Chris Packham reveals the UK's number one wildlife spectacle. Find out what's top of the wildlife pops.
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Welcome to Nature's Top 40,
your guide to the UK's biggest, best and the most magical things
that you can see here in the UK.
and we've been counting down from 40 to number 1,
but this is our final programme so hold on to your seats, because
we're going to reveal to you the UK's greatest wildlife spectacle.
I'm Chris Packham, and what a journey we've been on -
getting up close and personal with lots of great wildlife,
like these grey seal pups here on the east coast of England.
But here are a few more of the great pieces of wildlife magic that have
made it into our charts, every one of them a winner.
It's been an epic countdown of the very best of British wildlife.
We took your suggestions, threw in a few of our own,
-and our panel of experts ranked them for their sheer brilliance...
..and wow factor.
Well, he's a bit of a cutey,
but now we've reached our climax at number four.
It's bizarre for sure, it's colourful,
it's an extraordinary display,
and the sound - once you've heard the sound
you're never going to forget it.
At number four it's the black grouse lek.
I'm on my way to see some birds that are so sexy,
they make super models look drab and boring
and the magnificent display they put on beats the Moulin Rouge
and the Bolshoi Ballet hands down.
The male black grouse.
Specialist bird of the northern uplands and a real looker to boot.
You'll find them on moorland, like this spot at Llandegla near Wrexham.
This is a lek site, where the males display to attract females,
and I plan to be right in the thick of it.
Ah, this must be it.
Detached dwelling, it said in the brochure,
with wonderful views over the Welsh Hills.
Outside toilet, one careful owner, five not so careful owners, but this
is going to let me get close up and personal to one of the best sites
in the whole of the bird world.
It's a bit of squeeze but worth it, because it'll get me close to
the sight and sound of these special birds.
And they really don't know I'm here.
There we are, first one's arrived.
Once you hear that schwe-oo-wee hiss, you kind of go...
you know that they're here.
That's just to advertise their presence and it's only after that
they start bubbling like mad turkeys.
The birds inflate an air sac in their neck to make that curious sound.
It's a calling card that can can carry across the moors for up to 2km.
They're called black grouse,
but it really doesn't do them justice at all.
They're not black, they're a green-ish purple-ish bluey sheeny
colour, with this lovely red wattle, bit of red bare skin above the eye.
But it's only when you see them close up displaying,
that you see the lyre-shaped tail,
and that's absolutely stunning,
cos it surrounds a white bouquet of feathers.
They're beautiful, stunning birds.
The birds are easily disturbed when the lek is at its height in May,
so that's why I'm here in mid-winter,
a less intrusive time to see this amazing ritual.
It may be freezing but the birds give it everything.
It's mostly posturing and posing,
but feathers can fly as dominance is established.
It's all about getting the best spot.
The closer you are to the centre of the lek,
the more chance you have of mating in spring.
This is just amazing.
The more pumped up the males get,
the more that red eyebrow or wattle becomes engorged with blood.
It's a warning. Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough.
Now, I really love black grouse, but Ron Plummer is an even bigger fan.
-Hello, all right?
-How many males on this lek then?
-Oh, 15 at the moment.
Now we've come to look at the lek in winter
but the very best time is in spring, isn't it?
It's got to be in spring -
that's when all the males get together,
jumping about, making loads and loads of noise, it's unbelievable.
As soon as a female comes through,
the display is absolutely stunning, it really is.
Wings all over the place,
the birds are jumping up in the air, juggling about.
It's unbelievable, you know,
it's one of the best sights I've ever seen in Wales.
You want to see black grouse, this is the place to come.
And this lekking now, this is all about sex, basically, isn't it?
Yes, that's it.
That's all it is - it's just showing off,
get one over on your mates and get the best girl, that's it.
But they are fantastic, I mean, you've got to come here early morning,
you've got to make a lot of effort to come but when you see it, it's all worthwhile.
You never forget it, you never forget the noise they make
as you're walking through the forest before dawn.
Makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, it really does.
It's an absolutely wonderful sight.
I reckon everybody should see it.
Everybody should see a black grouse lek.
So there you have it, one of Britain's rarest birds
in stunning scenery,
putting on a fantastic display just metres in front of the hide.
So close in fact, I could have picked one up and taken it home with me.
And all of that before breakfast.
So come on - beat that if you can!
Well, Iolo, you're right - it's a tough one to beat.
But one thing's for sure, and that's that you
have to get out there and see some of these things for yourself.
There's some really good ideas of places to visit
if you check out our website...
