Thursday, 5 February 2015

Nick Morgan - Ainderby Steeple 2014

My patch is the area around my home village of Ainderby Steeple in North Yorkshire. It’s a typical intensively farmed area and with an all time parish list of 138 species I wouldn’t suggest dropping your plans to visit Cape May or Eilat. I do have an almost Gilbert Whiteian attachment to the place though and living ‘on patch’ allows for pretty good coverage (when work and family allows). 

Most of the area is high grade (i.e. low bird) farmland but there are areas of pasture and rough grazing, a couple of more traditional farms with good hedgerows and a nice stretch of the river Swale. Flooding occurs periodically although recent drainage  has reduced its prevalence. One of the most productive areas on the patch is a neighbour’s superb garden including a large reed-fringed pond (the only area of standing water on the patch) and a small area of damp woodland.

2014 was my first year of Patchwork Challenge and so I thought other patchers might like a brief look at the less-lowlights of the year (if only to realise how lucky they are!).
January kicked off with good areas of floodwater and this attracted a new patch tick in the form of a group of 11 Ruff. No unusual wildfowl were seen but there were record counts of Teal and Greylags, a flock of around 160 Curlew and good numbers of Golden Plover. Oystercatcher and Shelduck were added by March. Goosander are regular on the river but it was nice to get a pair low over the garden.

The first summer migrant was Sand Martin with Chiffchaff also seen before the end of March. A single passage Wheatear was my only sighting of the year but other summer visitors came in broadly on time.  

A singing Sedge Warbler was a surprise find in May having not bred on the patch for more than a decade and, completely unexpected, was a flyover Arctic Tern, the first parish record. Most frustrating sighting of the year though was Kittiwake. A friend had called to say he had spotted a large flock of Kits high up heading my way, I did eventually catch up with them but half-a-mile outside my patch boundary.

The breeding season saw good numbers of Yellow Wagtails, at least nine singing Corn Buntings and it was a great year for Garden Warblers, not always an easy species in the parish. Depressingly I didn’t see or hear Cuckoo on the patch this year.

Late summer saw probably my bird of the year, a Reed Warbler briefly holding territory around the neighbour’s pond (yes I know but we inland birders are easily pleased and it was the first record in the village for more than 60 years). It was also the best year yet for Little Egret Sightings with up to five birds on the river where I added Common Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail.

A Ringed Plover in September was one of only a handful of sightings in the parish. Like many of the patch wader records this was a fly-over and my lottery-winning dream would be to transform the bottom fields back to the marshy areas they were up to the 1950s when species like Black-headed Gull and Teal bred and there were records of birds like Marsh Harrier and Bar-tailed Godwit. A Marsh Tit was another pleasing find,  having not been seen in the village for over a decade, but it’s perhaps disturbing that it was only in late September that I spotted my first Treecreeper.

Autumn saw an influx of Jays with almost daily sightings through to the year end
(compared with only a dozen records in the preceding 20 years) and a nice passage of Woodcock with at least four birds seen in the magic garden alone, including one flushed from a tree. A good influx of Goldcrests in October meant I was sure I would spot a Yellow-browed Warbler (but hopes were dashed as usual!) and I also picked up Lesser Redpoll then in what had been a very poor year for the species.

The last week of December saw a final flourish with three year ticks all seen on the river in icy conditions, Redshank, Green Sandpiper and Goldeneye (the latter bird only the second parish sighting) to finish on 98 species.

Villagers often ring me to report birds and in 2014 this included six species I didn’t catch up with so it shouldn’t be difficult to breach the 100 mark. With a good start to 2015 (already at 64% of my 2014 figure) I’m certainly looking to break last year’s total and remain ever hopeful for that elusive five pointer….

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