Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Patches win Prizes

So the big question that remains is what are the prizes for Patchwork Challenge 2015. Here we can reveal most of them.

Firstly Bresser and Forest Optics continue to support the competition and will be renewing their sponsorship for 2015. This means they will providing a prize for the best find which at present is tbc and also sponsoring the Bubo combined species list which this year will be supporting the BTO's Long-eared Owl project with details to follow.

Over the last two years we have supported the Cuckoo tracking and House Martin Tracking projects and have enjoyed following these especially the dearly departed Patch's migration to Africa and almost back. The BTO have also got a goodie bag and a nest monitoring field guide for the winner of the Birdtrack Birdrace.

Birdguides are our second major sponsor and they continue to support the competition with regular articles and updates on their website and also Bird News Extra subscriptions for the leading Comparative, Non-comparative, Inland and Points per bird scores.

The Sound Approach are continuing to sponsor the Green Minileague - now known as The Green Minileague sponsored by The Sound Approach, We have to get these corporate names correct! The prize is as yet unannounced but rest assured it will be a goody. 

We are delighted to announce that British Birds are continuing their support of the Next Generation Birders Minileague and the winner of the Cameron Bespolka Prize receives a years subscription to the journal.

Steve Stansfield and Bardsey Bird Observatory continue to sponsor the NGB MVP for the birder Under 25 who contributes the most to the competition through a combination of dedication to the patch, interaction with the competition, good finds, usage of birdtrack and all the other intangibles that are less obvious. We will draw up a shortlist for Steve to judge on at the end of 2015.

Natural History Bookstore are continuing their support of the Comparative Score minileague which is now the NHBS Comparative Score Minileague. The winner recieves a £50 voucher and much kudos as this is the most important of the competitions in our eyes.

We are also delighted to announce our continued association with Birding Frontiers who have offered a prize or two to the competition dependent upon what goes to press. We will firm these up as the competition progresses.

Thanks to all our sponsors - without your continuing support the competition really would be lessened and we are delighted to be associated with such pillars of the birding and natural history community.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Bresser & Forest Optics Best Find Competition - Best Bird of 2014

Bresser and Forest Optics very generously donated a pair of Bresser Montana 8.5x45 binoculars as the prize for the best bird found by a patchworker during 2014, as voted for by all Patchwork Challenge participants. 

A total of 12 birds were in the ballot, in alphabetical order they were:

·        American Coot

·        Blyth's Pipit

·        Blyth's Reed Warbler

·        Broad-billed Sandpiper

·        Brunnich's Guillemot

·        Collared Flycatcher

·        Eastern Bonelli's Warbler

·        Franklin's Gull

·        Kentish Plover

·        Myrtle Warbler

·        Pechora Pipit

·        Red-flanked Bluetail. 

There was clear winner with over 60%  of the poll, the other 11 birds all scored almost equally and as such should consider themselves joint second. We think this was a pretty fair result.

Congratulations go to Jonny Holliday who found the Blyth's Pipit on his patch at Pugney's in Yorkshire at the end of the year, not the bird you would expect at a site so far inland. The bird hung around to delight the crowds at the end of 2014 and into early 2015. This will be a first for Yorkshire as the Flamborough bird from 1994 still hasn't been accepted, and is only the 23rd record for the UK.  We hope you enjoy the binoculars Jonny.

The fact that he found the bird at the end of the year should offer hope to everyone, just because someone else finds a good bird early in the year, never give up on your patch as you never know what may turn up.
Blyth's Pipit - Jim Welford

Commiserations to all the others in the poll, each of them worthy birds but I hope you agree that the best bird won.

Now we start on the quest for 2015's best find, there will be a prize for the bird voted the best at the end of the year, as yet we cannot tell you what the prize will be but be assured we'll let you know as soon as it is sorted.

January 2015 best finds

Sadly no megas were found on patch this month.  However a handful of rares did turn up during the month and Scotland was the place to be for most of them.

American Herring Gull - John Bowler
John Bowler, on the Isle of Tiree, found a 12 pointer on his Balephuil patch in the shape of a first winter American Herring Gull

Green-winged Teal - Jonathan Farooqi
Next up a trio of Green-winged Teal - seen right across the UK, firstly Paul Bowerman on his Severn Beach patch, Jonathan Farooqi also scored at Druridge Pools in Northumberland on his very first patchwork outing, and lastly Alastair Forsyth when visiting his Old Nisthouse patch on Orkney found not only Green-winged but also Blue-winged Teal during the course of one walk.

Alastair also had a Gyr Falcon on patch but as it was a dark phase bird and they are popular falconry birds, with many 'hacked' in Scotland, he has put this down as a highlight rather than a point scorer.

