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!
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!
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!