Friday, 28 December 2012

Patch of the Day: Hemsby, Norfolk - Ryan Irvine

I’m relatively new to my patch, this being my first year here but already its one of my favourite patches I’ve ever worked. This is mainly because I live in the middle of the patch, can do a wee bit of birding everyday because of this and if the weather is terrible I can simply seawatch from my sofa! Lazy birding at its best and my sofa list has reached 101 so far.
The patch itself is nothing special when it comes to range of habitats, sand dunes, a few fields, caravan parks and a village. No fresh water, no mud flats but I still get a fair share of ducks and waders flying past. Hemsby is strangely under watched, just how I like it and when I had a quick search at past records on I found very few records (73 in total and I constitute about than half of these in the last 5 months!). The past records have been pretty good, pallid harrier in 2006, pallas’s warbler in 2004 and an amazing spell in October 2003 where a dusky, humes, pallas’s and yellow-browed warbler were all found within 100m of my house! This has got me excited about next autumn!! Compare this with Winterton just to the north and overlapping my patch and it’s a different story, 200 records in the last 2 years. A quick search of the rarer species and it reads, rustic bunting in 2001, Sardinian warbler in 2003, booted warbler and pallid swift in 2005, pallid harrier in 2006 and black lark in 2008 to name but a few. Why is Hemsby so underwatched?

I haven’t seen anything nearly as good yet though and in the same area as the 2003 warbler-fest I have managed 3 firecrests this year. It’s an overgrown area with a small wood and a hedgerow and parts of it are undisturbed by the numerous dog walkers. The caravan parks and street I live in are pretty good for birds, plenty of bushes and hedgerows and I have managed to see a few nice birds, snow bunting, waxwing etc but nothing rare yet.
Snow Bunting outside me house
I spend a lot of time in the dunes, from the north end which reaches the famous ‘oaks’ at Winterton south dunes, where I found a ortolan bunting, to the south end near Scratby. There’s lots of cover and great potential for a few rares (maybe). Vis-miging has been good along the dunes and of course my best seawatching has been from the dunes (grey phalarope the best so far).
The dunes
The final bit of my patch that I watch semi regularly is in the centre of the village around the church. The churchyard has had good tit and crest flocks this autumn to scan through and I picked up my one and only patch black redstart there.

Other things aside from birds it’s been a good patch for moths with 150 species (ignoring micros so far) recorded since August including bedstraw hawkmoth in my first night. It was a poor year for butterflies so my list is poor and mammals are limited to fox, grey squirrel, hedgehog and muntjac on land and out at sea I’ve had regular sightings of harbour porpoise, grey and common seals.
Bedstraw hawkmoth

Black rustic
So onto 2013, my aim is to reach 150 species and hopefully break the 200 point barrier. Best find in 2013, well I’ll be realistic and not say Siberian accentor and instead hope for a rustic bunting. Oh and finally add green woodpecker to the list, a ridiculous omission!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Putting 2013 into context

It makes sense for bloggers to look back over the year and write a post about the ups and downs, and ebb and flow of their birding year. It's fun to reminisce after all, and it's much more pleasant writing a blogpost full of goodies than it is filling space when you've gone out and seen very little.

Accruing these memories is one of the things that makes patching so important to me. I had a few Iceland gulls earlier in the year, not rare of course, and just about annual on patch - but of much higher personal value than the tens I saw up at Peterhead, the few I saw while out on surveys, and even the one that flew past the office window in Falkirk!

Quite often the good memories are forgotten among the rarer stuff too. Looking back through my notebook I recall a tree sparrow in May, the thrill of the chase while digging out and eventually IDing elusive gropper and reed warbler in the autumn, and the rush I got from a couple of black tailed godwits migrating south with a bunch of redshank. All of the above meant more to me than the October RBfly I twitched and the YBW I found shortly after combined!

Why that is I'm not sure...perhaps the rarer stuff is more 'on the radar' than the commoner stuff, if that makes sense. You think about seeing RBflys, barred warbler etc so perhaps it takes the edge off the pleasure of finding them. No-one dreams about finding a tree sparrow (do they?) and as such, the surprise, and therefore the excitement, is heightened.

Unless you want to read about yet more goings on at Girdle ness, why not share your memories of 2012 with us? Just a short paragraph will do, but if you want to waffle on as long as me then thats fine as well. Knowing waht you expect and dont expect helps to put into context all the goodies you'll be finding next year. Email a review of your year to us at and we'll get them up onto the blog.

Alternatively, if you already write a blog, send us a link to your yearly review and we'll collate all of these into a blogpost too.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Ryan's Birdtrack 10 to Watch

Following on from Marks post here are my BTO Birdtrack ten to watch for 2013. It was quite difficult to choose, I don’t get many waders so that ruled out a few of Marks choices. Seawatching is an area where quite a few have been selected from, mainly because I can seawatch most days and it will provide the most data. The rest come from vis-miging, thrush surveys and a declining wagtail.

Red-throated diver – good winter numbers slowly build up from September onwards. Every time I seawatch, whether from the dunes or sofa, I try and keep a count already. Largest count to date is 175 in ½ hour one morning and on another day I had 89 pass in one minute so I think if I make a concentrated effort on these it should be quite interesting.

Common gull – my second one that will match Marks list. I get quite a few on patch and they linger over winter but I have never really counted them. Black-headed gull – My third and last one that matches Marks list. Like common gull I see them throughout the year but I never/or rarely count them. When entering my data for Birdtrack I normally just mark them as present but will have numbers for every other species during the seawatch. This will change that hopefully.

Gannet – Although I try and keep count on most seawatches I never keep track of ages, perhaps because I have to do that at work. I enjoy doing it work and shall endeavour to do it more on patch.

Cormorant – it may seem a strange selection but in my usual ½ hour seawatches before work lately I have been seeing staggering numbers, 722 the highest so far. My last day on patch this year also had a great spectacle of 500+ feeding along a tideline in one flock. Another reason is due to a local warden who told me he thought cormorant numbers were dwindling in the area. Crikey, I can’t imagine the amount I would have to count in the past!!

