Monday, 30 June 2014

New Patchwork Enthusiast Joins The Team

As a new member of the team, my first job is to introduce myself. My name is Peter Williams and I grew up in a village close to Worksop in Nottinghamshire. My family were always very interested in wildlife and were active in the local naturalist society, so maybe it was inevitable that I would pick up the wildlife bug, it must be in the genes.

I quickly found that it was birds that captured my imagination, and whilst I hold an interest in other aspects of wildlife, it was certainly our avian friends for whom I developed more of a passion and a modest level of expertise. My childhood was made up of local birding, not that I called it patchwork back then, but it wasn’t long before I was making lists for the wood at the back of my house and joining my father on the WEBS counts of local bodies of water, some of which could be entirely empty at times! Trips to the coast were only very occasional, Spurn or Flamborough being the main destinations of choice. Life dictated that I would be an inland birder from the start.

My father, whose main interest lies in fungi and spiders, used to take me birding most Sundays through the late eighties and early nineties, and so it was that I discovered Lound Gravel Pits. At the time, this series of open fly-ash lagoons and fields was a revelation. Finds like Snow Bunting, Dotterel, Black Tern and Osprey were now on my doorstep. Every visit felt like anything could turn up, and with records such as Razorbill and Great Skua the coast was coming to me! The bird club there was just getting established and I increased my interest in birds and also moths at this time. Lound Gravel Pits is now known as Idle Valley Nature Reserve and is enjoying an ever increasing level of investment and attention from the birding community.

I note that both the Idle Valley and Carlton-In-Lindrick are registered as patches, so I will watch their results with great interest this year.

I spent four years at university in Aberystwyth but during this time I indulged in things other than birding, although that didn’t stop me seeking out the Hen Harriers at Borth Bog and enjoying the Purple Sandpipers below the pier. The Starling roost in Aberystwyth is something to behold too.

Ten years ago I moved to the small village of Laycock in the heart of Bronte country, close to Keighley in West Yorkshire. Living on patch certainly makes understanding and watching the birds on it easier. In the first few years there, most of my birding trips were to either Spurn or Idle Valley. Spurn has a real place in my heart and really sets the pulse racing on that final approach to Kilnsea, as a fresh easterly blows in on an autumn day. During this time I also backpacked through a number of countries including Vietnam, Peru, Guatemala and Tanzania amongst others.

In the last couple of years I have been unable to make as many trips, and as my birding on my home patch of Laycock increased I discovered Patchwork Challenge. My patch has a list of just 110 species. It is not going to set the world alight and I will not be terrorising the top of the tables (unless I manage to convince the team to set up a highest proportion of species scoring 1 point table). That is not important to me however, Patchwork Challenge has a real global appeal, for those whose patch is a magnet for rarities to those who enjoy watching their local area, even their garden. Without the records from local birders, the BTO would not have full survey results and there would be less understanding of the populations of our UK birds and their distribution. It is a great inclusive challenge for the rarity hunter and garden bird survey completer alike.

My Laycock patch has woodland, river valleys, farmland and moorland with a couple of small bodies of water thrown in. It has a good range of the common species but rarities are just that. The joy of patchworking however, is that rare takes up a different definition. Sitting on a boulder watching over the valley last July, the appearance of a male Redstart on a Hawthorn was a really fulfilling birding experience. Sometimes rarity is defined by its location. Last month, a Little-Ringed Plover lead to a small amount of fist punching as I stood alone alongside Keighley reservoir in the pouring rain, I’m sure I was quite a sight but I had just increased my patchwork challenge list by one!

      Keighley Reservoir

      Winter above Laycock village

     Evening light at Redcar Tarn

      My favourite patch on patch.

This year I have also adopted a second patch. As my daily 90 mile round trip to work breached the patch size definition, I opted for the local patch of Newton Marsh on the Fylde. I can be found there during my lunch hour in the week, sitting in my car at the roadside watching the birds on the pools. I could pick a more exciting location than this perhaps, but I love this site. Home to a number of threatened species, I have seen Garganey, Wood Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint and Osprey amongst others over the last 4 years. If I could put my two patches together they would make quite a list. It is a very relaxing place to spend a lunch break!

     Newton Marsh

I will blog about my patches in more detail on future posts, this is after all meant to be an introductory blog and not a biopic.

I am very excited to be joining the Patchwork Challenge team. It is a chance for me to become more active in the birding community than I have been in the past, and to play a part in a growing area of birding which I firmly believe is a key component in this hobby of ours. Ultimately everyone in the birding community loves their patch!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Urban Patching

Hi there I'm Keith, or Snowy to my friends
I'm a Leeds man born and bred and I've been a nature lover all my life, mammals were the big thing during my school years, birding didn't come along until later on. 

