All posts by Michael Sinclair

My name is Michael Sinclair and I’m a young amateur photographer from Scotland with a passion for wildlife and conservation.

BTO Bird Camp 2018

Blog #23

I was again lucky enough to be accepted into the BTO bird camp which is a camp held at the BTO headquarters in Thetford and funded/sponsored by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. The camp started on Friday evening and finished on Sunday late afternoon. The camp is aimed at giving young people more of a chance to connect with nature and to give people the opportunity to speak to others with the same interests!

Who are the (BTO) and the Cameron Bespolka Trust?

BTO stands for the British Trust for Ornithology. The organisation collects a wide range of scientific data and other information to help manage and protect our wildlife, mainly birds, now and in the future. They hold lots of information on different aspects of birds including data on species which are declining and those that are doing well.  Information provided by surveys such as the nest record scheme are really important in helping the BTO target support for species in decline.

The Cameron Bespolka Trust is a trust set up by the family of Cameron Bespolka who tragically had a skiing accident and died at the age of only 16.  The trust was set up in his name and now helps young people get more involved with nature.

The Camp ran for the first time in 2016 and because of its success it was run again in 2017 and again this year (2018)  

Friday Morning (Day 1):

I left the house at 3:45am with my parents, brother and grandma. The journey to the BTO headquarters would take around 6 hours but we left early so that we could meet my grandma’s friend and then leave her house in time to avoid the worst of the traffic which was gathering fast! This was because it was the half term holiday in England for a week. In Scotland we only had the Friday, Monday and Tuesday off which meant that I could go to camp and be back in time for school on Wednesday. After we left my Grandmas friend’s house we spent a further hour driving to a hotel in which the rest of my family stayed for one day. I waited for about an hour and a half there and got something to eat before heading to camp which was 2 minutes from the hotel!

Arrival:

When I arrived I immediately recognised most people from Twitter or previous introductions from last year’s camp. I introduced myself to anyone I hadn’t met before and everyone was really friendly and nice which made the camp even better! We were able to choose our tents before they served up dinner. In my tent were Louis, Kabir, Ethan Sam and myself. Then after I had left my things in the tent it was time for dinner.

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Our Tent (left)

Soon after we headed inside to listen to some talks from volunteers to speak about the Cameron Bespolka Trust and staff from the BTO. Faye (one of the BTO staff members) gave us a talk explaining how you can get into work really easily no matter how much experience you had with British wildlife which made us all feel more confident and give us an idea of what we wanted to do in the future. She then arranged loads of activities for us to take part in including Identification quiz, career choices/ideas for the future. Overall the late afternoon and evening was really interesting but unfortunately it was getting late so it was time for bed in our sleeping bags which were located in out tents. The toilets were across the grass in the other direction of our tents which was tricky locating in the dark but easy with torches which we had brought. We all settled into bed before 11pm but my tent was full of laughter and jokes which meant I couldn’t get much sleep that night but it didn’t matter anyway because I had slept in the car on the way down.

Saturday (Day 2):We awakened very early in the morning to see what was in the moth trap which was set up on the roof of the BTO HQ the previous night. Unfortunately not many people were awake at this point so we couldn’t check it for a few hours until everyone was awake and got the opportunity to see the moths but the few of us that were awake just explored the grounds and talked until the rest had woken up. A few hours later everyone was up and we explored the moth trap! Nick, Ben and a Toby told us what species of moth were in the trap as they were most experienced in moth trapping. Obviously we all got the chance to say what we thought the moths were and as there were a few other moth enthusiasts in the group who knew quite a bit too. I loved this as it was not just aimed at birds but included other wildlife too! This made the camp especially fun! I’m definitely getting a moth trap now!

