Last year saw myself and Ben Porter take part in the 2014 patchwork challenge. 2014 proved to be an excellent year for the island with higher than usual number of species recorded (averaging approximately 170 species per year) and a good scattering of rarities amongst them.
Being pretty much as far away from the east coast of England as you possibly can get, Bardsey is never going to be able to compete with the likes of Spurn or Flamborough, North Ronaldsay or Fair Isle for number of species recorded in a year or the selection of rarities that these sites get. However we do our very best to try and keep up with the big guns...
Ben got off to a good start being on the island over the winter months and I didn't get back until early March. However, I was soon able to start collecting points and species which Ben had managed to get in the first three months of the year. By Mid-summer we were pretty much neck and neck, however Ben’s departure for him to sit is A-level exams meant that he missed Honey Buzzard. Then during the early part of the autumn, I left the island for my summer holidays and missed Kingfisher, which would've been new bird for me on Bardsey.
Just as autumn got into full swing I had to leave the island again in order to represent the British Bird Observatories Council at the International Bird Observatories Conference at Falsterbo in Sweden. Although birding in Sweden was fantastic, I was on edge throughout the week - thousands of Honey Buzzards, Occasional Nutcrackers and Two-barred Crossbills couldn't make up for the fact I knew I was potentially going to miss something good on Bardsey. On the final morning of the conference I received a text message from Ben saying ‘ha ha Bonelli's Warbler’ – damn, it had happened! Two days later I was back on the island and patching again. Fortunately I knew Ben was due to leave the island in October and I stood a good chance of gaining back a few points on him. During this time he managed to miss Yellow-browed Warblers, Velvet Scoter, Hobby, Hawfinch, Treecreeper, Woodlark and Bullfinch and a few other bits and pieces. So that was the contest on the island and what we both missed.
But what did we see? As I mentioned earlier, 2014 was a fantastic year on the island and we had some great birds and fantastic falls. None of the species we had were new for Bardsey but we did manage to get some pretty crippling records in ‘patch’ terms. These included - the island’s 2nd ever records of White Stork in April (a great find by Ben – so six points to him), Blyth’s Reed Warbler in June (a joint effort – 12 points each) and Grey-headed Wagtail in September (more bonus points for Ben!). Bardsey’s first Citrine Wagtail was s recently as October 2010, so we were delighted to find a nice first summer female in May (another shared find for me and Ben and 12 points), and then we were astounded when another juvenile turned up in early August, a Ben Porter solo this time, but no points for either of us!
The island’s 3rd and 4th records of Yellow-legged Gull came in the forms of a dapper juvenile in July and a fine adult in October, both of which Ben missed. April 1st saw one of the most unusual records of the year when Ben came across only the 4th ever Stone Curlew for Bardsey which graced the Narrows for the day. December saw a common ‘mainland’ duck – a Goosander, but it was just the 6th record of for Bardsey – another one for Ben whilst I was off at a meeting!
The Western Bonelli’s Warbler that Ben found in the plantation in late August was the 7th for the island and another well-deserved 12 points for him there. Spring and autumn records of Marsh Warbler becoming the 9th and 10th for Bardsey, one each, so self-find bonus for both of us. A good run of white winged Gulls in the early part of the year produced the 10th and 11th records of Iceland Gull. A Greenish Warbler found by one of the Assistant Wardens on a fantastic day in September became the 11th for the island, yet the fifth in six years but no self-find bonus on that one! Sea-ducks are scarce passing the island and the 12th Long-tailed Duck flew past in October – both of us dipped. I found the 15th ever Great Crested Grebe in October, Obs staff managed to get on the bird but Ben arrived 10 seconds after it was seen diving under a wave and disappearing forever! April saw the 16th record of Woodlark (both of us dipping on that one), but I managed to find the 17th record with a flock of four on another mega day in late October. As previously mentioned seaducks are scarce on Bardsey and the 17th record of Velvet Scoter (three males) came in October whilst Ben was in Portugal, but I managed to dash from my office to see them fly south past the Obs. The 18th Goshawk for the island sat around the withies a few days later, again no points for Ben, but points for me. The Kingfisher was also the 18th record for the island, but we both missed out on that one. The 19th and 20th Honey Buzzards (Ben missing both of these whilst in exams) and 19th to 21st Red Kites were seen in spring both found by Ben. The 20th record of Roseate Tern made a brief appearance in October, but again we both missed this patch goodie.
So those are the #patchgold records for 2014 (where 20 or fewer have previously been recorded on the island) but if we look at the wider list of species and where the points came from, it can be seen we had a good year, and some good fun too.
On top of the fantastic list of '#Patchgold' that is already mentioned above, other highlights included some great non-passerines for Bardsey such as Brent and White-fronted Geese (Ben missed these) and Canada Geese (I missed these!!). Five Black-throated Divers and 16 Great-Northerns and lots of Red-throats. Two Marsh Harriers (both found by Ben) and two Ospreys (both of us dipping on these, even though one flew right passed me!). A Hobby was a very late and welcome point in late October, but another dip for Ben.
Autumn saw an excellent set of Greenshank and Green Sandpiper records. Ten Grey Phalaropes and ten Sabine’s Gulls, four adult Long-tailed Skuas, Leach’s Petrel, Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters, all of which were welcome points onto my list in a fantastic few hours in October.
Passerines saw five Richards’ Pipits (again bonus points there), two Nightingales (one self-find for each of us) and a good run of Ring Ouzels including 26 on one day. Seven Barred Warblers shared unevenly between us, but both getting bonus points, but Ben found 3 and I only found 1. Yet another Eastern Subalpine Warbler for the island in May was found by a Cardiff-based patchworker so no bonuses on that! A total of 21 Yellow-browed Warblers (which all occurred whilst Ben was away), eight Siberian Chiffchaffs, 11 Firecrests.
A staggering 284 Spotted Flycatchers flooded the island on 15 May, but sill just one point no matter how great the day was! Three Red-breasted Flycatchers provided bonus points including one in Ben’s garden, as did three Golden Orioles - one self-find bonus each.
A resident Hooded Crow added points early in the year, as did three Common Redpolls and a Common Rosefinch (bonus points for me, but again Ben was stuck in an exam). Two Hawfinches provided interest in September and October as did a scattering of Snow and Lapland Buntings, with an Ortolan Bunting fiving another finder’s bonus for Ben. An escape Gyr Falcon (Nil Point !!) spent two days on the island whilst I was off the island, but fortunately the jesses saved me another 12 point dip!
We also had several days of fantastic passage of common migrants in both spring and autumn, some good sea passage, and great rarities and not to mention the 32,000 breeding Manx Shearwaters keeping us company all year.
So the year ended with me on 183 species and 340 points and Ben close behind on 159 species and 252 points. Points per bird was very close. Ben had a fantastic start to the year and was ahead all the way until October. I think if it was not for a single day of sea passage in October, where I amassed 9 new species and 30 points, and a great day of migration at the end of October where I got another six species and 8 points, Ben would have been way ahead on PPB, but in the end we finished on 1.86 and 1.84 – very very close indeed. His great finds of White Stork, Bonelli’s Warbler, Stone Curlew and Citrine Wagtail pulling back the points he missed whilst being away doing exams.