Sunday, 31 August 2014

The National Inland Top 20 July

Despite a relatively slack month Darren Starkey manages to extend his lead adding another 4 points (from 3 species) to the previous month and pulling 8 points clear of his nearest rival Wayne Gillatt, who gained just a point. The top six positions remain unchanged with a massive 21 points gap between 6th and 7th, Marcus Lawson and John Hopper swap places taking 7th and 8th place respectively. 

At the bottom of the table Tom Raven and Andy Mackay have sadly been replaced by Bill Aspin and Jonny Holliday - hopefully the former two will recover at the expense of the latter!

Early indications suggest that for some August hasn't been as great as anticipated, though as we enter the true autumn and with favorable conditions predicted for the first weekend of September it's time for the real exciting stuff to begin.

Mark R

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Inland East Anglia Minileague - July

One of the few minileagues in July to have a host of responses and there were even some good birds in there with Turtle Doves, Curlew Sandpipers and Long-tailed Ducks 'padding' out some lists much to the joy of those inland patchers who saw them. Jamie Wells only managed a brace of points in July while Ben Lewis managed ten. This has closed the gap significantly - one really good bird would manage to get Ben back in the big time. A 12 point month for Steve Swinney at Linford displaces Ed Keeble from the podium places. Richard Stace and Nick Moran jump a couple of places and Russell Neave has also made significant gains.

Birds of the month go to Steve Swinney with a GW Egret/Fulmar combo. I imagine the latter was more impressive than the former on an inland patch. Honourable mention must go to Ben Moyes who managed a July Ouzel. There cant be many of those about in the Brecks...

Thanks to his monster month Steve Swinney takes over at the top jumping two places and knocking last months numbers one and two down a notch. Ben Lewis has managed to climb three places to seventh as he heads towards the 90% mark. No more 100%'ers this month. Maybe in August?

Inland Scotland Minileague - July

Alastair Forsyth reinforces his place at the top of the Inland Scotland minileague with a self-found Red-footed Falcon. This increases the gap back to Rory Whytock at the Lake of Menteith to 35 points as Rory fails to add anything in July. It appears that Alastair has the minileague won but further down there is lets of competition. Graeme Garner draws a few points further away from Simon Pinder in fourth. Andy Cage manages to split the leading two Chris Pendlebury's and move up into 6th place. Alastair Irvine manages to climb a place into 12th at Whiteford thanks to a Spotted Flycatcher. The second best bird of the Inland Scotland month...

Positionally it is the same as for June here in the comparative league but scores have bunched up after Alastair Forsyth. A stray seabird or two in August could change the complexion of this very quickly.

Friday, 22 August 2014

London Minileague - July

Three returned scores in July suggests a quiet month in London and looking at the table it appears that this was the case. The only movement in the points table is Roger Hicks moving into 6th at KJ McManus's expense. Adam Bassestt at Little Marlow remains top and by 10 points. A good margin. Nicj Croft at Rainham is second whilst Marek Walford is in third. Best finds this month were a Spoonbill for Adam Bassett and a Yellow-legged Gull for Roger Hicks. 

Michael Terry remains the only patcher with 100% plus and Jason Reynolds fails to make any additions. The rest of the league remains static. Will autumn in the capital shake things up? With scores so close it could well do.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Inland North Minileague - July

Ahhh, the most hotly contested and controversial mini-league! I'll steer clear of all the thin ice and simply report the cold, hard numbers. Darren Starkey continues to dominate with two of his patches in the top three, and pretty firmly so, being 43 points ahead of fourth place. It's nip and tuck in fourth and fifth between Andy Bunting and Tom Lowe. If we could award points for BirdTrack records then Andy would have it in the bag - but Tom does keep pulling out black storks and the like...

James Common is the first to surpass the 100% mark, but it's very gratifying to see two PWC team members in second and third. Good to see that admin is not getting in the way of the actual patch birding.