There were other raptors found on patch including Hen Harrier in two locations in the Inland North league and three White-tailed Eagles, where else but Western Scotland. 

Can I ask a favour - if you do find a good bird and manage to get photos please email them in to PWC so we can use them for the monthly review, it would save time when composing the reviews. 

The address to use is

Monday, 23 February 2015

NGB Minileague - January 2015

2015 sees the return of the Next Generation Birders minileague, a hotly contended league for those participants under the age of 25. It is great to see so many young birders experiencing the joys of patch birding and this year has already seen a 25% increase in patchers on 2014, with this set to increase further in February.
With last years winner (and overall PWC winner) Tim Jones no longer patching Spurn, 2nd place Joe Stockwell moving away from Portland Bird Obs, and 3rd place Ben Porter on Bardsey being out of country for the first couple of months of the year, this minileague is now wide open as we enter 2015. Joe may have left PBO, but his new patch around Ferrybridge is certainly living up to Portland standards and it places him firmly at the top of the table. PWC newcomer Anthony Bentley is sitting in second place with his Frampton/Frieston patch, living and working on patch certainly has it's advantages and Anthony has made the most of this opportunity by recording the most species out of anyone in the league during January. Anthony heads a host of new players in this league, positions 2-7 are all PWC newcomers and all with exciting patches; the battle between Laurie Allnatt and Dan Rouse who are both patching Llanelli WWT will be particularly intriguing as the year unfolds. Looking further down the league and familiar names to PWC begin to appear, James Common at Stobbswood is looking to repeat his successes of 2014, Espen will be hoping another county first will be a reward for the hours at his Wellington GP patch after last springs Bluethroat, whilst Matthew Bruce enters his beloved patch of 'The Puddle' alongside the more well known Draycote.
Jonathan Farooqi started his PWC debut with a bang on the 3rd when he found a Green-winged Teal on his Druridge patch, the only self-found 3-pointer in this league during January and earning him a deserved 3 bonus points. Winter specialities such as Iceland Gull, Jack Snipe, Long-tailed Duck and Water Pipit were finds for several participants and always welcome 2-pointers for the total. Although not a find, the Greater Yellowlegs at Titchfield Haven provided a very useful 5 points for Amy Robjohns, with a host of other scarcities on patches in this league including 2 Serin for Max Hellicar in Southend, 'several' Ring-billed Gulls for our Irish contender Cathal Forkan, and Shorelark for Harry Murphy at Hartlepool. Lee Fuller had his own surprising highlight at Needs Ore during the month, his first record of Egyptian Goose in over 10 years of watching the site, going to show that #patchgold can come in any form!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Ireland Minileague - January 2015

Great to see some new patches joining the ranks in the Ireland Comparative Score Minileague after having taken part for the first time during 2014. 

Leading the charge is Niall Keogh's local suburban parks patch in South Dublin which sits in first place with 72.05% after he clocked up 46 species in January comparing favourably to a final 2014 total of 64 species. But for how long can he hold on to the top spot? Comparative league stalwart Eamonn O'Donnell makes a fine entrance, straight into third place with 61.74% at Ninch/Laytown. Tufted Duck & Merlin both good species for him there during January.

It's also very encouraging to see lots of new names and patches gracing the Ireland Points Minileague table in January 2015 where it looks like some 'friendly' patch neighbour rivalry might be kindling...most interesting! Niall Keogh's Kilcoole patch heads the table (for now) and the first to break the 100 points barrier with 88 species including patch scarce such as Barnacle Goose and Pintail. Neal Warnock's Larne Lough patch is close behind on 84 species and 99 points. Over two thirds of contestants (including many of those who are new) have recorded over 50 species/60 points.

Last year's overall points table winner, Dave Suddaby at Blacksod, has had a good first month but with a long way to go to catch up on what was a record score during 2014 for him...

Rarity of the month goes to a Glossy Ibis at Tramore Backstrand for Arlo Jacques, making for a great start to his PWC introduction. 'White-wingers' showed well with both Glaucous and Iceland Gulls at a total of four patches between them. Julian Wyllie had a Yellow-legged Gull at Baltimore whilst Cathal Forkan added a handful of overwintering Ring-billed Gulls and a Sandwich Tern at North Galway Bay...looking forward to see how that patch progresses through the year. An excellent winter Great Skua record off Kilcoole for Niall was most welcome as was an overwintering Marsh Harrier from 2014 and a brace of Red Kites. Best passerine of the month relates to a Siberian Chiffchaff which Julian found at his new suburban patch at Skibbereen. 

Iceland Gull at Larne Lough © Neal Warnock

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Inland Scotland Minileague - January 2015

The inland Scotland league was a runaway victory last year for Alastair Forsyth at Old Nisthouse but his impressive score last year might be a tough one to beat with Andy Cage at Kilmany and Chris Pendlebury at Blairdrummond pushing him into third after the first month of the year.

