Reporting live from mid Wales, Chris Packham, Kate Humble, and Martin Hughes-Games catch up on all the animal dramas.
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It's Wednesday, so that means... We've got 90 whole minutes of
wonderful wildlife. Including punk herons. A gluttonous buzzard And an
insect that builds its own disguise. And that and this little guy too.
Hello and welcome to Springwatch, coming to you from the beautiful
wooded slopes of the RSPB reserve in Wales. Tonight we've got all the
usual ingredients, the best of British wildlife coming to you live
in real time. You can't beat that, so stay tuned. If you were watching
yesterday, you watched an extraordinary draum yawn fold in
our pied flycatcher nest. What happened today? We'll tell you
later in the programme. We need your help to solve a mystery, what
is scaring our barn owls? The spiky quiffs and the naughty undertones
of these herons are going to allow to us bring fantastic music into
the show a bit later on. They're teenagers and they kick each other,
that's a clue. Normally at this time, I'm setting a quiz for you.
We're going to do it differently tonight. We'd like you to ask us
questions. If there's any question, any question about anything that
comes up tonight, then ask us. We'll try to answer the questions
live as it happens. What can you do? Ask them on the web, on Twitter
or on our Facebook site. Get them coming in. If we can't answer them
on this programme, we'll try to answer them on Unsprung. Talking of
that, hop it. Get it ready. I hope he'll leave a trail of breadcrumbs.
As well as all, that we have got everybody's Welshman Iolo Williams
on an island not too far from here. Welcome to magnificent Skomer
Island. Today is United Nations world oceans day, when we should
all be celebrating the wealth of our seas. That's exactly what we're
going to be doing here on Skomer as well as catching up with our
puffins. We're looking forward to that. If
you were watching last night's programme, you'll know that we had
a very real drama here. Some of the birds that we've been watching over
the last couple of weeks, well, they got into all sorts of trouble.
It was our pied flycatchers and It was our pied flycatchers and
this is what we saw happening until last night. This was the female.
She had been looking, not entirely well. Her chicks were OK. She was
feeding them. Then she left them for a long time. Sadly one of those
chicks perished. She came back with food. Sadly she left them for so
long that they'd got rather chilled. As you could see they weren't
taking the food then. The male came in and tried to feed. Sadly another
chick had died. By the end of last night's programme we just had two
of the four chicks surviving. However, we finished the programme
feeling cautiously optimistic because the male had been in and
fed and the female was still brooding them, but in the middle of
the night, she started to lock a bit twitchy, as you can see here.
She left the chicks again. Now this was very bad news. She shouldn't
have been leaving them in the middle of the night, particularly
if they were already feeling a little bit cold. She was back.
Still brooding. We kept everything crossed that maybe they were OK.
But as you can see here, this was this morning. Three chick has died
and one was looking very, very unhealthy indeed. On the brink. She
continued to come in. She's got food. Obviously they're not at this
stage able to appeal for that food. She has nothing to do with it. She
tried to brood them. I'm afraid that the last chick had frankly,
run out of energy and despite the fact this she was now trying to
keep it warm, when we looked at them at about 6.30am, it had died.
This is what's happened through the rest of the day. Both parents are
confused by what's happened in here. She's continued to come in and
brood them. The male has been in and out a couple of times. But
sadly, those chicks have finished and the nest is over for this year
at least. It is a great tragedy, nobody wants to watch the great
loss of an entire family like that. The confusing thing is that we've
seen chicks die over the years. We've been doing Springwatch for a
very long time. It's just one of those things that happened, but
they seemed so robust, when we first met this family. They do. I
have to tell you that 30% of all the pied flycatcher broods that
hatch are destined to fail before they fledge. Weather is one
contender for why. We haven't had weather that's too rough. It hasn't
affected the abundance of food. The adult washlers have been in and out
with food. The female's body weight, goes back a few days, as to when
the male wasn't attending. You think, she's got a lot of energy
into producing this. She'd laid the eggs, sat there brooding them, unk
baiting them until they've hatched. Not able to feed at maximum
efficiency. What she was hoping for is that as soon as they hatched,
the male would help out, so she could build up her reserves again.
