Tuesday, 30 September 2014

My Spanish Patch

I (James) visit expat land in Spain with a fair degree of regularity due to a doddery old relative who lives on the Costa Blanca near Torrevieja. This is an area which is full of the usual full english breakfast eating, beer swilling, slightly racist, slightly sexist stereotypes you see in the sitcom Benidorm but I had heard a rumour that my 'auntie' lived adjacent to a nature reserve. Over six years ago before I first visited my wife told tales of such exotica as Hoopoe's and Flamingoes from the villa. I naturally was sold as I had done next to no birding outside the UK and was able to swallow my pride and head to what in my head was the cultural equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah. I was wrong about the place - yes, it has the cultural clout of a piece of candyfloss but the people are  pleasant (and not all English) and the birds, oh boy the birds!

I can still remember the first morning I went birding clear as a bell. Full time nights, full time uni and a very broken car were stacking up and I needed a week of warmth and escape. I woke early and could feel the late March sun, already over 20c warming me in my bed when a sound drifted in. 'Hoop hoop hoop'. I was up and away. Within minutes I had seen half a dozen lifers with Woodchat Shrike, Slender-billed Gull, Sardinian Warbler, Flamingo, Black-winged Stilt, Crested Lark (it was actually Thekla I now know) and best of all two scrapping territorial Hoopoes. On a visit these days the birds would barely garner a mention as all are pretty common as are the Black-necked Grebes which winter here although numbers have never rivalled the number I saw that day (4-5000 and apparently the largest wintering population in Europe). The reserve is La Mata y Torrevieja and it is a pair of salt extraction lakes with La Mata being used to control the water levels of the workings on La Torrevieja.

Over the last 6 years I have made more than annual visits at all times of the year and seen a lot of what is to offer. I have found breeding Booted Eagles and Montagu's Harriers which are replaced by wintering Hen Harriers. There have been Hobbys and Ospreys, three species of Swift, all the European Hirundines, wintering northern European species including Siskin and Redwing, both species of Nightjar, falls of Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts and Wood Warblers. And endless Stone Curlews. Hundreds of them. These days when I visit I often head further afield for Bustards or Spotted Eagles but I always take time to enjoy what is on my doorstep, a mere 4 yards away.

One of my favourite sightings would have been extremely mundane on either of my two patches in the challenge. I heard a crest calling and another reply. The default in Alicante and at La Mata is Firecrest so when my neck bristled through familiarity I was surprised. I played a bit of Goldcrest call and low and behold two Goldcrests emerged on the edge of the reserve which I promptly photographed and forgot about. It wasnt until I showed this photo to a local birder that I realised how rare these birds were in the area with no fully documented records in the province and hearsay of the odd bird in the mountains in winter. I was pretty chuffed!

The site is a very large lake which you can watch from the southern side. At the west end there are citrus groves and a reedbed over which three species of harriers have been seen and a solitary Great Spotted Cuckoo. The citrus groves are a favourite of passage Wheatears and chats. The south side is stone pine scrub and xerophytic salt marsh which is filled with shrikes and Sardinian Warblers with waders in the water. There are a couple of small islands which hold breeding terns. The east end has some light allotment type land use and is more touristy with cycle trails and picnic areas including a wood which has corsican pine and broadleaved trees favoured by Pied Flycatchers, Firecrests and Western Bonelli's Warblers on passage. East of the site itself is some grass covered wasteland which holds chats and Quail. A strip of coastal ribbon development shields the site from the sea but less than a few hundred metres away are some low cliffs which have given up coastal waders and Balearic Shearwaters. And looking up always helps with a fine selection of raptors and aerial insectivores.

 At present my patch list stands at 117 species but I have some glaring omissions including Little Ringed Plover, Monk Parakeet, several easy heron species and Reed Bunting. Also on my most wanted are Rufous Scrub Robin and Richard's Pipit. The former breeds discretely I am told whilst the latter winters in small numbers on the allotments amongst hordes of Meadow Pipits.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Bresser and Forest Optics Best Find Competition

The Bresser & Forest Optics Best Find Competition is the piece de resistance for Patchwork Challenge. This is the best find of the whole patchbirding year as voted for by you, the competitors. 

