The Shannon is the longest river in Ireland and Britain, flowing more than 200 miles from its source in northwestern County Cavan south to the Atlantic Ocean. This historic Irish geographical landmark divides the country in two, with the wilder and rugged lands to the west and the gentler plains to the east. The river offers a wealth of lakes, islands and tributaries which provide a lifeline for the countless wild animals and plants that shelter in and around its waters.
Nature follows wildlife cameraman Colin Stafford-Johnson (The Funkiest Monkeys, Broken Tail: A Tiger’s Last Journey) on a personal journey exploring the Shannon’s natural wonders when Ireland’s Wild River airs Wednesday, February 26 at 8 p.m. (ET) on WNET New York and other PBS stations (check local listings). After the broadcast, the episode will be available for online streaming at pbs.org/nature.
Shot over the course of a year, Stafford-Johnson spends all four seasons on the Shannon, canoeing its waters and camping along its banks, reveling in the sights and sounds of the river’s wild side. He follows the calls of birds and splashes of fish, seeking out hidden spots and delighting in the creatures he encounters, regaling us with stories about their habits and behaviors.
One such animal is Daubenton’s bat, more commonly known as the water bat, a creature perfectly adapted to life on the river. In Ireland’s Wild River, the bats are filmed at night in super slow-motion to show off their lightning-fast hunting technique. Using echolocation to find small insects caught on top of the water, they swoop in and scoop them up with their tails or feet.
There is also footage of the kingfisher hunting underwater. This bird, according to Stafford-Johnson, is the greatest angler on the river. “They’re just master fisherman and they’ve got to be because they can pretty much eat their own body weight in food every day. Most of the time, you just see a flash of blue, but to really see how beautiful they are, you’ve got to slow them down.”
Nature is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET for PBS. For Nature, Fred Kaufman is executive producer. Ireland’s Wild River is a Crossing the Line production made in association with RTÉ.