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Poplar Hawkmoth (Laothoe populi) (photo credit: Mya Bambrick)

Now that we had seen the moths we got breakfast and then it was time to go to Lakenheath fen nature reserve (RSPB) but we were joined by a few extra volunteers including David Walsh, Chris Mills and We arrived and we got a talk about ringing birds etc. in the reserve and then we split up into three groups to explore the reserve. My group went to the right path with Nick and we saw various birds like Mallard, Gadwall, Cormorant, Bittern, Garganey, Reed Warbler, Whitethroat, blue tit, great tit, cuckoo and a possible spotted flycatcher.

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Reed Warbler (Acrocephlalus scirpaceus)

Along the walk, Reuben spotted an Orange Conch moth which was a scarce species.

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My really blurry attempt of theOrange Conch (Commophila aeneana)

We then got caught up in some rain which stayed with us for quite a while but we were able to shelter in the viewpoints. From here, Bearded tits were heard, hobbies flew over and then the rain stopped!

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Hobby (Falco Subbuteo)

We then headed down the path and saw various caterpillars such as Drinker Moth and we joined up with the other two groups to see dragonflies, spiders and insects.

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Burnet Moth Caterpillar

David Walsh helped ID the dragonflies, Luke Thomas Anderson helped ID the spiders and we all attempted at identifying the insects. We saw loads of species throughout the day! (Not just birds)

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Fence Post Jumping Spider (Marpissa muscosa)

Finally we listened to a talk by the manager (Dave Rogers) who talked about managing the reserve. After we ate our lunch which we had packed earlier in the morning we explored the pond by the visitor centre we found dragonflies emerging fresh! It was really cool as David explained they emerge after a certain amount of time in a certain amount of head. We all came to a conclusion that they were four spot chasers as we could see spots on the wing and the habitat was right.

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Newly Emerged Four Spot Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)

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Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva)

Lakenheath was fantastic but it was now time to leave and go to a forest area where we walked in a 6 shape around managing to see lots of butterflies including green hairstreak, dingy skipper, Small Heath and various birds like Skylark, Yellowhammer and Tree pipit.

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Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

It was now time to see Nightjars! Everyone was extremely excited about these special birds as they are active at night and many haven’t seen them. The track to the site was bumpy but that did not stop us seeing fallow deer including one white individual but as soon as we got out the vans we saw tree pipits on logs. These tree pipits were expected to have a nest nearby. Louis Driver and I got to setup the mist nets for catching the birds to ring them. Greg Conway (the ringer) allowed us to follow him but be very careful of any ground nesting birds. At first because it was still too light, Greg put on a tape lure to attract cuckoos but unfortunately none were caught in the mist nets but they were seen very regularly flying over and very nearly flying into the mist nets.

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Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

It was so annoying but then the light had faded enough and the nightjar tape lure was put on. We saw many nightjars flying over and again nearly hitting the nets but then within 10 minutes of seeing the first nightjar one was caught in the mist net!

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Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus)

It was ringed and confirmed as a male as it had big white spots on the tail. Then once that had been ringed another male was caught and I was able to photograph it! During the time a long eared owl was seen by two others and 2 woodcock were seen flying over by all of us.

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Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus)

Now it was time to get some ‘sleep’. I did the same routine as last night by getting my teeth brushed etc. and settling in my sleeping bag late at night but unexpectedly when everyone else in my tent had fallen asleep I felt my head rise up, I was confused and thought an animal had crawled into my pillow case whilst I was away. I checked it through but no animal could be seen so I thought I must have been going crazy and I tried to go to sleep but then Sam’s (to the right of me) Wellies started to rise up then rise down making an absolutely racket. I decided to wake him up and ask if he could move all his stuff away in case he accidentally was moving it during his sleep. He kindly enough moved it and went back to sleep immediately then it happened to his wellies again! I then felt the need to wake him and warn him that a creature had invaded our tent. When I told him he fell into hysterical laughter thinking I was mad. I explained to him that each time I shone the torch the animal stopped. This meant we had to turn off our lights and wait for the animal to strike again. No sooner did it happen again to his wellies making loads of noise and movements. Sam and I then stated laughing and realised the animal was under the floor covering in our tent so we came up with a plan which involved one of us to surround it to stop it moving whilst the other went outside to lift the tent slightly to free it but even by surrounding it, it still got away. This is when we realised that this was a mole! There was no way of stopping it so we just listened for it and laughed whenever it appeared. After it finished at Sam’s wellies we saw a lump appear in the flooring our tent next to Ethan (right of Sam) out lining the shape of a mole. We tried waking Ethan to tell him that there was a mole, he sat up but then immediately sat down again not being aware of anything! It then moved to Kabir who was across from me and we saw his head suddenly rise then fall, then his back sharply rose then fell and then his feet kept suddenly rising then falling nonstop for about 10 minutes. We were laughing so much that I only managed a few hours’ sleep as it was an early 5am start.