‘Comic’ terns – A bit of a cop out as they aren’t here for long but the main reason is due to an August afternoon this year. During a 2 hour sofa seawatch I counted over 1500 flying south!!! They were too distant to ID and I really should made more of an effort and went to the dunes to watch them. Next year!

Blackbird – I’m doing the BTO winter thrush survey so thought I should add a thrush to the list. Blackbird is the only thrush I see in any large number other than a brief period over autumn. There have been good numbers this autumn/winter so it will be interesting to see how many remain through breeding season and return next winter.

Linnet – Along the ‘valley’ in the dunes of my patch it has been pretty good for vis-migging, never really big numbers but a good range of species, especially finches. Bizarrely I would record numbers of everything except linnets. I’m not sure why but I shall rectify this in 2013 and with a flock of 100+ in an inland field it should provide some good records.

Yellow Wagtail – there were good numbers in the autumn, sometimes reaching double figures but I never made a concerted effort to record them all. It will be really interesting to see how many make onto the patch this spring.

Swallow – During autumn I had some good passages of swallows but again I never really kept an accurate count. Speaking with the Winterton Collective they have told me that you can get good numbers on passage some years and the odd red-rumped may be mixed, an added incentive.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Comparative scores

Look, on the right. Your right....the computers left. There is the form into which you can input your comparative scores. Hi tech or what!

All you need to do is fill out the three simple boxes and the internet will do the rest for us. We know (and we're very grateful for it) that many of you have already inputted your comparative scores onto our housekeeping spreadsheet - apologies for asking you to do it again! The reason for this is that the housekeeping spreadsheet is a little confusing in places, and also, because scores could well have changed since you put them in - it was about three weeks ago for some folks after all...

If we dont hear from you we will either assume the score you've entered on the housekeeping spreadsheet is the one you want to use - and if there is no score entered anywhere we'll assume you dont have a comparative score to imput

So, input your name, your patch, and your comparative points score. If you have scores for the last two years, use them for your average. If you have a single year you can use that as you 'average' instead.

If you're new to all this patching malarky and have no comparative score, please put a nice big N in the comparative score box. You will be entered into a league solely for good folks like yourselves.

So, sorry for asking so many of you to repeat yourselves! If you could have a go it filling it in we'd appreciate it as we hope to use these forms for getting monthly scores from you all. It would be nice to know that it didn't work with plenty of time to sort it out!

Birdtrack – making your patching worthwhile

Over the last couple of evenings, despite my terribly slow broadband and forgetting my login details, I’ve managed to get all of my Girdle ness records for 2012 uploaded onto Birdtrack. It’s something I started using back in the summer - and instantly found intuitive and user friendly – but stopped using for no reason other than going away on a boat for a while and sort of forgetting about it. I know….not good enough….

When I say all of my Girdle ness records though, unfortunately, that’s not really what I mean. I uploaded 135 records of 77 species – mostly migrants, interesting records like a December chiffchaff, or large counts, like 119 red throated divers south in an hour in September. I’m relatively old skool in my birding in as much as I carry a notebook and pencil with me and actively use it to write things down in, but while going through my notebooks for 2012 it became clear that I didn’t really write down enough. There are plenty of birds that would merit closer attention than I give them on patch – spring build ups of displaying long tailed ducks and late summer build ups of goosander for example would be worth reporting, and would allow for the generation of some funky looking graphs through Birdtracks online analysis tools. Pink footed geese are two a penny up here and as such, unless there are thousands on the go, I don’t pay them much attention apart from scanning through them for rares. It could well be worth charting the movements of these things in a little more detail.

With these thoughts in mind, I have decided that as well as birding as I always do, and reporting migrants, unusual records and large numbers, I will have a core of 10 species, whose numbers I will try to count, or at least estimate, on every trip to the patch I make. My ten (with a few justifications) are below. What I’d like to propose is that you all do the same. Choose species that interest you, species that you think your patch is good for, or whatever you want really!
My ten are as follows:

Long-tailed duck – spring build up including displaying males, and sometimes a good late autumn passage.

Goosander – Late summer build up of birds in the harbour, with up to 50 present sometimes.

Common gull – spring passage can be up to 300 birds pr hour on occasion, and winter flocks can be large.

Pink-footed goose – migrating flocks in autumn and spring, hard weather movements.

Ringed plover – a small resident population that swells in spring and autumn, with the odd tundrae type bird.

Black-headed gull – winter visitor mainly with a small number of birds passing in spring with common gulls.

Purple sandpiper – up to 300 birds through the winter.

Kittiwake – I probably won’t count all birds I see offshore, but there can be thousands in the harbour in late summer/autumn that I don’t think anyone ever counts.

Grey wagtail – occasional birds on good breeding habitat but more of a passage and winter thing. Mainly because I like them….

Red-throated diver – can be some great passage in both spring and autumn.

In doing this, and generally keeping better notes as well, I reckon I would be contributing well over 1000 records per year to Birdtrack. Imagine if all 129 Patchworkers did that…!

What would your ten be? Would local birders choose the same species as me? Probably not all ten, but if we all chose a couple of the same ones we could collect some fascinating data.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Patch of the Day: Blacksod, The Mullet Peninsula - Dave Suddaby

Since the start of my birding days in the early 70’s I seemed to have had a fascination about how many species I could see wherever I happen to be. Testimony to that being a flick through my notebooks where I’ve written out bird lists whether it is an annual list for a ‘patch’ or the ‘holiday list’. Today it’s just the same although I just write ‘notes’ in the notebook now and generate the ‘lists’ on the computer!

So when the ‘patchwork’ challenge was mooted to me I was intrigued. However, I quickly realised that it would mean a change to what I had become accustomed to calling the ‘patch’. When I moved to ‘the Mullet’, over 10 years ago now, the term ‘patch’ represented the long thin strip of land, bordered by sea on either side, that stretches from the bridge at Belmullet to Blacksod Point and within this my patch list stands at 262. Now having read the rules, if I was going to participate, I would have to nominate a ‘patch’ that is ‘a maximum area of 3 km2’. I was up for it! So, and with little thought, I decided that I would just ‘stick-the-pin’ in the map, centred on the garden and draw a 1.5km radius around! With a little re-gigging I was then left with a ‘patch’ that consists mainly of rock-strewn Tarmon Hill …. Oh dear, maybe I should have gone ‘long & thin’ with the aim of taking in more habitat? Well I’ve not and now having spent a little time exploring the new ‘patch’ in the field I’ve discovered a few areas that, in the past, I’ve paid little attention to; hopefully they will deliver some #patchgold in 2013!