60% is a very impressive comparative this early and with the top 3 over 50% it bodes well for the year ahead.

It was however Old Nisthouse that  turned out a real pair of teals - with Green and Blue-Winged Teals putting in appearances within an hour of each other. Most patchers would be ecstatic with either of these American visitors so both on the same patch same day is quite something. Add to that a dark phase Gyr and if Alastair is going to beat his score then he has started the right way.

Other patchers also turned in some good local birds including a Pochard at Lochmaben which was something of a local rarity for Pete Antrobus. A Smew was also a nice seasonal find at Blairdrummond.

The Teal combo sets Alastair on his way at the top. Quantity is similar in the top four but quality opens up the 22 point gap. It is an exceptionally tight league however with just seven species splitting the top six patches. All to play for an a good start all round.

Coastal Scotland - January 2015

The coastal Scotland league sees a reduction in the number of competitors in PWC2015 as the islands depart for their own island league to compete alongside the likes of Bardsey. So there are five patchers that feature in the comparative league, with two already seeing their way past the 50% mark. Chris Hill tops the bill with an impressive 59% with Stephen Welch just behind on 53%. There is a long way to go yet!

The best bird on patch in January was unquestionably the Harlequin Duck which is becoming quite a celebrity on the River Don and found itself on Andrew Whitehouse's patch. Quite a start to the year! Chris Hill at Burntisland found summer coming early with a Sandwich Tern, alongside his other highlight of Little Auk a rather odd and unseasonal match! Little Auk's also put in appearances at Gosford Bay and Girdle Ness. Perhaps indicative of the quirks of birding coastal Scotland were highlights including Collared Dove and Blue Tit - everyone's #patchgold is different!

In the points league, new entrant to PWC2015 Mike Hodgkin leads the way, falling just short of the 100 point mark but an admirable effort in January which can be hard work (if birding an be called hard work?). Stephen Welch and Chris Hill fill the early top three spots but there are a lot of birds still to be seen this year. It's good to see birdtracking taking place. In the less covered corners of the UK, these records become all the more important.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Inland South Minileague - January 2015

Tom Stevenson has also got off to a great start but it can be an attritional collection of points at Battle Farm so getting off the blocks quickly is essential. Roger Hicks is in second place on 65% with Tom also in third with his Ewelme patch.

Marek Walford has taken an early lead at Dinton Pastures on 85 points with Nigel Milbourne at Blagdon only a point back. Mareks new second patch at Sonning Eye is in third on 80 points. Tom Stevenson and Andy Stocker have both got off to a great birdtracking start with 13 and 9 complete lists respectively.

Andy Stocker's Great Grey Shrike at Woolmer Forest is probably the bird of the month securing 6 points while a Yellow-browed Warbler for Dan Chaney at College and Argal was well received. Other notable birds included a Sibe Chiffchaffs for  Gareth Blockley and Adam Bassett (which does get 2 bonus points Adam!), Scaup at Tring for Ian Benell, Med Gull, Jack Snipe and Great White Egret. All superb birds to brighten up a winter day.

Islands Minileague - January 2015

This year it was decided to create a new minileague for the islands. It was felt that their performance in their respective leagues would make a very good showdown in itself. It reads like a birding destinations wishlist - and should make for a very exciting league this year.

That said, by comparison to some areas it has been a modest start with no site hitting the magic 100 species in January. The comparative scores too are probably harder to attain than in other leagues, as the big scores are still to come in migration season. Perhaps that makes the 61% comparative at the end of January for Paul Higson at Quoyangry all the more impressive. Others are in his wake for now but there is a long way to go. The competition will take higher turn too when the Bardsey duo and North Ronaldsay weigh in with their scores at the end of February.

January is always an exciting month in the challenge as everything is new and the slate is clean for a new start. It was John Bowler on Tiree who threw the first 12 pointer into PWC2015 with an American Herring Gull, a cracking find to start the year. The first winter Ring-Necked Duck also stayed on giving some extra points, but John currently sits 9th in the comparative league, a sign of the challenge he has ahead his year. A White-Billed Diver was a very welcome find for Paul Higson at Quoyangry helping establish his healthy comparative score. Three of the Scottish patches scored and soared with our largest bird of prey, with White-Tailed Eagle putting in a good showing.

White wingers put in a showing further north, with the most impressive being 7 Glaucous on a single seawatch for Alistair Forsyth at Birsay. Locally good finds were a patch first Slavonian Grebe for both patchers in Askernish and the joy of patchworking is no better exemplified than the Dunnock for Stuart Taylor on Balivanich. A one pointer (and brown at that) - this was a bird that eluded Stuart in 2014 showing that patchgold can come in all forms!

