A View Through A Lens

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison often finds himself in isolated and even dangerous locations across the globe filming wildlife, and in this series he reflects on the uniqueness of human experience, the beauty of nature, the fragility of life and the connections which unite society and nature across the globe.

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01Seals2009011120091228

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison often finds himself in isolated and even dangerous locations across the globe filming wildlife, and in this series he reflects on the uniqueness of human experience, the beauty of nature, the fragility of life and the connections which unite society and nature across the globe.

Despite a raging storm, John struggles across the rocky shore of Brownsman Island off the coast of Northumberland to film grey seals giving birth at night.

John films grey seals giving birth at night off the Northumberland coast.

02Shadows2009011820091229

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison offers a personal view of life as he finds himself in isolated and often dangerous locations across the globe filming wildlife.

Squatting on a tiny platform 30 metres offshore, John waits for young black-footed albatrosses to embark on their first flight from the shore.

Below him in the water, shadows are patrolling back and forth, waiting for the birds to land on the waves.

John waits offshore for young black-footed albatrosses to embark on their first flight.

Squatting on a tiny platform 30 metres offshore, John waits for young black-footed albatrosses to embark on their first flight.

02Shadows2009011820100515

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison offers a personal view of life as he finds himself in isolated and often dangerous locations across the globe filming wildlife.

Squatting on a tiny platform 30 metres offshore, John waits for young black-footed albatrosses to embark on their first flight from the shore.

Below him in the water, shadows are patrolling back and forth, waiting for the birds to land on the waves.

John waits offshore for young black-footed albatrosses to embark on their first flight.

03Poyang Lake2009012520100522

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison offers a personal view of life as he finds himself in isolated and often dangerous locations across the globe filming wildlife.

Having set up his hide at the edge of Poyang Lake in China, John waits for dawn and watches the birds nearby as he reflects on everyday miracles like feathers, boatmen and Chinese worms.

Having set up beside Poyang Lake in China, John waits for dawn and watches the birds.

0101Seals20100508

Despite a raging storm, John struggles across the rocky shore of Brownsman Island off the coast of Northumberland to film grey seals giving birth at night.

John films grey seals giving birth at night off the Northumberland coast.

0103Poyang Lake2009012520091230

Having set up his hide at the edge of Poyang Lake in China, John waits for dawn and watches the birds as he reflects on everyday miracles like feathers, boatmen and Chinese worms.

Having set up beside Poyang Lake in China, John waits for dawn and watches the birds.

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison offers a personal view of life as he finds himself in isolated and often dangerous locations across the globe filming wildlife.

Having set up his hide at the edge of Poyang Lake in China, John waits for dawn and watches the birds nearby as he reflects on everyday miracles like feathers, boatmen and Chinese worms.

0104Flying Elk2009020120091231
20100911 (R4)

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison offers a personal view of life as he finds himself in isolated and often dangerous locations across the globe filming wildlife.

In this programme, John films a flight from Sweden to Scotland but this is no ordinary flight as his companions include two moose, and in order to fit the moose into the plane the toilet has to be removed, and then the moose have to be seduced! Its a very long flight.

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison recalls a flight from Sweden to Scotland with two moose.

John films a flight from Sweden to Scotland.

But this is no ordinary flight as his companions include two moose, and in order to fit the moose in the plane the toilet had to be removed and the moose seduced.

John films a flight from Sweden to Scotland, with companions that include two moose.

John films the flight from Sweden to Scotland.

But this is no ordinary flight as his companions include two moose, which can only be fitted into the plane by removing the toilet.

John films the flight from Sweden to Scotland, with companions that include two moose.

0105 LASTWolves2009020820100101

0105 LASTWolves2009020820100101

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison offers a personal view of life as he finds himself in isolated and often dangerous locations across the globe filming wildlife. In this porgramme, John travels to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to film wolves hunting elk; something that has rarely been seen let alone filmed. It's a hugely challenging task as temperatures plummet below freezing, but the results are both exhilarating and shocking.

0105 LASTWolves2009020820100101
20100918 (R4)

John travels to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to film wolves hunting elk, something that has rarely been seen let alone filmed.

It is a hugely challenging task, as temperatures plummet below freezing, but the results are both exhilarating and shocking.

John travels to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to film wolves hunting elk.

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison offers a personal view of life as he finds himself in isolated and often dangerous locations across the globe filming wildlife.

In this porgramme, John travels to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to film wolves hunting elk; something that has rarely been seen let alone filmed.

It's a hugely challenging task as temperatures plummet below freezing, but the results are both exhilarating and shocking.

John Aitchison travels to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to film wolves hunting elk.

0201Ancient Mariners20100912

It's November and on Bird Island in the South Atlantic Ocean, wildlife cameraman John Aitchison watches as Wandering Albatross chicks attempt to fly for the very first time.

