The Week In Radio: They came, they soared, they conquered

To be frank, radio is not the obvious medium for wildlife study. It's one thing being lulled into a trance watching insects eat each other on Springwatch, but on radio you're much more reliant on the presenter to convey the creature's peculiar charm. Nature study warrants pictures first and foremost and I can't be the only person whose heart sinks slightly when the blowy soundtrack of Open Country heralds some shouty exchange on a windswept moor or an intense debate of badger hunting. So a series on bird-watching, timed for staycation season, did not bode well. But how wrong can you be? Admittedly, the fact that my staycation was in Fowey, home of Daphne du Maurier of The Birds fame, where gulls the size of Jack Russells dogfight over the harbour, meant I was in the most appropriate place in England to hear A Guide to Coastal Birds. But this delightful series would have worked anywhere.

Covering beach, shore, island, estuary and cliff birds, Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss, with the help of the sound recordist Chris Watson, matched a twitcherish enthusiasm with lovely snippets of detail. Take Moss on the silvery-grey common tern for instance, whose "elegant shape and floaty flight" makes it resemble "a gull that's died and gone to heaven" and whose courtship involves the male bringing his love a fish supper. Or the ring plover, "a dumpy short-legged wader", which is a small hero of the bird world through its amazing method of luring predators from its low-lying nest. According to Westwood, "the Broken Wing Distraction Display" involves the plover limping away holding its wing out and giving a plaintive call, so as to save its chicks and make itself vulnerable to attack instead.

There's a debate, I know, about anthropomorphising in nature programmes, but sometimes you just can't help it. This week, the programme came from Devon's sea cliffs, a favourite destination of fulmars, who mate for life and come back to the same spot for 50 years, like many of the holidaymakers around them. They also have a number of unpleasant habits, including regurgitating their food and spitting it out from a distance of five feet. There's the guillemots, whose constant calling is due to "the cocktail-party effect" whereby each individual guillemot can recognise its mate's raucous cry above the throng, and the razorbills, whose boy racers fly deliberately slowly (which is harder) in order to impress a mate.

Series like this cost a trillionth of a David Attenborough TV spectacular, yet still manage to impart vivid and memorable detail, as well as making you look with a more expert eye next time your ice-cream is dive-bombed on the beach.

Further memories of the holiday season came with Rain, on Twenty Minutes. Some might hesitate to describe themselves as a pluviophile, but this was Radio 3, so there was no danger of confusion and with suitably Eeyorish delivery, the poet Peter Didsbury looked to Arnold and Hopkins to back his idea that many of us are secretly invigorated by rain. Weather programmes can never fail, of course, and along the way he also provided some great etymology, such as "petrichor" the word for the smell of rain on dry ground, which comes from the greek petros for stone and ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods.

From gods to former gods, the Humph Celebration Concert on Radio 4 provided the opportunity for old muckers to commemorate the great Humphrey Lyttelton, largely by acting out brilliant moments from I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. Two of the best were the scene from The Importance of Being Ernest, with Darth Vader as Lady Bracknell and Obi-Wan Kenobi as Jack Worthing, and the orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally, with Sally played as a Clanger. Even stuck in the Bank Holiday traffic jam from hell, I would have defied anyone not to laugh.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power