Tuesday, 31 December 2013

My 2013 PWC review from Girdle ness

What a year 2013 was for me on Patch – I absolutely smashed my record species count by 7, found 6 bonus point scoring species, and even managed to add a couple of species of mammals! Here’s a breakdown of how it went, month by month


I picked up 63 species in January – not a bad total for me, and including some goodies such as little auk, waxwing, black-throated diver and chiffchaff – my first record of an overwintering bird on patch. Other species that can prove awkward over the course of the year included coal tit and short-eared owl.


I only added 5 species in February, and even at that early stage it seemed like the wheels might have come off any attempts at a high total.  Among them were Mistle thrush, which is less than annual, and stock dove, which I have only recorded twice before.


Things picked up considerably in March, seeing a total of 11 additions to the species list, with some nice little bits of quality in the form of glaucous gull, Slavonian grebe and snow bunting. Cream of the crop though was a pair of Gadwall that briefly joined the eider flock in the harbour – only my second record on patch. No sign of any spring migrants though.


As per usual, April saw a surge in additions to the patch year list, with returning migrants accounting for many. 20 new species were added, with highlights being  collared dove, yellowhammer (less than annual), tufted duck, Iceland gull, and little tern. Unusually, I also had my only record of Minke whale in April, too.


Another good month, with 14 species added, including a few good ones. I walked past a bluethroat mid month, which was a bit of a downer, but luckily I caught up with the bird later in the day. I also scored my first bonus points of the year with  red-backed shrike. On top of those, I had more interesting migrants such as lesser whitethroat and whinchat.


Only two birds added in June – a crossbill which gave amazing views, and a surf scoter, which gave less good views but was only my second on patch, and was a cracking drake.

No additions whatsoever! And no interesting cetaceans, which is a bit unusual…


August was when it all started to kick off. I added 18 species to the year list.  I added several waders, including a green sandpiper that I picked up as if flew past the office window! There were also falls of migrants that delivered pied and spotted flycatchers, reed warbler, and some bonus points with wryneck, barred warbler and a couple of greenish warblers. In spite of all this, August will always be remembered as the month I got my first girdle ness killer whales…


September saw only 5 additions, possibly because of two weeks away from home on Sanday. Best of the bunch were a couple of yellow-browed warbler, but with a nice supporting cast of great crested grebe and great spotted woodpecker, neither of which can be expected in any year.


8 additions in October. A twitched shore lark was bird of the month, but there was further quality added in the forms of merlin, barnacle goose, tree sparrow, ring ouzel, and mealy redpoll. I also had an intriguing eastern lesser whitethroat...


2 species added, both wintery additions – whooper swan and great northern diver. I also added a few extra points with a Siberian chiffchaff. Great northern diver was the last addition to the list, leaving me on a maximum break of 147 species and 217 points.


As I said above – no more additions, but plenty of time to lament on what could have been – having missed tystie, pomarine skua, both redstarts, long tailed skua, and quite a few more. At least 161 species were recorded, so breaking the 150 is definitely possible, and my target for 2014. Bring it on!

Finally, here's a bit of patch geekery - my species and points accumulation plotted as graphs. Really shows year on year where the biggest leaps forward were made. First the species totals and then the points totals. It shows that in 2013, early autumn was the key time for me, as opposed to later autumn in 2011 and 2012 - although this perhaps reflects no more than when the best falls occurred. The graphs also show nicely that spring and autumn are the key times in all three years, with the lines being at their steepest then. Thats not to say that winter and summer aren't important of course...

I only added one species to my overall patch list - greenish warbler, which took me on to a total of 188 species. I fared a little better with mammals though, adding killer whale (hoped for but not expected) and red squirrel (completely off the radar!) taking me up to 20 species of mammals! No obvious further additions (unless I get a bat detector!)

There are three killer whale on the pic - or at least there are three killer whale blows!

PWC 2014 - Whats new and what to do

Over the course of the 2013 PWC we realised that there were perhaps one or two small tweaks we could make to the rules, to make things run a little better. Don’t worry – the competition is almost exactly the same as it was last year – there are no big changes and you won’t have to worry about doing anything different day to day. If you want to have a look at the rules from last year, see here.

