BTO Bird Camp 2019

Bird Camp takes place annually at BTO headquarters in Thetford, Norfolk. It is for 12 to 16 year olds who have a passion for birds and wildlife.  It is sponsored by the Cameron Bespolka Trust and led by Nick Moran who is training manager at BTO. 

I arrived at 4.30pm and settled into what turned out to be the noisy tent, containing me, Kabir Kaul, Calum McKellar, Michael Sinclair, Wilum Johnston, Sam Newcombe and Alex Liddle.  After dinner we had a careers talk by Faye Vogely where we learned what steps we might have to take to get a job in conservation.  Faye told us about her experiences and her current role as social media manager at BTO. We were also introduced to Ben Porter, our volunteer helper.  After this we returned to our tents.  Luckily I did manage to get some sleep but most of the others stayed up all night talking!

We ate breakfast at 6:00 and we looked what we had caught in the night’s moth trap.  Some of the best species included White Point, Small Elephant Hawkmoth, Tawny-barred Angle, Pale-shouldered Brocade and a Lime Hawkmoth.  After David Walsh and Chris Mills arrived, we headed off to Lakenheath Fen.

At Lakenheath, we were split into 3 groups and our group saw Marsh Harrier, Hobby and lots of Cuckoos!  The dragonflies and damselflies were just as interesting as the birds, and we saw Red-eyed and Variable Damselflies and Hairy and Scarce Chaser Dragonflies.  All three groups then met back at the visitor centre and had a talk from Dave Rogers who talked about how the reserve was transformed from carrot fields to a fen hosting breeding Cranes and Bittern.

After, we were taken to a private site called Weating Heath to see the breeding Stone Curlew.  Despite being in a heat haze it was still worth seeing it and we got reasonable views. We then travelled to a nearby site in Thetford Forest to look for the Breckland specialist species.  The bird highlights included Tree Pipit, several Cuckoo and a pair of Red Kites.  We also saw some nice butterflies including Brown Argus and some of the group saw Dingy Skipper, which I annoyingly missed!

Returning to the Nunnery, we ate dinner and then went inside where Greg Conway gave us a talk about the Nightjar tagging project.  Then, armed with torches and lots of midge repellent we headed out onto the heath to try and catch some.

 Before dark we were entertained by Cuckoo, Woodlark (my first sighting of this species) and roding Woodcock.  At around 9:00 the first male Nightjars began churring and flying out across the heath.  We soon caught a retrap male bird, and not long after a second bird, this time a female. An amazing bird to see in the field, but even better in the hand!




It was an early start on Sunday morning and my group started off nest finding with Lee Barber.  Some nests were found, including Collared Dove, Woodpigeon, Mute Swan and lots of old Blackbird nests. We then ate breakfast and moved on to Constant Effort Site ringing with Justin Walker where we caught Reed Warbler, Blackcap and some young Chiffchaffs.  Our final activity was Common Bird Census where the best birds seen were Green Woodpecker and Cuckoo.  We also found some Grass Snakes under metal sheets on the reserve. We then returned to our tents to pack away and then we had lunch.  

After this we gave our feedback to the BTO about how we thought BTO could improve Bird Camp and other things.  Parents arrived at 3 for a presentation.  Ben brought in a Swift that had flown inside the building prior to release which was fascinating to see.  After this excitement we had talks from Kabir about the Cameron Bespolka Trust, Michael about his nest box scheme and Sam about volunteering at Rutland Water with the Ospreys. Also some people showed their best photos from the weekend. Bird Camp was probably the highlight of the year so far for me and I will definitely be applying again next year.