Hiding from hawks

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Jess, one of our assistant cameramen, has spent a fair amount of time up at the goshawk hide here in a nearby pine forest.

I walked him in the other day, not because he was scared of the dark or anything; there's actually a practical reason for doing this.

Birds as observant as they are can be easily spooked by the presence of people. The trick is for two people to take turns manning the camera hide.

One enters the hide and one normally comes out as the swap over shifts so the birds always assume that whoever arrives in the wood, also leaves. Meanwhile hidden within the hide, the replacement cameraman takes up his post for another shift.

The shifts can vary depending on what the filming needs are. The cameramen could be in there for a few hours each day or they could be in there overnight. Much depends on the species being filmed and the location.

Within this particular hide there was only room for one person, a camera, tripod, a viewing monitor (known in the trade as a 'clam shell' as it folds out) and a folding camping chair. In this instance Jess had also found room to smuggle a whole apple in, but only just!

Inside it is pitch black with a small slot for the camera lens to poke out from. I went looking for one the other day and walked right pass it!

The only signs of BBC life were the carefully concealed cables lying under the moss. Even the mini cam mounted on the actual plucking post was concealed to resemble a tree branch and covered with moss.

On the outside, the hide itself is basically a glorified tent, coming in a variety of shapes and sizes but generally covered in some form of camouflage colour. The hide is then dressed with local, natural vegetation. In this case, pine tree branches were used.

The crew also have to be careful where they tread so as to not disturb the grass and terrain and they always choose a different route to walk, when going in and out.

This serves two purposes - it allows the grass to grow back where they've already walked and it also leaves the area with a certain degree of anonymity, so it's not obvious to other people where they've filmed and indeed where the birds nest area can be found.

Goshawks are a protected species so licenses to work near the birds are very strictly policed and it is a criminal offence to knowingly disturb a nest site.

The hide overlooks a plucking tree where as the name suggests, the male hawks land to pluck the feathers from their prey.

You can generally spot these in the woods by the tell-tale sign of assorted feathers strewn all over the place, from pigeon to blackbird and plenty of species in between. Goshawks are lethal hunters and can take larger birds down with ease.

The two hides built will be dismantled today as we move north to the coast but the Goshawks will remain, screeching their way around the tall, dark woods...


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