In this blog I intend to share my personal experiences of being a wildlife cameraman. I'll also write about nature conservation, and anything related that I want to have a rant about. It's said that the novel is the last bastion of free speech, so I'll also be featuring my work on 'The Life and Times of Tudor Morgan' series. In between times I like chopping wood, in a microscopic way: it's like a therapy, so I'll be writing about wood sculpture too.
This year I have been filming cuckoos in the Cambrian Mountains. I find it hard to believe that two years ago I was also filming cuckoos. Time flies. At that time I predicted that I would take time to film cuckoos on my own, a wildlife cameraman ‘doing his own thing.’ For one reason and another I never did that, but this year cuckoos cropped up on the filming call sheet again.
The Series – Cambrian Mountains
The series is about the Cambrian Mountains. There is a good chance of seeing cuckoos in the Cambrian Mountains, well, certain parts at least. The Cambrian Mountains consists of a relatively unpublicised land area in the centre of Wales. Our chosen area for cuckoos was at the northern end of the Elan Valley. This area is well known for a succession of large dams. The dams were built to supply water to the Midlands. Tourists will be familiar with the valley.
We already had some very nice shots of a male cuckoo in the can. In fact, I’d say it would have been hard to get better. We achieved this with an active site and camouflage netting. The cuckoo was calling regularly from the top of a stand of coniferous trees but also called from lower perches. The bird seemed to call most in the mornings, afternoon and evenings. But what about the female; we wanted to film her too.
Filming cuckoos in the Cambrian Mountains, even the female, is probably not much different to filming them anywhere else. She seems to be a more elusive bird than the male and tends to skulk about. When you see her it will often be in flight, and her flight is fast and direct. Sometimes you will see her with one or more males in pursuit, calling her bubbling call which is so different to that of the male. She will perch, and when she does small birds, in our case meadow pipits, will mob her. Like any bird she needs to feed and in our territory we saw her come to the ground to search for large caterpillars.
Success or not
I will say now that we were only partly successful with filming cuckoos in the Cambrian Mountains, but we didn’t have long, just a day.
On a previous visit we had seen the female cuckoo perching in a dead tree down by a stream, and she used the tree as a hunting perch. We decided to concentrate on this tree and hope that both sexes used it at the same time. Conveniently I was able to get under cover at the edge of a dark conifer plantation. Draped in the ubiquitous camouflage netting I practically vanished, I think, because you should never underestimate a cuckoo. Anyway, it worked, but the female only came to that tree twice in the whole day, and she didn’t do much when he came. On the screenshot you can see a pipit in the bottom left hand corner giving her a hard time.
I will go back to this site as a wildlife cameraman busman’s holiday, but that will be next year. We saw some great behaviour at this site but at a distance through some very heavy heat haze. You have to get as close as you can and you can’t just walk up to a cuckoo. There’s some exciting behaviour to be filmed here next year, or will it be the year after that.