On a completely unrelated topic, it's great to see that BirdTrack use in this region is up to 50%  - considerably higher than the thirty odd% that seems to be the national norm in PWC.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Birdfair 2014

So there I was at 9am wandering through Marquee 5 when a tall Scotsman impeccably branded in PWC t-shirt gave an enthusiastic (half-hearted) wave. Hellos quickly done to Ryan and also to Charlotte, Arno and the team on the Marchwood Stand and I was at the Birdfair. Admittedly slightly hidden in one corner but that didn't stop us.

One of the things about helping out with Patchwork Challenge is that whenever my motivation wains there is something to pick me up and re-enthuse me. Today started with stories of new breeding species for Northumberland and self-found Stilt Sandpiper by Iain Robson who patches Druridge Pools, Birdtracking from Andy Bunting and Zac Hinchcliffe to how Patchwork Challenge is the right sort of thing from Nick Moran at the other end of the day. In between there were plenty of other stories and new faces and even a drop of uisge beatha from David Wood.

We were selling badges and using this as an excuse to doorstep all and sundry round the fair and managed to raise £40 towards the BTO House Martin tracking project which is looking to find out where these charismatic little birds winter. 

Undoubted stars of the whole show were the Next Gen Birders who were omnipresent and dismissed the notion that birding is an ageing pastime. These guys also were the most ready to dig deep for the BTO and we should be proud that these people want to take up the mantle as part of our hobby and part of Patchwork Challenge. I heard about Espen's Bluethroat and Matt's near miss with a Sab's Gull as well as Josie bemoaning the lack of...well anything since the spring. It was great to meet you all. One of the rarest sights of the whole fair was Bardsey's own version of the castaway 2000 star Ben Fogle reincarnate as Ben Porter. Let's just hope Ben doesn't take to rowing the Atlantic in the buff with Andrew Kinghorn.

It was great to see everybody there and we hope that you got as much from it as we did. We were able to spread the word on the forthcoming new website/database/app combo which we hope will make PWC2015 a slicker and better experience. Also we still have over 100 badges left so if you want one get in touch. The suggested donation is £1. 

No shearwaters! Why bother seawatching?

It’s that time of year when many a birder heads off to their local headland or further afield to Cornwall or Ireland to take advantage of some superb seawatching, particularly shearwater passage. It even slightly amuses me when I read on twitter or on various blogs about a poor day seawatching at Pendeen as they only saw one Great Shearwater and a handful of Cory’s! Now, I used to live near Pendeen and know where they are coming from but perhaps a little bit of perspective is needed. I spent 8 ½ hours on Sunday seawatching in Hemsby and had an excellent day yet there wasn’t a shearwater of any shape or size in sight!

So why do I bother with it? In the last 2 years I have clocked up over 250 hours of proper seawatching, not including the occasional glances out I may have from my house, and recorded over 58,000 birds onto BirdTrack. In that time I have recorded 15 shearwaters and two petrels. Sooty Shearwaters are the most common shearwater I have had off Hemsby with a mighty total of 8 birds, although Manx Shearwater aren’t too far behind on 7. That equates to 0.03 birds per hour! Leach’s Petrel is the only petrel that I’ve seen off Hemsby and only one, the other petrel was too distant to ID although I had it as a probable Leachs. So 2 years, or 250 hours of seawatching is worse than ½ hour on a crap day at Pendeen.

Perhaps it’s the skuas, gulls and terns that keep me sane during the seawatches. Well, a quick glance does show that I have seen four species of skua, Arctic by far the most common with 156 followed by 33 Bonxies. My BirdTrack data shows that I have seen 11 Pomarine Skuas although I think that this is skewed slightly by one or two individuals hanging around the area for a few days and I would think that the actual figure is nearer 7 birds. Finally, and probably the rarest seabird I have seen so far are the two Long-tailed Skuas, an adult and a juvenile in 2013. Again, these are very low numbers, 0.03 and 0.007 birds per hour respectively for Poms and Long-tails.  I’m guessing, as I don’t have exact numbers, that the figures for skuas and shearwaters are a lot lower than other areas further north in Norfolk and I wonder if this is to do with the close proximity of the Scroby Sands Offshore Wind Farm and sand bank pushing birds further out to sea by the time they arrive at Hemsby?

