Capercaillies get carried away in the breeding season.
Despite being a British bird, the capercaillie is rarely spotted, so Sir David was delighted to have the opportunity for a close encounter. However, this one got a little closer than he bargained for. The courting capercaillie was so fired up he decided the presenter was another rival that couldn't be tolerated on his patch. The bird was large enough to knock Sir David off his feet.
Vogelkop bowerbirds use aesthetics to attract a mate.
Sir David has had a keen interest in birds of paradise since his teenage years. The bowerbirds are close relations that are no less fascinating to him, owing to their extraordinary courtship behaviour. This sequence has often been voted as a favourite and shows the delightful results of the bowerbirds artistic efforts, as they collect all sorts of items found on the forest floor and create gorgeous visual displays to charm a prospective mate.
Tortoise engineers keep their cool in a bush fire.
The burrows of the gopher tortoise are a vital refuge for both it and many other species at risk from the mid-day heat and recurrent bush fires. With a very simple piece of technology - a remote controlled car loaded with a mini-camera, lights and thermometer, Sir David follows a tortoise into its burrow, revealing just why the gopher tortoise's digging expertise is so highly valued.
Snakes use their venom for both attack and defence.
One of Sir David Attenborough's most memorable experiences was a close encounter with a spitting cobra. Protected by a full face visor he quite literally put himself right in the firing line for this sequence. As the snake's welfare was as important as the crew's safety, a captive cobra used to being handled was filmed, though of course the risk posed by the venom was just as high.
Frogs challenge their hopping reputation.
This sequence uses a variety of techniques to show the diversity in size, shape and ability of the most successful group in the amphibian order: frogs and toads. Juxtaposing Sir David with a tiny Madagascan pygmy frog sets off its diminutive size and slow motion shows in great detail how frogs put their particular bodily adaptations to locomotive use.
Marine iguanas heat up before a swim.
Camera technologies such as thermal imaging have allowed filmmakers to explore and explain the natural world by showing us what the naked eye can't see. Here, the thermal image reveals the changing body temperature of marine iguanas. As they bask in the sun, the image turns from cool purple to warm golden yellow - a visual representation of the power source behind these reptiles' cold-blooded existence.
David Attenborough experiences freefall and microgravity on a plane.
Few people get to experience zero gravity so the opportunity to go on the NASA experimental plane, nicknamed the vomit comet, was too good to pass up. Sir David embraced the chance to demonstrate how something we take wholly for granted - gravity - affects us all and in particular to illuminate the development of flight in the natural world. (Courtesy of NASA.)
Specialised SCUBA allows underwater demonstration of fish differences.
This sequence from the early 1980s shows one of the early instances of underwater presenting. It became possible as a result of the developments in full face plates which allowed Sir David not only to be able to deliver his commentary but to be recorded clearly during a dive.
The world's largest seabird chicks.
The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any living bird, and what better way to show off these outsize albatross chicks, than to have Sir David sit next to one? Fortunately the chick was well behaved - they are known to use projectile vomit as a way to ward off unwanted visitors!
Bull elephant seals fight for control of their harems.
Voted as one of the favourite David Attenborough moments, this clip shows exactly how big a bull elephant seal is, by the simple method of having Sir David stand next to one as he delivers his narration - and then to rapidly retreat as it decides it's not too keen on him!
Leopard seals lie in wait for young Adelie penguins.
One of the most dramatic sequences ever filmed in the Antarctic captured the top predators of the southern seas in violent action. Since there are no polar bears here, it's easily forgotten that that there are big predators lurking beneath the waves and the leopard seals are aptly named. The footage shows the gaunlet that young penguins have to run to avoid being a meal for a seal.
Weddell seals weather the harsh Antarctic conditions.
This clip represent the Natural History Unit's expertise and willingness to get to and film extreme and inaccessible places. Not only did they go to Antractica at a time when all other wildlife is heading north to warmer climes, they then sent cameramen underwater to get beautiful shots of seals under the ice cap.
The giant of the ocean in all its majesty.
Blue whales are symbolic ocean giants. Yet despite their size and apparent visibility, they've rarely been filmed in any detail and comparatively little is really known about their life and its habits. As Sir David points out, if so little is known about these giants, how much less is known about the myriad smaller creatures of the seas.
A huge shoal of sardines is attacked on all sides.
A wonderful, action-packed sequence, this clip combined footage from above and below the water to illustrate the squeeze that's put on the sardine shoal. As sharks, dolphins, whales and birds attack from the deep, the surface and the air, a variety of hunting techniques is exposed.
A grey whale calf is no match for specialised ocean hunters.
A key sequence from the Blue Planet series, this dramatic and poignant video clip showed some extraordinary, and for some shocking, behaviour by killer whales. The challenges were to reflect the long drawn out hunt - it lasted six hours - and to balance an uncensored view of nature with the audience's ability to accept it. (Courtesy of WHOI)
An extraordinary creature is discovered in the ocean depths.
An extraordinary creature is discovered in the ocean depths. (Courtesy of WHOI)
The anatomy of the largest mammal ever to have existed.
