Chris is in Belfast to continue the countdown to the UK's top wildlife spectacle, which includes the sheer magic of a purple emperor butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.
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Welcome to Nature's Top 40 -
a countdown from 40 to 1 of the UK's greatest wildlife spectacles.
And today, I'm here at Belfast Loch in Northern Ireland.
You've got the cranes of Harland and Wolf over there behind me and on this reserve,
some of the greatest concentrations of wild fowl and waders anywhere in the UK.
It's a truly fantastic place.
But before we get started on today's countdown, here's a look at some of the things that've been before.
Singing his way into our charts, the natterjack toad.
Our panel of experts put this at number 40 - loud, proud and blowing bubbles for Britain.
Even higher up the chart, a moving carpet of knot - where else in the world can you see so many birds?
Well, how about this?
The rook roost was suggested by BBC Radio Norfolk and stormed into our charts at 29.
It looks like a bonfire and someone's bashed it and they're all tiny little pieces of ash.
Today, we're counting down from 28 to 25 and I've come here
to Northern Ireland to meet one of the other experts that ranked our UK spectacles - Anthony MacGeean.
Now before we get going, Anthony, why are one of my top five favourites - the glow worms -
languishing in the lower 30s? Is this anything to do with you?
Well, I think lack of a song springs to mind as one kind of bit of a drawback.
Oh, you birdbrain, you birdbrain. There's one thing we won't disagree on.
At number 28 - swarming bats - what do you think?
Yeah, I've had a bit of a soft spot for bats, you know, since childhood.
I used to even regard them as a bird in those days.
A man with bat on his bird list. At number 28, let's see them swarming.
Well, it's 4.30 in the morning,
and something very remarkable is about to happen. We're going to see
several hundred mammals.
They've gathered in this house in Hampshire to have their babies, and up to 1,000 have been recorded -
and they've been out on the town all night long.
Bat swarming - number 28 in our top 40.
These are soprano pipistrelle bats.
They gather in their hundreds in maternal roosts when it's time to breed,
and first thing in the morning, they put on a show known as swarming.
Come on now - there are no excuses not to get up early in the morning
to see bats swarming like this.
And with a little home movie camera, it's never been as easy.
This has got an infrared option and I can see
the bats swirling right round the gable end of the house.
Look! Those little fluorescent specks, believe me, are bats.
And look how social they are - five, six, seven, eight all whizzing around together.
Ah. Superb sight!
I can only just see them against the sky.
But with this, it makes it easy.
Isn't this lovely? It's wonderful, it's so exciting!
But being a mad keen naturalist, I want to know what's going on here.
And fortunately for me, I've brought along a friend.
Just behind me here we have a bat lady.
Must be Alison Rasey from the Bat Conservation Trust.
-I am, hello, good to see you.
-Likewise. How's it going?
It's good. Plenty of activity up there at the moment.
-I love this sound we're hearing, the little drumming!
These are the soprano pipistrelles as you can hear them on a bat detector.
You wouldn't be able to hear them if we didn't have this.
We've got the number 55. That's the frequency that they're echo locating, is that right?
Yeah. There are other pipistrelles and common pipistrelles echolocate at about 45 kilohertz.
There's also another species of pipistrelle in the UK
called an enthusiast pipistrelle that echo locates at something below 40 kilohertz, about sort of 38,
something like that, so we've actually got three species in the UK.
-Wow! That one flew right over my head as well.
There's a lot of sort of slaps, you know,
as I said of echo locating - getting a sound picture of their surroundings -
but as they home in on an insect, the echolocation calls get faster and faster and faster,
cos they've got to be accurate where they're homing in.
That's when you get that sort of raspberry sound, if you like.
-Exactly. Yeah. Brilliant, you'd be a good bat.
Now I understand this is not any old colony, this is a maternity roost - what does that mean?
Right, this is a roost where the females have gathered together to have their baby.
Now this only happens once a year.
The females will only have usually one baby each and they have it.
They give birth generally either in June or July.
Baby bats are called pups
and they're just as cute as the canine variety.