But it didn't happen. If the male had been more atentive, she could
have fed herself. The chicks would be carrying on being fed by the
male. Instead, she had this huge pressure to keep the chicks fed,
but at the same time, was losing weight herself, needing to feed
herself, which meant that she left the chicks for longer periods.
they got chilled. In the end she's going to make the decision that she
looks after herself. She's an adult breeding member of the population,
that's the most valuable part of any population. She had to feed
herself up and as a result, the chicks have sadly been sacrificed
this year. Fingers crossed she'll be back this year and successfully
rear a brood. That nest was full of bad news but we had fascinating
behaviour in another nest. This is what we saw last night. Our barn
owls were coming back to the nest with plenty of food. There's voles
and mice being brought in. When this one comes in, they kick off at
something. This is very, very strange. The chicks are looking
like there's a threat out there. Then the female or adult bird, at
least, is making this really distinct warning or alarm call,
very typical of barn owls. This hissing, they will also go into a
powerful display. They fold their wings forward and sway from side to
side if they get really upset. You can also hear a clicking sound that
the chicks and adults are making. This is typical of tawny owls and
barn owls. What's really interesting is that she is clearly
looking at something, there is something and unfortunately
whatever that something is or was was out of sight of our cameras. We
just didn't know what she was looking at, but then we remembered
something that the story developers recorded last week. Have a look at
this, it's the chicks and they are making that same sort of alarm call,
just listen to this: (HISS) You can see again fixated on something, as
is the adult bird. They're looking down out of the window. They're not
looking at the camera. It sounds like they're trying to inflate a
Zeppelin or something. This is antagonistic behaviour. Something
is outside. If you were listening carefully, just before they got
agitated can you hear this sound... That might have been the thing that
set them off. I honestly don't know what that sound is. We've asked
everyone around here. None of the other tholjists know what it is
either. Frankly, if you do, let us know.
Do you think you know what that is that might have antagonised those
chicks? Contact us on the website. You could contact us via Twitter or
the Facebook pace as well. Now we've got a bit of news about the
Ospreys. We certainly have. Great news, as you saw yesterday. For the
first time in more than 447 -- 400 years three chicks have hatched.
They've been fed today Kate. They were worried about them. It was a
first time breeder this parent. They've all been fed and doing
really well. We will keep you updated. We will. Now as Iolo
Williams said, it is world ocean day today. He is going to be
celebrating the beauty of the seas around Britain. Let's just remind
you where he is. We're just off the coast of mid-Wales. He's a little
bit further south, just off the tip of the coast. If you want to be
more precise, he is extractly at that point there.
Over to you. Warm welcome back here to Skomer
Island, where it has been a stunning day. I've escaped for a
while. I've come down to north while. I've come down to north
haven to this lovely beach. This is probably the most cosy and peaceful
part of the whole island. It's also a wonderful place for me
to introduce you to Skomer's amazing marine life. Now the seas
around the island and the nearby Marlowe's peninsula, are one of
only three marine nature reserves in the whole of the UK and
deservedly so. The strong currents and upWellings mix nutrients into a
soup. You have the gulf stream, this warm current of water that
comes all the way from the Caribbean. This is where it hits
Europe. You have a mixture of cold water loving species and species
that we would generally associate with the Mediterranean. When I had
the opportunity to go diving beneath the waves, I grasped it
thing is under water might not be as clear as I'd like it to be. When
the visibility is good, it is out of this world, but I'm just hoping
the murk in the water is tiny particles of food that most of the
animals here feed on. The sheer variety of creatures and colours
down here is just mind blowing. This is a sea cucumber and the
whole floor here is covered with them. Spider crab here. This is a
small one. They can grow to be a metre across and more.
But a lot of the animals that Skomer's rich in could easily be
taken for plants at first sight. They're brightly coloured and don't
move. They wait for the currents of the sea to bring their food to them.
These are yellow anemones, one of several species found around the
coast of Skomer. They simply grow another anemone, hence the carpet
Ross coral or a potato crisp rhyosome. It's a series of minute
creatures living together. You can see a pale fuzz along the service,
those are the tentacles filtering these nutrients out of the water
and these other things are able to flourish here on Skomer because it
is a protected area. There's no trawling with nets, there are no
boats mooring everywhere. These are beautiful, but very, very fragile
too. But there was one animal above all
the others that I wanted to see. This is the pink sea fan, usually
associated with warmer waters. It's at the northern edge of its range.
It gives the place a tropical feel to it. It's a soft coral, quite
fragile. It will bend with the swell. They say this in cold water
grows at most a centimetre every year. This must be 50, 60 years old
here. Wrapped in it is a dog fish egg case. Look at that.
