Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Urban Birding 2014

I patchwork in urban North Leeds and I know that I will probably never find a National rarity and thus get mega points and a chance at the top points spot. However that wasn't the main reason for me joining Patchwork Challenge last year, for me the big attraction was the Comparative Minieague. This is where you compete against yourself, or rather last year's version of yourself. Can you see as many birds and score as many points as you did in previous years? This levels the playing field somewhat and allows the birder with a relatively poor patch (like me) to compete with the lucky birders at hotspots such as Spurn Point, Cley or Portland Bill.

Last year my final tally of 67 species gave me 69 points, which was a higher count than my records going back 20+ years indicated I should expect. So there's my target for 2015 - beat 69 point. So far from 3 visits I've amassed over 60% of last year's total so there's every hope that I will have a healthy 100% or more in the Comparative League at the end of the year.
Eccup showing the low water levels

Just recapping on 2014 on my patch, it was a bit of a mixed bag really, if I'd known about the engineering work being carried out at Eccup Reservoir I might have chosen differently. The work there had lowered the water levels quite dramatically and allowed for a big increase in vegetation at the margins. This meant very restricted views of the water, a lack of decent wader habitat and low numbers of duck. As the works finish in March 20105 I am expecting the duck population to grow as the water level rises and hopefully this rise will drown some of the waterside vegetation. Due to this I only made a handful of visits to the Reservoir during 2014.

Looking over the fields to Adel Dam
 Adel Dam performed well during last year, I scored with all the expected species bar one, couldn't find Lesser Redpoll on the reserve at all, which was odd as I'd seen them during the latter half of 2013. An unexpected species from last year was the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker that took to visiting the feeding station during late October and November. Sadly even though I spent almost 20 hours over 3 days I dipped on the bird. 

 Breary Marsh is a small carr woodland on the other side of Golden Acre Park to Adel Dam, a stream flows from here down through the park and into the Dam area. The species list for this area is pretty similar to that of the Dam, although I did record a new one this month, first Song Thrush for the patch.
Gt spot hiding from Sparrowhawk
Highlights from 2014 include watching 500+ Black-headed Gulls drop onto the lake at Adel Dam to spend 5 minutes there before taking flight and disappearing completely, having a female Sparrowhawk catch a Great Tit on the feeders right in front of me, being able to photograph a stoat in the reserve and best of all seeing the Peregrine glide over the trees at Adel before it zoomed up into the atmosphere - a patch first. 

Running down the species list I had 12 waterfowl, including a site first Shelduck, 4 raptors, 4 gulls, 3 warblers, 4 tit, 5 corvids, 1 owl, 4 finches, 3 thrushes. Missing from the list Reed Warbler, Sparrows, Green Woodpecker and Pochard all of which I found in 2013.

Mandarin duck - another 2 pointer
 So far this year as I said earlier I am well on way to matching last year's total and have scored with 2 more patch firsts, namely Song Thrush and Golden Plover. The latter species being the first time for 15 years or so that I have recorded them inside the Leeds boundaries. I have just heard that the lesser 'pecker is being seen again so I can foresee several more hours spent at Adel.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Sutton Bingham Reservoir 2014 - Tim Farr

Having come across Patchwork Challenge too late in 2013 (though I did keep a score for my own benefit and recorded 102 species and would’ve scored 120 points) I made sure I was signed up for 2014. Having a young family had curtailed much travelling for birds so instead I took the opportunity to concentrate on Sutton Bingham Reservoir (SBR), my local patch for over fifteen years. SBR has attracted some cracking birds over the years, especially in the 70’s and early 80’s…before it became my patch I hasten to add, but nowadays high water levels year round have put pay to wader passage and wildfowl numbers have dramatically reduced over the past decade.

