It has been another hugely successful year for the BTO Bird Camps. The Cameron Bespolka Trust helps fund these amazing events which run in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The camps expose the young birders to the world of the bird conservation and allow them to learn some of the skills that form part of the conservation professional’s toolkit.
One of the most important aspects of the camps are the local experts who come along to share their expertise with the young birders. In Wales, Bob and Annie rejoined us to teach about moths and help count seabirds. In England, we were joined by Tom who helped us find Turtle Doves and a myriad of owls. In Northern Ireland, Stephen and Claire shared their knowledge of nesting birds and wetland birds. In Scotland Katty Baird introduced the campers to moths and moth traps
Bird ringing is an important skill for the budding birder; all camps included a ringing demonstration to allow campers to get truly up close and personal with birds. Licensed ringers are always on hand to add context and a wealth of information.
Art is a great way for young people to express their love of nature. At every camp an effort is made to introduce this creative outlet to the campers.
The benefits of nature on mental health are well documented and each camp had guided meditations and mindfulness sessions to learn how nature and help us look after our mental health.
Stackpole: 16–18 June
Activities included a visit to the Greater Horseshoe Bat roost with local expert Paul, moth traps with Bob and Annie, and drawing sessions with Alicia.
The highlight for many was the visit to Skomer Island. Participants took a two-hour cruise around the island seeing thousands of seabirds including Puffins, Guillemots and Kittiwakes. On the way back the campers stopped for rockpooling at Marloes beach and a mindfulness session back at the accommodation.
Extensive citizen science projects were covered, including a territory mapping session, a Pollinator Monitoring Scheme session, songbird ID workshops, and a Garden BirdWatch trial. Lastly, Alicia supported the young people in creating an art exhibition displaying what they learned on the weekend. This was then presented to the families at the end of camp, which is an approach we replicated across all camps.
"Camp changed my life and as a result I would love to get into conservation."
Flatford Mill: 30 June–2 July
This was a new location for 2023. The campers were joined by Adam, part of the BTO Youth Advisory Panel and Tom, a local young birder. Both were participants at the England camp last year and have now progressed to leader roles. Tom's activity of finding owls was considered the highlight of camp for many, followed by a boat trip to the coastal seal colony, expertly guided by BTO Youth Advisory Panel member Matt.
Campers also got to see the brilliant RSPB wildlife garden, which was used as a setting to try out BTO's Garden BirdWatch. The group was brilliant, with new friendships made very quickly.
"It was amazing and the birds we found were only possible to view down to the expertise of the guides staff and volunteers"
Gortin Activity Centre: 21–23 July
This was a new location for 2023. Despite having a more novice group in NI, the campers were filled with enthusiasm, bolstered by a brilliant ringing demo. The birthday of one of the campers was celebrated with great enthusiasm. Local artist Stéphanie led the birders through an entertaining class, working on large art pieces.
Other highlights included a visit to the OM Dark Skies observatory, an archery session, campfire games, and a bioblitz in Davagh forest. This was a great first camp at this location, and it is clear that the NI staff team is growing, so they can continue to support the young people who have started their birding journey.
"I loved my time here! And I have made friends! I think it was very helpful! And I loved the bird ringing also, I loved everything!"
East Lothian: 26 – 28 May
Buoyed by the success of the first ever Scottish Bird Camp, in May 2022, SOC and BTO were excited to run Bird Camp 2023, which took place over the weekend of 26–28 May. We based Camp in East Lothian again and, perhaps miraculously, for the second year running, we enjoyed superb weather for the whole weekend, which meant all activities could go ahead as planned. Local moth expert Katty Baird arrived on the Saturday morning bringing with her two very full moth traps. Some took photos of the moths whilst other brought them to life via sketch, which led neatly into the next activity – a workshop led by inspirational wildlife artist and Waterston House regular exhibitor Darren Woodhead.
A boat trip to Bass Rock was the highlight of the weekend. As the powered across the Forth the birders spotted Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot, Fulmar, and numerous gulls, but needless to say, the Gannets stole the show.
Sunday saw the camp meet up with the Lothian Ringing Group members at one of their Constant Effort Sites. Over the course of the next couple of hours, the young birders got to experience firsthand the various stages of the ringing process: they were taken around the nets used to catch individuals for ringing, shown how the birds are carefully extracted, and then observed the detailed process of measuring and attaching a ring to a bird.
"Thank you very much for what sounded like an incredible weekend. Our son loved every minute and I'm sure it will be an experience he will never forget. We have heard so much about it and I'm sure we will hear even more over the next wee while!"