The dizzy heights of 130 species/155 points, back 2013, were already a distant memory by the time I hit the wall on 124 spp/139 pts in 2014. However, having a more ‘normal’ year – minus any 6-pointers and missing the likes of Common Crossbill and Marsh Harrier – did at least reduce my comparative score to an altogether more realistic 147. All I had to do was pot all the reds and screw back for the yellow, green, brown, blue, pink and black…
OK enough ropey snooker songs from the 80s; what did #PWC2015 bring to the Thetford area?
87 species | 94 points (63.95%) | 2nd in Points table
2,070 BirdTrack records | 47 Complete Lists
It took me until 22nd March to reach 87 species|94 points in 2014. Even in the year-to-beat, 2013, that total wasn’t achieved until 6th March! 2014 began at my folks’ in York (handy for a quick dash for the Fraisthorpe Little Bustard on New Year’s Day!) and I didn’t get out on patch until 3rd January. That didn’t seem to matter though, as there were 4 Pochard waiting for me on day 1. December’s Great Crested Grebe became the first I’d seen on patch in January (they usually vanish from the Brecks in winter), and both Barn Owl (which took until 29th April in 2014) and wintering Chiffchaff (not guaranteed locally) obliged. Two days later was the first red-letter day: my first Pink-footed Goose since April 2011 (OK perhaps ‘origin unknown’ but we all tick Barnacle Goose!) and a Yellow-legged Gull, a good 2-pointer to lay to rest so early. Things kept improving: a Marsh Harrier (7/1) – a species I missed altogether in 2014 – was my first local winter record. Then, at long long last, a Caspian Gull appeared (12/1). It’s a shame that a Norfolk description species, a site first and true #patchgold only scored two points! Incredibly though, I went on to log three different individuals by 25/1, so perhaps two points is about right after all. An early Shelduck (13/1) was good, though a drake Mandarin Duck (17/1) was a real bonus, my first on patch for more than two years and a 2-pointer to boot! I didn’t have to wait long for two more bonus birds either: Grey Partridge and an exquisite male Bearded Tit (both 19/1), the former not annual in recent years and the latter only my 4th patch record. Goosander (20/1) and Barnacle Goose (23/1) were useful additions; the goose was absent from my PWC2014 list. My record January finished in style too: exactly one year to the day after I added Jack Snipe to last year’s tally (31/1), I scooped one for 2015! There’s always something missing by the end of January: this year’s obvious gaps, poised to pad the list later on, were Linnet and Mistle Thrush!
95 species|105 points (71.43%) | 2nd in Points table
3,654 BirdTrack records | 84 Complete Lists
Another good month began with ‘catch up’ Mistle Thrush (3/2). My earliest-ever Curlew and a fine 2cy Goshawk (8/2) – my first in February – were next, followed by Linnet (13/2). Little Owl and another patch February tick, Woodlark (19/2) obliged on Thetford Heath. Next up was Peregrine (22/2), before returning breeding Oystercatcher (26/2) rounded off the month. One of January’s Caspian Gulls appeared early in the month, and I logged February Shelduck and Chiffchaff for the first time too. Considering that Inland East Anglia contains several sites in the Broads, not to mention the fabled Paxton Inland Sea, I was staggered to discover I was still in 2nd place 59 days into 2015! There’s a marker for you, Mr Rankin.
98 species|110 points (74.83%) | 3rd in Points table
5,154 BirdTrack records | 113 Complete Lists
March can be a bit flat locally and 2015 fitted that pattern, though a Stonechat (12/3) on Thetford Heath was good. Ringing at the Nunnery Lakes reserve produced a surprise Common Redpoll (23/3) in a poor winter for that (soon to be ex?) species, and a Belgian-ringed Lesser Redpoll. The last PWC2015 addition for the month was Stone-curlew (29/3), while Pink-footed Goose and Woodlark were both patch March ticks.
117 species|132 points (89.80%) | 2nd in Points table
7,195 BirdTrack records | 152 Complete Lists
Returning summer migrants were interspersed with some true #patchgold in THE month to be birding a Breckland patch. There was galling news on the 2nd as a pair of croaking corvids were added to the Nunnery list by two colleagues and patch-interloper (and jammy g*t) Ben Moyes, while out filming with Iolo Williams. Fortunately (presumably) the same two Raven (3/4) flew over calling while I was ringing the next day: I was VERY grateful for that #patchgold grip-back! My first Swallow also appeared that day. Willow Warbler and Red Kite (7/4) were on cue, the latter being most frequently recorded here in spring. Shoveler, Blackcap and Cuckoo (9/4) were an odd trio of firsts of the year: Blackcap are often evident by late March, whereas ‘our’ Cuckoo may well have been the earliest in East Anglia in 2015. Whitethroat and House Martin (11/4) were followed by Sand Martin and Ring Ouzel (12/4). Although unusually high numbers of Ring Ouzel graced East Anglia in spring 2015, this was the only one seen around Thetford. Conversely, there were three individuals the previous April. Sedge Warbler (13/4) and Reed Warbler (14/4) were more or less on time, while Wheatear (22/4) was late for the first local sighting. Another three-tick day saw Garden Warbler, Swift and best of all, Nightingale (24/4) added to the list. Lesser Whitethroat (25/4) and Green Sandpiper (26/4) rounded off a great month.
