Thursday, 28 February 2013

Inspirational Patchwork

Have you ever wondered what you could do with your patch birding records? Apart of course, from submitting them to Birdtrack and your county recorder...

Take a leaf out of Shaun Robsons book (literally....)

As he mentioned in an email to us, Shaun is 'a bit of an obsessive when it comes to my patch annual report'. He collates his records, alongside those of the many others who watch Lytchett bay in Dorset, to produce a detailed annotaded 'annual report', fascinating in its content and liberally scattered with photos and information gleaned from ringing.

If you want to have a look at (or download) Shauns report then look HERE

Thanks for sharing this with us Shaun. I wonder how many will be inspired to produce something similar?

If anyone else has produced anything like this we'd love to showcase it here. Just let us know!

Monday, 25 February 2013

Best Find competition

No! This is not an instant award for the finder of the Askernish gyr. Although they might well find themselves winning it!

No self respecting patch birding competition is complete without a 'best find' competition. With 234 patches being birded hard throughout the country it's inevitable that now and then some good birds are going to be found. And it's only right that we celebrate the best of them.

As such, we are delighted to announce 'The Meopta & Forest Optics Best Patch Find' competition. To inspire you Meopta & Forest Optics  have offered a winner's prize of a pair of Meopta Meostar B1 10x42 HD binoculars (RRP £799).

As we've stated somewhere, at some point down the line, we can't be waiting for the good men of the rarities committee to pronounce judgement (well, we could, but they're very busy and we'd be waiting a while). We'll take your word for it. And we'll give everyone else an opportunity to take your word for it too, as the 'Meopta & Forest Optics Best Patch Find' will be settled by contestants voting for their choice in a poll that we will set up on the blog at the end of the year. The poll will be open to all folk taking part in the competition, and the candidates for the prize will be selected by the Patchwork Challenge Best Find Shortlist Selection Committee - all you will need to do is vote (only once!) Watch this space, along with the twitter feed and the facebook page for further details through the year.

In addition Meopta & Forest Optics have agreed to donate £1 for every species seen during the Patchwork Challenge to a charity of our choice and we've selected the BTO’s Out of Africa appeal, specifically to sponsor the tracking of cuckoos. With over 300 species of birds a likely target, that would amount to a very handy £300+ going to this worthwhile and fascinating project! Even more reason to get out onto that patch!

Just the boost we might need in the late February lull!

Friday, 22 February 2013

even more January tales

James Spencer, Barmston

It has been an incredible first month on the patch with some great birds and a few surprises. I managed 6 visits which is slightly modest but I was also taking part in the Foot It challenge so focused on that a little more initially. Despite this I dredged up 63 species, not too bad on a slightly barren bit of coastline in the lee of Flamborough.

By far the headline bird and the one which has been attracting twitchers from across the county has been the first winter Kumlien's Gull which I relocated on my first visit (it had been seen a fortnight previously at the same location and in Bridlington). It is a subtle example with little barring but the dark markings spreading to both webs of the primaries appears to have some heavy backing by respected gullers on both sides of the pond. It is apparently the first twitchable example of this variable taxon for Yorkshire after a 1 day bird seen by a handful of observers plenty of years ago.

The supporting act has been none too shabby with heavy snowfalls helping eminently. A Water Rail on the beach on my second visit of the month proceeded to spend the next week living at the entrance to a farm drain. Snipe numbers grew in the reedbed as the snow deepened and eventually I was rewarded for my tramping with a Jack Snipe. At the northern most extremity of the patch a family group of 8 Pale-bellied Brents are a local scarcity and had apparently been in the area for a few days. More expected was the Dark-bellied Brent on the flashes but its companion, a juvenile European White-fronted Goose couldn't have been more of a surprise.

A wintering flock of Snow Buntings vary in number and location in the northern half of the patch but they were often very approachable with a max count for me of 7 birds despite 30 being recorded before Christmas. After the snow a quick check of the woodland revealed weather driven Woodcock with half a dozen birds fleeing as I attempted to avoid the dog turds.

The sea has been generally disappointing thus far with a handful of Red-throated Divers and a single adult Little Gull the sum total seen although a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers wizzing past inland were a bonus. The waders have all been pretty standard and I am still missing Purple Sandpiper despite occasional birds being present on the rocks during the month.

