Having come across Patchwork Challenge too late in 2013 (though I did keep a score for my own benefit and recorded 102 species and would’ve scored 120 points) I made sure I was signed up for 2014. Having a young family had curtailed much travelling for birds so instead I took the opportunity to concentrate on Sutton Bingham Reservoir (SBR), my local patch for over fifteen years. SBR has attracted some cracking birds over the years, especially in the 70’s and early 80’s…before it became my patch I hasten to add, but nowadays high water levels year round have put pay to wader passage and wildfowl numbers have dramatically reduced over the past decade.
The year started off much better than I could ever have imagined when during my first visit of the year, on 3rd, I found a Yellow-browed Warbler! This was only the second patch record, I had found the first in October 2013 in a private area of the reservoir. This bird though would be accessible to all, and attracted a fair few local birders over the following month. Amazingly, alongside the YBW I also found a Siberian Chiffchaff, though this proved to be a much more elusive Phyllosc! The good start to the year continued when, just five days later, an evening visit to check the gull roost produced an Iceland Gull. This was a patch tick for me and only the third patch record…the first for thirty years. It would be fair to say I was enjoying this Patchwork Challenge! The remainder of the month could no way live up to the first eight days,, but passing flocks of Lapwing added a bit of interest and three Gadwall dropped in for an evening mid-month. My final visit of the month added a few more species, with a drake Mandarin adding a splash of colour and a Peregrine keeping an eye out for wildfowl and Woodpigeons. I had seen 58 species by the end of the month.
Somehow I didn’t manage many trips to SBR during the course of the month, but a few species were added to the list. A Grey Wagtail was an expected addition and the January Yellow-browed Warbler remained until the 2nd. The gull roost produced adult Mediterranean Gulls on two dates, a welcome two-pointer. Other species added included, somewhat belatedly, House Sparrow plus three Siskin which are by no means annual at the site. Just seven species had been added to the list over the course of the month!
The start of the month had me away with the family for a week and then a trip to the Forest of Dean to see the Two-barred Crossbills, so it was mid-month before I returned to the patch. Almost a patch tick on my first visit, I located a Red-legged Partridge, a species I had heard once at SBR, but had never actually seen, so common as muck but it gave me a real buzz! A somewhat less welcome first for the patch was a Mink, but as that does not get points for PWC I won’t dwell on that. A single Marsh Tit was seen, this species is just hanging on at SBR. The first Sand Martin of the year was seen on 16th, my earliest record for this species and a sign, perhaps, that Spring was on the way. However, a major disappoint when an out of order mobile resulted in me missing a phone call to tell me about a first-winter Little Gull put a bit of a dampener on things. I’d seen Little Gull on the patch before, but years ago and it would have been a great patch year tick…but that’s birding! March had brought the year list up to 71 species and migration was underway.
After January, April was to prove to be my best month with regard to adding species to the year list, which of course is no surprise as Summer migrants begin to arrive and passage birds pass through. The first Common Sandpipers arrived during the first week of the month as did the first Swallows. Linnet is another species I never consider a given, so finding a nice male amongst a flock of Goldfinches was a bonus. A bit of a surprise in the form of a first-year Yellow-legged Gull brought about another couple of points, and the first Willow Warbler arrived on patch on 13th. With both Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat added mid-month another surprise find came on 20th when a heavy rain storm tempted me to the patch and the hunch played off as an Arctic Tern showed up briefly. The next day a Common Tern dropped in and to complete the hat trick an amazingly brilliant Black Tern spent a day hawking over the water. The month was completed with yet another shock visitor, as a pair of Shelduck appeared. The year list was now up to 87 species, but more importantly I had hit the 100 mark with regard to PWC points.
The first patch Swifts were seen on 5th and a Greylag Goose flew in the same day, and was gone 24 hours later. A Hobby was a nice addition to the list but probably the most unexpected bird of the month was a summer-plumaged Dunlin that flew in from the north and passed over my head before continuing south. With nowhere for it to pitch down, that pretty much sums up waders at SBR! A flying visit on my way in to work added Osprey to the year list, I would’ve thought the bird dropped in the previous night but it didn’t hang around as it was harried constantly by gulls and corvids. Towards the end of the month nothing new arrived and I knew it was going to be tough to add anything for a few weeks at least.