Here’s what we’re proposing.

Comparative Scores – the comparative score competition is still the main focus of PWC but, as things developed over 2013 we realised that plenty of the scores that people were playing against were not particularly comparative, due either to people not knowing their patches too well, or, more likely, increased effort due to the competition. As a result, were going to have to take a pretty tough line on comparative scores. That line will be that your score from 2013 will be your comparative score, and if you didn’t take part in 2013 you can’t enter a comparative score.

Scoring – Scoring will be exactly the same, apart from a very slight tweak to what subspecies will score extra points (see this blog post for details). A few people have proposed changes to the scoring system but most people seem to think it works, especially in the context of comparative scores. You can download your scoring spreadsheet here

Patches – again there are no changes proposed here. The only thing we think needs to be said is that if you’re playing off a comparative score then your patch needs to remain the same – no tweaking!

When you can enter – You can enter whenever you want, but if you enter later in the year, it’s important to think about whether your coverage before you signed up will be sufficient to build up a suitable comparative score for the following year. When you sign up, you can add your patch to our map of patches by following the instructions here.

And finally, submitting your score - keep an eye on the blog, or watch out for the alerts on Facebook and Twitter for the score forms. Then it's as simple as filling out a similar form to the one you've already filled in when signing up. Every month we'll take the species and points totals you enter on the score form and use them to update the leagues, and use the details you enter for highlights and best finds for our blog posts and pieces for Birdguides.

All that remains to be said is to wish everyone who takes part the very best of luck!

Saturday, 28 December 2013

South Coast Minileague - November

The November update for the South Coast is tinged with sadness as it also marks Cameron Bespolka's final update. For the record he had done really well with a final score of 137 points and 123 species with his November highlight a Yellow-legged Gull. Elsewhere not a lot was added with Andy Johnson managing to hold onto to top spot by some margin. Further down things remained static with just the odd point added.

Liam probably has this wrapped up but Andy could still catch up if he has an electric December but something along the lines of, say, a Semipalmated Plover would be needed. Actually, that wouldnt work... Ian needs 2 points to join the 100 club at Samphire Hoe.

South West Minileague - November

Paul Bowyer's Richard's Pipit was the best find in the South West in November. Despite this Paul remains in 4th as Paul Bowerman and Kev Rylands added plenty across the month. With Gavin Haig failing to add he slipped into third place. Marcus Lawson and Peter Hazlewood both profited from good Novembers by climbing the table to 6th and 7th place respectively with Roger Musgrove losing out and falling to 8th place.

Roger Musgrove remains top of the comparative league but no new additions sees his lead cut to a mere 24%! There were no new 100%'ers but Paul Bowerman needs a solitary point in December to get there. Dan Chaney has also closed up on second place and with a similar points total to Marcus Lawson there is a shoot out in December for silver.

London Minileague - November

Fraser Cottington jumps to the top of the table after not updating for a couple of months with his haul including 6 points for Yellow-browed Warbler at Dinton Pastures CP. 13 points for Adam Bassett keeps him in touch leaving it all to play for. Paul Whiteman drops off the pace a little but a good December could see him in the mix. Jono Lethbridge managed to overtake Kevin M after a decent month.

Adam Bassett managed to hold on to top spot at Little Marlow. Jono Lethbridge hits the 100% mark and climbs three places to third. Some shuffling further down highlights that there are still places up for grabs whilst Fraser could still top the 100% mark.

Cameron Bespolka

We were doing some admin for next years competition when we looked at the first name signed up to the 2014 Patchwork Challenge. Cameron Bespolka. Cameron was one of our youngest competitors in the first year and he had signed up his patch, St. Catherine's Hill in Winchester, with the eagerness that had been present throughout the 2013 edition. Cameron was one of the most regular contributors on Facebook and was always willing to share his recent patching experiences or give an opinion on a thread as he led a vanguard of Next Generation Birders into Patchwork Challenge. It was with great sadness and a real sense of loss that we learnt of Cameron's fatal skiing accident in Austria mid month and our thoughts remain with his family at this extremely difficult time.

