We descend 10,000 feet from the summit of Cima Verde in Northern Italy, down the alpine slopes, across high pastures, through Alpine forest and down into the vineyards on the valley floor. The programme opens with an imagined soundscape high above the mountain in a place we cannot tread, but as we begin our descent we catch the sounds of passing ravens as they fly high above the summit scavenging for food. A snow field melts into the sounds of a high pasture. Further down, capercaillie are captured in a forest clearing, spirits dancing in the forest at first light, as these brightly coloured male birds perform their ritual dance to attract the females. A tawny owl signals a change of location and a woodland chorus reveals resident birds as well as African migrants. Our descent continues through orchards and vineyards where the clear silver song of a nightingale fills the air. This nocturnal soloist is then joined in the first light of dawn by the forest chorus as we reach our journey's end. Producer Sarah Blunt.
A Black Grouse lek is one of the most extraordinary sound spectacles in Britain and they occur every year from September until the birds breed in Spring; the peak time being April to May. Male Black Grouse gather at traditional sites on upland moors and display to each other and to the females before dawn. Hidden in a small wooden hut Chris Watson captures the sounds of their remarkable theatrical performance, by burying microphones the previous evening and running long cables back to recorders in the hide. The first males arrive at the lek site under cover of dark. They can be heard before they are seen. They fan out their black lyre-shaped tails to reveal white under-feathers as they strut back and forth to one another like partners on a dance floor. These displays determine the ranks of the birds to one another prior to breeding. The dance is accompanied by a startling vocal display; bubbling sounds, far-carrying rolling coos, pops, gurgles and explosive 'sneezes' which once heard are never forgotten! Females are attracted to the lek, listening and looking for a prospective mate! As the sun rises, the performers drift away, leaving an empty stage, a circle of trodden grass in the heather and the echoes of their remarkable display. Producer Sarah Blunt.
|The Oak Woodland||20160531|
A journey through the seasons in the company of an oak tree. Beginning in winter with the sounds of melting ice and a lone robin singing its plaintive melody, we travel through the seasons, noting not only the changes in the oak tree, but the wildlife which relies on the tree for food and shelter. In spring the young leaves break free of their bud scales and the number of young caterpillars in the foliage can be so great that on a fine day their droppings or frass can sound like rain. By late spring, oaks support huge populations of insects and this in turn attracts more birds; Great Tits, Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts and Tree creepers. In early summer, the wood warblers, whose song has been likened to a small coin spinning on a marble slab return and on warm summer nights the air is filled with the sound of oak bush crickets; which sing by drumming their hind leg against a leaf. They are accompanied by bats. Autumn arrives and with it the storms. Undeterred a storm cock continues to sing from its high perch. Jays are a common sight now collecting large numbers of acorns. Wood pigeons too gorge themselves on acorns whilst squirrels chase after one another up and down the Oak branches prior to mating. As the days shorten and winter approaches, another year in the life of the oak comes to an end, accompanied by roe deer and foxes calling in the darkness of the shortening days. Producer Sarah Blunt.
|The Reed Bed||20160603|
When you stare into a bank of reeds in early May you can see very little, yet hear so much inside, so sound recordist Chris Watson decided to try and capture the changing soundscape within the reeds over 24 hours. But tall phragmites reeds growing out of sodden ground and watery dykes make them impenetrable places by foot, so Chris sets up his microphones around the edge of the reedbed and prepares to listen from dusk until dawn. Reed beds are magical places. The resident wildlife is either very well camouflaged or secretive and yet the sounds are extraordinary - from the booming fog-horn like calls of Bittern, which are very rarely seen but whose calls reverberate across the reed beds, to the pig-like squeals of the water rail (again a bird you are very unlikely to see but will hear). Dusk is accompanied by the screams and clicks of swifts and swallows as the swoop back and forth catching insects on the wing. As the temperature drops, the reed bed becomes a quieter place but just before dawn the silence is broken and the orchestra strikes up once again: Bitterns, reed buntings and chattering reed and sedge warblers as well as the reeling grasshopper warblers are the first to be heard. Then there's the bell-like high pitched calls of Bearded tits, and finally a soloist as a cuckoo calls to attract a mate. Producer Sarah Blunt.