A week away and a little bit of twitching (I just had to go and see that Short-toed Eagle!) meant I didn’t spend any quality time on the patch until mid-way through the month. A female Mandarin with three juvenile birds would indicate the species bred successfully this year and on 29th two Common Sandpipers were present, presumably failed breeders heading back to Africa. The month ended with me being unable to add anything to the patch year list!
Another frustrating start to the month, heavy rain one afternoon and I decided against popping in to SBR on my way home…big mistake! I got a text saying a Redshank and three Green Sandpipers had dropped in, but two glasses of wine meant I had no chance of getting to see them, and no sign of them the following morning. However, on 7th I did find a pair of Common Scoters, an excellent tick for an inland reservoir. It remained fairly quiet for a couple of weeks and then a monster Great Black-backed Gull was found, another decent patch tick considering the site’s location. The end of the month produced a few more Common Sandpipers passing through and a patch year list now at 95 species, edging closer to the magic 100.
A few visits to the patch over the month failed to produce much at all, and certainly no new year ticks, until 24th when a scan of the barbed wire fence that runs along West Pool produced a Whinchat (my first here for a couple of years) and a Redstart (which was only my 3rd patch record, though the second in two years). So a couple of really good additions to the list. A couple of days later an early morning visit produced an Osprey and the month finished on a high when a Greenshank flew in, circled for a while trying to find somewhere to land and then headed on south, much in the same
way as the Dunlin back in May. A Tawny Owl was another nice sighting (only the second time I’d actually seen one on patch, when driving home one evening after a visit to the Isle of Wight Bee-eaters). Four species added to the year list this month.
A flurry of activity in September started with another Osprey on 3rd, the third record of the year, and amazingly four Whinchats and three Hobbies, some great birds all in one day…but none of them patch year ticks. Possibly the same, maybe a different Osprey and two more Whinchats on 6th and then on the afternoon of the 7th a fly-over Yellow Wagtail marked my 100th species of the year at Sutton Bingham Reservoir. A day later, four Garganey dropped in to West Pool briefly until spooked by a Buzzard and heading off, a White Wagtail was found but didn’t get me any points, and a Spotted Flycatcher passed through. A week later and another Osprey turned up, this time a juvenile bird that stayed for several weeks and a female Shoveler that dropped in to West Pool, the latter being another year tick for the patch. The highlight of the month came in the form of a long overdue patch tick, a fly-over Tree Pipit! Unbelievably, two days later a second Tree Pipit flew though and a juvenile Hobby put in a brief appearance. The first returning Wigeon arrived in the final week of the month and a Common Sandpiper also paid a visit. The patch year list was now at 104 species, I had beaten my 2013 total with three months to go!
The juvenile Osprey was last seen on 10th after staying at SBR for around seven weeks. Another year tick came in the form of a Skylark, with a small number passing through during the month and a few days later Stonechat was also added to the year list. A bit of non-avian interest partway through the month as I stumbled upon an Otter with two kits, an amazing site I was very privileged to have witnessed. The month ended with another Yellow-legged Gull.
Hardly surprisingly it all started to go really quiet again as the winter months set in, though a calling Water Rail provided a bit of interest and a Blackcap was located halfway through the month. A drake Pochard on 23rd was a patch year tick though, only my second in two years of a species that was once numerous at SBR.
The final month of a really enjoyable year on the patch and it provided a couple of bits and pieces. My final year tick came in the form of a male Pintail, present for just a single day with Wigeon and three Gadwall. December was notable for the number of Mediterranean Gulls I found on the patch, my highest total was 23 birds one evening, but at least 24 different individuals visited over the course of the month. The total of 23 was a site record and the second highest total ever recorded in Somerset. An adult Yellow-legged Gull was in the roost at the end of the year, a couple more Water Rail turned up, as did another Stonechat and three more Shoveler. I ended the year on 108 species and 124 points, of the species I saw, I had found them all. Nowhere near the totals seen in some of the UK’s hotspots, but the joy of patch birding is in the finding of birds. I had added two species to my patch life list during the year and spent countless enjoyable hours at Sutton Bingham Reservoir. Roll on 2015!