Yesterday evening I found myself looking out over the Mediterranean from a viewing point at the end of a walking trail. I was with Paul Reddish. Beneath us was Marbella and cutting through the haze beyond the still waters of the sea were the tops of some of the mountains of Morocco. This is far from the narrowest part of the Mediterranean but, even from here, Africa looks pretty close. If you travel further west, at its narrowest point at the Strait of Gibraltar the distance shrinks to 8 miles or so and it can feel as though you could almost skim a stone and have it bounce across the water and rattle up among the pebbles of a different continent.

Paul and I were talking about various things and, seeing the Mediterranean from this vantage point, I remembered an experience I had a few years ago when I was lucky enough to sight a sperm whale in the straits when a bunch of us were out on a yacht looking at birds and cetaceans. We were able to approach the whale quite closely while it flushed out the carbon dioxide it had accumulated in the depths and tanked up on fresh oxygen before, with slow deliberation, assuming a vertical position and putting its great tail above the water before sounding once again. All this happened in slow motion and I remember those great tail flukes raised above the surface and dripping seawater before slipping beneath the surface as the whale headed to the sea floor 800 metres below.

For me, as you can imagine, this was an extraordinary experience and I well knew that I might never repeat it in my lifetime. But, only a little way into telling Paul this story I realised that I was speaking to someone whose life had been enriched by so many such experiences that what I was saying was already well understood and that the sense of awe and reverence, if that is not too showy a way of trying to express it, was something that he too had felt many times.

As it happens Paul had not only sighted sperm whales but had filmed them along with blue whales and humpbacks among many other marine mammals as part of a long career making wildlife films. I have a few stories of my own about my experiences with the natural world but if you want to really appreciate wonderful stories that are beautifully recounted then, quite frankly, Paul Reddish is the only show in town.

The two of us found ourselves at the end of this walking trail on the way back from the coast where Paul had been kind enough to give a presentation to a couple of hundred of our secondary students. The essential idea was to show the story writing component that underpins a wildlife film and how to create a kind of narrative thread to link and organise disparate ideas. To do this he asked the students what facts they had about hummingbirds and he wrote them down on a whiteboard. Then he discussed how the scaffolding of these facts could be used to develop the story which would run through the hummingbird film. And then, when the facts had been collected he showed excerpts from the award winning film that he had produced showing how this had been achieved. Essentially the students were tasked with carrying out, in about an hour, the steps that are taken in making a real wildlife production. Later we were treated to short sequences from the final programme.

The actual hummingbird film that Paul had produced, which was around 3 years in the making, was narrated by David Attenborough with whom Paul had collaborated on many such projects over the years. As you might expect, it was visually stunning, but the storytelling and writing were the aspects which were fascinating and Paul and I have had a chance to talk about this in some depth.

So what is the humming bird “story”? I cannot do it full justice here of course but a central idea, THE central idea of Biology as Paul will remind you, is evolution and the intimate connection between the evolution of flowers and of the hummingbirds themselves. Both the flowering plants and the hummingbirds exploit and are exploited in a sense by the other. The flowers provide the rocket fuel for these miniature combustion engines and the birds deliver pollen with greater efficiency than the insect pollinators that had been the first on the job. Ultimately the mutual interdependence between the birds and the flowers has determined not only the adaptive radiation of the hummingbirds themselves but also the evolution of the flowering plants whose flowers have evolved to provide easy access to their preferred pollinators.

This presentation was about hummingbirds but Paul´s filming experiences are very diverse but in natural history and anthropology. The stories that he has hold these films together and, like I say, when it comes to story telling he is the only show in town.

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Here we are after Paul´s talk on wildlife film making. Shortly after this photo was taken we had a picture taken with the audience on the steps outside the venue and then, of course, it was time for a couple of glasses of wine!