Sunday (Day 3):

We were split into a further 3 groups that morning to do various activities on the nunnery reserve owned by the BTO. We had left early to fit everything in before our parents had to take us home around 4pm. The morning consisted of mapping birds which is where you listen to the birds and write on a map where exactly you heard them so you can determine the various habitats and habitat sizes. This is usually done a few times to get accurate locations for each bird and not get duplicates but it was a great experience to teach us techniques. My group was split up into a further three for this activity which meant we could all have a go at trying to identify the bird songs. We didn’t get much but we did get long tailed tit, coal tit, wren, chiffchaff, greenfinch and Robin. A while later our group joined again to scan the lake for birds. We saw Egyptian Geese, Mallards, Tufted Ducks, Swifts and more. The next activity was going to see bird ringing with Justin Walker and a few of his volunteers where we caught a reed warbler, Great Tit, garden warbler and 2 wrens.

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Reed Warbler(Acrocephalus scirpaceus)

We were allowed to see the birds being extracted from the mist nets from a distance. We didn’t catch many birds but we were full of chat for the whole time about birds and wildlife in general and we all learnt facts and info from each other and the ringers! The final activity was nest recording with Lee Barber who took us along a trail but we were only able to find a tufted duck nest (lee found it) behind a tree but I managed to spot a Canada goose with a neck ring which Lee was responsible for collecting the ring data and importing it to the system. Our time was up and we went back to see if we could see a stone curlew quickly which the other groups had seen whilst we were doing nest recording but we had no luck so nick drove us to another site in which we might be able to see a stone curlew but unfortunately we didn’t.

Not before long we were back at HQ and we packed our bags for the tents to be taken away and we had lunch and explored the moth trap where we caught species such as popular hawk moth, Buff Ermine, Buff-tip and peppered.

The final activity for the BTO camp 2018 was listening to recordings of birds which nick had caught on a microphone he set up overnight. I worked with Calum and Rowan. We heard Stone Curlew, Jackdaws, little grebe and owls.

Then it was the final talk summarising up the camp to us and the parents. We were asked to send photos for the final PowerPoint. Ellie was definitely a popular subject as moths were on her face in awkward positions.

We all had a great laugh over the time and spoke to everyone as they were very friendly to one another! Really hope I get to go again in 2019 and would like to again say a massive thank you to the BTO, Cameron Bespolka Trust, Volunteers and of course everyone who came along. I would recommend applying next year if you are interested as it is a great opportunity. Thank you all for making the camp such a great time!!!

 I then spent the rest of my holiday around Lackford Lakes nature reserve.

People from camp (twitters I know of)

BTO – @_BTO = bto.org

Cameron Bespolka Trust – @Cameron_B_Trust = cameronbespolka.com

Angus Jennings – @angus77

Callum McKellar – @MckellarCalum

Alice Mortimer- @Adhelade_Nature

James McCulloch – @My_Wild_Life 

Kabir Kaul – @Kaulofthewilduk

Louis Driver – @BirderLouis

Luke Thomas Anderson – Luke19anderson

Megan – @stonechat_42

Molly Carter – @molly02carter

Mya Bambrick – @MyaBambrick1

Reuben – @RubusCaesius3

Tommy Saunders – @TommySaunders19

 

