Patchwork Challenge 2015 Review – Hawes; Steven Ward
Fortunately, and as per usual for the beginning of the year, the 1st of January saw areas of floodwater adorning the floodplain around the River Ure. This helps draw in certain species which wouldn't normally be present on Patch without floods. Teal, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Kestrel, Redwing & Fieldfare were the modest opening day highlights. Biblical amounts of rain over the course of New Year's Day turned virtually the whole valley bottom into one giant lake for the next 24 hours.
On the 3rd, Wigeon, Goosander, Tawny Owl & Grey Wagtail were added. My BirdTrack complete list had to be abandoned on this day however, as a mournful squealing sound on the river bank led to an Otter cub, no doubt separated from its family following the previous days' extensive flooding. Scooping the poor creature up, it ended up with the nearest RSPCA via my house and the local vet.
An unfortunate highlight perhaps.
The 4th was a good day. Waking up to frosts and ice cover, I logged a Patch 2nd Little Egret down by the river. The first 2 pointer of the year and a good record for the upland location. Hopefully given the freezing conditions, it had the sense to move on to warmer climes. Other goodies on the list were Pink-footed Goose, Sparrowhawk, Kingfisher, Goldcrest & Nuthatch.
Other good birds logged in the ensuing days were Dipper & Brambling on 5th, Shoveler & Stock Dove on 6th, and Little Grebe on 7th. Kestrel first showed on 10th.
What turned out to be my only Patch Peregrine of the year blasted low over the garden (tick) on 11th, scattering the local corvids in all directions.
13th brought a pair of Bullfinch to berries in a friend's garden. Scarce here, what must have been the same pair turned up in my garden a few days later, providing a welcome grden tick.
Buzzard & Snipe showed on 14th, with Shelduck coming on 16th.
The 17th delighted with a completely unexpected “Top 3” moment. Walking the riverbank, I glanced to the left to see a gamebird flying quite high over Hawes town. Amazing! The distinctive flight of a female Black Grouse. Heavy snowfall had occurred the previous night, and this lone greyhen was probably forced off the nearby fells to forage elsewhere. Despite birds being present in the nearby hills, this was probably the most unexpected Patch tick of the year. Buzzing! Full-fat Patch tick.
Raven (3 over East) on 19th was welcome, though they were scarce on Patch this year, with just 5 records. Previous years have seen flocks of up to 15 birds, and are sometimes seen on multiple consecutive days.
Golden Plover & Treecreeper on 24th rounded off an excellent month.
February's first good bird was Siskin, pretty much bread 'n' butter here, but nice all the same, on 3rd.
The first returning Curlew of the year dropped in on 17th, always nice to have these iconic birds back in the dales.
The 25th brought in a Patch MEGA, a full-fat Patch tick of a single Yellowhammer, well outside its normal winter range here in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. I saw presumably the same bird a couple of days later.
#Patchsilver of Dunlin found their way onto the list on 28th thanks to still present floodwater.
A slow month, with returning breeding Redshank on 8th, and Whooper Swan (5 over W) the only birds of any real note, though a week in Dumfries & Galloway may have seen me miss something good?!
13 bird species added in this promising month, mainly due to incoming summer migrants.
A drake Mandarin was the April Fool on the 1st, an expected 2 point species now, with birds breeding. Agonisingly, I missed a poss./prob? Goshawk on the day as well. Sadly, I just didn't (don't!) have the necessary experience to nail this bird (rare in Yorkshire Dales) on such a brief, fleeting view in poor light. A Patch tick gone a' begging? Maybe the date was trying to tell me something!
Breeding Lesser Redpoll belatedly showed up on 7th, with #Patchsilver Coot a surprise on 8th.
Other notable summer migrant breeders were Common Sandpiper (earliest ever) & Redstart (both on 13th), and Sedge Warbler on 23rd.