Looking forward to February I hope that some wildfowl movement brings a few ticks and the first few seabirds that are seeping back to Bempton give me a chance to connect with them. Who knows - maybe another rare gull awaits?

Ian Roberts, Samphire Hoe

It was a very interesting January down here on the south-east coast at Samphire Hoe. A cold snap is a patch-worker's heaven and so it proved to be here, with me finding two new species for the site - Jack Snipe and Egyptian Goose (the 212th and 213th species for the country park). The snow also brought in a large number of thrushes, mainly Redwings and Fieldfares, and some other useful patch year ticks like Lapwing, Snipe, Dunlin and Curlew (despite being on the coast there is little habitat for waders and these are typically limited to fly-bys). There was also a massive movement of Wigeon (1,230 flying west on the 17th) which was a site record.
Remarkably there were two other site record counts, and these were probably unrelated to the weather, with an exceptional influx of auks leading to day totals of around 2,000 Guillemots (on 10th) and 4,500 Razorbills (on 11th). There was also a large easterly movement of 1,750 Brent Geese on the 12th which was the largest total ever recorded in January.
Other handy year ticks included Little Grebe (not annual), Velvet Scoter, Little Gull and Great Skua, and last (but definitely not least) a House Sparrow - a real patch rarity (only my 4th at the site) - true patch gold!
Overall, 68 species in January (83 points) - a good start and 11 species more than my end of January average. 

Kev Rylands, Dawlish Warren

January has been a decent month with my tally of 98 coming from a total of 109 species recorded on site. This missing 11 include easy species such as Black-tailed Godwit and Great Northern Diver, as well as some decent patch birds such as Tufted Duck, Cirl Bunting and Brambling. However worrying dips already include Woodcock, Goosander and Yellowhammer; the latter two I have not seen on patch for a couple of years.

2013 started in the best way possible for any patchworker with an unexpected patch tick on New Year’s Day; a male Serin sat with Greenfinch in Dead Dolphin Wood, I was able to share this with one other local but unfortunately it didn’t linger. The rest of the day almost seemed an anti-climax but Short-eared OwlAvocetBlack-necked Grebeand a host of easy 2-point coastal species allowed me to break the patchwork ton with a species tally of 83.

Because of this flying start, the rest of the month was a slow affair in terms of new ticks but the reappearance of Bearded Tit and Water Pipit added a couple of quality Warren birds. The cold weather largely missed the far southwest but did produce some winter thrushes on site, these don’t usually trouble the patch list until late October. The month ended well when the Long-tailed Duck wintering at the top of the estuary finally came south for a couple of days.
David Elliot, Druridge Bay
My patch stretches from Druridge to Hauxley along the dunes. Sea-watching is best at the Hauxley end. Sand dunes and scrub (in the dune slack) can be good for the odd migrant. Most of the pools are too deep for waders and lack proper management. The ever expanding reedbed at Chevington brought my bird of 2012 when I witnessed the arrival of five Bearded tits (also still present into 2013). The mixed woodland, pine plantations and bird feeders of the country park make the patch very productive. January total: 98 species and 113 points. (Bittern, Crossbill and Kingfisher all difficult to see birds on the patch were thankfully recorded in January.)

Alan Tilmouth, Newbiggin

as expected, highlights were  a single Waxwing, a photogenic Jack Snipe and Common Buzzard. I missed both of the last two in 2012, despite Buzzards now breeding within 2 miles of the patch. The Jack Snipe was presumably a cold-weather movement. Ending the month on 79 species leaves me plenty to get motivated for in February with Long-tailed Tit, Wren, Linnet and Knot for example still to fall.

Mark Lewis, Girdle ness

It's been about as good as could have reasonably been expected really! I've notched up all the usual suspects but, if it's a good patch year list you're after, its all about scoring those harder to get species. Top of the list, highlights wise, were waxwing (easy enough in Aberdeen, but not this little corner of it), the potentially awkward little auk, and best of all, a cracking black-throated diver from the office window on the 18th, which is one that is certainly less than annual for me here. Supporting these goodies were a selection of species that could only water the mouth of a patch birder, such as shelduck, coal tit, mute swan, and slightly more glamorous, a long lingering short-eared owl.