Ben Moyes – @Ben_Moyes16 

Chris Mills – @Norfolkbirding

Dave Rogers – @DaveRLakenheath

David Walsh – @DavidWalsh

Faye Vogely – @FayeVogely

Greg Conway – @arcanelove

Justin Walker – @arcanelove

Lee Barber – @Lee00Barber

Nick Moran – @sconebirding

Teresa Frost – @ZarFrost

Toby Carter – @TobyWarbler

 

 

Frog Blog

Frog Blog – Blog #22

The other day was really sunny and the temperature was high so late that night at 10:30 the frogs in my garden went absolutely crazy! There were 12 in my main garden pond of which, two climbed out onto the grass then started gobbling up flies. Then they would do a jumpy dive movement towards slugs and gobble them up too. Meanwhile the 10 frogs that stayed in the pond were just catching unlucky flies that got a bit close to the water.

Fact file: Common Frog 

Common frogs live in freshwater often finding their way into garden ponds and parks with freshwater. They usually hunt at night catching insects, slugs and various other bugs. On a warm day they will stick their heads out of the water or bask in the sun. In winter they might shelter under rocks, in log piles, in a pile of leaves or at the bottom of a pond. 

The frogs made some great photo opportunities! As it was dark I used my phone camera as I felt it was more suitable for close-ups than my telephoto lens. Unfortunately I have a net around the pond as there are 20 cats living in my street and they regularly visit the pond catching the fish and the frogs. The cats just leave them for dead but I have cut lots of gaps in the sides of the net and in the middle for the frogs to get in and out safely. (They have got used to the net over time and don’t mind it) the frogs have become tame and sit on my hand and take food when i give it to them but I usually let them get on with their lives without them relying on me for food as I don’t want them to lose their natural instincts.

 

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Common Frog (Rana temporaria)
Common Frog
Common Frog (Rana temporaria)

 

And now the temperature has dropped and it’s raining ☹

 

Scottish Photography Hides

My dad recently booked a photography hide (www.photographyhides.co.uk) that almost guaranteed seeing Common kingfishers which would catch fish about 3metres away from you and eat them! Kingfishers are birds which mostly fish in rivers for fish like sticklebacks and minnows. Seeing one up close and being able to photograph one would be amazing as they are quite small, very shy and very fast when flying. Any sudden movements scare them very easily.


It was an early 5am start and a 2hour drive to the meeting location. When we arrived we met Shona (
www.shonadicksonphotography.co.uk) who was the only other person booked in the same hide as us. We waited about 10 mins before someone led us to the location in which the Kingfishers were at. We were shown the setup of everything and given tips on how to get good photos of the kingfishers. From then on it was just Shona, my dad and I in the hide waiting for the Kingfishers.


AFTER ABOUT 10MINS OF WAITING THE MALE KINGFISHER CAME AND CAUGHT A FISH (minnow) RIGHT IN FRONT OF US!!! After he caught the fish he landed on the perch and shook it about and then hit the fish of off the perch before swallowing it head first. He would then wait a while before diving to catch another fish which he then flew off with. 

 

Common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

 

 

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kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

About 45 mins later he was back and did the exact same but surprisingly he returned about 5mins later after flying off and did the same thing! Since my dad and I had better camera lens’ we decided to lend one to Shona who put it on her camera allowing her to get some GREAT SHOTS! We all came to an agreement that we think the male is eating a fish for himself then catching one and taking it for the female which is on eggs! 

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kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

We then waited 2 1/2 hours with no Kingfishers perching which was annoying but then the owner (Alan) came in and asked how we were all doing. We told him what the male Kingfisher had been doing and he agreed that the female was on eggs and the Male was taking fish for her. Alan said he thought that the original nest the Kingfishers were using had either been predated by a mink or something but maybe even flooded! He said we could go and see the sparrow hawk hide if we wanted as there is only one other person there. Sparrowhawks are birds of prey which often catch small birds and eat them on a ‘plucking perch’ (this is a chosen spot in which the Sparrowhawk will eat its prey and pluck off the feathers/ hair) They often visit gardens catching a vulnerable pigeon!

