Thursday, 25 February 2016

#PWC2016 - Ben Porter, Argal and College Reservoirs

Introducing my 2016 patch…Argal and College Reservoirs (Cornwall)

I thought I would write a short blog post to introduce this year's birding patch, on which I'll be taking part in this year's national patchwork challenge. Since I have been living on Bardsey Island for the last eight years, my annual birding patch has pretty much remained unchanged during that time, as I spent much of the year within the perimeter of the small coastal wind-swept island that I call home. I guess this has spoilt me somewhat in relation to the patchwork challenge (which I signed up to in its infant year of 2013): In 2014 I was lucky enough to have a run of decent self-finds in the form of two Citrine Wagtails, a Blyth's Reed Warbler in my garden, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Golden Oriole, Marsh Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher and more. This year, however, I will be spending a fair decent chunk here in not-so-sunny Falmouth, where I am studying a degree in conservation and ecology. I have therefore taken the decision to try out a new patch: namely that of two nearby lakes and their surrounding shrubbery and woodland. The lakes are only about three minutes away from where I live, and are 10 minutes from our university campus. I doubt that the year will hold quite as much excitement as is generated by birding a coastal patch on a migratory hotspot. But we'll see! Who knows? I may in be for a surprise...

So onto the patch...the area I have chosen comprises two bodies of water called Argal and College ReservoirsArgal Reservoir is primarily a fishing lake, and plays host to a hectic circulation of dog walkers throughout the year. The combination of the two (although the toxic algal waters through summer probably play a part!) means that waterfowl aren't in abundance here. However, the willows and patchy areas of woodland and scrub rimming the reservoir provide promising habitat for migrants and warblers alike. I have already had some great days observing 'vis mig' over Argal, with brilliant movements of thrushes, woodpigeons, larks and finches in the autumn last year. Firecrests are a regular occurrence and the odd Goosander and Great Crested Grebe grace the lake surface- it has plenty of potential, and I am sure some oddities will turn up.

College Reservoir is a more attractive ecosystem in itself, with a body of water that is home to a great variety of overwintering wildfowl, such as WigeonsTealsTufted DucksCootsGoosanders and a handful of Shovelers. Surrounding College is a superb deciduous woodland of sessile Oak and Holly, which supports countless feeding flocks of tits and warblers in the winter, and will no doubt prove productive come spring-time. Areas of damper willow and alder thickets provide shelter for skulking rails, and a few pockets of Bulrush look perfect for Bittern, even if none have appeared thus far. The mature woodland is home to countless feeding flocks of tits and warblers at the moment, the largest of which I've encountered had over 25 Long-tailed Tits, 15 Great Tits, 15 Blue TitsFirecrest, 5 Goldcrests, 4 Coal TitsMarsh Tit and a collection of thrushes too! College Reservoir also has the advantage of being slightly less visited by dog walkers, and thus benefits from lower disturbance levels; it also contains a couple of ringing locations which I hope to utilise in the coming months.
So far this year, I have managed to record 61 species between the two lakes, amounting to a total of 64 points. I haven't discovered anything vastly unusual so far, but it has been nice to see the odd Firecrest around College, along with an occasional Marsh Tit amongst the tit feeding flocks; a handful of Goosanders have taken up residence among the local wildfowl on College, and as many as 23 Cormorants have been gathering in a single Oak tree at the northern end at times.

 So there we are- a brief overview of my year's patch! I look forward to seeing what I can find, and monitoring the changes in bird populations that occur through the season. I'll be entering all my counts and species lists onto the online Birdtrack recording scheme, which I would highly recommend any other patchers doing too! Regular and standardised counts - even of common species - over a prolonged period can be a valuable data set, no matter how small the recording area.

It isn't just about the birds on my are a few of the other cool things I have seen there so far...

Hairy Shieldbug
November Moth
Pink-barred Sallow
Zebra Jumping Spider

Monday, 22 February 2016

Forest Optics Best Find Competition 2016 - January Roundup

Following a superb competition in 2015,
Bresser and Forest Optics  have once again kindly agreed to sponsor the Best Find Competition this year. Whilst many of the rare birds appear on coastlines and islands, the last two years have seen winners from the estuarine Meare Heath and inland Pugney's Country Park, proving that the bird of the year can appear almost anywhere. A couple of the PWC admin team have predicted a UK first to be found on a patch this year, which if it happens I am sure will be a front-runner for PWC's most prestigious competition. Could it be you?

