BTO Young Birders Camp (27th-29th May)

Last August around the time of the Birdfair, the BTO announced that they would be holding their first Young Birders Weekend which would be sponsored by the Cameron Bespolka Trust, at the time I knew that I probably couldn't make it due to it being in  exam season. But 2 weeks ago I found out that there were still places available, with it also being in my holiday I could make it! So here is how this weekend turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of my life!  

Day 1
I stayed behind school to get changed and waited for my dad to pick me up from school, we set off around 4pm hoping to get to the BTO  HQ in Thetford Norfolk for 6:30pm but due to 2 accidents on the A1 we didn't arrive till 7:15pm but in that time my dad and I got brilliant views of Red Kite, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Grey Heron. When I arrived many people had arrived some I knew and others I was yet to get to know.

After everyone else arrived we tucked into dinner, I sat on a table with Ben Moyes, Sam-Pitt Miller, Elliot Montieth, Luke Nash, Max Hellicar and Zach Haynes. I knew most of them on the table got as the evening progressed we all got to know each other better, later on we were taken to the campsite where Glamping-styled Tipis awaited us. We all unpacked  and got to know each other in our tents even better, by this time it was 10:30pm with a 4:45am start the next morning so we all decided to 'try' and get some sleep, but 2 factors affected my tents sleep; one being the tent next to us who were talking or an extra hour! And forgetting to zip the bottom of the tent up properly so we were all quite cold! 

Tipis - Ieuan Evans ©

Birdcamp Selfie from Left-Right: Elliot, Myself, Ben, Max and Eleanor - Ben Moyes 

Day 2
It was a very early start 4:15am start but to brighten the mood was a distant Cuckoo singing away in the distance! There were a lot of tired zombies walking around the camp, but the excitement was starting to kick in, as we arrived at the BTO reserve the Nunnery Lakes, to take part in separate tasks in multiple groups which were; Bird Ringing, Nest Recording, Bird ID and Bird Mapping. I was in Group 2 which was made up of Paddy, Mya Bambrick and Sam-Pitt Miller. We started off with a ringing session (my favourite) I got to extract 2 Willow Warblers and got to see my first Kingfisher in the hand this year! Also saw my first Reed Warbler of the year, as I've not been out to a reedbed this year due to GCSE revision. In the other groups the highlight was a smart Garden Warbler.

The Kingfisher caught

Wingshot of the Kingfisher

Garden Warbler -  Elliot Montieth ©

Our next activity was Bird Mapping, we were led by Su Gough, like many people in my group this was a different way of recording birds in a given area. we took a particular route that Su had mapped around the Nunnery Lakes, we started off straight they way with a singing Willow Warbler and Whitethroat. We later saw Canada Geese with many Goslings some of the geese had BTO colour neck rings on (this doesn't harm the bird) and saw my first Cuckoo, at first Paddy and myself saw what we thought to be a female Kestrel fly away from us on our walk, but when it was flying away a bubbling call was heard from the same direction, this turned out to be the female Cuckoo, but this Cuckoo was very special it's a hepatic bird which is a rare 'morph' of the Eurasian Cuckoo. We finished the walk with seeing 2 pairs of Kingfisher, multiple Reed Warblers, a Treecreeper with nesting material and a very unusual singing Marsh Tit. This was a brilliant way to map out singing birds around your patch.

This was followed by Paul Stancliffe taking a bird ID session around the Lakes, we saw the hepatic Cuckoo again, plus Paul taught us how to separate Sedge from Reed Warbler and Garden Warbler from Blackcap. After watching and listening to the knowledge of Paul, he went to show a site where we could hopefully see Slow Worm, this is reptile I've always wanted to see, well we didn't just see one! We saw 12 Slow Worms varying in size and huge Grass Snake. Already this weekend is getting really awesome and were not even half way through!

