I arrived at The Nunnery the night before. The first meal was eaten and Ieuan gave us a talk about surveying and also about what we were going to be doing over the next few days. After this we headed off to our tents for a nights sleep.
4 Hours later and at 03:10 I had been woken up like many others in my tent by the sound of 2 Male Cuckoos and a female Cuckoo coming from above the tent. We decided to get up and head outside for the dawn chorus since sleeping was becoming hard due to the light starting to stream in through the tent.
The Dawn Chorus was amazing with Robins, Song Thrush, and Blackbirds as well as Wrens. Also more notably an Oystercatcher flew over head calling at 03:30, a brief snippet of Grasshopper Warbler was heard at around 04:30 and was heard by others in their tents, and also at 04:45 a Curlew came over calling. Lesser Black Backed Gulls, and Goldcrest were also seen and heard, as well as Canada Geese, and Greylag. A Pheasant was also seen and a Muntjac came out briefly later on in the morning.
A more notable bird was heard at 01:30 - a Nightjar was heard alarm calling over the tent of Ieuan and Paul.
The next couple of hours involved looking at the moth trap that Ben and Max had set up and seeing what they had caught, however with our stomachs grumbling a small snack beckoned and so we retreated inside to have something to eat.
We then set off to the main part of The Nunnery Lakes Reserve and I was in group 2. On the way into the reserve Red-legged Partridges were seen from my bus alongside Rooks, Hares, and Rabbits. We spent the first part of the morning bird ringing which was awesome. We ringed Cetti's Warblers, lots of Reed Warblers, a Sedge Warbler, Garden Warbler, Blue Tit, and a Song Thrush. Whilst at the ringing sight you could hear the sound of singing Willow Warbler, Yellowhammer, Reed Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, and also Cuckoos. The Cuckoos included a superb flyby display from the Males and also a Rufus/ Hepatic Cuckoo. A Barn Owl was also seen hunting and also seen with what I assume was a vole in its mouth...
Above: Sedge Warbler
Next 2: Reed Warbler
Above: Reed Warbler
Below: Cetti's Warbler
Above: Female Banded Demoiselle
Below: Garden Warbler
Next 3: Blue Tit
Next 4: Song Thrush
Next 4: 4 Brilliant photos from Elliot Montieth of the Hepatic Female Cuckoo at The Nunnery Lakes. (elliotsbirdingdiaries.wordpress.com/ )
After the Ringing session we went off to have breakfast. Whilst having breakfast news broke that there was a Stone Curlew showing really well just a short walk from where we were. Me, Robin, and Louis went down to investigate along with many others. Sure enough there was a stonking Stone Curlew staring back at us when we peered into the field (which is a lifer for me), alongside Red-legged Partridge, Lapwings, Corvids.
Above: Red-legged Partridge
Below: Common Buzzard
We then headed back to the car park where breakfast was served and another moth trap was sorted through.
Below: I am not too good with moths so I will leave you to identify them and enjoy the slightly varying shades of brown that they come in. There are some awesome ones though to follow in part two of my blog...
Above: Something tells me this was a Harlequin Ladybird...
After breakfast my group went out nest recording and no sooner had we started, Ben had picked out a Blackbird nest, however it appears that Ieuan had already spotted that one earlier.
Moving on Ben had the next find and that was a pair of Blue Tits with young chicks using a Bat Box with a Bird Box standing empty opposite it. We then searched for a Chiffchaff nest that in the end wasn't found. A Wren nest was next on the list followed by a Blackbird nest with young, a nice neat Reed Bunting nest, an old Willow Warbler nest, and finally I found a pair of Common Whitethroat with nest material flying in and out of a spot. After it was searched for the next 10mins we came up with nothing unfortunately. However an Oystercatcher in the next field alarm called and that was when we decided to head back to camp with the sound of singing Blackcap, Willow Warbler, and Yellow Hammer telling us that a vast storm was approaching.
Above and Next 2 Blackbird nest and chicks.
Above: Disused Wren nest
Below: Reed Bunting nest
Next 2: Greylag + Goslings
On our way back we were stopped in our tracks by a male Cuckoo singing from the middle of a bare tree. This was amazing because I had only ever seen birds in flight before. He sat there preening himself, before I eventually gave in and headed for cover in the mini van waiting for us with everyone piled into one whilst the storm raged over head.
After the storm had passed we were all treated to a flyby from a pair of Egyptian Geese as well as a Hobby that came charging through. We were also shown a Willow Warbler nest with chicks in it, however we didn't have much time as the parents had returned with food for the youngsters.
Above: Willow Warbler chick that is so close to fledging.
My group was next up to do a bit of surveying. This involved mapping out where the territories of the singing males were as well as putting on all the species that we saw. Reed Warblers, Yellowhammer, and Garden Warbler all sung their hearts out, as Reed Buntings, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebes, and a Cormorant all put in a show. The highlight for me would be seeing a Kingfisher flying up and down the far bank in search of some food before it headed over into another lake.
Above: Great Crested Grebe
Below: Female Reed Bunting
We then tried to head back to the camp however it appeared that we had been locked in the reserve, so we had 10 minutes to look for the Lesser Whitethroat that had been seen and heard in recent days, however only Red-legged Partridges could be picked up and a lot of them too.
