Category Archives: Patch Birding

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…


Visit the Patchwork Challenge blog - conceived and run by Mark Lewis, Ryan Irvine and James Spencer.

‘Footit’ Challenge is back!

Now launched for January 2014

The Footit Challenge

Our leader, Mark Reeder has wisely set new recording boundaries. You simply choose an area for birding, either one, two or three+ miles radius from your front door.

1 to 3 mile radius

Footit Factoids. It’s all here. Scroll down and read the stories of glory and shame. Last year in January 2013:

99 miles walked for one footit dude
Finds include Siberian Chiffchaff, White-tailed Eagle. Lanner! Glaucous and Caspian Gulls and several Bitterns
Many found more species than expected in their areas. Great surprises and bonus birds
Nice photo of blisters!


 I think many of us are suckers for January and birding. I hhave been for 40 years, even to listening for Tawny Owl most years on January 1st at 00.04 (ish). Everything is new. A fresh start, no birds on the list.
Around this time. late November, last year I was surprised to discover Chiffchaff, Woodcock and Kingfisher while out walking with Mrs G. So had little talk to self. Shared with some friends and Mark Reader turned it into something marvelous.

“Wake up Garner- there are interesting birds and an undiscovered world right on your doorstep! And look at ya – ya need some exercise. Get out more!”

I also like a challenge, a bit of competitive fun. So thanks (again) to Mssrs. Reeder and McKinney,  the late night military style campaign has begun. Maps are out, charts up, reports being scrutinised, diet altered, exercise regime started…
Mark has revamped the FOOT IT blog with all the details on and if you like to join in this bit of fun:

Go to  the Birding by Foot blogspot


Yellowhammer b 15.1.13

One very enjoyable discovery for me last year in the Sheffield areas were 2 (previously unknown) flocks of wintering Yellowhammer.

and I sill like dreaming:


Dusky Thrush in Leigh, nr Manchester (near Tom McKinney), from the Manchester Birding site an incredible tale written up by Ian McKerchar from 3 years ago this coming weekend (8th December 2010). If you haven’t or as a reminder, visit the webpage and see where it was. Could have been your street!


Patchwork Challenge 2014

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.Gyr03-900

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