BTO Birdcamp 2018
From Friday 25th to Sunday 27th May, I was at BTO Birdcamp down in Thetford. It was extremely enjoyable but also very tiring as well! It was really good to meet people with similar interests and knowledge to me.
On the Friday night, we arrived at 7pm for dinner. There were lots of muntjac deer around the Nunnery and they were a new mammal species for me. We did two activities before going to bed. One of these included a task where we had to sort different species of birds into two categories, one where the sexes could be distinguished and one where they couldn’t. The second activity was about careers. We had to think about careers we would like to do and then think about the steps we would have to take to get to those targets. We slept in tepees in groups of 5 and were woken in the night by noisy muntjacs!
No one got much sleep and most people were up at half four in the morning! There had been a moth trap set up over night and after breakfast we checked them. We caught some amazing species including polar hawk moth, lots of heart and darts, an oak hooktip, white ermine, buff ermine and quite a few buff-tips, which look exactly like a silver birch twig.
We went to the nearby RSPB Lakenheath Fen Reserve. We had a talk from someone who rings there, about the CES (Constant Effort Site) ringing he does on the sight. We headed onto the reserve and right near the visitor centre we had brilliant views of cuckoos chasing around. Soon after this, we saw a kingfisher and it perched on the reeds for long enough for me to film it. On the viewpoint over the river, we saw some common terns and distant views of a hobby. We saw reed buntings, reed warblers and sedge warblers in the reed bed. It was really good to see a bittern flying over. We saw another bittern a few minutes later and also distant marsh harrier and hobby. We saw a female cuckoo perched in a tree as it had brown on the throat and also a laugh-like call. We had better views of a hobby soon after, and it was catching dragonflies in the air and then eating them in flight. It was the best view I have had of this species. In the same part of the reserve, we saw a pair of marsh harriers, and some amazing dragonflies, including a four-spotted chaser and a scarce chaser. We also saw some freshly emerged four-spotteds in a pond near the visitor centre.
Next, we went birding in Thetford Forest. We saw some good species of bird and also lots of butterflies including green hairstreak, brown argus and also a dingy skipper which did look a bit like a moth! There were several yellowhammers and we had good views of some males that perched in the pines. There was a tree pipit high up in the pines, which is a species that I have seen close to home at Padley Gorge. We heard firecrests in the pine but unfortunately didn’t see them. This was a new British bird for me.
After dinner, we met up with nightjar expert and ringer Greg and he talked to us about the work with nightjars he does on the Brecks. The birds are fitted with a ring and a geolocator which can tell the birds’ exact location. This helps the BTO to understand their migration route. We headed out to see if we could see and catch some on the heath. Before dark, we saw more tree pipits, and also had good views of cuckoos flying around; they flew so close to the nets set up to catch the nightjars. We also had a pair of roding woodcock flying over. Eventually, some nightjars did turn up and there were at least 4 flying around. They have such an unusual flight and almost look like a hawk. Their call is a weird churring sound and it was incredible to hear. We could instantly tell that some were males as they had bright white spots on the wing. We caught 2, both males. They were amazing to see close up and you could really appreciate their distinctive camouflaged plumage. They have whiskers right next to their beaks. Scientists do not know what their function is but it is probably to help the nightjars to find moths and flies in darkness. These birds hadn’t got a geolocator on but Greg had run out so they could only be fitted with a ring. C rings are needed on nightjars which is the same size fitted to a blackbird. The nightjar was a new species for me so I was really pleased that we caught some.
We were up at 6 in the morning to do a range of activities at Nunnery Lakes which is the BTO’s only reserve. The first activity my group did was a CBC (Common Bird Census) which was a territory mapping exercise. We had a map of the reserve and a list of codes for species. If we heard the species, we put the two letter code where we heard the bird and circled it if it was singing and there was a different symbol for if it was flying or whatever else. The second activity we did was CES ringing. A few birds were caught including wren, reed warbler and garden warbler. The final activity we did was nest recording with Lee Barber (who went ringing with Geoff in The Gambia). The group I was in didn’t find any nests but other groups found yellowhammer and jay.
When we got back, we had lunch and then looked at what the moth trap had caught overnight. They were mainly the same species but we did get a brightly coloured elephant hawk moth. The next thing we did was a Nocmig activity (nocturnal migration) and we listened to what had been flying over at night. Species of birds that had been recorded were stone curlew, redshank and also a little grebe (and of course barking muntjacs!).
Parents came at 3pm and some of the group showed their photos. At 4pm we went home. Everyone was very tired but all of us definitely enjoyed the experience. I will definitely apply again next year and I’ll hopefully see stone curlew and crane.