In the points league John Bowler has taken his customary position. This year he will be up against some big players so it will be a titanic battle. Paul Higson's good start puts him just behind in second with the others having a little work to do to catch up as we head towards Spring.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Estuarine Minileague - January 2015

Welcome to the new estuarine league. Created in PWC2015 to cater for those patches on an estuary or river who are technically inland as they have no sea border, but have more chance of seabirds than a truly inland site. It is a loose definition, but it is a league that hosts a range of birding patches that are capable of turning out some exciting birds in the year to come.

Scouring of Gull roosts has paid off for some with Caspian Gull at RSPB Rainham and a couple of patches picking up Med Gull and Yellow-Legged Gulls. Other typical January fare has included Water Pipit for Anthony Bentley, Slavonian Grebe at Maldon for Russell Neave, Black-Necked Grebes at both patches for Mark Nowers whilst last years Surf Scoter at Stutton held on into January. Perhaps less typical was Siberian Chiffchaff at RSPB Rainham in what has been a good winter for this sub-species, and showing that quality and quantity can be combined, 4 Firecrests at Hayle has already quadrupled the site count for last year.

There are six returning competitors this year who are patching the same 3km square as they were in last years challenge. Four patchers have already hit a healthy 60% competitive in the year with Mark Nowers at Stutton edging into an early lead. With just one month down there is still a long way to go.

John Badley at RSPB Frampton / Freiston leads the way in what we will be a furiously competitive league this year. He is one of two patchers to have hit the magic 100 species in January, with Ed Keeble also hitting the mark at Brantham but John's 1.267 points per bird has helped him to edge ahead early on. There are also a group of 5 sitting in the 90's, but a host of 2 pointers has helped them over the 100 points mark. A very impressive start.

Further down the league there is plenty more patching to be done for those a little behind the pace but the year is only just starting and we have all read the tortoise and the hare (given that I am in 15th place I have read it and am sticking to it!).

Wales Minileague - January 2015

With Bardsey and Skomer emigrating to the Islands minileague this should be a more open competition throughout this minileague. Henry Cook has started quickly at both his patches and they take the top two places on the comparative league with Conwy top on 65.5% and Little Orme 10% back. Adam Tilt takes third place at Cefn Drum on 55%.

The points league is headed up by Paul Roberts at Orgmore Estuary on 96 points with Henry Cook's effort at Conwy is only a point behind in second. Laurie Allnatt at Llanelli WWT is in third place with 93 points. It really is very close all the way down.

The best bits this month included the first Bean Geese for Conwy which is the first to trigger the non-bonus point county first bonus points! If you find a county first which doesnt itself deserve bonus points then you get 5 extra points. The long-staying Great White Egret was at Llanelli along with a couple of Firecrests. There was a Glaucous Gull at Sker while Martin Bell recorded just the second record of Teal at Parc Taf Bargoed in 9 years!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Midlands Minileague - January 2015

Sam Pitt Miller leads in the Midlands by 0.2% over Boultham Mere stalwart Andy Sims in second. Dave Roberts and his wintering Reed Warbler take third spot in the first Midlands Comparative table of 2015 with 60%. The pack is headed by Tom Shields at Holme Pierrepoint on 56%.

Lound leads the way again with a fantastic start for last years points winner, Ian Cowgill on 113 points. John Hopper who also finished second last year currently holds the same position. Andy Mackay rounds off a very familiar looking top three.

There were no 6-pointers picked up in January but as mentioned before Dave Roberts found an overwintering Reed Warbler at Marston and Ian Cowgill found a Siberian Chiffchaff at Lound. Other decent padders included Bewick's Swan, Smew, Iceland, Glaucous and Caspian Gull, Great Northern Diver and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Good luck to all involved - it looks like being a long haul and a close fought thing!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Inland East Anglia Minileague - January 2015

Fourteen patches are returners so far in the Inland East Anglia Minileague and they have got off to a collective rollicking start with nine of them at 50% or better. Nick Robinson is leading the way with 69% with Jonny Rankin in second and Ben Rackshaw third. Jonny seems to have Nick Moran in his sites judging by the flagrant bating on twitter while Ben is looking to challenge on both fronts.  

Ben Lewis normally scores well and his start to 2015 shows he means business as his rival, Jamie Wells has 28 points to catch up already. Nick Moran's early season form will probably spur his rivals, Alison Allen and Jonny Rankin on to more and in Jonny's case crazier efforts. Ben Rackshaw backs up his third place in the comparative league with third place in the points league. Highest placed newcomer is Ashley McElwee at Felmingham on 76 points in 8th place.

