After a headline grabbing January due to one bird, February was most definitely back to earth with a bump!
The beginning of February saw me on the mainland where I remained until the 24th of the month while my wife, co-patcher and friendly rival remained at home which enabled her to continue “patching”. Stress and anxiety levels would rise and fall during our daily telephone conversations as I awaited with baited breathe what she had seen in my absence.
I was fine with the Short-eared Owl, Dunlin, Moorhen and Meadow Pipit, but the text that informed me that she had found a Bonaparte’s Gull was not! I consider myself unfortunate not to have seen the bird but mightily relieved to hear that it was NOT on our patch.
Subsequent patch finds in my absence were Fieldfare, Hooded Crow and Rock Pipit. The pipit is a bit of a bummer as they occur infrequently on our patch and I will be lucky to find another this year and the Hoody is not a given.
We are fortunate that our house resides within the patch so we can “patch” almost every daylight hour. During the 4 days that remained of the month , a short walk every day and a constant vigil through the window, I managed to add 8 new species. This included the Hoody which had escaped the attentions of the local keeper, Fieldfare, Dunlin and Meadow Pipit. I also found Gannet, Merlin, Little Grebe and Black-headed Gull, all 4 species not yet seen by my competition.
So March still sees me slightly ahead due to “that bird” with 61 species and 85 points compared to Yvonne’s 62 species and 78 points. Our species lists are interesting as I have recorded 4 that Yvonne has not seen (Black-headed Gull, Little Grebe, Gannet, Merlin) and Yvonne has 5 on me (Eider, Water Rail, Rock Pipit, Short-eared Owl, Moorhen) Not a problem for Yvonne but Water Rail and Rock Pipit?????
John Bowler, Tiree
Having topped the Scottish coastal mini-league scores in January, February was a damp squib on my Balephuil patch, adding just 5 species (of which 3 were actually on 1st March....). Spending half the month in Sinai didn’t help. My bird of the month was Olive-backed Pipit, which although a potential “first” for Egypt, was nowhere near my patch!”
Jason Reynolds, East Hyde
So, after 2 months I have seen 70 species (for 73 points). Definitely not brilliant but then not too bad for an inland site which is as about as far as you can get from the sea in England and with no large area of water. Most of the points were accumulated in January - February was very quiet with none of the expected birds delivered by hard weather movements. This has meant that so far this year there has been no Brambling, Jack Snipe, Woodcock, Golden Plover, rare patch ducks (Wigeon, Goldeneye, Goosander), or geese (other than Canada - yes, not even a Greylag which is rare around here). Infact, so far this year there has been nothing unexpected which in itself is a little unexpected (although I have missed the much wanted flyover Ravens and a Peregrine). Pre competition, I spent several days agonising over the final shape of the patch so I now have an odd sausage shape patch, roughly aligning with the (Upper) Lee Valley and which includes a modern sewage farm, water meadow, woodland, fields, hedgerows and my garden. The many habitats have helped to build the list up with the expected common birds but now things are going to be difficult. However, being in a valley, I should pick up some less common migrants (there was a fly over White-tailed Eagle last year!) and we will have the summer visitors soon. But I am going to have to be very lucky to see 100 species this year on the patch! Highlights so far, a brief Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (in good breeding habitat but not relocated) and a pair of very beautiful Grey Partridge which will hopefully breed. No sign of Marsh Tit, which appears to be extinct in the area, and where have all the Yellowhammers gone? - none so far this year. An interesting, although not particularly exciting start to the patch year.
Mark Nowers, Sutton
Stutton - if only someone else seeing half a bittern counted.
Well you are never going to see much if you don't get out there are you? The only outings in February of any duration were restricted to a couple of early Saturday mornings and a WeBS count at the high tide roost (Stutton Mill). It didn't help that it snowed on both of the Saturday mornings I was out.The WeBS count came up trumps with my first linnets of the year, a couple of raids by a Peregrine (which didn't assist with counting) and at last, the Long-tailed Duck that had been around for a couple of months.
