Synopsis: Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly

Writing proposals and organizing the film’s website this past week. This is a longer version of the synopsis. Oh my goodness, the last application was ten pages long. I think (hope) it will get easier the more I do it!

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Beauty on the Wing ~ Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly is a documentary film that tells the story of the monarch butterfly at it unfolds along the shores of Cape Ann and in the heart of Mexico’s forested volcanic mountains. Filmed in Gloucester, Massachusetts and Angangueo, Michoacán, the film illuminates how two communities, separated by 3,000 miles, are ecologically interconnected.

Every stage of the butterfly’s life cycle is experienced in vibrant close-up, from egg to caterpillar to adult. Set against the background of sea and forest, sun and wind, by the millions and millions the intrepid monarchs journey thousands of miles. The most magical thing is that this migration happens in our midst, taking place in backyards, farms, meadows, and along the shoreline, wherever milkweed and wildflowers grow.

The monarch’s life story is one of nature’s most incredible examples of adaptation and survival. There are no other butterflies in the world that journey thousands of miles over such a great and vast area, ecologically linking Canada and Mexico, to nearly every region within the United States.

The story opens in the industrial port of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Well known for her legendary fishing industry, Schooner Festival,  Italian feasts and fiestas, rich artistic heritage, and stunning coastline, Gloucester makes up much of the peninsula of Cape Ann, located on the coast of Massachusetts just north of Boston.

As are most regions along the length of the Eastern Seaboard, Cape Ann lies within a largely unrestricted north-south corridor for migratory species of birds and butterflies. This means that birds, butterflies, and other insects travel along the Atlantic flyway without being impeded by either mountain ranges or large bodies of water to cross. There is a tremendous sense of urgency in this great movement of life. Whether traveling by land or by sea, wildlife must reach its seasonal destination while life-sustaining food is abundant.

Cape Ann and Angangueo emerge as characters in the film, places where we have much to gain by preserving the habitats of these unique ecosystems and where, through neglect, the loss will be devastating.

Beauty on the Wing is a film for all ages, created for all to gain a deeper understanding of the symbiotic relationship between habitats, wildflowers, and pollinators, and the vital role that they play in our interconnected ecosystems.

In seeking funding to finish the film, I am currently in the process of writing grant proposals. Recently, I was invited to join the Filmmakers Collaborative, which is a dynamic organization that is providing excellent advice and will also act as the fiscal sponsor for the film. Each filmmaker represented by the Filmmakers Collaborative has a project page on the FC website and I invite you to visit mine here: Filmmakers Collaborative.

Well hello there!

Female Mallard Nine ducklings Kim Smith
As much as I was surprised by this sweet glimpse of mama and her ducklings coming around a bend in the marsh, she was as equally surprised to see me, hidden behind a clump of tall grasses. One glance, and mom quickly departed with her nine (!!) newly emerged ducklings. Happy Earth Day!

MY MONARCH BUTTERFLY FILM TRAILER!

Dear Friends,

I am super excited to write that today I am launching the trailer for my monarch butterfly documentary, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. I hope so much you enjoy watching as much as I have loved creating!

I am asking a huge favor of all my Good Morning Gloucester, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram friends and that is to please share the trailer, hit all like buttons, and if you have time, to please comment.

In seeking funding to finish the film, I am currently in the process of writing grant proposals. Recently, I was invited to join the Filmmakers Collaborative, which is a tremendous and well-respected organization that is providing excellent advice and will also act as the fiscal sponsor for the film. Each filmmaker represented by the Filmmakers Collaborative has a project page on the FC website and I invite you to visit mine here: Filmmakers Collaborative.

The next stages in finishing the documentary are title design, audio mixing, and color correcting. I’ll keep you posted on progress made through GMG, the film’s website, and my website.

Look for Pilar, Meadow, and Atticus in the trailer. They were wonderful and I am so appreciative of their assistance. There were additional kids from our East Gloucester troupe that participated in making the film however, I couldn’t squeeze them all in the trailer. I think you’ll love all the children’s parts in the finished film!

For more information about the documentary, please visit the film’s website here: Beauty on the Wing

My most sincerest thanks to everyone for your kind support!

HOW COLOR IS CREATED IN BIRD FEATHERS PART 2

Turkey male fanning tale feathers feathers Kim SmithStructural Color

Have you ever wondered why sometimes you can see the brilliant red gorget (throat feathers) of the male Ruby-throated and Allen’s hummingbirds, and sometimes not at all? Or why iridescent feathers appear green, and then blue, or possibly purple, and then in the next moment look drab and dreary? I think about this when photographing birds such as grackles, buffleheads and hummingbirds. Most recently, the turkeys in our community are currently displaying their wildly varying iridescent feathers when in full courtship mode.

