Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Forest Optics Best Find Competition 2016 - February Roundup

Welcome to the February update for the Bresser and Forest Optics  Best Find Competition! This is the competition open to anyone who finds a fantastically rare bird on patch and as always its prestige is backed up by a truly 
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 to be confirmed but will again be a pair of binoculars. For the lucky winner, a prize definitely worth competing for so get yourself out there, you have to be in it to win it. In the meantime, for those looking to upgrade their optics, take a look a their website for the great products they have on offer.

After the 'everything counts again' bonanza of January, February can sometimes be a hard slog. Invariably the best find highlights are made up of wildfowl and gulls in the shortest month as everyone waits for spring. February 2016 was no different.

Bird of the month goes to Julian Wyllie at Baltimore in Ireland. From the other side of the pond, Black Duck is not going to have its own calendar anytime soon but what it lacks in looks it almost makes up for in rarity value! It is also a PWC first and another for our growing Bubo list.

Black Duck © Paul Connaughton (Shearwater Wildlife Tours)
In fact the theme of this write up is largely American orientated. Incredibly John Bowler on Tiree scored maximum points for the second year in a row for American Herring Gull, bagging a few good flight record shots at the same time. At times it shared the same location as a juvenile Kumlien's Gull. John's name is synonymous with this competition, and he added to his self-found rarity haul with a Green-Winged Teal.

Continuing the American theme, two bonus pointers that have been in the headlines frequently in the first two months are American Wigeon and Black Brant. Russell Neave on his new Sanday patch scores the extra points for the former whilst Irene Boston and Toby Collett successfully sifted out the latter from the Brent Flocks around The Wash at Brancaster and Frampton respectively.

American Wigeon, Sanday c/o @SandayRanger

Preceding Niall Keogh's Ring-Billed Gull prediction in the March podcast, Noel Keogh and Neal Warnock at South Dublin Bay and Lough Larne in Ireland scored bonus points for this cracker of a bird.

Ring-Billed Gull in the centre of this pic from Neal Warnock at Lough Larne

The long-staying Long-Billed Dowitcher at Cresswell in Northumberland went on a brief holiday to Iain Robson's Druridge Bay patch on the 7th February.  The final bird of this round up to have crossed the Atlantic was the diminutive Richardson's Cackling Goose which matched the wintering Barnacle flock for size.

Richardson's Goose, Oa c/o David Wood

Coming to birds from destinations closer to home, Common Crane is becoming a more regular bird in the UK. Indeed birds from breeding grounds would not make this round up, but a bird for Marc Lansdowne in the Trent Valley in Leicestershire was less expected.

That leaves us with two records, which whilst not on the same rarity scales as some of those above have added stories to their finds. The first is from Dave Suddaby who usually features in this roundup with his rarity laden garden. His golden touch seems to have moved to his office space as he added a Tundra Bean Goose to his office window list this month! Finally, Ben Rackstraw has moved house and thereby patches. In January he left behind Downham Market locating a Serin on one of his final visits. In February, he made his first visit to Wretton, his new patch and nailed a Great Grey Shrike. Quite some introduction!

Ben Rackstraw's incredible find on his first visit to patch.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Coastal South - February 2016

Another month gone and Titchfield Haven is still the patch to beat. Amy Robjohns added a further two species - Merlin and Black-throated Diver - which helped her remain as the top of the Coastal South Comparative Minileague. She may be top of the league but she'll be getting no awards for records shots...

Cracking ;-)

Elsewhere, Dick Best moves his Steart patch into second place with a tidy haul of 17 species. However, at 57% on the board to Amy's 66%, he's still got some catching up to do if he wants to challenge for first place. While dropping into third position, Mark Lawlor at Guernsey: Hommet to Rousse is only 5% short of second place and could regain ground next month.

There's been a bit of a shakeup in the points league this month. Joe Cockram at Steart Marshes WWT managed to steal pole position, with an eight point lead over Amy Robjohns in second. With the help of an unexpected Kittiwake,  he made the leap from fourth and ending the month on 130 points. 

Kittiwake, Steart Marshes WWT (Credit: Joe Cockram)
Although, dropping a position, Sean Foote managed Velvet Scoter to add to his points tally for the month. At Severn Beach, Paul Bowerman ticked Little Gull and Bonxie, but more impressively managed to add 322 BirdTrack records. Excellent work, Paul!  