|The River Crossing||20160530|
The annual migration of millions of wildebeest across the plains of Africa is one of Nature's most spectacular events. What drives this migration is rain and the search for food. Every year, wildebeest, zebra and antelope migrate clockwise around the Serengeti / Masai Mara ecosystem. In January the herds can be found in Tanzania's Serengeti heading south into southern Serengeti where they calve. By July the herds have reached western Serengeti and the Grumeti and Mara rivers. The river crossings are their biggest challenge. Nile crocodiles which can be as much as 5 metres in length long crocodiles lie in wait. On the river banks, the wildebeest jostle against one another. Animals at the front slither about on the mud before plunging into the river and a stampede follows. The crocodiles seize their chance, lunging out of the water at the terrified baying herd. Hours become days and the river becomes a blood bath. Eventually the crocodiles are satiated. Vultures arrive to pick over the dead and dying. It's a scene of carnage. The sounds are chilling. In time the crocodiles drift away, the waters become restful, and tranquillity is restored. Hippos bathe and the wildebeest continue their long migration into the Masai Mara reserve. Producer Sarah Blunt.
|01||Midnight At The Oasis||20150323|
Wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson introduces the first of five audio postcards, each of which is a time compression; a spectacular natural event which has been recorded over hours, days, weeks or even months but which is heard here, in less than 15minutes. The series begins in the Kalahari Desert. Between November and February summer temperatures reach over 40 degrees centigrade. To avoid the dry, desiccating heat much of the wildlife has developed nocturnal habits. Chris wanted to capture the sounds of this extreme and ancient environment at a time when he could see very little, but could hear everything. This meant recording the sounds of the Kalahari Desert from dusk until dawn. First we hear the sounds of the sand, as grains are driven up the sand dunes and over the summit by the scouring winds. As the afternoon passes, sidewinder snakes slither across the desert surface. Flash rainfalls create pools of water in the dry riverbed hollows which are exploited by flocks of namaqua sandgrouse. As the light fades there's a brief evening chorus of birdsong. After sunset, the dunes, grasses and thorn bushes are patrolled by an emerging alien empire; the insects, producing an astonishing wall of sound. Baked hard by the sun, the red sand and soil of the Kalahari acts as a sounding board at night for the far carrying and chilling calls of brown hyenas, and before sunrise Chris records the powerful territorial calls of a desert lion which he can hear but cannot see. Sunrise is rapid, accompanied by the displays of clapper larks, calling and beating their wings together. And after sunrise, the temperature soars once again and the animals retreat leaving the voice of the prevailing winds as they scour across the Kalahari desert. Producer Sarah Blunt
|02||St James' Park||20150324|
Our urban parks and gardens create green lanes and oases of open spaces within our towns and cities. They are also conduits for wildlife as well as for people. St James' Park in Newcastle upon Tyne does have lush green turf but it is less of an oasis and more of a battlefield because since 1892 it has been the home of Newcastle United football club, and so regularly pounds with the clamour of human voices. At these times its anything but tranquil! On the northern boundary is Leazes Park a formal Victorian park opened in 1873. In this programme, Chris was keen to record the changing soundscape across these two connected parks over the course of a single day, match day. The recordings begin at 3am in the city centre as revellers start to leave the night clubs and make their way home; many of them crossing Leazes Park. A trail of food cartons provide rich pickings for mice which in turn are preyed upon by the park's tawny owls and foxes. At 4am, a robin sings stimulated by the glow of the street light. The first light of the day brings joggers and then parents with children to the park, where their excited chatter mingles with the calls of mallards and coots on the lake. Over the next few hours the park and city are transformed as fans gather for the match. Many arrive at Newcastle Central Station where their enthusiastic and almost deafening chants, are punctuated by the growls and barks of police dogs. The fans are escorted to the stadium. Inside, the match is an orchestra of sound as the voices of the fans ring out with excitement and anticipation, despondency and joy until the final whistle is blown. After the match, the fans disperse, and then the real magpies, return to the park to their night roost; their wild sounds filling the air. Producer Sarah Blunt