Everyone has heard of the blue whale, yet they are rarely seen and not often filmed. Sir David's delight at the privileged close up view of one of these ocean giants as it breached right beside him is evident. Although difficult to comprehend, at 30 metres in length and 180 metric tons or more in weight, the blue whale is the largest animal ever known to have existed.
The titan arum produces the world's largest flower.
Usually film crews head off to film natural history that is known and understood. But occasionally, they discover something new to science. While filming the short life of this giant flower, the tiny bees responsible for pollinating it came to light. Sir David gave the flower its common name - the titan arum - for the television script, as the scientific name was a bit of a mouthful and sounded rather rude. The titan arum is also a flowering plant with the largest unbranched inflorescence (a group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem) in the world.
Mating proves a major effort for giant tortoises.
The steaming volcanic vents of an extinct volcano on Galápagos was the location for Sir David and the crew to film such extraordinary creatures as these Galápagos tortoises. The shells of these gigantic armoured giants makes mating a real challenge - and as David remarks "making love in a suit of armour can't be easy". These magnificent animals are also the longest-living animal on Earth, averaging over 150 years.
The planet's extremes confound the nature of life on earth.
Pompeii worms have been found to thrive at temperatures of up to 80°C around hydrothermal vents, making them the most heat-tolerant complex animal known to science after the tardigrades (or water bears), which are able to survive temperatures over 150°C. In this sequence, a specialised deep sea submersible allowed the audience a privileged view of the inaccessible deep ocean. Stunning images from this relatively unexplored world told the story of the scientific findings made in recent years that have changed the fundamental rules about the nature of life on Earth. (Courtesy of WHOI.)
David Attenborough communicates with woodpeckers.
There have been many wonderful moments between Sir David and the animals being filmed, but this Doctor Doolittle moment is one of the most charming. When he taps on a tree, the resident woodpecker pair comes closer to see off their rival to the territorial claim.
Timelapse of a bramble's relentless growth.
It happens all around you, a lot of the time, but at a pace too slow for us to notice. This sequence shows what tracking timelapse camera rigs can reveal about the world of plants.
The beautiful, balletic courtship of weedy sea dragons.
Of all the creatures filmed for Life, the weedy seadragon ranked as one of David Attenborough's favourites.
David Attenborough learns that you can't teach an old ape new tricks.
Another of the sequences voted as a favourite David Attenborough moment sees Sir David visiting a group of orphaned chimps that are being taught the survival skills needed to live in the wild. As his boat nears the landing point, a surprise greeting party arrives on the scene and right in the boat!
Rescued orangutans give insight into ape development.
David Attenborough spends time with an unusual group of orangutans at Camp Leakey in a sequence that shows some fascinating animal behaviour. These orangs have spent time both in the wild and living alongside humans, and as a result they've developed all kinds of new talents and interests. Their capacity for mimicking behaviour outside their normal experience and then passing it on to their own young illuminates aspects of higher ape and therefore human development.
Even an elephant needs a balanced diet.
This clip contains some fantastic and fascinating behaviour - who would ever have thought that elephants go underground? Joanna Lumley named it as her favourite ever David Atttenborough moment.
The planet's top predators and the ultimate in lethal grace and beauty.
In a career spanning over 50 years, David Attenborough has seen, filmed and commented on just about every kind of creature on the planet from the tiniest of invertebrates to the giants of land and sea. The majesty and sheer power of the Siberian tiger, once the top land predator, is put into sharp relief against its precarious status and restricted range.
Miniature cameras illuminate life below ground.
David Attenborough filmed these strange creatures nearly 30 years earlier for Life on Earth. In the interim, miniature camera technology evolved to the point where small probes could be inserted into inaccessible places, without disturbing the burrow or its occupants. Viewers can now see for themselves what Sir David had previously only been able to describe.
Extravagant plumage leads to lavish courtship displays.
No David Attenborough collection would be complete without some of his favourite animals: birds of paradise. This footage shows lavish courtship displays from magnificent species.
It is unusual for a coelacanth to be caught alive, but this one was caught on camera.
It is unusual for a coelacanth to be caught alive, but while the BBC were in the Comoros one was landed, so it was returned to the sea and filmed.
Young Darwin's frogs emerge from their fathers' mouths.
Young Darwin's frogs emerge from their fathers' mouths - a recording of extraordinary reproductive behaviour.
Memorable moments with one of the rarest great apes.
Sir David delivers a word perfect ad lib as he finds himself in an unplanned close encounter with this group of mountain gorillas, some of the rarest great apes.
Furry and warm like other mammals, but with webbed feet, the platypus defies expectations
The platypus has an extraordinary mix of reptile and mammal features: furry and warm like other mammals, with webbed feet like an otter, it finds prey with a soft, rubbery beak.
The state of the planet and its future.
Sir David ends the State of the Planet series with his conclusions about mankind's impact on the environment, and on the future of life on Earth. In 2006 it was nominated by Charlotte Uhlenbroek and voted into 4th place by the public as a favourite Attenborough moment, in spite of its stark warning.