The patch

So what have I got to work with? Well the area that I know well is my own garden which is situated on the ‘sheltered’ eastern slope of the hill. Fortunately the garden and immediate area consists of mature trees and fuchsia ‘hedges’ which are the first such gardens after leaving the Belmullet area some 12km to the north (in between there is a lot of grassland!); the garden therefore attracts migrants. It also overlooks Blacksod Bay and, to date, I’ve managed to notch up 151 species from within this immediate area. Some of the highlights being ‘from the north’ Arctic Redpoll, ‘from the south’ Bee-eater, Red-rumped Swallow, Melodious Warbler and Subalpine Warbler, ‘from the west’ Cedar Waxwing, Red-eyed Vireo and Blackpoll Warbler, and ‘from the east’ Blyth's Reed Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Rose-coloured Starling.

Top of the garden

Leaving the environs of my own garden and working along the ‘main’ road there are several ‘mature’ gardens clustered around Blacksod Point, and again are attractive to a similar array of migrants which, with increased coverage in 2013 will hopefully pull in some good patch birds! The pier at Blacksod also offers good views over Blacksod Bay to pick up the likes of divers, mergansers, potential seaduck and various gulls whilst along the shore are Brent Geese and a variety of waders, although with little exposed mud it’ll be difficult to score American ‘peeps’! Adding seabirds to the list may also prove difficult, particularly the petrels, shearwaters and skuas given that the wild Atlantic is 6km away, but it’ll be fun trying! I’m sure they’ll be a few storms to drive some seabirds into the bay.

Blacksod gardens

Freshwater diving and dabbling ducks will also prove difficult to score given that there is no ‘body’ of freshwater on the patch bar a small ‘puddle’ – this I call the duck pond and has (remarkably!) attracted a Ring-necked Duck in the past; although it didn’t stay long! For boosting the duck tally I’m going to have to concentrate on scoping from the patch boundaries!
The duck pond
The majority of the patch is taken up by the granite intrusion known as Tarmon Hill. This is basically a rock-strewn area interspersed with minimal vegetation and exposed to all the elements which on the ‘face-of-it’ appears pretty birdless. Okay its species range is pretty limited but it does appear attractive to Snowy Owl given the number of records over the years, and so worth a few points if I manage to connect!
Snowy was 'ere

Tarmon Hill
But searching over the hill there are a few hidden habitats, in particular a central marsh area, a few small pools, extensive long stone walls and a small failed forestry plantation. With only cursory glances in the past I have seen Dotterel, American Golden Plover, Pectoral, Wood and Green Sandpipers which are species I haven’t seen anywhere else on the patch so with more coverage it could prove useful in boosting the species list!

This new patch doesn’t have an ‘official’ list but a tally-up from memory for 2012 generates a list of about 129 species with several obvious gaps, but did include some find-highlights such as Snowy Owl, Red-rumped Swallow, Blackpoll Warbler and Cedar Waxwing! I’ve set myself a target of 150 species for 2013 – we’ll see – but one thing for sure, it’ll be fun trying!

Pan list Patchtick predictions

With girdle ness fresh in the memory, or at least just a few scrolls down the page, here's a look at what's missing from my patch list...

Birders like to do many geeky things - looking at birds being a good example, as well as keeping lists, and some at the far flung reaches of the scale like to make the odd graph or two. A lot of us like to look at other things as well, when there are no birds to look at.  Dragonflies seem inexplicably popular; as are moths (insert winky face). Butterflies get a wee look in and mammals probably would as well, if there were a bit more variety.

One thing that unites most of us is our desire to predict. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s struggled to pronounce ‘accentor’ after half a bottle of Bruichladdich while trying to predict the next British first. Thank god willet rolls off the tongue more easily...

Making a prediction for your next patch tick would probably be a lot more ‘feet on the ground’ than ‘head in the clouds’ unless you were lucky enough to have a patch on Shetland or Scilly. There’s plenty of stuff I need that lives within a few brief fluttering of a treecreepers wings…so with this in mind, and with a wee look at a few non-bird options too, here are some predictions for my next patch ticks.

Wildfowl – apart from seaduck, and the odd skein of migrating geese, wildfowl are pretty difficult to come by at Girdle ness. Seawatching usually gets me a bit of variety but even simple things like shoveler and gadwall have me airgrabbing. A spring garganey flyby is probably not too much to ask, but the best contender for adding to my list is without doubt, pochard.

Seabirds (inc divers and grebes)- red and black-necked grebes are definitely options, but true seabirds might be tricky. Leach’s petrel is as difficult here as it is anywhere on the east coast, and I’d be looking at Cory’s for a new shearwater.
I have the full list of auks (apart from the craziest of the rarities) but Sabs gull is a bit of a hole in the list, as is roseate tern. Taking frequency of occurrence nearby as my main guidance, I can narrow it down to red necked grebe or roseate tern….and I reckon roseate tern is marginally more likely.

Raptors – raptors are pretty poorly represented on my list. If it’s big and it’s not a buzzard or an osprey then I’m quids in. I’m yet to benefit from the white tailed eagle re-introduction, and despite many days looking up on warm spring mornings I haven’t encountered marsh harrier or honey buzzard. Goshawk and hen harrier are long shots (although there was a record of hen harrier last year) so, with a local population doing well on the west side of town, I think red kite is by far my most likely new BOP.

Waders – as with wildfowl, most waders are tricky to come by (unless they like hanging around on rocky shorelines). Wood sandpiper, little ringed plover and spotted redshank would all be new for me, and a spring flood could easily produce a Temmincks stint or pectoral sandpiper. I actually had a flyby wader that fitted the bill for pec sand earlier this year but it was too far away to do anything with, so perhaps that ship has sailed…in which case, I’ll have to go with the most likely nearby…wood sandpiper.