The year started off much better than I could ever have imagined when during my first visit of the year, on 3rd, I found a Yellow-browed Warbler! This was only the second patch record, I had found the first in October 2013 in a private area of the reservoir. This bird though would be accessible to all, and attracted a fair few local birders over the following month. Amazingly, alongside the YBW I also found a Siberian Chiffchaff, though this proved to be a much more elusive Phyllosc! The good start to the year continued when, just five days later, an evening visit to check the gull roost produced an Iceland Gull. This was a patch tick for me and only the third patch record…the first for thirty years. It would be fair to say I was enjoying this Patchwork Challenge! The remainder of the month could no way live up to the first eight days,, but passing flocks of Lapwing added a bit of interest and three Gadwall dropped in for an evening mid-month. My final visit of the month added a few more species, with a drake Mandarin adding a splash of colour and a Peregrine keeping an eye out for wildfowl and Woodpigeons. I had seen 58 species by the end of the month.

Somehow I didn’t manage many trips to SBR during the course of the month, but a few species were added to the list. A Grey Wagtail was an expected addition and the January Yellow-browed Warbler remained until the 2nd. The gull roost produced adult Mediterranean Gulls on two dates, a welcome two-pointer. Other species added included, somewhat belatedly, House Sparrow plus three Siskin which are by no means annual at the site. Just seven species had been added to the list over the course of the month!

The start of the month had me away with the family for a week and then a trip to the Forest of Dean to see the Two-barred Crossbills, so it was mid-month before I returned to the patch. Almost a patch tick on my first visit, I located a Red-legged Partridge, a species I had heard once at SBR, but had never actually seen, so common as muck but it gave me a real buzz! A somewhat less welcome first for the patch was a Mink, but as that does not get points for PWC I won’t dwell on that. A single Marsh Tit was seen, this species is just hanging on at SBR. The first Sand Martin of the year was seen on 16th, my earliest record for this species and a sign, perhaps, that Spring was on the way. However, a major disappoint when an out of order mobile resulted in me missing a phone call to tell me about a first-winter Little Gull put a bit of a dampener on things. I’d seen Little Gull on the patch before, but years ago and it would have been a great patch year tick…but that’s birding! March had brought the year list up to 71 species and migration was underway.

After January, April was to prove to be my best month with regard to adding species to the year list, which of course is no surprise as Summer migrants begin to arrive and passage birds pass through. The first Common Sandpipers arrived during the first week of the month as did the first Swallows. Linnet is another species I never consider a given, so finding a nice male amongst a flock of Goldfinches was a bonus. A bit of a surprise in the form of a first-year Yellow-legged Gull brought about another couple of points, and the first Willow Warbler arrived on patch on 13th. With both Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat added mid-month another surprise find came on 20th when a heavy rain storm tempted me to the patch and the hunch played off as an Arctic Tern showed up briefly. The next day a Common Tern dropped in and to complete the hat trick an amazingly brilliant Black Tern spent a day hawking over the water. The month was completed with yet another shock visitor, as a pair of Shelduck appeared. The year list was now up to 87 species, but more importantly I had hit the 100 mark with regard to PWC points.

The first patch Swifts were seen on 5th and a Greylag Goose flew in the same day, and was gone 24 hours later. A Hobby was a nice addition to the list but probably the most unexpected bird of the month was a summer-plumaged Dunlin that flew in from the north and passed over my head before continuing south. With nowhere for it to pitch down, that pretty much sums up waders at SBR! A flying visit on my way in to work added Osprey to the year list, I would’ve thought the bird dropped in the previous night but it didn’t hang around as it was harried constantly by gulls and corvids. Towards the end of the month nothing new arrived and I knew it was going to be tough to add anything for a few weeks at least.

A week away and a little bit of twitching (I just had to go and see that Short-toed Eagle!) meant I didn’t spend any quality time on the patch until mid-way through the month. A female Mandarin with three juvenile birds would indicate the species bred successfully this year and on 29th two Common Sandpipers were present, presumably failed breeders heading back to Africa. The month ended with me being unable to add anything to the patch year list!