OK, it's time for our top three now, and this one is really special -
it's a species that migrates thousands of miles
to put on a really spectacular show.
At number three - it's migrating salmon.
This is a spectacle that is simply one of finest to be seen anywhere,
and I've got a front row seat.
Just brilliant. I could and I'm going to
sit here all day watching this - what a brilliant spectator sport!
And it couldn't be more accessible either - this is the River Almond,
just five miles from the centre of Perth in Scotland.
This is one of the real log jam places.
Apparently there could be as many as a couple of thousand salmon...wow!
Look at that!
Almost landed in my feet! That's amazing - bird watching? Nah.
Plant spotting? Nah.
Fish spotting has got to be the new religion.
That almost knocked me over - it was wonderful!
Oh, look at that!
Here it is, look at this!
I'm tickling a salmon, everybody!
That's absolutely amazing! It's just stuck here,
I'm just pushing him off. There he goes!
Driven by the urge to spawn, the salmon spent at least a year at sea,
before using the earth's magnetic field and their sense of smell
to guide them to the very same river in which they were hatched.
Their return in the autumn brings out salmon watchers
like fish expert, Dick Shelton.
Dick, what a phenomenal spectacle - two, three, four at a time -
we've got it spot on, haven't we?
You've just caught the tail of the spate, and these fish
are making their way up to spawn in the upper part of the River Almond.
Oh, there we go, look!
Did you see the tail powering away?
But it's the end for them of a very, very long journey, isn't it?
-Yes, it is.
-Why are they going to sea?
Why not spend their whole life in the fresh water river system?
There's not enough food in fresh water.
If you want to have lots of big eggs the best place to get it is in the ocean,
particularly where the Arctic Ocean and the Atlantic mix - that's where all the food is.
If you do that, you come home, out-compete
the stay-at-home guys cos you've more fertile eggs than they have.
I just heard a massive one splash behind us!
-It's very distracting seeing a fish
jump out into your right ear and then popping out of your left ear!
-I didn't feel a thing!
-See, there's a few here.
-Look, one, two, three, four, five, six...
-Yes, quite amazing.
So, Dick - I know you're biased, but if you had to pick
one of Britain's greatest wildlife spectacles, where would this figure?
It would figure as number 1A in my book.
Whilst many of the leaps seem to end in heroic failure,
the vast majority will reach the spawning grounds.
To really appreciate the Atlantic salmon, you have to get close up and personal.
We've had this one caught for us, for restocking purposes,
and it gives a wonderful chance to see its breeding condition.
This is a male, and you can tell that cos
look at the size of the hook
on the front of its lower mandible, that's called a kype.
And as he moves into freshwater, he develops that especially
to keep other males at bay when he's mating with the females.
If you look down the flanks as well, look at those wonderful colours.
That's called his breeding tartan, and they develop a lovely reddish colour underneath.
And with his hooked jaw, and his lovely breeding plumage, hopefully
he'll impress a few females - isn't he a beauty?
Although the leaping fish are spectacular,
it's only part of the story, because salmon of course, being fish,
spend 99.99% of their time under the water.
So this is where our cameraman Graham comes in -
he's got what looks like a rod.
There's a special camera on the end, and if you put that into water
we can see what's underneath - a plunging mass of fish, hopefully.
There we go, through the bubbles, through the water, right down...
and we have salmon!
That is remarkable, mate. It's really interesting - they're all pointing the same way, aren't they?
That's right. I think there's an undertow,
isn't there, that comes back right on the river bed?
Gives you wonderful views of them. Look at that!
Is that three, four, five, six, seven in one shot?
Yes, and there must be many more that we can't see,
because the camera can only see a short distance through the murk.
And some of them have injuries that you can see
from a shark attack or a seal attack,
when they've been out at sea -
like that one.
What a privileged view.
If you want to watch salmon leap, come after a period of heavy autumn rain -
it's your best bet for seeing these animals at their most dynamic.
From the moment I arrived till now, when I've got to leave,
I've been absolutely transfixed by these fish.
It's addictive - you can't stop watching them.
As a naturalist,
like many of us, I was a bit sniffy about fish, really.
I thought bird watching, plant spotting...
Getting soaked! It's absolutely brilliant,
it's one of the best natural history experiences
you can possibly hope to experience in Britain.
This should be number one!
Well, Mike, that was pretty special but what about this?!
What about this? Skeins of pink-footed geese
flying inland off the Norfolk coast first thing in the morning.
It's a bit chilly but just listen and look - brilliant!
Justifiable, too, because we're nudging closer to our top spot - we're at number two.
