Saturday, 21 June 2014

An Inland Patch Addict

My name is Mark and I am a patch addict. Since the age of twelve I've 'patched', be it the fields beyond my parent's house,  trespassing on old British Steel land or the more established local (to me) spots of Catcliffe Flash, Treeton Dyke and Rother Valley Country Park. All these at sometime or another have been my patch. But for one reason or another they always lacked something - usually birds.

The old Orgreave Coking Plant viewed from my teenage patch of Catliffe Flash around 1989.

In 1994 I discovered a pool at the top of the slag heap at the infamous Orgreave Coking Works and Pit. I say discovered but I’d long heard talk of the pool and eventually plucked up courage to trespass onto the site. Sure enough there was a lake, shallow and reasonably large. I had a few waders Ringed Plover, breeding Little Ringed, Green Sandpiper and best of all Spotted Redshank. A decent late summer roost of Lesser Black-backed Gulls - Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls weren't talked about back then - totalling several hundred birds most evenings. Typically, just as I was getting into my new found patch the site was closed off and opencast. So with my tail between my legs it was back to the old ground of Rother Valley.      
In 2009 I became aware of a large body of water on the now almost completed opencast site. The problem was that it was still inaccessible. I began to view it from a fair distance, about half a mile, usually just a quick look on my way to work. It was during one of these visits that I struck patch gold a winter drake Long-tailed Duck. I remember it well for two reasons.  Firstly one of the front suspension springs broke after hitting a speed bump on the way to get better views, secondly whilst watching the duck a dog walker walked across my field of view. Nothing too significant about that you might say. But the dog walker was inside the site perimeter - clearly there was a way in!  So that evening on my way home from the office I found that way in and visits to my new love became regular.

This ‘patch’ has been a revelation. In just five years I've found more local rarities than any of my previous patches combined. Self-found highlights have been (in species order) White-fronted Goose, Long-tailed Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Smew (2), Quail, Black-necked Grebe (8), Leach’s Petrel, Great White Egret (2), Glossy Ibis, Long-tailed Skua, Iceland Gull (3), Caspian Gull, Lapland Bunting (4) and Snow Bunting (4) with a good supporting cast of not so rare.

Every now and again you reap the reward of seemingly endless tedium. Don't despair your next visit could be BIG! 

Orgreave is my dream patch. A dream in that I always wanted somewhere virtually to myself that I could watch too and from work and most importantly a place that got good birds. Almost three square kilometres in size comprising of two shallow lakes, lush grassland, newly planted birch and alder and willow plantations with more established trees running along the length of the nowadays clean river Rother.  

The future of the site is mixed. Almost a third of it will be swallowed up by a housing development, a development that will only be reduced in size if as planned the HS2 goes through the site! But I’m not down about it, the patch is big enough to cope and my strategy of first light visits ensures that my visits are mostly disturbance free. It’s also very young and with the areas of scrub and woodland developing the range of species can only increase.

The Patchwork Challenge has been a great platform to feed my obsession and regular banter between myself and other other inland patch birders serves only to greaten the incentive. It’s all friendly stuff though, Jonny Holliday and I even went out drinking together recently. I did quite well managing to slip last autumns Long-tailed Skua into the conversation before the first pint was half done! It’s also virtually killed off my desire to travel stupidly long distances for a few minutes glimpse of a ‘mega’. Last year whilst watching the Margate ‘Dusky’ Thrush I received a text about a singing Sedge Warbler (only one previous record) I was completely gripped and at this point realised the level of my patch addiction. For me it's all about perspective, I've been lucky enough to find a Pallas's Warbler on Shetland but the thrill I got from my first Coal Tit at Orgreave (still just three records) was just as good - if not better. When I had the Ibis I wept! The thrill of the sites first proper rarity, the punishing early morning visits and the sheer adrenalin rush, it was just too much!

Presumably due to my passion for patching the team have invited me along as their Inland Patch Guru. That’s certainly one four-letter word that I’ve never been called before! Hopefully I will bring a less coastal bias to the monthly round up and perhaps provide drive and enthusiasm to those weary Patchers particularly during those potentially dire months of March, June and November. 

Mark Reeder

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