Another frustrating start to the month, heavy rain one afternoon and I decided against popping in to SBR on my way home…big mistake! I got a text saying a Redshank and three Green Sandpipers had dropped in, but two glasses of wine meant I had no chance of getting to see them, and no sign of them the following morning. However, on 7th I did find a pair of Common Scoters, an excellent tick for an inland reservoir. It remained fairly quiet for a couple of weeks and then a monster Great Black-backed Gull was found, another decent patch tick considering the site’s location. The end of the month produced a few more Common Sandpipers passing through and a patch year list now at 95 species, edging closer to the magic 100.

A few visits to the patch over the month failed to produce much at all, and certainly no new year ticks, until 24th when a scan of the barbed wire fence that runs along West Pool produced a Whinchat (my first here for a couple of years) and a Redstart (which was only my 3rd patch record, though the second in two years). So a couple of really good additions to the list. A couple of days later an early morning visit produced an Osprey and the month finished on a high when a Greenshank flew in, circled for a while trying to find somewhere to land and then headed on south, much in the same
way as the Dunlin back in May. A Tawny Owl was another nice sighting (only the second time I’d actually seen one on patch, when driving home one evening after a visit to the Isle of Wight Bee-eaters). Four species added to the year list this month.

A flurry of activity in September started with another Osprey on 3rd, the third record of the year, and amazingly four Whinchats and three Hobbies, some great birds all in one day…but none of them patch year ticks. Possibly the same, maybe a different Osprey and two more Whinchats on 6th and then on the afternoon of the 7th a fly-over Yellow Wagtail marked my 100th species of the year at Sutton Bingham Reservoir. A day later, four Garganey dropped in to West Pool briefly until spooked by a Buzzard and heading off, a White Wagtail was found but didn’t get me any points, and a Spotted Flycatcher passed through. A week later and another Osprey turned up, this time a juvenile bird that stayed for several weeks and a female Shoveler that dropped in to West Pool, the latter being another year tick for the patch. The highlight of the month came in the form of a long overdue patch tick, a fly-over Tree Pipit! Unbelievably, two days later a second Tree Pipit flew though and a juvenile Hobby put in a brief appearance. The first returning Wigeon arrived in the final week of the month and a Common Sandpiper also paid a visit. The patch year list was now at 104 species, I had beaten my 2013 total with three months to go!

The juvenile Osprey was last seen on 10th after staying at SBR for around seven weeks. Another year tick came in the form of a Skylark, with a small number passing through during the month and a few days later Stonechat was also added to the year list. A bit of non-avian interest partway through the month as I stumbled upon an Otter with two kits, an amazing site I was very privileged to have witnessed. The month ended with another Yellow-legged Gull.

Hardly surprisingly it all started to go really quiet again as the winter months set in, though a calling Water Rail provided a bit of interest and a Blackcap was located halfway through the month. A drake Pochard on 23rd was a patch year tick though, only my second in two years of a species that was once numerous at SBR.

The final month of a really enjoyable year on the patch and it provided a couple of bits and pieces. My final year tick came in the form of a male Pintail, present for just a single day with Wigeon and three Gadwall. December was notable for the number of Mediterranean Gulls I found on the patch, my highest total was 23 birds one evening, but at least 24 different individuals visited over the course of the month. The total of 23 was a site record and the second highest total ever recorded in Somerset. An adult Yellow-legged Gull was in the roost at the end of the year, a couple more Water Rail turned up, as did another Stonechat and three more Shoveler. I ended the year on 108 species and 124 points, of the species I saw, I had found them all. Nowhere near the totals seen in some of the UK’s hotspots, but the joy of patch birding is in the finding of birds. I had added two species to my patch life list during the year and spent countless enjoyable hours at Sutton Bingham Reservoir. Roll on 2015!