A smaller bird, not quite as noisy,
but when they get together, they do produce something pretty special.
At number two it's swarms of starlings.
The masses of starlings that come together in winter
is without doubt one of the UK's great spectacles.
And one which many, many of you suggested for our Top 40.
The aerial displays of vast flocks of starlings gathering together
to roost are a winter spectacular.
At some sites the numbers reach several million birds,
turning the sky quite literally black.
The fact is, wherever you live in the UK,
there's almost certainly a starling show near you.
As for me, my first great starling spectacle is here,
on the south coast on Brighton Pier.
These birds started coming in from the north and the east about 3.30.
Eventually they'll go and roost on the metal structures under the pier.
But for the moment, they're just swirling around
the sky like confetti, with their numbers swelling.
They seem to be gathering now at this end of the pier,
and I'm starting to think that any minute now
they're going to shoot in under here and start their roosting.
There they go, they're going under now.
Now most of them have gone into the roost,
there's this huge cacophony of sound underneath me.
There's this terrific noise going on under here now.
The great thing about Brighton
is you get two shows for the price of one.
Because when the birds have filled up this pier
they then start to go into roost on the remnants of the old pier.
The starlings have remained loyal to West Pier,
despite it being derelict.
And every evening they put on some of the very best
shape-shifting displays in the land.
Now for somewhere very different.
Here in rural West Wales, I've been promised a roost
that for sheer numbers is even better than Brighton.
It all happens in the back yard of farmer Roger Mathias,
who believes that his starlings will be the stars of our countdown.
When we asked people for ideas for Top 40 wildlife spectacles,
you, Roger - along with loads of other people -
got in touch with us to say that starlings had to be in there.
What is it that you like about them so much?
I think there are several things.
They're a very complex bird.
When you see them in a flock on the floor, they're quite cheeky,
they can be aggressive to each other.
But they can totally change when you get them in a flock situation.
They can almost become fluid.
Roger, you're doubly lucky, cos not only have you got starlings all over the farm,
you've also got a brilliant roost right in your own backyard.
Yes, we have. Very close by,
we've got hundreds of thousands of birds coming in every evening.
They fly into this wood on the edge of Roger's land,
coming in from every direction from miles around.
Well, you've brought me right up to the edge of the wood -
is this where the birds are gonna come in?
-It is, indeed, Janet - in massive flocks coming in.
-The moment of truth!
Hundreds of thousands, you promised.
Believe me, there will be.
Some of them may come in high, but most of them will be coming in
sort of at 100ft, 200ft, perhaps.
Initially it could even be a few dozen and then as they approach
they will gather up with other smaller flocks,
and by the time they get here
some of the flocks will be several thousand strong.
Here we go - first flock coming in.
Oh, there's another one, another flock there.
-So it's started now?
There's some more.
Coming in - they do come in quite low, don't they?
Yes. They are tonight anyway.
-Here we go, here we go.
-They just snuck up on us, didn't they?
Yeah, they just check the wind and come in at the right angle.
You really do have to kind of swivel around,
there's another group coming in up there.
Coming in in a long skein, look. It's like you said, you know,
they have a really fluid sort of motion, haven't they?
Yep, they do.
For nearly half an hour, these birds just kept on coming.
-Can you hear that?
-Did you hear that? That is so like the sea.
As the flock builds up, that's actually physically the wing beats.
Look, there's just a constant stream coming in there.
Pouring in now. Pouring in now.
You don't get much better than this, do you?
These birds are in Serengeti numbers, hundreds of thousands
coming in here now.
I can't believe the sheer volume, the numbers,
-that's what's so staggering.
We estimate probably half a million.
Probably half a million, we think.
The sound is really starting to build now, isn't it?
-That's them on their perches.
They've settled down now, they've come in and they're having a chat.
They're talking to each other.
It's terrifically loud now.
They'll murmur, they'll chat all night long - it's quite remarkable.
The whole canopy is just alive with birds.
I've never seen anything like that,
and I've never heard anything like that.
It's just absolutely awesome,
and it definitely, definitely rates position number two.
I'm sure it does, I'm certain it does.
Good night, starlings.
What can you say? Pretty amazing.
And it's almost, almost time to reveal
what's made it as the UK's greatest wildlife spectacle.
But before we tell you what's the best of British,
here's a recap of what made it into our top ten.
Floating in at ten, hunting barn owls.
At number nine, fish the size of a bus.
There's two over there, there's a fin right here and there's one up ahead.
I mean, we're surrounded by basking sharks!
