As the days begin to lengthen and the earth begins to stir from its winter stupor, my mind is turning to preparing for the Spring nesting season. As early as December, I am prepping and building nest boxes and cameras, as I live stream these nest boxes on my website and film and record what happens inside.
This obsession with filming the breeding cycles of birds started about 15 years ago, when I received a camera nest box for my 40th birthday. Back then, the image was grainy and poorly lit and was cabled back to a small portable TV in my kitchen. I had no way to record what I was seeing, but I was totally captivated by the fact that I could actually watch what was happening inside my blue tit nest box. I watched the blue tits raise their family and that was it…. I was hooked!
Over the years not only has my enthusiasm and interest grown, but the technology has changed beyond anything I could have imagined. With both sophisticated cameras and recording software, I can be sure that I won’t miss a moment. I can also share my cameras with the whole world through my website.
If I am to be able to set up a camera on a natural nest site, I need to be not only creating suitable habitats, but also watching out for interest from the birds at certain sites in my garden. Blackbirds can breed really early, as can the robins, so I am never in the garden without my Trinovids. Watching from a far means that you can assess how likely a species is to start nesting and when I spot those first nesting materials coming in, that’s when I usually install a camera. The blackbirds love the honeysuckle and have nested there several times over the last few years.
A CCTV-type camera is mounted onto a tripod, and slowly moved into position, ensuring the birds are not spooked. The blackbirds usually use the tripod as a perch, so are rarely bothered. Once in position, the camera, which is cabled back to my office, can be focused and the whole story recorded and live streamed.
It was when I was sitting with a cup of tea and my binoculars in the garden that I first noticed a wren in and out of a trellis support I had. I watched her for about half an hour and could see that she was bringing in food. When she flew off, I went a bit closer and the Trinovids revealed three wren chicks. This time, I just set my DSLR up and remotely fired it to get some shots. The chicks were not far from fledging so I knew it was too late for filming.
Robins, again, are early breeders. I placed an old teapot in the ivy and kept watch from my conservatory. A pair chose to nest there and raise two broods and their story live streamed across the world. Little did they know that their efforts to raise a family were so closely watched by so many!
More accessible ways to watch and film your nesting birds comes in the form of a nest box camera kit. Today, a decent kit complete with nest box and camera and means to view it via an app, are both affordable and surprisingly good quality. I create purpose built boxes for my residents, with cameras and tiny lights that illuminate the subjects during the day and go off at night.
One location in my garden has had blue tits nesting for the last 9 years! I never tire of watching the whole process from when the first piece of moss is bought in, to when the chicks fledge into my garden.
Perhaps my most popular camera on my website, and a personal favourite of mine, is my tawny box. Again, a purpose-built box with space for two internal cameras, this box has been home to Strix and Aluco, the resident tawny owl pair at a site I manage in Worcestershire.
Early nesters Aluco, the female, starts roosting in the box as early as November to ensure no squirrels take it over. By the end of February, she has usually started laying. This year, she laid her first egg on January 29th! Little does she know that she has a huge online following; enthusiasts from all over the world who watch her every move, and learn all about tawny owls at the same time.
Watching her from a safe distance with the Trinovids is always special too. I can see her 24-7 via my cameras, but seeing her in real life is always a treat, especially as she is usually only visible after the light is fading. The best view come when the owlets branch into the trees. We have spent many hours with the binoculars, searching the trees for these youngsters who sit completely still and just blend in with the branches and foliage.
For me, this is all about sharing my passion for wildlife with a wider audience. Not only do the live cameras get people interested, but they give me a platform to educate people about the wonderful wildlife that is right on our doorstep.
My live cameras can be seen on my website at www.wildlifekate.co.uk