The Cameron Bespolka Young Ornithologists' Bootcamp


The Nunnery, Thetford. 26-28 June 2015

Cameron Bespolka

Cameron Bespolka was a young man full of promise. From a very early age, he had an extremely strong love of the natural world. As he grew older, this developed into a passion for the world of birds and bird watching. One of his favourite pastimes was reading his Sibley Bird Guides. He loved all aspects of birds - watching them, keeping lists, learning to ring birds, their characteristics and details as well as "twitching, dipping and birding". He had a special love for conservation and nature reserves. He developed his own 'patch' where he monitored bird life throughout the seasons. All this was chronicled on his blog and on Twitter where his impish sense of humour was often on display. Cameron died in a tragic accident on 17 December 2013, aged just sixteen. A charitable trust has been set up in Cameron's memory with the aim of helping young birders to pursue their passion, both as an interest and a vocation. This workshop is supported by Cameron's Trust in memory of Cameron.


During this certificated bootcamp we aim to help budding young birders develop their skills, meet like-minded friends and get an insight into possible careers in ornithology. The course will consist of two full days training accompanied by a varied team of BTO & AFON staff. There are various options for accommodation locally in Thetford with lunches provided daily at the Nunnery. BTO staff will join the group for lunches, providing lots of opportunities for participants to meet different experts.


Friday 26 June 18:30

We'll meet for a buffet dinner at BTO HQ where we'll welcome everyone and make some initial introductions and discuss our plans for the next two days. If the weather is good we'll then head out into Thetford forest with BTO's Nightjar tagging team. Research Ecologist and bird ringer extraordinaire Greg Conway has been studying the Nightjars of Thetford Forest for 12 years. In recent years he has been fitting adult Nightjars with tiny tags to track their movements. Last year, for the first time, the team were able to deploy the latest GPS tags to follow the birds in great detail. These advances mean that we can understand a lot more about the movements of birds around their breeding areas. Greg will explain the project and hopefully show the group some real live Nightjars!

Saturday 27 June

On the first full day we'll introduce more of our staff and do some further activities to help the group get to know each other. Our Media Manager and life-long birder, Paul Stancliffe will share his inspirations and describe how he's developed his skills and used them to produce his latest bird ID books for Harper Collins — The Collins BTO Guide to British Birds and the Collins BTO Guide To Scarce British Birds. Following a question and answer session, Paul will be joined by other BTO experts to lead a guided walk around the BTO reserve to put some of Paul's tips into practise. Over lunch there will be an opportunity to meet more staff and for the group to chat together. In the afternoon our Training Manager Su Gough will provide classroom training on bird surveys followed by some practical exercises outdoors to put our learning into practise. After dinner BTO ecologist and Norfolk Bat Survey inventor Stuart Newson will give a brief talk about bat monitoring and then lead a bat walk around the BTO reserve during which we will gather data for analysis.

Sunday 28th June

The second day will start early with a choice of expert-led ringing, nest recording or bird surveying sessions. These will be introductory sessions aimed at giving new participants a taste of what these activities involve. The ringing sessions will include advice on how ringing training works and how participants can get involved in their area. The nest recording workshop will include guidance on finding and monitoring nests and an introduction to the nest record mentoring scheme. If you are more interested in general birding then the bird monitoring workshop is designed to help you make the most of your records for the benefit of bird conservation.

Award-winning wildlife expert Jason Alexander (@WildlifeGadgets) will join us after coffee to share his expertise in blogging, tweeting and vlogging your wildlife encounters. Jason has worked with some of the biggest names in wildlife and he'll be able to offer some great tips on carving out a career in wildlife showbiz!

During the afternoon, there will be a visit to nearby Lakenheath Fen to put more of our bird ID and recording skills into practise. Lakenheath is a fantastic wetland reserve made up of reedbeds, grazing marshes, pools and wet woodland. This is the perfect place to hone our bird ID skills as almost anything can show up here. A short walk around the reserve will give us a good opportunity of encountering hunting Hobbies, singing Sedge Warblers and possibly booming Bitterns. Back at HQ, we'll end the day with a review of our bird lists, a reminder of the different ways to get more involved and presentation of certificates.

Note — the exact timings of workshops are flexible to allow for changes in weather conditions.


For booking details visit www.bto.org/events.


There is ample accommodation around Thetford. The most popular hotels are The Thomas Paine Hotel and The Warrener (Premier Travel Inn). For B&B options, see here. There are several excellent campsites in Thetford Forest — find out more here.

Written by: BTO/Next Generation Birders/A Focus On Nature