It took EARTHFLIGHT series producer John Downer and his team four years to film more than 100 bird species in 40 different countries. Whether retracing the North American flight paths taken by thousands of migrating wild snow geese traveling to their Arctic breeding grounds or witnessing, for the first time, the aerobatics of devil rays as they somersault and splash back into the sea, the goal was to show the world on the wings of birds.
To capture a view of the greatest gathering of wild flamingos seen in 20 years, the team employed a variety of spycams. Remote cameras were buried at a favorite drinking spot by Kenya’s Lake Bogoria, while another camera was disguised as a mini-flock of floating flamingos. To film scenes from above, a radio-controlled drone was used with great success to silently infiltrate masses of the skittish pink flamingos.
To get remarkably close flying shots of wild vultures in South Africa, cameramen on paragliders piloted by biologists utilized the same updrafts and thermals as the birds they were there to film. To get even closer to the vultures, a full-scale replica of the bird was launched with a radio-controlled pan and tilt camera on board which was able to transmit pictures as it flew among the real birds.
Tiny HD cameras on the backs of trained birds captured amazing viewpoints that have never been seen before, such as that of a snow goose flying over New York Harbor toward the Statue of Liberty or a bald eagle soaring through the Grand Canyon in search of food.
The work involved in producing some images involved what is known as “imprinting,” which involves raising a flock of birds from birth. The process causes the birds to form a strong familial bond with the individual they regard as their mother. Avid French bird-enthusiast Christian Moullec raised a flock of geese, caring for them every day and training them to accept his piloted microlight as part of the family, so that when they all took to the skies, he was able to film close-up shots of the imprinted flock flying in tight formation as the geese retraced the great journeys of wild birds over Edinburgh and London for EARTHFLIGHT.
Episode two: Africa – 7pm
Fly and arrow-dive with cape gannets among sharks, dolphins, whales and the great sardine run. Soar with fish eagles, flamingos, kelp gulls and vultures to see the most animal-packed continent with fresh eyes.
Episode three: Europe – 8pm
Cranes and geese rise over Venice, Dover, Edinburgh and the monkey-guarded Rock of Gibraltar. In Rome, the Loire Valley, Holland and Hungary, birds gather by the millions to breed and two by two to raise their families.