When we received the news we were readying an announcement of a Patchwork Challenge Next Gen Birders minileague and some cross promotion to try and get more birders like Cameron involved with PWC. We were going to highlight how Cameron's participation had been positive for both parties. Obviously we decided to postpone the announcement and during a period of reflection and in the spirit of collaboration we wanted to celebrate Cameron's enthusiasm for both PWC and Next Gen Birders. Jointly we have decided to dedicate the minileague to Cameron's memory and the leading patchworker in the Under 25's minileague will win the Cameron Bespolka Prize. We hope this to be an ongoing prize to honour Cameron in the longer term whilst encouraging patch watching in young birders cutting their teeth.

Further to this here at PWC also wanted to mark Cameron's passing with a community event and as such we hope to have a combined Patchwork Challenge/Birdtrack Bird Race in the future. The format of this is still very much in the ideas stage so we hope to progress this in the New Year.

The reaction on Twitter and Facebook to the tragic events highlighted the community spirit within Patchwork Challenge and the wider birding community and I am sure that you will join with me in a quiet moment over the festive season to spare a thought for Cameron and his family.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Inland East Anglia Minileague - November

Headline birds in the Inland East Anglia minileague were Russell N's Glossy Ibis at Maldon and Nick Moran's Green-winged Teal at Thetford. Russell's Ibis managed to lift him into third whilst Nick held steady in sixth. Emma W climbs from 16th to 7th despite missing the Ibis. There has been plenty of shifts up and down throughout the table and with it so close throughout there is all to play for in December. Remember that Turkey won't run itself off - get out there for a strong finish to the year!

Emma climbs from 7th into 2nd joining the 100 club in convincing style simultaneously. Maldon's great month continues with Russell climbing into 4th position. Ben Lewis slips to 6th, the main fall guy in the reshuffle, but he can still get to 100% with a profitable December.

Coastal East Anglia Minileague - November

The National leaders are both in the Coastal East Anglia Minileague but the spread of scores shows that this has been a productive area for patching in 2013 (no surprises there). Here at PWC we hope that all your patches have survived the tidal surge without too great an incursion from the briny blue. Despite Simon Chidwick overtaking Moss Taylor on the species count he now lies 13 points adrift. Away from the top two Craig Fulcher updated with a massive increase in points taking him up 10 places to eighth. Great work Craig! Aside from this a few points here and there in the Top 10 changed little.

Gary White failed to add to his remarkable 157% but stays out front and seemingly has the comparative league wrapped up. Great work Gary. No new additions to the 100 club and no changes in position, a well stratified league may finish in this order.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Ireland Minileague - November

Dave Suddaby surges into second place with a self found 'Queen' Eider at Blacksod, County Mayo. Despite Dave's late run Owen Foley added another 7 species and 29 points to cement first place in the inaugural Ireland Minileague. December needs to hold 8 self found rares for Dave to catch Owen. Maybe not. October highlighted the excellence of Owen's patch with self found Fea's Petrel and Green-winged Teal in addition to American Golden Plover and White-rumped Sandpiper found by others. Elsewhere Niall Keogh managed to find a Glaucous Gull for a couple of well deserved points at Kilcoole but he falls to third place. Alan Lauder climbs one place to 9th at Wicklow Head and whilst his other patch, Carrick Mountain, fails to climb the table a Little Egret was a super find there.

The comparative table is again Owens - at least his success this year handicaps him going forward (hopefully 140% scores are confined to 2013!). Alan L's Carrick Mountain patch leaps into second with a 120% score. Dave Suddaby climbs from 6th to 4th and becomes the latest member of the 100 club.

Inland Scotland Minileague - November

Chris Pendlebury has capitalised on Graeme G's blank month at Skinflats to close the gap to just two points in the main table. Andy Cage also managed to add three species to climb above Ali Shuttleworth and into 5th place. Aside from this it was as you were but with several close battles throughout the league there is still the chance that a big effort over Christmas could gain a position or two. In terms of best birds this month with only a couple of scores coming in Chris's inland Great Northern Diver was a great find as equally was Andy's Twite.

