BTO Birdcamp 2017

Earlier this year I was delighted to discover that I had got a place at Birdcamp this year. This is an annual event attended by 24 young birdwatchers from around the country, ran by the BTO and sponsored by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. The event aims to inform and inspire those who attend, as well as being an opportunity to meet other young people interested in nature.

So, last Friday, me and my mum set off from our house with a six hour drive ahead of us to RSPB Lakenheath, where I was planning to meet James and Michael, who were also going to the camp, before the we went to Thetford where the camp was based. The car journey was rather boring, including lots of traffic, but there were plenty of birds about. When we finally arrived the sun was shining and we were raring to go around the RSPB reserve, however, unfortunately, it was very quiet bird-wise. Instead we decided to have a closer look at the dragonflies, and we managed to spot Scarce Chasers, Four-spotted Chasers and a Hairy Dragonfly before we had to leave.

Four-spotted Chaser

Scarce Chaser
When we got to the camp there were lots of people there, some who I knew through Twitter and some who I didn't. I put my bags in the tent and then I went to meet everybody. Everyone was very friendly and we spoke for a while before spending some time seeing how many species we could see where we were camping before having dinner. We were then told about the plans for Saturday. We were getting up early for a morning of bird ringingnest recording and bird monitoring. We were then going to go to Lakenheath for a bird race (seeing how many different species a team can see) after lunch followed by dinner and a trip to Thetford forest to see if we could spot nIghtjars, or maybe even ring one.

After being taken through the plans we wandered around the Nunnery grounds (the BTO HQ, where we were camping), watching the wildlife around us. I used a special whistle to imitate a Tawny Owl to see if one would reply, and one did, very distantly! However, it was soon time to go to sleep as we had an early start in the morning.


Early in the morning, our alarm went off. We crawled out of our sleeping bags, still half asleep, before we remembered the exciting day ahead of us. We soon woke up, got ready, had a quick breakfast and jumped into the minibus. We headed off the the BTO's Nunnery Lakes reserve where the morning's activities were planned. Our first activity was bird ringing. Even though I am already a ringer, it was still very interesting as I got to see birds in the hand which I never had before. These included Sedge, Reed and Cetti's Warblers. As well as these we also caught others including a juvenile Robin and lots of Dunnocks.

Sedge Warbler
The next activity was nest recording. I am also a nest recorder, but we were using a different nest-finding technique to what I have in the past so I still learnt a lot. The technique we used was tapping. We used a cane to tap vegetation - if any birds were sitting on nests then they would fly off and we would be able to find them. We managed to find three nests as a group - a Willow Warbler with chicks, a Blackbird with eggs and a Gadwall, also with eggs.

Willow Warbler chick
While we were nest recording, somebody spotted a Stone Curlew in a farm field next to where we were. It was quite close so we got good views, but it was a bit distant for photographs. I had never seen one before, so I was very pleased - they are also quite unusual as well as looking very nice.

Stone Curlew
Before our final activity we had a bite to eat and a look at some moths that had been caught. These moths included White Ermine, which looks very nice. This was the first of four moth sessions over the weekend - I found them very interesting, and now I am saving up for my own moth trap.

Our final activity was taking part in the Common Bird Census. In this you plot on a map where you see different birds or where they are singing. This helps you to get an idea of where different territories are. We saw lots of birds in our session, including a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Kingfisher and a Peregrine. The activity helped us learn birdsong as well as ID in general.

We then returned to the Nunnery where we had lunch before heading out to RSPB Lakenheath. 

When we got to Lakenheath, we had a quick talk about the history of the reserve. When it was first created, it was turned from farm fields to the amazing wetland it is now. This was mainly done to help Bitterns, which were near extinction in this country. Since then, the birds have made an amazing recovery and now they can be heard 'booming' in many sites across the country.

After this talk we were split into two groups. Each group's aim was, while exploring the reserve, to see as many different bird species as possible - whichever group saw the most won. I'm not sure exactly how many species each team saw, or even who won, but it was very enjoyable. I saw some great birds including Bearded Tits, Cuckoos, Marsh Harriers, Hobbies and even a Bittern, which flew up out of the reds and flapped slowly over them before disappearing behind a patch of trees. We all enjoyed ourselves and were very pleased with what we saw.

Cuckoo 
Marsh Harrier
Bittern
After tea it was time to go to Thetford forest. We arrived to watch a beautiful sunset, as well as seeing a Tree Pipit. As it got dark the churring began, and soon we had spotted out first Nightjar of the evening, sat on the top of a pine tree. This then flew down and began feeding with others - some flew right past us, just metres away! While we were watching, helpers were putting up mist nets to see if we could catch one for ringing. Soon we were called back to where the minibus was, and we waited there to see if a Nightjar would be caught. Soon enough the ringer who was there came back to where we were, carrying a bag that we all knew contained a Nightjar. After he ringed it and took the biometrics, we were allowed to take photos. I realised, annoyingly, I had left my camera's battery charging at the Nunnery. Kindly, Michael let me use his camera to take a photo to remember it by.

Nightjar
The Nightjar was then released back into the woods to feed. It was amazing to see such a beautiful bird up close - that is one of the joys of bird ringing. It is amazing to think that the data from that bird will go to help conservation in the species, as well as being an amazing memory for everybody at the camp.

The next morning was the beginning of our final day, and we were planning to go to Landguard Bird Observatory. Though we did sleep in, we got there just about on time. There weren't many birds around, but we had a look in the moth trap - it contained loads of moths, including a Beautiful Hook-tip, a first for the site! This was very unlikely as there have been around 950 moth species caught on the site in the past.

We had a short walk around Landguard looking for birds, but, as I said, it was very quiet. There were a few Ringed Plovers around, and lots of Linnets, but that was about it - there were no migrants moving through. We then went to Hollesley Common to look for Dartford Warblers. When we first arrived, there was a Woodlark singing high above our heads - the first I had ever seen. We had no luck with Dartfords to begin with, but we did see lots of Stonechats and a fly-through Yellow Wagtail. However, after watching for a while, one of the volunteers helping with the camp, David, ran back from where he had been watching. He had spotted a Dartford Warbler! We all ran to where he had been, and sat and watched again. Soon enough it re-appeared, and, though being quite distant, we got good views. We then had to leave to go for lunch.

After lunch we had one final trip planned before the camp ended. We headed off to RSPB Hollesley Marshes to see what we could see there. We saw lots of birds, as well as some dragonflies; a Black-tailed Skimmer and something less usual, a Red-veined Darter. The Red-veined Darter was probably the rarest thing we saw on the camp!

Black-tailed Skimmer
The birds we saw included Marsh Harrier, lots of Avocets, Common Terns and two Mediterranean Gulls that flew over us - a species I had never seen before! There were also lots of Linnets on the site.

Linnet
And that wrapped up the awesome weekend. It was such a great experience that I will probably never forget- I would definitely recommend it to other young people who love wildlife. I am very thankful to the BTO and the Cameron Bespolka Trust for making it possible, and all the volunteers and other people there for making it so much fun. 

Thanks for reading,

Louis

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