Notable passage migrants this month were Jay on 13th (rare 'tick' spring bird, with the species normally only showing in autumn) and Wheatear finally touching down on 22nd (birds normally appear in late March). Best of all was a full-fat Patch tick male Ring Ouzel feeding with Blackbirds on meadowland. The commoner thrushes soon tired of their different-looking relative, and succeeded in driving him off into tree cover. Like the Black Grouse, this species is present in the surrounding hills, but unlike the grouse, I'm surprised the Ring Ouzel has taken so long to make the Patch list.
The 9th heralded a Red Kite mobbed by a Curlew on the edge of town, just about annual these days.
Spotted Flycatcher was an earliest ever arrival on 13th, whilst a Grasshopper Warbler (heard only) stayed for just a day on 14th. A great 2 pointer for me, and the 1st record for 4 years on Patch.
A long wait followed for the next new bird, a roosting Long-eared Owl right next to the footpath, in the exact same location as the only 2 previous records. This proved to be the only new species of the month, but again, may have missed some with a week off Patch on the Yorkshire coast & The Lakes.
A brilliant month! I saw 4 owls, including another Long-eared, this time perched out in the open in the pouring rain.
The 2nd and 10th added Little Owl & Barn Owl respectively. The former was missed last year, though I've hopefully found a reliable location now. The latter species is beginning to make its presence known again in the dales, and is now expected on the year list, with local folk reporting ever more sightings, of this once almost unknown local bird.
A juvenile Stonechat was a 2nd ever record.
Best of all was saved for the last day of the month, when a cream-crown Marsh Harrier quartered the pastures on the North side of the Ure, looking a little out of place amongst Swaledale sheep, drystone walls, and steep fells. Decent viewing confirmed it as a juvenile, which struck as an extremely early record for a fledged young bird wandering well away from any nesting areas.
Here at Hawes, August always comes up trumps in terms of the highest number of species recorded (April a close 2nd). This month followed suit, with the Marsh Harrier being seen a week later.
Passage migrants such as Tree Pipit, Whitethroat, Whinchat & a single Green Sandpiper (#Patchgold) dropped by on the 16th, 17th, 23rd & 28th. Sadly, the lone Whinchat was the sole Patch record. In previous years, up to 4 birds are seen almost daily throughout this month.
“Top 3” moment number 2 occurred on 31st. As dusk approached, I popped out the front door to lock up, and my gaze was drawn to a near neighbours TV aerial, where a small raptor perched. Expecting a local Sparrowhawk, I grabbed the bins, and was astonished to be greeted with the sight of a juvenile Merlin (2nd ever on Patch). Amazing! Perched up so brazenly in the middle of our small market town! I crept inside for the bridge camera, only for the bird to take-off as I reappeared, blasting over my own house. Damn, what a record shot that could have been! Still, great garden tick.
As the final 4 months of play kicked-off, my mid-season slump kicked-in, with NO new species added in what can always be 2 slow months in inland, upland Yorkshire Dales.
November stormed (literally, weather-wise) back with a bang. Goldeneye (far from guaranteed annually) and Gadwall (#Patchgold, only 2nd ever) were brought in by the massive flooding.
Number 3 “Top 3” came by on 23rd with a stonking ring-tail Hen Harrier flushing Snipe here and there out of the flooded pastures. A 3rd record of this magnificent raptor which many birders rightfully love, and definitely one of my faves.
A rare Patch Great Black-backed Gull fly-through kept the ball rolling nicely.
In what is often the slowest Patch month, mainly due to sheer lack of birding time, Pintail & Tufted Duck came to the rescue, 2 decent Patch birds, particularly the latter, which failed to make an appearance last year. The Hen Harrier showed again on 2nd, though this time with only a fleeting view.
That wrapped things up then. A brilliant year of Local Patch birding, with only 4 species missed from last year's comparatively paltry 99 species & 103 points (Water Rail, Yellow-legged Gull, Garden Warbler & Woodcock), despite broadly similar levels of effort.
Thanks all! Looking forward to this year!
BirdTrack: 346 complete lists, 14257 records