An unexpected bonus came in the form of a summer-plumaged Mediterranean Gull that flew over the patch whilst I was on a barge trip out on the estuary. Med Gull is a tricky bird at the western end of the Stour. Birds winter off Harwich, but this was only my fourth in ten years up this end. It still didn't trump the Hungarian-ringed one seen at Mistley in autumn 2011.
I was able to pull up and overlook Alton Water on quite a few occasions, but the hoped for Goosander and White-fronted Geese did not appear, nor did a hoped for American Wigeon deign to join the 70-or-so Eurasian Wigeon that regularly graze by the dam end.
There were a few 'Grips' in February. A Velvet Scoter was bobbing about for a week or so; a Short-eared Owl pops up every now and then and perhaps most tantalising of all, what was thought to be a Bittern dropped in to the small reedbed at Stutton Mill last week. Omissions that should come by now still include Kingfisher, Barn Owl, Little Owl, Golden Plover, Pintail (no idea why I have not seen one yet) and Grey Wagtail.
I think we were a little spoiled perhaps back in January. As well as the attention grabbing Gyrfalcon and White billed diver, we had refind kumliens gull, a plethora of green-winged teal and ring billed gulls, as well as non-find white billed diver, and Bonaparte's gull.
In comparison, February was, well, quiet.
Thats not to say that there were not any interesting records. Wildfowl and gulls featured high among many patchers highlights, with Iceland and Caspian gulls being prominent, and Bewicks swans and rare geese such as Tundra beanies providing excitement. Waxwings also got plenty of mentions on the February scorecard, and, even in a good year when it's sometimes difficult not to see them, waxwings will brighten up any day on patch.
More interesting perhaps were some slightly unseasonal records. A Richards pipit appeared at Hesketh out Marsh - not unheard of in winter of course, but perhaps more unusual was the Temminck's stint that showed up at Steart, in Somerset.
Perhaps the rarest birds feature as a result of a change in the rules regarding scoring points for rare subspecies. Several patchers had emailed us to ask about scoring points for rare subspecies so we came up with a list (a few blog posts back) of acceptable subspecies and the points you can score for them. As such, goodies such as Siberian chiffchaff and black brant are worth something, and are certainly worth reporting among your highlights!
Well, March is nearly half way through already but I guess it's not too late to make a wee prediction for the best bird for this month.
It's a toss up between one for the north and one for the south - so I'll keep my options open and predict them both! Up north, someone could well get lucky with a Ross's gull. And I hope that it's me. Down south, and bird-wise half a world away, someone will stumble over a great spotted cuckoo. You heard it here first.....
Wondering who's top of the Patchwork Challenge league? Look no further...
First up, here are the standings in terms of a raw points total;
Congratulations to Jonathan Gibbs, who has scored a pretty massive 143 points in just 2 months. Jonathan was top of the comparative league at the end of January, but despite having so many points has slipped out of the top ten in the comparative scores league...
Next up, we have the league table for those without comparative scores. Fourth place in the overall points totals standings is enough to put Rob W at the top of the non-comparative league, so congratulations to Rob
And almost last, but certainly not least, we have the comparative totals league. This league is pending clarification as the top place according to our spreadsheet was occupied by someone who had seen 103% of their comparative total! Obviously something has gone wrong somewhere with that so we'll look into it and make changes if necessary.
In the meantime, hearty congratulations to Graham Powell!
As well as congratulating all who find themselves in the top tens, we'd just like to thank everyone for their continued support with this and for submitting their scores. I hope it's proving to be a worthwhile venture for folk and that you're all enjoying the Patchwork Challenge
One final league table - we thought it might be interesting to see what a points per bird league (simply the number of points divided by the number of species). Funnily enough, the finders of the two highest scoring finds of January occupy the top 2 spots, and 9 out of the ten are a) coastal and b) northern. I'm not sure what that means.....
Since moving to Devon some 20+ years ago I have been
fortunate enough to have Dawlish Warren as my local patch visiting the Warren
regularly since 1991. Over this time I have managed to accumulate a decent
patch list (92% self found), comparing favourably to many inland county lists and
a far cry from the woodland and old gravel pit sites I used watch back in North
Following a couple of years of listing, first UK and then
Devon, I had decided 2013 would be more low key and patch based so the
Patchwork Challenge seemed ideal to keep the enthusiasm going. One PC rule I
won’t be following however is to include birds seen from the patch - this is only acceptable for house/garden lists. I
didn’t go through 15 years of Nuthatch induced torture just to be able to
record it on an almost daily basis!
