January is normally a time to see all the common resident birds on the patch and hope that a couple decent seawatches can summon up a star bird such as the Red-necked Grebe and Black-throated Diver in 2014. This January the seawatching was relatively tame, a Shag on the 15th probably the highlight with less than 5 records a year on average.
I didn’t have to wait long for my first patch tick of the year as I picked out 2 tundra Bean Geese amongst a flock of feeding Pink-footed Geese. Numbers fluctuated daily to a maximum of 15 birds on the 16th and a couple European White-fronted Geese made an appearance on the 8th. An added bonus to spending every morning searching through the goose flock was another patch tick on the 7th, two Cranes flying past in the distance, a long overdue patch tick! It didn’t end there, on the 16th a 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull was roosting next to the flooded area of the field. Only my second ever on patch! The month ended with a ringtail Hen Harrier hunting over the Kings Loke area, again only my second patch record. That helped my get to 63 species, 80 points for the month equaling my best points tally for January.
February is normally a difficult month to add many new species so adding 16 species was pleasing. Seawatching in January may have been disappointing but in early February I added Puffin (4th patch record), Little Gull and Great Northern Diver along with a few more common seabird species I missed in January. Highlight of the month was also my 3rd patch tick of the year, a flock of 6 Bewick’s Swans flying overhead. 79 species, 103 points.
Unfortunately this little cracker was a few miles from the patch……
I always look forward to March as spring migrants slowly start to drip in. The first Chiffchaff of the year on the 9th was the first spring migrant, the first of many I was hoping but it didn’t materialise this March as the only other migrant was a Black Redstart on the 20th. A good passage of waders on the 21st added Grey Plover, Knot, Ruff, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew and Woodcock, an unusual time of year for so many species to pass by. The month ended with my earliest ever Manx Shearwater, in fact the first one I’ve seen at Hemsby before June! 97 species, 123 points.
April started with a bang as a male Serin visited my garden on the 3rd, patch tick no.4 of the year. I only had to wait 2 more days for my next patch tick as a Cetti’s Warbler started singing in a garden in the village. A truly unexpected patch tick due to lack of suitable breeding habitat. Common migrants slowly dripped through the patch throughout the month, one of the most enjoyable months of the year as the patch is filled with singing birds but frustratingly no other scarcities amongst them. 121 species, 159 points.
May has generally disappointed me since I’ve birded Hemsby, very few additions as all the common migrants pass through in April and a lack of any good scarcities. Fortunately this May bucked the trend to a certain extent. First up was another 6 pointer in the shape of a Rough-legged Buzzard (patch tick no.6) on the 4th, floating over my head as I tried to photograph a Garden Warbler. A nice stroke of luck. The two Bar-headed Geese flying in off the sea on the 8th unfortunately provided me with zero points! Sedge Warbler on the 10th was the next good patch bird, a just about annual bird so always good to catch up with. My 2nd ever patch Turtle Dove flew north on the 16th and my first ever spring Hobby also flew through on the same day. 134 species, 178 points.
I like June on the patch but I’m not sure why, new species are at a premium and seawatching is incredibly dull. My only patch Red-backed Shrike was in June 2013 and I always feel given the right conditions that something can turn up. The 5th June was such a day, light SE winds and sunny. As I sat in the office I felt it was a good day for a drift migrant. After work I visited the south end of the patch where there are paddocks and hedgerows hoping for a Hoopoe or shrike. Unfortunately the paddocks were devoid of life and the hedgerows were similarly quiet. I noticed a large flock of hirrundines mobbing something in the distance, soon realised it was a falcon. The sun caught the pale head, it looked very interesting! It landed on telegraph wires and I soon realised I was looking at a female Red-footed Falcon! A find tick, patch tick and beautiful bird! It was soon chased off by a Magpie, flew over the paddocks NW never to be seen again! The rest of the month was generally quiet, the first Crossbills of the year on the 14th and then a Barn Owl (patch tick no.8) on a walk home from the pub on the 18th. 139 species, 188 points.
July and August
July is normally a terrible month but August is normally a good seawatching month and migrants start returning but this year I would see neither as work and holidays kept me away from patch for all but four days, Black Tern and Green Sandpiper were two good patch birds on those days. 144 species, 194 points.
September is much like May at Hemsby, I expect a lot more than I ever find. An Ortolan Bunting aside in the year prior to PWC starting I haven’t found many good scarcities in September. Work and holidays again limited my time on patch but a Wryneck on the 9th and my earliest Hemsby Yellow-browed Warbler (12th) gave me some much need bonus points. Autumn was well in truly in full swing by the end of the month when Brambling and Great Spotted Woodpecker made it onto my list. 151 species, 213 points.
The make or break month. If I was to reach my comparative score of 251 points I needed a good October. As it happens I had possibly the best month I will ever have patch birding! It will take an incredible month to beat it anyway, 17 new species and a massive 61 points! It all started with a 2 pointer and my 9th patch tick of the year. The local gulls were making an uncharacteristic amount of noise and as I looked up I noticed them mobbing an Osprey as it drifted south. A Rock Pipit on the 4th was a good patch bird, only the 4th record and all in October. Short-eared Owls started drifting in on the 6th and by the end of the month I’d seen 15 on patch (+ 1 LEO). My 2nd ever patch Treecreeper appeared in the Kings Loke on the 9th (a third one recorded on the 18th). A good seawatch on the 11th saw my first patch Balearic Shearwater pass south, tracked down the coast by several seawatchers. A Jack Snipe flew up from my feet in the Kings Loke on the 13th, only my 2nd one on patch. All these birds were great patch birds but they don’t make an autumn a great one. The next five days changed that!