Stuff between auks and larks – there are a few good options here. Turtle dove might be more difficult these days but must still be on the cards, and who would rule out a flyover bee-eater or a hoopoe in spring. There’s one option that is much more likely though, a species I’ve come across many times in Aberdeen before, and that’s tawny owl.

Larks, pipits and wagtails (and swallows, as they are about here in the book) – I missed short-toed lark the other year, but as far as larks go, that must be the best option. There are a few pipits to come too. Olive-backed is probably just as likely as water pipit in North East Scotland, and considering red-throated would be a county tick, I think olive backed would be the best bet there. The most likely therefore must come down to red-rumped swallow. A bit of a long shot, but why not?

Chats, wheatears and thrushes – another group where most of the usual suspects are represented. If my next patch tick is going to come from this group then it’s going to be something pretty handy, a Siberian stonechat perhaps, or a pied wheatear. If my thrashing of the cover around the sewage works is ever going to be rewarded though, I’d love it to be in the form of a red-flanked bluetail

Warblers – a bit of a theme developing , as there are no really common options to add to my list. I’m looking for greenish (yup, I missed all of the two or three that were around during our big greenish year in 2004), a subalpine would be great, and I’ve missed both Radde’s and Dusky in recent years. The most likely new warbler is another one I’ve missed before though, marsh warbler. And preferably one singing in spring please….

Finches, sparrows and buntings. Corn buntings still hold on in North East Scotland, but nowhere near Aberdeen, and something like little bunting would be the next most numerous species. Despite the habitat we do OK for finches – I missed a rosefinch a few years ago (I’ve missed a lot…the vast majority I was out of the country for) but I think a mainland horny roll is a bit of a long shot. Most likely therefore would be an autumn migrant hawfinch.

Miscellaneous passerines – no need for discussion here. A species I’ve literally seen hundreds of in Aberdeen, and seen within a stone’s throw of the patch too…treecreeper!.

So there are 10 bird predictions, some of which I have a lot more confidence in than others! I’m not going to waste time predicting any moths as I don’t know anything about them, and any dragonfly I managed to put a name to would be the first on the list. I know my butterflies though…there are grayling and dark green fritillary a few miles up the coast, but I think a migrant might be my best shot, in which case I’ll predict clouded yellow. And as for mammals…there are probably more options on land than there are on the water, and if I had a bat detector a bat would be a shoe in at this point…I see most mammals while looking out to sea though, so I’ll look that way for my prediction. Most of the regular stuff is already on the list so it’s going to be something pretty rare from land, say between  killer whale, fin whale, sperm whale and white-sided dolphin. With no reason at all, I think I’ll go for fin whale……

So what are your glaring omissions? Or am I the only one with these massive gaps on my list…..?

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Patch of the day – Girdle ness, Mark Lewis

At the age of 18 I decided that Aberdeen Uni was the one for me – it was on the east coast, and perhaps more important, it was a suitable distance from home, and it would have me. In preparation for the big move north I spent endless hours looking through the regional round-ups that were (and perhaps still are?) a regular feature in ‘Birdwatching’ magazine. A few themes arose…there were lots of geese and gulls, and king eiders put in frequent appearances. Another name kept cropping up as well though – Girdle ness – and handily for me it was within walking distance of town.

I don’t recall my first trip there, but there are a few memories that linger from the early years. I recall one May morning birding in a shirt and tie and without bins (it was after a very heavy night…) with a cup of tea in a polystyrene cup.  My companion gave me the requisite amount of grief but then forgave me as I pointed out a quail running up along a dry stone wall – his first and my only ever patch record. I also remember stumbling over a Richards pipit while trying to twitch a desert wheatear about a week too late…

My visits back then were relatively few and far between, and it wasn’t till about 2006 that I started to really work the ness as a local patch. As the place is mostly not much more than a golf course it’s difficult to assess how populations of birds have changed. Whitethroats and sedge warblers certainly seem more numerous than they were, and stonechats, done in by successive severe winters, have declined from 3+ pairs to 2 records in the last 3 years. House martins have colonized recently, and buzzard, as with everywhere else in the east of the country, have become more numerous.

Winter has it's attractions. The odd king eider turns up, as does the odd white winged gull. Hard weather sometimes forces interesting bits and pieces into Nigg bay (bullfinch is always what I'm hoping for at this time of year) and if there's nothing else around, picking out colour rings and leg flags on the purple sandpipers passes the time nicely.

The biggest change has come in Nigg bay. Gone is the short cropped grass that used to flood and attract little stints and curlew sandpipers, but the cover planted up around the sewage works is now substantial enough to hold breeding chiffchaffs, willow warblers, and reed buntings. Having these breeding birds certainly gives the area more to enjoy in the summer, but the location of Girdle ness means that migrants and seabirds are it’s main focus.

It’s not a massive area but there are plenty of discreet little bits of cover (and one massive bit, around the sewage works in Nigg bay), making it quite a task to work it properly in good conditions. There’s no point in going into the details of what birds can be found – we all know what makes the east coast exciting, so I’ll just detail one of my happier memories.

The Brunnich’s guillemot of 2007 was great, but how I wish I’d found it. I did claim second prize a few days later though. Seawatching from the forghorn with some guille twitchers travelled up from Norfolk. In among a heavy passage of little auks and long-tailed ducks, we had sooties and poms, flocks of snow buntings bombing north, 3 glaucous gulls, and ‘all 4’ species of diver including a cracking adult white-billed. Patch birding at its best!

Girdle ness has a very unofficial list of about 232 species. Of those, I’ve seen 187. Not too bad but I reckon I’ll top 200 in 2015.

Now that’ll be a hangover…

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Patch of the Day: Kilcoole, Newcastle & Blackditch ECNR, Co. Wicklow, Niall T. Keogh

In June 1995 my father made the wise decision to take me out of school for the day to go see a 1st-summer Hobby that was frequenting the reed fringed channels down at Kilcoole. Whether this was an attempt to spark an interest in birding or whether he just wanted to go see the Hobby himself anyway and had to bring me along I’ll never know. Either way, it worked!
After that we frequently went birding to Kilcoole and Newcastle together. Whilst we had no car at the time a handy bus service brought us all the way from our home in South Dublin to Newcastle village. A quick stop in the shop for a Mint Cornetto became a mandatory start to the day before walking down Newcastle Sea Road, out onto the beach at Six Mile Point and then North along the coast, scanning the sea and marshes before catching the bus home several hours later from Kilcoole village. A perfect system.

