Category Archives: birds

South Africa and Bristol MA Wildlife Filmmaking


This last week has truly been one of the most exhilarating, emotional and thrilling times of my life…I will be visiting South Africa this Summer, AND have been offered a place on the incredible Masters course in Wildlife Filmmaking at Bristol, in partnership with the BBC! I literally wept with happiness, joy and relief when receiving the news on Tuesday…literally just had the interview two weeks previously at the University, and everything I have worked for these past 6 years has been worth it. I am truly grateful for both amazing opportunities.

Thank you to all my friends and family for their endless and continual support, as well as belief in me to pursue my dreams. This feels like this is the beginning of some very exciting adventures, and can’t wait to find out what excitement, hard work and challenges lie ahead!

bbc earth

Hopefully you can join me on this journey and that I can inspire you to feel passionately about the natural world around us, and more importantly preserve it for future generations. It is our duty as filmmakers to protect the stunning and awe-inspiring places we visit and continue to tell the fascinating stories that unravel on a daily basis on this beautiful blue planet of ours.

UWESince I was very young, the remarkable literature talents of Lauren St John, David Alric, Michael Morpurgo and of course all of my history/biology/geography reference books provided me with an escape and world of wonder and curiosity about the natural world. I could travel the world from my bed, chair, rock, beach towel… and one place, always so vividly represented in all the books I read, was South Africa. Its rich culture, bright colours, sublime smells and majestic animals- and I yearned to visit one day. BBC documentaries and the mild attempts of the Spanish equivalent further gave me the impetus to one day visit this staggeringly beautiful country, and this I finally decided that THIS WAS IT! I’m going to SA this year after I graduate to have the experience of a lifetime.


This is it! I am going to volunteer at the South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance, Plettenberg Bay and work as a multilingual tour guide (sounds posher than it is)and photographer/filmmaker intern. Each of the sanctuaries under SASAA include Monkeyland, Birds of Eden and Jukani wildlife, which fund themselves through revenues from tourists who take educational tours of the sanctuaries to continue to bring in funds.


A detailed catalogue of all the SAASA species has not yet been made of the primates, birds and apex cats, and so compiling this information, along with taking photographs and film footage (for YouTube) of individual primates is an important part of the project. They do great work here and I am honoured to be a part of it, and help out in any way that I can.


SO this will be my ‘job’ from June 2th till August 2nd! I’ll be writing regular updates on what I get up to, and how practical it is for YOU to VOLUNTEER for CHEAP ABROAD, it took me many hours to research ethical, well respected places that treat their animals well and don’t actually charge you to volunteer. The only cost involved is the homestay at Rock Road Backpackers (contact Mac: which again is AMAZINGLY priced at £18 a night, FOOD, ACCOMODATION, TRAVEL to and from the sanctuaries included. Total cost for 36 days will be around £1600, but I’ve applied for £500 funding from the Leeds for Life Foundation, fingers crossed! Still an amazing prices considering.


They are SO lovely there, I’m feeling really confident about heading over now as they seem to be very experienced in receiving students. Currently taking my vaccinations now (ouch tetanus hurts!), which are all covered by the NHS, but be warnerd, rabies is £40 a shot! It is necessary though, especially since I’ll be working with primates, (and an odd bat or two if I get the chance).


I really want to be able to make a difference at the SAASA (South African Sanctuary Alliance) by bringing my skills as a photographer/videographer/zoologist and researcher, as well as help to build up a collection of all the species and individuals at the sanctuary. Having studied zoology at the University of Leeds for 3 years now, I feel the need to travel and experience different cultures, sights and wildlife encounters before I go on to study for my Master this coming September. Not only do I feel I would grow as a person, but also gain further insight and build upon my current portfolio which will prove to be very useful when applying for jobs as a freelance camera woman. It has always been a life-long ambition to visit South Africa, I missed out on an opportunity field trip last summer due to my research project that was to be conducted in the UK on bat foraging distributions. There’s so many amazing activities to get up to there too, canyoning, scuba diving, sky diving, caving, whale watching and I’ll also be going to the world renewed Addo National Park with students from Washington University!

