Category Archives: Patch Birding

Wading into July

Patchwork Challenge Review

Mark Lewis

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.


map 1

Percentages of highlights that included at least one species of wader in 2014

dunlin grreensh

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.


graph 4

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!


Does Patch Birding Make You Grumpy?

The Month of June

Mark Lewis What is it about June? Granted, the end of the month can be a bit quiet, but at the beginning of June we are very much in the thick of it, in terms of opportunities to find rare birds. Why then, does it bring such negativity out of Patchwork Challengers?!   Back in June 2013, as well as a smattering of classic late spring scarcities, June provided a Bonaparte’s Gull, and up to the point of writing, the only Paddyfield Warbler that’s ever been recorded on a PWC patch.  Most notable though, was a large number of people who seemed to be a little dispirited by it all… 16 White-billed Diver Fast forward to June 2014, and we have a similar situation. There were some great birds available, for example the now regular Glossy Ibis, as well as Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Citrine Wagtail, White-billed Diver, and best of all, a Pallid Swift at Portland. In spite of all this, the general trend of reports that made their way into our scoresheet was not particularly positive!

Pallid Swift by Miki Vigiano

Pallid Swift by Miki Vigiano

Now let’s get one thing straight – I’m not accusing Patchwork Challenge contestants of being negative – far from it, but when your highlights column frequently contains expressions such as ‘yawn…’, ‘sigh’, and something utterly unprintable from a certain Irish contestant (you know who you are!), it makes you wonder if there is something going on.   I think we can speculate as to why June brings us down without looking into it too deeply. I think it’s simply because it comes after April and May. The additions to the patch list come thick and fast over these two months, and they are both crammed with rarity potential. Then, after about ten days in June, it all seems to dry up. It feels like there is nothing new to look at, and it feels like the autumn is a long way away. It feels like time to dust off the flower guide, or the moth book…

by Igor Maiorano

by Igor Maiorano

First of all, is this actually a thing? Is there an increase in ‘negativity’ in June or am I just bored and looking for it in others? Well, the graph below shows the number of scores entered for each month, and the number of those for which there was either a completely blank highlights and best finds column (‘blanks’), or, the only comment in either was negative (‘negs’). graph 1 OK, so it’s not a massive difference, but there’s clearly a higher proportion of negatives than in the four preceding months. If you look a little more closely, you can see that this increase is made up of an increase in the number of blanks, but also there is a sharp increase in ‘negs’ as well. graph 2 So what does all this mean? Well, lets hope it doesn’t mean that Patch Birding makes you grumpy! I’m sure it’s a result of all the effort and hope we invest in April and May – but is there anything that can be done to beat the summer blues?

Summer blues?                              Fulmar in Norwegian is called ´havhest´, literally meaning ´sea horse´. This is the dark summer blue horse.

Summer blues?
Fulmar in Norwegian is called ´havhest´, literally meaning ´sea horse´. This is the dark summer blue horse.

It seems there might be. There might not be a lot in it, but it seems like the green birders, those who’s score is accumulated without the aid of a car, seem to be a little less likely to be negative than everyone else in the spring. Green birders seem to be very negative in the winter (starting in February on the graphs, as we didn’t collect any ‘green’ info in January) but as the spring progresses the greenies ‘negativity’ is consistently below what would be expected if the proportions of green to non green scores were taken into account. graph 3 I wonder why the change. Could it be something as fundamental as the weather? Could it be something to do with those getting a bit more exercise feeling like all of the effort has been a little more worthwhile? Who knows. Perhaps, after all this waffle and pseudoscience, the first graph gives the most important message – and that’s that the ‘negatives’ are always a small proportion of the scores given. So there may be some fluctuations, but generally, we all enjoy patch birding! It certainly keeps me positive. ,

Fingers crossed there are some birds to write about next time though…;-)

you never know... the right time of year is from now on for a male Black-headed Wagtail. They look rather green-headed in August

you never know… the right time of year is from now on for a male Black-headed Wagtail. They look rather green-headed in August


Patchwork Challenge in May. What a Month!

What a staggering month May was for rarities on the PWC!

by Mark Lewis

As we’ve discussed here before, with so many more patches in the competition this year, a comparison between this May and last might seem a little pointless – but lets give it a go anyway!


