Aug 29 2013

Earthflight Begins Sept. 4

Published by at 6:30 am under Books & Events

Snow geese migrate through Monument Valley, Utah (photo courtesy of John Downer Productions, PBS Nature, WNET)

Next month the six-part BBC series Earthflight will come to PBS Nature starting September 4.

The series by John Downer Productions follows birds in flight on six continents using camera techniques and close ups reminiscent of the 2001 film Winged Migration.

I previewed the "North America" segment and like Earthflight better, not only because the camera technology has improved and miniaturized, but because Downer's producers let the birds lead us to natural phenomena from the birds' perspective.  Brown pelicans over Baja California show us the amazing water dance of "devil" stingrays.  Great egrets in South Carolina reveal where dolphins purposely beach themselves to herd fish.

The series took four years to produce, in part because key birds in the film were imprinted from birth on humans and raised to be comfortable with cameras, ultralights and microlights.  John Downer himself became an accidental "mother" to a duck whose egg he was delivering to a cameraman. The egg hatched in transit and the duckling immediately assumed Downer was its mother. She followed him everywhere for almost a year.  "It was a total commitment," Downer said, "but one that rewarded me with one of the best moments of my life as it flew alongside me in a parascender."

The episodes are packed with birds and wonders:

  • North America, Sept 4, stars snow geese, bald eagles, brown pelicans, whales and the "devil" rays.
  • Africa, Sept 11, follows vultures, cape gannets, flamingos and the great migrations of wildebeest and sardines (chaos in the ocean; a sky full of diving gannets).
  • Europe, Sept 18, features white storks, cranes, sand martins (watch them drink and bathe while flying), and -- bonus for Peregrine Fans -- 20 million starlings trying to out-fly the peregrines in Rome.
  • South America, Sept 25, follows condors, swifts, hummingbirds and scarlet macaws.  See the Nazca lines with the birds.
  • Asia and Australia, Oct 2, stars demoiselle cranes, bar-headed geese (at 27,000 feet over the Himalayas), pigeons, rainbow lorikeets and Japanese cranes dancing in the snow.
  • Flying High, Oct 9, shows how the series was made, the birds who starred in the show, and unexpected mishaps including the time when the camera crew lost snow geese (temporarily) in Brooklyn, NY.

Watch Earthflight on PBS Nature beginning September 4 at 8:00pm EDT.  In Pittsburgh it's on WQED.


(photo courtesy of John Downer Productions, PBS Nature, WNET)

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