As with the points league, Graeme G holds on in the comparative table and there has been no change of position further down with Andy reinforcing second place for Kilmany whilst Chris is closing in on himself in third and fourth. Chris also managed to join the 100% club for his Kinneil patch. Alastair Irvine could still join him at Whiteford - only a couple more species needed there.

Meopta and Forest Optic Best Find – November

After the hectic months of September and October it was always going to be the case that November would see things quieten down. The highlights section of our scoresheet had a decidedly wintery feel to it, Bewick’s swans, king eider, great grey shrikes, white-fronted geese, green-winged teal, shorelarks, twite, Lapland buntings, Richards pipit etc... All cracking birds and welcomed additions to peoples patches. Adding to this were a few lingering yellow-broweds, some now making it onto some inland patches, a glossy ibis found by Russell Neave at Malden and a Fea’s petrel of Ballycotton and the month was actually pretty damn good....

And it got a whole lot better with two genuine challengers for the Meopta and Forest Optic Best Find come the end of the year. Starting off in Wales and Matthew Meehan managed to pin down a penduline tit at Newport Wetlands on the south coast. A great find and a first for Gwent, a very well deserved 12 points for Matt!

Undoubtedly though, the star of the month was found inland. Nick Crouchs hard work throughout the year at Collingham and Besthorpe was wonderfully rewarded when he found a pied wheatear on the 9th November. Another county first and a very welcome bird for all Notts birders. An absolutely brilliant find and a real contender for this year best find!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Coastal Scotland Minileague - November

John Bowler, on Tiree, extends his lead to 11 points but a self found Ross's or Ivory Gull before year end could turn it around for Rob Fray at Virkie. With only a few additions including Dave W adding a Slavonian Grebe, November wasnt tearing up trees but it leaves it all closely poised for the final scores. You have to feel for Ian T, finding an American Robin off patch (maybe not too much sympathy) and this is the first month in a while without a BB in this minileague.

John leapfrogs Ian to move into the comparative Top 3 whilst further down Paul Higson manages to creep into the Top 10 at Quoyangry. A handful of contestants getting close to the 100% mark - can Chris, Jim, Paul, Andrew or Bryan make it?

Coastal North Minileague - November

Stuart Sexton was the only competitor to make serious headway this month with 16 additional points and 11 new species including a triplet of Great Northern Diver. The only other significant new species was a Red-necked Grebe for Iain Robson. There were no changes to the order in the points table - will December see any change?

No changes in the competitive league with Iain Robson still leading BUT this is still up for grabs with only 2% between the leading two. It seems that there is little chance of further additions to the hundred club bar a miracle at Christmas for Jane or Stewart.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Inland North Minileague - November

As with the Welsh League little changed in the Inland North positionally. Mike Shurmer managed to overhaul Adrian and John at Northwich Woodlands whilst the top three continues to comprise of Jonathan Holliday, Mark Reeder and Pete Antrobus in that order. Mark remembering a Blue-headed Wagtail from Orgreave's spring has given him a little breathing space whilst more subspecific shenanigans with a Siberian Chiffchaff at Pugney's increases Mr Holliday's lead.

The top 3 remains the same with no change in scores. The only real change has seen Mark Breaks at Stocks Reservoir move ahead of the May's at Burton Marsh. There were no new additions to the 100 club although there is still the opportunity for a few patches to move into that territory.

Wales Minileague - November

As we left the Welsh minileague to last we thought in October (well November...) we thought we had better reverse the order and bring the land of song up front for the penultimate set of tables. Positionally nothing has changed in the points league with only three contestants registering additions for November. This hides some tidy birds and with Steve Stansfields haul of 2 pointers including Water Pipit and Little Auk lifting him on to ever higher scores Mathew Meehan struck back with 12 points worth of self found Penduline Tit. Beyond the leading two only Julian Hughes at RSPB Conwy added anything with Twite and Scaup bringing him within striking range of Henry Cook for December.

No change here in the comparative table but Steve Stansfield on Bardsey has closed the gap on Henry Cook and Graham Powell. Marc Hughes at Great Orme is a comfortable leader and it would take a monumental December to top him.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Adding your patch to the 2014 patches map.

