Live nest camera: The set-up

This year has seen an exciting development in the project with the successful installation of a live camera and microphone on a stork nest at Knepp. The new technology has given us a fascinating insight into the lives of a pair of storks known as Ania (ringed GB5B) and Bartek (GB18).

The camera location was chosen over winter; the team had to weigh up the safety of the tree, the reliability of the nest and the cost of installation with power cable alone costing hundreds of pounds. The nest initially decided on was a much loved and well-known home for our project storks, in the centre of a working stables and not far from the public footpath. However, just days before the camera installation was due to begin, storm Isha swept over Sussex and blew the nest out of the tree. The high winds also tore down some prominent branches, meaning it would be difficult to predict where the storks would rebuild the nest, or whether they would rebuild the nest at all. 

It was back to the drawing board and the White Stork Project team consulted with expert wildlife camera installer, Jason Fathers from Wildlife Windows about the options. It was soon decided that an existing nearby nest would be a good contender. In the past, the project put a live camera up on a nest at Knepp Castle which was running successfully before the pair of storks changed their minds about the location, as often happens particularly with newly paired up or young birds. The nest we were looking at in January 2024 seemed to meet the criteria though; the pair (now known as Ania and Bartek to honor their Polish roots) have been strongly bonded since 2020 and had successfully reared chicks in 2022 and 2023. They also had chicks in 2021 but sadly a severe thunderstorm and heavy rainfall drenched the young and they perished.

Cotswolds Wildlife Park visit 2024

The location was agreed and in late January 2024, Jason and his colleague Alan joined us on site at Knepp to begin the installation. Putting the camera up well before breeding season starts properly was crucial to minimise disturbance. In late February and early March, storks begin returning from migration and repairing existing nests or building new ones. At this time there is a lot of pair bonding behaviour, with the well-known bill clatterings ringing out across the site as pairs display to each other and defend their nests against intruders. Mating can also be seen, typically from the start of March but sometimes earlier. We were hopeful that by getting the camera up in January (if we could dodge the weather), the storks would remain undisturbed. 

Cotswolds Wildlife Park Training Day

Jason started work by scaling the oak tree the storks have used as their base for the last few years. The nest sits around 18m high off the ground and the storks have chosen a sensible position; the surrounding fields are regularly flooded throughout winter and spring, providing the birds with a constant supply of worms and other invertebrates. Throughout summer, large numbers of grasshoppers, leatherjackets and spiders are found in abundance in the same fields. Typically, storks will forage up to 5km away from the nest when they have chicks, but we have observed this pair spend hours at a time foraging only a few meters away from the base of their tree.

Using ropes and climbing gear, Jason ascended the tree to assess the best angle and distance the camera would need to be. Although the quality and zoom of the camera gives the impression it is only inches away from the chicks themselves, it is located around a meter and a half away from the nest; far enough away to hopefully prevent adult storks from landing on and dislodging or breaking the camera. 

Once the camera location was determined, the next consideration was how to run  a few hundred meters of cable to provide power from a nearby building with mains supply. This was one of the main draws of the nest we originally decided on; not only is cable expensive, but it’s also time consuming and hard work to safely install in an area where they are free ranging cattle, pigs and deer. 

Fortunately, a small army of volunteers and willing staff at Knepp were happy to get stuck into the job at hand. Armed with spades and waders, the team worked hard to dig out over 200m of channel in which the power cable was safely laid then buried. In other places, the cable was laid along the centre of a stream. 

 This involved team members wading through ice cold water, avoiding brambles, navigating thick clay and trying not to fall in. The cable eventually passes through a culvert (thanks to some ingenious rod work and more hours than anyone would like to admit) and diverts around the edge of a pond to make it to the mains supply. The work took a full couple of days and we’re hugely grateful to Jason, Allan, and all the staff and volunteers who came out to help make this possible.

Once the main installation had taken place, it was down to Jason to give Project Officer Laura a few lessons in how to use the software, and for the team to wait for some internet upgrades to take place on site allowing the camera to be live streamed 24/7. By early March, we had a working camera nearly ready to go live.

Naturally, just as the team were getting ready to share the exciting news, there was an enormous downpour overnight and water levels rose far beyond what we had expected. While this was no issue at all for the camera itself, the nest or the storks, it was a (water resistant but not completely waterproof) power box sitting at what we thought was a very safe height that gave some team members a sleepless night. If the water got into the box, Jason had explained, repairs (costing a few hundred pounds) would need to be made and the camera wouldn’t be ready to go, potentially for a few weeks. At this point we knew we might miss egg laying and the very start of the breeding season which would have been a great disappointment.



Cotswolds Wildlife Park Training day 2

Thankfully, by mere millimeters the water hadn’t infiltrated the main components of the electrical box. Jason generously travelled to site to assess the damage and raised the height of the unit for future flash floods, and we were able to go live to the public with the camera on the 8th  March. Miraculously, just one day later (and the evening before Mother’s Day), Ania laid her first egg.

Unknown to the pair of storks, a growing audience watched and listened over the next few days as she laid her eggs almost exactly 48 hours apart. She laid, we think, a total of 4 eggs (storks typically lay up to 5). It was difficult to tell at times as the pair of storks had done such a fantastic job of lining the middle of the nest with insulating material like leaves and straw that the eggs were rarely all visible at the same time. Ania started spending more time incubating the eggs after the second was laid and by the time she was finished, she was spending the majority of her days and nights keeping the eggs safe and warm. Bartek was doing his fair share of the work too, swapping over to give her time to go and feed and continuing to bring materials to strengthen the nest.

By mid-April, eggs were hatching. We were expecting eggs to hatch every other day in the same pattern they are laid by, however between the morning of the 13th  April and the early hours of the 16th, all eggs had finished hatching and the parents were soon onto the busy task of taking it in turns to feed the chicks and keep them warm and protected.




Cotswolds Wildlife Park visit 2024

At the time of writing in mid-May, the chicks are developing well, and the live camera is drawing a regular audience not only from the UK but also Poland, Germany, Canada and elsewhere. It has been captivating viewing and so much has already been learnt from observing the storks in real time. We were delighted to find out that the camera has been streamed in local schools and colleges and some further afield. We are always so pleased to hear stories about how people have the camera on in the background while they are working, or how they check in at night before bed just to make sure their new friends are safely tucked up for the night.

Cotswolds Wildlife Park Training Day

There will be plenty more to learn and, in the future, we will write a full report on the breeding season and the knowledge we have gained from the live camera observations. For now, we are looking forward to seeing how the rest of the season pans out for Ania, Bartek and their four youngsters and can imagine the celebrations that will be had (possibly across Sussex and beyond) when we can all watch the first chick fledge together.

We would like to give a huge thanks to Jason Fathers from Wildlife Windows and his colleague Alan Crane, as well as all the volunteers and staff who came out to help on the installation days. Special thanks to Knepp’s, Penny Green, Ranger Tom Burns and colleague Aaron, and volunteer Gary who all put in extra hours at very short notice. The wonderful viewing we have all enjoyed wouldn’t have been possible without you!

Laura Vaughan-Hirsch: White Stork Project Officer


Cotswolds Wildlife Park Training day 2

We use cookies to analyse our web traffic only. We do not serve ads or send data to any third parties. By clicking "Accept", you consent to our use of cookies.