Thursday, 21 March 2013

Why Countryfile needs a bird expert

I enjoyed the recent BBC Two five-part series on The Great British Winter (4-8 March 2013), made by the Countryfile team. But I was puzzled by a couple of clips of feeding geese in the fourth episode, which concentrated on estuaries and was mainly filmed around Morecambe Bay. 

While the presenter (Ellie Harrison) was visiting the cabin home of a driftwood artist somewhere on the edge of the bay, the cameras showed the view of the seashore from his balcony and then cut to a close-up of two feeding geese, without any mention of them in the commentary. Later the presenter visited Leighton Moss nature reserve, 4km inland from the bay, where she sat in a hide with a local expert who pointed out waterfowl such as Teal and Wigeon. During this sequence the cameras again cut to the same two geese, clearly in exactly the same place as before, and again without any mention.

So the programme implied that the same two geese were seen in two different locations. And on both occasions it failed to identify them. This might have been forgivable if the geese had been common birds, but they were in fact Emperor Geese and representatives of a near-threatened species. 

The Emperor Goose breeds in the coastal salt marshes of Alaska and Siberia and winters around the northern Pacific Ocean. Its global population is less than 75,000. No Emperor Goose has ever been known to reach Europe unaided, and sightings of escapes from collections are virtually unknown in Britain — apart from a small breeding flock of about a dozen birds that has in recent years frequented the bleak shores of Walney Island, on the north-western edge of Morecambe Bay. The geese that were shown twice during the Countryfile estuaries episode are presumably from this flock. Information about them would have improved the programme.
This is not the first occasion on which Countryfile's programme-makers have included footage of a rare bird without realising that it was worthy of comment. On more than one occasion I have seen rare birds misidentified — notably a White-tailed Eagle described as a Golden Eagle and a feature on the Common Tern that included a film clip of Arctic Tern. The Countryfile team clearly needs the assistance of an expert birder. 

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