Patchwork Challenge Review
Wading in to July
We are a fickle bunch, us birders. Rarity (be it genuine, or patch related) seems to monopolise how we place value on our birding experiences, which frequently obscures a much bigger picture. You’ll often hear of months like July being referred to as ‘quiet’ (not least by those busying away in PWC towers) – but is that really what we mean? For me, patching up on the north east coast of Scotland, July is one of my busiest months, with Common Eider flocks increasing in number to almost 1000 birds, and Goosander numbers building up to about 80, including plenty of obvious young. I’ve also been lucky enough to see large numbers of young terns, hinting at a very successful breeding season locally. Sitting next to a flock of 600 terns with adults constantly to-ing and fro-ing with food can never be described as quiet! It’s been refreshing to see others reporting similar highlights in July – Mark Newell on the Isle of May simply listed ‘Kittiwake breeding success’ as his highlight, Whereas Stephanie Brown described watching Swallows protecting their young from a Sparrowhawk as a highlight from Twyford
Anyway – in spite of my romanticising, that’s unfortunately not what this is all about! This is a numbers game and you don’t build up your numbers waffling on about how noisy terns can be! So how do you build up your numbers in July?
One thing that almost all patchers can look forward to in July is wader passage – with both inland and coastal grafters checking pools, bays, and listening out for telltale calls in their quest to add numbers. Waders have certainly proved popular in July with 34% of those listing highlights that included at least 1 species of wader, with 37% doing so in July last year. Compare this to the stats for (randomly selected) February where we can see wader highlights reported by just 12% in 2014 and 16% in 2013. These would both have been lower still if people weren’t so keen on Jack Snipes! In fact if we look at the reporting rate of waders through this year we can see that July is way ahead of all comers, with the exception of May, and if we can use last year’s rate for August (in green) as a forecast for this year’s rate, July should exceed that too.
Percentages of highlights that included at least one species of wader in 2014
Waders can and do turn up anywhere, and on any patch. This dunlin and greenshank were photographed on the same car park puddle!
In terms of what species patchers have been enjoying, I expected to see some divide between those listed as inland highlights and those from the coast. Waders such as Sanderling, Turnstone and Knot must get many an inlanders pulse racing whereas they might be nothing more than BirdTrack fodder to those on the coast. I was surprised to see that of the species mentioned above, Turnstone were not listed at all, Knot only once (by an inland patch though) and Sanderling scored one each for coastal and inland sites. It seems that we’re largely enjoying the same species in July, with Green and Wood Sandpipers being prominent throughout, and returning Spotted Redshanks scoring Inland 2 – 2 Coastal. However, just to show how not all patches fit in with the pattern, I’ve plotted how my accumulation of waders over the year is reflected by monthly diversity. The graph below shows each months’ total of wader species (green bars) and the years accumulation of different species (blue line).While July has been good for waders for me, it was no better than June, and it’s being beaten by August already and we’re not even half way through it. Also, the gradient of the blue line shows that despite its diversity, July was a relatively poor month for adding species of wader to my list.
Monthly wader diversity (green bars) next to species accumulation (blue line) from Girdle ness this year
One wader species you might expect to be found more inland is Little Ringed Plover, which did the decent thing and outnumbered coastal records three to one. One of those would be a patch tick for me – a very important statistic that would be lost in the graphs above!
So it seems that waders are genuinely more numerous and possibly more popular at this time of year, but I bet that’s not the whole story. Undoubtedly Wood and Green Sandpipers, and Spotted Redshank can get the blood flowing, but is their higher than usual reporting rate during July perhaps a function of the fact that there are fewer ‘distractions’? How popular would waders be in May and June without all those lovely drift scarcities to talk about? Likewise for August, with the early autumn migration and seabirds taking all the attention. I guess the best way to assess that would be to compare the wader reporting rate for inland sites through the summer months. Let’s see what August delivers before we do that though!