Elsewhere, Rob Rackille connected with Raven, Firecrest, Bullfinch, and Shag at Walmer Beach. While other were mopping up bits here and there, Kev Rylands had his worst month ever with Buzzard, Collard Dove and Pheasant being his only year ticks.

With the Spring migration just around the corner, the coastal south leagues could be the ones to watch!

Coastal Ireland Minileague - February 2016

Noel Keogh furthers his lead on the Coastal Ireland Comparative Minileague table by adding seven points during February, taking him to 86.8% at South Dublin Bay. Gaining finders points for a second adult Ring-billed Gull was followed up by a wintering Common Sandpiper and most importantly, a Velvet Scoter (the first here since 2002) which hung around for some time and was twitched widely by Dublin county birders.

Eamonn O’Donnell continues his excellent start to the year at Ninch/Laytown with Glaucous Gull, Long-tailed Duck and Velvet Scoter taking him to second place with 75% on the dot. Looks like he’s on track for another good year of PWC effort. Neal Warnock bags an adult Ring-billed Gull at Larne Lough, placing him in third with 67.68%, just ahead of Derek Polley at Banger West in fourth.

The best rarity finds of the month can be found further down the table however. Julian Wyllie sits in eleventh place on 55.9% but boasts an impressive duo of Black Duck (12 points for the find) and Caspian Gull at Baltimore while Dave Suddaby, currently in last place on 44.6%, managed a most excellent office window tick in the form a Tundra Bean Goose at Blacksod! The Baltimore Black Duck proved popular, with many birders doubling up with it and the Glaucous-winged Gull at Castletownbere making for a productive West Cork twitch.

Black Duck © Paul Connaughton (Shearwater Wildlife Tours)

Eamonn O’Donnell takes first place on the Points Minileague table from Noel Keogh’s South Dublin Bay patch but only by a matter of one point. Eamonn also has the highest species list, just one shy of the ton at Ninch/Laytown at the end of February.

After several patch visits with little reward, Joe Proudfoot managed three year ticks in the space of five minutes at Sandymount where Stock Dove, Kestrel and Peregrine made for a welcome flurry. In a similar fashion, Graham Johnston hit a purple patch at Rinville in Galway with a Red-necked Grebe and an adult Iceland Gull one after the other. Such is the way patch birding can go!

Noel Keogh enters a score from his second patch, the infamous Tacumshin Lake, where he has seen 91 species so far including Glossy Ibis, 2 adult Bewick's Swans, Ruff, Chiffchaff, Short-eared Owl and 2 Long-eared Owls. His best patch birds however being male Red-breasted Merganser and a Fieldfare!

Iceland Gulls showed up at Clonakilty/Inchydoney for Christopher O’Sullivan and at Kilmore Quay for Tom Moore where he also year ticked Slavonian Grebe. Slavs are pretty rare around Dublin so Eleanor Keane did well to pick up on one which spent a couple of days off the West Pier, Dun Laoghaire. A much rarer bird locally than the Red-necked Grebe which was also present (along with Snow Bunting and Black Redstart).

In Co. Waterford, Arlo Jacques got to see the satellite tagged 2nd calendar-year White-tailed Eagle (fledged from an Irish re-introduction project pair nest last year) at Tramore Backstrand and Keith Adams made sure he got Black Redstart and Fieldfare before they headed off for the spring at Dunhill ecopark/Annestown/Boatstrand.

Moorhen was a crucial year tick for Neal Warnock at Rathlin Island! 

Wales Minileague - February 2016

An 11% gain since January for Alastair Flannagan sees him take first place in the Wales Comparative Minileague during February with Yellow-legged Gull, Red Kite and his first Willow Tit since 2002 helping him rocket up to 67.6% at Swansea Vale to Fendrod Lake. His contribution to BirdTrack a testament to solid patch birding efforts, up from 46 complete lists in January to 123 by the end of February.

Cetti's Warbler at RSPB Conwy © Henry Cook (flickr page)

We see plenty of other movers and shakers on the table, taking up positions in the top five after a productive months birding. A Glaucous Gull spent two days at Peter Howlett’s Cardiff Bay patch where he is now in third. Henry Cook connected with Merlin, Chough and Barnacle at RSPB Conwy, putting him in fourth and just 0.3% ahead of Julian Hughes who is also patching from the same site. A Water Pipit there was Julian’s first record for the reserve. 