Bufflehead Kim SmithBufflehead Iridescence

Iridescent red gorget in male Allen’s Hummingbird; same bird, different angles

Layering

There are two types of structural color, layering and scattering. Iridescence in bird feathers is created by layering. Bird feathers are made of a translucent protein called keratin, which is a very rugged substance. Not only are the feathers made of keratin, but keratin coats the bird’s claws, legs, and bill. Because of the structure of the feather, with its microscopic barbules, when light hits the feather it causes the wave lengths to bend, or refract. Keratin reflects short wave length colors like purples, blues, and violets. The other colors are absorbed by the underlying layer of melanin. The refraction works like a prism, splitting the light into an array of colors. As the viewing angle changes, because of the viewer’s movement or because the bird is moving, the refracted light displays a shimmering iridescence, or none at all. Beautiful color combinations are created when iridescent layers are combined with pigments present.

Turkey male iridescent feathers -2 Kim SmithIn the above photo, the male Turkey’s iridescent feathers surrounding the head make a splendid display in full sun.

Turkey male iridescent feathers Kim SmithThese same feathers appear entirely different when back lit.

Grackle Kim Smith 2016Iridescence in Grackles

Scattering

Keratin is interspersed with tiny pockets of air of within the structure of the feather filament (called barb). Scattering is created when light hits the pockets of air, which results in specific, non-iridescent color. The color blue in feathers is almost always created in this manner. Feathers of Blue Jays, Bluebirds, and Indigo Buntings are prime examples of scattering.

Here are two graphics found online from Cornell that I found very helpful in trying to visualize the difference between layering and scattering. The first shows how iridescence is produced and the second, how blue scattering is created.Struct-Color-DIA-Iridescent_Myaedit_coloracrticle-674x441Bird_Biology-Feather_structural_blue-674x450

HOW COLOR IS CREATED IN BIRD FEATHERS

In thinking about how colors are created in bird feathers, I wondered if it was similar to how color is formed in butterfly wings. I learned that yes, it is very similar, and that bird feather color has evolved in several ways, from pigmentation present or as a result of light refracting through the layered structure of the feather.

Northern Cardinal Male Kim SmithColor from Pigment

Pigments are colored material found in plants, animals, and nearly every physical substance in nature. Pigmentation in birds comes from three different sources: melanins, carotenoids, and porphyrines.

Melanins are tiny bits of color in the feathers of birds and in their skin. Melanins produce colors from palest yellow to rusty red browns to the richest black, depending on where the melanin is located and in what degree of concentration. Feathers with melanin are the strongest of all. A bird’s flight feathers are the most susceptible to wear and usually have the highest degree of melanin.

Red-winged Blackbird male Kim SmithAmerican Robin Kim SmithRed-winged Blackbirds and American Robins are strong flyers. Their flight feathers have rich concentrations of melanin.

Carotenoids are produced by plants. Birds that eat specific plants, or eat something that has eaten the plant, acquire pigment from carotenoids. A carotenoid-rich diet is responsible for the beautiful vermillion feathers of the Northern Cardinal, as well as the electrifying cadmium yellow of the male American Goldfinch. Another example is the pink feathers of the flamingo, which also have a diet rich in carotenoids that come from the crustaceans that they eat, which ate algae. Melanins and carotenoids can interact to produce feathers such as olive green.

The third group of pigments are called porphyrins and they are the rarest, found only in a handful of bird families. Porphyrins are produced by modified amino acids and all share a common trait, which is to fluoresce bright red when exposed to ultraviolet light. Porphyrins are found in some pigeons, owls, and turacos.

The intensity of the red of the Northern Cardinal is an example of how feather color plays an important role in the survival of a species. Cardinal foods high in carotenoids include rose hips and dogwood berries. The brightest red birds usually have superior breeding territories, with the greatest abundance of their preferred foods. The reddest birds make the most successful parents because of their ability to bring an increased amount of food to the nestlings. When Cardinals are raised in captivity on a diet lacking in carotenoids, with each successive molt, the feathers become paler and paler.

Like butterflies, birds can see color in the ultraviolet spectrum (we humans cannot). Perhaps the way we see birds is entirely different from they way they see themselves!

Part Two Structural Color continued tomorrow.

Red-winged Blackbird in flight male KIm SmithMale Red-winged Blackbird

The beauty of nature lies in the details

“Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Turkey feathers fanning male Tom Turkey Kim Smith 2016

GLORIOUS SPRING!

Daffodils Kim Smith 2016I dared not meet the daffodils,
For fear their yellow gown
Would pierce me with a fashion
So foreign to my own.

                                        -Emily DickinsonDaffodils American Robin Kim Smith 2016