Common Rosefinch at Virkie. Rob Fray

Common Rosefinch at Virkie. Rob Fray

In May 2013, as well as all of the usual scarcities there were four BB rarities recorded as finds on PWC – namely Spotted Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Bonaparte’s Gull, and Thrush Nightingale. Not a bad haul, especially as it was backed up by a really great selection of classic late spring quality. Conversely, 2014 May saw 15 self found BB rares for hard-working patchers, which included multiple Black Storks, Citrine Wagtails and Savi’s and Blyths Reed Warblers, and single Collared Flycatcher, Bonapartes Gull,  Broad-billed Sandpiper and best of all, Alan Tilmouths Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler. On the face of it, one month was obviously a lot better than the other!

Eastern Bonelli's Warbler. Alan Tilmouth

Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler. Alan Tilmouth


But we can look a little deeper than that. In 2013, those 4 BB rares were part of 118 score submissions – which works out as 1 rarity for every 29.1 patches. In comparison, this May’s tally of 15 BB’s came from 168 submissions, coming in at 1 rarity for every 11.2 patches (of course, this assumes there is only one submission per patch – this might not be the case as occasionally folk submit more than one score per month. I haven’t checked for this, but if there are any duplicates it’s very unlikely that they’ll have any impact on the overall scenario) So, what this essentially means is that this May, you had a 1 in 10 chance of finding a BB rare on your patch, compared to a 1 in 30 chance last year. Which according to my logic makes this year three times better! Lets hope it felt that way for all of you!


Citrine Wagtail, East Shore, Virkie, Roger Riddington

Citrine Wagtail, East Shore, Virkie, Roger Riddington

It certainly will have done for some. Assessing the quality of a month by the number of rarities per patch is slightly perverse, as obviously some patches are better for rarities than others. Last year we singled out Rob Fray, at the Pool of Virkie in Shetland, as having had a particularly good month. Rob notched up a Thrush Nightingale, and backed it up with Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Red-backed Shrike, Common Rosefinch and Grey-headed Wagtail, to take the ‘Patch of the month award’ – which is something we really out to sort out more formally! If you thought that was good though, check out what John Bowler managed in May on Tiree this year. His Collared Flycatcher tops the tree, but along with that he found Red-rumped Swallow, Rustic Bunting, Red-backed Shrike, Marsh Warbler and Common Rosefinch. I think that’s a haul that most of us would be happy with over the course of a year!


So, all this begs a question of me. Is May the best spring month for birding on patch? In terms of number of rarities the answer is undoubtedly yes, but there’s more to patching than that. I can only really answer that with the info from my own patch, so here’s a look at how Girdle ness has been faring so far this year.




The red line on the graph above charts my cumulative species total through the course of this year.  It’s at it’s steepest (i.e. the most species were added) in April, which fits in nicely with the tallest of the blue bars, denoting the number of species recorded in each month.  So variety wise, April comes out on top so far. However, I was on holiday for more than half of May, so simply comparing the number of species in each month is not sensible, as the effort was completely different.  If instead we look however at the green bars, they show a nice progression that peaks in May. These bars represent the number of species per complete list (good old BirdTrack!) – so essentially it shows that when I go out in May, I’m likely to see more species than on a trip to the patch in any other month. So if the number of rarities can’t be used as a measure of ‘month quality’, this assessment of diversity certainly backs up the assumption that May really is the best month in the first part of the year.


Although to rule out June would be foolish of course…


Blyth's Reed Warbler, East Shore, Virkie, Roger Riddington

Blyth’s Reed Warbler, East Shore, Virkie, Roger Riddington


Patchwork Challenge update

Birding Frontiers – PWC Early & Mid Spring 2014

 Who can deny the fun of this thing, never mind the way the Patchwork Team have inspired a whole bunch of folk like me to get involved. They’ve created simple frameworks and a bit of competition. I am biased of course having been out and found a Honey Buzzard this morning and getting points for finding an extra Bee-eater yesterday! It gets me out, gets me looking especially on the tougher days. (Martin Garner)

Here Ryan sums up and compares consecutive spring seasons:

Ryan Irvine

As PWC marches on through its second year and patchers throughout the country are enjoying the very mild spring it’s good to look back at what was happening in 2013 during spring. Last year’s spring could not be more contrasting in the weather from this year as the whole country suffered from a cold stormy spring, not really warming up for most of us until mid-June. So, with the mild weather this spring you would think that the number of species recorded up to the end of March and April would have been significantly higher this year but no… Last year’s cumulative PWC total was approximately 200 species and this year we just pushed past that figure despite more patches submitting scores. The end of April showed similar results with the 2013 total running up to 235 species and this year’s approximately 240 species. A cold spring isn’t so bad after all perhaps…

