Mar 192010

Barn Swallow in flight I got an e-mail from Cepa Giblin a few days ago. Cepa’s a fan of the Ireland’s Wildlife page that I run on Facebook, and is a producer with Crossing the Line Films.

She asked me if I’d give her latest venture a shout. It’s a wildlife series for RTÉ called Wild Journeys, which hits the screens on RTÉ One, Sunday night at 6:30pm. If you’ve seen the trailers running on RTÉ you’ll know it looks likely to be a cracking programme.

The series follows the long haul travellers of the Irish wildlife scene – from true leviathans in the form of the humpback whales and basking sharks that visit Ireland’s coasts every year, to the deceptive fragility of the beautiful painted lady butterfly – which somehow manages the mammoth journey from north Africa to Ireland.

The series will follow some of Ireland’s most iconic serial voyagers, like the Barn Swallow the Atlantic salmon and the European eel, as well as some less well known, but no less extraordinary, ones.

Here’s a summary of the wildlife feast that awaits in what promises to be a real feast not just for wildlife enthusiasts, but for everybody (taken from the CTL Films press release):

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Jan 182010
Gordon Ramsay

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Another late one – this from the 30/12/2009.

Sometimes it seems as if celebrity chefs have managed to hijack more of our television airwaves than any other genre in TV history, and Christmas week it’s worse than ever. Cooking programmes are great… but wall-to-wall recipes and a surfeit of inflated egos is enough to turn anybody’s stomach. With some, like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I appreciate the food and the ethos and philosophy behind it, but could probably do without the lame one-liners.

Others like Jamie Oliver come up with great recipes that really are easy to cook at home, if you can endure the cheeky-chappy facade. Actually, as I type this I have a Jamie Oliver Christmas jerk ham joint in the oven. Yum!

Even with Gordon Ramsey, who is perhaps the most egotistical of the bunch, you have to appreciate his consummate skill in the kitchen, and his unequivocal passion for great food, despite his caustic language and bullying, autocratic style.

TV chefs span the gamut, from the sublime to the truly ridiculous. The week before Christmas, for example, I was unfortunate enough to land on "The Hairy Bikers" while channel flicking… they were cooking up the twelve-days-of-Christmas, which sounds like a pretty solid concept for a festive cooking show, until you realise that this is "The Hairy Bikers", and that they’re insisting on spicing things up by punctuating the actual cooking with assorted seasonal pranks. This included cavorting across the stage in leotards with the cast of Lord of the Dance. It was enough to make anyone lose their appetite.

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Dec 032009

The Late Late Toy Show is an Irish institution.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing… just that it’s an inescapable one. As inevitable as death, taxes, corruption, tribunals and election posters, the Late Late Toy Show is one in a long list of things that parents all over the country have to suffer, but would generally prefer to avoid.

Having skilfully managed to sidestep the live airing on Friday night (the girls had friends staying over, and were so engrossed in play that they forgot about it), I thought that we might get away with it this year, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology there was no chance of that. The next day we had a family viewing of the show over the Internet. With the computer hooked up to the flat-screen telly and RTE Player streaming full-screen it was almost as "good" as viewing the live show. Lucky me!

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Jul 072009
Overhead view of a Fin Whale feeding

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Last night on Channel 4 “Inside Nature’s Giants” showed the in-situ autopsy of a fin whale that stranded in Courtmacsherry Bay, West Cork back in January.

We all watched last week’s show, in which the team dismembered an elephant, in rapt fascination. Even the five-year-old was allowed to stay up, and was full of questions that, thankfully, the programme answered.

It was amazing – if a little on the grizzly side.

This week it was the turn of the whale.

As we’d all been up to see the unfortunate whale the day it died, the girls were incredibly excited to see the programme.

But I have to say that despite being very interesting, and revealing some astonishing facts, conducting the autopsy in the field while battling the tides and the worst of the Irish winter took the edge off the operation.

The elephant, in the controlled environment of London’s Royal Veterinary College, had been an exercise in clinical precision. The whale, in contrast, was a race against the elements – a race that meant things we could have seen, we didn’t get to see, or at least didn’t get to see as clearly as we might have.

The girls were thrilled to watch the dissection of the whale that they’d seen lying on the beach – but for me the programme itself wasn’t as engaging and informative as the elephant one the week before.

Next week it’s back to the Royal Veterinary College, where the subject going under the knife is a crocodile. Should be revealing!

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Jun 292009
Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus) photographed...

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I just got this via e-mail from Simon Berrow of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

Apparently the autopsy of the fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) that stranded in Courtmacsherry bay in West Cork back in January is going to be shown in a new Channel 4 series called Inside Nature’s Giants.

Here’s the e-mail text:


The post-mortem of the fin whale stranded in Courtmacsherry Bay in January 2009 will be shown on Channel 4 in a new series starting this week.

The programme is entitled "Inside Nature’s Giants" and the four part series covers an Elephant (29 June), Fin whale (6 July), Crocodile (13 July) and Giraffe (20 July). All programmes are at 9pm on Channel 4.

The IWDG were contacted by Channel 4 the day the whale stranded having picked up the story from our website. As we did not know what was going to happen to the whale, or subsequently its’ carcass, it was hard to know how we could facilitate and whether indeed a post-mortem could be carried out. We had never tackled such a large animal before so were literally going into the unknown.