Every square sentiment -- centimetre of rock is covers in
It's like diving in tropical waters. Some of the things I've seen down
there, I've never seen before and I never, ever thought you'd find them
here off the seas of Skomer. It's an incredible place. If you get the
I have to tell you that was a wonderful experience. A huge thank
you to Phil and the marine nature reserve team there and, of course,
rich seas mean a rich Skomer island. When you come back to us, we are
not going to stay on dry land and wait for the puffins to come to us.
Oh no, we are going to go out there to look for the puffins.
How wonderful, I have to say I was extremely jealous of that dive. It
looked fantastic. Getting cold and wet in Welsh water! The wildlife
and the animals and plants there are mind-blowing. We look forward
to joining Iolo later. We have come down to what we are calling heron
point. The studio is half a kilometre back there. We are here
and beyond the trees over there is where our herons are. You can't
quite see the nest because of the foliage but we can cut to them live.
Let's see what they're up to. are getting fairly typical views of
this. We see two hunched young herons looking, well, a little bit
brassed off with the weather. They're sulking really. Their heads
are are under their wings. They're going to stay nice and warm.
They've been very active. They have been very active. They don't just
sit hunched lying that all day long. Have a look at what they've been up
to over the last day or so. As you can see, one looks like it's
just taken off and fledged, but, Chris, both of them have really
been trying out their wings and amazing legs. They are jumping
right up and about in the trees, using air currents to help them
because they're not accomplished fliers. They keep coming back to
the nest, this is where they're getting the food from the adult and
they know they're safe from predators. But they're great little
characters these herons, I like them. I like the quiff. You have a
still a bit... -- a style a bit. used to be. This has inspired us,
we thought why not play the greatest pop record of all time, as
defined by John Peel and underlined by the Undertones, I give you
# A teenager dreams so hard to beat # Every time she walks down the
street # Another girl in the neighbourhood
# Wish she was mine, she looks so good
# I wanna hold you, hold you tight # Get teenager kicks right through
Nothing beats that! Not my choice, Kevin Carter suggested that one
actually. Did he? Well done Kevin. Exhausted! Now, they haven't just
been falling around in the nest, there is the serious business of
learning how to feed. Our wildlife cameraman caught this wonderful bit
of behaviour, these are our fledgeling herons, doing what they
do best, stabbing those great beaks into it's water to find food. But
not very successfully. No, they're getting bits of grass and weed and
mud at the moment. But what will happen is they'll probably follow
the adults to an area where there is a rich supply of food and the
side of a small fish will catch air air attention -- will catch their
attention. They'll realise the reward is sa meal for themselves.
It's a case of practice makes perfect and I am glad to see
they're out there doing that. will be fed by the adults, they're
not just going to be relying on mud and leaves? Not at the moment.
That's why they're back on the nest. We will see the adults carrying, or
still regurtitating food into that nest. It's not just the herons,
again beyond the trees, we have our Buzzards. Let's see what's going on
there. There is the adult bird. Fresh greenery that's come in
recently. We have been noticing this over the time we have been on
air, bringing in fresh green leaves which you think, Chris, might have
some sort of effect to keep insects or parasites away. There's got to
be a reason for it. No Buzzard is going to spend its valuable time
snapping off fresh greenary, carrying it back to the nest and
putting it there. We think, in some birds of prey, that when they
trample the leaves they give give off chemicals which have - insect
icidle qualities. Now, as you saw there, the chick
was quite well hidden, both by the adult bird and all those fresh oak
leaves, but if you have been watching on our webcams, which you
can do by going to our website, you will have seen the remarkable
transformation that has happened to our chicks since we have been on
air. This was just before we came on air
when the cameras went first on the nest.
This is now, today. Look at that, from one grey fluffy
Downey chick, to a bird that's looking not far off atkuplthood --
adulthood. They have a couple of down coats before they get real
feathers. They don't want to invest too much material in feathers early
on because they want the skeleton to grow. When they get rid of the
down coats the real feathers come true and we started to see them.
Vicky wanted to know, a great question, how do feathers grow?
