Wildlife Cameraman Blog

Category Archives: Out and About

Some posts about my latest filming work and encounters in the natural world.

Great spotted woodpeckers drumming

Great spotted woodpeckers drumming

Great spotted woodpeckers drumming is a great sound. They’ll start drumming as early as February and carry on through April. No doubt people have recorded drumming in other months too.

You can read about great spotted woodpeckers here.

Last year I went out to have a go at woodpeckers drumming. I’m not filming for a programme; it’s just me having a wildlife cameraman busman’s holiday. I found a brilliant drumming tree and a nice spot for a hide. In the end I was very frustrated and wondered why something relatively easy was proving to be so awkward.

great spotted woodpeckers drumming
Great spotted woodpecker male


Last year I spent many hours in that hide. The woodpeckers never drummed on that tree while I was in the hide. Sometimes I heard them drumming as I approached from afar but never while I was actually there. What do you put this down to? I think it was a matter of bad luck and I suppose I could have spent more time in the hide. Sometimes you start to wonder whether you’re doing something wrong. For a fact I know that I wasn’t deterring the birds because they frequently came to the same tree to feed. The picture above is a still frame from some of the video I shot.

This year

This year the weather has been very wet and I didn’t particularly want to film great spotted woodpeckers drumming in the rain. They look so much nicer with a bit of sunlight on them. Last week the sun decided to shine from sunrise so I went out to the same site as last year. The woodpeckers were back in the same place so I placed my camouflage net hide in exactly the same place as last year. Then all I could do was wait to see what happened.

When I’m sitting under cover I rarely look at my watch and the time just passes by. I usually find that there’s plenty to keep your mind occupied. For example, this time a male crossbill descended from the tree tops and made a heck of racket quite near to my hiding place., near enough to make a nice shot and sound. There was a male chaffinch singing constantly and the wrens were starting to wind themselves up for a season of trilling.

After a few minutes I could hear a woodpecker drumming a couple of hundred metres away, and my immediate thought was, ‘Great, I’m in the wrong place,’ Anyway, you might call it laziness, but I would call it instinct, I decided to stay put. And behold, a woodpecker landed on the tree. This time it was the female and she scuttled to the top of the tree. Like me, she could hear the male nearby, and she did something that I found surprising, and annoying. She went around the back of the tree and drummed, the female. I didn’t realise that the females drummed, and even more interesting her mate drummed in answer.

Still frustrating

I should be happy, because I filmed all of this and you can clearly hear the sounds on the shots. Unfortunately all you can see is the side of the female woodpecker’s head as it bangs against the tree, which as a shot is not good enough. When the woodpeckers moved away I changed position so that I could see the other side of the tree, but although they both came back they never drummed. As it is I’m waiting for some more sunshine, but if I know life the woodpeckers will soon stop drumming altogether and that will be that for another year!

The value of reading

Male and female woodpeckers drum. If I had read up about this first I would have known. There’s something nice about believing you have witnessed something unusual. As a wildlife cameraman I should have known better. Very rarely do any of us film absolutely unique wildlife behaviour. In a future post I will show some of the footage, but I hope that I will also be able to show a decent shot of great spotted woodpeckers drumming too.

Unique wildlife behaviour

Unique wildlife behaviour

Unique wildlife behaviour and the filming thereof can take many forms. As a wildlife cameraman it is always exciting to be presented with the challenge of filming something a bit different. Okay, wouldn’t be all love to head off and film snow leopards; they’re fantastic animals. Or how about tigers in Siberia? Or what about water voles just a few miles down the road, where trains hurtle past and you can hear the dulcet moan of the M4 motorway. Take your pick; no pressure. The truth is that given the choice there isn’t a wildlife cameraman that would choose the voles. But I would argue that it is just as much a challenge as the other two, particularly if you are trying to film something more that just voles munching on an apple or reed stem.

Unique wildlife behaviour
Unique wildlife behaviour – water vole defecating

More information about water voles.

The picture above is a still frame from something I filmed last year. It’s a young water vole in the act of defecating. Whoopee! That’s exciting you might think. The chances are that anyone who has ever seen a water vole might have seen it doing this. There’s also every chance that they didn’t realise it. We’re not talking about buffalo sized poo here. The individual bits of water vole faeces measure a few millimetres. They don’t make much impact when they hit the ground. However, during the breeding season they do take on some significance. The breeding females defecate in latrine areas. Sometimes this is just an area of the bank; sometimes it’s a floating log. Often they will mark a territory, or the border of a territory.

For a wildlife cameraman having an area of interest that an animal returns to is a huge bonus. Latrines are one such area. The breeding females, after defecating, will tread in their own faeces. How often they do this and for how long I have no idea. I have never seen this happen. I know people who survey voles who have never seen this happen. The important thing is, it does happen, and it is one of my jobs to film it. Now, call me weird, many do, but I find that challenge quite exciting. In reality it means sitting on the bank of a ditch for hours on end. It will be a waiting game. Something might happen; something might not. I’ll keep you posted.

Habitat under threat This links to a previous post about the threats to water vole habitat on the Gwent Levels.


Born in the year of the rat

Born in the year of the rat

Born in the year of the rat: I’ve never thought about it before. That’s the trouble sometimes, thinking too much. We have a very friendly Chinese takeaway nearby. Every year they give us a calendar. I looked at it while munching on some noodles and realised that I was born in the year of the rat. I’m not sure how significant that is for a wildlife cameraman, but I have had many encounters with rats over the years. This is one of them.

Born in the year of the rat
Rat eats a digestive biscuit – milk chocolate of course

My wife was born in the year of the rooster. Perhaps that’s what makes us so compatible. Just before the end of last year I had been working in a very nice studio on a programme about pig intelligence. That is by the by. The owner of the studio had been looking after some harvest mice and was looking for a good home for them. I had one in mind.

I think I’ve been a member of the Gwent Wildlife Trust for more than forty years, boy and man. I do some voluntary video work for the Trust from time to time. At Magor Marsh the Trust has an education centre, and out in the fields near the education centre you can find harvest mice. Will you ever see one? Unlikely. Will the eager kids who come to the centre ever see one? No. So, thinking as a wildlife cameraman, and someone born in the year of the rat, I thought it would be great to have these captive harvest mice in a large display tank at the reserve. They can live perfectly happily like that. That’s why my wife and went back to the studio, to collect the mice.

The studio was host to a large number of rats, tame, for a film project. There were loads of them in cages in a side room just waiting to be filmed. Mostly cute, some were getting on a bit, and they tend to look less attractive as they age. Don’t we all. Anyway, before decanting the harvest mice into a travelling container we all sat down and had a cuppa. My wife isn’t that fond of rats. I happened to glance down under the table just as our friend said, very calmly, “Oh, there’s a rat”. It reminded me of that old ‘Fawlty Towers’ episode when a rat sticks its head out of a biscuit tin just as Basil is offering it to a guest. In this instance the rat was sat on my wife’s foot.

If you’re born in the year of the rat then perhaps these things don’t phase you. And to my delight neither did it phase my wife. She sat there quite calmly as our friend picked it up and fed it part of a digestive biscuit. I think a lot of people would have jumped onto the table making a lot of noise. All good fun!



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Filming Robins Under Streetlight

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