Gulls were a theme amongst the highlights as Nick Moran managed 4 Caspian Gulls at BTO HQ despite there being a sum total of zero records prior to this year. Terry Stopher managed to find a Glaucous Gull at Livermere and Nick Robinson managed a Yellow-legged Gull at UEA. Other highlights included Little Gull, Great Northern Diver, Bewicks Swans and staples of the area the ever popular Cranes.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Inland North - January 2015

So here we go again...

So far there are 38 entrants that fall into the Inland North category and it's perhaps no surprise that after a couple of 'test' years some of the big guns are giving it a go. This year we have the joy of welcoming well known sites such as (in no particular order) Nosterfield, North Duffield, Old Moor, Swinemoor, Wheldrake Ings, Tophill Low and Marton Mere all top sites with a good track record of inland rares.

So, for us established PWC birders, it will come as a relief that the comparative tables will in this year take precedence over the points table, and with 18 repeat offenders this should prove to be an interesting year.

Keith Dickinson heads the table already amassing a massive 78%, his modest highlights being Golden Plover and Little Grebe. Steven Ward lies in second with a Black Grouse, a new patch bird his surprise highlight.

The usual mid-table rabble of Aspin, Reeder,Bunting and Holliday have been joined by Darren Starkey. Darren, who spent much of 2014 at the top of the points table won't be familiar with mid-table mediocrity though his place in the current points table should lessen the blow. Likewise Jonny Holliday might be ruing the 15 points that he gained for his Blyth's Pipit find - though I very much doubt it!

The points table is once again headed by Fairburn reserve manager Darren Starkey, though he is at least giving us a chance by not entering St Aidan's. Darren had an excellent month adding both White-winged Gulls, Bittern, Bearded Tit and Cetti's Warbler among others. Jonny Holliday sits tightly in second place - his 5 bonus points for the Blyth's (that's the last time I'll ever mention that) keeping him just ahead of Garry Taylor and his curiously inland patch of Hornsea Mere. Garry is adamant that Hornsea Mere meets the criteria, pointing out that he's never recorded Kittiwake there - not sure that's an inland credential or more of an indication of poor effort! Garry had his first record of Caspian Gull in January. Other good birds this month included 16 Bean Geese at Wykeham, Twite and Snow Bunting at Orgreave and Velvet Scoter at Tophill Low.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Coastal South - January 2015

In an attempt to treat everyone the same we have changed the South Coast, London and South West minileagues into something equivalent to the rest of the competition (although Ireland and Wales are still single minileagues). Instead we have the Coastal South and Inland South so everywhere from Kent to the Severn Bridge is present here.

The minileague may be new but many of the competitors are not - Dan Chaney ably assisted by an immature drake King Eider at Falmouth is top of the pops by 0.01% from Peter Hazlewood at Oldbury. Paul Freestone is in third at Gwithian less than 0.4% back. The closest top 3 for sure.

Joe Stockwell has left his assistant wardens post and retreated to Ferrybridge where he is still racking up the big scores and 118 points in January is certainly a mighty haul although only a single point clear of Kev Rylands who is definitely not going to be challenging this year (we believe you Kev ;-) ). Sean Foote at North Portland sits in third. Check out his video blog of 2014! Paul Bowerman sits in fourth but he gains bonus points in the somewhat typical January guise of a Green-winged Teal. The highest place new competitor is Ian Pitts at North Selsey with 94 points. Aside from the semi-resident Bonaparte's Gull at Dawlish other highlights have included a Lapland Bunting for Roger Musgrove, Snow Buntings at Gwithian and a Black Guillemot at Portland for Sean Foote.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Coastal North Minileague - January 2015

Stewart Sexton starts 2015 with a bang after a quieter 2014. 52% comparative sees him a mighty 0.4% over PWC's own James Spencer who has had his best start at Barmston (soon to tail off rapidly no doubt). Ash Baines who went tooth and nail with James in the points league last year holds third place a further 1.3% back. Inevitably some of the bigger points scorers are further back at this stage but plaudits must go to Martin Garner for his rocket start.

Nick Addey has decided to Chris Bradshaw how Scarborough should be patched and holds a 13 point lead over his rival whilst Martin G is in second a narrow three points ahead of Mick Turton (who Tim Jones suggested would have finished in first last year had he entered). All very interesting!

Jonathan Farooqi was one of the first to secure bonus points in 2015 with a Green-winged Teal on his Druridge Bay patch which also benefited Iain Robson. Seamus Eaves managed a Caspian Gull at Fleetwood which is a great record for the north-west. James Spencer had to suffer the ignominy of watching hundreds of birders dipping the Little Bustard on January 2nd from within his patch boundaries. He reliably tells us that he could see the field it was in but not the area where the bird was although he does have enough area in hand to claim an there is a dilemma to chew on.

