, perhaps his favorite bird.
“It’s hard not to love and appreciate them,” he says. “They’re big birds, graceful birds, and their call is unmistakable. They could be hundreds or even thousands of feet in the air, and you can hear that bugle.
“For me, it’s always a thrill to be able to hear and observe Sandhill Cranes.”
The Nov. 8 special Wings Over Water 3D screening is presented locally by Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Tickets are $20, with proceeds benefitting the research and restoration projects of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute.
For more information about Nov. 8’s special screening or to register for the event, visit community.tnaqua.org/events/wings-over-water
To learn more about Marshall Johnson and his achievements, view his official bio page at audubon.org/content/marshall-johnson