BTO Birdcamp 2017 – Part 1

Last weekend I was incredibly lucky to be able to attend the BTO Bird Camp that took place between 26th-28th May based at the BTO headquarters at The Nunnery in Thetford. For young birders aged between 12 and 18 it is a superb opportunity for the future of birding and ornithology to meet like-minded individuals of the same age and to see some fantastic wildlife.

This series of blog posts will be split into 3 parts as I have a lot to write about! This first part will give an introduction to the Bird Camp – including information about the BTO and the sponsors of the event the Cameron Bespolka Trust – and the first evening. In the second part I will talk about the birds and the moths and in the final part I will talk about the brilliant range of dragonflies, some scarce, that we saw.

I am very grateful to the BTO – British Trust for Ornithology – for organising this event. This is the second year this event has been running, and reading the trip reports from last year’s camp I couldn’t wait to apply and fortunately my application was successful. Along with this event the BTO run many others to develop skills in bird identification and nest recording among others. I believe that these events are really important to ensure that our birds are better understood.

Many of the events that the BTO run are intended to improve the public’s skills in bird surveying, often with a particular survey or census in mind. The BTO run many nationwide surveys to improve the knowledge of Britain’s bird life. These include the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS). The BTO is an excellent organisation without which our ornithological fauna would be less well understood and the Bird Camp would not have taken place.

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One of my Cuckoo photos from Thursley Common a couple of weekends ago. The BTO run a Cuckoo tagging project in order to find out more about the lives of these birds, which you can read about here: https://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking

As well as the BTO I am very grateful to the Cameron Bespolka Trust for sponsoring the event. Cameron Bespolka was an enthusiastic young birder who was tragically killed in a skiing accident a few years ago, and the trust was set up in memory of him. The trust’s main aim is to inspire young people to enjoy birds and nature. As well as sponsoring this camp, they have done lots of work here and abroad to help young people get interested in the environment around them. You can read more about Cameron, the trust and their aims on their website: http://www.cameronbespolka.com/

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The camp that I had been looking forward to for so long finally came around last Friday. After a 3-and-a-half hour journey to south Norfolk I arrived at just before 6pm shortly after which we had dinner and an introduction to the camp. We also did a little bit of birding around the Nunnery – we recorded a number of common species such as Jay and singing Blackcap. I even had a brief flight view of a Green Woodpecker and an Oystercatcher flew over as well which I wasn’t expecting. Slightly later on we heard a Tawny Owl respond to Louis Driver’s clever wooden owl whistle!

Most of us had an early night to rest before the 4.30 wake-up some of us had! It was clear that there was lots of great birding to come…

 

 

Rutland Water(birds)

On Saturday I was very pleased to be going to Birdfair. Birdfair is the bird enthusiast’s event of the year, taking place at Rutland Water: one of the best birding sites in the Midlands. It was great to meet many new people from the birding community and attend some nice talks and events, however the highlight for me was seeing many amazing birds in the nature reserve.

In the morning, just before lunch, I was able to go to Swarovski tower. The Swarovski tower is where people can go to try out the Swarovski telescopes and it is located in an excellent position overlooking the nature reserve. The telescopes were perfectly positioned; when I looked through the first scope I was amazed to see a pair of Great White Egrets! These are huge white herons which aren’t common in Britain although they have been increasing in numbers. I had only seen 1 before this, read about that one here, so I was very pleased.

The next scope I looked through held another surprise: an Osprey perched on a fence post in the water! Along with the Great White Egret, I had only seen one other Osprey before this one. And my first one was seen flying while travelling along the M23, so these were much better views by comparison! 8 pairs of Ospreys bred at Rutland Water last year, which is a great number considering that they first started breeding here in 2001. Rutland Water is one of the few sites in England where Ospreys breed, with a few pairs breeding in Wales and the main stronghold being in Scotland. You can tell that the Osprey I saw was a male due to the lack of a heavily marked breast band.

I am quite happy with these two photos even though they were taken through the Swarovski telescopes without any digiscoping equipment.

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The pair of Great White Egrets

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The male Osprey. Unfortunately the lack of a breast band can’t be seen in this photo.

