Bringing to life spectacles of natural wonder on our doorstep
The spectacle of the Atlantic Salmon leaping out of the water as it returns to its spawning grounds is one of the most dynamic migration displays to be seen anywhere in the animal kingdom.
The Atlantic Salmon (Salmo Salar) is a migratory fish which is 'anadromous' - this means that it migrates from the sea into fresh waters to spawn. There is just one species of Atlantic Salmon compared with the six species of Pacific Salmon.
During their journey the salmon undergo remarkable changes as they head for their spawning grounds. When the fish first enter the river system from the sea they’re a silvery colour. Then the males go through many radical physical and physiological changes. They stop feeding, their flanks change colour and they take on all sorts of hues – reds and greens – known locally as "taking on the tartan". Males also develop a pronounced jaw which lengthens to form a hook known as a kype, and their sexual organs develop.
The fish are driven by their hormones – it’s said that they can 'smell' the right river. When they arrive at their destination, the Salmon start leaping. They generally reach a height of around four feet, but this depends on the height of the water at the time. The highest Salmon leap in the UK is thought to be 11-12 feet. The Salmon sometimes dive down deep to get a bit of momentum for their leap so they can power their way upstream with maximum energy. They also have to rest and recuperate between a series of leaps.
The Atlantic Salmon images are copyright and courtesy of Gilbert van Ryckevorsel and David Hay.
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Join presenter Mike Dilger as he watches spectacular leaping Salmon on the River Almond near Perth in Scotland:
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The Atlantic Salmon is a fish of both sea and freshwater. Once the Salmon reaches maturity, it heads out to sea on its journey to its spawning grounds. Returning adults tend to stick together in groups or 'tags'. When out at sea the fish spend most of their time in the top 5-10 metres of the water in sunlight, but at night they leave the surface and swim deeper to feed on crustaceans and young fish.
By the time the salmon get to their spawning grounds they’ve already come a long way – they will have spent several years out at sea fattening up, getting ready for an amazing journey that brings them right back to the river in which they were born. Many Scottish fish will have fed in Greenland and around the Faroe Isles. How quickly they move to their destination is dependant on weather conditions and tides.
Once they reach their chosen area, the salmon wait in the lower reaches of the waterway system for enough water to enter their chosen river after heavy rain so they can get their bodies over the various obstacles in the river. Then it's time for the leap to begin.
Some of the best places to watch salmon leaping are the River Tay, the River Tweed and the River Dee.
The Black Grouse is one of Britain's rarest birds, renowned for the magnificent display the male puts on at its ancestral 'lek' or breeding ground.
Best places to see - North Wales, Teesdale, Scotland.
The aerial display of vast flocks of Starlings gathering together to roost is a winter spectacle not to be missed.
Best places to see - UK-wide. Brighton Pier and Gloucestershire.
Gannets are one of the Britain's most impressive seabirds - they're fast, agile and expert fishers. Their feeding frenzy is a sight to behold.
Best places to see - Bass Rock (Scotland), Bempton (North Yorks).