Midlands Minileague - December

The midlands has a large number of competitors for whom 2014 was their first year in the competition. So the final scores this year will be the comparative for next. Ian Cowgill at Lound wins the Midlands title for 2014. Lound is a place quite close to my heart as it was my local patch in the early 90's so it is great to see it breaking the 200 points mark for the year. John Hopper has pulled away in second whilst Andy Mackay makes up the top 3 at Eyebrook. It has been a very competitive league this year as the scores testify with a number of sites running each other very close.

It is good to see a number of competitors submitting to BirdTrack, with Andy Sims in particular putting in an impressive 9621 records and 261 complete lists. It is very straightforward to do and really adds to the patch birding experience.

December saw a number of birds of note appearing at midlands sites. Perhaps most of all was a Reed Warbler on the last day of the year at Marston Sewage Works. Only worth one point but perhaps as rare as almost any bird found in December. A more likely winter warbler is the Cetti's which was recorded at 2 patches in the month, including Lound where it was a first for the site. A Scaup was also a addition towards the end of the patch year for Espen at Wellington GP.

NB. Rhys Dandy and Steve Lyons scores have been amended.

There were only 5 patches that competed in the 2013 competition. It should be a very competitive comparative league next year, but this year Matt Griffiths at Earlswood takes the title, breaking the 100% barrier with 103%. Congratulations to Matt. Nick Crouch fell just short of beating his previous year score, but given his Pied Wheatear in 2013 it was always going to be a tough ask. 

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Birdtrack Birdrace

The Birdtrack Birdrace is changing a little this year. Complete lists are the best source of information for the BTO so the winner this year will be the person who manages to submit the most complete lists on patch to Birdtrack. I use the Birdtrack app for iPhone to do this in the field and there is also an android version of the app. Additionally you can enter the data via the website:

At the end of each month we need to know how many records and how many complete lists you have recorded for your patch. This list is cumulative i.e. your running total for 2015. Nick Moran explains how to get your details up below.

"1. Click 'Explore my records'
2. Click 'Select a year' (it will default to the current year, i.e. 2015)
3. Tick 'Locations'
4. Click 'Specific locations'
5. Shift+click your PWC sites (I have named mine with a prefix '15PC' so that they always appear at the top)
6. Click 'GO'
7. Read off totals from the top."

The Birdtrack Guru

We all use Birdtrack to give our birding some scientific meaning and to contribute to the birding and conservation communities.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Bardsey 2014 - Steve Stansfield and Ben Porter

Last year saw myself and Ben Porter take part in the 2014 patchwork challenge. 2014 proved to be an excellent year for the island with higher than usual number of species recorded (averaging approximately 170 species per year) and a good scattering of rarities amongst them.

Being pretty much as far away from the east coast of England as you possibly can get, Bardsey is never going to be able to compete with the likes of Spurn or Flamborough, North Ronaldsay or Fair Isle for number of species recorded in a year or the selection of rarities that these sites get. However we do our very best to try and keep up with the big guns...

 Ben got off to a good start being on the island over the winter months and I didn't get back until early March. However, I was soon able to start collecting points and species which Ben had managed to get in the first three months of the year. By Mid-summer we were pretty much neck and neck, however Ben’s departure for him to sit is A-level exams meant that he missed Honey Buzzard. Then during the early part of the autumn, I left the island for my summer holidays and missed Kingfisher, which would've been new bird for me on Bardsey.

 Just as autumn got into full swing I had to leave the island again in order to represent the British Bird Observatories Council at the International Bird Observatories Conference at Falsterbo in Sweden. Although birding in Sweden was fantastic, I was on edge throughout the week - thousands of Honey Buzzards, Occasional Nutcrackers and Two-barred Crossbills couldn't make up for the fact I knew I was potentially going to miss something good on Bardsey. On the final morning of the conference I received a text message from Ben saying ‘ha ha Bonelli's Warbler’ – damn, it had happened! Two days later I was back on the island and patching again. Fortunately I knew Ben was due to leave the island in October and I stood a good chance of gaining back a few points on him. During this time he managed to miss Yellow-browed Warblers, Velvet Scoter, Hobby, Hawfinch, Treecreeper, Woodlark and Bullfinch and a few other bits and pieces. So that was the contest on the island and what we both missed.