They come out like hair, don't they? It's a follicle like our
hair? You are exactly right. Birds have thin skin. But in that skin
and growing from the time they first emerge from the egg, at the
embryo stage, they have a series of follicles all over the body that
produce feathers. Initially the feather is a living thing, it's
full of blood and keeps carrying material to make the feather there,
so at the moment the young Buzzard will be fragile. If you snap the
feathers off it will bleed and they would die and it would have to grow
another one but when the growth is finished it's all sealed off, the
feather is dead tissue, like our fingernail as it were. When they
moult them they grow a new one. If a feather does get lost that
stimulates the follicle to start a new one. Quite complicated.
feathery bit of the feather, that's all sort of curled up in the
follicle itself or in the quickly? It's curled up in like a waxy
sheath. At the moment you might see birds preening and hen they shake
dust comes out,. There you are, I hope that helps you, I hope that
answers the question. They've been growing furiously. It's had a
I love that film, thank you very much to our editors for putting
that together. Now you are going to be really impressed. Go on. I have
done a pie chart all of my own! Look at that! I just think - now
you are going to be impressed, look, we have looked at what the Buzzard
has been eating, roughly the same amount of mammals and small birds,
a little panchant for the frog and toad. And grass snakes. Are you
impressed? I am, if you should ever want to be loved by anyone, put me
on the list. Look, it's fantastic. It's statistically accurate, ten
out of ten. But the presentation, Kate, I mean, frankly, look it's a
bit scrappy. It's not even round. What is that? That's a mouse.
a good start. That was my humble pie pie chart. It was a humble pie
chart. I think you can do better. am off. I have upset her now. I
shouldn't have screwed that up. Let's move on to another film.
Charlie elder is a man who wanted to see all of the British birds
that were on the amber and red list, those which are critically
endangered but there was one that A worrying number of British birds
have suffered alarming declines over the last 20 or 30 years. A lot
of people talk about saving birds for the next generation, but with
some of these species the worry is they might be lost within our life
Times. One in five British birds are
currently considered threatened, not just rare birds, but also a
number of common birds. Birds like house sparrows, Starlings and heron
gulls. To help conservationists prioritise
which species need the most help, all of the UK's birds are placed on
one of three lists, either the green, amber or red list. Those on
the red list are the ones in the most trouble.
The red list became a very big part of my life. I decided to set out in
my free time to find every bird on the red list and also to find out
why these birds were in trouble. My quest took me all around the
British Isles and led to me writing a book about my endeavours. I
wanted to highlight the plight of the birds.
As I was nearing the end of my travels, the red list was revised
from the 40 that I had originally set out to see, to 52 and over the
last year or so I have been trying to see all the new additions to the
list but there's one bird that's been added to the list that I would
love to see and that's the hawFinch, it's a notoriously elusive bird
that I could spend ages travelling around Britain staring at tree-tops
so I am going to have to rely on expert help here angery Lewis has
been -- Gerry Lewis, I am pinning my hopes on him. I am excited, this
is a striking and handsome bird. It's not often I look forward to
getting up at 5.00am. The hawfinch is Britain's biggest
finch and it's able to crack open cherry stones with that formidable
powerful beak. Gerry coaxes them down with this carpet of sunflower
seeds. That's amazing. A brilliant view.
They can pick out the size of the bill. That's fantastic.
Once caught in the net, Gerry carefully retraoefs the bird for --
retrieves the bird for processing and is going to let me hold it.
OK, got him. Wow.
That's incredible. You certainly feel a bit wary
holding one. Especially as I am not experienced and you see the size of
that bill. If you put your hand right in the bag and then just let
go of the pweurbd. -- bird. Oh, he tried me there,
look, two indents there. To be almost pecked by a hawfinch
is an honour, this one is a handsome male and his bill is a blu
y grey colour. It's coming into the breeding season. That purply colour.
Gerry inspects the condition, weighs and measures all the birds
he catches. You are going to let him join his
mates then? Yeah, do you want to... He looks a feisty one!
Gerry's work is vital, if we are to understand why hawfinchs, sadly,
now find themselves on the red list. They got a pretty powerful flight.
That was wonderful. Thank you.
There willing something sad for me about my old bird books becoming
out of date, simply because many of the birds in them no longer lived
in Britain. As much as I love seeing these birds up close, my
hope for the future is that the red list decreases in the coming years.
After all, my travels had been about celebrating these inspiring
Profound and poignant stuff. I'm sorry. It's no good to me now. You
really want to see me cry, don't you. Any way... Hawfinchs are
fantastic birds. A few days ago, I was at home, I was going to be
watching a game of football, office on the line, saying one of our
viewers, Kirsty Clayton had rung up and said she had fantastic birds in
her garden. The game was kicked into touch and it was worth it.
Result, not only a cup of tea, chocolate cake! Better than
football. Kirsty, how long have these birds been here? I noticed
them last summer. They were calling and feeding and stuff. Male just
come out bull finch. For me a big scoring bird. I'm going to give it
7.8 and that's a very high score. Obviously, you're a fan too.
Absolutely. What is it about them? Their plumage is really amazing.