This roost is excellent location, plenty of trees around - brilliant habitat for them -
because it's not only the roosting space that's important for them,
they've got to be able to have a good supply of food as well.
So this is obviously nice and insecty. Excellent habitat for them.
So they've got it all here - everything that they need.
It's perfect here for this number of bats to gather to have their baby.
-Bat des res.
-And look how many are flying around now, Alison.
-Isn't it amazing?
-I think a few are going in now, rather than just swarming around.
-Yeah, they are, aren't they?
The reason I really like bats is I hate midges,
cos I've got one of those skin types where I get really easily eaten.
These should be my friend, cos they take loads of midges out the air.
Yeah, indeed they are. Yeah, up to 3,000 in a night.
On average per pipistrelle bat.
Per bat, so that's a lot of midges.
-I can also hear a tawny owl just calling in the background.
-Yeah, I heard that.
And they occasionally take bats, is that right?
-Yeah, has been recorded, yeah.
-Wonderful sound. Do you hear that?
Now I'm with the Brent Jones family who are lucky enough to live below the pipistrelles.
Nick, William, Harriet and Clare.
You are the luckiest family, aren't you? Wonderful.
They're very good, very good indeed.
-You have to get up early to see them though.
-Very early, very early.
Think you guys were here about 4am, so yeah, they started swarming about half past four.
So, Harriet, how did you know there were bats in your attic?
Well, at first, it was this really horrible smell,
and we just thought it was the new house smell. But after a few days, it was still there.
We opened windows, smelly candles, it was still there.
And we were out one night on the patio and we saw these.
It looked like birds, um, but we looked into it a bit more closely and they were actually bats.
-Wonderful. Isn't it amazing you've got such a big roost above your head?
Does it make you kind of stay awake at night?
Well... They make a little high squeaky noise which is really nice.
What do you think of the bats, William? Cool, aren't they?
-How many do you think there are in the top of the house?
I think there are a few more. What's the highest number that have been recorded, Nick?
About two weeks ago, we saw 771 -
we counted them out of this end of the house,
but we know there are others at the other end of the house.
And the other evening, we counted 77 out of there, so we know, as a minimum, there's 850 up there.
That's without the ones we missed and without the babies that aren't flying yet.
-That's a pretty phenomenal number.
-Anyone's guess, really.
If you'd like to find out more about bats, you should think about joining your local bat group.
They organise walks and might be able to throw more light on which species it is that you're hearing or seeing.
Number 27 now, and it's something that really says summer.
Clouds of butterflies - what could be better than that?
Well, perhaps just watching one butterfly emerge form its pupae. Fantastic.
Is there a more colourful order of animals in the UK?
Butterflies are as vivid and as complex as a stained glass window.
And sometimes, even in Britain, you can find large congregations of one species.
This is the Great Orme in North Wales.
One of the last places in the UK where you could see
a butterfly spectacular.
I'm surrounded by literally hundreds of butterflies.
They're all from the same species - these are the silver studded blue.
There are about half a million of these tiny butterflies here.
The silver studded blue is similar to the common blue, but rarer.
They have these metallic blue, jewel-like studs on the hind wing.
Butterflies' colours come from hairy scales which cover the wings and part of the body.
Some scales have pigment in them, but the iridescent blues and greens are created by light.
Tiny ridges diffract the light. You get the same effect looking at a CD.
But the scales are fragile and when they are damaged, the colours fade.
These butterflies are so tiny, it's really hard to see them.
But once you get your eye in, you can see that the bushes are absolutely covered with them.
There's one right here.
It's got its wings shut, so you can't see that amazing blue.
But as soon as it warms up, it's going to look absolutely stunning.
To find masses of them, I've asked Russell Hobson from Butterfly Conservation to help me.
One thing about the Great Orme is the fact that
not only has it got silver studded blues but it's got them in profusion.
I mean, in the 19th century, they were recorded here as in swarms,
and still today, it's one of the few places in UK you can come and get
that sensation of lots and lots of butterflies flying around you as you walk along these slopes.
We're not talking about seeing clouds of butterflies so that the sky darkens, what we're talking about
is basically every step you take, you'll see half a dozen butterflies.
