Tuesday, 28 May 2019

BTO Bird Camp 2019

This was the event I've been waiting for - and from what I'd heard, it was going to be one of the highlights of the year. The BTO runs an annual camp for young birders, based at the BTO headquarters at the Nunnery, Thetford. This was the first time I had been and it definitely won't be the last time I go.

I was driven up on Friday afternoon but, due to heavy traffic, I arrived quite late, while most had already arrived. I chose my tent and unloaded my stuff. In this tent was Michael Sinclair, Calum Mckellar, Wilum Johnston, Rowan Wakefield, Kabir Kaul and Sam Newcombe. We went off to eat pizza, then went inside for the introduction speech, but not before I heard a Treecreeper singing from the woodland.

After the introduction, we took part in a workshop and heard a speech by Faye Vogely about careers in conservation. We picked a job that we might want to do in the future and wrote down what steps we would need to take to get there. Nick Moran gave a speech and we were introduced to one of the volunteers, Ben Porter.

We then returned to our tents, supposedly to sleep, but after 5 hours of talking, this never happened, which was fine until the next day, when I fell asleep multiple times.

In the morning, we got out of the tent early to search the ground for birds, where there were Singing Sedge and Reed warblers, as well as many other species.

It wasn't long before we checked the moth trap, with some amazing species in it such as Small Elephant Hawk-Moth, Lime Hawk-moth, White Point and many Treble Lines. I thought the moth trap was great and it has encouraged me to construct my own and see what turns up in my garden.

Small Elephant Hawkmoth 
Lime Hawkmoth
Next, we headed to Lakenheath, where we were joined by volunteers, including David Walsh and Chris Mills. We were split into groups and looked for wildlife around the reserve. It wasn't long before we had seen Scarce Chaser dragonfly and many bird species including Marsh Harrier.
Scarce Chaser
We walked along the various paths and found a Garden Warbler and a Variable Damselfly. We entered the hide, where there was, apparently, a Bittern showing well, but it had escaped in to the reeds, unseen by our group. A Hobby that flew past was a good species to see, though.
Azure Damselfly 
After this, we were given a talk by Dave Rogers about the reserve.

We then went off to do some woodland birding, first stopping off to see Stone Curlews at Weeting Heath, then going to a nearby forest ride, where we saw Tree Pipit, Mistle Thrush, Firecrest, and a Dingy Skipper butterfly.

We headed back to camp briefly to eat, and hear a talk about Nightjars before we went out to see them. Unfortunately, being awake for over 24 hours was finally starting to catch up with me, so I fell asleep during the whole talk, only waking up when everyone was getting on the bus to head to the Nightjar site!

After this though, I was fine, and ready look for the birds. At first, we were seeing Woodlarks and Tree Pipits, then Cuckoos flying over constantly. We attempted to get the Cuckoos into the nets for ringing, but they kept flying very near, and not into, the nets.

It wasn't long before Nightjars were churring and Woodcocks were roding. The Nightjars gave good views as they floated around and, very soon, a male was caught in the net. It was brought up to us and we were given the chance to study these amazing birds up close. Another one was caught, this time a female, not as colourful, but still very interesting - this event was probably the birding highlight of the weekend.

That night I was so tired, I actually got some sleep, so was better prepared for the next day.

In the morning, we were transported to the Nunnery Reserve, where we saw Hares and a Stone Curlew on the drive up, as well as a couple of Eurasian Curlews and many Cuckoos. The first stop was at the CES (Constant Effort Site) bird ringing station, where we saw Blue Tit, Reed Warbler, Chiffchaff and a Blackbird ringed.

Reed Warbler
We moved on to bird-territory mapping, where there were many species including Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler and better views of Stone Curlew. Lastly, we looked for bird nests, with a Blackcap's nest found, and many abandoned Woodpigeon nests.
Stone Curlew
Back at camp, we went through the previous night's moth trap, which had a Brimstone Moth, Turnip and Figure of Eighty. 

We packed our stuff up and went inside for a summary of the camp and speeches from some of the young birders. The final bird of the trip was a Swift that had flown in to the building, which was picked up and set free by the volunteers, after it was shown to the crowd of participants and their families.

White Ermine
Figure of eighty
Overall, this camp was a great experience to see wildlife and meet new people, as I have met few wildlife enthusiasts near my age. I will, hopefully, be applying to come back next year, and meet up with people from the camp again at other events, including the Birdfair later in the year. The 'bird camping' isn't over yet though, as I have another one next weekend in the New Forest, which I hope will be equally as good!

Thank you to the many volunteers who helped organise and run the camp, the Cameron Bespolka Trust for supporting it and the BTO for creating it! One of the best parts of the camp was meeting and talking to all the young birders - some who I will probably meet again.

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