But what did we see? As I mentioned earlier, 2014 was a fantastic year on the island and we had some great birds and fantastic falls. None of the species we had were new for Bardsey but we did manage to get some pretty crippling records in ‘patch’ terms. These included - the island’s 2nd ever records of White Stork in April (a great find by Ben – so six points to him), Blyth’s Reed Warbler in June (a joint effort – 12 points each) and Grey-headed Wagtail in September (more bonus points for Ben!). Bardsey’s first Citrine Wagtail was s recently as October 2010, so we were delighted to find a nice first summer female in May (another shared find for me and Ben and 12 points), and then we were astounded when another juvenile turned up in early August, a Ben Porter solo this time, but no points for either of us!

 The island’s 3rd and 4th records of Yellow-legged Gull came in the forms of a dapper juvenile in July and a fine adult in October, both of which Ben missed. April 1st saw one of the most unusual records of the year when Ben came across only the 4th ever Stone Curlew for Bardsey which graced the Narrows for the day. December saw a common ‘mainland’ duck – a Goosander, but it was just the 6th record of for Bardsey – another one for Ben whilst I was off at a meeting!

 The Western Bonelli’s Warbler that Ben found in the plantation in late August was the 7th for the island and another well-deserved 12 points for him there. Spring and autumn records of Marsh Warbler becoming the 9th and 10th for Bardsey, one each, so self-find bonus for both of us. A good run of white winged Gulls in the early part of the year produced the 10th and 11th records of Iceland Gull. A Greenish Warbler found by one of the Assistant Wardens on a fantastic day in September became the 11th for the island, yet the fifth in six years but no self-find bonus on that one! Sea-ducks are scarce passing the island and the 12th Long-tailed Duck flew past in October – both of us dipped. I found the 15th ever Great Crested Grebe in October, Obs staff managed to get on the bird but Ben arrived 10 seconds after it was seen diving under a wave and disappearing forever! April saw the 16th record of Woodlark (both of us dipping on that one), but I managed to find the 17th record with a flock of four on another mega day in late October. As previously mentioned seaducks are scarce on Bardsey and the 17th record of Velvet Scoter (three males) came in October whilst Ben was in Portugal, but I managed to dash from my office to see them fly south past the Obs. The 18th Goshawk for the island sat around the withies a few days later, again no points for Ben, but points for me. The Kingfisher was also the 18th record for the island, but we both missed out on that one. The 19th and 20th Honey Buzzards (Ben missing both of these whilst in exams) and 19th to 21st Red Kites were seen in spring both found by Ben. The 20th record of Roseate Tern made a brief appearance in October, but again we both missed this patch goodie.

So those are the #patchgold records for 2014 (where 20 or fewer have previously been recorded on the island) but if we look at the wider list of species and where the points came from, it can be seen we had a good year, and some good fun too.

On top of the fantastic list of '#Patchgold' that is already mentioned above, other highlights included some great non-passerines for Bardsey such as Brent and White-fronted Geese (Ben missed these) and Canada Geese (I missed these!!). Five Black-throated Divers and 16 Great-Northerns and lots of Red-throats. Two Marsh Harriers (both found by Ben) and two Ospreys (both of us dipping on these, even though one flew right passed me!). A Hobby was a very late and welcome point in late October, but another dip for Ben.

Autumn saw an excellent set of Greenshank and Green Sandpiper records. Ten Grey Phalaropes and ten Sabine’s Gulls, four adult Long-tailed Skuas, Leach’s Petrel, Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters, all of which were welcome points onto my list in a fantastic few hours in October.