For the winner of the competition, those fine folk at Bresser & Forest Optics are very generously furnishing the winner of this esteemed competition with a pair of Bresser Montana 8.5 x 45 Binoculars worth £665.00. Follow the link to check out this superb reward that awaits one lucky patcher!

Whilst Hurricane Bertha did not really deliver up any tasty megas for patchworkers there were some really nice rares amongst the best finds reported during August.

The Stilt Sandpaper found by Ian Robson on his Druridge Pools patch in the North of England was a great bird but as a refind after the bird was initially discovered at Cresswell the chances of this winning the overall prize would seem slim.

Stilt Sandpiper (Ian Fisher)
 On the other hand the Booted Warbler found by Barrie Hamill on his Burra, Orkney patch will be on the shortlist. Both are birds I wouldn't mind turning up on my patch. A brace of Citrine Wagtails were found, one by our own Mark Lewis at Girdle Ness and the other by Paul Massey at Grindon Lough which was a site first and the eleventh county record.

Booted Warbler (Paul Higson)

 Looks like the North of the British Isles was the place to be last month.

Some of the scarcer birds during the month included a whole slew of Long-tailed Skuas from across the entire patchworking map, Joe Stockwell (Portland), James Brown ( Lowestoft),  James Spencer (Barmston) and Eammon O Donnell( Ninch/Laytown, Ireland) all found them, whilst Chris Bradshaw at Long Nab in Yorkshire managed to find 5 birds over 2 days, a good number indeed for that part of the country. Chris also scored with both Cory's and Great Shearwater during a single seawatch. Others finding the scarcer shears included Cory's for Joe at Portland and Julian Wylie (Baltimore), with Great Shearwaters being found by Tom Cadwallender (Alnmouth), Jack Bucknall (St Mary's Island) and Peter Donnelly (North Ronaldsay).

Moving on to the scarcer passerines found during the month, a couple of Common Rosefinches were found in Scotland, Ian T finding one on his Askernish patch, whilst the other was at Gary Bell's Sumburgh site. Chris Bradshaw scores again with an Ortolan Bunting at Long Nab and an Icterine Warbler for James Brown in Lowestoft earns him a second mention.

Some of the almost there birds include, a Franklin's gull seen by Tommy Corcoran at Gt Yarmouth and the Western Bonelli's warbler Joe Stockwell saw at Portland Bill, hard luck guys as it is best found, not seen.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

South West Minileague - August

Local leader Joe Stockwell adds the national lead to his crown and is closing on 300 points. 359 last year was enough to win it - can Joe do it? Kev Rylands may well be handing his SW crown over but he continues to fight on whilst Sean Foote who patches North Portland is challenging just 14 points back. Most of this months best finds are Joe's with Wryneck, Stone Curlew, Cory's Shearwater and Long-tailed Skua all garnering bonus points. Kev managed to see a Rose-coloured Starling but somebody else beat him to the punch. A Red-neck Phalarope for Paul Bowerman meant he held near namesake Paul Bowyer at bay. Plenty of points for Gordon Hodgson without any finds as two Cattle Egrets and a Marsh Sandpiper graced Saul Warth.

Paul Bowyer loses top spot as Dan Chaney hits 94% but its extremely close with 5% covering the top 6 places. Marcus Lawson is now in third but the comparative league is anyone's game and extremely competitive!

NGB Minileague - August

It’s as you were at the top of the NGB league with Joe Stockwell on Portland leading the way (as well as leading the national league). A very impressive 42 points accumulated during August included a 4-pointer Western Bonelli’s Warbler and a hatful of self-find bonuses including Long-tailed Skua, Cory’s Shearwater, Stone Curlew and Wryneck. Tim Jones remains in the hunt for the top spot however, finds of Icterine Warbler and Red-backed Shrike means he’s only a find of a mega away from catching up. Ben Porter didn’t submit a score for Bardsey for August but stays put to round off the podium positions.
Ben may well be feeling the heat slightly due to Jack Bucknall’s St Mary’s patch making gains in 4th position. 33 points added during August thanks to a heap of seabirds including self-found Great Shearwater means he is only 18 points away from the podium, a good autumn on the east coast could see him right up there. Further down the league and sees James Common breaking into the top 10 thanks to a raptor hat-trick of Hobby, Red Kite and Marsh Harrier.
With only 23 points covering 9 places from 5th-13th the next couple of months could see a dramatic shake up in this league, school and university may strike at just the wrong time for some competitors however!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Alternative Highlights from Bardsey