With such a prestigious competition comes an excellent prize. Last year Bresser and Forest Optics  donated a pair of Bresser Montana 8.5 x 45 binoculars worth a grand total of £665! This years prize is still tbc but will again be a pair of binoculars. An incredibly generous prize I am sure you will agree and we really appreciate their continuing support. Have a look at their website and see what they have to offer.

January is always an exciting month in Patchwork Challenge. Everything counts again, and even the one pointers are all ticks for the year! Bonus pointers can be hard to come by however and often come from scouring flocks of gulls, geese or wildfowl. Perhaps the most surprising find this month however was a Great Snipe at Wanstead Flats for Nick Croft. Flushed from scrub on the 3rd it gave close flight views before ditching down but could not be relocated again despite extensive searching. An amazing bird to find in the autumn in any part of the country, to turn one up in Greater London in January is a superb result, and already puts itself in contention from the off!

The first patch visit of the year for Derek Charles on New Years Day resulted in him finding a Black Guillemot on Lough Neagh, the first inland record for Northern Ireland since 1932! A great start to the year for any patch but even more incredible on an inland site. 

Black Guillemot at Ardmore, Lough Neagh c/o Derek Charles

On his first patch visit of the year, William Rutter located a pale redpoll in a flock at Birling Carrs. Fortunately it stuck around all month, providing the opportunity for many birders to pay a visit to this corner of Northumberland. Definitely one of the most popular birds of the month, there are many excellent photos and discussions on this stunning bird to be found online supporting the identification as Coue's Arctic Redpoll.

Arctic Redpoll at Birling Carrs (photo c/o Sacha Elliott)
Hardly a best find update goes by without John Bowler and Dave Suddaby getting a mention! This month they both scored bonus points for Kumlien's Gull, a second patch record for John, whilst Dave's find had the good manners to then add itself to his office list!

Third winter Kumlien's Gull at Blacksod (photo c/o Dave Suddaby)
American ducks are a feature of the winter with a few long stayers from last year providing points this year but no find bonuses. American Wigeon were found at Hesketh Out Marsh and Scarborough whilst a drake at Steart WWT for Joe Cockram was joined by a Green-winged Teal. Any patcher with a flock of Teal will spend the winter scouring them for their American cousin, and Pete Antrobus, Steve Nuttall and Ross Ahmed also got lucky when the vertical white stripe appeared in their scopes in January.

American Wigeon at Scalby Mills (photo c/o Nick Addey)
Ceri Jones and Peter Howlett bagged points for the same Lesser Scaup which commuted between Cosmeston and Cardiff Bay. There have been a few Surf Scoters on the east coast this winter, and Mike Hodgkin located one on the sea at Aberlady Bay in Scotland. 

In the last couple of years, a couple of the easier bonus pointers (if there is such a thing!) to link up with are Great White Egret and Yellow-browed Warblers. The latter has taken to wintering in a couple of locations in the south-west and Ilya Maclean unearthed a new bird at Lizard Point. New Great White Egrets were at Blagdon Lake and Hale and Pickering whilst a brace graced Conningbrook Lake. The influx of Cattle Egrets last year has left a few stragglers across the UK, but only one of those was a new bird in January with a  single at Topsham on the 3rd helping to boost Martin Elcoate's January points total. Meanwhile a flock of twenty Glossy Ibis at Tramore Backstrand in Ireland must have been quite a sight for Arlo Jacques who must be wishing their was a notable flock size bonus!

Cattle Egret at Topsham c/o Martin Elcoate
Scottish specialities White Billed Diver and White-Tailed Eagle put in appearances at Quoyangry and Balivanich respectively whilst the wintering Great Grey Shrike was relocated at Henlow Grange. Finally, Ben Rackstraw had his first bonus pointer in the form of a Serin on his last visit to his Downham Market patch before moving house!

Serin at Downham Market c/o Ben Rackstraw

Coastal East Anglia Minileague - January 2016

James Brown at North Lowestoft has made an excellent start to the year, nailing 120 species which is 11 higher than last year. It has enabled him to take an early lead in the comparative league, with Thorpeness just a whisker behind. Craig Fulcher's Southwold patch took the prize last year with a superb 130.8%, so he has set himself quite a task this year but has started well by also hitting 100 species in month one. Newcomer to the comparative league, Nige Lound's monster score at Gibraltar Point last year has set him quite a challenge this year, emphasized by a points total in January of 117 making only 34.5% of last years total.