It takes a year to raise an Albatross chick until its wings are the largest of any bird.

As well as these 'young chicks', one of the world's oldest birds, a grey-headed Albatross, also lives here on Bird island.

She still wears the ID ring which she was fitted with in 1959.

A biologist on the island called Glen Crossin explains to John how it's only the skin on this albatross's feet which shows her great age.

It's thin and transparent; like the skin on Glen's grandmother's hands.

As a boy, this was how Glen knew his grandmother was old; by the skin on her hands.

Watching, filming and hearing stories about the Albatross; long-lived birds and amongst the greatest of all travellers, John is reminded of his own grandmother and is filled with respect for these two 'old birds' as he considers their longevity and life experiences, in a tale of The Ancient Mariners.

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison watches Wandering Albatross chicks attempt to fly.

020220100919

It's July and twelve hundred kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, on the island of Spitzbergen, wildlife cameraman, John Aitchison waits for eider ducklings to hatch.

It's a cold and hostile environment, but it's where Louis Nelson chose to build his cabin and this is where John is staying.

Louis is an eider farmer; he harvests the down which the female eiders pluck from their breasts to line their nests.

This gathered down is used to fill eider downs.

It's a form of sustainable harvesting which works for both parties.

Louis protects the eiders from predators and in return only takes the surplus down which the ducks replace.

Since he began this work he's attracted more birds to the colony.

There are now some 3000 birds, compared to 1600 when he started.

The nesting ducks are a powerful draw for other animals -like gulls and foxes which will steal the eggs, and polar bears.

They are a very real threat.

Louis has had to fortify the cabin against them and John's hide provides little resistance against one inquisitive visitor (fortunately when John isn't inside).

Trying to film eider ducks hatch and make it to the water's edge is anything but easy as John quickly discovers, especially when there are polar bears about!

Presented by John Aitchison

Produced by Sarah Blunt.

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison avoids polar bears as he waits for eider ducks to hatch.

2/5.

0203Tigers20100926

It's April, and John flies to India to film tigers hunting for the BBC Natural History television series, LIFE.

Many foreigners avoid this time of year because of the heat - but that's why John and his colleagues are here - it's the best time for seeing tigers.

Searching for tigers in a tangled Indian forest is hard work on the eyes - and John knows he must also use his ears - and listen to the sounds around him, trying to use the alarm calls of other animals to lead him to the tiger.

In the dawn chorus one bird sings louder than the others 'brain fe-ver, brain fe-ver', it seems to be saying, putting John on edge.

He knows the task ahead is almost impossible.

He draws parallels with the Jungle Book and Kipling's stories.

The peacock, spotted deer and langur monkeys warn each other and John if a tiger approaches.

A mahout and his elephant prove invaluable, but when John finally comes close to tiger, in a remarkable encounter, he realizes that this animal - one of just 1400 which are left in the wild in India, has paid a high price for survival in the forest.

Presented by John Aitchison

Produced by Sarah Blunt.

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison travels to India to film tigers hunting.

0204In The Footsteps Of Emperors20101003

Having learnt how to build a snow cave in which to sleep, and completed a series of training courses to equip them to survive in the hostile conditions of Antarctica, a team including wildlife cameraman, John Aitchison, fly up the coast from the American Base at McMurdo Station to a colony of birds; birds which John never imagined he would see in the flesh, birds that he has flown half way round the world to see, Emperor Penguins - the tallest and heaviest penguins of all.

John is here to film the penguins entering and leaving the sea through ice holes in the frozen landscape.

It sounds easy enough, but following the penguins across the frozen terrain is far from easy, as the landscape is not flat, and the skidoos are not designed to travel across the chaotic, jagged, terrain that is thrown up by the sea, wind and ice.

And then, there's the weather to contend with.

Fierce snow storms force John and his colleagues to take shelter in their camp for several days.

With time and supplies running low, the pressure is on.

After a few last minute changes to the complex slow-motion camera (involving a saw), John and the team set off.

They are finally rewarded with an amazing and magical encounter: shambling penguins are transformed into beautiful divers, as they disappear into the blue, sun dappled waters beneath the ice.

0205 LASTThe Invisible Cat20101010

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison travels to North West Canada in search of lynx.

Lynx are wild cats which spend most of their time in forests, so it's rare to see them at all, but with the help of a local tracker, John and his colleagues hope to get close enough to film a lynx for the BBC Natural History television series LIFE.

Tracking lynx involves looking for their prints in the snow.

Of course lynx prints aren't the only prints found in the snow - and even when you find lynx prints, you have to work out how old they are to know if the owner is nearby.