The Wash is a large rectangular-shaped tidal estuary in East Anglia bordering Lincolnshire and Norfolk. Wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson has long been fascinated by both the mystery of King John's treasure which it's claimed was lost and buried in the mud here, and the wildlife of the Wash. This is a strange and haunting habitat; a no man's land where twice each day the tide sweeps in across the mud and drives tens of thousands of wading birds off their feeding grounds and onto a temporary roost by the shingle and gravel pits at the R.S.P.B. reserve at Snettisham in Norfolk. It's a bewitching spectacle, especially on a spring tide. At low tide the birds disperse and only the feint roar of the distant sea can be heard across the vast expanses of exposed mud. Beneath the mud however there are the sounds of crustaceans and worms; a rich food supply and the reason why so many thousands of birds are attracted to The Wash. As the tide turns, rivulets of water trickle across the mud. The tide gathers pace, and as it does it so, it forces the birds towards the shore and into the air. Huge flocks numbering hundreds then thousands of birds are pushed off the mud and onto the gravel pits. When Chris visited, the birds were roosting well away from the water and in complete darkness. Yet soon after the tide turned and by some unknown signal the knots' chattering calls increased and then the leading edge of the flock suddenly took off and thousands of birds departed creating a huge wave of sound rather like the take-off of a large jet aircraft. Within a few minutes quiet and calm was restored to the gravel pits. For Chris, it's these wild sounds of the birds revealed as the tides ebb and flow which are the real hidden treasures of The Wash. Producer Sarah Blunt.
Wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson first visited Antarctica in January 2010 and on his first morning, he was woken up by a howling blizzard. It's the sound of arguably the most hostile environment on the planet. Whilst Chris was in Antarctica he was really keen to record one of the greatest transitional events on the planet, the sounds of a glacier being transformed over the antarctic summer from a solid mountain of freshwater ice into the salt water of the Ross sea. The place where he began recording was Cape Evans on Ross island and by the hut 'Terra Nova' which was used by Capt Scott and his party during their ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1911.The cinematographer Herbert Ponting who remained at Cape Evans later produced a film called "The Great White Silence". But this landscape is far from silent. Looking west from 'Terra Nova' Chris could see the Barne glacier, a massive river of ice which flows down the slopes of Mount Erebus to the Ross sea. The recordings Chris made follow a journey which begins inside the glacier with low, deep, powerful thumping sounds before it calves and huge blocks of ice crash onto the frozen Ross sea. The sea ice buckles and cracks under the weight of these blocks producing extraordinary musical tones. Blocks of ice break off under pressure to form icebergs. Then there's a gradual reduction as the sea ice undergoes its annual melt. Standing near a patch of open water Chris has an astonishing encounter with a minke whale which surfaces unexpectedly to breathe, and records Adelie penguins and the captivating scales of weddell seals. With the transformation complete, Chris watches and listens as Orcas break the surface of the waters to breathe in the air of the 'Great White Silence'. Producer Sarah Blunt.
As a wildlife sound recordist, Chris Watson has been lucky enough to travel around the world listening to bird song, and is convinced that the very best dawn chorus in the world is here in Britain. From late March until mid-June, between 3am and 6am, there is a tremendous outpouring of song in woodlands between latitudes 50 to 55 degrees north. Resident birds are joined by migrant birds from Africa and Eastern Europe whose voices coalesce into an international chorus which fills our woodlands well before sunrise. Chris decided to try and capture a dawn chorus in a landscape he knew well as he would have to set up microphones in the dark, so he chose Suffolk. It was early May when he set out one evening down the old railway path which links Aldeburgh with Thorpeness. He arranged his microphones by a likely looking area of birch and alder trees, although the first sounds he heard were not birds but the bells of Aldeburgh parish church nearly two miles to the south. The bells faded under the sounds rooks, jackdaws and pheasants returning to their roost. There then followed the sounds of the night; owls, deer and foxes. At 2.30am Chris heard the first bird song, when a nightingale began to sing. This was a beautiful solo voice in the darkness. Soon other birds joined the Nightingale; Robin, Song thrush, Blackbird and Wren, until at 4am the chorus had developed to the extent that it was difficult to pick out any individual. With the first rays of daylight, the chorus began to subside and the pattern of song was changed by the late arrivals. As Chris returned back along the footpath, he was accompanied by the cries of curlew rising off the marshes and heading inland - a perfect end to a wonderful dawn chorus. Producer Sarah Blunt.