Watch the birdie: why birdcams are the new box sets
On the webcam it is clear that Telyn is back. Sleek, powerful and yellow-eyed, the osprey has successfully raised a dynasty high above the wind-buffeted grass near the west Wales coast. Last year came Berthyn, Peris and Hesgyn – they sound like Game of Thrones characters. The watchers are waiting for Telyn’s mate, local hero Monty. A magnificent fisherman, heroic provider and model father, he’s been a fixture at the Dyfi Osprey Project since 2008. But where is he?
“Is Monty back?” says every third post on the webcam’s chatboard. He isn’t – instead, there’s a new pretender on the nest, upstart Idris. He’s doing everything right, ingratiating himself with Telyn, bringing offerings of sea trout and twigs, chasing off intruders and yes, mating. Is this the end for the Burton and Taylor of ospreys? Unswayed by Idris’s can-do attitude and beady-eyed charm, Team Monty is inconsolable. “Still waiting for Monty… His usual slot is mid-afternoon,” says one hopeful post. “Hope Monty is home tomorrow, he is all I have known since 2011, love you, amber eyes,” says another. Still they wait.
Sex and violence, birth, death and bitter rivalry: welcome to nest-flix. More and more of us are becoming bird voyeurs, tuning into nestcams in the hope of getting a peep at the precarious miracle of new life.
At a time when the world is frightening and our outlook on it has become simultaneously restricted and vertiginously wide, wildlife cams are enjoying unprecedented popularity. They offer connection and continuity – the transporting sensation of watching a creature indifferent to human endeavour going about its life. Edinburgh Zoo has seen a surge of viewers watching its penguins, pandas and koalas, from an average of around 100,000 plays per month to more than 5m in March this year. One small Hampshire zoo has seen traffic increase by 27,000%.
Birds may not seem the most exciting of all the wildlife cams at our disposal, but what they offer is the perfect arc, from egg-laying to hatching to fledgling. It makes them a peculiarly gripping watch: viewing figures for the Cornell Lab Bird Cams in the US, broadcasting from as far as New Zealand and Panama, are up 15% on last year.
Author Lissa Evans knows something about story- telling. She’s an avid watcher of the unfolding drama at Dyfi. “Every year that I’ve been watching there is a marvellous narrative,” she says. “The mating, the egg laying, the hatching, the odd drama of ‘strange’ adults turning up at the nest, and then, best of all – the fledging. The adolescents flap their wings and teeter on the edge and nudge each other and lose their nerve and then suddenly one of them goes for it, and they’re off. It’s wonderful and moving.”