Thursday, 31 July 2014

The National Inland Top 20

This our first look at the nationwide top 20 inland patches and for those of us familiar with the Inland North category it will come as no surprise that the top three sites (two individuals) are sitting at the top of the Nationwide Inland League. Those of us residing near the bottom or indeed outside the table should take solace from the fact that as site manager (Is that the new name fro Reserve Warden?) for Fairburn and St Aidan’s it is perhaps not surprising that Darren Starkey sits in first and third place with his patches. Also with an advantage of a different sort, and currently second, is Wayne Gillat. Wayne’s patch at Alkborough is clearly better positioned for those all important wetland birds - particularly waders. Some may dispute Alkborough’s position as an inland patch given it’s location on the Humber estuary, though situated at the confluence of the Trent and Ouse (next to Blacktoft Sands) it is some 20km inland of Hull and geographically similar to other inland patches.



Closing on Darrel and Wayne and just a BB rarity find from the top spot is Jamie Wells with his Cambridgeshire patch Paxton Pits.


Scotland’s only representative, currently in the top 20, is Alastair Forsyth who will no doubt be keeping everything crossed for a bumper autumn on the Orkney Mainland.


Typically June and July can be testing times for the inland patch birder, though as I write this two ‘top drawer’ rarities are gracing inland sites in the Midlands and East Anglia. A Black-winged Pratincole on the Ouse Washes and a Pacific Golden Plover (below) at RSPB Middleton Lakes near Tamworth. The latter site surely one of the most inland sites in the UK.


Both photos with the kind permission of Steve Nuttall

August can be a real game changer with return migration for waders in full swing. Whilst July’s table will likely see little change from June’s, August’s will tell a whole new story and maybe even a change at the top with perhaps some relegation at the bottom.


Whilst patchers closer to the coast may already have added many key species the more land-locked locations will be looking to the weather charts hoping for favourable conditions to drop ‘patch gold’. For me August can be the best month of the year and based on previous years experience I could add as many as six or seven species - but given that in previous years I have been away for up to two weeks during the month, this year I’m hoping for at least ten!


This may be a case of telling your Granny how to suck eggs, but my tips for a successful August would be keep an eye of the weather and always, wherever possible, visit the patch during or immediately after rain. Those late summer downpours can and do come up trumps.


Thank you and good luck

Mark Reeder

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Bresser and Forest Optics Best Find Rarity Roundup - June 2014

The Bresser & Forest Optic Best Find Competition is the jewel in the crown for Patchwork Challenge. This is the best find of the whole patchbirding year as voted for by you, the competitors and a few more contenders threw their hats into the rarity ring this month.

For the winner of the competition, those fine folk at Bresser & Forest Optics are very generously furnishing the winner of this esteemed competition with a pair of Bresser Montana 8.5 x 45 Binoculars worth £665.00. Follow the link to check out this superb reward that awaits one lucky patcher!

June is a quieter month for rarities than May, and for many this is reflected in their scores for the month. A large number of patchers reported a quiet month, but for some the rarity roll call of spring continued onto summer's doorstep.

The first contender for bird of the month was a superb find for Paul Bowyer at Sand Point on the morning of the 2nd June. Approaching the Trig Point, Paul immediately picked up on a singing Greenish Warbler. A first for Avon, the bird continued to sing but was skulking high in the tree canopy. Without the ability to pick the song, this bird could easily have been overlooked, but as it was Paul a number of other observers got to enjoy the bird as it fed amongst the hawthorns.


    Greenish Warbler (Paul Bowyer)

The second contender was a briefer bird which put in a flyby appearance for Joe Stockwell at Portland Bill. A Pallid Swift added a satisfying 8 points to Joe's total following a bumper May which included a smart Bee-Eater, perhaps the most beautiful of all birds.

In May Black Stork was the main heron of note, but in June it was Glossy Ibis which continued to put in appearances on a number of patches. Darren Starkey managed to bag this continental visitor on both of his patches in West Yorkshire whilst records from Martin Mere, Kelling and most surprising of all Cambus in Scotland added to the tally. A White Stork was reported from Bardsey and a fine record of Purple Heron from Tim Hodge helped to bolster his position at the top of the coastal East Anglia league. Great White Egret and Spoonbill put in appearances at Sker and Kenfig and Fairburn respectively.

As might be expected in June, ducks were not a major feature of most people's patch list. A Scaup was an unseasonal find at Fairburn as was a Slavonian Grebe at St Aidan's. A late record from May was the highlight of Dan Chaney's seawatching career. Testament to the patience of those who watch the waves, a White-Billed Diver in full breeding plumage flew close in at Falmouth in the south west on May 8th. In just a few moments, those hours of seawatching can pay dividends.