Dawlish Warren is a double sandpit some 1.5miles long and
roughly 0.5miles wide at the mouth of the Exe Estuary in south Devon. The
recording area (and my patch) covers c215 ha extending from Langstone Rock in
the south to Cockwood Harbour in the north with the railway line creating the
western boundary, however only about 40% of this area is above the high tide
line and much of this is a golf course to which there is no public access.
Langstone Rock at the SW corner of the site is a 15m high red
sandstone megalith, very distinct from the spit which extends NE from it. The
base of the spit has largely suffered from tourism development and sea defence
schemes but the remainder of the spit is semi-natural. The sandy, gravely beach
and intertidal banks, which stretch over a mile out to sea, are in a constant
state of flux with rapid rates of creation and erosion.
The majority of the Outer Warren is semi-fixed dune grassland
and bramble with a heavily eroded seaward dune ridge, these two habitats are
linked at the eastern end on Warren Point.
The depressed central zone of the Warren (Greenland Lake)is
an old tidal creek and becomes flooded in winter, it supports maturing willow-birch-alder
scrub with ponds, small areas of dune slack and marshy grassland.
The Inner Warren is fixed-dune grassland, with stands of
gorse and dune heath on the golf course; there is also a small Turkey oak copse.
The estuarine side of the spit supports an area of saltmarsh and thereafter are
large expanses of estuarine mudflats.
The recording area list is hovering around 300 species, with
two still in BBRC limbo, Elegant Tern
and Western Sandpiper. In terms of
quality of rarity Dawlish Warren has always punched well above its weight, ever
since the Great Black-headed Gull of
1859! As a consequence it is known to most UK birders, with many having visited
and trudged along the sand dunes at some time or other, either calling in on
the way to Scilly or twitching Semipalmated
Plover and/or Long-billed Murrelet.
Some may even remember Lesser Crested
Tern, Greater Sandplover or Great-spotted Cuckoo. The latter was my first visit to the site -
twitching it from the south east, a great decision as it turned out as I dipped
the site’s second record in Feb 2001 and the 1990 bird is still on permanent
As to be expected with an estuary site waders are the main
focus with American Golden Plover, Lesser Yellowlegs, Semi-palmated, Baird’s, White-rumped and Broad-billed Sandpipers all recorded in the last 15 years with Kentish Plover expected annually. Amongst
the flocks of terns midsummer Caspian
and Gull-billed Tern have been
However rarities can be found anywhere on site not just the
estuary with other gems including Dusky,
Raddes, Savi’s and Great Reed
Warblers, Penduline Tit, Lesser Grey Shrike and even Red-eyed Vireo. But despite this track
record in terms of migrants, the site can be hard work – there have only ever been
c40 records of Pied Flycatcher with
species such as Redstart, Whinchat, Lesser Whitethroat and Cuckoo
rarely exceeding 10 records a year, a poor return for a well watched coastal
The Warren’s position in the
middle of Lyme Bay means it is not ideally suited for seawatching but it can do
fairly well in, and especially, after the right conditions with species such as
Sooty Shearwater, Little Auk and Long-tailed Skua just about annual.
The same goes for visible migration and despite the added hindrance of
being at sea level this can also be exciting, especially in cold weather. Recent notable flyovers include Crane, Glossy Ibis, Red-rumped
Swallow, Red-throated, Tawny and Richard’s Pipit - just don’t mention the Short-toed Eagle!
It’s far from just rarities and migrants though, the Warren
is part of the Exe Estuary SPA and is designated for nationally important
numbers of wintering wildfowl and wintering and passage waders whilst offshore Balearic Shearwater, Slavonian Grebe and Roseate Tern are also notable.
Away from birds Dawlish Warren is famous for the Sand (or
Warren) Crocus and is internationally designated for its dune flora. Over 2000
species of invertebrates, including 650 species of moth, 630 species of plants
and250 species of fungi and have been recorded with discoveries on-going, a new
weevil for the UK was even found last year!