An electron microscope reveals the abundance of bacteria.
Ever smaller miniature cameras go a long way towards reaching hidden and inaccessible worlds, but to reveal the microscopic world that's well beyond human perception takes a powerful scanning electron microscope which magnifies the image 10,000 times.
Spotted dolphins' complex communication is heard underwater.
Swimming with dolphins has almost become a cliché now, but Sir David did it back in 1990 not for his benefit but for ours - to show us something of the body language and sounds that dolphins use to communicate.
David Attenborough gets inside a termite mound to explain its function.
While more recent sequences have been captured inside hard to reach places with miniature camera probes, this approach was more bodily! The termite mound was big enough - though only just - for David Attenborough to squeeze inside after the cameraman and present his commentary in the heat and desperately close confines of the mound. It was this kind of passionate engagement with the subject that set the bar for natural history presenting.
Chimpanzees go on a brutal hunt for colobus monkeys.
Unknown to many people, chimpanzees eat meat, and this sequence shows the intelligence and organisation that goes into a hunt - and maybe throws some light on humanity's prehistoric past. This was voted as one the top 20 Attenborough clips in a celebration for his 80th birthday in 2006.
A camera probe reveals the inside of an ant bivouac.
Camera probes can reach parts the naked eye can't. In this case, it wasn't just that the ants were too small to see easily, or that their bivouac was hard to reach. It was as much that sticking your nose inside a swarm of angry army ants is a very bad idea! Compare the platypus burrow sequence from Life of Mammals where a camera probe was used to gain access to a secret world.
Killer whales beach themselves to catch sealions.
This sequence contains extraordinary footage of a hitherto little-filmed behaviour. The attack on sealions by killer whales just off the beach is both shocking and fascinating at once and the sequence has become one of the most well-known in the BBC's natural history archive.
The superb lyrebird reproduces the sounds of the forest.
As part of Sir David's 80th birthday celebrations in 2006, this clip was nominated by Bill Oddie and voted for by the public as the number 1 favourite Attenborough moment. It's a wildlife highlight in which the lyrebird shows off his extraordinary impersonation skills. His camera shutter, car alarm and chainsaw calls have fooled many a human listener as he attempts to outdo his rivals and attract a mate.
Crab spiders appear camouflaged, to the naked human eye.
Crab spiders appear camouflaged, to the naked human eye.
Thermal cameras show how bumblebees leave a warm glow.
New camera technologies have enabled scientists and film-makers to study and reveal the secret inner workings of animals' lives. Here, a thermal camera shows the mechanical technique used by a chilly bumblebee to get to a flight-ready temperature. The camera then also shows how heat from the bumblebee is left behind in the flowers visited by the hot-bodied bee.
Giant mayflies have only half an hour's flying time to find a mate.
The lifespan of an adult mayfly can vary from just 30 minutes to one day depending on the species, making them the proud owners of shortest adult lifespan of any insect. In this memorable sequence the transient beauty of some natural history events is clearly illustrated. To film them you have to make sure you are in the right place at exactly the right time, which takes not just careful planning, but good luck. With the male mayflies energy reserves allowing for only half an hour's flying time, the window of opportunity for capturing this event is stressfully short for both crew and creature!
The impressive jumping ability of the tiny springtail.
The great thing about TV is the way it can show things you'd never see with your own eyes. Springtails are no larger than a full stop, but they have some impressive adaptations and behaviours quite invisible to the naked eye. Macro photography, coupled with slow motion, helps show these otherwise forgettable little creatures as complex and accomplished.
Timelapse reveals how a colony is transformed into a single organism.
Braving the planet's most severe winter weather, the crew spent six months living alongside male emperor penguins. To film a top shot of the group dynamic changing over time, they set up a fixed post on top of a huge glacier overlooking the huddle to shoot timelapse. Their efforts were rewarded when the previously uncatalogued exhalation of heat, as occasional squabbles broke out, became clearly visible.
Slow motion cameras capture the immense power and agility of a breaching great white.
Extraordinary footage from an ultra-high speed camera captures and illuminates shark behaviour in a wholly new way. As the great white shoots vertically out of the water a Photron camera films at 1,000 frames per second. Slowed down 40 times, this single second of action reveals the immense power and agility of the ocean's master predator. Every nuance of its behaviour becomes evident as the shark toys with its prey. This was the favourite Planet Earth clip when the series was first broadcast.
Birds of paradise exhibit their bizarre courting techniques in the jungle.
Birds of paradise are Sir David's favourite species, and he is always delighted to film them anew. For Planet Earth the birds were filmed with a high-definition camera with superb low light gathering qualities, giving much crisper, clearer footage in conditions where film would have been dull or grainy.
The first ever footage of an entire snow leopard hunt. Filmed in high definition.
It's notoriously hard to film amongst these remote and vertiginous slopes. Previous footage of snow leopards has been captured with remote cameras, making action sequences impossible. Here, the high magnification capability of HD allowed close ups to be shot from the other side of the valley, widening the field of view enough to follow the entire hunt.