When I was in my mid 20's, I was unlucky enough to lose my job, I won a college place within a month to start a new career, only to then get knocked back by the grant office as I was too late with my application to get in that year. I spent a year on the dole thanks to that set of jobsworths but it was a year well spent as I took up walking, one of my favourite walks was through woodland not far from home. I noticed the birds were different to those in the garden, so I borrowed my Dad's old 10 x 50 porros and started to have a good look at them. Pretty soon I'd bought a copy of Collins Birds of Britain and Europe (still got it even though it's falling apart) and my listing began. 

Now 32 years later I've a County List of 273 (the only real list I keep now) with a few nice birds on it, Pacific diver, Brown flycatcher and as of last week Black scoter. Over the years I've done a lot of survey work for the BTO, including 10 years of BBS surveys, several squares for the BTO Atlas and now I have settled on surveying Hetchell Wood to the North of Leeds, for the YWT.

What I have never done until now is patch working, there are areas that I visited regularly but not all year long. It has been an eye opener the last 6 months, I've not seen any national mega rarities but am coming to appreciate that you can have extremely local megas just the same. 

My patch consists of Breary Marsh & Adel Dam nature reserves, Golden Acre Park and most of Eccup Reservoir (couldn't quite get all the dam wall into the area limit) on the Northern outskirts of Leeds. I've got a bit of almost every habitat except coast, mud and moor. I started the year with every intention of being on patch every weekend, sadly real life has intruded to a greater extent than I would have liked, but I am hoping to make up for the deficit following my holiday next month.

Some of the best sightings so far have been; around 500 black-headed gulls on the lake at Adel Dams (it's not a very big piece of water); 2 shelduck on Golden Acre Park lake early one morning, a site first for me and best of all; finding a pair of treecreepers investigating a potential nest site. None of these would have been possible if I hadn't taken up the challenge. I'm also thoroughly enjoying watching the seasonal changes at the sites, as well as slowly learning the areas that birds seem to like and dislike all of which I am sure will further enhance my birding.
I am going to be blogging on the trials and tribulations of an urban patchworker, hopefully on a regular basis.

Adel Dams
Eccup Reservoir

Monday, 23 June 2014

Away Patches – Autumn 2014

I know that many of us like to get away for a few days/ weeks during the autumn and that we return to the same spot each year, a sort of autumn ‘away’ patch. Mine is Voe on the mainland of Shetland. For me it is ideal, lots of cover, large enough area to cover on foot in a day, a baker, a pub and of course a few birds to see. I got chatting with a friend on a survey recently chiding him for not entering PWC when he used the usual excuses of too busy, away a lot etc when he suggested a great idea. "Why don’t you have an autumn mini league for peoples away patches?" Now, his ‘away’ patch is Foula so I can see why he is keen but it got me thinking that this could be a bit of fun.
Lower Voe

Upper Voe

I think that the rules should be relaxed slightly as well, perhaps the size of patch should be 5km squares or you can only walk your patch, no driving to it etc  (which will be fine for Spurn, Fair Isle, Foula, Voe)? The main rule change will be that only birds found will count, thus avoiding a scenario where someone on Fair Isle cleans up by twitching all the rares.

Let us know via the comments here, twitter, facebook etc if you are interested or have ideas for rules etc, whether you go to Spurn, Scillies, Fair Isle, North Ron, Cape clear, Spurn, Blakeney etc.

12 points!

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

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Pounds for Cuckoos

Thanks to your good selves, and of course the kind sponsorship of Meopta and Forest Optic, who donated £1 for every species of bird recorded on PWC 2013, we were able to make a donation of £315 to the BTOs Out of Africa appeal. This great work has allowed us to follow our cuckoos on their annual journeys into the heart of Africa - and considering the amount of time they spend here, has raised the question of whether we can call them 'our' cuckoos at all! The results of this fascinating project can be seen here.

This year, we're doing something slightly different, although the cuckoo work is ongoing, and BTO have tagged a further 16 birds, who can be followed here, and perhaps more importantly, sponsored here

This year we've decided that our donation will go to the BTOs House martin appeal, which will hopefully shed some light on the long term decline in this species that might have seen numbers decline by as much as two thirds. Again, the donation will be based on a £££/species rate, and the donation this time will come from Bresser and Forest optic. We'd like to thank them again for their generous offer for 2014!

So, get out there and find something new for the PWC year list - which can be found here on BUBO. Then, not only can you bask in the glory of your good find, you can enjoy the warm glow that comes from knowing you've added a little extra to the pot. 

