Wildlife Cameraman Blog

onomatopoeic phrases for the wildlife cameraman

onomatopoeic phrases for the wildlife cameraman

Onomatopoeic phrases for the wildlife cameraman – I had to look this up just to be sure that I had the right spelling – onomatopoeic. It’s a word that you only hear once in a while and hardly ever write down. But it does have some relevance to the wildlife cameraman in the field.

Imagine that you’re out in the countryside, it’s spring in the UK, and all of the migrant birds are arriving to breed. You haven’t heard some of these birds singing for at least a year so your identification skills are a bit rusty. This is where onomatopoeic phrases for the wildlife cameraman can come in handy. Lets take a really obvious one – “cuckoo” – a sound to lift the spirits and delight the heart. To be honest, if you can’t identify that one you’re probably in the wrong business. I’d suggest going to buy a clock or something just to get your ear in. That said, “cuckoo” is a good example of what I’m talking about.

Another well known example is, “a little bit of bread and no cheese.” The yellowhammer’s song can be heard over great distances, and those words do, sort of, represent the song of this beautiful little bird. There’s a clip below that I filmed in Somerset a few years ago, and beautifully described by Iolo Williams.

I was out with my wife and mum the other day when a wood pigeon started to call in a nearby tree. This is my mum speaking: “Oh, my Dad always said that it was calling – two cows for taffy, two cows for taffy.” Well that was a new one on me. I had never heard that description before, and I’d never previously heard any kind of onomatopoeic phrase for the wood pigeon call. Note though, that a wood pigeon usually starts with a 4 syllable phrase and ends with a single note – it’s not always 5 syllables.

Just a few weeks later I was working with Pete Hill, who is a reptile and amphibian expert. Again, a wood pigeon started to call in a nearby tree. “Ah!” said Pete, “Do you remember Harry Corbett and Sooty.” I must admit that I do, being the age to remember them. Harry was a puppeteer with a silent glove puppet called Sooty. They seemed to have the most extraordinary conversations. Pete continued, “Harry used to listen to Sooty with consternation on his face and declare – you’re joking sooty.”

So, “You’re joking sooty,” and, “Two cows for taffy” are indispensable onomatopoeic phrases for the wildlife cameraman. Take your pick. I think the ‘sooty’ phrase is the most unforgettable and will ultimately drive you nuts every time you hear a wood pigeon from now on. ‘Two cows for taffy’ is more personal to me, and I like to think of my grandfather out on the farm having that thought.

Just as an aside: wood pigeons come in two colours – the bold ones in your garden and the nervous ones out in the countryside. The one I filmed here was a nervous one. At the time I was filming a woodpecker from underneath camouflage netting, and the pigeon had no idea I was there. There’s a bit about the woodpecker filming here. I’ll have some updates about that soon.

When you flick through a bird identification handbook you’ll see many attempts by the authors to transform bird calls in to words. How that works in languages other than English I cannot imagine, though ‘Oui monsieur,’ would be acceptable for the collared dove. ‘Achtung‘ for a pheasant? OK, maybe not. Sometimes you’ll see, ‘silent at sea’, in the handbooks, and this is simply stating that the bird, whatever it is, doesn’t call while at sea. It doesn’t make a call that sounds like ‘silent at sea.’

  • A good place to start swotting up your bird calls
wildlife cameraman Graham Horder filming harvest mice on location
Filming harvest mice on location

Coming soon – the trials and tribulations but mostly the trials, of filming small mammals in a set on location. And a test of the Samyang 100mm macro lens.