Category Archives: Nature

BTO Bird Camp 2019

The BTO Bird Camp Is a camp specifically run for young people who love nature and want to take a step further. It’s hosted by the British Trust for Ornithology and supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust meaning it costs £25 for everything. Links to social media pages/ websites are included at the bottom of this blog to everyone that was there. Please do have a look at their links after reading this blog because they are honestly some of the most amazing people I’ve met! Also any questions you have, please contact me however works best for you! Most photos are my own but if they are not then I have credited the photographer in the caption (also made sure I had permission to post their photo)!

Friday 24th May

After a 12 hour long car journey with a few stops and a bit of traffic, I arrived at camp for 4:35pm. My parents and brother dropped me off at site, then left to go down to London where they saw a show and stayed overnight. They must have been glad to get rid of me for 2 nights.

When I first arrived, I hardly knew anyone which was kind of a good thing because it meant I talked to everyone but then a while later, people I knew started to turn up so we swiftly got the tent furthest away from camp hosts; Nick, Faye and Ben because we knew we were going to be a bit loud and we didn’t want to keep them awake. Our tent filled up very quickly. This meant we had the most people (7). 2 people I hadn’t met before called Alex and Wilum were in the tent and the others I knew already includes; Rowan Wakefield , Kabir Kaul, Calum McKellar, Alex Liddle, Sam and me. We only had the chance to unpack our stuff because we had to go and eat dinner. This was a great chance to speak with people and the pizza was pretty good.

The tents
The tents

We ate our food rapidly before heading off inside the BTO HQ for a bit of an introduction session. This involved a talk from Nick Moran about general stuff and plans for the next few days. Faye Vogely also did a talk and led a ‘careers in conservation’ workshop to help us decide and plan for the future when we get jobs. This was really helpful as she gave us a taste into the real world with her fantastic presentation about her job experiences. We were also introduced to Ben Porter who is very keen to get us involved and also an amazing photographer.

After all this, we went back into our tents. We somehow managed to speak all night and morning about random stuff. Our whole tent either had no sleep at all or very little. Personally I don’t think this is a bad thing as the camp only runs once a year and it just shows how well we all got on! Although we were like the walking dead the next day and fell asleep every time we stopped moving, it was well worth it.

Saturday 25th May

A few of us went out early at 4am the following day for a look around the grounds and see as many species as we could before we left for Lakenheath. We got a good breakfast before we left which was useful to boost us for the day ahead, especially since some of us didn’t sleep. Before we left, we checked the moth trap. We had a few like white point and small elephant hawkmoth which we got some decent photos of.

White-point (Mythimna albipuncta)
White-point (Mythimna albipuncta)
Small Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila porcellus)
Small Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila porcellus)

We then split ourselves into the two mini buses which were driven by Faye and Nick. We were also joined by David Walsh, Chris Mills and a few others who helped guide us around Lakenheath and help with anything. It was brilliant! When we arrived we were split into 3 groups and went around with our guides to see what we could. My group’s guides were Faye and David. Some of the bird highlights included: Bittern, Hobby and Marsh Harrier. We saw a range of other species like Scarce Chaser dragonfly. Just as well David was there as he is very enthusiastic about Dragonflies and Butterflies as well as making sure everyone was involved. We also had Faye helping our group. She was very good at speaking to people and making sure we all stayed safe.

Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) Photo Credit: Wilum Johnston
Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) Photo Credit: Wilum Johnston
Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva)
Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)
Bittern (Botaurus stellaris)
Bittern (Botaurus stellaris)

After our adventure around Lakenheath, we ate lunch and heard a talk by warden Dave Rogers who explained so much about the reserve. He is so passionate!

Afterwards we headed nearby to see some stone curlews and have a walk in some woods with a few open spaces within (I don’t know where because I’m not familiar with the area). This was us all in hope of seeing Firecrest, woodlark, tree pipit and some butterfly species! During this time, we were all together as a big group again which was nice because I could go about with different people than those from Lakenheath! We saw pretty much all target species. We heard Firecrest and caught a few quick glimpses of it. Some people even saw a Crossbill fly over! We also got decent Red Kite views.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
Red Kite (Milvus milvus)

After our walk, we went back to HQ and got our dinner which was kindly made by Nick’s wife and their daughter. It was really good chilli and filled me up, preparing me mentally for seeing NIGHTJARS in the evening! Greg Conway came and talked to us about them before we went out with him and some others to see them up close! They ring the birds as part of a very valuable project that has been running for a while. At first we saw the cuckoos fly over the net but we didn’t catch them. Within no time we were amazed to catch two birds (a male and a female). This meant we could go back early and get some sleep.

Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus)
Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus)
Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)
Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

Sunday 26th May

The next day came on us very quick because we actually got sleep this time. This day involved a Bird ringing demo, Nest finding and Territory mapping. There were 3 groups of about 8 in each. I was in a group with around 8 people. During our bus journey we saw stone curlew, red legged partridge and hares! We started off at the bird ringing demo where we got Reed Warbler, Blue Tit, Blackbird, Chiffchaff and Wren. We stayed at this station for a while because the other group got distracted with a Golden Plover. This gave us extra time to finish all the good breakfast. When they arrived back we moved onto territory mapping lead by Nick. Some highlights included Garden Warbler, Cuckoo and Green Woodpecker. Our final activity was nest recording with Lee Barber. We found plenty of pigeon nests without eggs and one Dunnock nest which appears to have been predated. As well as the activities we fitted in some birding (pics below)

Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) Photo Credit: Wilum Johnston
Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) Photo Credit: Wilum Johnston
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) nest
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) nest
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

We the headed back to camp (seeing stone curlew again on the way) for the last time and summed up. We spent a while packing up, looking at the moth trap and lots of time sharing our ideas with the BTO on how we can help encourage more young people to get involved. Then finally we all got together with our family and sat in a room with a projector where we showed everyone some of the highlights from the camp!

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Stone Curlew (Burhinidae) Photo Credit: Jack Jones

Summing Up!

I have been to a few camps so far and it’s honestly so good! We saw a great amount of species over the time and met some amazing people. Everyone got on so well with one another which makes it even better. Something I admit I thought and first when I went to the camp back in 2017 was that there would be some weird people there who only cared about birds and wouldn’t shut up about them but that is far from what it is actually like. People were so chill and funny which was probably my favourite part of the camp.

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The Squad (Photo Credit: Ben Porter)

Rest of holiday!

Since my blog is so long I think I’ll do a separate blog about other stuff I did after camp. So keep an eye out for that!

Links related to camp:

British Trust for Ornithology – @_BTO https://bto.org

Cameron Bespolka Trust – @Cameron_B_Trust https://cameronbespolka.com

Volunteers

Nick Moran – @sconebirding

Faye Vogely – @FayeVogely

Ben Porter – @bardseyben

David Walsh – @DavidWalsh22

Chris Mills – @Norfolkbirding

Dave Rogers – @DaveRLakenheath

Greg Conway – @conway_greg

Justin Walker – @arcanelove

Dawn Balmer – @DEBALMER

Lee Barber – @lee00barber

Joe Myers – @joemyers2k

Karen Hunt – @HullabooHunt

People! (Most are twitter links)

Alex Liddle – @Alexbirder1

Alice Mortimer – @Adhelade_Nature

Ben Rumsby – @BRNature1

Calum Mckellar – @mckellar_calum

Jack Jones – @theriversidenaturalist

Josh Hill – @JoshHil34960913

Kabir Kaul – @Kaulofthewilduk

Luke Stoppard – @LukeStoppard

Sam Newcombe – @SamN92637877

Simon Ball – @SimonBallYVCP

Wilum Johnston – @JohnstonWilum

Linn Park LNR: A Conservation Journey  

I love the outdoors and I have a particular passion for conservation volunteering in my local community.  In autumn 2017, aged 13, I started a fundraising initiative (the 100 nest-box challenge) building and selling boxes for £10 to raise funds for wildlife charities; little did I know at the time, but that project would be the start of a local conservation initiative that has become a huge and rewarding part of my life.

I’d like to share my story with you, in the hope that it will inspire and give confidence to others (especially young people) to get involved in their local communities with conservation/rewilding projects. This blog is a little longer than my usual ones, but I think it makes an interesting story. I hope you’ll agree.

For those of you who have followed my work through my blogs, simply scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the exciting developments that have taken place in 2019!!

The beginning (October 2017 – February 2018)

As part of my nest-box challenge I decided to donate 6 boxes to my local park (Linn Park Local Nature Reserve) to encourage wildlife in the park. I’d noticed that the majority of the old boxes had rotted and were falling off the trees.