Common Sandpiper. Valued greatly when the first one of the spring appears on the patch

Common Sandpiper. Valued greatly when the first one of the spring appears on the patch

However, looking beyond the figures as a whole you start to see that the mild spring was better for more patches than last year. The patches on the south coast would pick up most early spring migrants in March no matter how ‘late’ spring may be for the rest of us but this year did see a large increase in the number of patches recording spring migrants in March.
Do the average scores compare favourably this year? Well, in a word no! Looking at the average scores posted at the end of April you see that the two years are almost identical, with 2013 holding a meagre 0.87 point lead! I had thought the points per species average must be higher this year as April produced more high scoring birds this year but again 2013 came out on top, although only by 0.003 of a point.

Caspian Gull- a staple Patchwork Challenge bird

Caspian Gull- a staple Patchwork Challenge bird

Looking at the highlights posted by our fellow competitors and you soon see that the two years are closely linked, with PWC staples Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls, Green-winged Teals, Great White Egrets and Glossy Ibis all making it onto several patches both years in March. The other March highlights may not be the same but follow as similar pattern, this year’s Boneparte’s Gull could be replaced by last year’s Ring-billed Gull, this year’s Dusky Warbler could be replaced by last year’s Siberian Stonechat. As you can imagine the April Highlights pick up and this is where the two year’s may differ the most. In 2013 we struggled as a Lesser Scaup at Pugney’s was the only new highlight, supported by Purple Herons, Montagu’s Harriers and Serins. This year though the rarities arrived in abundance as classic spring species such as Short-toed Larks, Red-rumped Swallows, Kentish Plovers, Tawny Pipit, Wrynecks and an incredible record of Herefordshires first Bluethroat provided joy to many a patcher. So, perhaps there is a wee bit of proof that the mild spring has benefited patchworkers this year?

Tawny Pipit, nr Breil Nook, Flamborough. Finally flew into the right patch! Andy Hood

Tawny Pipit, nr Breil Nook, Flamborough. Finally flew into the right patch! Andy Hood


And this one flew over the past the Tawny Pipit- also on the ‘Flamborough Patch’.

Crag Martin 12.4. Thornwick6

quick look at Hemsby, my patch, and it seems that the mild March has definitely benefited my scores. At the end of March in 2013 I had amassed 81 species, 95 points and for the same period in 2014 I was way ahead with 93 species, 115 points. In 2013 I had not recorded a single spring migrant in March so that must be it, I must have bagged a bundle of early migrants this year. Ermm.. well no, only two in fact, Blackcap and Black Redstart! Why the big lead this year? I have had a wee bit more time on patch but not a huge amount more. Looking at my lists I noticed that I have seen 20 species in 2014 that I had not seen in 2013 by the end of March, that’s over 20% of my list!!

Black Redstart male e 9.4.13

I remember that in April 2013 I had an exceptional month catching up with the common migrants, including the first (reported) Spotted Flycatchers in the country, peaking in the two weeks between the 7th and 21st where I picked up 28 new species (36 pts). This year I was away for the most of the period and although I was on patch a similar amount of days in April as last year I had a pretty poor month finishing on 117 species, 146 points, a full 5 species and points behind last year’s total. Personally this mild spring has been disappointing and this is emphasised when I delve into BirdTrack and see that in 2013 I recorded 105 in April and only 86 this year. Mild spring, lots of easterlies = less species and points, perhaps I am thinking that the weather is a greater link to a good year than it really is.

Spotted Flycatcher  May 13

And now we are well into the final weeks of spring, May is here and the month has already hit new heights, 15 pointers and 12 pointers already been found on patches across the country and many more to come I’m sure. Enjoy the spring while you can, the days will be getting shorter before you know it….

as this is published… be watching out for one of these (currently on the Flamborough patch and viewable form the house this am)Bee-eaters_DaleForbes_TLSAPO 1

or one of these (we had a female this morning at Flamborough)

male Honey Buzzard, Flamborough, May 2012. Alan Walkington

male Honey Buzzard, Flamborough, May 2012. Alan Walkington


Patchwork Birding Review

What’s there to play for in February?