The patch boundaries
With the acquisition of a family car a few years later, birding trips with my father branched out to sites such as Tacumshin Lake, the North Slob and Great Saltee...but always on a Sunday. As such, Saturdays were my own which I spent working the patch route set out in previous years. This solo birding gave me the chance to figure things out for myself (the tricky juv wader roosting on the beach or the funny passerine call coming from the scrub) and also resulted in a few nice finds. I remember getting particularly buzzed over a flock of 14 Pink-footed Geese that pitched in one cold winter’s morning and the fine male Long-tailed Duck diving in the channels during a late autumn storm. Not that these birds are national rarities, but that’s not the point. I was beginning to learn what patch birding was about.

The beach at Kilcoole has hosted one of the largest Little Tern breeding colonies (50-100 pairs) in Ireland for many years now thanks to a joint wardening effort by BirdWatch Ireland and the National Parks & Wildlife Service. Seeing the work the wardens put in to keeping these birds safe was an inspiration, so much so that I started volunteering on the project at the age of 16 and in May 2010, after finishing college, became a Seabird Fieldworker with BirdWatch Ireland. I’ve wardened the Little Tern colony at Kilcoole for three seasons now, living on site for a total of nine months, adding a new dimension to birding on the patch.

Kilcoole Little Tern colony blog:

Little Tern at nest K11

With a current patch total of 198, I’m hoping that taking part in the Patchwork Challenge will bring me over the big 200 (bogeys of Iceland Gull & Whinchat need to be sorted out), lead to a nice find (Lesser Sand Plover in July thank you very much) as well as provide a good excuse for me to go birding there more than usual!

Site Description & Species Breakdown:

Essentially the patch consists of a series of coastal mashes separated from the Irish Sea by a North-South railway line, low sand dune and shingle beach. The whole stretch of coast is fairly linear save for a slight ‘bump’ at the South end at Six Mile Point which does its best to attract in migrants. A right of way exists through the dunes and whilst popular with the local public and dog walkers, it also provides a perfect vantage point onto the marshes and out to sea at the same time.

Ballygannon: An area of reedbed surrounded by willow scrub and gardens. This is the most regular site for singing Reed Warbler. Best of all was a Yellow-browed Warbler which spent a few days with a roving tit flock on the laneway here in Nov 2011. Patch MEGA!

Shingle Beach & Sand Dune: Runs all the way along the Eastern boundary. In addition to the Little Tern colony here in summer it hosts breeding Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Skylark and Reed Bunting. This whole stretch is good for Wheatears, pipits, wagtails, occasionally Snow Buntings (winter) and Lapland Bunting (Sept) as well as providing a day roost site for waders from the marsh. Rarities seen here include Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Sabine’s Gull and Short-toed Lark. A Shore Lark will turn up here someday!

Lapland Bunting

Offshore: Wintering species consist of Red-throated Diver, Shag and auks. Great Northern Divers and Great Crested Grebes are infrequently encountered and sea duck merely pass by with Common Scoter being the only regular. Spring and Autumn seawatching can be quite productive in NE or SE winds, although finding a suitable sheltered spot can be difficult and you’re generally quite low to the water. Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Storm Petrel, Black Tern and Puffin will all be seen over a couple of good days seawatching a year. I’ve had Balearic Shearwater twice, Sooty Shearwater once, Pomarine Skua four times and Long-tailed Skua twice. Needless to say, a Great Shearwater would be awesome! Gulls migrate North-South along the coast, especially in Spring. Amongst these I have seen 3 Glaucous Gulls between April and June.

BirdWatch Ireland Kilcoole Reserve: Incorporates two scrapes amongst thick rush and sedge. The reserve has drawn in Green-winged Teal, Little Ringed Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper, White-winged Black Tern, Water Pipit and Blue-headed Wagtail. Dipping a Squacco Heron here in August 1999 will remain painful for years to come.

“Webb’s Field”: A brackish lagoon runs through a well grazed field which floods from time to time during the winter. Owned by the National Parks & Wildlife Service. This is the hub of wildfowl and wader activity (Light-bellied Brent Goose, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Grebe, Little Egret etc). Flocks of Dunlin and Ringed Plover feed along the muddy channel edges and wet flashes on passage. These areas should be checked carefully for scarce and rare everything! In this field alone I have seen: Tundra Bean Goose (2), Blue-winged Teal, Smew, Spoonbill, Osprey (2), Gyrfalcon, American Golden Plover (2), White-rumped Sandpiper (2), Pectoral Sandpiper (2), Buff-breasted Sandpiper (4), Wilson's Phalarope (3) and Red-necked Phalarope. Scarce species such as Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Green Sandpiper and Ruff are annual but Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Spotted Redshank, Wood Sandpiper and Garganey are a little bit more hit and miss. Yellow Wagtails used to breed around here once upon a time, but they have gone by the wayside now.

Webb's Field

“The Breaches”: A small estuary with some relict salt marsh along its boundary. Flows out to sea splitting the beach and essentially the site into Kilcoole (to the North) and Newcastle (to the South). The outflow can block during strong Easterly winds causing a back up of water onto the marsh. When the outflow is open the estuary runs at a normal rhythm, attracting in day roosting gulls and good patch waders like Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Knot as well as regularly hosting Kingfisher and Otter. Rarities seen here include Ring-billed Gull & Black Redstart.

“Stringer’s Channels”: Reed-fringed, freshwater channels on private farmland, owned by the Stringer family...hence the name! A good place to see diving duck which are scarce on the patch. Found a Ring-necked Duck here in Oct 2008, a few days after The Punks had the flock of 15 on Inishmore. A good spot for hirundines and Swifts also. The fields inland from Stringer’s Channels and The Breaches hold Whooper Swans and Greylag Geese in winter which pull in Bewick’s, Pink-feet, Greenland White-front and Barnacle from time to time. A Cattle Egret was found here in Nov 2007, the vanguard of the influx which was to follow and the ‘last good one’ according to the finder!