2 small Slow-worms

The biggest Slow-Worm

After that session, we went onto Nest Recording with Mike Toms, we were equipped with a cane (for tapping only) and given basic knowledge, he showed us a Linnet nest found be Ben Moyes earlier on today as well as Yellowhammer and Whitethroat both found by Elliot Montieth. When tapping around the gorse bushes, my hay fever started to set in quite bad, then I saw something hopping along the floor, after some watching it turned out to be an Adult Jay! After catching the bird it was apparent it was severely underweight. We took the bird hoping it would later be released after some feeding Also Mike showed us his Red-legged Partridge nest with 12 eggs in! With 10 minutes left we were the only group who hadn't found a nest, then suddenly I saw a Willow Warbler fly from almost under my foot! After half an hour of waiting from a distance, Mike Toms managed to find the Willow Warbler nest located in some dead grass, the nest contained 6 young chicks big enough to ring, so everyone in the group managed to ring one of the chicks!

Yellowhammer nest found by Elliot Montieth

The unwell Jay caught whilst nest finding

Linnet nest found by Ben Moyes

The Willow Warbler nest that I found

We didn't have breakfast till 11am! We were all starving but 10 minutes later LUNCH arrived! Our next stop was one of the places I was most looking forward to about this trip the RSPB's LAKENHEATH FEN, we were given some brief history about Lakenheath we were shown a Crane egg from a predated nest earlier this year. We were split into 2 groups with David Walsh, a good friend of mine on the other team as we set off for an afternoon Bird Race.

Within 5 minutes we had ticked off Cetti's Warbler, Cuckoo, Buzzard, Reed Bunting and Jay. Later along the path we reached a view platform looking over one of the reedbeds, myself and Dannte (London Birder) went in search of a close Cuckoo we could hear, after some fleeting glimpses we managed of the Cuckoo we also ticked off Shoveler, Kingfisher and Sedge Warbler. After the Cuckoo moved on, we realised that another bird landed really close to path after some searching we managed to pin point the Cuckoo and I managed to get some photos in the scope, they weren't brilliant but I thought they weren't going to get any better, boy was I wrong! Within 10 minutes the bird seemed to be in TOUCHING distance through the scope, this is one of those times you dream of getting so close to a particular bird, this time it came true even Dae ja vu! After the bird flew off still can't believed the views we got, it wasn't over! Within a few minutes I was watching Bearded Tits 5 metres away from me, then I got a text from Elliot saying that Bitterns were flying 5m away from them! They weren't wrong as one bird flew straight over our heads! Already getting my best views of Cuckoo, Bearded Tit and Bittern ever it had to end somewhere! With very distant Cranes, 2 adults and a single chick to be seen.

Bitten flying - Elliot Montieth ©

2 Crane and a Marsh Harrier - Elliot Montieth ©
Fly by Cuckoo - Elliot Montieth

My Digiscoped effort of the Cuckoo

Without realising it we were already at the visitor centre again ranking up 58 species across the afternoon we drew with the other team, although we got Treecreeper and Great-Spotted Woodpecker which they didn't they managed to get a Drake Garganey! We headed back to the BTO for a lovely BBQ for a bit of a rest waiting to go out into Thetford Forest, within the hour we were in the heart of the forest listening to the very knowledgeable Greg Conway an expert on Nightjar ringing! The purpose of the evening wasn't just to see a Nightjar but to GPS tag a Nightjar to work out their wintering grounds in the Sub-Saharan Region, after the nets were set and the tape was played (Grey has a licence), we went away to let the Nightjars get near the nets, after waiting we were rewarded with 2 Nightjars flying over our heads and churring away as well! But in the distance Paul Staincliffe managed to pin-point the faint call of a Long-eared Owl! The bird called closer later, this wasn't a bird I was expecting to hear or see on the trip! After being distracted by that, we came back to find Grey Conway had caught a first-summer NIGHTJAR! This was a lifer for me number #285! After watching this bird being processed and many photos taken we watched it fly off into the twilight sky! It was 11:30pm when we got to the campsite to be woken up at around 4:30am the following morning so we all got to bed as quickly as possible to try and get some more sleep.

