Young Birders’ Grants 2020

Between 2014 and 2019, the British Birds Charitable Trust awarded a number of grants to young birders (see Brit. Birds 108: 436–437).

The BB Charitable Trust is again looking for applicants from young people aged 16–21 for projects in 2020. It could help to fund an observatory visit, a small-scale research project, buy some ringing equipment or support habitat creation at a local patch. The aim is simply to encourage young people with their birding. Grants would be up to a maximum of £250. To apply please complete the Young Birder Grant Application Form (expand sections as necessary) and send it to [email protected] (deadline 31st March 2020). Succesful applicants will be selected based on how the grant will benefit the applicant and build upon their previous experiences/ current knowledge. Succesful recipients will also recieve a year’s free digital subscription to BB. This grant scheme has been generously assisted by Ed Keeble and Leica, and we welcome other donors to what we consider is a very worthwhile enterprise.

The 2019 recipients used their BB Young Birder grants to experience a range of ornithological activities:

Alex Bayley: I am 17 and a keen amateur naturalist and wildlife photographer. I have a strong interest in the natural world, and one of the ways I take this passion further is through ringing.

Ringing is a privilege, lending a unique insight into the lives of many of our birds. It provides the chance to observe and handle some very rare and special birds, such as Barn Owls, which I had the opportunity to ring earlier on in the year. I was awarded my grant in 2019 and since then have purchased ringing equipment, which is essential for my progression to becoming a qualified bird ringer.

I started ringing a year and a half ago and aim to achieve a C permit after my A levels this year. The cost of rings alone is expensive and so the grant has not only helped me buy the ringing essentials such as the different pliers, and the two essential ringing books, Lars Svenson and Laurent Demongin, but also to pay for the rings themselves which amount to a considerable cost each year.

Having the opportunity to do something I love, whilst also providing important data for conservation on many of our wild birds in Britain, is rewarding. I feel very fortunate to take part in the ringing scheme and to have been awarded such a generous grant that has already, and will continue to, help my progression to become a C permit holder.

Ringing is so important for the monitoring of bird populations in Britain and abroad. Becoming a qualified ringer will provide many opportunities for work all over the globe. To help conservation efforts through the provision of data on some of our most special and rarest birds is a privilege, and therefore I am incredibly grateful to the British Birds Charitable Trust for supporting me in this way.

Kate Fox: This summer I was very lucky to be able to take part in the Young Birders Week at Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory, thanks to the British Birds’ Young Birders’ Grant. The week was an amazing chance to experience island life, and learn more about the day-to-day runnings of a world class bird observatory. We spent many hours seawatching, exploring the island in search of wildlife, and of course ringing!

I am a C permit ringer and have been ringing for three years now- during which time some of my best ringing experiences have been on Bardsey. It was interesting to see a wide variety of techniques used, such as the portable Heligoland we used on the beach to catch rock pipits for a colour ringing project, as well as various traps, and dazzling for waders.

The island is also home to thousands of breeding Manx Shearwaters, and one of the highlights of the week was ringing them. In the day we would work our way along the field margins checking all the burrows for chicks, and at night we would venture out to ring the adults as they came in to feed their young (the oldest of which was from August 1994!). As soon as darkness fell their curious call could be heard flying overhead. Along with the wailing of the seals it is a soundscape I will never forget! By the end of the week I was successfully shaping rings to go on the birds, removing worn rings on retrap birds, and could carefully remove chicks from the burrows. On a couple of nights we also went Storm Petrel ringing, which is the most magical experience. Steve showed us how to safely extract the birds from the nest as they can be notoriously difficult. It was brilliant to work with these seabirds as I have a strong interest in seabird ecology, and have not had many chances to ring seabirds.

As well as ringing, I had some other amazing wildlife encounters; watching the Grey Seals on the beach (and seeing my first Common Species), seeing all three phases of Arctic Skua plus a Pomarine Skua, and coming face to face with a Little Owl!

I learnt so much throughout the week, and feel that I really improved my skills in both ringing and general species ID which will stand me in good stead for the future. I am very grateful to British Birds for making this adventure possible, as well as the Observatory team for their hospitality and enthusiasm, and for organising this amazing event!

Female Siberian Rubythroat on North Ronaldsay (Dante Shepherd)

Dante Shepherd: Ever since I got into birding it has been a dream of mine to visit the Northern Isles. I was very lucky to spend four months this autumn volunteering at North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory in Orkney. There were many highlights, from twitching Orkney’s first Siberian Rubythroat to witnessing thousands of Redwings seemingly drop out of the sky one October dawn. For me though nothing can beat the buzz which comes from stumbling across something unusual by yourself. I spent hundreds of hours in the field searching for this buzz; climbing two meter high sheep dykes, manoeuvring electric fences (unsuccessfully!) and battling through horizontal rain which felt like your face was being stung repeatedly by a swarm of bees. It wasn’t a vintage autumn for eastern migrants by North Ronaldsay’s standards but I was more than happy with finding a Western Subalpine Warbler, a Greenish Warbler and a Rustic Bunting, among others. I can confidently say that spending so much time birding each day greatly increased my skills as a birdwatcher. I would like to thank Alison and Kevin at North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory and British Birds for enabling this very enjoyable, informative and inspiring opportunity.

Eleanor Grover: Funded by the BB Young Birders Grant, it was my third time going to Bardsey with the Next Generation Birders and finally my luck was out: strong winds meant that the boat was unable to cross to the island at the weekend. A few of us joined forces on the mainland over the weekend to do some sea-watching at Uwch Mynydd, from where we could see Bardsey. So close and yet so far! Fortunately, the winds dropped on Monday and we made it across to the island.

We started our jam-packed five days with a late night: storm petrel ringing. These tiny seabirds never fail to delight and, as well as being able to handle the birds, Warden Steve demonstrated how to extract them from a mist net. A couple of nights were also spent ringing adult Manx shearwaters coming in to their burrows. These late nights were often followed by early mornings to put the mist nets up around the Obs, with sea-watching in-between checking the nets. Almost as if to make up for our delayed arrival, a Fea’s petrel was found by Steve on our first full day on the island! The spectacular bird provided great excitement to all, though frustration to some people who were unable to see it.

After sea-watching in the mornings, afternoons were spent either extracting manxie chicks from burrows to ring them or catching rock pipits to mark with a darvic ring (as well as a metal ring). The rock pipits were caught using the portable Heligoland trap that we erected on the beach. Some spring traps were placed amidst the seaweed at the same time, in the hope of catching some turnstone, but these proved to be effective at catching more rock pipits for the colour ringing scheme. Some waders were instead caught by night-time dazzling – sanderlings are gorgeous birds to see in the hand!

Nearing the end of the week, our competitive spirits were roused by the quiz and the bird race. All three teams scored within a single point of each in the quiz and weren’t too far apart in the bird race either. A final session of storm petrels ensued and then it was time to pack our bags. The last early-morning mist net session resulted in a pied flycatcher being caught – a promise of the migrants that were to arrive just after we left!

All in all, yet another fun-filled week spent at BBFO and I learnt so much, thanks to the British Birds young birder grant for enabling me to go. I also can’t thank everyone on the obs team enough for having me back again, you’re all amazing!

You can also read about what our 2018 recipients used their grants for here including Elizabeth Holme’s report on a study of the plastic ingestion and associated diet of great skua (Stercorarius skua) breeding on Fair Isle Shetland, through the dissection of pellets.