They're bright, beautiful. They go like an old couple together.
They're very monogamous. There's a likelihood that these are the
couple that were in your garden last year. Where are they nesting?
There's a camellia hedge just there. I went past and I heard tweeting,
they were reaching up out of it with their fluffy heads. What a
treat. In true Springwatch fashion, we couldn't resist putting in a
nest cam to try and record the chicks. We got some awesome shots.
They're out collecting food for the young at the moment. They feed them
through regurgitation. They're basically seed feeders. They're
after soft fruits. They peel away the outside. They're not interested
in the covering. They're after the seeds inside. Their monstrous bill
is that they can snap these open easily. The young are nowhere near
as attractive as the adults. They're little monsters. Are they?
They're grotesque. All beak, bulgy eyed, but at the moment looking
rough. They're in the nest for about 16 days and then they'll
fledge. Their flight skills will develop for until Mr and Mrs
Sparrowhawk arrives and probably take a couple of them. The thought,
personally, of a male sparrowhawk eating a male bull finch is
perversely a frequent fantasy of mine. Perhaps I didn't ought to
have told Kirsty that. Perhaps it's time for a piece of cake.
I think she really regretted asking you round. She looked mortified.
But those chicks, don't they look like dinosaurs. They do. Very
powerful bill. The crushing power of a hawfinch is 43 kilograms in a
bird, that's the equiff lebt of us having jaws to crush with the power
of 60 tons. They must come pretty close to that I think. Martin, have
you got news? I have got to say, quickly, I had three pairs of bull
finches on my apple tree. They ate all the buds, but it's worth it,
isn't it? Certainly is. Plant more trees. I will. Our barmyi birds
nest challenge. They have been A robins' nest. Yes, this one
they'll never get caught short. They're in a toilet site. They're
from David Barnes. Are they flushing their faecal sacks? Stop
it. This one, lovely Great Tit, little bit under the arm. Brilliant.
We would like more please. It's quite a challenge. The bar is very,
very high. Please keep them coming in, if you wo. Have we had any
questions from our viewers? We have. They started to come in almost
immediately. We're running short of time. We'll do one quickly. This is
from Julia on Twitter. "Where did barn owls live before we built
barns?" Quickly, hollow trees. When a tree breaks over, I found a barn
owl's nest in a willow tree that snapped off. It would have been
natural calfities. A few of them would have nested in caves and
cliff ledges as well. We have unsprung straight after this. We'll
answer more then. Now back to Skomer.
Welcome back, live to Skomer Island. Now earlier on, I mentioned the
fact that it's because of the rich seas with plenty of fish that
Skomer Island supports hundreds of thousands of sea birds. For
evidence of that, you've only got to look over my shoulder. You've
got rafts of hundreds of puffins, bobbing up and down on the water.
They do this every evening here in the shelter of north haven. Some
will be preening, making sure their feathers are in peak condition,
vitally important for a bird who spends most of its life out to sea.
They might head out to sea again or head into their burrows. The other
day I was able to swim out into the middle of these birds for a close
Conditions are perfect this evening. The sun is shining and the puffins
are out on the water in their hundreds. Mike, the cameraman and I,
are going to see if we can snorkle up to them and have a closer look.
If you're patient and move slowly, you really can get right in amongst
the birds. Outside the few months of the breeding season puffins
spend all their life on the sea. They rest on the surface of the
water like this, not on land. And they're expert divers. Look at that,
zipping past, they really do fly Sand eels are what they are diving
for. They thrive in the sandy sea bed around Skomer. They're a very
oily, nutritious fish and definitely the puffins' favourite
food. Happiness is a beak full of sand
Isn't that amazing. Now puffins are only small birds. Everyone come
together island expects to see a bigger bird. They're not much
bigger than a blackbird. They dive five or ten metres, sometimes up to
30. They're after sand eels. What is a sand eel? Well, that is a sand
eel. Not an eel, but a snake-like fish. That body is to burrow into
sand to escape from its predators. There are plenty of sandy bays out
here so these eels are abundant. How does a puffin catch a sand eel
and then catch even more? This is where I go into Chris Packham geek
mode. This is a puffin. That is a puffin's bill. One of the key
things is that bill doesn't open on a hinge like a blackbird or robins'
bill. It has a special bone, the quad rant bone, which allows the
mandibles to open parallel to each other. There are small hooks along
the edges of that beak. There are barbs on the tongue and also
backward-pointing hooks on the roof of the puffins' bill too. That
allows it to dive and catch fish. That bill really is like a Swiss
army knife. There's a tool in there for absolutely everything! Now, I'm
going to need your help here, fast quiz - what do you think is the
maximum number of sand eels ever seen and photographed in a puffins'
bill? 20, 25, 30? No, it's actually 61. An incredible 61! We spoil our
wildlife cameramen here and Steve has spent the last couple of days
taking shots of puffins. Have a look at this: Look at that
lovely bird, it looks like it has sand eels and sprats in there.