North Portland 2014 - Sean Foote

Monday, 9 February 2015

Coastal East Anglia Minileague - January 2015

With seven patches scoring over 200 points in the past big comparative scores after just one month were always unlikely but only Richard Moores at Happisburgh is below 20%, a situation I am sure will be rectified over the course of 2015. Craig Fulcher at Southwold has got off to a flyer 91 species and 106 points giving him a comparative score of just under 50%. James Brown and Toby Collett are in second and third respectively. 

James Brown is top of the tree in Coastal East Anglia with a whopping 129 points already! His 289 target must be under threat this year. Highest place newcomer is Robert Smith with 121 points at Holme Dunes while stalwart Tim Hodge lies in third place. Tim also managed 35 Birdtrack complete lists this month. There were no bonus points dished out this month with a pair of Serins on Max Helicar's Southend to Shoeburyness patch the highest scorers. Aside from this there were a scattering of Bean and White-fronted Geese, a Rough-legged Buzzard for Tommy Corcoran at Great Yarmout whilst James Brown had an unseasonal Pomarine Skua and Turtle Dove combo.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Nick Morgan - Ainderby Steeple 2014

My patch is the area around my home village of Ainderby Steeple in North Yorkshire. It’s a typical intensively farmed area and with an all time parish list of 138 species I wouldn’t suggest dropping your plans to visit Cape May or Eilat. I do have an almost Gilbert Whiteian attachment to the place though and living ‘on patch’ allows for pretty good coverage (when work and family allows). 

Most of the area is high grade (i.e. low bird) farmland but there are areas of pasture and rough grazing, a couple of more traditional farms with good hedgerows and a nice stretch of the river Swale. Flooding occurs periodically although recent drainage  has reduced its prevalence. One of the most productive areas on the patch is a neighbour’s superb garden including a large reed-fringed pond (the only area of standing water on the patch) and a small area of damp woodland.

2014 was my first year of Patchwork Challenge and so I thought other patchers might like a brief look at the less-lowlights of the year (if only to realise how lucky they are!).
January kicked off with good areas of floodwater and this attracted a new patch tick in the form of a group of 11 Ruff. No unusual wildfowl were seen but there were record counts of Teal and Greylags, a flock of around 160 Curlew and good numbers of Golden Plover. Oystercatcher and Shelduck were added by March. Goosander are regular on the river but it was nice to get a pair low over the garden.

The first summer migrant was Sand Martin with Chiffchaff also seen before the end of March. A single passage Wheatear was my only sighting of the year but other summer visitors came in broadly on time.  

A singing Sedge Warbler was a surprise find in May having not bred on the patch for more than a decade and, completely unexpected, was a flyover Arctic Tern, the first parish record. Most frustrating sighting of the year though was Kittiwake. A friend had called to say he had spotted a large flock of Kits high up heading my way, I did eventually catch up with them but half-a-mile outside my patch boundary.

The breeding season saw good numbers of Yellow Wagtails, at least nine singing Corn Buntings and it was a great year for Garden Warblers, not always an easy species in the parish. Depressingly I didn’t see or hear Cuckoo on the patch this year.

Late summer saw probably my bird of the year, a Reed Warbler briefly holding territory around the neighbour’s pond (yes I know but we inland birders are easily pleased and it was the first record in the village for more than 60 years). It was also the best year yet for Little Egret Sightings with up to five birds on the river where I added Common Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail.

A Ringed Plover in September was one of only a handful of sightings in the parish. Like many of the patch wader records this was a fly-over and my lottery-winning dream would be to transform the bottom fields back to the marshy areas they were up to the 1950s when species like Black-headed Gull and Teal bred and there were records of birds like Marsh Harrier and Bar-tailed Godwit. A Marsh Tit was another pleasing find,  having not been seen in the village for over a decade, but it’s perhaps disturbing that it was only in late September that I spotted my first Treecreeper.

Autumn saw an influx of Jays with almost daily sightings through to the year end
(compared with only a dozen records in the preceding 20 years) and a nice passage of Woodcock with at least four birds seen in the magic garden alone, including one flushed from a tree. A good influx of Goldcrests in October meant I was sure I would spot a Yellow-browed Warbler (but hopes were dashed as usual!) and I also picked up Lesser Redpoll then in what had been a very poor year for the species.

The last week of December saw a final flourish with three year ticks all seen on the river in icy conditions, Redshank, Green Sandpiper and Goldeneye (the latter bird only the second parish sighting) to finish on 98 species.

Villagers often ring me to report birds and in 2014 this included six species I didn’t catch up with so it shouldn’t be difficult to breach the 100 mark. With a good start to 2015 (already at 64% of my 2014 figure) I’m certainly looking to break last year’s total and remain ever hopeful for that elusive five pointer….

