Blog Introduction

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.

Wildlife Cameraman Blog

Wildlife Cameraman and the Sony PlayStation

Graham Horder talks about being a Wildlife Cameraman and the Sony PlayStation.

Years ago I thought I knew what being a wildlife cameraman meant. At that time I didn’t think it would have anything to do with playing computer games. What did I know? The future will always surprise you.

Sony PlayStation

Quite a while ago I played a couple of PlayStation games: Lara Croft in Tomb Raider was one of them and the other was some kind of space age racing game. I would never recommend the latter as a means of learning to drive because you’d die of horrible injuries within a few minutes at most. If you did anything that Lara Croft did you’d die of horrible injuries within a few minutes at most. Spot the pattern or pay the consequences. I don’t enjoy computer games – they’re too addictive and I’d rather play outdoors courting real death. But here I am a couple of decades later writing ‘Wildlife Cameraman and the Sony PlayStation.’

wildlife cameraman and the Sony PlayStation
partly rigged RED and PlayStation controller

the ‘conventional’ wildlife cameraman

It’s possible to be a wildlife cameraman and adopt the following manner of working almost all of the time – one hand on the tripod handle and the other on the lens. This tried and trusted method does not involve a technological interface unless you have a robotic arm. It has worked for years and years. However you cannot use that method for everything, and the moment you place the camera on a motorised head or track, a cable dolly, drone or jib you will not be able to put your hands anywhere, except on a remote control.

all hail the remote controller

I’ve used many remote control devices for cameras and camera heads. Recently I worked with a PlayStation controller for the first time in years and I learned a lesson – sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a misspent youth. If I had spent a little more time with Lara I would have been a better wildlife cameraman for it. At first I spent some time fumbling about with triangles, circles crosses and squares. And I was annoyed by how many times I accidentally pressed the button that started the whole unit vibrating. Yes, it was a learning curve, and necessarily a quick one.

We used the Red with an iFootage Shark Slider S1 and an eMotimo ST4 Pro kit. The PlayStation controller is part of the ST4 kit and comes with the Pro version. You can use the controller to operate focus, moves along the track, and pan and tilt of the head. You can programme all of these movements and you can see the readouts on the eMotimo display. Overall I am very impressed with this kit and for the price it is a bargain. When we used it in conjunction with a probe lens some of the shots were simply stunning. Unfortunately I can’t show you any because of NDA and all that.

being a wildlife cameraman

If you want to be a wildlife cameraman I recommend that you play some computer games and have a bit of fun at the same time. Learn how to use helpful telephone apps and the different remote control devices. You will not need them every day, or maybe ever, but one day someone will shout, ‘Help! How do I do this?’ And you will know.

Cuckoos in the Cambrian Mountains

The location

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.

Cuckoos in the Cambrian Mountains
One of the cuckoo filming sites

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.

Male Cuckoo

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.

Female Cuckoos

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.

Female cuckoo through viewfinder with mobile phone

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.

Summary

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.

The Spirit of the Kite

The Spirit of the Kite is first novel in ‘The Life and Times of Tudor Morgan‘ series.

For some time I have wanted to write a novel that captured the essence of being a wildlife cameraman within the genre of murder mystery. In addition I wanted nature conservation to be key to the storyline. In The Spirit of the Kite I hope I’ve achieved that without sacrificing a good page turning yarn. In addition I wanted humour and a feelgood factor. You will have to judge for yourselves.

Last year I met Ian Rankin, my favourite author, in Chepstow Bookshop. I mentioned that I was writing a novel based around a wildlife cameraman and he was very encouraging. The result, novel two, featuring Tudor Morgan, is well on the way. I haven’t decided on a name for that one yet but it will be The Spirit of the … and will feature hen harrier persecution amongst other crimes.

The Spirit of the Kite – outline: black coffee again: no milk in the fridge, but plenty of adder venom – useful one day perhaps. After a tragic end to his career as a special forces sniper, Tudor Morgan has settled into his new life as a wildlife cameraman. He’s been commissioned to film a BBC documentary about the near extinct red kite in the mountainous heart of rural Wales. Preparation is going well until close friends ask for help with the burial of a loved one under the kite nesting tree. Why not – he owns a shovel. But someone witnesses the clandestine burial, an intruder contracted to steal the kites’ eggs. Fate has dangled a juicy bait – the interloper is Gavin Grey, so-called comrade, the scumbag that murdered Tudor’s lover on the mission that ended his military career. With the community, the kites, the documentary and his own life on the line, Tudor concludes that imaginative and devastating revenge is the most attractive option.

Tudor Morgan – the character: bypassing the local police, Tudor metes out his own brand of justice. He allies his military training with the cynicism of John Rebus, but he’s more Jack Frost than Jack Reacher. He’s a likeable, unlikely hero, a true champion of the countryside.

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listen to the future generation

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Great spotted woodpecker drumming sequel

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