Sign Up Now! Review of 2013
by Mark Lewis
It’s a given that the Patchwork Challenge competition we set up back in November 2013 has surpassed our expectations in almost every way! We had an idea back then (and it seems like such a long time ago…) to combine two scoring systems that were already in place in patch birding contests run among a few friends, and to see if we could expand the competition out to 30 or 40 ardent British Isles patch workers. We thought it might be of interest to one or two – so we were delighted (and a little daunted!) when the number of people who signed up reached one, and then eventually two hundred people! If you’d have told us back in November 2012 that in November 2013 we would have the very generous support of Birdguides, a Meopta and Forest Optics best find competition, ‘our own’ BTO cuckoo, a brilliant logo, a burgeoning facebook page and over 800 followers on twitter we’d probably have laughed at you. One of those nervous laughs….
However, it’s safe to say the whole thing has been a rather pleasant surprise. People’s willingness to contribute and take part has been much greater than we anticipated, and the feedback for the most part has been great, and always constructive. There’s one big area where our hopes have been hugely exceeded though. The quality of the birds.
The first real biggy to make it’s way onto our PWC Bubo list was a Gyrfalcon that turned up on South Uist early in January. We were in the process of setting up our best find competition at the time and I remember commenting that this would be a really tough one to beat when we polled PWC contestants on the best bird. A well photographed white phase Gyr was always going to be a bit of a crowd pleaser! A couple of white-billed diver were also found that month, along with a rather wintery selection of gulls, which included a Bonaparte’s gull in Glamorgan. Not a bad start!
Wintery gulls continued into February, with that months highlight being an Iceland gull at Barmston that under scrutiny eventually emerged as a Kumlien’s gull. However, it was always going to be difficult for February to compete with January despite interesting records such as Temminck’s stint and Richard’s pipit. With spring around the corner though things would surely soon hot up.
And hot up it did. As well as being the month where our cumulative total hit 200 species, the first migrants began to be recorded, with some nice early spring fare like serin, white-spotted bluethroat and hoopoe adding a touch of spice. In terms of rarity, nothing came close to the Siberian stonechat at Kelling, but a cold spell clearly helped many patchers add to their lists as species such as jack snipe, woodcock and various wildfowl featured prominently among the highlights.
The run of quality almost skipped April, with a lesser scaup just squeezing into this months figures when it turned up at Pugneys on the 30th. Luckily for us it turned up not a day too soon, as a blistering May gave us plenty of highlights to ponder.
Favourable conditions in May made for multiple records of long-tailed skuas (mainly in the west), and classic May scarcities in good numbers in the east, with red-backed shrikes, common rosefinch, red-breasted flycatcher, short-toed lark and woodchat all reported more than once. Bluethroats were scarce though, making the one I almost certainly walked past on the morning of the 10th all the more galling! Luckily I got to spend some quality time in its company later in the day as it fed and sang just 100 yards or so from my office! BB rarities were well represented as well, with spotted sandpiper, black-winged stilt, thrush nightingale and another Bonaparte’s gull. May might be remembered as the month of the big dip though – with a Pacific diver in Shetland disappearing ten minutes too soon for one patcher…
In contrast, June was slow for many patchers. Many struggled to add significantly to their scores but the odd patch turned up trumps. Yet another Bonaparte’s gull turned up, this one on Tiree, and for a change this was a PWC find. Black kite and subalpine warbler were also notable finds, but unluckily for the two patchers on Bardsey, a visiting birder got to their paddyfield warbler before they could.
July was a surprise big hitter in terms of rarities. While I’m sure they enjoyed seeing the birds, our two Shetland patchers missed out on finds bonuses for two-barred crossbill and gull-billed tern. Slightly to the south and west Galley head ensured a stylish entry onto our cumulative list for Fea’s petrel, when three were picked up on one evening! That would be a birding combo that would be very difficult to top, but Mark Newell on the Isle of May arguably did so when he combined relocating the summers bridled tern with eating a barbequed sausage sandwich. I know which one would get my vote…
In terms of rarity, August will probably be remembered for the Neumann’s Flash stilt sandpiper, perhaps for the Winterton roller, or further along the Norfolk coast, the citrine wagtail at Kelling. For many though (myself included) it will be remembered for a fantastic east coast fall late in the month. A fine total of eight greenish warblers were reported from PWC patches, with supporting casts involving wrynecks, barred warblers, and red-backed shrikes. If I can be permitted a moments self-indulgence, August 2013 will always be the month I got Killer whale on my patch list – a moment that saw me involuntarily yell and airgrab at the same time, much to the bemusement (amusement?) of the passing dog walkers!
With Septembers arrival we were really getting to the business end of the PWC year, with a great variety of good birds making it onto PWC patches. All of these additions to our cumulative list saw us surpass the 300 mark (meaning at least three hundred pounds for the BTO’s out of Africa appeal courtesy of Meopta and Forest optic), and achieving it in some style, adding Western bonelli’s warbler, lesser yellowlegs, Blyth’s reed warbler, semipalmated sandpiper, Bairds sandpiper, white-winged black tern and Arctic warbler. As if that wasn’t enough, there were further records of Siberian stonechat and Fea’s petrel, as well as all of the usual east coast September goodness and the more predictable American waders. Would October be able to beat that?
In short, yes! Perhaps October didn’t deliver quite the variety or numbers that September could offer, but it more than made up for it in terms of rarity. A red-flanked bluetail was a great find at Kelling, and American waders entertained with white-rumped sandpiper at Virkie and Bairds and semi-P sands at Ballycotton. Virkie also hosted a Pechora pipit, but as far as multiple patch goodness goes, Sandy point stole the show. Red breasted goose and dusky warbler are all well and good, but play second fiddle to Andy Johnsons superb Semipalmated plover. Of course, this is a strong contender for bird of the year, and would have been a shoe in for bird of the month had a certain mourning dove not turned up in Sean Morris’s garden on Rhum….epic stuff!
As I write this in early November things have rather predictably quietened down a little, but going through the months has reminded me of the fantastic selection of birds that have been recorded during the PWC year so far. There’s not much left on the horizon in terms of additions to this year’s list (king eider, anyone?) but with our total at 311 species we can live with that!
The big question is this though – what mouth watering list of rarities will we be looking back on at this point next year? And this is where you come in – we’re taking contestants for PWC 2014, so if you’d like a piece of the action please come and join us by visiting our blog and following the sign up instructions. Maybe your big bird will be a long hoped for target like a semi-p plover, or a mind blowing surprise like a mourning dove. Or even a BBQ busting bridled tern…
Postscript: Dave Suddaby has been seeing a female king eider off Blacksod recently – so it seems like we might be up to 312! That means I can predict that the next addition will be a Hume’s Warbler. Whose hard work is going to pay off this time?
For more info and to join in go to: Patchwork Challenge