One step closer…

SO! I’m currently studying for my exam finals now, and can’t stop thinking how lucky I am. I mean, I have worked really hard to get to where I am…and it’s not been easy by any measure. These past three years a Leeds have been a rollercoaster of emotions- but cannot recommend going highly enough. University teaches you more than simply lectures and how to avoid drunk people! But it allows you to find yourself, your purpose, your dreams, what your capable of and most of all determined to, no matter what, follow your dreams and CREATE YOUR OWN LUCK too.

The York Bird and Prey centre

“The sheer power and speed at which a Peregrine falcon torpedoes towards you as you swing its bate is truly a unforgettable experience.”

I visited the brilliant York Bird of Prey Centre, situated in York behind the walled garden at Burn Hall, Huby and houses over 70 different bird species. The place itself was only constructed and completed in June 2013 and has had visitors pouring in, especially when the weather had been good, to see its spectacular aerial displays, held twice daily. As well as this, you can attend the historical talks on the rich culture of Falconry as well as have your photo taken with some of the


most impressive raptors.

The first aerial display was truly breath-taking. The European Eagle Owl certainly made an impression on visitors, and it was most surprising to hear that they are native to the UK! Such a large owl in our British landscape, a dark shadow to most as it glides majestically through the inky darkness of the night. I have occasionally heard and seen owls during my bat transect walks, but never really known what they were, apart from the time I stumbled upon a Tawny owl with my flashlight, he just sat there perched, blinking with his vastly adorable dark eyes. Such gorgeous birds.



Then the Barn owls were equally as marvellous with their pale and clean complexion, they most definitely are the Nicole Kidman of the owl world. I must admit though, my favourite raptor has to be the black Kite, Shadow, who unremittingly kept on flying away and ignoring his keeper. It must be said though, that the keepers were absolutely fantastic and cared about their birds a great deal, so much so that they did not have the harness (creeance) and clip on them (or anklets)- and so the birds had the opportunity to fly away, never to return. As a scientist I would say that getting regular meals and favourites, as well as security and a dry home are most likely to be the reason for their sudden reappearance, but I would hope that it would be in part for their carers too.

The peregrine falcon however was the most spectacular of all of the birds. Such a small birds and yet the 120km/hr speeds it can reach are truly incredible. How such a small animal can reach frightening high speeds without doing any internal damage is what makes evolution extraordinary. The female that was used in this particular display was released for roughly an hour, and eventually, with such a high metabolism, the bird is forced back down to take the bait as the hydrochloric acid in its stomach consumes the last of its calories- hunger eventually gives way.

My friend got the fantastic opportunity to “jump train” her by swinging the bate and then releasing it as she came closer. He took a while to get the swing of it, but then again she was in no hurry to take it! She must have had a rather hearty breakfast prior to her flying. This is the basic application of how a falconer will train their bird, on the principal that their hunger will allow them to trust them enough to sit on them- this is called Conditioned Reinforcement (CR). These predators are solitary and so therefore would never really be in the presence of another bird let alone another species!

After the displays, we walked around the centre to look at some of the other intriguing species, one of my faves being the little owls and the cheeky Caracara– he also performed during the display and hopped around most of the time, trying to pinch the contents of your bag! In the wild these opportunistic raptors are the bandits of the Californian desert, and will actually hunt in teams to capture their prey. The vultures were also a great viewing, their sulky appearance can be deceiving, if they weren’t behind the cage they would sooner be flying off to scavenge than apparently seem recluse and skulk like a teenager.

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Falconry really is a fascinating tradition, if you want to get started or want to learn more, here are a few websites which I found rather useful and interesting:

I got to hold a beautiful eagle towards the end of the day, rather heavy but still able to hold him. All staff were so friendly and volunteered to help clean, look after and do the talks. They were really knowledgeable too, and clearly passionate about what they did- so refreshing to see! I would again highly recommend a visit, I must admit it was a little tricky to find, its probably easier to punch in the postcode to Burn Hall next to it, then park up further along and walk straight in. I bought a Wowcher! Ticket so £6 for two people to enter was a bargain, and we were lucky it was such a sunny day too! They also offer falconry courses if your interested as well as private displays. I will most certainly be visiting again, keep an eye out for the videos I will be posting up soon.