That's quite a catch. It's a big day when the first puffin is seen
on the island with a beak full of fish, because that means the first
chick has hatched. But even the few days we've been here, we've been
seeing more and more adult puffins flying in with fish in their beaks,
so by now, probably most of the puffin eggs on the island will have
Well done sto Steve, lovely stuff there. Later on, we're going to be
looking at how sea birds are faring here on Skomer and in the UK, but
now it's back to you. Thank you very much. Absolutely
fantastic footage that. You know the thing he was saying about the
beak, I'd often wondered why and I didn't know, that's the best thing
about hanging around with other good naturalists, you constantly
learn new things. I've been out geeked tonight! Someone else we've
inspired to want to learn something about nature is an extremely
unlikely candidate. It's Phil our cameraman. Wave to everybody. Go on
put your hand in front. There he is. He has had his heart stolen by a
bird not an unusual occurrence, but this particular bird is one, which
one is it? Bobbers. Bobbers, dippers to you and me. One of the
things that Phil wants to know about bobbers or dippers is why
they bob or dip? Actually one of our viewers has written in.
Fascinating stuff. Listen carefully, John chambers says "I have a theory
concerning dipping activity. These birds live in what is effectively a
white noise environment. The action of dipping may be a mechanism used
phase displacement of the white noise, generated by the water, to
identify prey or predator." He admits that the mathematics is
hairy. But in effect, coherent sounds exhibit different
characteristics to white noise, when the sensors, the ears, are
moved. Stand by a water fall, he says, shake your head and the sound
of the water will take on a different character. Coherent
sounds tend to be not so masked by the white noise of the water. So
what he's saying is that they're dipping so they can hear better.
But John, other birds like owls bob their heads so that they can hear
more accurately, where a sound is coming from. I'm thinking that
bobbing your head doesn't take much energy, but bobbing your whole body
up and down, as I'm finding out, requires a lot more energy. If it
was just about sound, why not just the head? Things like sandpipers,
they bob, and they don't live in such a noisy environment. No, and
wagtails wag, and that's got nothing to do with their ears
because it's their tail. I think it's a good theory. Thank you very
much indeed. We love theories on this programme. We like them when
they say things like "phase displacement and hairy mathematics".
Keep those coming in. You are probably desperate to know how our
dipper fledglings are doing. I know Phil is. Let's look at the footage
that our wildlife cameraman has got over the last day or so. Here they
are. There are three fledglings out of this nest. The adults very much
in attendance with the beak full of caddisfly. You'll admit, they're
absolutely thriving. They're doing extremely well. Lots of food down
there. Again an adult coming in. Super picture as well. I have to
say rather attractive young dipper there, look at that. Really lovely.
This one is showing quite independent ten densies at this
tender age. It tends to be more on its own. The adult knows exactly
where it is and is looking after it. It is starting to feed a bit for
itself. This is interesting. This is amazing. These animals are
supremely adapted for an aquatic lifestyle, even as soon as they
leave the nest. We've seen them, here's the adult doing what dippers
do, turning over stones. This is a youngster, only a few days out of
the nest already looking beneath the surface. Can you see sometimes
a white flash going across their eye. This is the nictating membrane,
it's a tough contact lens that stops sand in the water getting in
their eyes. Swimming and bobbing about, fantastic. You know, I
learned today when I was reading in my books that if dippers get
disturbed when they're in the nest, only seven days old, they're not
meant to fledge until 22 days old, they can pop out and already swim
and dive beneath the surface at seven days old! That is incredible.
As you saw, that river is very rich and full of food. We got some
lovely underwater footage of what it is our dipper chicks are looking
Well, there's so much food in the woods here, a lot gets washed into
the water when it rains, lots of insects so so lots of food for fish.
The fish eat them but it's a rich environment and on the surface of
the stone there, Kate, is a caddisfly and they form up to 75%
of the dippers' diet so they're very important and these streams
are packed full of them. In fact, we have some right here. These are
live caddisflies although they look like bits of stick and the reason
for that is that they build these wonderful sort of cases around them.