Newcastle Airfield: Another area of rough grazing and reedbeds, good for raptors (Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl and Merlin). Lacks the open water found at other sections of the site. The airstrip is quite active, especially at the weekends and whilst looking good for a rare plover holds little more than flocks of Curlew.

Blackditch East Coast Nature Reserve: In 2003, BirdWatch Ireland purchased this 93ha area of land South of Newcastle Sea Road. Rarely visited during the early years of patch birding, the site became open to me when I volunteered on the reserve. Now decked out with a series of walkways through wet grassland, alkaline fen and wet birch woodland leading to hides viewing out over scrapes and ditches where wintering wildfowl, waders & breeding warblers can be seen. A feeding station has attracted Brambling whilst the birch woodland has added Jay, Long-eared Owl, Treecreeper, Crossbill and the recently arrived Great Spotted Woodpecker to the mix. Without a doubt my most important site for passerines on the patch. Rarities seen here include Red-rumped Swallow, Alpine Swift and Siberian Chiffchaff.

A map of Blackditch ECNR can be found here:

Friday, 14 December 2012

if you like this, you'll love....

As well as our year long patchwork challenge, there are a few other very worthy initiatives that might interest patch birders.

Mark Reeders Foot It runs through January and is based upon, as the name suggests, the number of birds that can be seen on foot from home. Hopefully Mark will be along soon to tell us a bit more about it but in the meantime you can find details here

Also running in 2013 is this pan-listing challenge This is a challenge to record 1000 species of, well, anything, within a 1 km square. As it says on the blog, ' There's nothing like a bit of friendly competition and camaraderie to spur one along' so if you need an excuse to start looking at the wider wildlife around you, perhaps this is the way to start. I'm sure the good men at the blog will be able to point you in the right direction regarding ID help for all those little creepy crawlies.

Like the patchwork challenge, Mark is encouraging all taking part to submit data to birdtrack - and of course, I'm sure birdtrack would be very grateful for bird data from folk taking part in 1000 for 1KSQ. Perhaps even more worthwhile would be recarding data for all the other bits and bobs you find wriggling under stones - most of which must be relatively data poor. I'm not in a position to tell you what to do with these records but again, I'm sure that the guys at the blog would be happy to oblige!

Lets hope that between the three of us we can make a significant contribution to data recording in 2013. I'll certainly be plugging all of my bird data in - but I may well take a bit more notice of whats right under my nose too.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


This patchwork challenge has taken off more than we could have imagined so before I go any further, thanks to everyone who has contributed to the project in any way. Contributions to the blog, follows and retweets on twitter, interaction on facebook and Birdforum have all helped make this into something much bigger than we could have made it by ourselves, so, from both Ryan and Mark, a glass is raised to you all...

So what has it become?

Well, obviously it is early days but the numbers look good. Today we passed 7,500 pageviews on the blog (not bad for two weeks...) and 247 followers on twitter - which is so near to 250 that I'm sure you'll let it slide!

The most important number though is the number of patches...and today we passed the 100 mark! This is at least 3 times as many as I thought we would get...

So, thanks for all the interest, and please, keep the blogposts coming! It makes the blog a much more interesting place to be and if you dont, there's gonna be an awful lot about Girdle ness on here....

One contribution that deserves a special mention today is from Marek Walford, who kindly took the time to resolve our scoring spreadsheets temperamental attitude towards apostrophes! if you want to download the new one you can get it here:

Awesome stuff, thanks Marek!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Patch of the day, Virkie/Exnaboe/Toab, Shetland - Rob Fray

Lots of birders will have visited my patch at some time. Some may even have had a tick or two in my patch. For about 49 weeks of the year, I have my patch pretty much to myself. For three weeks in the autumn, I can’t move for birders! My patch is the Virkie, Toab and Exnaboe area in south mainland Shetland.

I finally put roots down in Shetland in June 2007, after a rather protracted move from Leicester. Anybody who has birded the Virkie Willows, or looked on the Pool of Virkie from the well-known turning-circle, will have seen my house: it’s the one closest to the Virkie Willows.

I define my patch as per the map below: basically, the bit of land between Sumburgh Airport to the south and Ward Hill to the north. The area lives in the shadow of Sumburgh Head somewhat, which steals a lot of my migrant birds, but a bit of persistence over the years has certainly paid off.

The obvious focal point is the Pool of Virkie, possibly one of the best sites in the whole of the UK for rare waders over the years. I can see much of this tidal pool from my kitchen window, which is handy. The list of wader rarities recorded on the pool is enviable: before my time in Shetland, such cripplers as Western Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Least Sandpiper and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper were recorded, not to mention Britain’s first Great Knot. Since my time here, I’ve found Shetland’s second Marsh Sandpiper on the pool, along with three different White-rumped Sandpipers and a couple of Pectoral Sandpipers. Initially found by others, Killdeer, Semipalmated Sandpiper and American Golden Plover have all found their way on to my patch (and house) list too, although a Baird’s Sandpiper during the summer of 2007 was a bad dip for me. Being a shallow tidal estuary, the pool isn’t much good for wildfowl, but as my patch lacks any fresh water at all (bar the odd puddle in a field), it’s the only place where I might encounter such species. Long-tailed Duck, Eider and Goldeneye are regular in the winter, and I’ve managed to scrape up Slavonian Grebe, Scaup and even a King Eider on the pool over the years. Occasionally ducks fly over the patch, the best by far being a pair of Black Ducks that had been nearby at Scatness and which, knowing they had just been flushed by a dog-walker, I managed to get on the patch list by climbing onto the roof of my house and watching them fly along the west side of Toab!

Away from the Pool of Virkie, my patch consists of the settlements of Toab, Exnaboe and Eastshore, and the adjacent agricultural land. Farming in my patch is mainly of the sheep variety, therefore much of the area is grass fields which aren’t usually of any great interest ornithologically. However, there are usually four or five small crop fields each year of neeps and/or tatties (or turnips and potatoes if you prefer), and these are a magnet for migrants in the autumn. Neeps are the best, as they tend to stay in the ground for longer and aren’t harvested until much later in the autumn. During my time, such crops have produced a couple of Pechora Pipits, Yellow-breasted Bunting, Short-toed Lark, Arctic Redpoll and Little Bunting amongst others.

