Earthflight Review: Beautiful Birds

EARTHFLIGHT: Thursday 29th December, BBC1, 8pm

The BBC has been spoiling us of late. There was Brian Cox enrapturing us with the Wonders of the Universe, not to mention the phenomenal Frozen Planet series and its landmark exploration of the Polar Regions. (Of course there was all that hoopla regarding the ‘fake’ polar bear footage, but we’ll swiftly skip over that curveball…)

So you’d be forgiven for thinking you might have to wait at least another couple of years for another gem to grace your screens. Well think again, as the Beeb have been hiding an absolute treasure in their locker in the form of Earthflight, a new natural history programme based upon the wildlife of birds. You might be under the assumption that you’ve seen it all before… but this is not just any nature programme of course; by using cutting edge technology the viewer is magically allowed a ‘bird’s eye view’ and a glimpse into what the earth looks like from the vantage point of some of the world’s most highest soaring creatures.

With the comforting Scottish burr of narrator David Tennant guiding us along, the first in this five-part series takes a look at the birds of North America as they take flight from the Gulf of Mexico all the way northwards to the Arctic. The birds are filmed using groundbreaking techniques, allowing the camera to film right within the midst of the flock, as well as directly alongside the birds as they beautifully soar along.

It seems the word ‘groundbreaking’ if often bounded about, especially when it comes to wildlife programmes. However Earthflight shows that it’s not just an Attenborough offering that is capable of producing it. The spectacle of the bird’s often exhausting journey northwards is a little even a little jarring at first; your brain might try and convince yourself that it’s very good animation you’re seeing, a computer game perhaps, a fact which makes the reality even more impressive. The innovation in cinematography is undoubtedly stunning, but it is not simply the perspective Earthflight allows which is its draw; the behaviour exhibited by the birds is also as fascinating as anything seen in Frozen Planet. There are slow-mo shots of hawks attempting to catch bats, gulls gobbling up brine flies, and ‘devil rays’ showing off to their ‘supernatural’ leaping abilities. Watch and learn little penguins…

We are also allowed insight into the ways in which the shrewd egrits use the ‘strand feeding’ behaviour of dolphins for their own hungry gain. Inevitably, it all makes for some spectacular HD viewing.

The producers of Earthflight, John Downer Productions, have previously won countless awards for their innovative approach to film-making and they will undoubtedly follow suit here. Sit back and marvel at ‘the many secrets known only to birds’. Just keep your fingers crossed none of it was ‘uncovered’ in the balmy setting of London Zoo…