The top five in the Wales Points Minileague are all now past the ton. Ceri Jones slips from first to third place with Richard Dobbins now in the spotlight at Teifi where Glaucous, Yellow-legged and Little Gulls were added to his gull list which included Iceland in January. Barry Stewart is in close second with 113 points at the mighty Burry Inlet where Siberian Chiffchaff, Water Pipit and Little Stint made for a fine February selection.

A Water Pipit awaited Arfon Williams at Tregaron Bog. Strong winds brought in a few welcome seabirds with Kittiwake, Fulmar and Great Northern Diver noted as highlights at several sites. Owls were popular with Short-eared at Tregaron Bog, Little Owl at David Ripley’s Ogmore Estuary patch and Barn Owl at Cosmeston, Sully and Lavernock for Ceri Jones where Hawfinch was also present. Dan Rouse got in on the Great White Egret action at WWT Llanelli and a Firecrest no doubt brightened things up for David Pritchard at Aberthaw. 

Whether they are patch common or #patchgold, Stonechat are always a welcome sight © Dan Rouse

Inland Ireland Minileague - February 2016

February was an excellent month all round in the Inland Ireland Minileague. Niall Keogh added no less than six year ticks at his South Dublin local parks patch, keeping him in first place on the comparative table with 87.6%. A #patchgold Redshank at Kilbogget Park was his first there since 2009. Other additions included two showy Water Rails on the wetland and two Jack Snipe with 7 Common Snipe on the waterlogged football pitches at night! A singing Stock Dove and the first flyover Lesser Black-backed Gull of the spring were further additions at Cabinteely Park.

Des Higgins has been embracing the spirit of PWC in his first year of competitive scoring at UCD where some good effort in February was rewarded with Little Egret, Teal and Treecreeper (all nice species to see on campus). Des shifts down to third place with just over 70% while second place is claimed by Michael John O’Mahony on 73.4% at Upper Rathduff. Also in his first comp scoring year, Michael saw three Hen Harriers, Merlin and Woodcock at his home patch during the month. Check out Michael's superb flickr album from his patch. 

Fifth place goes to Darragh Sinnott at Holy Cross and Carriganore where Siskin and a #fullfatpatchtick Great Black-backed Gull were new for him.

Alan Lauder steals the show however with a whopper untagged 2nd calendar-year White-tailed Eagle over his garden! A very welcome six pointer which starts his year off on 62.5% at Carrick Mountain along with a regular Great Spotted Woodpecker. Presumably one of the juveniles fledged from breeding attempts by re-introduced birds in Ireland last year, the eagle went on a tour of Co. Wicklow during February, seen well by most of the contestants taking part in the annual county bird race the day before it graced the airspace above Alan’s home. 

 White-tailed Eagle © Alan Lauder

Both Andrew Power and Derek Charles sit atop the Inland Ireland Points Minileague table with 68 points apiece. Derek is one species ahead on 63 while Andrew has the higher Points Per Bird score of 1.097 with Great Spotted Woodpecker and his first patch Great Crested Grebe since 2012 at Kildavin.

Other highlights during the month included Gadwall at Lough Ree (Brian Burke), Reed Bunting along the Grand Canal Way (Ian Stevenson), a #fullfatpatchtick Little Egret at Bushy Park for Mary Fitzgerald and a riverine duo of Common Sandpiper and Dipper at Skibbereen for Julian Wyllie.

Great Crested Grebe © Andrew Power

Inland East Anglia - February 2016

A big change round in February as Steve Chapman, January's leader slips to 6th spot. Adam Nicholls of Thorpe St Andrew climbs to 78% moving up from second place last month. His highlights are Firecrest and Medtierranean Gull this month. Great birds on a relatively low scoring patch. Tim Phillips at Hethersett is in second place on 72% moves up from 4th to second is a reflection of hard work, illustrated by his 30 complete lists. #BeatNick takes a knock this month as Nick Moran finds himself in third spot in the comparative league on 70%. Highlights at Thetford in February included Golden Plover, Goldeneye, Woodlark and a wintering Blackcap.