We have some film of them doing exactly that. It's amazing, cryst,
that they pull -- Chris, that they pull together lots of things.
use a web, not unlike a spider's web and they steupb it over their -
- spin it over their back. This is serving two purposes, it's
protecting the soft body of the caddisfly and it's fantastic
camouflage and caddis is a name for a strip of cloth and people selling
cloth in the middle ages used to wear it over their bodies and
that's where the name comes from. Absolutely brilliant. I like that
sort of information, it's a bit geeky, which brings us on to this,
the Springwatch Geek Award, this is to celebrate the depth of knowledge
some naturalists have. It's adorned by Mr Scratchy, the one and only
and every year, so far, we have met a number of naturalists who we
think are worthy of this award. Now, it's time to meet another who
certainly is. In a country park in Wiltshire,
there is a man who could have found the answer to a real wildlife
The emergency has been centred on the busy honeybe, a truly fantastic
insect. Bees are vital to our way of life. They're one of the great
pollenators of British plants, including many of our food crops.
Yet, since 1992 in the UK the honey bee has been under attack from an
alien invader which threatens the honey bee's very existence. The man
that may have the answer to this problem is Ron Hustings. Ron has
been researching a blight that's been having a terrible impab on
British bees, and he has got to know them very well. Well, every
good geek needs a shed or a lab and you have a lab here, Ron. Sort of.
Very nice. What about the the Mythes then -- mites then?
wanted to see the mites, there's a few for you.
Oh my goodness me! How many are in here do you think?
50,000. 50,000 mites in this small tub and you have put them in there
there... They've all been under my microscope. It's difficult to see
them, although I am in awe of 50,000 mites in a tub. There's the
detail. That's what we are looking at. Wow, look at that. That's an
alien, if ever you have seen it. This, presumably, is the point of
menace. That's what sucks the blood of the baby bee. It's what we could
call a proper infestation. Very much so. It's decimated the honey
bee population. Ron's own bees were infected with this mite but his
close examinations with to reveal incredible results.
Underneath all my hives, Chris, we have a special tray that that
collects the debris that falls. I also noticed that there are little
vermites on there and I collected them and examined them and found a
lot of them were damaged. Damaged? I am sure it was done by the bees
grooming them off. They're mutually grooming these off. Monkey fashion.
We found another breakthrough and I condition show you it because it's
so minute but I have a picture here. Ron, I am fortunate to be shown
lots of photographs of natural subjects. I don't normally have to
ask which way up it goes. This is not a triumph when it comes to
photography, but I am assuming it's fascinating. They are the antennae
of larvae bees. They're being ripped off by the bee. They're
removing it because it's infected? It's never going to be any good to
the colony so they get rid of it now. What we have is a strain of
bees, or a group of bees carrying genes which make them cleaner bees?
Exactly. They're grooming off the mites and removing the infected
larvae before they're useless to the colony? That's correct. Ron's
next experiment was to move one of these cleaner Queens to an adjacent
hive. This Queen bred cleaner drones and instances of the mite
fell dramatically. So Ron had proved that this behaviour was
genetic, rather than learned. Amazingly, Ron is now breeding
cleaner Queen bees to try and alleviate the whole mite problem.
Look at that. That works, doesn't it? What about these hooks either
side here? Those are micro manipulators, they allow me to open
the Queen gently, carefully, not to damage her, and open ready for
inseplation of semen. I would inseminate the semen into that
Queen. Eight. I normally give it the seven. Astonishing. Absolutely
astonishing, Ron. Of course, what it guarantees is that you can get
your grooming gene, which you have collected from the male in the
semen, into this Queen? That's right. The theory is that we are
going to put as many drones as we can until we have got, as it were,
Swindon being a gene pool of hygienic bees. Swindon. Swindon
saves the world of bees to the work of Ron. On that account, I am going
to present you with an extraordinary prize. It's under the
microscope, take a look through here. Seriously. Look at that.
It's Mr Scratchy. That's the uber geek.
What a fantastic bloke. I have to tell you, when I saw his 50,000
mites in that tub, the geek award was his. And the impact that he
could have for anyone that keeps bees. I am constantly bat battling,
so good on you, please keep working. Drop Drop proof that geeks -- top
proof that geeks can change the world. Some questions, one on
Twitter: How many chicks can a heron have? That's easy, they can
have about four or five is a usual clutch but they will often lose
them, so two or three is the usual number to fledge. One last quick
one, why do some fledgings have no tail? They wait to grow them until
they get out of the nest. Let's head over to Iolo on Skomer.