Hummingbird Hawkmoth
Summer is often a time when birding the patch can be a little bit dull. For the few quiet weeks from late June to the end of July, interesting discoveries can be made by looking at the smaller inhabitants of our patches. For me, studying moths and other insects is a very enjoyable part of the summer (and whole year for that matter), and placing moth traps out every night can often produce some interesting records. 

Cock'sfoot Moth
Pseudrgyrotoza conwagana 
This summer, particular highlights from the Lepidoptera side of things have been looking at Thrift Clearwings (Nationally Scarce B) on the coast of the island, watching the amazing migrant Hummingbird Hawkmoths feeding on Fuschia and Honeysuckle, and discovering new species of micro moths for Bardsey. Some interesting ones this summer have been Pseudargyrotoza conwagana, a yellowish tortrix moth which is fairly common in the UK; Tebenna micalis, which is a very scarce migrant from the south, with just one or two records in the whole of North Wales; and finding the larval case of the micro Psyche casta in a small rock crevice on the east side.

Rosy Footman
Tebenna micalis
Thrift Clearwing
Psyche casta
As well as the abundance of moths that appears during the summer, it has been nice to see several Emperor Dragonflies arriving on the island (quite scarce here), along with Bardsey’s first Black-tailed Skimmer and a Brimstone Butterfly (very rare here).

Emperor Dragonfly
 Aside from insects, a particular highlight of late summer every year comes from watching the various pods of Risso’s Dolphins, which can be seen off the island’s coast on calm days. This year, I was able to participate with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation team (WDC), and help taking pictures of their dorsal fins as part of their photo-ID project on this species. A Sunfish was seen on one trip out in the boat, but there have been no whales this year!

Risso's Dolphin

Ben Porter


Wales Minileague - August

Steve Stansfield's update didnt arrive until after the graphics had been done and with nothing from Ben or Barry either it is lower down where we concentrate. Matt Meehan added ten points to get within three of third place. Best finds away from the hotspots were meagre with Whinchat, Med Gull and Wood Warbler sharing the spoils. Peter Howlett at Cardiff Bay moves up a spot to divide and conquer Henry Cook and his Conwy RSPB patch which remains ahead of Julian Hughes at the same location. Mark Hipkin climbs the table with 24 points added and 3 places gained.

No advances from AlisonC but she holds firm locally as her national lead starts to erode. Henry Cook nor Adam Tilt fail to make progress but Matt moves to within 1% of third with a pack down to 8th position covered by not a huge percentage. 

London Minileague - August

A good turnout in this league with 8 of the 14 patches submitting scores for August. Some good little battles are cropping up all down the table, not least at the top where Adam Bassett retains the top spot thanks to self-found Honey Buzzard and Osprey. His lead has been cut to 5 points by Nick Croft at Rainham who was aided by a Spotted Crake during the month. Nick's Wanstead patch moves up to the last podium position although Marek is still within touching distance so it could all change yet.

Michael Terry remains in the lead of the comparison league and is joined by Adam Bassett in the 100% club. A good autumn for any of these competitors could change everything however.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Ireland Minileague - August

August brought with it some small but welcome increases in species and points for most contestants in the Irish Minileague yet Dave Suddaby at Blacksod remains in top spot with both the highest overall points and points per bird to date. Niall Keogh at Kilcoole still maintains his comfortable lead with regards numbers of species recorded but still only affording him 2nd place. Julian Wyllie at Baltimore looks to be a contender for one of the final top spots in the league slipping past Neal Warnock at Larne Lough by 5 points to take 3rd place. Other movers on the table include Tom Moore at Kilmore upping his game from 8th to 7th and Paul Walsh at Brownstown Head moving from 14th to 12th.

