Using cutting-edge new filming techniques to show everything in exquisite detail, viewers have a uniquely privileged perspective flying high above the Serengeti on the backs of Vultures in Africa to hunting for bats with red-tailed hawks in North America.
The birds are shown up-close in flight and interacting with other animals down below: barnacle geese fight off polar bears that are invading their nests, pelicans plunging into huge shoals of sardine and anchovies and cowbirds shadowing bison herds to feed on the insects disturbed by their hooves.
To create its bird’s-eye view of the world Earthflight uses a host of extraordinary filming techniques including filming “imprinted” flocks from microlites, wild flocks filmed from model gliders and silent drones, full-sized helicopter with stabilised mounts and cameras on the backs of trained birds. Slow-motion techniques also reveal extraordinary detail such as swallows plucking feathers from the air.
Earthflight truly is a bird’s-eye view of the world.
See some of the highlights from Earthflight on our YouTube channel
Take off in a ‘snowstorm’ of geese and glide under San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge with pelicans. This is the world on the wing – a world with secrets known only to the birds.
The countdown to Earthflight’s epic adventure begins in the Gulf of Mexico as five million snow geese prepare to fly the entire length of North America. Each spring, these families of geese head north on a gruelling 3,000-mile journey to the Arctic to breed.
Cruise with them on a tight schedule along familiar ‘flyways’, taking a route across the parched Monument Valley and up the Mississippi before catching skyscraper-induced thermals over New York City.
One unwelcome fellow traveller is the bald eagle. At every opportunity it plummets into the flock to grab a meal. But it’s salmon not geese that lure the eagles away to Alaska. As the annual salmon run kicks off, duck and dive among squabbling grizzly bears as the eagles snatch a share of the feast.
At the other extreme, brown pelicans seem to enjoy a far more relaxed Californian lifestyle. In the balmy seas of Baja, join a young pelican on its hunt for fish. It takes its cue from the breaching humpback whales and massing dolphins way below – that’s where the schools of anchovies are sure to be.
Hitching a lift with pelicans on their leisurely route up the golden coast reveals the never-filmed-before behaviour of devil rays somersaulting out of the water and the daytime spawning of thousands of grunion fish. Eventually the pelicans make their final descent into San Francisco Bay, gliding past Alcatraz and slipping under the Golden Gate Bridge.
On the second leg of this world trip, head north over Africa. Plunge into the great sardine run with thousands of Cape gannets, explore the Great Rift with fish eagles and vultures, and slow dance with millions of pink flamingos on Kenya’s Lake Bogoria.
Off the Cape, gannets race high above the waves. They are the dolphins’ keen eyes in the sky. From up here they readily spot the whorling shoals of sardines, and the first gannet to take the plunge sparks a feeding frenzy of gannets, dolphins, sharks and whales. Along the shore, kelp gulls follow young seals as they take to the sea for the first time. The gulls know that great white sharks hunt in these waters and will prepare dinner for them.
High above the Serengeti, riding on a vulture’s wide wings, the full drama of the mass wildebeest migration plays out below. As the wildebeest cross the plain they’re attacked by lions, before facing the mighty Mara river where huge crocodiles lie in wait. The scavenging vultures just have to wait for the spoils.
In Kenya, flamingos are on the lookout for their perfect lake – hot, toxic and brimming with tasty algae. Eventually they find the perfect spot and two million flamingos descend on Lake Bogoria, instantly turning this soda lake pink. Here they cement lifelong bonds in an wild party of synchonised dancing. But danger lurks in pink paradise in the shape of hunting baboons and fish eagles.
On the longhaul flight north to Europe, glide with white storks on the thermals, encountering slight turbulence over Victoria Falls. Then take a somewhat smoother route up the Nile.
Swallows are hot on their tails, taking a lower flightpath and refuelling rapidly on the wing as billions of lake flies rise out of Lake Malawi. Then these tireless little birds cross the vast Sahara on their 6,000-mile trip home.
Rome, Venice, London … Earthflight departs on its grand European tour, and takes filming to new heights. Using a host of extraordinary techniques that include filming imprinted birds from microlites, we soar with birds over the Grand Canal, the white cliffs of Dover and Edinburgh castle. It’s the world from the air as never seen before.
Take to the wing with grey cranes and white storks as they head north for their breeding grounds, riding high on the thermals created by these world-famous sights.
