A morning of filming research

At the moment I’m quite busy filming wildlife around the Avon Gorge for a project, in addition to working normal hours during the week. It’s not always a very compatible combination but now that the wildlife is starting to catch up with their regular cycles it means it’s busy times!

On the weekend I usually spend as much time as I can outside. And this week I had a particularly great Saturday morning. So this a bit of an insight into a day in the life of a wildlife filmmaker!

There is so much more to Bristol wildlife than meets the eye. And my first mission was to try and find a very rare spider that has only been seen alive in the area back in the 1970s:  the purseweb spider (Atypus affinis). This is a rare British species that can be found elsewhere (Sussex and Hampshire predominately). They hunt by building a tube-like web that they live in their entire lives and use their fangs to stun prey walking on top of the tube, after which they pull them in and restore the hole in the web. It’s a very inconspicuous-looking structure as the outer silk is covered completely by earth and dirt so it looks like an ordinary branch. Hard to spot perhaps?

Purse-web spider (Atypus affinus) web excavated

Purse-web spider (Atypus affinus) web excavated

I joined Mark Pajak, entomologist at the Bristol Museum, who has been looking for this spider for a while. Down and dirty we got, combing through long grasses and bramble with the sun beating down on us from above. Mark knew where to go as he had found an abandoned web last year but that’s the closest he has got.

Only about an hour in and we struck gold: we had found not only one but two webs. After capturing a few shots in the bright sunshine, Mark excavated one of the webs, as we needed to open one to identify whether there was a spider in it. He cracked it open ever so slightly and we think there was indeed an abdomen in it. What a wonderful birthday present to him (oh, and it was his birthday that day). We wanted to keep it for filming, so he took it away to give it a proper home and identify the spider without it running away. I got an e-mail from him the next day saying that we had been successful and the spider has fixed the web up and caught a cricket! A Bristol first.

By about 11 I left Mark to go and see what the status update was with the peregrines. The Bristol peregrines have had more exposure than any other wildlife in the area, and are currently raising 4 chicks. The chicks will be fledging any day now, which means some brilliant close-up shots of flying behaviour. There’s a group of keen peregrine watchers that are usually out on the downs with their spotting scopes and binoculars, and will make lots of warning noise if something exciting is happening with the birds. And having been up there a lot recently they are slowly educating me on how to differentiate between male and female peregrines, pigeons and peregrines and behaviour to predict from them.

Peregrine falcon flying in the Avon Gorge in Bristol

Peregrine falcon flying in the Avon Gorge

The adults were gave us some fabulous activity that morning, chasing off a buzzard, coming in right behind each other each with a pigeon in its talons, and then the male quickly came back with a third. You could see the feathers flying around as the mother was plucking it clean for the chicks! When you think about the fact that these birds are the fastest in the world, it’s so impressive. And all of this before 13.00.

Peregrine falcon carrying a pigeon kill

Peregrine carrying a pigeon kill

Peregrine coming in with a fresh pigeon kill

Peregrine coming in with a fresh pigeon kill

Peregrine chasing off a buzzard

Peregrine chasing off a buzzard

I went to a different spot the next morning to see if I could catch a glimpse of the chicks from below, and all 4 popped their heads out at one point.

Peregrine chicks a week before fledging

Peregrine chicks a week before fledging

A very exciting morning indeed, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks hold in store.

Peregrine flying in the sky

2 thoughts on “A morning of filming research

  1. Hi Ester, what size lens were you using to capture the peregrines? Presumably you were photographing from the cliff top by the downs, where they have the information board about the peregrines?

  2. Yeh, I’m there most days now. Two chicks are out as of yesterday. I’m on my 120-300, but if you wait around they come quite close!

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