Day 3

We woke up early again, and headed out towards Landguard Bird Observatory near Felixstowe, with an hour bus journey there was plenty of time to catch a few more winks of sleep before we arrived. One time I woke up to find everyone asleep on the bus! We arrived at Landguard around 6am to be greeted by Andy Clements who was going to spend the morning with us, at first we couldn't see much due to the sea mist covering the Felixstowe Docks as well, we were given brief history to Landguard Bird Obs and with it use be an army base, then we did some Sea-watching which resulted in 7 Dark-bellied Brent geese and 6 Little Terns, both species I didn't expect to see this trip either, then we moved on to the moth traps, there were a lot of moths within the traps my highlights were seeing my first Small-Elephant Hawkmoth and an unseasonal Pearly Underwing which was also a moth lifer for me. After being shown their Heligoland trap, it was time for lunch which included Digestive biscuits and Prawn Cocktail crisps! After talking to the warden Chris Bridges who I've known for a number of years it was time to walk around the Obs to see what we could find, after an hour of searching we managed to find Common Terns, Ringed Plovers, Starlings and hundreds of Linnets feeding in the gorse bushes. After walking around the Obs, David Walsh took us into the Brecks to do some Breckland birding, we arrived 30mins later at Sutton Common hoping to find Dartford Warbler, Woodlark and Tree Pipit. As soon as we stepped out of the mini bus we were already watching a Dartford Warbler with food going to and from its nest, I'd only had previous views of Dartfords at RSPB Arne in Dorset, despite the heat haze we all got brilliant views, after walking around we picked up a Stonechat singing its heart out on top of a pine tree. Just before we got back into our minibus Ben and Paul managed to pinpoint a Woodlark singing away in the skies above us, after getting distant views of this bird, we moved onto a very special site.

Dartford Warbler - Mya Bambrick ©

David Walsh took is to a site where there was a breeding pair of Redstarts, I'd only ever seen a female so to see the male was amazing, due to this being a rare breeding bird I'm not going to publicise the location of the nest mainly due to the fact of I had no idea where we were!

My digiscoped effort of the Male bird

Male Redstart - Mya Bambrick

We then headed off to RSPB Boyton Marsh in search of Turtle Dove which if we saw one would be another lifer for me! After searching for 30 minutes and no look of finding these birds, Max checked Birdguides and saw that about 5 minutes before 2 Drake Garganey had been seen, we ran down there but we didn't have time due to us having pre-booked lunch at a lovely pub, that wasn't the only bad news, 3 people in our group had seen a pair of Turtle Doves fly past them! You can't have everything your way. After having a massive lunch (I had a huge homemade burger and huge chips) we left Mya and Josie as they headed home, we got to the Campsite packed our bags and waited for our parents to pick us up.

Avocet - Elliot Montieth ©

Woodlark - Elliot Montieth

2 Garganey - Elliot Montieth © 

This weekend has been of my greatest experiences of my life, spending time seeing awesome birds whilst making new friends at the same time. I'd like to say thank you to Ieuan, Viola, Paul, Lee, Mike, Greg, Justin, Josie and the Cameron Bespolka Trust in making this weekend so special for everyone! 

Here is a link everyone's Twitter account: 
  • Ben Moyes : https://twitter.com/Ben_Moyes16
  • Sam-Pitt Miller : https://twitter.com/sampittmiller
  • Max Hellicar : https://twitter.com/MaxHellicar1
  • Josie Hewitt : https://twitter.com/josiethebirder
  • Elliot Montieth: https://twitter.com/Elliot_Montieth
  • Luke Nash : https://twitter.com/young_birder89
  • Paddy Lewin : https://twitter.com/P_Lewin26
  • Eleanor Morrison : https://twitter.com/EcoBittern
  • Amy Hall :https://twitter.com/wildlifebloga
  • Zach Haynes : https://twitter.com/nerdboy386
  • Dannte : https://twitter.com/wildinLDN