Saturday, 31 January 2015

Hawes 2014 - Steven Ward

My patch at Hawes in North Yorkshire is the upper reaches of the River Ure in the Yorkshire Dales. Habitat is obviously the river itself, together with its surrounding farmland (sheep and cattle-grazed pasture and meadowland), together with tiny pockets of deciduous-dominated mixed woodland, and an odd dwelling here and there. After periods of heavy rain, particularly in winter, added interest can be found when the fields can flood extensively, potentially increasing species diversity.
With the site lying c230 mtr a.s.l and c30 miles from the nearest coast, the all-time species list is 126, modest compared with lower-lying coastal patches, but fairly decent non-the-less for the upland, inland location.

Jan 1 arrived, and with it my first crack at PWC. Some flood water was covering the pastures, and so helpfully, Wigeon, Teal and Snipe could be added. Grey Wagtail got banged on the list, and I gratefully received Pied Wagtail. Uncommon on patch in winter, more so than Grey, most Pied Wagtails head out of the valleys upper reaches for lower ground, so this was a good one to get early on, even though they are common breeders around the drystone walls. The mild conditions no doubt allowing a few more birds to winter. A fly-over Siskin proved to be the only January record (and so great to get for the sister Foot-It green birding challenge). Dipper was duly scored, and on reaching the tree-lined areas at the western end of the patch, Goldcrest was foraging in a conifer.
Pink-footed Goose and Sparrowhawk were added on Jan 4, together with a lone Oystercatcher, a first January record for the site. This day also got me Nuthatch and Redwing.
Jan 5 saw me add goodies such as Goosander (an old favourite), Kestrel and Raven. The latter often seen flying over the dale commuting between fell tops in autumn and winter.
On Jan 8, the still present flood water got Shelduck onto the list. Song Thrush was also present, another uncommon winterer.

The following morning, a Peregrine came marauding through, checking out and spooking the water birds on the floods. Good sighting of a cracking species and my first 2 pointer to boot!
Visiting the patch as the opening site of a full days' Foot-it, the early morning of Jan 11, had Redshank, and Golden Plover visiting the flooded areas. The 'shank in particular a surprise, with the first birds not usually seen until late Feb./early Mar. and another first January record. Magpie today also. Can be tricky to get, with high levels of predator control in adjacent areas, and only a handful of records per year.
The next day had me on another Foot-it expedition, walking out via the patch, ticking off Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Fieldfare and another tricky species to get on the patch year list, Water Rail.
Tawny Owl fell to the pen on Jan 14, with nothing new until 31st with Kingfisher, though a long weekend in the Lakes probably didn't help matters!

A Little Grebe on the river and up to 3 Shoveler on the flood water appeared early in February. Both decent patch records.
On Feb 10, the dales' first returning Curlew showed, and thanks again to the floods, the next few days brought in Pintail and Dunlin.
Returning Skylark and Reed Bunting were present by Feb 18, and on Feb 25, Stock Dove was finally added.

32 Whooper Swan heading over West were great to see on Mar 3, though expected here in late winter/early spring, and my second 2 pointer.
A soaring Buzzard was ticked, not too frequent here in the valley bottom.
In the final few days of the month, incoming breeding Lesser Redpoll, and migrants Chiffchaff and Wheatear through.
March's final day brought in 2 drake Mandarin Ducks. Some would say 'plastic', I said '2 points thank you very much!'

Onto April, it was a case of welcoming in the commoner summer visitors, with Common Sandpiper and Redstart being the highlights of a largely expected selection of birds.

May was more of the same as things started to slow down. Only 4 new species added in the month, Swift, Garden Warbler (annual, but can be tricky), Spotted Flycatcher (still seeming to hold its own here), and the always beautiful passage Whinchat.

Following a completely blank June, July saw the year's first 'full-fat' patch tick in 2 Great Black-backed Gulls flying over west, in addition to Barn Owl.

#Patchgold occurred in August with Whitethroat, common and bread 'n' butter over much of the UK, in my upland patch, I barely get one annually. More 'full-fat' arrived in the form of an adult Yellow-legged Gull. Possibly my patch bird of the year, this brute wasn't completely unexpected, as I 'd found an adult the previous 2 years (and now this year) on nearby lake Semer Water, but great all the same. Nearly missed it as well, seeing it as a flyover on Aug 16, I was unable to nail the ID. Fortunately, the bird was present the following day, and then the following three, enabling confirmation with good 'scope views. It was then seen intermittently into September. I now have more YLG records (9 sightings) than Herring Gull (only 1)! Flyover Tree Pipit on 2 occasions rounded off the month well.

A passage Stonechat in September, perched on overhead wires was another new patch tick. The only other year tick were wandering  Jays.

In October, two finches, Brambling and Bullfinch (brand-new patch tick no. 4 of the year), were the fresh birds. Relieved to finally find Bullfinch after 10 years of patching, I found it inconceivable it has taken this long for one to show. They are fairly uncommon in the upper dale, but I have seen them at nearby sites.

Only 1 new bird in November, Woodcock, and 1 in December, again thanks to flooding of the pastures, a smart pair of Goldeneye.

Unfortunately, I was 1 short of the magic ton. Have never reached those dizzy heights here, normally recording 98-99 on the usual patch year, but a great patch year all the same. Apologies for the lack of photographs to illustrate this write-up (I'm not a great photographer), as well as no sketches (I'm no draughtsman either), but I hope it has provided at least a snippet of entertainment for fellow patchers. Here's to 100+ in 2015!

Species: 99
Points: 103


  1. Nice report Steven. I live near the other end of the B6255 and I've never found a Whitethroat in either SD66 (e.g. Wray) or SD67 (e.g. Ingleton) in contrast to ringing over 200 last year at my workplace at Heysham. Just out of interest, do you know any further details about the Laughing Gull pager report somewhere between Chapel le Dale and yourself last year - John Perry from Ingleton gave the whole of the B6255-side fields a grilling soon after and couldn't find a gull flock

  2. Thanks Pete. I did see the Birdguides report of Laughing Gull back in May, but never went to check it out, and don't know any further details. Anything's possible I suppose, and it would certainly be a mega bird in the Yorkshire Dales!