Bird Camp 2024

In the first weekend of June SOC and BTO Scotland welcomed 14 amazing participants to our base camp in East Lothian for the third annual Scottish Bird Camp, with some coming from as far as the Outer Hebrides to take part in this nature-filled weekend with us.

With a beautiful sunny evening ahead of us on Friday after arrival, the group headed out round our accommodation to check out some of the local wildlife signs around the camp. First off was a visit to the Nuthatch nest (in use for the second year running) in the local church tower – none of the team have come across building-nesting Nuthatch before – have any of our readers? Do let us know! Then Ben Darvill showed us a few bird nests that he had scoped out the week before – with everyone getting to see an (old) song thrush nest up close, seeing how solidly constructed from vegetation and mud it is! We then had a wander up to the local Badger sett, where we set out a camera trap to see if we could catch some footage over the weekend. A few of us even managed to stay up past sunset to see the first of the local Soprano and Common Pipistrelles coming out to forage around the garden.

After breakfast on Saturday morning, we welcomed Katty Baird to show us some of the fabulous moth species she had caught overnight in one of her light traps. This was a real favourite amongst several of the participants – as the photos show! Some of the amazing species we got to see up close included Buff Tip, White Ermine, and a huge Poplar Hawk Moth. Moths definitely aren’t just wee brown jobs!

Mothing with Katty Baird

Half of the group then headed off to Dunbar Harbour for our trip out to Bass Rock, the world’s largest Northern Gannet colony (c.150,000 individuals’ nest here!). On the boat out we had amazing views of Gannets collecting seaweed and other nesting material and flying in squadrons back to the colony. Once under the cliffs, the noise was amazing! We had excellent views of Gannets with black irises – a sign they have survived bird flu. There were also ledges full of Guillemots and Razorbills, large Shag nests, and even a handful of Puffins! For many of the participants this was the closest to seabirds they had been - and even the first time seeing some species. The trip out and back also took us below the amazing Kittiwake colony at Dunbar Castle, where scores of these beautiful (and noisy!) gulls make their home on the old sandstone walls.

On the boat to Bass Rock

Sunlit Bass Rock

Whilst one group was on their nautical adventure, the other half had a nest box making session with Mike Sinclair (one of our amazing SOC volunteers, and a past participant of several more southerly BTO Bird Camps!). Everyone was so excited to be able to take home a reminder of Bird Camp – and they have all promised to let us know what sets up home in them once they are put up!

Making bird boxes to take home from camp

After lunch we slathered on the sunscreen and piled into the minibus, heading for Prestongrange. One group did some gentle birding around the woodlands surrounding Prestongrange Museum (checking out a Sparrowhawk territory and listening to birdsong), whilst the other headed off with Colin Davison, nest-finder extraordinaire. Colin has been monitoring nests around Prestongrange for several years and showed both groups some amazing species – including a Dunnock nest with bright blue eggs, and ringing a brood of Bullfinch, with their incredibly large bills!

Bullfinch nestlings getting ringed under licence

Once back at base and all fed, the evening activities commenced. Ben had brought along a pile of Barn Owl pellets from his monitoring work, and several participants spent over an hour deftly teasing these apart and identifying the mammal skulls and other bones within! There was also some chilled out time with Laura Baigrie, making excellent hot chocolate with Storm Kettles, a real backcountry activity!

Owl pellet dissection

It was an even earlier start on Sunday, when after a quick breakfast we all headed out to SWT’s Hadfast Valley Nature Reserve, where a dedicated team from Lothian Ringing Group had been set-up since 5.30am, setting up mist nets as part of ongoing Constant Effort Site (CES) monitoring for the BTO! The team had multiple nets set out through the reserve, and the Campers got to see (and release after ringing, under close supervision), a host of avian species, including recently fledged Robins, Song Thrush, Dunnock, and a Blackcap that was caught for the third year in a row at the site!

Releasing ringed birds

There was time for one more activity after Sunday lunch, a trip out to the nearby Woodland Trust reserve at Pressmennan Wood. Under the shade of the trees, we took some time to enjoy the bird song, discussing what to listen out for to identify bird sounds. Walking down towards the loch, a Buzzard circled overhead, and Goldcrest and Treecreeper were heard in the woods. The loch itself held countless damselflies and the exotic-looking Mandarin Duck, a first for many of the participants.

Birding at Pressmennan Wood

Following the arrival of parents and carers on Sunday afternoon, the SOC / BTO staff team led us through a photo montage of the weekend – with all of our young people chipping in with explanation of activities and their favourite moments from Bird Camp. It was a brilliant way to round off a fantastic weekend with such an inspiring group of young people. The future is in safe hands with this lot!

Bird Camp could not happen without the unflinching support from a whole host of volunteers across the weekend. Volunteer leaders Carol Miller, Ptolemy McKinnon, Mike Sinclair and Iris Diggle, who gave so much of their time and expertise over the whole weekend; and volunteer session leaders Katty Baird, Colin Davison, and Willie Edmond and his fellow Lothian Ringing Group members, for inspiring the young inquisitive minds; and the crew from Blue Wild, for keeping us safe on the water. Thank you to Laura Baigrie our Professional Youth Leader and the staff at SOC and wider BTO Youth Team for their knowledge, support and advice throughout, particularly Katja O’Donnell at BTO Scotland for doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes admin. And to the core BTO Scotland & SOC staff team of Ben Darvill, Steve Willis, David Raffle and Eilidh McNab.

Bird Camp provides a safe space for young people who have an interest in Natural History to interact with peers who share this interest and get a chance to have new experiences and learn from experienced volunteers and staff. We couldn’t do it without the incredible support from our sponsors for the 2024 Camp: The family of Ronald Guild - teacher, environmental activist, lifelong lover of nature and of all things East Lothian; the Cameron Bespolka Trust; and the British Birds Charitable Trust.


Eilidh McNab - SOC Development Officer (maternity cover), David Raffle - SOC Birding and Science Officer, Ben Darvill -Head of Engagement and Development (BTO Country Operations), Steve Willis - Development and Engagement Coordinator BTO Scotland