How to Film Wildlife – part 5: Hilltops and raptors

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2nd January 2013
Submitted by Jo Price

BBC cameraman John Aitchison reveals how a well-chosen hilltop site could offer the chance to get close to raptors. 

How to Film Wildlife – part 5: Hilltops and raptors

BBC cameraman John Aitchison reveals how a well-chosen hilltop site could offer the chance to get close to raptors. 

KEY FILMING SKILLS

Check the wind

You can often see buzzards hunting rabbits and small rodents, such as voles, from telegraph poles or trees, but if there’s a steady breeze blowing, you should head for the hills.

Unlike other raptors, such as kestrels, buzzards can’t easily hover in still air, but they can when it’s windy, and this enables them to hang aloft to seek out their prey.

The strongest lift comes when a breeze is blowing up a slope, so check the wind direction and find yourself a hillside or ridge at 90˚ to it. If you set up your camera facing into the wind, you should find that one or more buzzards have had the same idea.

Select your slope

You will increase your chances of filming buzzards if you choose a hillside above a rabbit warren or an area of rough grass that is likely to be home to lots of mice and voles.

Look and listen

Buzzards have distinctive mewing calls that carry a long way, but you should also listen out for crows, because they’ll direct a long string of harsh cries at any buzzard they see, often diving down to mob it repeatedly if it’s on the ground.

Keep still

If your first buzzard arrives but is too far away, resist the temptation to move closer. The species’ eyesight is superb and any buzzard will spot you immediately.

Instead, let the bird accept you as part of the landscape and hope its next hovering spot is nearer.

Find cover

Use a tree as cover if possible, but alternatively you can easily put up a camouflage screen that will make you less conspicuous. Some metal or bamboo poles, camouflage netting and scrim (strong, coarse fabric) are all you need.

The scrim prevents light from bouncing off the camera’s reflective parts and alerting raptors to your presence. Make sure you can still swing your camera, because you need to be able to follow a bird in flight. Your goal is to film a buzzard hovering on the breeze. 

 

ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT

Weather forecast A detailed local weather forecast that gives wind direction and strength.

OS map and compass To seek out those well-orientated ridges.

Camo net and scrim From government surplus stores.

Poles To make a camo screen. Bamboo and a roll of tape will do the job just fine.

 

Look out for How to film dippers in streams... coming soon!

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