And if you are not fortunate enough to be able to get out in the field right now, you can enjoy this picture of Ryan handing the cheque over, to Bonita Johnston from BTO ably assisted by Charlotte Lancashire of Forest Optics.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

South West Minileague - May

Joe Stockwell manages to grab hold of top spot after some huge scoring at the end of the spring whilst Kev Rylands manages to split the Portland boys but is now 20 points back from the leader. Sean Foote who was leading at the end of April has to be content with a 43 point cushion over Paul Bowerman in 4th. There were some cracking finds this month across the South West including Citrine Wagtail, Red-breasted Fly and Serin for Joe, Bonaparte's Gull for Martin Elcoate (who also had a Ross's Gull on patch) and Black Stork for Kev at Dawlish Warren.

Marcus Lawson holds on at the top of the Comparative League with 86.4%. Roger Musgrove, after a monster year in 2013 is going well again as he gets to 83.6% in second climbing one place whilst Shaun Robson is in third with 80.7%. Paul Bowyer at Sand Point falls from second to fifth after no additions.

Midlands Minileague - May

The best find of the month appears to be John Hopper's Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. There cant be many patches left with this species present so a bit of patch gold. This helped catch Ian Cowgill who failed to make any additions in May leaving John only 8 points behind. Nick Crouch keeps hold of 3rd place from Andy Mackay keeping the top three static. The general trend this month seems to be one of slowness with only a handful of decent birds and incremental additions to the scores. Hopefully this can perk up once those passage waders and moulting gulls start passing through next month...

Dave Roberts has been ousted from the top and falls into third place despite reaching 83.7%. Matt Griffiths takes over at the top on a fine 88.1% and Nick Crouch is in second on 85.6%. Richard Harbird is unlucky to be in fourth with a fine 82.7% whilst Nick Self rounds it off with a very respectable 75.9%.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Wales Minileague - May

Who'd have thought that Bardsey would be the place to be after May! Wales has had some top birds this year but it's no surprise that a good run of migrants has put the two Bardsey residents out on top of the Wales minileague. Both Steve and Ben are in joint third in terms of the number of species seen, which means that their top spots reflect the quality of what they've been seeing. Ben is ahead by a single point at the moment - but I'm typing this on the day he found a Blyth's reed warbler so things might have changed a little!

It looks like it might be a three horse race in Wales. Barry Stewart at Burry inlet is in third place, and is only 3 points behind the Bardsey Boys. Matt Meehan, Savi's points and all, is back in fourth, and is 14 points behind Barry. Is that a bridgeable gap?

It's all looking very different in terms of comparative scores though. The Bardsey Boys are languishing in 6th and 8th places, and top spot goes to Henry Cook, who is 5% (ish) ahead of AlisonC. At least Matthew Meehan is consistant, being 4th in both leagues.

London Minileague - May

Adam Bassett sits on top of the London league, but he's only a gnat's whisker in front of Nick Croft at Rainham (and Nick has one more species, so there must have been a little extra quality on offer at Little Marlow GP). However, Nick knows all about quality, and if there was going to be a prize for the best bird per minileague, it would take something pretty special to beat the Blyth's reed warbler that he found at Wanstead. Last year, Blyth's reed was good enough to make it onto our best find shortlist. It'll struggle to make it again this year, but it's still a tremendous bird, and the 12 point scored put Nicks Wanstead patch very close to Marek Walford in third place.

Micheal Terry is the first in London to get past 100%, but Jason reynolds is pretty close behind with 97.8%, and Adam BAssetts high score sees him in third. All of the London leaguers playing against a comparative score are now over 75%. I'm not sure what this means - but I'll speculate that it's something to do with it being inland. Something to ponder I think...

Inland East Anglia Minileague - May

We're beginning to sound like a stuck record with the inland East Anglia league - as Jamie Wells remains out on top. Being 15 species and 20 points ahead, there's every chance we'll carry on sounding like a stuck record for a little longer. Yet again, Ben Lewis is in second place, and points wise at least, is a similar margin ahead of Ed Keeble in third. Third place is where the real competition lies in this league, perhaps, as Ed, Mark Nowers in 4th and Steve Swinny in 5th are separated by just 11 points.

Mark and Steve are fighting it out in the comparative score league, with Jim Bradley coming between them in second. Mark and Jim are already over 100%. At the other end of the league - it looks like it's not being very productive at Maldon this year!