After lengthy discussion Windfall Films decided to fly over a large whale researcher from the US. Even then access to the whale was not certain as Cork County Council policy was removal or burial. Fortunately everything worked out and Channel 4 got their autopsy, we learnt more about whales in Ireland, Cork County Council got the whale removed and Kilbrittain community got their skeleton !   Joy Reidenberg from the US was absolutely incredible and took us all through the process of post-mortem examination of a large whale.

See the amazing footage on Channel 4 at 9pm on Monday 6th July.


Sounds a tad on the gruesome side… but I, for one, will be watching with interest. The series kicks off tonight with the dissection of an elephant!

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Jun 042009

Adult blue tit bringing food back to hungry chicksWe live in an old schoolhouse, and bisecting the garden is a six-foot stone wall — effectively separating what were once the boys and girls yards. It’s a charming throwback to a bygone era, a lovely original feature of the property, and this spring it’s also home to a family of blue tits. They’ve chosen to nest in a small hole between the stones about a third of the way up, the entrance secreted behind the leaves of a young pear tree that’s fanning across the wall.

I first noticed the parents coming and goings a few weeks ago, but thought I’d keep it to myself until I was sure the eggs had hatched. The girls love nature and wildlife, but their enthusiasm they can get the better of them sometimes, and the last thing I wanted was an abandoned nest. Once both parents were busy feeding their hungry chicks the likelihood of that happening was pretty slim, and so when I could hear the insistent cheeping that told me they’d arrived I showed the girls the adult birds’ comings and goings, the caterpillars and grubs they were bringing, and, in between the parents’ visits, I showed them the nest itself.

In the darkness of the hole you could just make out the bright yellow gapes of five hungry little mouths. The excitement was palpable.

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Feb 092009
Charles Darwin.
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It’s refreshing when you see some genuinely good television.

Refreshing, but depressingly rare. Our screens are flooded with vacuous celebrity talent shows and patently unreal reality programmes. Television schedules crossed the  boundary into the banal a long, long time ago, and with the exception of a few pinpoints of light among the shadows of mediocrity, show no sign of returning to a more cerebrally stimulating norm any time soon. Little wonder that the youth of today are eschewing TV and are spending increasing amounts of their leisure time online, interacting with their peers in all sorts of ways.

As I write this, as if to reinforce the point, a mid-morning re-cap of dancing on ice is flickering across the TV screen in the other room. The off switch really is the only escape.

But despite the tidal wave of mediocrity television still has the power to enthrall and inform.

Last night I had the pleasure of watching David Attenborough present an exploration of Charles Darwin‘s tree of life — a look at the celebrated naturalist’s extraordinary journey as he struggled first to unravel the mysteries of natural selection and evolution, and then to prove his controversial theories to a sceptical world.

Attenborough, naturally, was at his seasoned and consummate best: an inimitable presenter who engages and informs with just the right amount of gravitas, but without overshadowing programme content. Who, you wonder, will take up the mantle of television’s most celebrated wildlife presenter when he inevitably hangs up his microphone? Please television gods, let it not be Bill Oddie! Continue reading »

Jan 072009

Some things in life just make you smile.

Normally I abhor channel surfing with a passion… but tonight my wife’s antics with the remote control yielded unexpected dividends: Fraggles!

It was an obscure free-to-air satellite channel called “POP TV“, and we’d caught the Fraggle Rock opening credits. Magic!

When you’re ploughing through your adult life, trying to make ends meet, busy with work, family, and the myriad challenges, pressures and distractions of the world we live in, it’s all too easy to forget about the lighter side of life. But them something small (like Fraggles :-)) will help put things back into perspective.

I used to watch Fraggle Rock with my sister and brother in my “Nain’s” house (Welsh for Grandmother) after school. Happy, carefree days, long gone, but thankfully not forgotten.

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Dec 122008
Delia Smith

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“Oh no, that programme’s terrible,” uttered one of the twins as we settled down in front of the fire for an evening of family telly. On screen, Rachel Allen, doyenne of Irish culinary television, was strutting her Nigela-esque stuff, showing the nation how to blind bake the quintessentially perfect pastry case.

Curious, I asked what my daughter found so bad about the programme. “Well, it makes you so hungry,” came the reply. I guess you can’t argue with that; the new series is all about baking.

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and baking, it has to be said, is very close to my heart. Eating it that is, not actually doing it. I’m lucky, because I happen to be married to an excellent baker, and it’s winter. Winter means the oven on the range is always hot, and there’s usually something yummy on offer in the kitchen.

So you’d think Rachel Allen’s new series would appeal to me… and it does on one level. It’s a good, wholesome programme that we can enjoy at a decent hour with the children, and yes, some of the recipes look mouthwatering. Television that passes on practical information, and real skills that you can use is to be applauded.

But there’s another aspect to the programme that tarnishes its superficial appeal. It’s a problem that afflicts many such programmes – Nigela Lawson’s are a prime example, as was the last series of iconic celebrity cook Delia Smith, and in other genres things like “Location, location, location”. It’s the gradual erosion of content to make way for the presenters’ expanding egos.

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