Bird Camp Northern Ireland 2023

Bird Camp Northern Ireland 2023

01 Aug 2023

BTO Youth Bird Camp Northern Ireland

BTO Youth was joined by 15 young wildlife enthusiasts at 2023’s Bird Camp Northern Ireland, for a weekend of learning, meeting like-minded young people and exploring local nature sites. 

On the first evening, the campers met at the Gortin Outdoor Activity Centre, County Tyrone, where they would be staying for the weekend. They took part in a session hosted by the amazing in-house artist and visual facilitator, Stéphanie Heckman, to learn about the importance of basic bird shapes in art, and how to consider perspective when drawing natural scenes.

The group was then joined by local Biodiversity Officer, Julie Corry, who gave an insightful talk on bats and conservation efforts in Northern Ireland, and led an outdoor session – a chance for campers to practise using bat detectors.

An early start to the next day followed, for a bird ringing demonstration at the nearby Cottage Farm, an Ulster Wildlife nature reserve. Licensed ringers, Steven, Emma and Sorrel (BTO Northern Ireland’s Ripple Project Officer), ringed and released many birds, including a Goldfinch, a Goldcrest, lots of Great Tits, a Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff, to name just a few species.

When they arrived back on site, the campers took part in a bird identification session hosted by Sorrel and Jemma, also from the BTO Northern Ireland team. The campers learned about local species and their habitats, and how to identify birds in flight, and by song or call – skills all expertly demonstrated by Sorrel. They also played some interactive games, such as a bird edition of ‘What Am I?’, to boost their skills and confidence in identifying birds themselves. 

BTO Youth Representative and camp volunteer, Benjamin, led a mindfulness session, talking about the importance of being present and focusing on breathing techniques. He wrapped the session up with a calming meditation.  

The campers then took a trip to Davagh Forest, where they met local birder extraordinaire, Stephen. Stephen shared his knowledge about bird nests with the group, describing the many different structures and shapes built by different bird species, and led a guided bird walk through the forest. There were many mixed finch flocks to watch, and surprisingly for this particular area, a number of Sand Martins! The group divided into teams for a bioblitz to conclude this session, with one team recording over 80 wildlife findings – an impressive achievement. 

Later in the afternoon, the group visited the OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory at Davagh Forest for a guided tour, where they (and the BTO staff!) learnt about astronomy, and the amazing observatory itself. Post-dinner, they ventured to a campfire for a few rounds of the game ‘Wink Murder’ and some toasted marshmallows.  

On the final day, the group explored more of the Gortin site, gaining inspiration for art exhibition pieces and identifying a number of moths found in our expertly set-up moth trap (with special thanks to Sorrel). Campers also had an introductory session on the BTO/RSPB/JNCC Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), led by local school teacher and BTO Regional Representative, Claire Hassan. The Gortin site staff then provided awesome team building activities and some rounds of archery – the campers certainly outperformed the staff on that one!

It was then the final countdown to the art exhibition, which was viewed by parents and carers during pick-up. Everyone did an amazing job of contributing to the artwork! 

We’re excited to share a more extensive Bird Camps blog on the BTO website soon. Subscribe to our Youth enewsletter to find out more.

BTO Bird Camps are made possible thanks to the support of the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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