Positions on the percentage table remain the exact same as last month. The O'Donnells both hit their 100% target in August with Eamonn at Ninch/Laytown taking the lead with an impressive 107.2%

August was always going to throw up a few good seabirds for some of the coastal patchers as was the case with Julian in Baltimore where finds of both Cory's Shearwater and Sabine's Gull provided a welcome 12 points between them. Similarly, a rare spell of good East coast seawatching weather in late August resulted in a fine juvenile Long-tailed Skua for Eamonn from his perch on Ben Head, another 6 pointer. A showy Osprey at Lurgangreen found by Peter Phillips proved popular with local birders and photographers whilst confirmed breeding of Spotted Flycatchers at Holy Cross & Carriganore was the first such record on Darragh Sinnott's patch. The Little Tern colony at Niall's Kilcoole patch ended their breeding season with the most successful on record, 120 pairs raising 219 young to fledging.

For more news and pics from Irish local patches check out the Patch Birding Ireland blog.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Away Patches. Go!!!

To the right their is a new form - much like the monthly submission form. Its for the away patches this autumn. If you find yourself on a lonely headland looking at a Cosmic Sibe or Yank then the chances are that the home fires aren't burning so brightly but to ensure that PWC vibe continues we want to know what you guys are finding, where you are going and if you are one of the 328 people to connect with a Philadelphia Vireo on Unst? Best finds win....well nowt save the chance to get a mention on here and the chance for a little friendly competition. At present Ryan is up at Voe and Mark R heads to a top secret lair near Virkie shortly whilst Mark L will be hitting up Ouessant (Ed. - Isnt that France? Stretching it a bit). With the first Yellow-brows turning up massively early and a Daurian Shrike up on North Ronaldsay it looks to be kicking off but what can PWC'ers on tour turn up?

Inland North Minileague. August

August sees Wayne Gillatt leapfrog Darren Starkey to steal first place and create a monster 18 point gap. Wayne to his credit removed his Ruddy Shelduck find, starting the month six points down. Despite this setback he bounced back finding Temminck's Stint, Pec Sand and Great-white Egret. Darren on the other hand added Spotted Flycatcher and White-fronted Goose!! He might want to follow Wayne's lead in removing dodgy wildfowl though!

Moving away from the runaway leaders a real War of the Roses is taking place between 4th and 9th place with only 13 points separating Andy Bunting in 4th and Jonny Holliday in 9th.

Best find of the month goes to Paul Massey with a very enviable Citrine Wagtail at Grindon Lough.

For those that are in the game for their second year it's the comparative table that matters - COUGH!
James Common is sailing high with 113% with Peter Williams the only other to break the 100% mark.

Coastal North Minileague - August

As Autumn begins to take hold there was a rush of points in this league and an impressive array of scarcities gracing the August highlights. A haul of 20 points in August for Tim Jones was not enough to prevent Martin Garner's Flamborough patch from taking the top spot thanks to finds of Barred Warbler and Long-tailed Skua alongside an impressive count of 12 different Caspian Gulls! Jane Turner remains in third position however she now has some serious competition for the last podium spot thanks to great months for both Chris Bradshaw and Iain Robinson.

Chris managed an almighty 54 points to jump from 8th to 4th in the table; during what he describes an as a 'truly superb month' he found Cory's Shearwater, Great Shearwater and Ortolan Bunting, the latter the first Scarborough record since 1977! Not to be outdone Iain found a Stilt Sandpiper on his Druridge Bay patch, a hatful of points and a bird which may well make it onto the shortlist for the Forest Optics Best Find Competition. Lower down the league seabirds feature heavily in the highlights, the best being Great Shearwaters found by both Jack Bucknall and Tom Cadwallender.

September has already seen a good scatter of Autumn migrants along the east coast so expect some more big scores, those on the west coast may have their work cut out to keep up.

The Stilt Sand helps Iain Robinson to take the lead in the comparative, nudging Alan Tilmouth down to second. With only 8% separating the top 4 places it's anyone's guess who will be the first to break through the 100% barrier.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Inland Scotland Minileague - August

The best bits in August for Inland Scotland were an Osprey for Alastair Irvine and a Wood Sandpiper for Chris P at Kinneil, the latter coincides with a jump from eleventh to eighth. At the sharp end the positions remain the same with Alastair Forsyth at Old Nisthouse top on 156 points and Rory Whytock in second with 117 points. Graeme Garner is in third at Cambus on 116 points.