The gardens of Toab are well-known to any birder who has visited south mainland Shetland, and have a good list of past glories, including Black-throated Thrush, Pied Wheatear and Black-headed Bunting. Despite getting on for six years of thrashing these gardens myself, the best I’ve found has been an Olive-backed Pipit, a Radde’s Warbler and a Coal Tit (the latter being by far the rarest in Shetland terms!), whilst an Isabelline Shrike in Toab during the autumn of 2012 was very popular with visiting and resident birders alike. The Toab gardens will virtually guarantee me Yellow-browed Warbler, Red-backed Shrike, Common Rosefinch, Icterine Warbler and Barred Warbler each year – all easy as ‘self-found’ birds and one of the many advantages of living in Shetland.

Less well-known are the gardens at Exnaboe, which are my favourite gardens in the patch (probably because they are less well-known, and therefore less visited, by other birders). They seem particularly attractive to rare phylloscs – over the last few years I’ve found Arctic, Greenish and Dusky Warbler in these gardens. One of these days I’ll find something truly spectacular there. Exnaboe was also the site of the Sandhill Crane in 1991.

Finally... Eastshore. Not a site that will have registered with many people before October 23rd 2012. The Eastshore road is the one that runs along the northern edge of the Pool of Virkie. At the west end, nearest the main road, are the famous Virkie Willows, which have produced many a good bird, including Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler and ‘Caspian’ Stonechat (both before my time), and Pechora Pipit and Ortolan Bunting since I’ve been here. My own garden is now maturing nicely – best bird so far actually in the garden is Subalpine Warbler, but I’ve had multiple Bluethroats, Wrynecks, Red-backed Shrikes, Barred Warblers and Yellow-browed Warblers too, and the Pallid Harrier I found from my garden will live long in the memory. I have high hopes for my recently-dug pond, which I am convinced will one day attract a Siberian Blue Robin – for now, my ‘pond list’ consists of House Sparrow, Starling, Blackbird, Willow Warbler, Waxwing, Rock Dove, Blue Tit and my dog!

There are a few other gardens along the Eastshore road, which nobody ever looks in (and I somehow manage to ignore much of the time too). I’ve always thought they had potential, and this was realised somewhat joyously, yet painfully, on the date mentioned above: Chestnut-eared Bunting! (The recent write-up in Birding World will explain the pain behind this bird).

And then there’s the Magic Ditch. There is nothing ever in the Magic Ditch. I plod along it every day in the spring and autumn, seeing nothing (although the dog likes the walk). The reason I continue to look in the Magic Ditch is because, over the space of three fateful days in September 2008, there was a Paddyfield Warbler and a Thrush Nightingale in the Magic Ditch. Since then... well, I did find a Great Snipe adjacent to the Magic Ditch in 2011, but apart from that the highlights have been a Robin, a Sedge Warbler and several Meadow Pipits. Looks good for a Pallas’s Gropper though...

So far, this description of my patch has concentrated on migrants/rarities – so what of the ‘regular’ stuff? Typical Shetland birds such as Twite, Rock Dove, Bonxie, Arctic Skua, Whimbrel, Black Guillemot etc are all easily seen. However, breeding landbirds are restricted to House Sparrow, Starling, Blackbird, Sky Lark, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Wren, Wheatear, Hooded Crow and Raven, whilst a small population of Linnets (still a scarce bird in Shetland away from south mainland) has recently become established. ‘Common’ birds elsewhere in the UK can be difficult to come by: Blue Tit was a mega patch tick this autumn, a Stock Dove this November was only the second I’ve seen in my patch, I was gutted to miss a Long-tailed Tit in Toab a few years ago, I still need Yellowhammer, Little Grebe and Pochard, and have next to no chance of Magpie, Jay, Willow Tit, Tawny Owl or Little Owl!

My personal patch list currently stands at 212 and, after a bit of investigation, I think the total number of species recorded in my patch is probably 258. My goal for 2013: surely it’s about time I found a bluetail in Toab?

Sorry to have waffled on so much...


Sunday, 9 December 2012

Dr Patchlove or How I learned to forget work and love my Girdle ness

I realized something pretty fundamental recently. I. do. not. like. work. This is a bit of a problem really, as work, or at least the money that one accrues as a result of it, is pretty essential. It keeps me in cakes and my girlfriend in those expensive satchels that are all over the telly at the moment. It pays for my holidays. It’s added another dimension to my social life, and it means that if I ever wanted to watch an episode of Judge Judy, it would be guaranteed to be one that I hadn’t seen before. So, unless you’re willing to hitchhike forever eating Go-cat, work is just the thing for you.

The thing I resent so much about my job is that it takes so much of my time. Five out of seven days a week, it uses up a pretty large portion of the available daylight, a time at which I’d much rather be out doing other stuff. And when I say doing other stuff, I mean birding.

I don’t really think there is any solution to this whole work thing. I have friends who get paid good money to disappear offshore for a month counting birds, and then get to spend two months in Shetland every autumn. To me this sounds perfect, but if I was to go down that route I’d almost certainly not have anyone to buy those expensive satchels for. This is my bed, and for better or worse, I will lie in it.

Luckily for me, the great thing about the bed that I lie in is that it is very close indeed to my local patch. About 4 minutes walk to be precise. It’s also 4 minutes from where I work, which means that when daylight allows, I can grab opportunities to go patch birding before, at lunchtime, after, and on the odd occasion, even during work.

In the spring, summer and early autumn I can have three hours on patch before work. This is long enough to cover it properly although when the seawatching is good or there are migrants around it can be a bit awkward getting round in time. After work, on pleasant evenings, I can dress up another wander around as a ‘walk’ with the good lady, and unless I’m really busy, I can usually get out at lunchtime to cover a small portion of the patch – a tactic that has got me barred warbler among other things this autumn.