Just after lunch I met up with other young birders and naturalists for a walk around the nature reserve, visiting several hides. The first hide we visited was Sandpiper hide. Plover hide overlooks Lagoon 4 which has several scrapes and lots of open water. On the nearest scrape to the hide there were several waders: 2 Lapwings, 2 Common Sandpipers and a single Little Ringed Plover. On the opposite side of the lagoon to the hide was a flock of Great Black-backed Gulls, the largest number I’ve ever seen together. You don’t often see such large aggregations inland at this time of year, however Rutland Water being such a large water body I wasn’t too surprised. Great-black Backed Gulls are one of the more coastal of the large gulls, only really venturing inland during the non-breeding season. The population swells in winter with many tens of thousands of gulls joining the British population. Especially large numbers are found around landfill sites and in roosts at reservoirs.

My favourite hide was Shoveler hide, it was packed with great birds! Living quite far inland, I don’t regularly get the chance to see good numbers of waders. However, at Shoveler hide I had the best views of waders I have had for a very long time! There was a small area of exposed mud right in front of the hide where there were several Greenshanks and Ruffs. Unfortunately the Greenshanks were obscured most of the time by reeds. However the Ruffs moved further away and into the open water where I could watch them clearly. There were also 2 or 3 Black-tailed Godwits feeding, one of the larger wading birds with very long straight bills. About 15 metres away from the hide was the first scrape. There were an impressive number of Green Sandpipers: a group of 5 were sheltering from the wind behind two small metal tanks. Further to the left someone spotted a Wood Sandpiper, one of the species I really wanted to see.

Wood Sandpipers are mainly passage migrants to Britain, meaning that they pass through on migration. A handful of pairs do breed here, however only in the Scottish Highlands. One of the conservation practices taking place to try and boost the breeding population of this bird in Scotland is the re-flooding of previously drained marshes. Wood Sandpipers are very similar to Green Sandpipers although there are several features that can tell them apart. In Green Sandpipers, the brown neck and upper breast ends abruptly and becomes white whereas in the Wood Sandpiper the brown slowly dissipates into the white belly. Also, Wood Sandpipers show many more white spots on the back than Green Sandpiper. The main feature that I use to separate the two species is the eyestripe. The eyestripe in the Wood Sandpiper clearly projects past the eye, however in the Green Sandpiper the white eyestripe is only visible between the bill and the eye.

Below are a few photos I was able to take of the waders at Shoveler hide, again I am quite pleased with them as this time they were only taken through my binoculars!

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A trio of Ruff feeding.

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Wood Sandpiper. In this photo the eyestripe behind the eye is obvious.

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Black-tailed Godwit

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A single Ruff

Once we had made sure there weren’t any real rarities hiding among the waders near to the hide, we switched our attention to the birds beyond the first scrape. There was a plethora of wildfowl: Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Canada Geese, Greylag Geese and even a pair of Egyptian Geese sat on a metal tank. Amazingly, one of the other young birders managed to spot a distant Marsh Harrier floating above the reeds on the other side of the lagoon before dropping down. It was chocolaty-brown with a cream-coloured cap, meaning that it was a female or a juvenile. Rutland Water has a breeding population of these beautiful birds and some birds also pass through in autumn. It was hard to tell whether this bird was a Rutland Water breeder or a passage migrant because at this stage many different bird species have begun their southward migration although some are still raising their second brood.

Also well-spotted was a group of 4 Red-crested Pochards far out into the lagoon which quickly moved out of sight behind the reeds. Unlike the Marsh Harrier, we couldn’t sex the birds as males resemble females very closely at this time of year as they are moulting. This plumage is called eclipse plumage and can cause identification problems for many birders as males usually look completely different to what they look like for most of the year. These Red-crested Pochards were a new species for me, although I can’t wait to see more again as I would really like to see the males in breeding plumage.

That sums up my account of the young birders walk at BirdFair 2016, I can’t wait for next BirdFair!

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Some of the Young Birders. From left to right – Sophie, Me, Noah, Toby, Eleanor, Ben, Zach, Fin, Ellis, Luke, Harry, Frank, Sam and Jacob.