Alastair Forsyth has continued his fine year and he also remains in contention for the overall prize with nearly 122%. Nobody else is particularly close to three figures but competition is fierce with 5% covering 2nd-5th. Andy Cage is in 2nd with 84.2% and on the third step of the podium is Chris Pendlebury with 83.3% on his Dunblane patch.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Inland East Anglia - August

Not a huge amount was found in Inland East Anglia in August with a scattering of passage waders including Curlew Sandpipers and Wood Sandpipers. The best bird was a Great White Egret at North Potter Higham for Tab. This all leaves Jamie Wells top of the tree as the first to 200 points. Ben Lewis draws within 7 points in the Mid Yare Valley. Steve Swinney is level in third place with Ed Keeble. Russell Neave at Maldon jumps a couple of spots into sixth and Tab also climbs two spots to eighth.

Still the same three players over 100% with Steve in first place at Linford whilst Jim Bradley has jumped into second with 106%.  Mark Nowers drops to third place.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Coastal Scotland Minileague - August

John Bowler is up top but his lead has dropped to 9 points as Peter Donnelly on North Ronaldsay snaps at his heels. No updates for Dan Brown as he clings on to third place. Will Mark, Steve or Mike P claim third spot in September or will Dan pull out a plum at Dunnet. Peter managed a Hoopoe, Great Shearwater and an American Golden Plover whilst PWC's own Mark Lewis but find of the month and a brand new Patchwork Challenge bird goes to Barrie Hamill and his Booted Warbler on Burray.

Stephen Welch at Gosford Bay becomes the second person to pass 100% in the Coastal Scotland Minileague and in the process takes over at the top. Chris Hill hasnt submitted for August but clings on to second while a very good year on Mull for Bryan Rains means he is on the cusp of breaking 100% as well. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Coastal East Anglia Minileague - August

Tim Hodge at Horsey remains at the top in the Coastal East Anglia and looks on course to blast through the 300 point barrier. James Brown added 29 points in August thanks to finding Long-tailed Skua and Icterine Warbler to keep a foot in the door to winning the minileague. Gary White added 15 points at North Walsham to move up into third place above Gary Elton. Tommy Corcoran moves up one spot into sixth. Other Decent finds include Wryneck for Ryan Irvine and Greenish Warbler for Craig Fulcher. No big finds for Toby Collett this month but Red-necked Phalarope and White-rumped Sandpiper for some decent quality.

The top two both went over 100% in the Coastal East Anglia and Gary White closed the gap to 0.25% but Nick Andrews maintains his lead. Craig Fulcher and his Greenish managed to add 6% and stay on track for a 100% year.

South Coast Minileague - August

Andy Johnson retakes the top of the table at Sandy Point with a single point lead and Adam Faiers at Sandwich Bay is in second place despite adding ten points in August. Harry Ramm fails to add in August but stops in third place. A couple of patches recording Osprey and Spotted Flycatcher were the highlights with Amy Robjohns' Spoonbill. September may well shape up differently as we know Amy was part of the ringing party at Titchfield Haven when a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler was plucked from a net and whilst I type there is a Lesser Yellowlegs at Titchfield but whether she connects with the latter - who knows?

A great year for Adam Faiers sees him climb onto 119.5% and well into contention for the overall prize. 35% back in second is Chris Powell whilst Mark Lawlor is in third. It would need a miracle for Andy Johnson to repeat last years score but then that is what happened in autumn 2013. Willet be repeated?

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Midlands Minileague - August

 Ian Cowgill is top of the tree and whilst his lead has fallen to 25 points he is comfortably out front from John Hopper at Hoveringham. Nick Crouch stays in third at Collingham & Besthorpe. Mark Gash's self found Glossy Ibis along with being the only bonus points in August also takes him above the NGB chairman Matthew Bruce. Espen Quinto-Aspen moves up from 16th to 11th in this months big change.

No change in the order and still no 100%'ers in the comparative league. Matt Griffiths is still top at Earlswood. Nick Crouch and Richard Harbird are in second and third places with all scores over 90% - maybe next month the barrier will be broken.