Like a Butterfly: The Incredible Life of the Wallcreeper
When I was 14, I went on an exchange trip to Germany with my high school band. It was a strange time for me, in which I got in a car accident, discovered bathrooms with heated floors, was disgusted with my classmates for going to McDonald’s instead of eating local cuisine, and missed out on drinking beer because no one wanted to hang out with the snotty girl who looked down on people who ate at McDonald’s instead of sampling the local cuisine.
The undoubted highlight, though, was the trip to Neuschwanstein. Not so much because of the castle — though I remember it being pretty — but because on a low rock wall near where we sat to eat our lunches I spotted a strange little bird, a bit like a nuthatch but largely dark gray with vivid red wing-markings. It wasn’t until I got home and had access to a library that I learned that I’d seen a Wallcreeper.
A Wallcreeper is not a forgettable bird, and though I’ve never seen one since, it remains one of my indelible early birding impressions. So I was delighted to get the chance to review Like a Butterfly, a short film from director Frank Neveu that chronicles the life of the species in French Alps. Developed alongside Cristophe Sidamon-Pesson’s photo book on the same subject, the film required about three and a half years of shooting in rugged terrain (a matter covered in an interesting “Making of” special feature.)
Structurally, this is one of the most traditional, even basic, of nature documentaries — the story arc is the cycle of the Wallcreeper’s year, from the spring return to the rugged cliff faces through courting, nesting, rearing of the young, fledging, and migration, with challenges arising from predators and from the need to find food, with each step laid out briefly in its basics. The pacing is staid, and surprises are few.
Rather, the film’s virtues are located in the sheer beauty of some of the shots, not only of the photogenic main subject but of all manner of mountain birds and animals, and of the landscape itself. Even silverfish grow visually interesting as presented here.
No blockbuster, this. But it is certainly a charming diversion for a laid-back evening at home, and likely to bring a smile to the face of anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting the Wallcreeper in real life.
Featured image by Ron Knight.