SOC/BTO Scotland Scottish Bird Camp 2023

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.

Once all the plans were in place, we advertised the Camp widely across Scotland and soon began to receive a deluge of applications. 100 young people (aged 10 – 16 years) applied, and whilst it took a lot of work to sift through them, it was a wonderful problem to have! Needless to say, with so many applications to whittle down, we had a tough time shortlisting the group. Eventually we settled on 14 individuals, all of whom readily snapped up this unique opportunity.


“I learned so many new things I would never expect! Every aspect of it was brilliant, I would come every year if I could, but I hope you continue to inspire young ornithologists like myself", 2023 Bird Camp participant

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.

Campers began to arrive from late afternoon on the Friday, all tooled up with binoculars, scopes and cameras (so many cameras!), and soon got settled into their accommodation. After dinner, we ran through the plans for the weekend and BTO’s Ben Darvill and Steve Willis gave the group a talk about the basics of bird identification, with an emphasis on songs and calls. Then it was time for bed, to recharge our batteries for the following day’s activities!

We were very fortunate on Saturday morning to be joined by moth expert Katty Baird who brought along not one but two very full moth traps. Katty showed the group a huge variety of stunning specimens. The budding naturalists were completely mesmerized by the range of camouflage and amazing patterns! 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.

Darren brought along a load of props to inspire the group and get them thinking about a bird’s shape and structure and, especially, about the mechanics of flight. Campers were then tasked with making bird mobiles, and seeing if they could make them fly!

Mid-morning saw us pile in the minibus and drive a short way to meet up with renowned nest monitor and licenced ringer Colin Davison who warmly welcomed the group before taking us a wander round his ‘patch’ in pursuit of nests. Colin had more than a few tricks up his sleeve to locate nests and effortlessly led us around those of a wide range of species, ensuring the group got good views whilst taking great care of the birds and their nests. The young participants and the Camp leaders alike were transfixed!

It was very windy on the Saturday afternoon and our planned boat trip to Bass Rock – a highlight of the 2022 Camp – hung in the balance for most of the day. The tour operator, Blue Wild Nature Boat Tours, carefully monitored conditions and decided to delay setting off until the wind had dropped.  However, that gave us longer to enjoy our nest box making session back at base, led by Mike Sinclair (SOC Youth Connect member) who had kindly pre-prepared all the component parts for each of the participants to make their own unit. The group got stuck in and were soon drilling, screwing and hammering their boxes into shape whilst chatting away about what might nest in their handiwork next spring.


Approaching the Bass Rock © BTO

By now, we’d had word from the boat’s skipper that it looked like the wind was calming down enough for the trip to go ahead. We gave the Campers an early dinner, grabbed all our warm waterproof gear, and headed for Dunbar Harbour, where we were warmly met by the crew. After a safety briefing and life jacket fitting, we were soon all aboard the two boats and bound for the Bass! One boat was an open RIB, the other had a wheelhouse with the offer of shelter if required! We raced across the Forth to the Bass and as we did so, the concentration of seabirds increased. We saw Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot, Fulmar, and numerous gulls, but needless to say, the Gannets stole the show. It was a spectacular and welcome sight – birds filling the air, the water, and the cliffs above us. The sea state was still quite ‘lively’ but once we were in the lee of the island, we could relax and look about us much more easily.  Cameras captured these magical moments and great views of seabirds and the impressive Rock itself were enjoyed by all before it was time to turn around and head back to Dunbar. Windblown and caked in salt, we made our way back to base, got some more food, and then turned in for the night. It had certainly been an action-packed day!

Sunday saw us up and out early to meet Lothian Ringing Group members at one of their Constant Effort Sites. By the time we arrived, the team had already caught and ringed a few birds. Over the course of the next couple of hours, the young folk 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. Most of the group also got the opportunity to help release a ringed bird – all under the careful supervision of the licenced professionals. This was certainly a wonderful morning for all of us!

Lothian Ringing Group Demo © BTO


After all this excitement, we needed a relaxed wander by the sea, so it was down to John Muir Country Park for a walk through the woods to a nice lunch spot overlooking the estuary. We got some scopes set up and the group had a scan about for waders, gulls and ducks, as we munched our packed lunches. Butterflies and damselflies were enjoying the warm weather and we watched them as we walked back along through the dunes.  

Arriving back at Camp base late afternoon, we prepared for the final programmed activity where the youngsters would share tales from the weekend with their families.  While the Campers packed and reclaimed their various belongings from around the building, parents and guardians started to arrive and were greeted with a cuppa by leaders and SOC President Ruth Briggs. Steve and Ben then presented a slideshow of images showcasing all of the weekend’s activities, allowing Campers plenty of opportunity to chip in with their own personal accounts.


“It was really great fun and so was the rest of Bird Camp. It was the best weekend of my life!”, 2023 Bird Camp participant


Our huge thanks go to the group of amazing young people who joined us for the weekend. They did everything with great enthusiasm and were keen to learn more. They were excellent company and we’re sure we’ll be seeing them again in future!


“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!”, Parent of 2023 Bird Camp participant


Thanks to all our volunteers:  Core leaders Carol Miller and Ptolemy McKinnon, who gave so much of their time and expertise over the whole weekend; Andrew Matthews, who kindly assisted with the Ringing Demo; volunteer session leaders Katty Baird, Darren Woodhead, Mike Sinclair, 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.


Thanks to all our funders without whom Bird Camp would not have been possible

Steve Willis, Development and Engagement Officer, BTO Scotland, and Jane Allison, SOC Development Officer


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Top image: Examining the remains of a predated Long-tailed Tit nest © BTO