How to Film Wildlife – part 10: In your garden

Gardens can be surprisingly good locations to film wildlife, and with a bit of forward planning and the help of John Aitchison you can produce your own Springwatch by fitting CCTV to a specially adapted nestbox. 

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How to film wildlife in your garden spread.

Gardens can be surprisingly good locations to film wildlife, and with a bit of forward planning and the help of John Aitchison you can produce your own Springwatch by fitting CCTV to a specially adapted nestbox. 

KEY FILMING SKILLS

Camera kit

By far the easiest solution is a ready-made box with its own small camera. You can then run the footage directly to your tv, camcorder or computer.

Hard decisions

There are many different camera kits on the market today, so think carefully about which species of bird you want to film. The best nestbox cameras are able to film in infrared at night and switch to using visible light for colour pictures during the day.

Start early

Ideally, put your nestbox up well ahead of the breeding season.

This will give your garden birds a place to roost during the winter months and time to familiarise themselves with the box before they start nesting. February will be sufficiently early, however, if you haven’t done it yet.

In and out

Once the birds are nesting, set up a conventional camcorder outside the box to obtain sequences of the parents arriving with food in their bills and – a couple of weeks later – the chicks fledging. Cut this with action filmed inside the box.

Do not disturb

Resist the urge to peep inside the box when the birds start nesting because you may frighten them away. Besides, there’s no need – you can watch them on your tv or computer whenever you like.

 

STEP BY STEP: HOW TO SET UP A NESTBOX CAMERA

1 Choose a location

© Mary-Lou Aitchison

Your nestbox should face between south-east and north-east (away from prevailing westerly winds), sit about 1.5m above the ground (beyond the reach of cats) and be out of direct sunlight once spring arrives.

2 Prepare the box 

© Mary-Lou Aitchison

Different attachments will allow you to control (to a certain extent) which species use your box. A 25mm diameter hole will tempt blue tits and a 28mm one great tits. Remove the entire front section for robins or blackbirds.

3 Install the camera

© Mary-Lou Aitchison

Most kits provide a simple way of fixing the camera inside the box. Some feature opaque side windows (visible above left) to let in more light and improve the images. If the cable connections are under the roof, they’ll stay dry.

4 Get focused

© Mary-Lou Aitchison

Next you need to focus the camera, and it’s easiest to do this with the front off. Ask someone else to watch the picture while you adjust the camera – the correct focus is about two inches above the bottom of the box.

5 Record the action 

You should feel a huge surge of ‘parental’ pride when you see your bird family for the first time. Monitor their development and don’t forget that the adults may breed again when their first brood has flown the nest.

 

ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT

Nestbox camera I used an excellent one from Handykam, but there are plenty of others around – just scan the classified ad pages of BBC Wildlife.

 

Look out for How to film puffins... coming soon!

Find out more about the work of John Aitchison and follow him on Twitter @johnaitchison1

 

 

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