Monday, 9 June 2014

Inland Scotland Minileague - May

Like the Irish Minileague, Inland Scotland had a relatively quiet may for star birds but plenty of points were earned with bread and butter finds. There was one set of bonus points - a cheeky six pointer for Graeme Garner at Cambus for a Spoonbill which was enough to overtake Dunblane Chris Pendlebury who is at the moment the leading Chris Pendlebury. Alastair Forsyth continues to hold sway in terms of total points at Old Nisthouse, 29 clear of Rory Whytock in second. Rory infact himself managed to get his Lake of Menteith patch into second after overhauling Simon Pinder at Newburgh who failed to make any additions.

Alastair F also leads the comparative table and his current score of 110% must put him in an excellent position in terms of the overall competition. Chris P at Dunblane is in second whilst Ali Shuttleworth moves up two spots to push Andy Cage into fourth.

Ireland Minileague - May

A relatively quiet month for PWCers in Ireland with no bonus points recorded and the top two failing to add a point between them. To be fair Niall's Cahow seems reasonable compensation! Neal Warnock added four points at Larne Lough to close the gap on the leaders whilst further down the table Peter Phillips managed to climb a couple of places to fifth. Best finds were more prosaic than elsewhere but I am sure the Corncrakes, Lesser Whitethroats and Pomarine Skuas all raised a smile.

Despite adding nothing this month, Eamonn O'Donnell still lays claim to top spot and his lead is static as well as Michael O'Donnell failed to record any additions. Alan Lauder at Carrick mountain adds 18% to his score and jumps from 7th to 3rd knocking Neal Warnocks's Rathlin patch out of the top three.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

South Coast Minileague - May

Adam Faiers has taken Sandwich Bay to the top of the South Coast Minileague thanks to a marvelous May featuring a Black-winged Stilt and Montagu's Harrier. Andy Johnson finds himself in the unusual position of looking up to somebody else in the league table. Harry Ramm at Climping holds on to third place despite not updating this month although Joost Brandsma is closing in...

Adam Faiers has taken his score on to a massive 112% by the end of May. A superb effort. Chris Powell has registered his first score of the year and is straight into second on 85.6% pushing Mark Lawlor into third at Hommet to Rousse. Andy Johnson is looking like needing a huge autumn at Sandy Point to get to 100% but then he did exactly that in 2013.

Coastal East Anglia Minileague - May

Tim Hodge continues to extend his lead in the Coastal East Anglia Minileague with thanks to finding a Golden Oriole, Savi's Warbler and Marsh Warbler - plenty of bonus points there. James Brown is also over the 200 point mark with a PWC combined tick in the form of a Black Kite over North Lowestoft. Gary White is in third place with a Montagu's Harrier the highlight. Gary Elton has jumped up to fourth place at Holme with Yellow-browed Warbler and unseasonal find. The best find of the rest is Toby Collett's Temminck's Stint at Frampton which helps him to fifth.

The top three remain in-situ as Nick Andrews get close to the 100% mark. Gary White in second is on 88% with Craig Fulcher at Southwold on 74%. The remaining three contestants all stay in the same positions but the scores creep ever upward and there is plenty of time for a good run to make move up the table

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Coastal Scotland Minileague - May

The Coastal Scottish top 3 are in the same order as April but the scores have shot up. John Bowler's self professed best ever May on Tiree was crowned by a Collared Flycatcher with back up in the form of Rustic Bunting, Red-rumped Swallow, Marsh Warbler, Red-backed Shrike and Rosefinch. Not a bad haul I'm sure you will agree. Perhaps the bird of the month, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, was on North Ronaldsay but Peter Donnelly was beaten to the find having to content himself with just the five points. Best finds here were Short-toed Lark, Long-tailed Skua and Red-backed Shrike. Dan Brown became the third past the 200 point barrier at Dunnet with White-billed Diver and Surf Scoter. Mark Lewis is in fourth but is a hefty 43 points back but this no doubt will be softened by the sharing finders bonus points on the Girdle Ness Blyth's Reed Warbler that was initially discovered by Andrew Whitehouse. Ian T managed a to find a Lesser Yellowlegs but this was just outside the Askernish patch boundaries...

An extremely close comparative league with hardly anything seperating the various players. There has to be a leader however and Stephen Welch is it with 92.6% leading by 0.3% from Dave W on Burray. Yvonne B is hovering just below the 90% threshold with Andrew Whitehouse just outside the podium places.