The lynx proves exceptionally elusive, and the team and their tracker try every trick in the book - even smearing smelly stuff on twigs to lure the lynx.

But nothing works.

Finally a lynx is spotted and John films it.

The initial excitement however is somewhat dampened when they realize the lynx is too far away and there just aren't enough shots.

Their last hope lies with a local man from the First Nations, called Thomas Joe.

John follows this calm and knowledgeable man into the forest, where he fixes a sack of dried pike to a tree trunk.

Thomas Joe explains that the lynx will turn up at about 4 o'clock, when the snow is not so crunchy "harder for the rabbit to hear him coming", he says.

John follows Thomas Joe as he examines tracks in the snow and they settle down to wait in the snow, hoping for the arrival of the 'invisible cat'.

Presented by John Aitchison

Produced by Sarah Blunt.

0301Taking The Plunge2011092620130819

1/5 Taking the Plunge:

John travelled with a team whilst making the BBC series, Frozen Planet, to Dream Island a remote, cold, hostile island despite its name, whose only inhabitants are elephant seals and Adelie penguins. Over fifteen years ago, another team from the BBC came here to film what happens when young penguins go to sea. There were thousands of chicks in the colonies then, and when they reached the water, several hundred leopard seals were waiting for them. But John discovers the colony is less than a fifth of its original size, and there are far fewer leopard seals so he travels further south where the breeding season is shorter and later. On the Fish Islands, he finds what he's looking for; a larger colony of Adelie adults and chicks. The young penguins head down the rocky shore to the water's edge for their first swim, flapping their wings up and down before they take their first plunge. They are like nervous ducks, waiting for someone to make the first move. Eventually a young penguin dives into the water. Others follow. John watches anxiously; the penguins seem unaware of the dangers of diving into water with leopard seals nearby. What follows next is a tense game of 'cat and mouse' as a leopard seal hunts the young swimmers.

Producer Sarah Blunt.

John travels with a team making the BBC series, Frozen Planet, to Dream Island a remote, cold, hostile island despite its name, whose only inhabitants are elephant seals and Adelie penguins.

Fifteen years ago, another team from the BBC came here to film what happens when young penguins go to sea.

There were thousands of chicks in the colonies then, and when they reached the water, several hundred leopard seals were waiting for them.

But John discovers the colony is less than a fifth of its original size, and there are far fewer leopard seals so he travels further south where the breeding season is shorter and later.

On the Fish Islands, he finds what he's looking for; a larger colony of Adelie adults and chicks.

The young penguins head down the rocky shore to the water's edge for their first swim, flapping their wings up and down before they take their first plunge.

They are like nervous ducks, waiting for someone to make the first move.

Eventually a young penguin dives into the water.

Others follow.

John watches anxiously; the penguins seem unaware of the dangers of diving into water with leopard seals nearby.

What follows next is a tense game of 'cat and mouse' as a leopard seal hunts the young swimmers.

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison watches leopard seals hunting young penguins.

0302Funky Chickens2011092720130820

2/5 Funky Chickens:

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison travels to Kansas, land of the prairies, the wild west and, as John discovers, some funky chickens. Under the cover of darkness, and after checking for rattle snakes, John crawls into his hide and waits. A strange sound, rather like that produced when you blow across the top of a bottle, begins to fill the air. The chickens are coming! Prairie chickens are a type of grouse, short-legged and dumpy. Their bodies are striped pale yellow brown and black, so they are well camouflaged in the long grass. Male birds gather in groups called leks and compete with one another to attract a female by engaging in an elaborate display; a kind of dance. First, long feathers rise up from the neck, revealing orange patches of skin on either side of the throat. Combs of orange inflate above their eyes. They drop their wings to the ground, shake their heads and inflate their orange throat patches. And then the birds begin to boom, and drum their feet. From his hide John watches this bizarre and hilarious performance. And then a bird flies up and lands on the roof of his hide, and begins to drum his feet! Now John feels he is really part of the crowd!

Producer Sarah Blunt.

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison travels to Kansas, land of the prairies, the wild west and, as John discovers, some funky chickens.

Under the cover of darkness, and after checking for rattle snakes, John crawls into his hide and waits.

A strange sound, rather like that produced when you blow across the top of a bottle, begins to fill the air.

The chickens are coming! Prairie chickens are a type of grouse, short-legged and dumpy.

Their bodies are striped pale yellow brown and black, so they are well camouflaged in the long grass.

Male birds gather in groups called leks and compete with one another to attract a female by engaging in an elaborate display; a kind of dance.

First, long feathers rise up from the neck, revealing orange patches of skin on either side of the throat.

Combs of orange inflate above their eyes.

They drop their wings to the ground, shake their heads and inflate their orange throat patches.

And then the birds begin to boom, and drum their feet.