Welcome back. Now, I bet you are sitting at home comfy in your chair,
wondering how that dashing chap on Skomer finds his way into your
living room? Well, I tell you, Toby the cameraman is filming me, that
goes by cable through all this here, it's fired across to a van on the
mainland, beamed up to a satellite miles above us, beamed back down to
us here and then to your living room. The wonders of modern
technology. Now, over the past couple of days we have been
following the puffins here on Skomer and they've been carrying
fish back to the nest. So it would appear that the population is
healthy, but is it? Well, the man to answer that is warden Chris
Taylor. Hello, Chris. Puffins on Skomer, how many have you got and
are they doing doing well? puffins on Skomer, they've been
busy the last couple of years, so 1988 there was about 8,000 puffins
on the island, now that population expanded to about 12,500, so it's a
good sign they're doing fabulously. We have looked at a host of other
birds here as well, how are they doing? I think the real stars of
the show are the guillemots, the population is under 0,000. There --
20,000. It shows there must be so much food to sustain that
population. And manx Sheerwater. Are they doing all right? They seem
to be. I am sure as you know, it's a tricky species to monitor and
record. But we estimate about 120,000 breeding pairs, so lots
that we monitor year on year. thank you very much. That really is
wonderful news from Skomer. How about the rest of the UK? I posed
that question to Professor Tim Guildford of Oxford University over
there in the wardens' library. Fantastic old records here, Tim.
It's interesting to look back over the decades, over 100 years almost,
of records, particularly of sea birds. Now, from my time here I
have learned that on Skomer our sea birds appear to be doing rather
well. What's the picture for the rest of the UK? There is clearly a
difference between what's happening, appears to be happening in
Pembrokeshire and what's happening in the north of Britain. Do we know
why? What is the difference to our birds here, go to different areas,
more fish in the sea? Down here in Pembrokeshire the sand eel
productivity seems to have been good and puffins are enjoying that.
Poor breeding success in the puffins, and this is almost
certainly because the sand eels and other small fish they depend on are
not as available so they're starting to try and eat other
things which are not good for bringing up their chicks. It's a
complex issue though, because I know here in Pembrokeshire the
populations of some of the birds have built up on the back of
collapse of the commercial fishing industry, for example. That must
affect sea birds throughout the UK, if not throughout the world. That's
right. I mean, it would be nice to believe that just because sea bird
populations are growing or looking healthy, that this is a sign that
the oceans are necessarily healthy, but it's not always like that.
Because they may be freed from competition because there's been
overfishing of their competitors, the big fish that eat the little
fish that they depend on and as the fisheries recover, then the
competitors are become and the sea birds start to suffer. So we need
to be very careful in our interpretation of what's happening.
How about the future then? If you were able to look ahead 20, 30, 40
years, do you see a flourishing population of sea birds in the UK
and here on Skomer? I really hope so. I think they're so important,
but, I think we will see changes. Some of those will be positive,
probably, but some will be negative. One thing that I think that we can
be fairly sure of is that the climate is slowly changing, and
that this will lead to changes in marine resources and this will
inevitably lead to changes in sea bird populations. I don't think
it's all doom and gloom but we certainly need to understand what's
going to happen. It's a very difficult issue, but
there ar couple of things we can all do. We need to be careful where
we buy our fish from. Is it coming from a sustainable well managed
source? Also, don't throw plastics into the sea, that affects not just
fish but other wildlife too. If you want more information on this
complex issue then please go to our website.
Well, that's it from here, for now, I am going to hand you back. But I
will still be here for UnSprung. See you then.
Thank you very much. Now, if you were watching at the
top of the programme we set you a challenge. We were struggling to
identify this sound: It had upset our baby barn owls.
Has anyone come up with any suggestions? Very exciting, they're
coming in all the time. Someone thinks it's a magpie. Another
thought it was a deathwatch beetle. John, my wife trying to start her
Mini! We asked our expert sound recordist here, he thinks that it's
actually being made by those young owls, so we have set them a
challenge. We put a microphone and camera all around the barn owl nest
and hopefully overnight we might find out what is going on. But you
can keep watching on our webcams by going to our website.
Tomorrow, Christopher? We asked you a question, is it Steve McQueen and
Reporting live from mid Wales, Chris Packham, Kate Humble, and Martin Hughes-Games catch up on all the animal dramas and report on other wildlife stories from around the British Isles. On Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire coast, Iolo Williams takes to the water to reveal puffins at their best - diving for fish.