Ben Rackstraw's incredible find on his first visit to patch.

Ben Lewis holds on at the top of the points league despite no news for February. Luke Wake at Fen Drayton closes the gap to 1% with Iceland Gull a great February boost. Nick M takes third place and alongside his great score he has also added 57 birdtrack lists and over 2500 records. Dedication or being Mr Birdtrack? You decide. Below is an instant classic video from Jonny as Nick assists his campaign to beat him. Contains a swear or two.

Best find this month is Ben Rackstraw's Great Grey Shrike on his first ever visit to his new patch at Wretton. Great work and a dream start. Alison Allen at Thorpe-next-Haddiscoe added Merlin this month. Joe Harkness added Smew alongside more standard local fare in the form of Woodlark and Firecrest. Trevor Girling at Ingoldisthorpe added a brace of Jack Snipe and Hen Harrier this time out. At Eldernell there was a Dartford Warbler for Pete Antrobus whilst at Dersingham there was a brace of Red-crested Pochard for Irene Boston.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Islands Minileague - February 2016

There's no change at the top of the Islands Comparative Minileague, however, with less then 1% between the top two positions, Paul Higson at Quoyangry is holding on by the skin of his teeth. Will the March results see David Wood at RSPB Oa, Islay knock Paul from the top of the podium? He's already managed to displace IanT and his Askernish patch from second place by adding a further nine species to his tally and increasing his comparative score by fourteen percent. His Richardson's Goose find wasn't too shabby either...

Richardson's Goose, Oa (Credit: David Wood)

Looking further down the table more patches have broken (or will soon) the midway milestone this month, reaching fifty percent territory. There's no real major percentage difference across the board, and with the Spring migrants soon to be gracing us again, the league could see another shakeup as species are snatched here and there by the patchers.

Moving on to the all important points league, John Bowler has moved his Balephull patch to the top of the leader board, knocking Paul Higson at Quoyangry from his perch. Adding 26 additional points and finishing the month with 94 species and 146 points, he may be in pole position for some time to come! At Burray, Barrie Hamill has brought his patch into contention, switching places with IanT at Askermish, who couldn't muster an additional tick for February.

Inland North Minileague - February 2016

The 'Inland North' is perhaps one of Patchwork Challenge's most popular and competitive leagues, something highlighted during February with great birds, high scores and (arguably more importantly) a good number of Birdtrack submissions.

Looking first at the comparative minileague and David Franklin claims both first and second place with scores of 91% and 81% at Campsall and Askern respectively. Ryan McClarence secures third place with an impressive 73% followed by a host of PWC stalwarts nipping at his heels. Among these; David Franklin (again), Duncan Bye, Nick Morgan and Hilary Milburn. 

Duncan Bye heads up with points league with an impressive 108 points and 97 species at Wheldrake Ings, a patch-tick Great Skua featuring amid a host of other goodies. Chris Bradshaw comes in at second, a mere four points behind the frontrunner followed by John Law at Old Moor. Further down the table a number of other competitors have notched similarly impressive scores, among these; Andy Bunting, Bill Aspin and PWC-newcomer Findlay Wilde.

The North provided a wealth of avian delights this month with a healthy array of scarcities noted and one glaring rarity in the form of Penduline Tit for Alan Crossley at RSPB Saltholme. Raptors featured prominently; three Hen Harriers logged alongside a number of Merlin, Peregrine and, of course, owls. Ryan McClarence finally catching up with Tawny Owl - his fifth owl species of the year at Askern/Campsall/Norton. Elsewhere highlights included; Iceland Gull for Stephen Dunstan, Bittern for Adrian and John at Northwich Woodlands and Jack Snipe for George Dunbar. Duncan Bye continued his winning streak with a mouthwatering series of ticks that included; Caspian Gull, Scaup, Smew, Glaucous Gull and Marsh Harrier. #Patchgold was similarly well represented in February, some notable examples including; Kingfisher for Tom Lowe, Goldeneye for Mark Doveston and finally, Raven for Alan Todd at Mootlaw Quarry. Keep up the good work guys and gals!

