10 awesome nature documentaries to help pass the time

Grey wolf (Photo by Gary Kramer, courtesy of USFWS)

Grey wolf (Photo by Gary Kramer, courtesy of USFWS)

April 8, 2020 | by Jaime Clifton-Ross

As we self-isolate, social distance and find new ways to connect with friends and family, now has never been a better time to learn more about nature. While Blue Planet and Planet Earth are obvious go-tos, we’re sharing some other awesome documentaries (in no particular order) illuminating the magic and mystery of the natural world.

1. "Kingdom of the Tide," The Nature of Things, Season 59, Episode 13

This episode showcases the rugged intertidal zones of Canada, from coast to coast. Dr. Sarika Cullis-Suzuki, a marine biologist and David Suzuki’s daughter, explores the natural systems taking place in these spectacular ecosystems. As rugged and dynamic habitats, intertidal zones are not the most hospitable homes. Not only do new tides rip them apart, but wildlife must survive submerged in water and exposed to air. Find out how these mind-blowing ecosystems are key to ocean and human health.

Watch this episode on CBC Gem

2. Sleepless Cities, Night on Earth, Episode 5

While every episode is amazing, this one in particular was incredibly captivating. There’s so much going on right outside our doors that we’re not even aware of. And now that cities across the world are on lockdown, many animals are flocking to urban centres. Deer can be seen wandering the streets of Nara, Japan, while monkeys are brawling in the streets of Thailand.

Watch this episode on Netflix.

3. Alone in the Wilderness, Parts 1 and 2

From the soothing narration and enchanting harp soundtrack to the calming sounds of rushing water and sawing wood, this two-part documentary series is all we need right now. It shares the story of American naturalist Dick Proenneke, who lived alone in the Alaskan wilderness for decades. He built a cabin by hand, grew potatoes, wrote in his journal and dumped “everything but the kitchen sponge” into his stew. He also photographed and filmed the majestic wildlife of Twin Lakes during his regular hikes.

While it’s hard to track down the documentaries in full, the production company uploaded several clips to their YouTube channel.

4. "The Great Flood," Nature’s Great Events, Episode 5

While every episode from this series is amazing, The Great Flood, in particular, is absolutely mind blowing. Narrated by David Attenborough, this episode documents the amazing transformation of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Every year, this dry 4,000-square-mile plain transforms into a breathtaking wetland teeming with life. Filled with networks of hippo paths, these arteries provide passage for other animals and help keep the water flowing. Also, elephants get a lot of screen time in this episode. Who doesn’t love a baby elephant?

Watch this episode on Amazon Prime or BBC Earth.

5. "Takaya: Lone Wolf," The Nature of Things, Season 59, Episode 3

This episode shares the remarkable story of a wolf that lives a life of solitude on a small, uninhabited archipelago off the coast of Vancouver Island. Why did he choose to live alone, how did he manage to adapt to a marine environment and will he find a mate? Renowned wildlife photographer Cheryl Alexander shares her experience with Takaya the wolf and explores how he manages to survive alone.

Watch this episode on YouTube or CBC Gem.

6. The Woman Who Loves Giraffes

Before Jane Goodall there was Anne Innis Dagg. Her research on giraffe’s was groundbreaking and so was her fight for women’s equality in science. In 1956, she made her first trip to South Africa to study giraffes in their natural habitat. Travelling alone as a 23-year-old biologist to study animal behaviour in the wild was almost unheard of at the time, especially for a young woman. She followed the strict standards of non-interference and non-interaction and eventually published her work in the world’s most prestigious research journals. Her book, The Giraffe, is still considered “the Bible” on the species. This, however, was not enough to launch her career as a researcher. She was even denied tenure at the University of Guelph in 1972, a position she required as a woman to become a professor. This beautiful documentary follows her story.

Watch this documentary on YouTube.

7. The Biggest Little Farm

This documentary will blow your mind. One intrepid couple give up life in the big city to revitalize a farm just outside of Los Angeles. What’s more, they did it all after making a promise to their dog. With little knowledge of sustainable farming, they document the trials and tribulations of working with nature’s systems to produce food and raise animals. I'm not going to lie; it’s an emotional rollercoaster. However, the storytelling is so captivating. Also, their adorable pig, Emma, stars in her own children’s book.

Watch this documentary on Netflix.

8. "Australia, Seven Worlds, One Planet," Episode 4

Australia undoubtedly has an incredible array of the most fascinating, terrifying and bizarre wildlife. But the main reason why we’re suggesting you watch this episode is to learn about one animal in particular: the thorny devil lizard. This spikey little creature drinks water by dipping its toes in a puddle and collects moisture by "capillary action." You can literally watch its body glistening as the water rises up to its mouth.

Also, check out this resourceful wild mouse as it fills up its cheeks with candle wax, which apparently is high in calories. You can catch this clip in the Europe episode.

Watch this episode on Amazon Prime or BBC Earth.

9. Selah: Water from Stone

This short documentary shares an uplifting story of conservation, biodiversity and sustainability. Fifty years ago, David Bamberger deliberately bought the worst piece of land he could find in Texas and spent decades restoring it. He worked with mother nature to bring the 2,225 hectares (5,500 acres) of degraded land on Selah Bamberger Ranch Preserve back to life. Not a drop of water was present, despite digging seven water wells that were 500 feet deep. After discovering a dry cavern, he planted grasses throughout the limestone-filled land to soak up rainwater. Now 11 springs are flourishing across the ranch preserve and many wild animals now live here.

Watch this documentary on YouTube.

10. Whale Fall (After Life of a Whale)

This stunning stop-motion animation artistically tells the story of the afterlife of a whale using paper cut-outs. Created by Sweet Fern Productions, it illustrates how a whale’s body can sustain an entire ecosystem microcosm for up to seven years and highlights meticulous systems in nature. It also reflects on the idea of impermanence and our existence as nodes in something larger, richer and more complex than our individual lives.

Watch this video on YouTube.

Honourable mention: Anything Bob Ross

Ok, so not quite a documentary, but a nature-based show nonetheless. One of our favouite episodes is “Wilderness Cabin” because we love watching Bob effortlessly paint a cabin with his palette knife. And throughout his series he paints so many happy little trees. Not to mention, he rescues baby squirrels who make an appearance from time to time. There’s also something about the way he taps his paintbrush on his easel that is so satisfying! What could be a better show to watch during such a difficult time?

Watch this episode on Netflix or YouTube.

This post originally appeared on the National Environmental Treasure’s website  and is reposted with permission.

Jaime Clifton-Ross

About the Author

Jaime Clifton-Ross is a communication and curatorial specialist who is passionate about communicating science to the public.

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