At eight, bizarre but brilliant -
it's dancing adders.
And at seven, the splendour of a British bluebell wood.
Pumping up the volume to nearly 100 decibels,
it's birdsong at six.
A carpet of colour at five - hay meadows.
just bubbling under the top spot - black grouse.
Top three now - leaping salmon, and what an experience!
Here it is, look, look at this!
I'm tickling the salmon, everybody!
And at two, a super swarm of swirling starlings.
OK, it's finally that time to reveal
what is the UK's greatest wildlife spectacle, and I urge you to do
everything within your power to see this for yourselves,
because it is truly amazing.
At number one, top of our wildlife pops,
it's a feeding frenzy of gannets.
Behind me is Bass Rock, a massive great lump of volcanic stone,
covered with 100,000 of one of our favourite sea birds.
Look at it - it's iced with gannets.
That's 100,000 expert fishermen,
only too happy to take advantage of a free meal.
We're at the centre of a hurricane, a vortex of gannets,
they're all swirling around here,
all going in the same direction.
You've got that cackle, you can smell the sea.
And here, look at this.
This has to be one of the most dynamic pieces
of feeding behaviour that you can see anywhere in the world of any animal.
And it's here on our British shores.
These are large birds, chucking themselves
into the sea at about 30mph.
Now, gannets are really striking birds in terms of their coloration,
and it's thought that's an adaptive advantage -
they've evolved to be that way, obvious to other gannets.
What happens is, they go out here into the North Sea,
quartering hundreds of square miles
looking for relatively localised shoals of fish.
If one gannet spots them and dives down all of the other gannets
can spot it easily.
As the gannets attack, the shoal breaks up,
so the birds can pick off the fish.
Spectacle. Capital S. Filigree round the edges. This is fantastic.
It's a truly mind-boggling experience -
one enjoyed by marine biologist Ian Baird.
Ian, it's phenomenal...
It's incredible. I think awesome is just about the only word for it.
-It is awesome.
-But a lot of people like puffins
and sometimes when I'm looking at gannets, I just think, why?
Of all the British seabirds these must be the most elegant,
the most beautiful, and they do such cool stuff.
What about the rock as a whole? It is internationally important as a colony, isn't it?
It's the biggest single rock colony in the world and some other colonies,
St Kilda over in the west coast - large, but spread over a few stacks.
This thing's absolutely massive.
This is quite unusual, in that they're feeding -
it's a bonus for them we're providing food so close to their breeding colony.
But they'll travel hundreds of miles to find food.
It's like a cheat to stick the fish in the water here and get them so close.
We could go to Denmark, but it takes all afternoon!
Exactly. They can go huge journeys
and fishing trips can last a very long time.
So you know, 30-35 hours is not unheard of for gannets
disappearing off into the North Sea.
Not quite the Arctic tern for distance travel, you know,
but still nevertheless a great ocean wanderer, as a species.
Yeah. I find - I mean a lot of people I think find that
it's one of these things about birds that always amazes people,
being able to go on your own to a destination hundreds of miles away
without anyone telling you to do it.
We're beginning to understand the science behind it,
but it doesn't take away from the fact a little fluffy thing on there
turns into a chocolate brown thing that flies to Africa with no map.
Getting so close to these gannets was so good,
there was only one option - to come back the next day.
So, armed with more bait,
and attracting the interest of the locals,
I headed out again to feast my eyes on what is definitely the UK's best,
most visual, most exciting, most dynamic wildlife wonder.
And within minutes, the birds were ready.
It's like a boiling mass of gannets in there -
you can see them all underwater in a great big
white writhing cloud as they sort of wrestle for the fish.
Now typically, they would swallow them beneath the surface,
because as they get to the surface there's a chance someone else will steal your fish.
But some are coming up with the fish still in their mouth,
quickly gulping it down before they take off.
Now and again they all clear like this, possibly because
the density has got too much and the risk of accident could be too great.
And they'll all go, even if there's fish left,
before they all start piling back in again,
which is what's happening now.
And they're superbly adapted for throwing themselves into the water.
They've got air bags in their body to cushion the impact on the water.
So German car manufacturers were thousands - hundreds of thousands,
if not millions of years - too late in the design of the air bag.
Gannets had it first.
So there you are - up there at number one,
it's gannets plunge-diving off the Bass Rock.
It was simply amazing,
clearly one of my favourites and I hope one of yours too.
Thank you all very much for nominating your choices.
But you know, I think there is one thing that we can all agree on -
and that is that British wildlife is quite simply brilliant.
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