Thursday 31 May 2018

BTO Birdcamp 2018

25th May 2018
I was lucky enough to attend the BTO Birdcamp (sponsored by the Cameron Bespolka Trust) at the British Trust for Ornithology's headquarters, the Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, in May. At around 12:00, I left school to go home and get my stuff for Birdcamp, excited to meet many people who I had known from Twitter. Afterwards,  I drove straight to Thetford, where I met Louis Driver,  Michael Sinclair, Ethan L and Sam Newcombe, who I shared a tipi-style glamping tent with, at around 19:00. While eating dinner, I met Calum Mckellar, James McCulloch and Luke Anderson, and got a glimpse of a Muntjac. 

The tents at the Nunnery



After unpacking, Nick Moran, who was in charge of the Camp, along with two volunteers, Toby Carter and Ben Moyes, welcomed us to Birdcamp, and explained the aims of the BTO and the Cameron Bespolka Trust. The introduction was followed by an  activity by Faye Vogley, a mammal specialist at the BTO, on career choices, and how it is possible for many things to affect your career choice, in good and bad ways. I headed back to the tent after, where I stayed up for at least two hours, chatting to everyone else!

26th May 2018
I got up at around 5:00, to collect a moth trap from the Nunnery's main building, and walked around the campsite for a while (not many people were awake at this time). At 7:00, I had breakfast, and Nick, Ben and Toby opened the moth trap, and examined the moths it had trapped the previous night.

Peppered Moth


A massive Poplar Hawkmoth!

Brown Silver-line

Buff Ermine

Oak Hooktip

Afterwards, we headed to the fabulous RSPB Lakenheath Fen, a reserve I'd been longing to visit. We were given a talk about the ringing scheme at Lakenheath, and the recent birds they had ringed. Later, we had a short walk to the 'Washland' area of the reserve, and were split into three groups, mine being led by David Walsh, a local birder. 


A terrible shot of a Cuckoo in flight

First lifer of Birdcamp: Reed Bunting!

Grey Heron

Mute Swans, Gadwall and Mallard on the River Little Ouse

Azure Blue Damselfly (I got to see the rarer Variable Damselfly as well)

We headed to the Mere Hide in the pouring rain, for high hopes of Bittern. We went inside, to find many people crammed with their giant telephoto lenses, but despite the rain, out of the reeds came a Bittern!

My first ever shot of a Bittern



A much better photo of the Bittern (credit: Luke Anderson)

After lots of excitement at the Mere Hide, we headed to a nearby viewpoint, for a chance to see Bearded Tits. I wasn't good at finding birds once they had been spotted by others, so David patiently showed me where they were seen last, and suddenly, two orangey-brown birds appeared out of the reedbeds: two Bearded Tits! Also, all the groups met up near the viewpoint to witness a rare dragonfly- a Scarce Chaser! Using David's trusty scope, I digiscoped the Chaser.

Scarce Chaser (digiscoped)

After a wonderful walk around the reserve, we were given a talk outside the visitor centre by David, Lakenheath's site manager, on how the RSPB has managed the former carrot fields into a diverse wetland habitat. After lunch, we inspected a wildlife-friendly pond, and found many dragonflies.  

Male and female Azure Blue Damselflies

A Four-spotted Chaser, which had just emerged from its exuviae (case)

Another newly-emerged Four-spotted Chaser, getting used to its new wings

After saying goodbye to the fabulous RSPB Lakenheath, we headed deep into the massive Thetford Forest- this was a chance to see songbird lifers! We strolled along a small track in the forest, bordered by vast areas of heathland. Thanks to Louis, I saw many new butterflies and moths, insects I had hardly paid any attention to before. 

 A slightly-camouflaged Willow Warbler


Tree Pipit

Brown Argus Butterfly

A Grasshopper on the jumper of Rob Reid, the photographer!

We returned to the Nunnery for dinner, and were given a short talk by Nightjar expert Dr Greg Conway, on the distribution of Nightjars in Thetford. After that, we got on the minibus and drove into Thetford Forest again, with the hopes of ringing a few. On the way, we saw a few Fallow Deer, one which was completely white! We stood opposite an area of heathland, while Michael and Louis set up trapping nets. We stood there for a while, getting decent views of Woodcocks and Cuckoos, until I saw Toby holding a small white bag- my first Nightjar! 

Another terrible shot of a Cuckoo




When we got back to the tent, I felt something under my pillow rise and fall, and ignored it, thinking that someone outside was playing a prank. In the middle of the night, Sam and Michael figured out that a Mole was under the tent (Louis, Ethan and I were asleep), and apparently my feet were rising and falling for about ten minutes!

27th May 2018
We woke up early, at around 6:00, to spend the day at the BTO's only nature reserve, the BTO Nunnery Lakes. We were put into the same groups from the visit to Lakenheath the previous day, and completed activities for the reserve's 'Constant Effort' scheme. The first activity was ringing, led by Justin Walker. Only two people in the group were trainee ringers, so they got to ring the birds and the non-ringers (including me) got to release them. We managed to capture A Dunnock, Blue Tit, Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler (which I got to release). Justin managed to capture a few dragonflies too!

Garden Warbler

Broad-bodied Chaser

Hairy Dragonfly

Mating Millipedes

Greylag Goose family

Banded Demoiselle

This was followed by nest recording with Lee Barber, where we were given long sticks to prod the bushes with, to check for nests.  Soon enough, Luke found a Song Thrush nest, and we found many moths and damselflies while searching for more, which could have been in some of the many gorse bushes. We also found another lifer outside the reserve as well- a Red-legged Partridge! A few old, abandoned nests were found, but eventually, the final nest was discovered by Toby, and belonged to a Yellowhammer.

Around the reserve, there were many metal sheets- this was a good chance to see my first British reptiles. Lee lifted one, and a huge Grass Snake (I didn't get a photo) slithered away, a Common Lizard  was briefly seen and there were plenty of Slow Worms. Three British reptiles in one day!

Song Thrush nest (credit: Toby Carter on my camera)

Yellowhammer nest (credit: Toby Carter on my camera)

A blurry Common Lizard

Slow Worm

Red-legged Partridge

The last activity was Common Bird Census with Nick Moran. I paired up with Louis, and recorded birds on a map of the reserve, using abbreviations and symbols. While recording, Nick received a message that a Stone-curlew had been spotted on a field outside the reserve! we rushed to a clearing, where Nick set up his scope. This was a good opportunity for digiscoping:

My digiscope shot of the Stone-curlew

During everyone attempt to see the Stone-curlew, Lee lead our group back to the Nunnery on foot. We crossed the River Thet, where we saw many damselflies and Mute Swans.

If it wasn't for Luke and his love for spiders, I would have never seen this regionally- scarce Fencepost Jumping Spider 

Mute Swans on the River Thet

I would like to say a huge thank you to Nick Moran for running Birdcamp, the Cameron Bespolka Trust for sponsoring it, the BTO, the wonderful staff who helped out, Toby, Ben and the 19 other young naturalists who made the experience all the better!