Gulls are an ever present sight on a seawatch and I have had the fortune to add a few scarce species such as Glaucous Gull (2) and Yellow-legged Gull as well as some good movements of Little Gulls at times including 257 passing south on 19th January this year. However, in general it has been poor for gulls and I have yet to find the much anticipated Sabine’s Gull off Hemsby yet.
Thousands of terns pass by Hemsby throughtout the summer, whether it be foraging Little Terns in June and early July or large numbers of Common Terns and smaller numbers of Sandwich Terns moving south in late July and August. Over the 2 years I have recorded over 11,000 ‘comic’ terns moving south, the majority identified as Common Terns and only 23 Arctic Terns. Taking into account the number that I recorded as ‘comic’ terns the number of Arctic Terns still amounts to only 0.3% of the total of identified Common/Arctics! Seven Black Terns and a solitary Roseate Tern add a bit of uncommon/scarce feel to the tern records. So, all in all skuas, gulls and terns have mustered less than 20 ‘interesting’ records between them.

Auks are surprisingly thin on the ground here, a total of 534 recorded since August 2012 and the vast majority Guillemots with only 31 Razorbills, 3 Little Auks and 3 Puffins to show for my efforts. Divers and grebes show a similar trend although slightly more are recorded with over 8500 birds recorded of which 98.8% are Red-throated Divers. This winter there was a few days of amazing passage with 1481 past north in 1 ½ hours on 17th March and 1249 past north in an hour on 18th March. Great Crested Grebes are a regular sight in small numbers in winter with a few passing Hemsby most weeks. Great Northen Divers are pretty thin on the ground with only 7 recorded but nowhere near as hard to see as Black-throated Diver, my solitary record falling on the 1st January this year. I have managed to see two other species of grebe, Slavonian (2) and Red-necked (1) but again neither are an annual occurrence.

There are a few other seabirds that I haven’t mentioned that are commonly seen such as Gannet (the most common bird recorded with 9312), Fulmar (surprisingly low numbers, 90 birds) and Cormorants (8167 birds). Shags are not the easiest bird to see off east Norfolk I believe so I am relatively happy with picking out 16 so far.

After all this pointless waffling I have finally made it onto the main reason why I seawatch so much on patch. Of course I wish I could see more shearwaters etc but to protect what is left of my sanity I try to look at it practically. Setting the scene, my patch has no freshwater and no wader habitat so I have to rely almost entirely on my seawatching to see waders and wildfowl. I have recorded 22 species of wader and 20 species of wildfowl while seawatching and that equates to just under a quarter of my overall patch list! Although I haven’t seen any rare species of wader or wildfowl I have to admit a certain amount of joy at watching my first Grey Phalarope fly past, my one and only Avocet to date move south or the flock of 5 Scaup heading north. Obviously seaduck are relatively common, with Common Scoter, Eider and Shelduck a regular sight while small numbers of Red-breasted Merganser, Goldeneye and Velevet Scoter are normally recorded in winter. Long-tailed Duck and Goosander still have to make it onto my patch list, hopefully this winter. 

Dabbling ducks move past in varying numbers from the abundant Wigeon and Teal, to the regular but in small numbers, Mallard, Pintail and Shoveler to the genuine patch gold in the shape of Tufted Duck (5 birds) and Gadwall (2). I am quite possibly the only PWC contestant to air grab a Gadwall!
Other than Brent Geese, geese are thin on the ground although two patch ticks in the shape of a lone Egyptian Goose and two small flocks of Barnacle Geese add a slightly plastic feel to my seawatching....

The graph below shows the breakdown of waders recorded on a seawatch, no real surprises although the Black-tailed Godwit numbers are slightly skewed by one flock of 130 fying directly west straight over my head. Other than this record they are actually a very hard bird to get on patch.

I have now recorded 91 species on patch through seawatching and yes, I haven’t seen a large shearwater, many petrels, an albatross, a Feas type etc but on a patch level it’s been pretty good fun.  I can only dream of a day like the ones of Pendeen or Porthgwarra, heck I can only dream of some of the days that are had 25 miles away off Sheringham as well!!