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How do the minicams team do it?

Jeremy Torrance web producer Jeremy Torrance web producer | 15:46 UK time, Monday, 14 June 2010

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

ian and charlie crouch by a minicam

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

blue tit nest cam box 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

wren nestcamIf 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 

Jo installing rivercamThe 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.


  • Comment number 1.

    wow, it is really fasinating to no how they do it behind the scenes, thankyou for this information,

    nature and wildlife.

  • Comment number 2.

    This is great, I would like these cams in my garden as I have almost all the animals and birds featured in the show in my garden everyday including the Otters and Kingfishers. It would be great to record them and share with our friends and family.

  • Comment number 3.

    Big thanks to all you guys (and girls?)behind the scenes - the show would be nothing without you! I truly envy you your jobs!

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Jeremy, Fiona and Tim. Many of us have been leaving messages on the "Can we have the cam under Otter Bridge again". We really enjoyed it last year and looked forward to it being switched on after dark, seeing all the riverside creatures, always hoping to see a close up of the otters and insects and of course the dear little Crayfish called Chris. The Little Chris Fan Club came about after watching this webcam and many of us have stayed friends and are back on the MB's this year.

    We hope that it may be possible to arrange this, even if its only for a couple of evenings, it would make our SW 2010 experience even more special. If this is the last time the Team will be at Pensthorpe, this will be our last chance to see this wonderful cam. Many people have left messages on this thread and in other areas of the MB's, but we've had no reply as fas as I am aware, so i'm just writing to you personally, hoping that you might be able to think about it and let us know one way or the other..

    We've all been watching all the other lovely webcams, they really are fantastic, but there is one missing this year and that is the Otter Bridge riverside cam (Little Chris Cam, as you called it last year on one evening) that was very funny and was appreciated.

    Hope to hear from you

    Oysterbay and the Little Chris Fan Club

  • Comment number 5.

    Please can I echo Oysterbay's plea? I would love to see that cam - it was fascinating last year to see the fish and other creatures in the shallows, including, of course, our crayfish, Little Chris. Please could it be reinstated for an evening or two? - It would mean a tremendous amount to a group of friends who met through this website last year and have kept in touch ever since. Thank you, and thanks too for a wonderful series of Springwatch, with plenty of sparkling blogs and mesmerising webcams!

  • Comment number 6.

    The Springwatch webcams are a complete joy, and I'd like to thank everybody involved in organising and delivering them. It's magical to be able to watch wild creatures going about their daily lives in a detail I'd never before imagined. This is such a fantastic way to engage with wildlife and to understand better how important it is to do what we can to help the wildlife we share the planet with.

    Please can I add my voice to the pleas for a cam underneath the bridge so that we can see the life that passes by the riverside at night...not just the crayfish, but beetles, spiders, rats and mice and even a frog wandered past last year. It wasn't a flashy cam, but it showed the lives of smaller creatures than you usually concentrate on, and was dearly loved for that modest reason.

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi all, thanks for the lovely words!

    @Oysterbay, @skylarksue, @PoppyFlax about the cam under the bridge. I'm sorry no one has got back to you on this sooner. We realise it gave a great deal of fun to people last year. Sadly, this year as we moved to HD we have had fewer cameras so had to make some difficult choices about where we position the cameras. In effect, we couldn't film both the sparrowhawk and under the bridge.


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