From his hide John watches this bizarre and hilarious performance.

And then a bird flies up and lands on the roof of his hide, and begins to drum his feet! Now John feels he is really part of the crowd!

0303Patience2011092820130821

3/5 Patience. Its summer and wildlife cameraman John Aitchison travelled to Svalbard as part of a team making the BBC series Frozen Planet to film polar bears hunting for food. In summer, when there is no ice from which to hunt, the polar bears on land resort to hunting sea birds. This is what John has come here to film. But it proves far harder than he expects, as the bears are in no hurry to hunt, and John is left watching and waiting for a bear which does little else but sleep, day after day after day. Whilst he waits, John's attention turns to other things; like the sounds of the kittiwakes, the sounds of gas escaping from the ice and the dives and breaths of white beluga whales in a nearby fjord. As he listens, watches and waits, John reflects on what it means to be patient.

Producer Sarah Blunt.

Its summer and wildlife cameraman John Aitchison has travelled to Svalbard as part of a team from the BBC series Frozen Planet to film polar bears hunting for food.

In summer, when there is no ice from which to hunt, the polar bears on land resort to hunting sea birds.

This is what John has come here to film.

But it proves far harder than he expects, as the bears are in no hurry to hunt, and John is left watching and waiting for a bear which does little else but sleep, day after day after day.

Whilst he waits, John's attention turns to other things; like the sounds of the kittiwakes, the sounds of gas escaping from the ice and the dives and breaths of white beluga whales in a nearby fjord.

As he listens, watches and waits, John reflects on what it means to be patient.

A polar bear teaches wildlife cameraman John Aitchison the real meaning of patience.

0304Fur Seals2011092920130822

4/5 Fur Seals. Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison travelled with a team filming the BBC series Frozen Planet to Bird Island, a small island at the western tip of South Georgia in the South Atlantic to film fur seals giving birth. But fur seals are extremely aggressive seals and trying to walk, let alone film, amongst them is both difficult and frightening. A colleague of John's makes him a metal barrel which acts as protective shield from which he can film. From inside this hide, John looks out across a colony of thousands of fur seals; the males engage in fierce and bloody fights, whilst the females run the gauntlet from the beach to their natal site to give birth. John finds it hard to feel empathy with animals which seem intent on doing him harm, but when amidst the noise and aggression of the battlefield, something beautiful and tender happens, John soon changes his mind.

Producer Sarah Blunt.

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison travels with a team filming the BBC series Frozen Planet to Bird Island, a small island at the western tip of South Georgia in the South Atlantic to film fur seals giving birth.

But fur seals are extremely aggressive seals and trying to walk, let alone film, amongst them is both difficult and frightening.

A colleague of John's makes him a metal barrel which acts as protective shield from which he can film.

From inside this hide, John looks out across a colony of thousands of fur seals; the males engage in fierce and bloody fights, whilst the females run the gauntlet from the beach to their natal site to give birth.

John finds it hard to feel empathy with animals which seem intent on doing him harm, but when amidst the noise and aggression of the battlefield, something beautiful and tender happens, John soon changes his mind.

0305 LASTShearwater Hurricane2011093020130823

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison often finds himself in isolated and even dangerous locations across the globe filming wildlife, and in this series he reflects on the uniqueness of human experience, the beauty of nature, the fragility of life and the connections which unite society and nature across the globe.

5/5 Shearwater Hurricane. Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison travelled with a team filming the BBC series Frozen Planet to the Aleutian islands, a chain of islands which stretches more than a thousand miles in the far west of Alaska. The Aleutians are famous for their strong fickle tides, for their fog and for their storms. The currents rushing between the islands pump nutrients between the Pacific and Bering Sea and where there are nutrients, there are plankton. Plankton are food for krill, and krill are food for Humpback whales. But its not only whales that gather here, so too do herring, and the herring attract birds; Short-tailed shearwaters which fly thousands of miles here from the south of Australia to feed on the herring. These waters are transformed into the scene of an extraordinary banquet; and one of Nature's greatest feeding spectacles.

Producer Sarah Blunt.

Wildlife cameraman John Aitchison travels with a team filming the BBC series Frozen Planet to the Aleutian islands, a chain of islands which stretches more than a thousand miles in the far west of Alaska.

The Aleutians are famous for their strong fickle tides, for their fog and for their storms.

The currents rushing between the islands pump nutrients between the Pacific and Bering Sea and where there are nutrients, there are plankton.

Plankton are food for krill, and krill are food for Humpback whales.

But its not only whales that gather here, so too do herring, and the herring attract birds; Short-tailed shearwaters which fly thousands of miles here from the south of Australia to feed on the herring.

These waters are transformed into the scene of an extraordinary banquet; and one of Nature's greatest feeding spectacles.