James Brown lead at the end of January last year with a score of 129. This year  he has hit top spot again, his score of 147 including a raft of two pointers. He ticked off a number of winter scarcities including Glaucous and Caspian Gulls, Hen Harrier, Water Pipit and Velvet Scoter. He also scored with Great Northern Diver, James Spencer's bird to look out for on the podcast! It has given him a 23 point gap at the top. Paul Eele at Titchwell has started his first year in PWC well with 124 points whilst Craig Fulcher makes up the top three with 123. Paul's highlight was a redhead Goosander, a difficult bird to connect with at Titchwell, whilst watching the sea paid off for Craig with Great Skua, Little Gull and Velvet Scoter in the month.

Other highlights in the month were a patch first for Gary White in the form of a Pintail, surely one of the most graceful of our wildfowl. Irene Boston is enjoying her first month in the competition and the well twitched Shore Larks at Thornham were a real treat. Brancaster proved to be harder work though, with wildfowl numbers down and time spent scouring the brent flocks for Black Brant didn't provide reward. Justin Zantboer looks like he has a very productive spot for the year ahead with a range of habitat, perhaps demonstrated by the variety in his sightings in January which included Smew, Bonxie, Bearded Tit and Lapland Bunting.

Lapland Bunting c/o Justin Zantboer
Although no bonus pointers in the month, there were two birds on patch scoring 3 points. Whilst still a regular bird in the UK now, Great White Egret is still a lovely bird to find on your patch and has helped boost Rob Hall's score this month whilst Tommy Corcoran bagged American points for a Lesser Yellowlegs on his Great Yarmouth patch.
Record shot of Smew at Trimley Marshes in January c/o Justin Zantboer
Finally - the nature of coastal birding is perhaps reflected in Ryan Irvine's score. Whilst lower down in the table at the moment, Ryan has had his best January to date. By the year end his score is always in contention for the top places, demonstrating the importance of the migration seasons on the coast and emphasizing that PWC is a marathon not a sprint.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Coastal South Minileagues - January 2016

As ever, the Coastal South leagues are are eagerly awaited, and the array of species seen in January have not disappointed. Highlights included (but were not limited to!) Penduline Tit, Bonaparte's Gull, Firecrest, and Black Brant.

Amy Robjohns tops the comparative leader board this month at the ever awesome Titchfield Haven with a respectable 63%, giving her a 6% lead over Mark Lawlor at Guernsey: Hommet to Rousse. Both have set quite a lead over the other patches who are currently lingering well below the 50% mark (although, it is only January, after all!).

#patchgold Barn Owl at Titchfield Haven (Credit: Amy Robjohns)

Moving on to the Coastal South Points Minileague, Joe Stockwell sets the standard at Ferrybridge to Weymouth with 98 species and 121 points. He added two species which didn't feature on his patch last year: Bittern and Little Gull. In second place is Amy Robjohns at Titchfield Haven where she connected with Penduline Tit, Iceland Gull and Barn Owl to leave her with 99 species and 115 points for January. Very close in third place is the Dawlish Warran patch where Kev Rylands managed a great mix of species including Bonapartes Gull, Purple Sandpiper, Yellow-browed Warbler, Sandwich Tern, Velvet Scoter, Firecrest, Cirl Bunting, Coal Tit, Treecreeper and Little Gull. Excellent!

Ilya Maclean also bagged some cracking species at Lizard point with highlights being Ross's Gull, Rose-coloured Starling, Grey Phalarope, Pomarine Skua, Balearic Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Great Skua and Yellow-legged Gull. 

Bonus points for the month included a Black Brant at Sandy Point for Andy Johnson; Siberian Chiffchaff at Loe Pool for Ilya Maclean; and Yellow-browed Warbler at Lizard Point for Ilya Maclean. Cracking stuff!

Inland Scotland Minileagues - January 2016

A new year and a new start for the Inland Scotland leagues, however, no new name at the top of the Comparative Minileague for January. Chris Pendlebury was the person to beat last year and it would seem he would like to remain at the top for another year running. His Kinneil patch tops the board with 63%. Chris's Blairdrummond patch also nabs second place with 55%, while his Dunblane area patch also claims third position with 54%. However, Graeme Garner isn't far behind in fourth at 53% so perhaps he can shake up the Top 3 next month.

