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Arctic Terns at 66 Degrees North

Nature, Series 8 Episode 2 of 7

28 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 11 February 2014

In the second of three programmes recorded in Iceland, wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson goes in search of Arctic Terns, which travel here from Antarctica to breed; the longest regular migration of any animal. Some birds travel even further to the Arctic Circle, and so on the summer solstice, Chris takes a 3 hour ferry journey from the mainland to the island of Grimsey which lies on the Arctic Circle to record some of these remarkable migrants. Scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the number of breeding colonies which have failed in Iceland in the past decade and Chris hears about the reasons why and what steps need to be taken to help the situation. Often called Sea Swallows because of their overall shape long tail feathers, Arctic terns are very protective of their eggs and young and aggressive as Chris discovers when he tries to record in their colony. He also comes across Arctic terns inland at Lake Myvatn, the 'Lake of Flies' "and its very aptly named. I had to wear a head net in June as tens of thousands of flies swarmed around me the moment I set foot outdoors" . After recording the haunting songs of red throated divers, long tailed ducks and black-tailed godwits, Chris watches Arctic terns swooping down to pick off flies along the road which the adults can feed on. The programme also reveals how with the latest technology scientists have gained a fascinating insight into the exact migration routes of these birds; "We discovered new stopover areas, we discovered a new southern route but overall the sheer scale of this migration was what was most impressive to us " says Iain Stenhouse, one the scientists working on this project. "These birds are not just Olympic athletes they are spatial geniuses as well".
Producer Sarah Blunt.


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