Thursday, 29 November 2012

Tarty needs...

Never mind all that best patch find stuff...patch listing is all about the bread and butter, so whats the commonest stuff you've never seen on your patch? I've had 187 species at girdle ness, my patch, including a few goodies such as brunnichs guillemot, white billed diver, and a good assortment of decent passerines. However, during the 5 years I've been covering the patch properly (and a further ten years with less frequent visits beforehand) I've never had pochard or treecreeper! 

I have single records of coot, moorhen, and very few records of pheasant, collared dove, and coal tit. 

But that's the beauty of patching. I wouldn't bat an eyelid if I saw any of the above on my way down the shops (with the exception of pochard perhaps!) but finding one of these common rarities gives me a genuine thrill, more so than finding a regular 'rare' bird like, for example a yellow-browed warbler. I recall a few springs ago, I came across a stunning, singing male bluethroat early one may morning. Very nice indeed - but when the first ever stock dove for the patch flew past 5 minutes later I leapt up and did a genuine, not ironic air grab...

I guess it's a bit strange that it means that much to me, but when you've invested a great deal of time in a place the rewards are all the more enjoyable. Perhaps even more pertinent is that the expected rewards give more of a thrill than the unexpected ones. Well, they do for me, anyway!

So if you've taken up this patch listing as an excuse to get out into the field and find more rares, all the very best to you - but don't forget the missing common birds. You'll get your pochard one day, and you'll be on cloud 9 when you do...

Best find on patch?

I thought I would add a bit of colour to the blog, albeit through a very poor photo of my best find on my patch at Hemsby. What's your best find been on patch? Let us know and if you have a (better) photo we will post them on here.

Ortolan bunting - south Winteron Dunes or north end of my patch as I prefer to call it. 

Keep them coming!

There's been plenty of interest in this so far, with well over 20 patches submitted in the first few days and hopefully plenty more to come. Thanks to everyone who's signed up so far, we hope it proves to be a fun experience.

Thanks also to everyone who has sent maps of their patches in. This isn't essential but we may well use them in future and a map of your patch might be a useful thing to have if we ask you to contribute a guest blog when you find that azure tit.....if you want to create a map, the following links have been used by other patchers....

If you look over to the right you will also see that we've added a link to Birdtrack (well, Ryan has added it but I will try to take some of the credit...). It's not essential to the competition but we think it would be brilliant to contribute some data to this fantastic project. Not only will your records have some value, you will also be able to create all sorts of graphs and the like. That sort of thing is very appealing to a patch geek like me...

In the not too distant future there will be a much more informative post about Birdtrack, but in the meantime, follow the link and have a look round, and sign up your patch!

Good birding!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

What is the 'patchwork' challenge?

The birding fraternity has seen a shift in attitudes recently, with many birders turning their attention from twitching towards rarity finding.  As a result, there also seems to have been an upturn in the profile watching a local patch.

The advantages of watching a local patch are obvious. Low fuel costs and travel time aside, great pleasure can be derived from getting to learn a place inside out, observing how the seasons change, and getting value from common species that otherwise wouldn’t get a second glance. Throw in the potential for the odd rare bird or scarcity and to me, you have a really exciting, involving way to enjoy your birding.

So what could enhance the patch watchers enjoyment a little? Well, perhaps adding an element of competition would do the trick. We’re a competitive bunch, us birders, both with our peers and ‘internally’ as well. We like a gloat, we like to add things to lists, and we like to know what the numbers are. So why not see if we can add a little friendly competition to our patch birding.

There is one immediate problem with this – how do you compare one patch with another? The birder who ‘patches’ at Minsmere is going to see a lot more species than the birder who patches at some inland woodland. Also, how do you rate the species seen? It’s hardly fair that the hard earned Radde’s warbler earns the same number of points as a meadow pipit. And it’s a bit unfair that a self found Radde’s would score the same as one that you’d twitched.  I think coming up with an absolutely bulletproof way of scoring a competition like this is impossible – there are too many variables, but after some long and hard thought, we’ve come up with a scoring system (actually a combination of two existing scoring systems with a few tweaks) that we believe is suitable.

So bear with me while I go through the rules and the scoring system….it might get a bit dull…

The scores

As I alluded to earlier, the score each bird earns will be related to its rarity. We have used the ‘Birdguides’ rarity categories, which gives every species on the BOU British list a rarity value (common, local, scarce, rare and mega). These categories will be scored 1 – 5 respectively. Those species categorized as scarce or rarer, if self found, will have their points doubled, so, for example, the Radde’s warbler mentioned above will be worth 3 points if you twitch it, but 6 if you find it yourself.

Again though, this definitely seems to favour Minsmere over Manchester, and a patcher working Fair Isle could well score an awful lot of points! But to level the playing field, to even out ‘patch quality’, we propose a scoring system that relates the observers’ score to the tallies run up over previous years. This makes your score representative of how good your year has been on your patch. To do this, all you need to do is present your score as a percentage of your last years score – and as the competition goes on, as a percentage of the average of the previous two years scores.

This may seem complex but there is a reason. We’ve trialed the points scoring system, and for the most part it is fine. However, we noticed that there could be a little contention regarding the value of some birds. A kittiwake, for example, is worth 2 points. A coastal observer will probably see kittiwake every year, a lot, whereas someone based inland would be very pleased when a kitti graced their patch. Using our system, the points gained for the kittiwake by the inland birder (in this instance) will have more impact on their overall score than the kittiwake scored every year by a coastal observer.
For people who are new to patch listing or have had a larger patch in the past we will run a league for point’s only patches for the first year. If there are enough competitors we may even break these down into fairer leagues e.g. inland league, east coast league etc. Thereafter in the second year everyone can be included in the main percentage league using their score from year one.
Simple? Well, no…but it certainly goes a fair way towards leveling the playing field – after all, this is a competition between patchers and not patches. To make things simple, we will send each competitor a spreadsheet that keeps a tally of their score as they add species to it.

The rules

The rules are pretty simple. Your patch must have an area of 3 km2 maximum (3 x 1km squares). It doesn’t have to be rectangular, or comply with any OS grid lines; it can be any shape you want it to be. It just has to be 3 km2 or smaller.

The birds that contribute to your score must be within the boundaries of the patch (i.e. you don’t need to be), or, seen or heard while you are on your patch. So, heard only birds count, distant passing seabirds count, flyovers count, and birds flushed from the patch while you approach your site count.

Unfortunately, to keep things in the here and now, we won’t be able to wait for rarities committees to verify records of rare birds. I should imagine the majority of rare or mega birds will be of suitable interest to other birders to attract some ‘external verification’, as will many of the scarce birds. However, more than one observer will see not everything so we’ll just have to rely on the honesty of the competitors.

But we’re an honest lot aren’t we, so that wont be a problem!

If you're interested in taking part in the challenge email us on if you have any more questions or with your patch boundaries etc.
Patch boundaies example 1
Patch boundaries example 2