Bardsey had another impressive month. In addition to the White Stork this Welsh gem turned up Marsh Warbler, Stone Curlew and Golden Oriole. It also joined the ever-growing number of patches this spring that have recorded Blyth's Reed Warbler and Citrine Wagtail. It has been a great spring for these two species and Peter Stronach at Balnakeil in the Highlands added another stunning Citrine Wagtail on the 18th-19th June.

    Blyth's Reed Warbler (Ben Porter)

   Citrine Wagtail (Peter Stronach)

Steve Minton also got in on the Blyth's Reed Warbler show, but was able to appreciate his from the kitchen window as he discovered it singing in the garden on Friday 13th June. Unlucky for some but not for Steve! Alistair Forsyth was another birder who managed to score points from an even more relaxing spot, listening to a Corncrake from the safety and warmth of bed in Orkney. The advantages of living on patch for both of these birders clearly emphasised in June.

   Blyth's Reed Warbler (Steve Minton)

July is always a good month for Terns and Gulls and I'm sure will feature in next months update, but there were records of Black, Roseate and Little Tern from patches this month. Kev Rylands followed the Topsham lead, with 2 Boneparte's Gulls at Dawlish Warren whilst Niall Keogh at Kilcoole in Ireland recorded a record high 115 pairs of Little Terns. No extra points but birding is all about successes such as these. Perhaps the success of the Little Terns helped to soothe the pain of dipping on a Laughing Gull after a few too many beers the night before!

Last but not least, I have been doing this update for just two months, but at this rate I suspect that John Bowler on Tiree will be getting his own paragraph most months! After his sensational bird list in May, John added another Rustic Bunting and a Red-Breasted Flycatcher in June to add to what was already being dubbed as Tiree's best ever spring.

  Red-Breasted Flycatcher (John Bowler)

    Rustic Bunting (John Bowler)

So onwards to July. Waders are returning already with Great Knot and both Collared and Black-Winged Pratincoles gracing our shores in recent days. The Bridled Tern and Short-Toed Eagle continue to reside in the UK but thus far avoid our patchers attentions. So eyes to the skies, you never know when that moment might come which puts you in contention for those Bresser Montana 8.5 x 45 Binoculars.















So what will the June scores show. We know June has not been short of quality birds with Short-Toed Eagle and Bridled Tern both commuting in UK airspace. Surely one of these will make a patchers day soon and will become a real contender for Bresser & Forest Optics wonderful prize.

Friday, 18 July 2014

New Patchwork team member - Ireland

Hi there. My name is Niall Keogh and I’ll be representing the Irish birding contingent through my involvement with the Patchwork Challenge as one of the newly appointed admin team members. Born and raised in Dublin yet I’ve always spent most of my time birding outside the county, often at meccas such as Tacumshin Lake or The Bridges of Ross. Whilst this has meant I’ve been treated to superb days with multiple species of yank wader or insane seabird passage, patch birding has always featured strongly for me and I’ve ‘worked’ several less frequently birded or seemingly less productive sites within striking distance from home through the years.



I guess the patch which I’d be most associated with is that of Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow. This is where I started birding as a kid on day trips by bus from home with my father, later developing into solo forays where I found some of my first good birds as a teenager and then spending four summers in a row living on site as a Little Tern warden at the colony there (which now hosts 100+ pairs in a good year).

A full detailed description of the patch and the list of birds seen there can be found here and here. For the purposes of this blog post I’ll give you a quick run through. Essentially the patch is comprised of a series of coastal marshes, lagoon, a small estuary, shingle beach, rough grazing, reedbeds, wet birchwood, alkaline fen etc. along a relatively straight stretch of coastline. With the UK sitting between Kilcoole and the continent, eastern migrants are often at a premium but it does well for species such as Hobby and Yellow Wagtail (at least in an Irish context, i.e. might see one of each a year!). Falls of passerines are certainly possible but hard to predict. I’ll be a happy chappy the day I see a Redstart! Scarce seabirds are, well, scarce and with a lack of large expanses of open, deep water and only a small estuary at hand means that birds like Pochard, Knot etc. often make a days birding here very much worthwhile when they do show up.