Lets hope that February continues to deliver!
Colin Bushell, Hesketh out marsh
A few years back Hesketh Out Marsh (HOM) was just a wheat field by the Ribble Estuary. Coastal realignment project with the help of the RSPB and the Environment Agency amongst others changed all that. Seawalls were breached, channels and pools were excavated and nature was left to its own devices (namely the tides). After a very productive 'transitional period', HOM is now a fully fledged saltmarsh.

HOM is a pretty uninspiring place in winter. Cold and bleak at best in blustery conditions, Recent hedge laying, albeit necessary has taken many of the perches used by small birds making the site less attractive to finches and buntings of late too.

Patchwork points should come with the onset of hard weather (raptors hunting larks and pipits), gatherings of local Pink-footed Geese (always good for a scarce goose) or a 'big tide watch' (when the marsh is completely flooded).

January started poorly. Wet and windy was replaced by murky - bad news for the estuary birder. The first 'freeze' failed to produce either Jack Snipe or Woodcock, birding during the first big tides of the year was unremarkable; had I chosen the wrong patch on the wrong year? Then it started to pick up - the 'resident' estuary Spoonbill and Great White Egret could be seen from the patch on the first clear day I was able to visit HOM and a Goosander on the pool was only my second HOM record.

The Whooper herd finally produced a few Bewick's Swans and a single European White-fronted Goose with the Greylags made up for the lack of Pink-footed Geese on the deck to scrutinise (I've normally picked out at least a Barnacle and a Greenland White-front by now). Things were starting to go my way at last! Hen Harrier and Merlin in the bag; Water Rail, Shoveler, Lesser Redpoll and Jackdaw (all tricky HOM birds in winter, at least) done 'n' dusted.

I've left it pretty late to write this January summary now it's well past mid-February. Why? Well, I'm 'off patch' until March now (unless I sneak one in tomorrow, but it's unlikely) and I've reached the dizzy heights of 75 species and 90 points. A week ago we had a red-letter day at HOM when we found a Richard's Pipit on the seawall. What's more it was twitched too! A self-found 'scarce' and a six pointer no less. Up there with last year's Montagu's Harrier and the Common Crane a couple of years before that. It's only February - I still haven't seen Red Kite at HOM (at least two previous records), so that'll do but I'll accept better ......

Monday, 18 February 2013

more January round-ups

Balephuil, Isle of Tiree patch – January 2013                             John Bowler
A wild month out this way, with frequent gales and rain, meant that good birding days were at a premium. Fortunately, the first couple of days of the month were quieter and allowed a good bash around the patch resulting in a total of 49 species. Mild conditions helped some usually scarce wintering passerines cling on in the patch including Dunnock, Pied Wagtail, Fieldfare, Goldfinch, Common Redpoll and Meadow Pipit, whilst a lone Jackdaw calling in flight over Loch a’ Phuill (13th) was completely unexpected, as this species is less than annual these days on the island. Other birds were harder to find and it took a few visits to pin down Water Rail, Woodcock, Redwing, Twite and Skylark, whilst Stonechat and Moorhen remain unseen.

All of the six expected wintering raptors were present and correct including a fine male Hen Harrier (8th) and several Merlins, although there have been no clear still days as yet to tempt wandering Sea Eagles across from Mull.

With Loch a’ Phuill remaining free of ice, it harboured a good range of wildfowl throughout including Shoveler, Shelduck, a high count of Goldeneye (52 on 22nd), a lone Pochard (17th) and a couple of Scaup (27th), but both the Coot and the drake Green-winged Teal from late 2012 failed to show in the New Year. A Pink-footed Goose (11th) in amongst the regular Greylags and Greenland White-fronts at the loch was a bonus, although a Canada x Greylag hybrid was not, whilst a small group of Greenland Barnacle Geese fortuitously used the loch fringe on several dates, which they don’t do every winter. The adjacent wet machair was good for waders including a mixed group of 300 Ringed Plover and Dunlin (8th), with the former all checked for Killdeer to no avail, although it was good to tick off Sanderling and Purple Sandpiper so early in the year from the nearby beach.