I left work early on the 14th as the weather conditions were ideal for a fall of migrants. The Kings Loke was full of thrushes and as I checked a few hedgerows a Great Grey Shrike popped up on top of the hedge. Yet another patch tick and over the rest of October I saw 3 or 4 other GGS on patch. There had obviously been quite a fall that evening as I walked back to my house the road was littered with exhausted thrushes and Bramblings. A pre-work bash round the Kings Loke on the 16th provided me with the next bonus point bird, my third patch Pallas’s Warbler in three years. An absolutely stunning bird, even in the rain.
The weekend of the 17th and 18th will go down as some of the best birding I have ever done. The 17th was actually a pretty quiet day, a Redstart the only migrant of note. While checking the Kings Loke several times during the day I flushed a pipit several times, its call was interesting but inconclusive and it always flew away out of view. Frustrating but just one of those things, best let it go. At about 16:45 I was checking the dense scrub in the Kings Loke on last time when I slight movement caught my eye at the top of a bush at eye level. I quickly got my bins onto a greyish brown bird with bright orange flanks and a large beady eye. I only caught a few seconds of it before it dropped out of sight. I hadn’t seen the tail but it had to be a Red-flanked Bluetail. I managed to see it in the middle of the bush about 10 minutes late, pumping its tail but the light conditions were so dull that I still couldn’t pick out any blue in the tail. The next day I was out at first light with a friend and after 1.5 hours searching we found it again in the same bush, showed well for about 45 seconds and we saw the blue in the tail this time, although it wasn’t obvious. A dream find! During the 3 -4 hours after the sighting I nipped off for some food and as I walked back I flushed the pipit from the day before. This time it perched briefly and looked very well marked but it soon buggered off away over the trees again. After a good 2 -3 hour search and finally getting some good photos we were happy we had stumbled across an Olive-backed Pipit, less than 50m from the Red-flanked Bluetail!!! What a day! What a month! My comparative score well and truly smashed thanks to two birds! 168 species, 274 points.
Despite having a great autumn so far the seawatching had been pretty terrible all autumn so I was hoping for a few good seawatches in November. The first three weeks didn’t produce good seawatching conditions and additions were few and far between, a Merlin on the 7th and a small group of Whooper Swans on the 8th, both less than annual on patch. The Humpback Whale reappeared in front of my house for the 3rd year running on the 9th and was seen throughout most of the month thereafter.
Many people think of great seawatches containing thousands of shearwaters or hundreds of skuas and petrels but for my patch they can be as simple as a good passage of waders or wildfowl. The 21st and 22nd provided just that, northerly gales produced unprecedented numbers of wildfowl and to a lesser extent waders along with a few good scarcities. I seawatched for 9 hours straight on the 21st, 5 year ticks and record counts galore later I was a very cold but happy patcher. All the year ticks were patch gold, 2nd patch records of Pochard, Goosander, Leach’s Petrel and a 3rd patch Avocet on the 21st and on the 22nd an Iceland Gull was a patch tick (14th of the year!), 3rd patch record of Purple Sandpiper and a record count of 14 Little Auk. On top of this there were patch record counts of Wigeon (1025), Teal (728), Pintail (162), Goldeneye (105), Shelduck (179), Red-breasted Merganser (26), Shoveler (38), Eider (113) and Dunlin (378). Epic patch birding! 176 species, 292 points.
Prior to PWC 2015 I had only ever added one species in December, a waxwing in 2014 so I wasn’t holding out for much and so it proved with only one addition but again another bit of patch gold, my 2nd Red-necked Grebe for Hemsby on the 11th.
This finished off a quite amazing year on patch, 2016 has a lot to do to keep up……
14 patch ticks - Bean Goose, Crane, Bewick’s Swan, Serin, Rough-legged Buzzard, Cetti’s Warbler, Red-footed Falcon, Barn Owl, Osprey, Balearic Shearwater, Great Grey Shrike Red-flanked Bluetail, Olive-backed Pipit, Iceland Gull
1 x 15 pointer – Red-flanked Bluetail
1 x 12 pointer – Olive-backed Pipit
9 x 6 pointers – Crane, Serin, Rough-legged Buzzard, Red-footed Falcon, Wryneck, Yellow-browed Warbler, Great Grey Shrike, Pallas’s Warbler, Leach’s Petrel
Patch Gold – Whooper Swan (4th & 5th patch records), White-fronted Goose (3rd & 4th), Pochard & Goosander (2nd & 3rd), Red-necked Grebe (2nd), Hen Harrier (2nd, 3rd & 4th), Avocet (3rd), Purple Sandpiper (3rd), Common Sandpiper (5th), Green Sandpiper (4th), Jack Snipe (2nd), Puffin (4th & 5th), Yellow-legged Gull (2nd & 3rd), Turtle Dove (2nd), Long-eared Owl (4th & 5th), Merlin (3rd), Sedge Warbler (4th & 5th), Treecreeper (3rd &a 4th) and Rock Pipit (3rd & 4th).
Birdtrack records – 7508
Birdtrack complete lists – 237