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Kilcoole 2014 - Niall Keogh

It was going to take some serious luck and determination in 2014 to beat my 2013 patch birding efforts at Kilcoole. A new patch year list record of 152 species was set in 2013 thanks to extra effort facilitated by living on site for three months in a caravan as a tern warden resulting in a decent showing of patch scarce and rare. I figured 2014 would fall well short on account of working offshore or abroad for extended periods during the year. By some miracle I ended up with an equal species list and a points total just shy of the previous year plus three #fullfatpatchticks (patch life list now on 205) and lots of #patchgold. The thought of matching this in 2015 is looking rather daunting now!

Here’s a synopsis of how it all went…


The year got off to a flier with a sneaky twitch on 2nd for a Crane present on the coastal fields at Newcastle. This bird was a patch tick when it first showed up in Nov 2013 (found by local birders Cian and Tommy Cardiff) so great to get it again on another year list.


My first full day of the year came on 8th when I went down to survey the entire stretch of marsh and coast between Kilcoole, Newcastle and Blackditch East Coast Nature Reserve (ECNR) for the monthly I-WeBS count. This resulted in a fine 1st-winter albifrons White-fronted Goose among the Icelandic Greylag Geese wintering here. Score! The first time I have seen this subspecies on the patch. It hung around until March but remained elusive. Other patch scarce on the day included Redwing, Feral Pigeon(!), Great Northern Diver, Grey Plover, Mediterranean Gull, male Hen Harrier, Merlin and a fine Snow Bunting. A fantastic start seeing me on 79 species by the months end.

Russian White-fronted Goose


The undoubted highlight of the month was a brute of an adult Ring-billed Gull day roosting on the flooded coastal fields at ECNR on 20th. My third patch record and the first since 1997! Blustery conditions towards the end of the month added Great Crested Grebe and Little Gull off the back of some winter seawatching. Both good species here. Excellent flood conditions on the marshes resulted in peak counts of 286 Icelandic Greylag Geese, c.750 Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits and 68 Shoveler. A Carrion Crow at ECNR on 28th was another most welcome addition (they’re just about annual) bumping me up to 95 species.

Ring-billed Gull


A Tree Sparrow found by Stephen McAvoy in a farmyard along Newcastle Sea Road during the Wicklow County Bird Race was duly twitched and became the first #fullfatpatchtick of the year! One I have been waiting a long time for. The rest of the month was largely uneventful save for another go at the Russian White-fronted Goose, a Dark-bellied Brent Goose among a peak count of c.785 Light-bellied Brent Geese and the first Chiffchaff of the year on 15th. I was away off to sea then until the second week of April.

Dark-bellied Brent Goose


Back with a bang on 11th with Spring migration in full swing. The ensuing ticking bonanza saw a tidy 21 species of migrants added bringing me to 118 species for the year. Most of these were the expected fare (Wheatear, warblers, hirundines etc.) but included Marsh Harrier and a flyover Pink-footed Goose at ECNR, Arctic Skua and Arctic Tern offshore, singing Reed Warblers back on territory and a stunning male Whinchat at Kilcoole on 26th, just my second patch record. Managed to finally connect with Black Guillemot in April also, a species I normally see on Day 1 in January! Bird of the month (and quite possibly the year) goes to a stonking white-headed sinensis Cormorant at Newcastle on 22nd. Again, like the albifrons White-fronted Goose, this was another new subspecies for my patch list.


sinensis Cormorant


Probably one of the best months to be birding on the patch but unfortunately I was away for most of it. As such just three species were added: Swift, Bar-tailed Godwit and a flyover Yellow Wagtail.


Some extended volunteering at the Little Tern colony over ten days of glorious weather across the month made up for a lot of lost ground adding 9 new species including Puffin, Storm Petrel, Roseate Tern, Knot and best of all a flyover Osprey on 4th, my third patch record. Half time scores were 131 species and 169 points (83.25%) comparing well with 136 species and 176 points by the same stage in 2013.


Reed Warbler... a bumper breeding season for these on the patch (this one caught & ringed during CES)


More volunteering at the Little Tern colony through July added some class species. The first of these was an epic Long-eared Owl on the morning of the 5th, seen at 0415 when on my way down to ECNR for a CES ringing session. Fantastic views of it hunting for half an hour! A most unexpected sight of a flyover Bonxie along the beach on 26th caused quite a stir at the tern colony! Rambling around the wood at ECNR I connected with a calling Great Spotted Woodpecker first detected there some days previously by the CES team. Great to see Spotted Flycatchers and Reed Warblers breeding successfully there this year too, a real highlight. The 30th saw two very fine passage waders drop onto the marsh, a juvenile Wood Sandpiper in the early morning followed up by a cracking moulting male Ruff which joined it that evening.

