Sunday 4 January 2015

My Patchwork Challenge 2014 - Laycock, West Yorkshire - Peter Williams

Another year in patchwork challenge passes by. My second year, I have a comparative this year and the good news is I have beaten last years score by a healthy margin, topping 100 points but falling agonisingly short of the century with 97 species recorded.

My patch is a long way inland. At the foot of the Pennines, west of Bradford it contains 2 small areas of water, woodland and plenty of fields. It is a beautiful area to walk in but for birds is not a hot spot and new birds after June are hard to grind out. It has been my patch for years though and as such it becomes very personal. The rock where I can view the valley and dream of seeing a Yellow-Browed one day making its way through the hawthorns, the small tarn where the board used to promote Common Tern and Goldeneye as species to see (10 years still waiting) to my garden which has mature trees and is surrounded by fields and has a list of its own at 85 species.

View of the garden from the house

Sadly, this year is my last in Laycock. The for sale board is up and we will be moving once a buyer is found. 2014 started well with all of the expected winter visitors including Brambling, Redpoll and Siskin visiting the feeders. That most beautiful of birds the Bullfinch also brightened many a frosty morning and a skein of Pinkfeet were a welcome January visitor. The garden provided Tawny Owl, Nuthatch and Kestrel as well as all of the usual woodland fare including a Treecreeper.

Bad record shot of Brambling in the garden

Spring brought a whole host of migrants with a Swallow on the 29th of March over Wren Farm my earliest. All of the common hirundines followed as well as the first Chiffchaff. April brought the first patch gold moment when a female Ring Ouzel flew from elders across my path with a harsh chack and off into a ravine not to be seen again. My first for the patch had me buzzing all day.

In May, a trip up to the reservoir notched up Red-Legged Partridge to add to its commoner grey cousin – a real patch find this one although it did almost end up in my tyre tread as it crossed the road. Little-Ringed Plover was on the reservoir which was being drained for repairs. Although I never saw more than one it appeared very defensive and stayed throughout the summer – so I suspect breeding may have taken place. Common Sandpipers had returned as every year and were equally vocal on approach.

Keighley Reservoir
During the summer, notable breeding birds were 3 pairs of Green Woodpecker, a pair of Buzzards and the garden held breeding Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Wren, Great Tit and Robin with Tawny Owl and Kestrel just outside. A real highlight of the birding year was stumbling upon 3 balls of fluff, young Tawnies sat just feet away. Holding a fixed stunned expression I spent several minutes just watching them as they watched me back in turn, neither wanting to move a muscle. Later in the year, one of the Tawnies spent 3 weeks roosting in the open in daytime in our garden, and could be watched from the comfort of an easy chair. The markings on these birds really are remarkable and when fortunate enough to get up close warrant greater attention.

The big omissions of the summer from a birding perspective were Garden Warbler, Yellow Wagtail and Hobby. But a patch first Kingfisher added a true dose of colour.
In August the levels on the reservoir were low and looking good for waders. The glorious 12th put paid to that however with shoots causing too much disturbance. I did however score big (for me anyway if not in PWC) with 2 Sanderling working their way along the north side. These little wind up toys were running in bursts along the edge in very classic style but didn’t seem to mind my presence at all. In a year where I have dipped on Ruff, Greenshank and Green Sandpiper this was my undoubted wader highlight.

Whinchat and Stonechat were good additions from the moorland, the former in particular one of my favourite birds along with Wheatear which was seen right up to the end of September.

Further disappointments this year have been the shortage of more unusual wildfowl. Whilst Teal and Wigeon were added in the autumn, I would normally expect an occasional Great Crested, Shoveler, Pochard or Gadwall but all were noticeably absent this year. Best of all however, was a Red-Breasted Merganser which joined the increasing Goosander numbers at the Tarn for three days. Unlike the Ring Ouzel, this was a very unexpected patch first.
In the year I took part in the two patchwork challenge events. The Vismig event and the Cameron Bespolka Bird Race were not perhaps on the best of days weather-wise but they helped me to notch up extra points for Peregrine and Raven. This further testifies to the adage best things come to those who wait – I just wish I had more patience to vismig all year.

Redcar Tarn - home of my first patch Red-Breasted Merganser in 2014

Finally into the winter, my job has taken me away from patch a little more resulting in missing Whooper Swan, Snow Bunting and most frustratingly of all Shelduck which were found by my fiancĂ©e while walking the dog, only to be gone 10 minutes later when I drove up to see if they were still there. The early bird….

All in all however a good year. 2014 is my last full year on Laycock patch. With the move closer to work, North Ferriby to Brough becomes the new patch. It is exciting to start somewhere new (although no comparative) but it is also tinged with sadness. The thing about a patch is you know it and it is yours. No-one birds Laycock except me – it makes it personal.

My favourite spot on patch - I need to find a new one in 2015
But onwards and upwards. I have set myself a challenge of 140 species next year. Bring on PWC2015!

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