I met with the newly reformed ‘Friends of Linn Park’ (FoLP) (volunteer group) and the Countryside Ranger for the park (and many others in the local area) to discuss the idea. It was suggested that I could stage an event in the park to promote my 100 nest-box challenge. At the event I would sell boxes to he public in the normal way, but would also give people the opportunity to ‘sponsor’ a box in the park for a donation and a sponsorship certificate.

In February 2018 we held our event to coincide with National Nest-box Week and it was a roaring success! I sold my 100th box at the event and secured sponsorship for more boxes to be put up in the park later in the year. I was overwhelmed with the level of interest at the event and was now heading home with a list of ‘orders’ for new boxes that needed to be built. The problem was, there was no way I could get these done for the 2018 nesting season. So, I told the people who ordered a box that I would make them later in the year in time for the 2019 nesting season. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this was the start of something that was going to grow and grow ……………….. and grow!

A few weeks later, with the assistance of the Countryside Ranger we put up the 13 boxes for the park.

Me up ladder
Me up ladder (photo credit: George Wilson)

April 2018 – June 2018

By this time, I’d become an active member of FoLP and was involved in a number of conservation-related activities in the park, including tree-planting, wildflower planting and path-restoration.

I’d also taken the lead on monitoring our 13 nest-boxes for use throughout the nesting season. I designed a monitoring schedule and with the help of my dad monitored the use of the nest-boxes in the park in accordance with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Nest Record Scheme.

For 3 months (April – June) we visited our boxes twice per week to monitor nest development, egg laying and hatching/fledging.  It was hard but rewarding work! We became a regular sight in the park with our bright yellow FoLP bibs and we made a point of speaking to park users, especially children, to explain what we were doing.  Pictures we had taken on our phones of the eggs & chicks were a particular source of interest. Families started to take an active interest in the boxes, watching the birds flitting back and forward with food for their young.

By the end of the nesting season 10 out of our 13 boxes had been used with 47 chicks successfully fledging.  Equally as important, park users were now taking an active interest in what was going on.

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Blue Tit eggs

I kept a spreadsheet of all nest information and submitted the data to the BTO scheme at the end of the year.

October 2018

Excited by the success of our first park nest-box event we staged a second public event to secure sponsorship for additional boxes in the park. I’d been working hard over the summer months to meet my order backlog and to make extra boxes to bring along on the day.

Again, the public event was a huge success. We secured sponsorship for a further 23 boxes with funds going to support the conservation work of FoLP. The additional boxes were put up with the assistance of the Glasgow City Council Countryside Ranger Service bringing the total in the park to 40.  This time we took email contact details for all box sponsors and promised to send them email updates of activity in their box during the 2019 breeding season.

November 2018 – February 2019

Motivated by the growing public interest in our nest-box work in the park we applied for and were awarded a grant (£700) from the RSPB to run a community engagement programme in the park targeted at building and erecting a further 20 bird-boxes and 20 bat-boxes.

Part of this grant involved running a public park event (in February 2019) as well as working with a local primary school where children would build a box.

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Building a box!

During the nesting year, updates on nesting activity in the boxes will be sent to the children who will be able to identify their specific box by its unique number. Details will also be posted on the Friends of Linn Park (Love Linn Park) Facebook page.

The public and school box-building events were a huge success with approximately 60 children involved.  By the middle of February, a further 20 nest boxes and 20 bat boxes had been made. As well as great tit/blue tit boxes we had increased the range to target other bird species in the park including treecreeper, spotted flycatcher, robin, dipper, grey wagtail, goosander, tawny owl and nuthatch. The nest-boxes were put up in the park at the end of February, bringing the total to 60.  Bat boxes will be put up in spring 2019.

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A small selection of boxes

March 2019 – Onwards

With 60 boxes in the park this year, monitoring was going to be a huge task. To help with that process I’ve created a google-based map which shows the locations of each box in the park.  As the location of some boxes is sensitive, I’ve created a ‘public version’ which shows some of the box locations This will give an idea of how the technology can be used. The map can be viewed at: https://drive.google.com/open?id=12MVhxbs7V0_qNY8vwigzCXa4ZD_hz9bZ&usp=sharing

Linn Park: Nest-box Locations

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Main box locations (all view-able from main pathways)

I have just recruited and trained a team of nest-box monitoring volunteers (including 2 families) who will support me with this year’s monitoring programme. In addition to nest-box sites we will also be tracking natural nest locations and recording this information; although these will not be made public.