And there's not many places you can actually get that experience in Britain now.
So why don't we see so many clouds of butterflies these days?
Well, primarily because we don't these days have as many fields full of wild flowers.
And that's what butterflies need.
Both the adults for nectar and also the diversity of wild flowers means
there's different things for different butterfly species, caterpillars to feed on.
Here you've got lots of wild flowers, lots of the rock rose
that the silver studded blue caterpillars feed on.
An equally magical but even more intimate spectacle is watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly.
It has to be one of the most wonderful sights in the natural world.
This is a purple emperor, emerging from its chrysalis.
Newly emerged butterflies aren't ready to fly immediately.
It takes about an hour to form the wings, by pumping fluid from the abdomen.
So they often emerge at night to avoid predators.
The proboscis isn't fully formed either.
It starts as two halves which are hooked together, a bit like Velcro, to form a straw-like tube.
This is a top ten spectacle and it happens to millions of butterflies every year,
but we almost never see it.
It's one of nature's secret miracles.
Back on the Great Orme, as the day warms up, we find more and more silver studded blues.
There's loads here! Gosh! That's amazing!
-Yes, just in amongst the bramble, isn't it?
And they'll stick in amongst here, but it's not dense scrub.
Even though it's not always easy to walk through,
there's quite a lot of rock rose in here.
So there's quite a lot of places for them to egg lay as well.
-Oh, wow, look at this.
-This is lovely.
I mean, there's so many butterflies here.
It's fantastic, and there's very few places in the UK
where you just get this intimacy with a butterfly and in these numbers as well.
-The experience isn't just about them flying around where you can see them.
-It's being amongst them, isn't it?
Being amongst them, yeah, but there's so much going on that you just...
You need to come out to get a real impression of the sheer numbers here
and why this is such a spectacular place and such a spectacular experience.
Fantastic. It's so simple!
You know, a butterfly emerging from its pupae is never going to cease to fascinate me.
Anyway, this is equally tremendous, Anthony.
All of these godwits so close and you've brought them here and got them like this. Fantastic work.
Yeah, I see them every day and never tire of them.
You're a bit biased, so what about outside of the reserve here and into the province?
-What are your other favourites?
-Whooper swans are another big favourite.
It's hard to beat sort of big birds, especially ones that have to fly like 900 miles across
the sort of pretty tempestuous Atlantic ocean to get from here to the breeding grounds.
OK, whooper swans. Next up?
Snipe has got to be it. People who have never seen snipe,
it's something that is really the ultimate in sort of camouflage and cryptic plumage.
And what about what about a non-bird? Can you squeeze a non-bird into your three?
If I wave the flag for Ireland, it would have to be the Irish hare.
It's such a nicer animal than the brown hare.
But let's go back to birds - at number 26, it's the somewhat painful sea bird attack.
This is an experience where you don't have to look for the wildlife, because it comes and finds you.
Ooh! You can see why this particular stretch of boardwalk is called Bomb Alley.
It's the height of the breeding season at the moment.
All of these birds' eggs are about to hatch, so they're maximally aggressive.
They see me as a potential predator and they've all this investment and they want it to pay off.
I like birds...sometimes.
These little beauties are Arctic terns, weighing in at about 100g,
but packing the punch of a heavyweight boxer.
Now it's not that these particular birds have got a vendetta against me.
It's just that they're about to realise a massive investment. Look at this -
the female here has laid these two relatively large eggs,
and if I gently... Come on.
You see that? That's a lot of energy's gone into producing those.
Also, she's then had to sit on them, the male's had to feed her.
And in a couple of days' time, these eggs are about to hatch.
And that means that they are at their peak of aggression at the moment.
They just want to see those chicks and don't want trouble from me. I don't want any trouble either.
What makes these birds so special is their remarkable migration.
They spend our winter in the Antarctic, before flying 6,000 miles
to breed in the Farne Islands during our summer.
And their arrival brings in the visitors.
You see, I've learned my lesson. I'm well-equipped now.
And any minute, I'm going to sell this cane for 10, 20 or even £30.