We also had five Glaucous Gulls, summering Black Guillemots, wintering Barn Owl, Hoopoe and ten Wrynecks – points all round for both of us.

Passerines saw five Richards’ Pipits (again bonus points there), two Nightingales (one self-find for each of us) and a good run of Ring Ouzels including 26 on one day. Seven Barred Warblers shared unevenly between us, but both getting bonus points, but Ben found 3 and I only found 1. Yet another Eastern Subalpine Warbler for the island in May was found by a Cardiff-based patchworker so no bonuses on that! A total of 21 Yellow-browed Warblers (which all occurred whilst Ben was away), eight Siberian Chiffchaffs, 11 Firecrests.

A staggering 284 Spotted Flycatchers flooded the island on 15 May, but sill just one point no matter how great the day was! Three Red-breasted Flycatchers provided bonus points including one in Ben’s garden, as did three Golden Orioles - one self-find bonus each.

A resident Hooded Crow added points early in the year, as did three Common Redpolls and a Common Rosefinch (bonus points for me, but again Ben was stuck in an exam). Two Hawfinches provided interest in September and October as did a scattering of Snow and Lapland Buntings, with an Ortolan Bunting fiving another finder’s bonus for Ben. An escape Gyr Falcon (Nil Point !!) spent two days on the island whilst I was off the island, but fortunately the jesses saved me another 12 point dip!

We also had several days of fantastic passage of common migrants in both spring and autumn, some good sea passage, and great rarities and not to mention the 32,000 breeding Manx Shearwaters keeping us company all year.

So the year ended with me on 183 species and 340 points and Ben close behind on 159 species and 252 points. Points per bird was very close. Ben had a fantastic start to the year and was ahead all the way until October. I think if it was not for a single day of sea passage in October, where I amassed 9 new species and 30 points, and a great day of migration at the end of October where I got another six species and 8 points, Ben would have been way ahead on PPB, but in the end we finished on 1.86 and 1.84 – very very close indeed. His great finds of White Stork, Bonelli’s Warbler, Stone Curlew and Citrine Wagtail pulling back the points he missed whilst being away doing exams.

Coastal Scotland Minileague - December

Peter Donelly on North Ronaldsay wins the Coastal Scotland Minileague but only by the skin of his teeth as John Bowlers excellent year continues until the very end. John managed a PPB of 2.027 to go to the wire but the excellent autumn that Peter had sealed the deal. Gary Bell at Sumburgh finishes third 16 points clear of local rival Steve Minton at Scatness. Former PWC stalwart Mark 'dead to us' Lewis finishes as the leading mainland Scotland patcher on a respectable 224 points beating Dan Brown at Dunnet. Some Taiga Beans on the Isle of the May were first records for the island and the outstanding December record for Mark Newell.

John Bowler managed a huge score in 2013 so to defeat by such a large margin makes him a more than worthy winner of the Coastal Scotland comparative minileague with 122%. Andrew Whitehouse pushed him close finishing on 117% with Stephen Welch in third on 116%. Just missing out was Dave W on Burray on 114%. Mark Newell is the sixth 100%er in Coastal Scotland with five more patchers over 95%. It looks like it will be close in 2015.

Coastal North Minileague - December

There was nothing of note found in the Coastal North in December which means long time leader Tim Jones not only wins the minileague but also the overall points total, NGB minileague and all round good guy competition. Great job Tim and a shame that you arent able to defend SBO's honour in 2015. Tim had managed to add Blackpoll Warbler in November thanks to a bird in Mick Turtons garden. Martin Garner finishes second with a 91 point lead over third placed Jane Turner. Chris Bradshaw sneaks in ahead of Iain Robson who despite a very decent year cant quite hold onto fourth. Jack Bucknall manages to overtake his Northumbrian compatriate, Tom Cadwallender showing that sometimes youth does beat experience.

Iain wins the comparative minileague witha hefty 112% although nobody else managed to hit the 100% mark with both Jane and James coming close.