If you looked at our review of February 2013 you might think that the answer is ‘not a lot’! It’s almost certainly the shortest monthly review we’ve ever put together, with merely a paragraph devoted to a rundown of the best birds seen. No doubt we could have spun it out a little, but the message was clear. Last February seemed quiet!

As with this January and last, the two Februarys showed a lot of crossover between the good birds recorded as patch highlights. Gulls dominate, but this year saw additional Sabine’s and Bonaparte’s Gull, as well as more white-wingers. Wildfowl were also well represented in both years, but again, on top of the usual suspects in 2014 we had Ring-Necked Duck, Lesser Scaup and American Wigeon. Glossy Ibis showed face on 3 patches, compared to none last year, and we’ve also had a Pied-Billed Grebe!

So February 2014 seems to have been much livelier, although of course, a meaningful comparison between this year and the last is difficult, in terms of lists of good birds. This is mainly because the number of patches being entered has pretty much doubled – and with that, there’ll always be an increase in the number and variety of goodies reported. Looking more closely at the numbers we can see that there’s a wee bit of difference between the average scores now and at this stage last year. The ‘average patch’ by now would have recorded 66.9 species in 2013 and 61.4 in 2014, working out as 76.3 points compared to 76.4 respectively. You would therefore be correct in thinking this would indicate that 2014 has been marginally better than last year, both in terms of quantity and quality. We can use the points per bird (PPB) score as a crude measure of quality, with 2014 a whole 0.1 PPB ahead of 2013. This may not seem like an awful lot, but the range of patch PPB scores last year was between 1.0 and 1.9, so the difference between 1.14 and 1.24 this year is probably quite telling.

Several species prevail as being prominent highlights from this January. Common Redpoll remains a popular highlight, and Siberian Chiffchaff was reported from 4 patches. I hinted back in February that the good numbers of tristis being reported might be down to it having been a mild winter, temperature wise. While you probably don’t need me, or a list of birds to tell you that it’s been warmer than usual, there is another bird that was frequently reported that bears this out. Cetti’s Warbler was reported as a highlight from 5 different patches. If we map where these records were from, four of them fit very neatly within the areas that the Bird Atlas 2007-11 show to have been recently colonised by this species. One record, at Fairburn, was quite a bit further north than the rest, and pretty much at the northerly limit shown by the Atlas. Could high winter survival rates account for the increase in reporting this species, and how far north could it spread? There are recent records from Northumberland – but how long will it take before the species makes it into Scotland? Scottish birders may welcome the chance to add this to their national lists, with the only record so far being a bird found dead in the middle of Edinburgh! Of course, with the expansion of this species strongly linked to rising temperatures, any celebrations on finding one might be muted…


Despite all this talk of the warmth, we still had plenty of arctic visitors. The map below shows patchers records of white winged gulls in February, with red markers indicating Glaucous Gull, yellow Iceland, and green Kumlien’s. I think this map might indicate a few things to us – firstly, it indicates that we shouldn’t read too much into the distribution of birds based upon what has been reported to us as a highlight! Where these birds are more numerous, they are less likely to be brought to our attention – and as such, in this case, wouldn’t make it onto the map. That aside though, there are a few interesting patterns. Good numbers of white wingers were reported in the South West, and both Glaucous and Kumlien’s Gulls show a bias towards coastal areas, and away from the eastern side of the country. On the contrary, Iceland gulls appear to love it on the East coast and don’t mind mixing it a little inland. Like I said, this sort of thing should be taken with a huge pinch of salt, but I’m sure that Glaucous and Kumlien’s gulls would be reported as highlights on the East coast, so perhaps this does reflect a dearth of records of these two ‘species’ from North Sea coasts. Does it also indicate a more western provenance for our Glaucs? I think I’ll stop there before I get into the realms of over-speculation…!

white wingers

Last month I suggested that looking at where you’d made gains in previous winter months might be the best way to advance your score during these ‘small change’ periods. Well, what do I know? It looked like my best bets for February would be to look through eider flocks and concentrate on the more mature bits of cover. I gave this a good go and it returned exactly zero points, with my biggest advances coming from waders (4th record of Grey Plover – nice!) a flock of Snow Bunting, and a jammy Siberian Chiffchaff. I think I’m definitely over thinking it, as none of those birds were predictable at all. What this suggests to me is that time in the field is perhaps as important as anything else, although there is still merit in focussing on specific targets. And with time available for the field increasing every day through March, there should be no excuses for making big gains this month. Happy Patching!