I’m also in the process of uploading all the locations onto the BTO DemON system so that we can upload all our monitoring data over the year onto the national database.

The Future?

I don’t know what the future will hold for my work in Linn Park and the surrounding areas. My hope is that with the support of the wonderful Friends of Linn Park and Glasgow City Council Ranger Service we can continue to involve the public in working together to protect and enhance the wonderful nature on our doorstep.

To others my age who are thinking about doing conservation work, but haven’t yet taken that step, all I would say is ‘go for it’! 18 months ago, I was a 13yr old kid with a crazy idea to build and sell 100 nest-boxes. I now feel part of something very special that is a huge and rewarding part of my life.

I’d like to say a very special thank you to all who have supported, encouraged and believed in me over the years.

Ivory Gull Release, Stevenson Point, Ayrshire, 11.02.2019

On the 23rd January 2019, an Ivory Gull was found exhausted and underweight In a Stranraer garden due to a long journey from the arctic where it feeds on carcasses like Polar Bears. At only 368g this bird was not looking very good (Minimum weight for a female is 448g and for a male, it is 500g meaning this is most likely a female) . It was covered in feather lice but with no obvious injuries. The SSPCA were called to pick it up but were unable to identify the bird so they took it to Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue Centre who instantly knew what bird it was as they had one in 2007. Unfortunately the 2007 bird died as a result to gape worms. Since they had experienced a previous death, they were not going to take any chances so they gave this bird Antibiotics as well as a Wormer.

During its time at Hessilhead, it made a recovery. It was moved into an aviary on the 1st of February, taking regular baths. By the 6th of February it was flying really well and therefor ready to be released at a suitable location. This location was confirmed on the 8th of February. The date they decided to release it on was Monday 11th February at  Stevenson Point, Ayrshire!

I was off school that day so thanks to Andrew Russell and his dad for giving me a lift to the release location! less than 100 people gathered to witness the release! Andrew and I also met with Elliot Montieth who is a well known birder from Cheshire.

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Left: Elliot Montieth, Centre: Michael Sinclair, Right: Andrew Russell (Photo Credit: Zul Bhatia)

We arrived pretty early and waited more than an hour before Hessilhead brought the gull and released it. Just before the release, volunteers from Hessilhead went and got donations from people, Then a speech was made by Hayley Douglas who had ringed the bird with a metal and a colour ring the day before. Andy and Gay (owners of Hessilhead) were also present. We all arranged our selves a good distance from the bird so we would not stress it.

 

Andy gave a quick speech and told us that the gull was now 600g in weight! He was the lucky one to open the box and let the bird go! When it first flew out, it landed on the grass for less than 20 seconds. It then flew to land with some other gull but was quickly chased off, It then flew around in the sky for a while before heading further down the beach to rest. It stayed for a total of about 20-25 minutes until it flew North.

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Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea)
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Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea)
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Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea)
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Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea)

It has not been seen since but hopefully gets reported at some point in the future.

We had a brilliant day and met a few familiar faces. Thanks again to Andrew and his dad for driving me about all day. Earlier on in the day we had 10 Scaup at Auchenharvie Golf Course as well as some other common birds. Finally to round off the day we stopped to see the gull roost at Strathclyde Loch. We saw Keith Hoey and Scott Black (some very good birders) and managed to photograph an Iceland Gull that they had spotted.

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Scaup (Aythya marila)
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European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)
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Coot (Fulica)
Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)
Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)

Hope this was an interesting read, Mike!

Some Social Media/ Website Links (related to this blog):

Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue Centre: http://www.hessilhead.org.uk/

Andrew Russel: @AndyRussOrnitho

Elliot Montieth: @ElliotsPetrel

Zul Bhatia: @ZulBhatia

Photography Writing Piece (ROL Cruise)

Unfortunately I have not had the time to write a blog recently as I’ve been very busy. I just thought I would quickly mention a writing piece that I wrote for ROL Cruise. See them here: https://www.rolcruise.co.uk/

You can see my writing piece and others on this page here: https://www.rolcruise.co.uk/blog/top-wildlife-photography-tips-for-beginners

The page has loads of great photographers telling people some top tips for wildlife photography beginners!

(I will be posting frequently again once I’m finished making wildlife boxes and other work!)