- James C (Patchwork Challenge)

Coastal East Anglia - February 2016

Rob Hall was omitted by accident from the January comparative minileague and so despite no additions this month he slots in straight away on top of the league. Craig Fulcher is in second place on 57% after a superb start to the year, February saw Craig add Great White Egret to his patch list plus patch ticking Glaucous Gull and also his first Shag for three years. Scott Mayson is in third place on 55% at Thorpeness and in February there were four Spoonbills gracing his patch.

James Brown is over 150 points already! He adds seven points in February with nothing of note added which makes the monster haul more remarkable. Craig Fulchere is in second place on 142 points at Southwold, moving up a spot from January as Paul Eele slips into third place at Titchwell on 132 points. Last years winner, Nige Lound is in fourth place with Black Brant his highlight. Justin Zantboer is on Nige's coattails and it looks like there will be a serious fight for Nige to keep his crown. There was also a Black Brant for Irene Boston at Brancaster.

Craig Fulcher's Great White Egret from Southwold 

Inland Scotland Minileague - February 2016

Another month passes in the Inland Scotland league with Chris Pendlebury dominating the Comparative minileague throughout February; securing first, second and third place! With 72% of his 2015 score notched already at Blairdrummond, Chris appears well on his way to setting a new record during 2016. Further down the table Graeme Garner takes fourth place at Cambus followed by David Douglas at Loch Leven. Will the onset of Spring migration help these competitors break into the upper echelons of this, thus far, one sided league? Only time will tell.

To the points minileague now and David Douglas finds himself rooted in the top spot with a high score of 89 points at Loch Leven; followed by Gareme Garner in second place and Chris Pendlebury in third - I am sensing a theme here! Alastair Forsyth takes fourth place while Alex Ash rounds off the top five. Thus fair things remain fairly neck and neck between many competitors in 2016, it will be interesting to see how the situation develops with the arrival of the March Scores.

In terms of the birds seen this month, very few highlights were listed. Those that were however comprised some truly delightful birds, among these; Slavonian Grebe and Smew for Graeme Garner and both Jack Snipe and Red-Throated Diver for Chris Pendlebury. Elsewhere instances of #patchgold were rife with notable examples including Collared Dove for Chris Pendlebury at Blairdrummond, Woodcock for Alastair Forsyth and a patch first Jay for Geoff Morgan.

- James C (Patchwork Challenge)

Monday, 21 March 2016

Estuarine Minileague - February 2016

A Short-Eared Owl was the highlight for Joost Brandsma who has hit the 75% mark after just two months of the year. His 87 points is 14 higher than his total at the same time last year putting him well on the way to challenging his highest patch score to date. Paul Freestone is pushing him hard however, less than one percent adrift with an Iceland Gull his February highlight. Martin Elcoate makes up the top three, with bonus points for his self-found Siberian Chiffchaff a perfect birthday present.

In the points league Dave Craven continues an excellent start to the year and has a 5 point gap at this early stage. Whilst his points per bird is lower than that of Howard Vaughan and Daniel Newton in second and third, 121 species is a distance ahead of the opposition and one ahead of where John Badley was in top spot in 2015. Dave had a Firecrest early in the month before a gull takeover resulted in four Iceland and two Glaucous on patch.

In second place, Howard Vaughan at Rainham Marshes had a Goshawk in the month, but as is often the case on Howard's patch it was a seabird that gave the punching the air moment, with a Fulmar on the 13th only the third site record.

Fulmar was an excellent record for Rainham Marshes, photo c/o Jonathan Wasse
It wouldn't be Estuarine without Frampton/Freiston getting into the mix and they are not far off the pace, filling the next three spots. It has been a slower start for the site compared to last year however, Black Brant, Bittern and an out of season Little Stint being the highlights for February.

Black Brant c/o Toby Collett

Stuart Darbyshire's excellent month ensures that he leads the battle of Hesketh Out Marsh, with Eider, Woodcock and Jack Snipe all being personal full patch ticks and Rock Pipit his second record. Meanwhile the January American Wigeon continue its stay through February at this west coast site.
Meanwhile, a contender for record of the month goes to a rather unseasonal Storm Petrel. A good February bird anywhere, this was Peter Hazlewood's first for the site and the first record there since 1990. Meanwhile, on the seabird theme Andy Jordan at Sharpness was less content with a Skua passing through his site having to remain unidentified due to insufficient views and therefore adding no points, the one that got away.
Final word goes to Joe Stockwell at RSPB Arne who gets this months patch gold award with his Moorhen making his monthly highlights (with exclamation marks).