A Little Auk observed on a sea-watch on 31st December 2012 was my first ever live record of this species from the patch – just a pity it came a day too early! However, regular checks of the bay at Traigh Bhi produced dividends with the first Long-tailed Duck (11th) and Black Guillemots (11th) that I’ve knowingly seen there, as well as the more expected Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser. The preponderance of mild southerlies meant that white-winged gulls were much scarcer than normal, especially compared to the big influx in January 2011. I was therefore delighted to pick up an adult Iceland Gull heading south through the patch on 6th, although Glaucous Gull remains conspicuous by its absence, as indeed does Black-headed Gull, which is essentially a summer visitor to the island.

All in all, I’m reasonably happy with my total of 75 species (96 points) so far, although there have been no scarce or rare bonus species to date and I’m still missing a few expected winter species such as Jack Snipe and Snow Bunting. Frustratingly, a few good Tiree scarcities appeared elsewhere on the island out-with the patch, most notably a long-staying Velvet Scoter at Balephetrish Bay, which was just the fourth record for Tiree. The scoter looks destined to avoid my patch but hopefully most of the others such as Knot, Grey Plover and Little Grebe will turn up at some point or other in the patch during the year......

James Emerson, Whitlingham

My first visit to Whitlingham on 2nd January gave me a starting tally of 40 species, including winter staples like Siskin and Lesser Redpoll. Looking across the river a flock of around 40 Snipe were flying around Thorpe Broad. This was my highest count here, but a mere fraction of the c200 seen later in the week by another observer when a Peregrine flew in. Another couple of visits later in the week added a further 12 species, of which Goldeneye and Bullfinch were of interest. The cold spell mid-month proved to be very useful, with three Bitterns taking up residence, of which I saw two. On the same day (18th) I managed my best find so far this year in the form of a Slavonian Grebe, and also added Water Rail, Woodcock and Yellow-legged Gull. On my final visit of the month I got good views of a Treecreeper, taking me up to 64 species (67 points). This represents a steady start to the month, but as there have been few 'unexpected' (or 2 point!) birds, I hope to push on in February.

Pete Antrobus, Marbury and Neumanns

January on the patch started like most January's before a mad dash to see as many species as possible in the vain hope of topping our local patch league table. By the 7th I was top and flying with 77 species duly bagged. Most were the usual patch padders but Barn Owl, Bittern and Brambling were most welcome. You can spend a life time waiting for one of the two wintering Bitterns to show, time that's more better spent birding elsewhere. But first bonus bird of the year was a female Goosander that spent all of 10 minutes in front of Bittern Hide before it disappeared much to the annoyance of the other patch regulars. I even had the Goosander and one of the Bitterns in the same bin view.
The going then got tough and birding became much harder as it was a case of target species only...Jack Snipe and Golden Plover took several attempts but try as I might Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer remained unfound (no one else has seen any yet either).
Then on the 22nd the first 'mega' patchwise arrived. One stonking juvenile Great Northern Diver that graced Budworth Mere for 4 days. Only the second one I've ever seen on the patch in 13 years of patching (at Marbury) and only the 3rd diver (a Black Throated a couple of years ago) that's actually come our way. photo attached.
An out of season Dunlin put in an appearance on the mere the same time as the diver and could prove decisive as water levels on the nearby flashes of Neumann's and Ashton's are ridiculously high i:e no mud at all.
I'm currently on 84 and will be on this figure at the start of Feb as work denies me any other chances to patch.
So roll on Feb.

Chris Lansdell, Weybread

January at Weybread has proved to be a bit of a battle against the elements due to the heavy snowfall we had in these parts. For 2 weeks all the pits except the main one were frozen solid. My hopes that the harsh conditions may bring something in proved a little optimistic though! I think I've winkled out pretty much all there has been in January and reached the dizzy heights of just 58 species and 59 points. My only bird that earned me 2 points was a wintering Little Egret. It really has been all go! The site is however one of the best to see Kingfisher and I have never failed here. My best count in January was an impressive 6 but sadly that doesn't earn me 6 points! Other highlights, if you can call them that have been Goosander, nice views of a Water Rail, Common Buzzard (still not common this far east) and Grey Wagtail. So, in a nutshell it's been quite hard going but the Patchwork Challenge has done one thing - got me out to the site far more than I would have normally. I'm going to be in Thailand for the first 3 weeks of February so I'll be cramming in all my visits to Weybread at the end of the coming month. Roll on the spring for the chance of some migrants to liven the place up!