It's one of the pleasures of running the gauntlet -
you can then stand back and watch the rest get pecked to pieces.
I love the word "Ow".
But getting pecked isn't really that bad - honestly, honestly, it isn't.
-What do you make of it, then?
-Oh, fantastic. It's great!
I always wanted to be in an Alfred Hitchcock film.
-I was just going to say you've come off lightly.
-No, I've got poo.
-No, I'm pooed on.
We just thought it was fun, we thought it was very amusing.
You've waving a brolly over your head.
Seemed like a good idea at the time, yeah.
-What do you think of the experience, yeah?
I love it. It's so nice getting so close to the birds, even watching them attack you. It's...yeah.
It's something special. You don't get that in London.
This human invasion of their territory is well managed,
and where else in the UK would a wild animal do this?
On the Farnes, there are flitters, passers and sitters.
I'm currently lucky to entertain a sitter.
Just looking around here, there are a number of birds with sand eels, these tiny little silvery fish,
and they are the reason that these terns have come all that way to breed here.
Those fish are like little tern burgers.
They're exactly the right size to catch, carry and feed their young
and if the numbers of sand eels drop, they're in real, real trouble.
Sometimes, they end up trying to feed their young these things.
Now this is a pipe fish. You can see it's much much larger.
It's also extremely tough and it's not at all oily.
This is not good tern chick food whatsoever.
Some of the young birds even choke on them, and in the last few years,
numbers of these pipe fish have swollen exponentially,
and you can go down to the shoreline here and literally scoop hundreds, hundreds out of the rock pools.
You come near me, I'm going to give you a free lunch.
There are daily landings during the spring and summer to this National Trust outpost,
and it's a regular haunt for local lad Brian Little.
Brian, this is an extraordinary spot.
How long have you been coming here?
It's over 50 years.
It was about...1950
-when I first came to the Farne Islands and I was 14 then.
-I'm 71 now!
-And you're still pleasured by being pecked and pooed upon.
I come and I'm pleased to be pecked by Arctic terns.
They're such superb birds.
The thing is, Brian, you've been coming here for more than 50 years
and still not engendered enough respect from these creatures...
No, no, they still give me hell! You notice they don't think, "OK, we'll play cool.
"There's Brian, you know, he's been coming here for 50 years, we'll not peck him."
But they must be one of your favourites, of course.
Yes, in terms of the migrations, they're fascinating, you know.
I can hardly believe that such a tiny bird
can travel thousands and thousands of miles on this planet of ours.
Well, haven't ringed birds here been found in Australia?
Yes, and one bird was only four months old.
Four months after being ringed here on the Farne
it was found on a beach in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
But the thing is they are also very long lived?
So in the total of their life the mileage is phenomenal.
Well, you're talking about 12,000 miles each year
plus whatever meanderings they have to add on to that.
And 27 years' worth.
It's mind boggling, you know, absolutely mind boggling.
Ow! That was the worst!
It was the worst all day.
You know, the one good thing when you come to think about leaving the island - and you have to leave,
there is no hotel, no bed and breakfast, no camp site -
is that you have to run the gauntlet of all of these furious birds for the second time.
And there's one thing for absolutely certain -
this has to rank as a great spectacle because you can smell these birds,
you can hear them, you can see them,
and ladies and gentlemen, you can feel them.
All the time.
Now I can promise you you can't get closer to any birds in the UK than that.
And I know it's a bit painful, you might get a peck on the ear or two, but think about this.
Better to upset those terns than, say, a black rhino with the same intentions.
Anyway at number 25 now, it's one of the UK's cutest mammals.
The majesty of Scotland.
And for wildlife, the Aigas Estate in the Highlands is as good as it gets.
So the estate here is absolutely heaving with wildlife
but we've come to see one very special animal,
and in a break in the mould I'm not going to tell you what it is.
No, but I will give you a couple of clues, OK?
It's a mammal, it's incredibly shy and it comes out at night.
But it's not a badger. It's also the size of a cat.
But it's not a cat.
It's a member of the weasel family.
But it's not a weasel.