118 species|133 points (90.48%) | 5th in Points table
8,204 BirdTrack records | 172 Complete Lists
The only problem with April inland is that it is followed by May! Traditionally a good month for rarities on the coast, May sucks for new birds on my inland patch. That said, Spotted Flycatcher (14/5) proved to be one of just two local records this year; depressing, particularly as I caught a recently-fledged juvenile in my on-patch garden last year. Pink-footed Goose, Yellow-legged Gull, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit get honourable mentions as May patch ticks.
120 species|135 points (91.84%) | 5th in Points table
8,963 BirdTrack records | 189 Complete Lists
Common Tern (16/6) was welcome as I had missed it in two of the previous six years. Hobby (26/6) was my latest first of the year by exactly a month, while Mandarin and Woodlark were June ticks.
121 species|136 points (92.52%) | 5th in Points table
10,098 BirdTrack records | 214 Complete Lists
The only addition this month was Redstart (23/7) but that’s another one not to be sniffed at, having been absent from my patch year-lists in 2010, 2012 and 2013. Cuckoo and Mandarin Duck were new for July; Cuckoos usually stop calling here in mid June and then go undetected until any juveniles appear in August. The other highlight was breaking the 10,000 BirdTrack records barrier!
127 species | 144 points (97.96%) | 4th in Points table
11,190 BirdTrack records | 238 Complete Lists
August proved to be the last decent month on patch. Waders are always very thin on the ground through lack of suitable habitat so it was great to get my 6th and 7th records of Greenshank (3/8 and 27/8) in six years. Common Sandpiper (25/8) appeared on just two dates in the last week of August, a poor showing for a species that averages 4–5 records a year. Passerine goodies came in the form of a Firecrest (19/8) found by fellow Nunnery Lakes patcher Neil Calbrade, my second-ever Tree Pipit (23/8) and 3 Yellow Wagtail (27/8), a scarce migrant locally. Spring Yellow Wagtail records are invariably fly-over singletons, whilst the last ten days of August is the only period I’ve recorded them on the ground and in groups. True to form, the 2015 birds were a small flock of juveniles that dropped in to spend a morning with the cattle. The month ended for me with #patchgold, as BTO HQ evacuated for a fly-over Osprey (27/8), detected simultaneously by staff in at least four different offices – thanks to its three attendant Oystercatchers! Unfortunately August had a real sting in its tail as the month ended proper with a hugely gripping two-observer Wryneck. I heard about it first-hand as I walked out to Scolt Head on the north Norfolk coast: not where you want to be when a patch mega breaks! Despite several people searching for it that afternoon and me putting in 12 hours over the next 3 days, it was never seen again. On a more positive note, patch month-ticks featured an eclectic mix of Shelduck, Mandarin Duck, Little Grebe, Goshawk, Lesser Whitethroat and Mistle Thrush.
128 species | 145 points (98.64%) | 4th in Points table
12,007 BirdTrack records | 259 Complete Lists
September: great month for coastal patches, a write-off inland. Or at least, in the Brecks. The same or another Osprey (9/9) was great to see and Green Sandpiper (11/9) was a surprise September tick but the only addition was a fleeting Whinchat (16/9).
129 species | 147 points (100%) | 5th in Points table
13,450 BirdTrack records | 291 Complete Lists
October is fickle: previous years have boasted such local megas as Common Scoter and Little Gull but equally it can be a(nother) quiet month. Such was the case in 2015: the only points – my last of the year – came in the form of the first Cetti’s Warbler (31/10) on patch since they bred in 2009. Herring Gull was a month tick…though reading the (metal) ring on what proved to be just the 8th German-ringed Cormorant to be found in Britain – while it was very much alive and well – provided much more satisfaction!
NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER
129 species | 147 points (100%) | 5th in Points table (after November)
15,568 BirdTrack records | 335 Complete Lists
The Cetti’s Warbler remained into the New Year, adding itself to three month lists in the process. Apart from that, a Caspian Gull (25/11) would have been big news had it not been for the glut of them in Jan/Feb, and a Jack Snipe (11/12) made 2015 only the second year in which I’ve had more than one record.
So that’s it. Lots of local, green birding and bird-recording, some good birds and all enhanced by the sense of community and wider perspective brought about by Patchwork Challenge. A big thanks to all involved in making it happen and bring on #PWC2016…preferably with at least one bonus pointer, given that it’s now more than two years since the last one!