Wildlife Cameraman Blog

Category Archives: Wildlife Cameraman Diary

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!

 

 

Filming on the Carneddau

Filming on the Carneddau

Filming on the Carneddau was an experience that none of the crew will ever forget. I can’t say that it was a wildlife cameraman trip: there was precious little wildlife to be seen. Nonetheless the whole day was memorable.

Filming on the Carneddau - 7th January 2017
Filming on the Carneddau – 7th January 2018

 

We were on to phase two of the winter programme for ‘Iolo’s Snowdonia’. This link is about phase one when we had the memorable encounter with a woodcock

Filming on the Carneddau
The long trek to the top

It’s so easy to think that most of the landscapes of the UK are benign compared to the mountainous areas of other countries. Not so. There are many upland areas across the UK where you can get into trouble. Ask any of the mountain rescue teams. Preparation is key. Having the correct equipment is as vital here as it is in the Himalayas, the Andes or Antarctica. The temperature, with wind chill, was -18 degrees when we went filming on the Carneddau.

The trek to the top started at 5.00 a.m. The first few hours of walking were in the dark. To undertake the filming safely we needed help and guidance, and what excellent help and guidance it was. For anyone wanting mountain and hills skills courses in Snowdonia, look no further than Stephen Jones’ company Aim Higher.

Stephen, formerly a Royal Marine and military ski instructor,  is known as ‘Joey’ and took charge of our filming trip on the Carneddau expedition. This is his account of the day.

One advantage of setting off in the dark is not being able to see how far you have to go! It was only when the light lifted later that I realised how much of an advantage that was. Filming equipment is heavy – at least, professional filming equipment is. Stephen had brought along 2 colleagues, and Dewi, Iolo’s lad was also there. Fair play, he’d played rugby the day before and must have been shattered. I for one found the trudge pretty demanding, but oh was it worth it.

filming on the Carneddau
Rescue shelter on the Carneddau

Part of the joy of being a wildlife cameraman is working in places that hardly anyone else gets to enjoy. The Carneddau were magnificent that day. Wind blown snow was gusting across the top, stinging eyes and faces, killing exposed fingers, slapping the sides of faces. The clouds cleared little by little revealing the most stunning scenery. We’ll be talking about it for years. I can’t wait to see the finished sequence.

filming on the Carneddau
On the way down – the view we didn’t want to see on the way up!

Dormice filming in the dark

Dormice filming in the dark

Dormice filming in the dark. Filming in the dark comes with its own set of problems. When I learned we were going to try filming dormice around their nest boxes I thought we were onto a loser from the start. After all, we only had a couple of hours in which to do it.

Dormice filming in the dark
Filming dormice in the dark

The photo doesn’t help much, does it. But it does make me laugh. With the best will in the world it is quite difficult to sort out a pile of infra lights and three of four camera rigs in the dark. Especially when you’re trying to be quiet so as not to disturb the dormice.

Information about dormice

Dormice are protected mammals. We were filming there under licence and with appropriate personnel. Autumn was well advanced, and these animals were still feeding to reach the critical hibernation weight. Like many species that hibernate they need enough fuel on board to carry them through to the spring.

The plan for filming dormice in the dark was to set up a number of cameras near a nest box. The nest box had dormice in it, we knew that. One camera was dedicated to Iolo and his reaction as the rodents appeared and set off to feed. Others, including mine, were to record the best possible footage of the dormice. Knowing how quick the little blighters can be I didn’t hold out much hope. Not only that, would they come out at all with us there. If they decided not to come out with us there we would have to back off to allow them to feed, thereby not having any film at all.

The photo above was after the filming when we were able to turn on head torches to taking all of the equipment to bits. While waiting for the mice to appear we could only see what was on the screens of the camera. I had a Sony A7 adapted for infra red.

The remarkable thing was that the mice actually did come out. Unfortunately they shot into the hazel canopy like greased lighting. We did get a few shots, and apparent;y there is a sequence there, but I can’t wait to see how it turns out in the edit. The shot on my camera lasted all of 2 seconds!

From a wildlife cameraman perspective it all seemed, well, a bit mad. Sometimes filming can be like that. You just have to go with it and enjoy it.

Working with Inspirational People

Working with Inspirational People I think it’s true to say that I work with inspirational people almost all of the time. With regard to passion for nature conservation people don’t come more inspirational than Iolo Williams. I’ve worked with Iolo for more than 5 years now. From time to time I work with other well… Continue Reading

Wildlife cameraman filming cuckoos in upland Wales

Wildlife cameraman filming cuckoos I’m a wildlife cameraman and I have been filming cuckoos in different parts of the UK for years now.  Cuckoos are remarkable birds.  Why not learn a little more about them here.  Much of my cuckoo filming has been nest based – in fact my all time favourite shot was filmed… Continue Reading

Iolo Williams – M4 relief road will plough across Gwent Levels

Iolo Williams – M4 relief road will plough across Gwent Levels Iolo Williams – M4 relief road will plough across Gwent Levels.  For several years the Welsh Government has threatened to drive a new motorway through the Gwent Levels.  It’s the sort of thing that governments do.  Perhaps they think that they will leave a… Continue Reading

Great Welsh Parks Margam Park

Great Welsh Parks Margam Park Great Welsh Parks Margam Park was broadcast on Monday night,  BBC One Wales.  You can catch up with it here on BBC iPlayer.  Memories of being a wildlife cameraman usually revolve around the difficulties and circumstances of capturing a particular sequence. However, at Margam, I don’t think any of the… Continue Reading