Pintail... #patchgold
But no point dwelling upon what I don’t have. Everyone’s patch has something special and I’m lucky at Kilcoole to have a decent number of wintering wildfowl to look through (peaks of 1,000 Light-bellied Brent, 300 Icelandic Greylag, 750 Black-tailed Godwits etc.), a successful breeding colony of Little Terns and continuous variety with plenty of oddities moving North and South along the coast throughout the year resulting in an often surprisingly high species diversity. When it comes to Nearctic vagrants it does surprisingly well for an East coast site (but being in Ireland no doubt helps!). Twenty individual waders of six species, three species of duck and a gull all of North American origin have been seen through the years. No complaints there! Total patch list to date is 203 with 176 of these seen since 2011. Taking part in PWC in 2013 lead to my highest patch year list of 152 and I’d be certainly keen to try and break that again this year (but it will take some amount of effort and luck). Patch ticks I’d like to get in the coming months?... Red Kite, Woodcock, Iceland Gull and maybe a Black-throated Diver!

One of three Wilson's Phals seen on patch through the years... a bizzare run of records! 
Webb's field & lagoon, where the magic happens!

So all in all I’m very much looking forward to contributing to the development of the Patchwork Challenge as I see it as a very worthwhile exercise which more birders should take part in. I’m an avid BirdTracker too and hope to work on that aspect in an Irish context in particular. Get those records coming in! I’ll be knocking about on the various PWC social media outlets so be sure to say hi (or whisht!) if you read some of my babbling posts. And if you’re ever in Wicklow then feel free to get in touch and we can go in search of Tufted Duck at Kilcoole and ignore all the Roseate Terns passing by in the process!

Updates, news and pics from various Irish mini league participants can be found on the Patch Birding Ireland blog so be sure to give it a look from time to time and see how we're all getting on.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

South West Minileague - June

This month we end on a biggie! There are some terrific patches with huge scores in the South West - with 6 patches scoring higher than Topsham, in spite of it's multigull madness earlier in the year. Joe Stockwell is in first place at Portland, a massive 34 points (but only 4 species) ahead of Kev Rylands at Dawlish Warren. Joe's place at the top was consolidated this month by self found pallid swift, and bee-eater. Interestingly, Sean Foote, also patching Portland is only three species behind Joe, but with a gap of 44 points. I can believe that south portland might be better in terms of quality than north portland, but I never expected a gap of that magnitude. It can all change in an autumnal raise of the bins (or maybe a few, in this case) so lets see what Sean can pull out of the bag.



Paul Bowyer takes the top spot in the comparative league, with a gaggle of 5 in the peloton scoring between 80 and 90%. Just one good bird will take Paul past the 100% mark.  















London Minileague - June

Some great scores coming in from capital city so far this year. Adam Bassett and Nick Croft are in equal 1st place in terms of species seen, but Adam is well ahead in terms of points (well, by 6...). This is in spite if Nicks self found Blyth's reed back in may, reflecting the fact that Adams 120 spp must have a little more quality scattered through them than Nicks. Marek Walford is only just very slightly off the pace species wise, but his 8 species will need to be worth 19 points if he is to make up that ground properly.


Micheal Terry and Jason Reynolds are in the top two spots, with the big points hitters of Adam and Marek in third and fourth. All of these big scores (in terms of species, the top London patches were only just behind my coastal June tally) are definitely challenging my preconceptions that birding in the big smoke must be dull. Well done all round.

Wales Minileague - June

Steve Stansfield has managed to overtake Ben Porter as top of the pops in Wales. It seemed to have been coming as the gap narrowed month by month and with Ben putting up stern resistance with some great finds. Can Steve hold on? Four points isnt much of a lead. Their joint find of a Blyth's Reed Warbler is the Welsh highlight for June. Barry Stewart remains in third place. Best of the rest was a Great White Egret at Kenfig for Darren Coombs but this must be a repeated performance as he has only gained one point this month.

It may be a little spartan in terms of numbers of species at LlanfairTH but this isnt stopping AlisonC having a great year there and she is on nearly 128% and certainly a contender for the overall competitive prize. Henry Cook is in second with 94% thanks in part to May's Black Stork. It looks like he will be the second person past the 100% mark. Adam Tilt at Cefn Drum is in third.


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Coastal Scotland Minileague - June

The Coastal Scotland points table is beginning to read like a 'where to go birding' guide, with some top notch rarity spots (and Girdle ness) filling the top half of the points table. John Bowler is only narrowly ahead of Peter Donnely in second place, who was no doubt aided by a nice little bundle of points in the form of a Scops owl. Dan Browns 24 hour patching at Dunnet puts him in third (and Dunnet firmly on the map). Steve Minton has made some headway up the table thanks to a Blyth's reed warbler in his garden (only on Shetland, eh? Or Bardsey, of course...)

Stephen Welch heads the way in the comparative league, but it's a real close run thing between him and Dave W at Burray, and also Bryan Rains on Mull who is in third.