Just when I was saying that I didn’t do much wildlife cameraman hide work these days something cropped up. This is more about putting your hide up than the subject matter, suffice to say that it was a male cuckoo calling from the top of a pine tree.
There are many different types of hide that can be used for filming: everyone has their favourite, but this one isn’t mine. It’s a sacrificial hide, one that could be left where it was erected until it rotted away and became part of nature. Except of course all of it wouldn’t. At some point in the future a bemused forester would wonder why there were four aluminium poles sticking out of the ground in a vague square shape.
This isn’t rocket science, just some anecdotal thoughts about putting your hide up as well as you can. Here, I had no idea how long I would be in the hide, but with a short break in the middle it turned out to be from 7.30 a.m. until roughly 5.00 p.m. That’s quite a long time with plenty of potential for discomfort. From a wildlife cameraperson point of view this is normal, and although discomfort is par for the course it is true that your concentration will be reduced if you are constantly uncomfortable. I didn’t do a great job on this occasion, making the mistake that I wouldn’t be in the hide for very long. Chance would have been a fine thing. Because of that presumption I put it up quickly with a very saggy roof (see photo). When you have the roof of a hide constantly chafing the top of your head it is so bloody irritating. No wonder water boarding is used to extract information from people, as anything constantly annoying the top of your head is ****ing torture. It’s one of those hides without cross members between the tops of the poles, so I was relying on getting the poles in a pretty good approximation of a square, then using guy ropes to pull the whole thing as tight as possible. Failed. Once in the hide it is pretty bad form to come out, so I scrabbled around for any handy sticks to prop up the middle of the roof to no avail. That was the first problem. The second was the viewing porthole. It was always possible that a cuckoo was going to land in a tree in front of me without calling, so I had to constantly visually monitor what was going in. This is very difficult when you’re bending forward and looking up steeply. One result of cocking this up was a very stiff neck for several days – luckily my wife is good at massage! Another error: it might be a dead calm day when you get into a hide (it often is in the UK at dawn) but always expect the wind to get up. Where I had the camera in relation to the filming port was wrong. You have to be able to cover all of the likely filming spots with minimal pressure on the lens from the hide’s canvas. I could get the lens on all the possible perches, but the extreme angles necessitated some pressure on the lens from the lens port. It’s not so bad if there is no wind, but the moment the wind starts to blow the hide canvas moves, if only a little, and it WILL vibrate the lens camera combination, and that is not good.
If you were to look at the picture in isolation I would forgive you for thinking I was working on a documentary about washing lines.
The cuckoo didn’t turn up but called tantalisingly from miles away. Who said being a wildlife cameraman was easy?