Moss Taylor, Weybourne camp and Kelling

The area encompassing Weybourne Camp & Kelling WM on the north Norfolk coast has been my local patch since 1972 and during the last 41 years I have been keeping detailed bird records from my very frequent visits there. Not only has it proved to be a most rewarding local patch for studying visible migration, but I have also been able to develop an area on the camp that is perfect for netting and ringing migrants as they pass through. Therefore the idea of taking part in the Patchwork Challenge was an opportunity not to be missed. I normally expect to record about 175 species a year in the area and my average ‘point’ score over the last two years would have been 251, which forms a baseline for this year’s totals.

So how has this January compared with previous years? The Challenge has actually meant that I’ve visited my local patch far more often than I normally do at this time of year, despite the heavy snow that covered much of north Norfolk for a couple of weeks. In fact, my last visit today, January 30th, was my twentieth so far this year. Despite the inevitable flurry of new species on the first few visits, I’ve managed to add one or two on most subsequent trips, either through seawatching at dawn or walking around the various habitats that I am lucky enough to have on my patch, such as an open area of freshwater, water meadows, grazing marshes, heathland, woodland & scrub.

The year started really well with three species of diver in the first two days and a good selection of wildfowl offshore, while 2 Peregrines, Marsh & Hen Harriers have been regular visitors over the area. Being only a mile or two from Cley, it was not surprising that the juvenile Black Brant made the occasional visit along with the Brent Geese. Just a shame that it can’t be counted as a separate species! But no real surprises so far. The most exciting bird (that I missed) was a flyby red-headed Smew, and it may well prove impossible to add one to my year list later. With my final species of the month, Lapland Bunting added today, I can feel reasonably satisfied with a monthly total of 92 species, resulting in 104 points. February is traditionally a rather dull month, I wonder if this year will be an exception?

Stephanie Brown, Twyford

anuary has not been a patrticularly good month on my patch. The patch has a variety of habitats: residential gardens, cropped farmland, a small copse, scrub and Twyford gravel pits. The latter at the southern end of my patch has been virtually inaccessible throughout December and January due to flooding.

There were no real surprises unlike previous years with red-crested pochard and smew (although there is still time for them next month). The most intesting days have to be those which were witness to large mixed flocks of redwing and fieldfare. 

I have observed several raptors during this month: buzzard, kestrel and red kite. Of course it always nice to see several red kites each day, something I now tend to take for granted. An interesting observation during the cold snap was the numbers of kites seen feeding on the ground: 3 or 4 mixed in with groups of fieldfares.

Surprisingly, I have seen or heard very few woodpeckers this month, although there were several in December. House sparrows and starlings are doing well on my patch but there seem to be fewer blue tits and great tits than last year. There a re a few coal tits and several long-tailed tits.

Blackbirds have been very much in evidence during this month but no so song or mistle thrushes, although I have heard both on neighbouring patches.

There have been a few chaffiches and greenfinches but several goldfinches.

There were several crows, rooks and jackdaws (particularly the latter). Woodpigeons are abundant with a few collared and stock doves.

As for winter ducks, I'm not sure, although the wigeon had started to arrive before the gravel pit areas became flooded. Let's hope I'll be able to check next month, particularly as this is when I make my first visits to check on the Twyford Heronry.

January round ups

Yvonne and Ian – January in Askernish

Why the Patchwork Challenge? Well, I started off the year by declaring that in 2013 my new year’s resolution would be to bird longer and bird harder. When I heard about the Patchwork Challenge it fired my imagination and has given me the incentive to get off my butt, out from behind the computer screen and get out there.
Ian and I have birded this patch since August 2010 and it’s great because it’s accessible from home and the 3 sq km includes a variety of habitat including our garden (and all the gardens in the township), crofts, lochs, golf course, dunes, beach and shore.

I think Ian and I are in probably in competition with each other as much as anything!