Friday, 18 March 2016

Coastal North Minileague - February 2016

The coastal north is undoubtedly one of Patchwork Challenge's most competitive leagues and thus far in 2016, things appear to be progressing rather nicely. Indeed, prior to the excitement and multi-point scoring species that so often coincide with Spring migration, many competitors have already wracked up some impressive comparative scores and points totals. 

Looking first at the comparative league and Stewart Sexton reigns supreme at Howick with 59% of his 2015 score, adding a pair of scarcities in the form of Twite and Great Northern Diver. Another Northumbrian contestant, Jonathan Farooqi comes in at second, boasting a similarly impressive score of 54% derived from 110 species and 136 points at Hadston to Hemscott Hill. John Chapman takes third place at Whitburn South, adding his first Barn Owl in quite some time while further down the table things remain close between Damian Money, James Spencer, Seaumus Eaves and Iain Robson.

To the points league now and PWC newcomer Ross Ahmed holds the spot with a whopping 154 points and 121 species in South Tyneside, notching a host of goodies including Shorelark, Short-Eared Owl and Long-Tailed Duck. Jonathan Farooqi takes second place in this league also, followed by Nick Addey in third, who holds his own despite being out of the country for most of the month. Further down the table, Andy Hood takes fourth place while a mere two points separate PWC stalwarts Iain Robson and James Common in fifth and sixth.

In terms of the birds seen throughout February, two glaring rarities stand out. Firstly; Surf Scoter for Tom Giles at Old Gunsite and secondly; Long-Billed Dowitcher for Iain Robson at Druridge Pools. Atypical winter fare was well represented this month; a count of fifty Little Gull for Stephan Dunstan surely rather pleasing and an array of grebes, seaducks and divers noted by various other patchers. Among these; Red-Necked Grebe for Andy Hood, Black-Throated Diver for Alan Crosley and Velvet Scoter for Duncan Watson at Tynemouth. Two Iceland Gulls were sighted in February, for Duncan Watson and Martin Kerby while Mark Harper nabbed Shorelark at Whitburn. Elsewhere instances of #patchgold were rife in the North, some highlights including James Common's first Blyth Tree Sparrow, Stonechat for Nick Addey and Merlin for Chris Small. 

- James C (Patchwork Challenge)

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Coastal Scotland Minileague - February 2016

The leader of the Coastal Scotland Comparative Minileague (now there's a mouthful!) for February is Chris Rodger at Musselburgh. Remaining firmly planted at the top with an extra ten species for the month sees his lead over Andrew Whitehouse at Northeast Aberdeen and Donmouth increase to five percent. Andrew himself only managed to add one extra to his species total for the month, however, he didn't have to sweat for 2nd position as Stephen Welch's score remained unchanged at his Gosford Bay patch this month.

Further down the leader board, little change is seen, with only Jim Dickson  managing to knock our very own Mark Lewis down into seventh place. Although, Mark did manage cracking views of Slavonian Grebe at Girdle Ness which may slightly take the sting out of dropping a place on the board!

Slav Grebe at Girdle Ness (Credit: Mark Lewis)

With the majority having already broken the 50% milestone in February, there could be a bit of a shakeup for position on the leader board next month.

Not satisfied with leading the comparative minileague, Chris Rodger also tops the points minileague again with 108 species, giving him 133 points. Geoff Morgan at Barns Ness and Mike Hodgkin at Aberlady Bay both added species and points this month leaving their positions unchanged in second and third place. However, with only three points difference between them, will the places remain unchanged in March? Geoff also managed some awesome shots of his patch Shorties at Barns Ness - a firm favourite to see over the winter.

Short-eared Owl, Barns Ness (Credit: Geoff Morgan)

Short-eared Owl, Barns Ness (Credit: Geoff Morgan)

At Scoughall, Colin Davison made the biggest advance up the league this month. Adding a stonking twenty-nine species and an extra forty-two points, he somersaulted from seventh to fourth place, leaving him only ten points behind a podium position. If he carries on in this fashion, the top three better watch out!