Wood Sandpiper



Just one patch year tick in August bringing me to 140 for the year, a brace of Green Sandpipers on the lagoon during the first week. A female Whinchat on 9th was the second record of that species of the year and only my third patch record overall (but I assume they are more regular than I have recorded). The Little Tern colony had its most successful breeding season on record with 120 pairs fledging a max. of 219 young. Superb! Then it was off to my perch at The Bridges of Ross for some seawatching during the second half of the month.

Colour ringed Little Terns coming to a beach near you!


While scanning the marsh on 12th I could here the raucous call of some Jays coming from a nearby hedge! Totally unexpected, figured I'd get them in the wood at ECNR but three were here on the closest set of tree lined hedge to the coast. Migrants or dispersing locals? Leading a BirdWatch Ireland branch outing to Kilcoole on 27th resulted in a distant Red Kite soaring with Buzzards over the inland hills. The second #fullfatpatchtick of the year and one which was on the cards. It was so far away I couldn't see if it had wing tags or not. That'll do! A snazzy juvenile Marsh Harrier arrived towards the end of the month and proceeded to spend the winter here.


Leucistic Wheatear

Marsh Harrier


Got down for a cursory look on 1st before heading off to sea for three weeks and was chuffed with the sight of a female Pintail sat in Webb's field. Back on dry land and on the patch on 27th and a Rock Pipit was waiting for me in The Breaches (well earned after much searching) followed up by some bonus rare subspecies points from a Siberian Chiffchaff on 29th which made its way inland along Newcastle Sea Road, calling its head off! Some southbound Greenland White-fronted Geese overhead topped off the month nicely.


Unreal scenes! November came out of nowhere and added no less than 8 new species to the patch year list. It all started with some #patchgold. I had planned to meet up with Des Higgins on 7th to go trampling around the wood in ECNR for Woodcock (a lifer for him and a patch tick for me). Having checked the marsh at Kilcoole that morning and making my way down to the reserve via Newcastle, I got a phone call from Des to say he had just seen a Lesser Whitethroat at the main entrance to ECNR! I made it just in time to get a couple of brief but close views as it fed in a wee copse. Certainly had an eastern feel to it but never called or showed its outer tail feathers so we’ll never know for sure. My second patch record after connecting with it as my 200th patch tick last summer.

Flyby Red-breasted Mergansers offshore on 14th and 20th were great to get seeing as I missed out on them in 2013. Down for an I-WeBS count on the 7th where a feral canadensis type Canada Goose was looking suitably shifty in Webb’s field. Dodgy but it will do! My last two Swallows of the year on the same day also. Late Nov saw quite a few Black Redstarts arriving along the East coast. With that on 26th I made the point of having a look around The Breaches railway bridge as it is a likely looking spot for one…and there it was! My third patch record. Delighted. This was followed swiftly by a Barnacle Goose in Webb’s field with the Brent. The 150th species for the year.

Canada Goose

Black Redstart

Barnacle Goose

Fieldfares can be right dodgers here on the east coast, easily missed if not seen during migration or if a cold snap doesn't set in. Quite pleased to get four birds at Newcastle from 25th. Taking part in the Cameron Bespolka Bird Race at the end of Nov paid real dividends, a total of 91 species recorded between 28th and 29th including Jack Snipe and Yellow-legged Gull. The Jack Snipe came in the last hour of light on 28th after spending all day trashing about likely habitat. One finally appeared on the edge of some flooded saltmarsh in The Breaches (thank Jaysus!). The 3rd-winter Yellow-legged Gull was the final #fullfatpatchtick of the year. It flew south along the coast past Kilcoole train station on the afternoon of 29th with a mixed flock of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Textbook! Species number 205 for the patch life list and number 152 for the PWC2014 list.


By this stage I was getting around to just enjoying some generally fine birding on the patch with nice arrivals of winter visitors in decent numbers and so on. My (failed) quest for patch ticking Woodcock continued with some more visits into the wood at ECNR. Three Chiffchaffs with a roving flock there on 3rd were nice but no Hume's! Goodies such as the juv Marsh Harrier, Barnacle Goose and Canada Goose were still hanging around, threatening to stay into 2015 (edit: they did… Hurrah). My last visit was on 5th and then work, friends, family, festivities, turkey dinners, bottles of wine, tins of chocolates, Jurassic Park on the telly and all that got in the way.

The year finished on 152 species, 199 points and 98.02%. All in all a fine result.

And now, the dips…

There were many, including a few howlers!...

Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull (continuing as my patch bogey!), Purple Sandpiper, Garganey, Mandarin Duck, Spoonbill, Curlew Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Little Stint, Black Kite, Long-tailed Duck and Scaup.