Flamborough’s New Era: Begins Today

Flamborough Bird Observatory

A Great spirit on the Great Cape. That’s what Sharon and I have found since moving here a year ago. I would go so far as to say it is at a  tipping point for the area…. A very COOL one!

MG here. Delighted to able to announce (and n.b. had ‘nowt to do with making it)

Welcome to the NEW Flamborough Bird Obs Website

Go to full site or click on blue boxes below:

FBO header

Some personal observations:

Bird Observatories are seeing a renaissance, more folk visiting, young people coming back, Migration Studies are at centre stage, citizen science and conservation roars ahead powered by social media, progress is made locally through collaboration, not competition. I have seen lots of examples elsewhere, and right now I am seeing the same on my own doorstep- at Flamborough:

You are invited:

“Flamborough Bird Observatory’s new website aims to reflect the prevailing positive mood at the Obs – and as such, there’s an emphasis on communicating and informing. These days it’s all about encouraging locals and visitors alike to enjoy the birds and wildlife of the Great White Cape, and the new website is the perfect shop window to allow us to do that.

It’s still a work-in-progress, but we’re adding material all the time – keep an especially close eye on the site guide, for insider tips on where to go. Be sure to bookmark the latest sightings page, which’ll be the place for up-to-the-minute news from the Head and the surrounding area.”

New Sightings Page

The goal is to get Flamborough news out quickly and accurately. The go-to web-space.

FBO header

Site Guide

Cool aspects are still being developed. e.g. follow the Bay Brambles link. There is loads of ‘undiscovered Flamborough. Barely watched the ‘Millennium Wood area, a spot away from the traditional hot-spots on the head has produce Rustic Bunting, Little Bunting, Red backed Shrike, Serin and Northern Treecreeper  in last 6 months….

FBO header

Be part of it…

FBO header

OK I cheated ;) 

Patchwork challenge

It was nice to see this posted below in January. But I have to say I gained plenty of points through daily chats with others keen to foster a new spirit of openness, and discovery on the Great White Cape. Good birder community going on here :)

Coastal North Jan Points



Patchwork Challenge – Game on!

Mark Lewis

We’re now well into the second year of the Patchwork Challenge, and this is the first in a regular series in which we will look back at the last month, and compare it with the same month in the previous year, both at a national scale, and that of a single patch. To me, this sort of analysis is the very essence of patch birding – learning about how the seasons and the weather affect the populations of birds using, or moving through, your own particular bit of turf is fascinating, and of course applying this to a national scale helps contextualise your sightings into a bigger picture. It’s a really important part of the process of learning about your patch.

Tundra Bean Goose by Mike Pennnington

Tundra Bean Goose by Mike Pennnington

Comparing the highlights reported by PWC contestants also gives us a unique insight into the various ‘ornithological events’ of each month, hinting towards trends that might not be picked up by the national bird news services, or that would take some time pouring through county bird records to shed light on. Here, from all over the country, we have people telling us what was unusual at what equates to a series of constant effort sites. A look through our scoresheet reveals, for example, a possible small influx of Bean Geese, particularly on the east coast of Scotland and northern England. Hopefully, by encouraging the reporting of these data to BirdTrack, this sort of information will make its way into the hands of people much more qualified to do something worthwhile with it!

It seems that a year on, on the surface, not too much has changed at a national scale! Bad weather dominated both Januarys – heavy snowfall and cold weather in 2013, and of course, this year’s incredible storms and flooding. One might think that this would have led to some real differences between the two months – you could certainly be forgiven for expecting last year’s reports to be dominated by cold weather movements – but it seems that in spite of the weather, the goodies on offer were, by and large, the same. Returning White-billed Diver and Bonaparte’s Gull were noted from opposite ends of the country, and a Scottish island again hosted the month’s biggest rarity – last year a Gyrfalcon on South Uist, this year a Blue-winged Teal on Mainland Orkney. The semi-rarities were remarkably similar too (although I guess this is not too surprising as the range of ‘available species’ is smaller in the winter), with Green-winged Teal, Caspian and Ring-billed Gull, Crane, Great white Egret and White-tailed Eagle all featuring. In fact, apart from last year’s Serin, the range of six pointers scored was identical between the two years!