After 30 mins more of the Kingfisher hide we went to the Sparrowhawk hide and met another man who told us what he had seen. This includes Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk and various common garden birds. (Unfortunately Shona had to leave and couldn’t join us)


We were very lucky and saw exactly what the man said which included Jays, Red Squirrels, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk and loads of common garden birds all in the first HOUR! We then decided to have one last look at the Kingfisher hide. We saw him three more times but unfortunately he caught nothing!

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
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Sparrowhawk(Accipiter nisus)
Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
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Siskin (Spinus spinus)
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Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
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Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
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Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)
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Bird: Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) Fungi: Birch Polypore (Piptoporus betulinus)

Over the time we spent in the hides we were all constantly changing camera settings to enable us to get shots of the kingfisher diving, the Sparrowhawk eating a mouse and Red Squirrels eating nuts. As the layout of the hides were designed to get photos of the Kingfishers diving, the Sparrowhawk and other species we were very successful and we were all happy with our photos but some of the photos I managed to get are quite grainy because it was a very cloudy and rainy day. Hopefully I get the chance to go again but in much better light and weather conditions!

Loch of the Lowes

Blog #20

Yesterday I went to Loch of the Lowes which is a Scottish Wildlife Trust  (SWT) reserve  to see a pair of Ospreys which have nested for 4 seasons. I didn’t just see Ospreys on their nest but was lucky enough to see lots of other wildlife around the reserve including blue tit, coal tit, great tit, treecreeper, chaffinch, yellowhammer, great spotted woodpecker, red squirrel, robin, mallard, pheasant, goldeneye, tufted duck, great crested grebe, mute swan and many other species of plant, tree, birds etc!

 

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Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

 

I arrived around 11:30am when I stepped out of the car I saw the very short path to the visitor centre which then led to another very short path where to Osprey hides were. I think this is a great place to see the Ospreys and other wildlife as it takes no more than 1 minute to get to the hide from the visitor centre!!! The centre also has a live osprey camera with a bird feeding station.

Once I’d left the visitor centre and walked into the hide I immediately saw the female osprey on the nest! Within 10 minutes the male arrived and they started mating. The SWT think there will be eggs within a week. Definitely worth a visit!

 

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Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus)

 

I then went to the other hide as the current hide was getting very busy. The other hide was about a 30 second walk away and was ideal for counting water birds like ducks and swans etc. Then unexpectedly the male Osprey flew right in front of the hide and I managed to get a quick shot through the hide window!

 

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Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

 

As it was a family day out we decided to have one last look in the visitor centre before heading off and leaving the Ospreys to do their business whilst we went to Loch Faskally.

The car park we parked in was looking on to a small loch called Loch Dunmore where we saw a couple of little grebes, a few tufted ducks and two mute swans which had a nest. After we scanned the loch for species we headed off onto the other path around Loch Faskally.

The walk near Loch Faskally took around 3 hours but well worth it as we saw some great tits, coal tits, blue tits, robins and other common corvid species in the woodland area but most interesting was probably the fungi species like hoof fungi and LOADS of Scarlet Elf Cup fungi in the one area on mossy logs! I recon there were about 35 separate cups of Fungi spread out in a small patch which is the most I have ever seen!

(click photos for a larger view)

After 3 long hours walking near the loch we eventually got back to the car and went for a meal before arriving back home to Glasgow at 9:30pm.

 

Why is dust free bird seed the best?

Blog #19

Today, lots of bird seed bought in shops/online is in good condition for birds and other wildlife; however some seed on sale is not dust free. The dust is just lots of tiny broken bits of debris which accumulate and lay on the seed giving a powdery appearance – this has been proven to damage birds’ respiratory systems. The dust is really damaging and difficult to remove so this causes long term effects. Continue reading Why is dust free bird seed the best?