Eventually the gate was unlocked and we headed back for lunch.
During lunch Amy gave us a talk about the great work of @cameron_b_trust and how they have help young birders to have great opportunities like this after an unfortunate tragic event, and it is at this time that I would like to thank them hugely for making BTO Bird Camp happen.
The afternoon was spent at RSPB's Lakenheath Fen Reserve. After a talk from the Warden about the history and the species we should hope to see, we turned this into a bird race. This means that whichever team records the most species wins. I was on the dream team featuring the likes of Ieuan, Luke, Max, Amy, Elliot, Harry, and many others. Species were hard to come by as we started our trek into the reserve. The first view point was quite productive though with House Martins, Swift, Sand Martins, and Swallow recorded as well as Great Crested Grebe with young, Gadwall, Mallard, and Hobbys whizzing through above us.
Below: Great Crested Grebe + Chicks
We then carried along the path as the wind picked up our chances of seeing Warbler species started to fade away. It was almost impossible to hear the songs of these species. Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, and Cetti's Warblers were eventually had by the team, and a Cuckoo sat out of sight singing its heart out. We then moved on and Ben found a Great Crest Grebe on a nest.
We then headed up to the viewing platform. Marsh Harriers quartered the reed beds in front of us and a Cormorant sat watch in front of us, however there was no Warbler activity due to the strong wind. Swift was however added to the list for the race and so too were Lapwing, Stock Dove, and Reed Bunting. A Common Tern was then spotted flying down the river next to us and that was when we decided to move on.
Above and Below: Silhouetted Marsh harrier
We then continued round to where the Marsh Warbler had been showing well in recent days, however with the wind it didn't show. A couple of us thought that we might have briefly heard it, but it was too windy to tell, and after 30 minutes we continued the race, rather than heading for the Savi's Warbler that wasn't going to show.
As we continued our race someone near the front of the group shouted "Bittern" and sure enough there flying past us was a stonking adult Bittern. This was the first time I had ever seen a bittern and it was something that I am going to remember for a long time. The awesome flight of the Bittern low over the tops of the reeds.
We then continued and in the shelter of the woods it was much easier to pick up warbler species and Blackcap, Chiffchaff, and Reed Warblers were picked up as well as 2 Cuckoos. 2 Shovelers were picked up flying down stream and that was new for the trip, and Mute Swans were seen as well. I decided to stay in between the main group out in front and the stragglers way behind me, and therefore I got to have another amazing flyby from a Bittern that the group in front had flushed from the reeds below the path. A stunning Male Marsh Harrier came into view and quartered the Reed Bed just above the flying Bittern. A female Bearded Tit was also seen as it quickly flew from one bit of reeds to another, and a Male Stonechat was picked up on the opposite side.
Above: Mute Swan
Next 2: Male Marsh Harrier
Above: Common Buzzard
Below: Male Stonechat
We then moved round to meet up with the rest of the group and view over the scrape where an Oystercatcher and a flock of at least 10 Ringed Plover fed on the muddy banks. We then headed back to the camp for Dinner and a Presentation By Ben, about living next to and working at Bardsey Bird Observatory. I wish I could have a garden list of almost 150 species of birds. (mine stands at around 50...).
Above: Oystercatcher, and you can just about make out the Ringed Plover
We then headed out to Brandon Park after supper to look for Nightjars. It was an absolutely wonderful evening for it and the wind had died down.
When we arrived all you could hear was the song of Willow Warbler, Yellowhammer, and also Tree Pipits (which was a lifer for me). We spent the next hour looking at the sunset and also looking for the Tree Pipits. A Tree Pipit was eventually found and I had a very brief view of it in flight. Another was also later found on the ground after some careful searching by David.
Then at 21:18 the first Nightjars could be heard churring off in the distance and by 21:30 they could be seen perched at the tops of trees and then flying about above our heads. It was truly magical. News came in that they had caught a Nightjar in the mist nets and so we headed back to where the Mini Buses were parked.
Now if you haven't seen a Nightjar then I would recommend going and seeing one because you will never see anything more spectacular again after seeing one this close up. They are awesome birds and to witness a male Nightjar get ringed is absolutely amazing.
Above: Spot the Nightjar
Above: Volume must be turned on full to hear it unfortunately...
This rounded off an excellent first day at BTO Bird Camp 2017, and as we headed back to the buses a Woodcock flew over calling loudly and news broke that a Long-eared Owl had been seen by some of the others.
88 Species were seen in the day, but were we going to beat last years record of 101? Be sure to read the second part of my blog post to find out.
Credits: Elliot Monteith for his photos of the Hepatic female Cuckoo elliotsbirdingdiaries.wordpress.com/
For those wanting to know a bit more about the Cameron Bespolka Trust click the link below: cameronbespolka.com
Also many thanks to the BTO (bto.org) for hosting the weekend
Also here is a video by Amy of the Bird Camp: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_us0pL6SxY&app=desktop
More to come in Part 2...
I have been a birder since i was 8 however only really started to be able to go out to places by myself in Summer 2016 (Blame the parents) My blogs will be from all over the place, but mainly from RSPB Rainham Marshes and Totteridge Valley! Photography done by Samuel Levy aged 16.