For 2013 we tried to make a map showing each and every patch in the competition. Well - it became a bit of a nightmare to keep up to date (and we put a few patches in the wrong place!) so for 2014 it's over to you! If you want to put your patch on our map you can, by following the instructions below. If you dont want to, thats fine!

You can access the map here:


To add your patch is really simple. Find the right place on the map (you can zoom in and out using the plus/minus buttons in the bottom right corner).

Then, add your marker. Below the search bar at the top you'll see a series of small icons - if you hover the mouse over them the names will come up. Click once on the 'add marker' icon, and then click again where you want to drop it on the map.

When it drops, a box will automatically open up. In the top box, please write the name of your patch, and in the larger box at the bottom, please write your name. If you have a blog, website etc, you can add a link to this in the middle box (remember to 'add' after pasting the URL in.

And hey presto - there you go! Just click save and you're done. Patch mapped!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The final word on rare subspecies

There's been a bit of debate on our facebook page about rare subspecies recently (see our facebook page to join in!) which has stemmed from some blogposts and decisions we made earlier in the year about bonus points for rare subspecies.

The thinking here was galvanised by the black bellied dipper in Norfolk - people pointed out that it was a shame that regularly occurring, but scarce, distinct subspecies did not have any points value. We agreed with this, (especially when other folk mentioned other examples such as brant, and siberian chiffchaff) and as such drew up a list of rare subspecies that we would award points for. This list can be found here.

As a consequence of this we've had plenty of correspondence asking, for example, for the number of points we would award for white wagtail or littoralis rock pipit. Well, the answer is none I'm afraid! the point of this was to award good finds - and here at PWC we consider both of the above to be too common to merit extra points. As such, the list of rare subspecies that will be awarded extra points in 2014 remains as it is in the list linked above.

In addition to those listed, we will award points on a case by case basis for subspecies considered by RIACT that would not otherwise score any bonus points (eg a siberian grasshopper warbler would score you a subspecies bonus, but a subalpine warbler would only score you the bonus you'd already get in our scoresheet). We will award points for these RIACT listed birds on a case by case basis as we consider them too rare to draw up scores for. We also want to have no part in encouraging folk to go round claiming North American turnstones...!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Meopta and Forest Optic Best Find - October

What a month September was for PWC - I really thought it would be impossible to top. But, good old October managed to do it with some real style. There were so many good birds, with multiples of Pallas's warbler, Pallid swift, and Dusky warbler, and a good selection of American waders, including Baird's and semipalmated sandpiper. There were 3 birds that stole the show though. First up, despite the fact that they're not quite the mega that they used to be, Moss Taylors mist nets bagged him a stonking red-flanked bluetail later in the month.

This was always going to have to play third fiddle to two finds that will surely rank among the all time rarest birds found in PWC for years and years to come. Andy Johnson fulfilled a long term ambition when he eventually saw the ringed plover that wasn't - he'd been looking for a semipalmated plover on his patch of Sandy point for some time, so imagine the thrill when the hard work, skill, persistence, and good luck finally payed off.

No less monumental, but a very different experience to Sean Morris, who had an out of the blue, BOOM moment when he looked through his window at Kinloch, Rhum, and realised he had a mourning dove pecking around on his lawn!

There have been some excellent birds found on PWC over the course of the year but these two really raise the game in terms of the Meopta and Forest Optic Best Find competition. Will one of them win it?

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Wales Minileagues

 Well, eventually I get round to the last minileague - with sincere apologies to anyone in Wales who might have been waiting!

For once, we have a bit of a polarity between the top of the points league and the top of the comparative leagues. Our friends on Bardsey occupy 1st and 3rd place in the points league, but are bottom and 3rd bottom in the comparative league - probably a result of posting very reasonable comparative scores (which is exactly what you'd expect from a bird observatory!)

Matthew Meehan separates the Bardsey Boys in the points league, with a very respectable 205, and Marc Hughes tops the comparative league from Great Orme.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Inland North Minileague - October

Jonny Holliday still leads but it is down to 17 points from Mark Reeder and Pete Antrobus in joint second. Mark Breaks storms into 4th and looks like a serious contender for best of the rest after the long standing top 3. Phil Woolen added six species but hasn't quite bridged the gap to the Mays in 5th at Burton Marsh. Still a bit of time for some patch gold to make the difference! Best bits of the month included patch ticks at Orgreave and Neumann's with Red-breasted Merganser and Egyptian Goose respectively. Best finds include Mark Reeder's Great White Egret and, well, Jonny's Rock Pipit at Pugney's.

