Belfast Telegraph

Film-maker focuses in on our annual invasion of wild geese

Sophie Darlington's stunning pictures of the geese on Strangford
Sophie Darlington's stunning pictures of the geese on Strangford
Sophie Darlington
Sophie Darlington's stunning pictures of the geese on Strangford

By Linda Stewart

It's one of the world's greatest natural journeys as you've never seen it before.

Sophie Darlington has filmed big cats and other predators across the globe, her work taking her to Zimbabwe, Alaska and New Zealand.

But it's the first time the Irish-born wildlife cinematographer has filmed in her homeland - and she says the sunrises on Strangford Lough are as stunning as any she has seen on the Serengeti.

Earlier this autumn she travelled to Castle Espie to witness one of our greatest wildlife phenomena - the sight of tens of thousands of light-bellied brent geese stopping at the lough after migrating from their Arctic breeding grounds.

The results of her five-day shoot will be aired on BBC Autumnwatch tonight.

"It's the best place to film light-bellied brent geese in the UK, plus it's got a little bit of a history for me," Sophie said.

"Being back in Ireland is wonderful, I would use any excuse to come back. But filming at Strangford Lough was just incredible - it's an amazing place to view the geese and you can get quite close."

For a cinematographer, the key thing is the light, and Sophie describes it as "lyrical and evocative".

She explained: "It's one of the most beautiful places I've been and I'm hoping people will come away with a feel for it.

"This morning we had the most stunning sunrise - the thing about this part of the world is having this fabulous light.

"I've filmed all around the world and the sunrise at Strangford is as spectacular as many of the sunrises you see on the Serengeti."

For the last 20 years Sophie, who grew up near Drogheda, has been filming some of the world's most interesting creatures and travelling to far-flung parts for the Discovery Channel, Disney Nature and BBC Worldwide among others.

She is renowned for her filming of big cats and has shot for BBC's Frozen Planet and Planet Earth.

Up to 90% of the world population of light-bellied geese travel through Northern Ireland every year and Strangford Lough is their favourite staging post. Goose numbers reach their peak on the lough during October before the birds disperse in late autumn to find more food in bays and estuaries throughout Ireland and northern France.

A few thousand spend the entire winter on Strangford, but by May all will have left on their journey back to their breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic.

"In Drogheda we used to see the occasional one flying overhead but to see them in the numbers that you have here is so unique," Sophie added.

Factfile

Up to 90% of the world's light-bellied brent come here every year with Strangford Lough being their favourite staging post. The first were spotted at the start of September. The birds brave the longest migration journey of any goose - 2,900 miles each way from Arctic Canada. Strangford is vital to the geese because of its extensive swathes of eel grass.

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