Rick Zemanek of Lacombe County has spent hundreds of hours last year shooting June and Ward for the documentary The Beaver Whisperers

Rick Zemanek of Lacombe County has spent hundreds of hours last year shooting June and Ward for the documentary The Beaver Whisperers

Videographers capturing secret beaver behaviour

Two Central Alberta videographers played roles in making a CBC documentary featuring the Ellis Bird Farm’s pair of beavers.



Two Central Alberta videographers played roles in making a CBC documentary featuring the Ellis Bird Farm’s pair of beavers.

Rick Zemanek of Lacombe County and Phil French of Lousana each spent hundreds of hours last year shooting June and Ward for the documentary The Beaver Whisperers, which airs at 8 p.m. on Thursday on The Nature of Things.

Toronto filmmaker Jari Osborne chronicles many North American beaver experts who say the rodents counter global warming and water shortages through dam building. Osborne said Zemanek and French were “pivotal in taking us into a world that’s secret.

“There were a lot of technical challenges. These creatures are so shy, nocturnal and underwater a lot, the film needed stealth. The challenge was to find ways to capture something up close and personal.”

French, the Red Deer River Naturalists president and an office products technician, is a veteran videographer, producing documentaries on cavity nesting birds and a Red Deer River solo trip.

He said watching the pair of beavers from atop their dam and beside their feeding site was “a really great experience.

“When you really get watching — and videography forces you to watch something for hours and hours — you really appreciate the creatures a lot more. They do a lot of good things, like preserving water supplies.”

He’d already spent time shooting Ward and June for the Ellis Bird Farm located east of Lacombe before Osborne’s call.

Zemanek, a retired Red Deer Advocate editor, volunteers feeding the beavers aspen so they don’t down the farm’s mature trees. At first he used the fresh-cut aspen to build a blind, but “I’d come back the next day and they’d eaten it.”

Filming from brush proved better, although still with its surprises.

“I was so well disguised one time, a mouse ran into the back of me.”

Eventually, the beavers accepted the men’s presence and carried on with their lives.

“Ward was always suspicious, but June really bonded with me. I’d sit in full view on the dam to film and she showed no apprehensions at all. They knew who I was and came out without fear,” said Zemanek.

Ward and June’s “unconditional love” demonstrated through nuzzling and play was “awe-inspiring.

“It was a very moving experience and I frequently thought us human beings could learn a very profound lesson from Mom Nature.”

Osborne praised French and Zemanek for their remarkable footage.

“I have a lot of gratitude for people like Rick and Phil, who deployed themselves for the project. They displayed such tenacity.”

Myrna Pearman, the Ellis Bird Farm’s biologist and manager, said the beavers arrived in 2010 and by feeding them, wiring off mature trees and regulating their pond’s flow to avoid flooding, they’ve been able to keep them.

She thanked Zemanek for feeding the pair because “our site’s so small, we couldn’t feed them without them taking our trees. His efforts are critical to keeping June and Ward here year round.”

Pearman was disappointed that the farm’s four web cams, which show June and Ward in their two lodges, weren’t used on The Nature of Things website as the program opted to show a Quebec beaver named Pollux. The web cam views can be seen at www.ellisbirdfarm.ca.

Both men look forward to seeing the film on Thursday.

“Some of it will appear in the final cut,” said French, “that’s pretty exciting for me, being an amateur.”

Zemanek is “extremely thrilled.

“The whole idea was to portray beaver not as a nuisance or a dam builder or a tree cutter, but with an incredible role to play in the natural scheme of things.”

More information about the documentary, including a behind-the-scenes look at its making, is available online at www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/beaverwhisperer.

rfiedler@bprda.wpengine.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

March will be dramatically warmer through the prairies

Bharat Masrani, CEO, TD Bank Group speaks at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto on Wednesday, November 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world in the coming week

Shares in metals and mining companies have rebounded sharply

A worker carrying a disinfectant sprayer walks past a WestJet Airlines Boeing 737-800 aircraft, after cleaning another plane at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Thursday, January 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
WestJet to lay off undisclosed number of pilots amid labour negotiations

Layoff notices to go out ahead of the expiration of a memorandum of agreement

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Feds hoping for AstraZeneca shots this week as Pfizer-BioNTech prepare next delivery

Canada has ordered 24 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend Sunday Service, in Abbotsford, B.C., Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. A legal advocacy group challenging British Columbia’s COVID-19 restrictions on worship services and public protests is scheduled to be in court today arguing for the church and others that COVID-19 restrictions violate their charter rights. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Churches in court to challenge British Columbia’s COVID-19 health orders

Calgary-based organization says it represents over a dozen individuals and faith communities in the province

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Kerri Einarson makes a shot against Team Alberta as second Shannon Birchard, right, and lead Briane Meilleur sweep in the semi-final at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Kerri Einarson wins second straight Canadian women’s curling championship

Einarson and her teammates celebrated Sunday in the silence in an empty arena

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey hosted the Golden Globes on Feb. 28, 2021. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
With loved ones and pets, Globes winners embrace cozier show

Nicole Kidman and musician-husband Keith Urban got glammed up to sit on their couch

The cast of “Schitt’s Creek” pose for a photo after winning the Award for Best Comedy Series at the Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto on March 31, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Schitt’s Creek nabs two Golden Globes for its final season

Catherine O’Hara named best television actress in a musical or comedy

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is condemning alleged vandalism at the… Continue reading

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin waits to appear at the Standing Committee on Finance on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. Executives who engage in so-called "vaccine tourism" show both an ethical disregard for those less fortunate and a surprising lack of business acumen, experts argue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine tourism is both unethical and bad for business, experts say

Executives who engage in so-called “vaccine tourism” show both an ethical disregard… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Justin Holl (3) battle in front as goalie Jack Campbell (36) makes the save during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, February 27, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
No Matthews, no problem: Minus NHL goal leader, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 4-0

Leafs 4 Oilers 0 EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs knew even with… Continue reading

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Gummed-up bills in House of Commons: harbinger of a federal election?

OTTAWA — All federal party leaders maintain they don’t want an election… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Pornhub policies reveal legal gaps and lack of enforcement around exploitive videos

OTTAWA — Serena Fleites was in seventh grade when a sexually explicit… Continue reading

Most Read