First winter Little Gull by Mark Lewis

First winter Little Gull by Mark Lewis

Apart from the aforementioned Bean Geese, there appear to have been local influxes of Little Gulls across a similar area with six out of the eight reports of Little Gull coming from north eastern coasts of Britain. Have the series of low pressure systems pushed Atlantic wintering birds into the North Sea – or have the south east winds on eastern coasts that are associated with these lows pushed North Sea wintering birds into more coastal, northern locations? I suspect the latter – there is good evidence for reasonable numbers of Little gull wintering in the southern North Sea, and considering the strength of the winds involved, the displacement of some of these birds was inevitable. The locations of these low pressure systems probably accounts for the relatively fewer reports of Little Auk in 2014 too. Neither winter was a vintage one for this species, but only 4 patches highlighting sightings in January 2014 probably has a lot to do with the lack of northerly winds.

Jack Snipe by Martin Garner

Jack Snipe by Martin Garner

There are also some obvious themes if we venture inland, too. Snipe, Jack Snipe and Woodcock feature heavily, with seven inland patches noting Jack snipe. I would have expected this species to be more of a feature of last year’s very cold winter, rather than this year’s wet and windy one – are these birds that have been flooded out of their usual haunts? Woodcock were well reported too – another species I associate with hard weather movements (on my patch at least), and a couple of patches report large numbers of Common Snipe. Something is happening here – these ground dwellers have been forced to move en masse, and it’s not by frozen ground!

Siberian Chiffchaff by Tristan Reid

Siberian Chiffchaff by Tristan Reid

Two ‘species’ of passerine also cropped up with some frequency. It might not have felt as such, but temperature wise it’s been a relatively mild winter, which may account for the relatively high numbers of Siberian Chiffchaff that were reported (from 5 patches). Are there really more of these about, or are we just more confident about identifying and reporting them? There has been plenty of discussion on their ID recently (not least here on Birding Frontiers) which has no doubt clarified criteria for a few – but have we also been swayed by the revelations that ‘eastern’ looking chiffchaffs wintering in the UK are likely genetically to be tristris?

On the flipside to this, one might expect a hard winter to result in an increased reporting rate for Mealy Redpoll – but that’s not the case this year. Is this again a result of birders getting to grips with something they previously considered to be a bit of an ID nightmare? Or are there really more about – a look at BirdTrack shows that the reporting rate for this species is almost three times the historical norm, so it must be a real increase in numbers – but as a result of what? I dont’ pay enough attention to what’s going on on the continent to speculate!

So that’s the national picture – but what about looking at a local scale? Personally I notched up 62 species this January, compared to 63 last year. Points wise though, I was four up at this stage last year, so there was clearly a bit more quality available in January 2013! There were 8 species from 2013 that weren’t seen this year, including some nice bits and pieces such as Waxwing and Black-throated Diver. This year’s unique species include such garden birds as Bullfinch, Lesser redpoll, and Collared dove, further confounding my expectations of what I expect to visit my coastal golf course patch during hard cold weather events! It does at least show that there is plenty to play for in January!

Norther Bullfinch by Martin Garner. A British Bullfinch can be a star turn on some patches- how about the chance of a tooting Northern.

Northern Bullfinch by Martin Garner. A British Bullfinch can be a star turn on some patches- how about the chance of a tooting Northern.

But perhaps that’s the wrong way of looking at things – perhaps it’s noteworthy that 55 out of 62/63 species were the same in each year, meaning approximately 87% crossover. It’s no great leap forward in ornithological knowledge to suggest that in the winter, turnover and variety of birds may not be as high as it is at other times of year, but it’s good to see it in black and white! What might be more pertinent would be to look at where the small degree of variety lies. Looking at my lists for the last few Januarys, I can see that if I focus on ‘floaters’ (looking for divers and ducks, especially among the eider flocks) and along the most mature patches of cover (where this year I’ve had extralimital bullfinch and lesser redpoll, and last year I had coal tit – all giddying stuff I admit!) I should do OK – the rest it seems, will largely take care of itself! I’m looking forward to putting this thinking to the test next year! Although seeing as I anticipate February to be pretty similar to January, perhaps I should start taking my own advice now…


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