No doubt about it the bird of January (and probably the year!), for us, has to be the Gyr Falcon that turned up on the 10thJanuary, at least it hung around long enough for me to get out of the loo, cycle down the road, see it and for Ian to get some photos. Patch gold!! Full write up and photos in a previous Patchwork Challenge blog post:-

I can’t really pick out anything else on the patch that I would class as outstanding or unexpected; there has been a fair smattering of wintering birds, mainly waders and wildfowl. There was a small flock of 20 Snow Bunt’s hanging out on the beach and a small flock of between 21 and 24 Greenland White-fronts regularly on the croft down the road. My patch list for January is here: for viewing (extracted from my Bird Track data).

I ended the month on 57 spp / 71 points which equates to 53.33% of last years total. Ian had to leave unexpectedly mid-month and is still down on the mainland. He ended the month on 53 spp / 74 points – he got a whopping 12 points for finding the Gyr.

Ben - January on Bardsey Island

January wasn’t too bad on Bardsey this year, considering that it is by far the quietest month of the year bird-wise. It started off pretty slowly, and by the end of the 1st I had only managed 42 species!

A couple of days later I managed a half-decent seawatching session from the Northern hide, and saw a Mediterranean Gull, 24 Red-throated Divers, a Great Northern Diver and a few Common Scoters. I can struggle to see these species in the winter some years, and so it was good to get them down. Unfortunately, the next day I had to leave the island to go and do three AS level exams! This took a week-long chunk out of my birding, and so I returned on the 15th somewhat annoyed at my absence.

Thankfully the day after returning, a cold spell enveloped most of Wales and parts of the UK, which meant lots of birds for me!! The days following saw maximum numbers of thrushes and other passerines reaching 600 Redwings, 100 Fieldfares, 100 Song Thrushes, 15 Skylarks, a Reed Bunting and 40 Meadow Pipits. Waders also arrived in pretty good numbers, with 100 Lapwings, 37 Golden Plovers, Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and 10 Snipe recorded over a couple of days. 20 Teals and a pair of Wigeons were also good to see during the cold spell.
Thrush flock

After the 20th things got a lot quieter; over-wintering island-scarcities such as Jack Snipe, three Whimbrels and the male Firecrest were all nice to see when the weather got grim. By the 27th I had reached 69 species- not bad for January. After this high seas and strong winds enveloped the island (not quite literally!), and saw the first Gannets moving past at sea in high seas.

Chough, on Bardsey

So there is January in a nut shell! The last few days have been alright to begin February, most notably being a Long-eared Owl (we struggle to record them on the island some years, even though they used to breed), and two Grey Plovers.

Roll on the spring!!!

Ian Mills – January at Whitburn

It's been a fairly predictable month on my NE coastal patch, Whitburn to South Shields, with a moderate return for lots of hours in the field. As a site which relies heavily on summer/autumn seawatching and migration, particularly in the autumn when goodies can turn up (remember the South Shields Eastern Crowned Warbler), I don't expect to be in the leading contenders for some months yet.Best birds have been self found Iceland Gull and a very unseasonal Sooty Shearwater with a single Lapland Bunting.
Lapland Bunting

Andy J – January from Sandy Point

January’s highlight at Sandy Point was a flyover waxwing on 17th (only my 6th record). The cold snap also produced woodlark (bringing up the 100 on 21st), ruff and goldeneye (none of these recorded last year), amongst record numbers of fieldfare (up to 600). Other notable 2-pointers included red-necked and black-necked grebes, purple sandpiper, marsh harrier, short-eared owl, little gull and merlin. Overwintering birds include up to 5 each of Sandwich tern and jack snipe, three great northern divers, and single black redstart and firecrest. Month-end total: 102 sp., 126 pts.
Black Redstart

The Tall Twitcher – January, Ogmore Estuary

As someone who works in the Highways Sector, this month has had me seeing a fair amount of work, and unfortunately not a lot of birding.

So far I have managed just three visits to my patch, but am delighted with the 62 points accrued so far, especially as it represents almost two thirds of my overall score in the previous two years.

The highlight without a doubt must be the Bonaparte's Gull that turned up on the Ogmore Estuary in my patch on the 5th January, whilst I was unfortunately away!! Thankfully it has remained and I managed to find it on the 6th amongst the several hundred of Black-headed Gulls that it was associating with.

Other highlights must be the Water Pipit that remains on the Ogmore Estuary, and the pair of Chough that habitats the local cliffs in Southerdown.

So, with the snow behind us for a little while at least, let's hope that February brings a few more species, before I find that Mega in March !!!