Discover how cranes take the shortest route across the narrow Straits of Gibraltar and many stop off in the South of France for a spot of R&R. But the famous Camargue white horses kick up a fuss around these hungry new arrivals, many push on again up the Loire Valley – where 50,000 cranes may fly by in a single day.
Navigating by the sun and magnetic fields, birds also follow well-known landmarks – from chateaux along the Loire valley to the tulip fields of Holland.
Meanwhile, thousands of male white storks have left Africa behind and set their sights on Istanbul – their entry point into Europe. Next they must reclaim their ancestral homes – the chimney pots of Germany – and do a spot of nest DIY before the females arrive.
In Rome, the heat of the city lures in 20 million starlings that perform nature’s greatest aerial display – one that outwits the world’s fastest bird predator, the peregrine.
Barnacle geese strike out over Britain, but bad weather sometimes pushes them over London – normally a no-fly zone. Just over the Scottish border is Bass Rock – home to 40,000 gannets.
Finally, geese touch down in Svalbard and start to raise a family. But ravenous polar bears threatens to wipe out their colony, and the plucky birds rally together to see off the world’s most dangerous predator.
In this bird’s-eye view of South America, condors soar along the Andes, scarlet macaws explore the heart of the Amazon and hummingbirds and vultures show us the continent’s greatest sights. It’s a journey that includes Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines and the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Santiago.
In Patagonia, giant petrels shadow killer whales as they hunt seals by stranding their huge bodies on the beach.
At Iguassu Falls, dusky swifts dive through the cascades to huddle in communal roosts and hummingbirds bathe below.
In a secret Andean location, condors soar in flocks over 40-strong and scavenge on casualties from herds of fighting guanacos. Elsewhere, a mother condor gently pushes her youngster to the edge of a 200-metre cliff – flight school begins.
Deep in the Amazon, macaws seek medicinal clay. They are joined by a host of secretive jungle animals, including spider monkeys and tapirs, all after the same remedy.
In Peru, condors soar over fighting sealions waiting for casualities and on a mass exodus north, birds converge on the Panama Canal.
In Costa Rica, black vultures descend on turtles as they lay their eggs in the sand and pick off the eggs that ping-pong through the air.
Asia & Australia
In this bird’s-eye view of two continents, demoiselle cranes negotiate a dangerous Himalayan pass on their way to India while high-flying bar-headed geese take the fast track 5 miles above.
In Rajasthan, vultures watch hunting tigers hoping for a meal and pigeons visit a temple dedicated solely to sacred rats. Pigeons are also our guide to the greatest gatherings of camels on Earth and learn to dodge buzzards around the battlements of Jodhpur Fort. 9,000 cranes overwinter in the most unlikely of spots – a barbed wire compound in the centre of a desert town.
In Australia, rainbow lorikeets drop in on Sydney and patrol Australia’s Gold Coast. In the outback, white cockatoos swirl in thousands and budgerigars pass Uluru (Ayers Rock) and gather in the biggest flocks ever recorded.
In China, swallows and swifts visit the Great Wall and the Forbidden City of Beijing. In Japan, the country’s most revered birds – Japanese cranes are fed fish by appreciative locals and are joined in strange, momentary harmony by hungry red foxes, white-tailed eagles and Steller’s eagles. As peace descends, Japanese cranes dance beautifully in the snow.
Behind the Scenes
To fly like a bird, Earthflight not only captured remarkable images of wild flocks but also relied on some extraordinary relationships between people and birds. Filmed over four years, in six continents and more than 40 countries, the Earthflight team used many extraordinary techniques.
For some of the unique flying shots, members of the team became part of the flock. The birds followed wherever they went – even in a microlight over Edinburgh and London.
In Africa, paragliders floated alongside wild vultures, while a model vulture carried a camera inside the flock. In South America, wild-living macaws, that were rescued as babies, still come back to visit their ‘foster mother’ as he travels along a jungle river. In Africa, a radio-controlled ‘drone’ silently infiltrates masses of pink flamingos without disturbing a feather, and microlights and helicopters capture the dramatic moment white storks arrive over Istanbul.
A tame vulture carried a camera across the African bush and recreated the behaviour of his wild relatives. Similarly, in the USA, a flock of hand-reared snow geese followed the migration route of wild flocks and took in the sights and sounds of New York – managing to get lost in Brooklyn.