How do the minicams team do it?
The Springwatch OB (Outside Broadcast) team consists of over 90 people. Each one plays a key part in bringing Springwatch to our screens, from Trevor and Sue in security, and runners Kiri and Ryan, to Executive Producers Fiona and Tim.
One team who we haven't discussed so much before is that of our remote cameras, the minicam team, headed by wildlife expert Nigel Bean and techie expert Jo Charlesworth. Nigel and Jo, alongside Nick, Charlie and local wildlife photographer Mike Powles, have the difficult job of finding our nesting characters and safely setting up the hardware that will bring us video from within the nests.
Nick and Charlie crouch by a minicam monitor
Nigel has 30 years of field experience observing birds and their behaviour. He started working on wildlife films 14 years ago and his primary concern is the welfare of the animal stars on our webcams.
Sometimes we're lucky and birds nest in the ready-made boxes that Jo has built with attachable compartments for the equipment to sit in. This year our blue tits did this very thing.
The blue tit nest box was constructed in parts bit by bit to get the birds used to the equipment © Nigel Bean
Installing the cameras and microphones can be a slow process from start to finish. At each stage the team stop regularly to observe how the birds react to all the kit. Most nest boxes start as a compartment not unlike the ones you see in shops. Ours however have detachable sections of wall.
When a bird builds its nest inside, the team gradually start to add different parts of the minicam box. Each time a new piece is added the team stop to check that both parents are still coming and going without disruption. Bit by bit the box comes together and the cameras, microphones and lighting equipment are put inside. Then transmission can start.
For open nest sites a similar process is used with cameras and other equipment being introduced slowly over hours or days. Not every nest they discover is suitable for rigging up which can be frustrating, but the safety of the birds comes first. This year the team found oystercatcher, whitethroat, song thrush and many, many more nests which were sadly not useable.
There are many factors affecting whether a nest is suitable for the team to rig. They apply to your garden webcams as well...
- The age of the chicks is crucial. Getting this wrong can result in eggs or young being put at risk. If the chicks are about to fledge, installing a camera might frighten them into leaving too early. Conversely, new parents might abandon a clutch of unhatched eggs to try again elsewhere if they feel an area is unsafe.
- It is important to approach nests at the right time of day. Exposing chicks to cold temperatures or dew fall from surrounding foliage could cause them serious harm. Our minicams team mostly rig the nests in the middle of the day.
- Nests must not be disturbed during bad weather when chicks might need extra protection from the elements or extra feeding. During bad weather our minicams team do jobs that don't involve approaching the nest.
Mostly the birds are unfazed by the team's activity. Our wrens this year were quite happy with the team working around them. The female even popped in and out to feed the chicks while Jo worked. Often birds that nest in buildings are more tolerant of human activity nearby, but we are always careful regardless as wild animals are always unpredictable.
This year the wrens were very calm and didn't mind the team working around them.
© Nigel Bean
If at any point Nigel is concerned that the birds are not acclimatising he will stop the process and the nest will be left to return to normal without further intrusion. Once the cameras are in place they are left alone as much as possible. The team work to strict guidelines drawn up with advice from the BTO and RSPB to ensure that as little disturbance as possible is caused to our live animal stars. We recommend that you contact these organisations as well if you are concerned about how you might be affecting a nest.
Techie expert Jo installed our otter bridge cam by wading out into the river. © Nigel Bean
The minicams can have other issues such as rodents chewing through the cables. This problem affected our blue tit cam for a while recently. Humidity can cause the lenses to steam up and over-excited chicks can smudge the glass. Our minicams team are constantly maintaining equipment and discovering new nests, and without their knowledge of filming, and of course our wildlife stars, Springwatch wouldn't be the same!
You can watch the live webcams 20 hours a day while the series is on. Tell us about your experiences by commenting below.
You can also chat about this on the Springwatch webcams topic on the Messageboard.