And it's so good, so good that I've named it as an honorary bird.
An honorary bird.
One last clue - coming from the south, it's not an animal that I know particularly well,
and therefore I'll need a bit of assistance to find it.
Who better than the owner of the estate here,
author and naturalist John Lister Kay - the man himself.
-Hello, welcome to Aigas.
-How are you?
Good to see you. Yeah, very well thanks.
-Plenty of visitors?
-Yeah, lots of visitors and just fabulous wildlife.
What about the creature that I'm coming to search for?
They're here too.
Very shy, very unpredictable but with a bit of luck,
and maybe a few tricks up our sleeve maybe we can find one or two.
-You're the man, so come on, let's go and have a look.
All this rain, John, has been an asset to we naturalists
when it comes to leaving spore or track marks, hasn't it?
Wonderful mud at a time of year when we wouldn't normally see tracks at all.
-There's plenty of tracks here.
-Yeah, we have red deer going through here.
Here we are, some badger tracks here,
very distinctive with these five front claw marks deep in the mud.
-Trotting down here, hasn't it?
-That's right, he's travelling.
This going the other way, a little bit older, smaller animal,
might be what we're looking for.
Very distinctive, different, and very cat-like.
They've got this pad at the back,
four pads in front of it but no claw marks at all.
Nothing. No claws visible at all as this animal has retractable claws
and he only produces them when he needs them, for skipping up a tree for instance.
Well, it's certainly an intriguing animal.
So how am I going to see it?
John's got a special area where he regularly set outs irresistible treats like peanuts,
and the real favourite - sticky jam.
It's just after half past seven and they are meant to turn up at eight o'clock.
Well. But if they do, I can tell you,
oh, oh, it's going to be absolutely mega.
John's just putting a little bit more food out to try and tempt them in.
I tell you what, I often get a sense of anticipation
that really gets me going, but at the moment I'm veritably twitching.
-Here we go! Chris, look up the top there.
He's just gone by.
Here he is again, he's moving right.
I think he'll come down past this ash tree
so we'll see him again in just a moment.
There he is, there he is. Look at that.
That's the mammal you've been looking for.
That's the pine marten.
See him testing the wind, checking it out.
What an animal. What an animal.
There we are - how about that, hey?
So lovely to see him climb the tree like that.
So fluid, so agile, so acrobatic.
He's really got stuck into the peanuts now.
Yeah. Now what's quite funny, Chris,
is the peanuts jam in the teeth quite regularly
and sometimes you see frantic scratching at the cheeks
to try and shift the peanuts out of the teeth.
-Bit like us, then.
-Yeah, that's right.
John, they've got a very wide taste in food - their diet's extraordinary, isn't it?
Yeah. They take almost anything. Frogs and toads and newts.
Small birds, ground nesting birds' eggs.
Small mammals, voles, shrews, mice, rats.
They chase squirrels - I don't know how successful they are at catching them but they chase them.
When you're watching at a feeding station,
you never can be sure what's going to turn up.
Sometimes, if you're really lucky
a female appears bringing her young, or kits.
They're born in the spring
and remain with their mother for around six months.
They used to be a really rare mammal, you know,
but now I'm glad to say that they're coming back strongly
and they're spreading throughout Scotland and down into England.
Oh, they're absolutely stunning, absolutely stunning.
Honorary bird, without a doubt,
this is an honorary bird.
I don't know - it's difficult, this top 40 business,
because at this moment in time this is number one.
And some lucky folk see all of this in their own back gardens.
Les Humphreys from Fort William in Scotland,
sent us this video filmed from the comfort of his study.
It just shows that if you can win their trust,
these normally shy animals will reward you
with quite delightful encounters.
Pine martens. Pine martens at number 25?
What's going on? They're fantastic!
Almost undoubtedly the UK's finest mammal,
and if they're at number 25, just think of what is to come.
A very good reason for you to join us for some more of Nature's Top 40.
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Chris is in Belfast to continue the countdown to the UK's top wildlife spectacle, from the sheer magic of a purple emperor butterfly emerging from its chrysalis to thousands of mammals gathering to give birth together.