Richard H describes January in Morton Bagot

It’s been a good month in terms of numbers of species. My total of 69 is one more than my previous best Jan (2011), and I see that in 2010 and 2012 I was only on 62 by the month end. However, all three years ended up with about the same total, so I’m not going to get carried away.

In fact, in terms of highlights it’s been slightly under par. The nearest I’ve come to a patch tick was a Gadwall on Jan 27, which was the first here since 2010. While the best bird was probably the Barn Owl on Jan 20, notable partly because they are just great birds, and partly because I have never seen more than one per year.

My only two-pointers were Peregrine (pretty regular here to be honest), and up to six Jack Snipe on Jan 5 and 6. This latter species is present most years (but I missed it in 2010 when the site dried out), but until this year has been an autumn speciality.

Having slightly maxed out on the regulars, I fear the rest of the winter and the back end of the year could be a bit of a tick-desert.

You never know though.

January round-up – Stornoway

Tristan ap Rheinallt

As previously reported, the year started quite well in Stornoway, with an Iceland Gull and an unexpected Pintail on New Year’s Day. In a typical year, that Iceland Gull would have been the first of several – but not so in 2013. I saw no more white-winged gulls on my patch during the whole of January, and there seemed to be very few elsewhere on the island. Also missing (nearly) were winter thrushes: Redwing just scraped onto my list by virtue of a single individual that spent about ten seconds in my garden, but that was it. Even Song Thrushes seemed unaccountably scarce, and Stornoway Castle Grounds – never the most exciting place at this time of year – were almost a dead zone in January 2013.

On the plus side, I did manage one or two difficult species such as Moorhen and Grey Wagtail, together with just about all the ‘two-pointer’ seabirds I could hope for at this time of year. The weather was pretty good for the most part: not too cold, not too wet, and not too windy. But we had a big storm on 29th and 30th, with hurricane-force winds reported from the Butt of Lewis area. The 31st, though, was sunny and calm so I decided to have a good look round just in case the bad weather had moved things around a bit. It was good to see a Grey Plover, quite a scarce bird up here, and I also finally caught up with Kittiwake and Goldcrest for my list. But the best bird of the day, and probably the month, flew past my kitchen window as I was preparing lunch. Although it was distant, I could see that it was very big and moving very slowly. A Grey Heron? No way! I grabbed my bins and rushed upstairs, where I was able to enjoy the sight of a rather tatty immature White-tailed Eagle circling over the Castle Grounds for several minutes before drifting off to the southwest, with a bunch of gulls in hot pursuit. So that was six points (and a house tick) to round off the month nicely.

My final tally was 75 species, which for a gull-less January isn’t too bad. At the start of the year I reckoned I should have about 80 by the end of February, so I’m well on course to meet that target.

Gary White at Trimingham

Apart from seeing everything I would of expected in the extremely cold conditions I got two patch lifers which after about 15 years of looking around Trimingham was only down to the patchwork challenge getting me out when I would normally find something warmer to do indoors and wait for the spring.

The first bird which was at the start of the easterlies was a Rock Pipit on a day where Fieldfare flocks were coming in off the sea and I saw two Waxwings also, the Rock Pipit was a real highlight.

The second bird was a Long-tailed Duck which I saw on a different day in between hail showers with 4 Common Scoter. This was the first time I had ever seen a Long-tailed Duck on the patch but this year is the first time I have seen a flock of 60+ Common Scoter that seem to be hanging around offshore.
Barn Owl

Points per species in January

There has been a couple of enquiries about who has the highest points per species ratio. So, never wanting to disappoint I decided to see who was top and where the high scoring birds were. Not really a surrise as the Scottish Islands and Ireland take up all the top 10 places, in fact they take up 15 of teh top 20 spots. Finding a Gyr falcon always helps gain a good points total and so it has proved in this table, Ian's 12 pointer giving him 1.396 points per species. The non-competitive Paul H isn't too far behind with 1.366 pts/sp followed by a fellow Orkadian patch, Alastair F on 1.314 pts/sp.