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Midlands Minileague - February 2016

In the Midlands the leading trio from January remain in situ for February and in the same order. Andrew Chick adds six species but can't as yet get that first two pointer. Phil Hyde made similar progress at East Keal in second place although early migrants were in evidence with Blackcap and Chiffchaff both notched. Andy Sims is in third spot ensuring the top three all break the 70% mark. Seven new species and 11 points this month for Andy with his third Short-eared Owl at Boultham Mere in 33 years. Other highlights for him included a female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Marsh Harrier.

Its now a Rutland Water 1-2 with Erik Ansell making his bow in top spot and leading Rod Baker by 5 species and points. Both listed their highlight this month as the Long-billed Dowitcher although neither managed to register any bonus points. Steve Nuttall at Belvide is in third spot on 113 points, only three behind Rod. Steve managed to turn up a trio of decent February birds with Merlin, Bittern and Iceland Gull all gracing his scoresheet.

Espen Quinto-Ashman's Siberian Chiffchaff, Wellington GPs
Away from the top three there were plenty of birds - the minileague extended to 56(!?!) players this month so there will be plenty of competition from top to bottom. There was a three pointer for Marc Landsdowne on his Trent Valley patch in Leicestershire as a Crane overflew him on the 23rd Feb. Steve Haynes at Tame Valley managed to connect with a Siberian Chiffchaff on his patch after 10 hours of patient waiting. Steven Lewis at Welby got a patch record count of 18 Jack Snipe whilst at Matthew Hazelton's Summer Leys patch he managed to record his first Pink-footed Goose.

Zac Hinchcliffe got a probable site first record of Water Rail at Old Bolingbroke plus a bonus Red Kite. Kate Thorpe had the pleasure of a Great White Egret roosting nightly with herons at RSPB Middleton Lakes as well as a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and regular Short-eared Owls. Jacob Spinks had a Glaucous Gull at Pitsford Reservoir whilst an inland Common Scoter was #patchgold for Gareth Clements in the Smestow Valley. Espen Quinto-Ashman was another to record Siberian Stonechat on his Herefordshire patch. Whooper Swans were recorded widely making the highlights reel for at least seven patchers. Finally, Andy Ambrose unearthed a Little Gull at Upton Warren. Apologies if your highlight has been missed but there have been loads! Hopefully in March we are reporting the first Sand Martins!

Under 25's Minileague - February 2016

A somewhat quieter month in the 'Under 25's' league with the new years hype dying down and new birds just a little harder to come by. The cream of the crop this month came from Rutland Water where Erik Ansell picked up a Long-Billed Dowitcher while elsewhere, February provided a host of more atypical winter highlights. Among these; Black-Throated Diver for Amy Robjohns and Siberian Chiffchaff for Espen Quinto-Ashman at Wellington GPs. Jack Snipe and Merlin featured for George Dunbar this month, followed by Glaucous Gull and Great White Egret for Jacob Spinks and Dan Rouse respectively while Peregrine occurred on three patches; noted in turn by Will Langdon, Ben Moyes and Joe Proudfoot. These aside; the best of the rest in February included Black Redstart for James Mculloch, Mandarin for Findlay Wilde and Tree Sparrow for James Common - his first in almost a decade of birding the Blyth Estuary. In terms of #patchgold this month; a Coal Tit brought a smile to the face of Jack Bradbury at Warwick Racecourse and Zac Hinchcliffe landed a potential site first in the form of a Water Rail at Old Bolingbroke.

Looking now at the tables and February saw former front runner Amy Robjohns relegated to second place as Sam Pitt Miller claimed the top-spot following an impressive run at Priory Water. With less than 1% seperating the top two competitors it will certainly be interesting to see how the situation develops come March. Espen Quinto-Ashman remains in third place this month with a similarly impressive score of 64% at Wellington GPs, no doubt aided by the aforementioned Siberian Chiffchaff, while further down the table a host of competitors, both new and old, look set for a record year on their respective patches.

In points league, Jonathan Farooqi takes the lead with an impressive 110 species and 136 points and Hadson to Hemscott Hill, followed Anthony Bentley and Joe Stockwell who claim the runners up spots. The top eight contestants in this league have now passed the coveted 100 points milestone and it will be interesting to see how things transpire next month. With spring migration set to commence in March, great change could lie just around the corner though only time will tell..

Siberian Chiffchaff - Espen Quinto-Ashman

Grey Plover - James Common