Coastal North Minileague - May

After a mega month at Spurn including a Pallid Swift and self found Rosefinch, Marsh Warbler and Red-backed Shrike, Tim Jones powers to the top of the coastal North minileague. The man he displaces, Martin Garner, had a very respectable May with self found Bee-eater, Honey Buzzard, Red-backed Shrike and Marsh Warbler. Jane Turner rounds off the top three with a Citrine Wagtail find and a Great White Egret. There is a 41 point drop back to the pack from the podium with a Northumberland contingent making the next three places. Special mention must go to Alan Tilmouth who had a great month including one of the rarest birds of the year so far - a singing Eastern Bonelli's Warbler with some good quality back up in the form of Wryneck and Greenish Warbler.

All static in terms of position in the comparative league but Alan T has made huge strides in his quest for 100% helped by a rash of bonus points. He has a 10% lead over Jane at Red Rocks who is on 77%. It is close between third and fourth with Iain Robson at Druridge continuing to edge out James Spencer for third place.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Inland North Minileague - May

Wayne Gillatt takes over from Darren Starkey's two patches in West Yorkshire thanks to finding a Broad-billed Sandpiper at Alkborough Flats. Tom Lowe's Black Stork at Goole Fields takes him from 10th to 4th. Some solid passage species were crowned by a Glossy Ibis for Mark Reeder.

Mark Reeder's Ibis, Garganey, Black Tern combo sees him leap from fourth to first a whole 0.17% ahead of James Common who failed to make any additions at Stobswood. Phil Woolen makes up the top three and is only a further 0.11% back. One species in June will make all the difference.

Do You Have What We Need?

Due to unforeseen circumstances we are a burger flipper down so if you fancy long hours, doing brain numbing tasks for no thanks then get down to a popular fast-food chain. If however you are a diligent patcher who enjoys sharing in others success, have a good work ethic and are tech savvy enough to work blogger, twitter and facebook whilst being happy working in a tight knit team and have 15 hours or so a month free to help us run the UKs premier birding competition then get in touch. Our ideal candidate would take an equal stake in the competition and take on the ownership that comes with this. Drop us an email if you are interested.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

My patch from patch

My other half will tell you that I'm lucky to be with her, and she's right! I'm lucky for all the obvious reasons, but also, because my other halfs family are French, which means that I've had the pleasure of getting to know a particular little corner of France very well over the last few years. It's become my second patch.

It's an unremarkable part of the world (although admittedly, it's quite pretty!) - a km or so of road through rural south west Franceshire, but my one or two visits per year have thrown the odd surprise my way.

The regular breeding birds would be a mouthwatering list of goodies in the UK but is exactly what you'd expect for that part of the world. Serin, black kite, short toed treecreeper and cattle egret are all local breeders - and black shouldered kite are a mere 20 km away, but have so far avoided me on patch. Other nearby breeders wander my way from time to time and include honey buzzard, booted eagle, and hobby. It's outside the breeding season that the best birds occur, however.

On my first ever trip, in winter, I was delighted to find rock buntings hopping around in the stubble fields among cirl buntings, and big flocks of chaffinches and Brambling with the odd serin thrown in for good measure. Flocks of woodlarks went over occasionally and the odd hen harrier and Merlin spooked the masses. More recent winters have also delivered close encounters and some real quality time with hawfinches - a species I don't see enough if at home.

However, the biggest surprises have been during passage.  Being an east coast birder I'm familiar with falls, but I'd had no prior experience of them inland. After heavy rain in spring and autumn you can pretty much guarantee that there will be a smattering of interesting additions to the local black redstarts and blackcaps. I've a theory about why this happens - the proximity of the Pyrenees must play a role, blocking birds on their way south in autumn, and creating blocking weather for those that set off northbound from the sunnier side of the chain in spring. Why it happens is not too important though - it's just great to be there when it does! Nightingale, pied flycatcher, wryneck, melodious warbler are regular and can appear overnight in good numbers. More recent additions to the patch list on my last trip included whitethroat and red backed shrike, and other one offs have been golden oriole, redstart, Montagu's harrier, tree pipit, and water pipit. Not a bad selection for a few walks down a lane!

It was one of these stormy evenings that delivered the biggest surprise. I was sitting watching the rainclouds approaching when a familiar but unfamiliar call approached high up. Looking up I was struck by a long tailed shape whizzing over in a straight line. Up went the bins to reveal a bright green bird - which for some reason took what seemed like an age to compute. It was a ring necked parakeet! Fair enough, it could have cage hopped from just down the road, but it was doing exactly what all the pipits and wagtails had been doing before it, so I prefer to think it was on the move.

Do you have a second patch? Mine keeps me entertained on holiday, has given me loads of pleasant surprises, and made me think about the mechanisms behind migration and falls in a context far removed from that I'm used to. It's also inspired me to get into butterflies - which take up as much of my time as the birds do these days when I'm in France these days. Patching can add so much to your holidays, as well as your time at home!