Overall UK league
Position Name Patch Species Points Pts per sp
1 Ian T Askernish 53 74 1.396226
2 Paul H Quoyangry 71 97 1.366197
3 Alastair F Birsay 35 46 1.314286
4 Gary Bell Sumburgh 51 67 1.313725
5 Dave Suddaby Blacksod 86 111 1.290698
6 Barrie H Burray 62 80 1.290323
7 John Bowler Balephuil, Isle of Tiree 77 99 1.285714
8 Tristan Stornoway 75 96 1.28
9 Owen Foley Ballycotton 92 117 1.271739
10 Keith Bennett Ballyquintin 74 94 1.27027
11 Paul Walsh Brownstown Head 37 47 1.27027
12 Colin Barton Galley Head 74 93 1.256757
13 Kev Rylands Dawlish Warren 102 128 1.254902
14 YvonneB Askernish 57 71 1.245614
15 Andy Johnson Sandy Point 86 106 1.232558
16 Mark Lewis Girdle ness 52 64 1.230769
17 Bryan Rains Pennyghael, Mull 54 66 1.222222
18 Ian Roberts Samphire Hoe 68 83 1.220588
19 Jonathan Gibbs Minsmere 108 131 1.212963
20 Dan Chaney Falmouth 81 98 1.209877

Sunday, 17 February 2013

extra detail...

How much do you really know about the birds on your patch?

On the surface of things, it's probably quite a lot. I'm sure you know when to expect the first singing willow warbler, how curlew numbers fluctuate through the year, or where the best places to look for snipe are. But how much do you know about the lives of the individual birds that live on your patch?

Probably not so much. Mostly, because it's very difficult to know anything about an individual bird because, well, all the rock pipits look the same as each other, dont they.

All of the extra attention I'm paying to the commoner birds has made me realise how many birds on my local patch are colour ringed. I've started paying attention to these rings as well, and supplying my records to the local ringing group. The feedback I've been getting from them is fascinating...

The details below refer to some darvic rings I read on roosting shags at the beginning of January

All are from the Isle of May, except that SDI is from Bullers of Buchan.

Red FUJ:
This winter: No previous sightings
Last winter: Also seen in Aberdeen.

Your sighting (the first this winter) is great because it shows between-winter philopatry to Girdleness!

Blue TAI:
An Aberdeen faithful:
This winter: Hasn't been seen since Nov, so your sighting is really valuable

Red SDI:
No previous sightings this winter or last!
White NUD:
No previous sightings (it was ringed as a chick in 2012).
These last two are really helpful - showing that there are clearly some new ones still to find in Aberdeen.  Obviously we need to keep plugging away!

The next refers to some colour ringed rock pipits that I've observed through the first half of the month. I wasn't expecting too much interest back from these reports as our (petrosus) rock pipits are pretty sedentary and, I thought, dont do anything interesting.... 

M/G Y/R was ringed as an adult male, on 16/10/2010. Breeds at the north end of Greyhope Bay, near where you saw him. I saw him on 23/11/1012. The 'Shag-spotter' & her other half have been there quite a bit lately & saw him on 15/01/2013.

M/G Y/Y was ringed on 24/04/2011 at the breakwater under the Battery, where you saw him 1st time? Another male, holding territory in that area. He is mentioned in one of my blog posts, as he sang away all summer in 2011 & never attracted a mate. Happily, he bred successfully in 2012. His female is also ringed, but has never been seen over the winter - yet.

Y only M only was ringed as a nestling on 27/05/2006, at the southernmost territory in the area, towards Nigg Bay. Last seen 21/09/2012, so good to know he's still about. Mentioned in a blog post, as I'd first seen him breeding under the lighthouse, 500m away from where he hatched, on 14/06/2010. We finally managed to catch him on 12/05/2012, to read the ring & add the colour. He is the only bird to fledge young from all known nesting attempts.

Whilst trying to catch him, I managed to catch his 2 females. The first in 2010, which did not return the following year. The second was the other bird you reported: M/G R/R, near to the territory. She was ringed on 25/06/2011, and has bred under the lighthouse for the last 2 seasons. Last seen on 04/01/2013.

Brilliant, isn't it! That people take the time to study these things, and take the time to pass their findings on to you, and all you have to do is pay a little attention.

You can find out more about 'my' rock pipits by looking at the grampian ringing groups blog.

And if you see any colour rings, but don't know where to report them, this is an excellent starting point. Hopefully you'll get some feedback as good as mine.