The value of this to me is impossible to quantify. If I never saw anything interesting it would get a little frustrating, but imagine never having the opportunity to look. It’s this that keeps me sane – knowing that there are opportunities to get out and escape the office, and the whole work routine. Knowing that if I can get out 10 times during the week then there is less pressure on me to get out at the weekend (not that that stops me…) so I get to play the dutiful boyfriend too. Knowing that when the weather looks promising, regardless of work, I’ll get a chance to dip my toe into the rarity pool.

To me, the consequences of not having these opportunities would be dire. The cabin fever, the ever growing resentment of my job, and the increasing anguish that would come with every Birdguides message would drive me mental very quickly. These opportunities are my fix, my medicine if you will, they are the things that allow me to function in the real world that I reluctantly live in.

So learn to love your patch. It’s worked wonders for me.

Girdle ness on Thursday....dead, but much more satisfying than being in the office...

Ireland - probably the most competitive mini league!

The second post in our series introducing the patches takes us over the Irish Sea. Despite much moaning coming from Galley Head about how rare long-tailed tits are and that they deserve more than one point in Ireland (he see's thousands of Cory's per year, an easy six points so no sympathy!) a fantastic five patches have been submitted so far. All coastal, all with huge potential and good birds behind them this could be a close run thing, will it be a yank or gank year?

You can find the Galley Head patch here and now to introduce the others, Tralee, Kilmore Quay, The Mullet and Blackditch. Below are the maps for Tralee and Blackditch. A nice mix there with two in the south west, one in the north west and two in the east coast. Good luck guys, I hope you get your long-tailed tits!

The Mullet local patch

Blackditch local patch

Tralee local patch

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Patch of the day - Whiteford, Alastair Irvine, written by Ryan Irvine

To start with I better explain that I am writing this on behalf of my dad who has birded the area since long before I was born in 1979.  The patch is set in rural Aberdeenshire and has a nice mix of woodlands, farmland and the River Urie gives it some fresh water, along with a few ponds, all with Bennachie over looking it.

As I was growing up my dad used to tell me about the birds he watched in the 70’s, and how he watched green woodpeckers at their nest, a rare bird now not seen in the area since the mid 90’s and I never came close to seeing a nest! During my childhood I remember watching long-eared owls breeding for about 10 years every summer and it was this that really got me in to birding. During the 90’s we had a bit of a purple patch with owls, with barn owls, LEO’s and tawny owls all breeding but unfortunately only tawnys remain now. In the early 90’s we also found our first buzzard for the patch, amazing to believe now a days as there are probably 5 or 6 pairs in the small area.The patch used to have regular geese flocks every winter where we were lucky enough to pick out a snow goose once and on the same day found our one and only jack snipe for the patch. I remember the day well, January 1st 1995! The geese have stopped using the patch now and winter is a lot quieter although there is the usual wintering finch flocks, the odd waxwing etc.

Common Buzzard - a common sight now but very rare 25 years ago

So to the present and the patch may have lost its owls, its geese, its green woodpeckers but has also gained with tree sparrows now very common, little grebes bred for the first time this year, goldeneye now wintering on the river most years and the new ponds have attracted shovelers, green sandpipers and tufted duck to the patch.  
What about rarities, well as you can imagine they are, well rare here! Apart from the aforementioned snow goose, we have had a few wheatears and a whinchat on passage but generally we don’t get anything extraordinary here, or at least I don’t. May 25th 2012 and in the centre of the patch my dad finds a male red-backed shrike, a true patch mega and one I wish I could have seen! In fact I would more likely have twitched that than a British first elsewhere (well, maybe not but it would have been a tough decision!).

As well as birds, red squirrels, roe deer, foxes, badgers and otters can be found and its pretty good for butterflies, in fact a Camberwell beauty was in my parent’s garden back in 2005!

I think this is the beauty of patch birding, even though it may look like nothing we have notched up over 120 species and seen the area and its birdlife change over the years.

Goldeneye, a recent addition to the pacth list

Ryan Irvine


Thursday, 6 December 2012

What to do if you want to take part...

Here's a quick refresher on the three things you need to do....apologies for the laziness, this is an email I've sent out to a few folk but theres no point in not putting it up here as it's pretty helpful!

First, read this and make sure we've explained the rules properly

Next, read this and fill out the spreadsheet in the link...

Once that is done, download your 'scorecard' here

If you have a comparative score (i.e. past 2 year lists from the patch) you can stick them into copies of the scorecard and average them to come up with your comparative score. If, like you say, you're averages are unrealistic, then just post what you reckon will be a realistic score.

A word of warning, the scorecard does not like apostrophes - if you have any problems entering particular birds you can select them from the dropdown menu or copy and past them in from the 'list' tab of the spreadsheet.

If you want to make a map to send in, or are concerned that your patch may be too large, there are some great mapping tools here

If you have any issues drop us a line....

Good luck with the patches!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Norfolk - a mini league in the making?

This post is the first in a series as we start to introduce the patches to everyone. I thought I would start with the Norfolk patches for two reasons, firstly my patch is there and secondly 16 of the first 70 patches are from there. Now, I know what your thinking and that all the patches are from North Norfolk 'hot spots' but in truth there is a good mix of north and east coast patches as well as a few inland ones. We'll start in the north, Salthouse, Gramborough Hill, Felbrigg and Cromer all covered but no patches to the west of the north coast yet. Below are the patches of Salthouse and Cromer.

Cromer local patch
Salthouse local patch

The east coast is well represented with six entrants, although it only constitutes 3 patches. The Winterton collective have stuck to their parish which measured in just under the maximum allowed and there will be up to four of them competing there. Neighbouring either side of their patch will be a Sea Paling patch and my patch at Hemsby. The Winterton and Sea Palling patches are below, see the first post for the Hemsby patch.

Winterton local patch

Sea Palling local patch

And finally we have six inland patches, Thetford, Whitlingham CP, UEA, Thorpe Marshes, Syderstone and Mid-Yare. All are pretty varied and should have totally differnet lists, some relying on fresh water lakes and rivers and others on woodland, heaths and farmland. See the Whitlingham and Mid-Yare patches below.

Whitlingham CP local patch

Mid-Yare local patch

 So thats Norfolk for the moment but I'm sure there will be a few more patches before the months out.