Springwatch returns to our screen on the 25th May for another season of wildlife spotting. We asked series producer James Smith for his favourite highlights from the filming of this year’s show with Michaela Strachan, Chris Packham and Martin Hughes-Games.
1. RSPB Minsmere
The star of the series will undoubtedly be our Suffolk base. The low-lying coastal reserve is made up of a dazzling array of habitats, from beach to reed bed, lagoon to heath, which are packed with a fabulous variety of species. There are rarities such as the wonderfully weird stone curlew – known locally as the ‘goggle-eyed plover’ – and elusive bearded tits, and Springwatch favourites including otters, red deer and woodpeckers.
2. Badgers Behaving Badly
Last year, we were shocked when we filmed a badger swimming out to islands and feasting on avocet eggs and newly hatched chicks. This year, we want to keep a close eye on Minsmere’s badgers and assess the impact they’re having on wildlife on the reserve. Back in January, we fitted eight of them with GPS collars. We’re getting to know them as individuals and are finding out where they feed – and what they’re eating. And we think we’ve identified the badger with a taste for avocets…
3. Marsh harriers
Minsmere has long-been a refuge for these graceful raptors; in 1971 was home to the last pair left in the UK. Thankfully their distinctive ‘V’ shaped wings are now a familiar sight over the reserve’s reed beds. For the first time, we’re hoping to get a camera on a marsh harrier nest so we can watch sibling rivalries play out and see what kinds of prey are brought back to the nest.
4. Fish Cam
Springwatch’s USP is the ‘nest cam’. For eleven years, our mini-cameras have recorded the day-to-day lives of blue tits, bitterns and other nesting birds in intimate detail. This year, we’re going to have our first underwater nest cam, focusing on a plucky male stickleback. Male sticklebacks are the Superdads of the fish world – they single-handedly fan up to 300 eggs with their fins to keen them oxygenated, and defend the nest against all comers.
These elegant waders are the icons not just of the RSPB but of Minsmere, too. Extinct in the UK for a hundred years, they returned to this stretch of coast in 1947, and the reserve has been a stronghold for them ever since. Last year, the swimming badger thwarted our efforts to film avocet chicks. Since then, the RSPB has erected a fence around the Scrape – but will it be badger-proof? Even if it is, young avocets face marauding gulls and many other dangers. Fingers crossed we’re finally able to film avocet chicks fledging out on the lagoon.
6. Owl Diary
We’ve been following a tawny owl family in Cheshire since February, and have captured every moment of their breeding story. We filmed the very first time the female began to excavate her nest, through egg laying, hatching, fledging and beyond. There’s been drama and surprises along the way, not least when the ever-practical mother decided to feed the youngest and weakest chick to its hungry siblings!
7. Masters of Migration: Arctic Terns
Arctic terns spend their summers breeding in the northern hemisphere before flying thousands of miles to overwinter in Antarctica. One of our largest breeding colonies is on the Farne Islands off the Northumbrian coast. No one knows where they end up in Antarctica, or what route they take to get there, so we’re going to fit 30 birds with tiny tracking devices to find out exactly where ‘British’ terns go when they leave our shores.
8. Iron Mouse Challenge
Last year, we put wood mice, rats and voles through their paces with a rodent assault course. Now we’re upping the ante with a purpose-built watery arena. Which of our rodents climb, jump, swim – and ultimately dive – their way to victory?
9. Follow Iolo
The far north of Scotland is the destination for intrepid naturalist Iolo Williams. He’ll begin his journey at John o’Groats, before heading to Orkney and then onto Shetland, seeing puffins, hen harrier, otters – and perhaps even orcas – along the way. If the weather is kind, he hopes to end his journey on Out Stack, the northernmost point of land in the British Isles.
10. Adders on our Radar
It wasn’t just the badgers that were raiding nests last year – our cameras filmed amazing footage of adders hunting goldfinches and blackbirds. This year, we want to keep tabs on the snakes in our area, so we’re fitting them with GPS transmitters which will enable us to so we can monitor their movements in real time, and hopefully get advanced warning of an imminent attack!