A few new patches and new faces added to the competition this year brings the Inland Scotland Points league to a total of 16 challengers. Yet again, Chris leads the table with his Kinneil patch adding a #patchgold Mute Swan and Med Gull and Red-throated Diver to give him a total of 72 points for January. Elsewhere, Chris added  a first patch record for both his Stirling (Barn Owl) and Dunblaine area (Shag) patches.

Not far behind in second place is David Carrington at Sker and Kenfig with 61 species and 68 points. In second and third, Graeme Garner is tied with, um, er, himself on points with both his Clackmannan and his Cambus patches scoring 62 species and 62 points.

Estuarine Minileague - January 2016

Jumping straight in with a hefty 76.47%, Joost Brandsma plants Dibden Bay & Hythe firmly at the top of the Estuarine Comparative Minileague for January. Managing a delightful Hawfinch and adding patch ticks of Stonechat and Marsh tit gave the Dibden Bay & Hythe patch just short of a 8% lead over Paul Freestone in second position.

It's exceedingly close between second and third place with as little as 0.467% difference. Paul Freestone at Hayle Estuary added a cracking assortment of birds (Firecrest, Yellow-browed Warbler, Water Pipit and Red-necked Grebe) to just pip Martin Elcote at Topsham to second on the leader board. However, Martin's collection of highlights weren't exactly shabby with Cattle Egret, American Wigeon, Black Brant and Jack Snipe to name a few!

With a start like this, the 2016 Estuarine Comparative Minileague looks set to be quite exciting!

American Wigeon, Topsham (Credit: Dave Helliar)

On to the Points Minileague, Dave Craven at Hale & Pickerings Pasture sets the bar high with 114 species giving him at total of 133 points for January. Not only did he pick up bonus points for Great White Egret, he scored a #patchgold in the form of Lapland Bunting.

Looking further down the league, it's close between Anthony Bentley at RSPB Lincs Wash Reserves and Howard Vaughan at RSPB Rainham Marshes with 128 points and 127 points respectively. Howard added a  quartet of gulls with Little Gull, Kittiwake, Iceland Gull and Caspian Gull all making an appearance. In addition, Dartford Warbler and Short-eared Owl were still a highlight on his Rainham Marshes patch. Great Stuff! Else where, Stuart Darbyshire gained bonus points for finding American Wigeon at his Hesketh Out March patch. 

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Inland East Anglia Minileague - January 2016

Steve Chapman has one of the less heralded patches in PWC and Sparham Pools can sometimes get lost amongst the higher scorers but over the last couple of years Steve has patched away and it is great to see him at the top of the comparative tree on 67.5%. At Thorpe St Andrew, Adam Nicholls has also managed to connect with plenty of species on a low scoring patch with a score of 63.6%. His January Shoveler was his highlight and hopefully he pushes on past the 100% mark when the spring migrants come in. Nick Robinson is in third place. Last year Nick led the comparative minileague from the get go only to be pipped at the post. It looks like he will be in the mix again but can he improve on his final position? His January highlight was a Brent Goose which in Norwich is a very decent bird.

There are plenty of familiar names near the top of the points minileague and none more familiar than Ben Lewis. He leads on 108% and so far has managed Siberian Chiffchaff and Water Pipit amongst that haul on the Mid Yare RSPB reserves. With perennial rival Jamie Wells in eighth position and 27 points behind is this Ben's chance to open up a lead? Newcomer Luke Wake is in second position, bolstered by a brace of Serin which have graced his Fen Drayton patch, Joint second is Nick Moran on his new Lakenheath patch which leads his Thetford patch in fourth by 5 points. Nicks best bits at Lakenheath include Great White Egret and remarkably Harbour Seal. Obviously no points for the latter but a remarkable record so far from the sea.