The comparative table is still looking very good for Phil Woollen at Backford Cross. He holds a 10% lead over George Watola and Pete Antrobus holds on to 3rd place. There are no new 100%ers but it is still a realistic target for Mark Breaks and Richard & Chloe May.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Coastal North Minileague - October

Ian Mills extends his led to a corking 57 points at Whitburn whilst Iain Robson leapfrogs Jane T making the north east the place to be. Very few additions were logged this month with the highlights being James Spencer's Richard's Pipit at Barmston and Iain Robson's Balearic Shearwater.

The Ia(i)n's switch places this month in the comparative league with Iain Robson overhauling Ian Mills' tally. Both are well over 100% and with Alan T the only other 100%'er way back the fight is on to see who ends up taking the crown.

South West Minileague - October

Kev Rylands extends his lead by twenty points with closest rival Gavin Haig failing to register any additions in October. Paul Bowerman has closed the gap on second to just two points - it looks like the battle for silver may well be the one to watch in the South West. Paul Bowyer has made the most progress this month with his addition 6 species and 13 points taking him from 8th into 4th and the best of the rest so to speak. It would take a special late autumn for somebody to break up the top 3 but 6 points cover 4th to 8th so all really is to play for in midfield. Best finds go to Kev at Dawlish with 3 Yellow-browed Warblers and Dick Best finding a coastal example of one of Somersets newest birds with a Great White Egret at Steart.

Roger Musgrove has the comparative table sown up with a 25% lead. Marcus Lawson reinforces his second place and there is little movement further down. This may well be how this table stays. Well done to Roger for his great score.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

South Coast Minileague - October

If you thought Andy Johnson was going well before I'm struggling for superlatives to describe his October. With Semipalmated Plover, Red-breasted Goose, Dusky Warbler and Yellow-browed Warbler all finds he has nearly doubled his lead in the points table and is now 104 points clear. Respect is due for an amazing effort, especially the plover which is a great find. Joost Brandsma's Leach's Petrel lifts him into the top 5 at Adam Faiers expense.

Despite Andy Johnson's superb October Liam Curson maintains top spot in the comparative league. Andy has however managed to join the 100 club - only the second member of the South Coast league to do so. Chris Powell has managed to overtake Mark Lawlor. Nevermind Mark - just a bird. It looks like a race between Andy and Liam for first place with Ian Roberts fighting with both Chris and Mark for third.

London Minileague - October

A meagre return overall for the capital in October with no 3 pointers aside from Marek Welford's Yellow-browed Warbler at Dinton Pastures. Despite Marek's good fortune positions remain static amongst the top three with each adding just two or three points. Kevin M has closed the gap a little on the leaders. Graham Howie and Tom Stevenson both manage to climb a place to 9th and 12th respectively.

The comparative table is extremely close with less than 1% between first and second and only 6.4% covering the first 5 places. Despite this the order remains as you were with Adam Bassett remaining marginally ahead of Marek Welford. Tom Stevenson becomes the fifth member of the London 100 club as he equals his comparative score.

Ireland Minileague - October

Owen stretches his lead to a monumental 104 points. This one is done and dusted unless WADA come in with doping allegations. Owen added a remarkable 50 points for just 11 species in October - fantastic work including self found Semipalmated and Baird's Sandpipers. Niall T. Keogh in second place added 4 species and 11 points with his highlight finding a Sabine's Gull. Neal Warnock on Rathlin managed to climb from 8th place to 5th with an additional 7 species and 11 points.

Owen Foley's exceptional October manages to propel him to the top of the comparative table and leapfrogging Neal Warnock and Alan Lauder in the process. Alan in the meantime slips to third place with no updates. Both Paul Walsh and Niall T. Keogh have managed to join the top 3 in the hundred club. Can anybody catch Owen in the comparative stakes? It looks very tough but a couple of late gems could do it.