Category Archives: Patch Birding

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


Footit Challenge. Half way there

71 out of 75

Had a long walk of some 10 miles yesterday with our family dog, Ebony. Headed off nearly 2 hours before sunrise. Soon onto not one but 2 Tawny Owls at the start of the Loxley Valley. Mute Swan and Mandarin were in the right place, but no Tufted Duck! Treecreeper (lovely views) and Sparrowhawk(finally) fell, followed quickly by a flock of  Fieldfare. 69 species up. Where now? With an increasing volume of snow falling I decided for my first time (12 yrs in Sheffield) to explore Loxley and Wadsley Commons. Looked potential Yellowhammer habitat. Bingo! Up to 15 Yellowhammers and fly through flock of Lapwing in snowstorm takes me to 71 out of my optimistic 75 target. Thoroughly enjoyable!

Footit Factoids. Its all here

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!

My walk celebrated in a few pics. Now begins the 2nd half. Will I make it into the 100% club? see below.

Yhammer 1

Yellowhammer b 15.1.13yahammer 1

robin in snow 15.1.13My attempt at a Christmas Card shot

Lapwings 15.1.13Flock of Lapwing– cold weather movement and an unexpected footit tick…

woodiesWoodpigeons looking cold

male Chaffinch 15.1.13male Chaffinch: all birds look good in snow!

My target was 75 species going out from my house near Sheffield City Centre to radius of 3.5 miles. I have seen 71 species out of 75

These are the species I think I could get (with a bit o’ luck) but apart from the Peregrines I don’t know where to look for them. Any suggestions welcome.

Tree Sparrow?
(and I wonder about the possibility of  Cormorant, Tufted Duck and Little Owl). BOOM!

This sign was a weather info service too:




1st winter and adult Caspian Gull

Neepsend, Sheffield, 21st Dec. 2012

by Martin

Just a few from brief visit today. Enjoyed the first winter and the adult Caspian Gulls with Andy Deighton amoung plenty of big gulls. I am no technical photographer but like to get some kind of image of birds I’ve seen. Below illustrates different benefits of taken photos with a DSLR camera (smaller images giving perspective and flight shot) and digiscoping  (close up of adult and first winter). All photos taken today (21.12.12)

Caspian Gull 1cy Neepsend 21.12.12 d1cy Herring gull (left) with 1cy Caspian Gull (right). And we used to think they were all the same…(some still do!)

Caspian Gull ad Neepsend 21.12.2012Adult Caspian Gull with adult argentatus Herring Gull behind.

Caspian Gull ad c Neepsend 21.12.2012

Caspian Gull 1cy Neepsend 21.12.12

Caspian Gull 1cy Neepsend 21.12.12 cabove 3. 1cy Caspian Gull in various poses and taken with different photographic methods

Exploring and Exercise in January

My ‘Foot it’ area: Sheffield from t’middle out

by Martin

Be careful what you say! It’s taken off. Just have a look how many folk are up for it.

The ‘Foot It’ challenge has plenty of us birding a little differently this January. Exercise and exploring are the reasons why. I think Mark Reeder’s effort is setting up the blog as a vehicle for ‘foot it’ is inspired. Like Rob in Shetland, I can’t figure out Google maps and circle drawing-so I did it the old way. For campaign planning ; ) I have limited myself to a radius created by the spine of a Sheffield Bird Report stretched out from my house on an OS Explorer series map of the area- about 3.25 miles.

target area map 2

20030118010757For inspiration I read up on old records in my ‘recording area’. Bingo, I had completely forgotten about the Richards Pipit I saw 9 years ago within the boundaries of my big yellow circle. It was found by Ashley Fisher in mid January 2003 while out walking his dog. (photo by Pete Wragg)

target area map 1For dreamers: some of the stuff found near Sheffield City Centre in the past was a revelation to me: e.g. Purple Sandpiper on the River Don, Ferruginous Duck up from the Wednesday Football ground and Black-throated Thrush in a City Centre park. My roughly calculated, probably overly- optimistic target for birding by foot in Janury 2013 is  75 species.

You are very welcome if you want to join in. Give it a go! All the info is here.