Serins, Fen Drayton RSPB - Luke Wake
Other highlights this month include Cranes for Nick Moran and also Pete Antrobus at Eldernell. There was a Long-tailed Duck for Adam Faiers at Lackford Lakes. A Merlin for David Gomer at Terling and there was a Grey Plover for Jack Dawson at Haverholme and Ruskington. Lizzie Bruce had up to 50 Bramblings at The Lodge whilst Tim Phillips had the first patch Goosander at Ingoldisthorpe for 9 years.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Coastal Scotland Minileagues - January 2016

Chris Rodger is top of the comparative minileague for Coastal Scotland with 67% and a lead of 0.5% thanks to a Surf Scoter and a brace of patch ticks in the form of Green Woodpecker and Black Guillemot. After a flying start to the year at Donmouth, Andrew Whitehouse is in second position. His Thayer's type gull is the highlight. Stephen Welch in third has managed to top the ton and with a comparative score of 165 he is well on course for a new best score. This months highlights for him included a raft of seabirds such as Great Northern Diver, Great Skua and Black Guillemot but his highlight was Chiffchaff. In fourth position is Chris Hill at Burntisland who is also over the 60% mark ad only 4% back on the lead and his highlight was a Peregrine chasing Little Auks.

The leader in January for the points minileague is also Chris Rodger. Second place goes to Geoff Morgan at Barns Ness thanks to a plethora of geese including a Tundra Bean. At Aberlady Bay, Mike Hodgkin has bagged 114 points in the first month including bonus points for a Surf Scoter. Stephen Welch is in fourth spot, 9 points further behind whilst podcast maestro Mark Lewis is on 95 points in fifth after patch ticking Red-necked Grebe and adding Glaucous Gull and 'loads' of Little Auks.

Tundra Bean Goose, Barns Ness - Geoff Morgan

Midlands Minileague - January 2016

Andrew Chick tops the comparative league with 69.7% after a productive first month on patch at Fulbeck. Phil Hyde is 4% back at East Keal in second place. January highlights for him included his first Lesser Redpolls for patch and a wintering Peregrine. Andy Sims is in third place after his second Smew on patch in 33 years. 83 species is also his highest ever score species tally for January so he is on for a decent year.

Rutland Water's entrance to the competition was always going to be revelatory and so it proved as Rod Baker opened up a 7 point lead over John Hopper at Hoveringham. John managed a quintet of decent gulls with Iceland, Glaucous, Caspian, Little and Med all gracing his patch. Steve Nuttall is in third place at Belvide Reservoir after finding a Green-winged Teal.

Shag at Whisby - Ben Ward
There was plenty of interest uncovered around the patches with a Great White Egret shared by John Belsey, Mike Wakeman and Andy Ambrose at Upton Warren. Marston STW held Siberian Chiffchaff for Dave Roberts. There were Smew for Tom Shields at Holme Pierrepoint, Carl Cornish at Langford Lowfields and Andy Sims at Boultham Mere. Ben Ward had a seabird/duck bonanza at Whisby in Lincolnshire with Scaup, Shag, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Scoter. Apologies if I havent mentioned your #patchgold but there were Bitterns, scarce gulls, Woodcock, Cetti's Warblers etc everywhere.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Wales Minileague - January 2016

Another year in the principality and an ever increasing minileague. Hopefully in the not too distant future we can split this into coastal and inland as we have with the Irish minileagues but for now we will keep all the patches together. Top of the comparative league is Chris Jones with his Llysfaen patch which hit 60%. Alastair Flannagan is in second place at Swansea Vale to Fendrod Lake with 56%. Alastair also managed 46 complete lists and 1002 records on Birdtrack. Tony Swann at Brynna Woods is in third place just 0.3% back.

Ceri Jones is the leader in the Welsh points league with 102 and a healthy 1.21 PPB indicative of a productive month. His highlights include finding the Cosmeston Lesser Scaup on its visit this year with some fly past Brents also worthy of mention. Richard Dobbins and Wendy James both watch Teifi and are in second and third place respectively. Richard's highlight was the first Great Northern Diver for the estuary since 1985 and Wendy managed to connect with some close in Red-throats at the mouth of the estuary.

Elsewhere Peter Howlett refound the Lesser Scaup at Cardiff Bay for a healthy dose of bonus points. There was a skatter of unseasonal skuas with Arctics at Aberthaw and the Ogmore Estuary and a Bonxie chowing down on auks at Porthcawl. There were Firecrests for Alex Jones at Rhyl and Henry Cook and Julian Hughes at Conwy RSPB with a Siberian Chiffchaff for Henry as well. Certainly one of the best sightings was a Goshawk taking out a Woodpigeon on Rudry Common for Trevor Fletcher.