25th January 2014. The Pie To End All Pies

As a child the highlight of my Saturday would be a quarter share of a freshly baked pork pie - bought from the local shop and more often than not still warm. Unfortunately the baker, Coopers of Rotherham, went into liquidation sometime in the mid-1980s, but my love for pork pie was born.

Sadly good pork pies are a rare thing these days. Supermarkets stock things that are labelled as 'Pork Pie' but they are vile mass produced mechanically recovered grey mush surrounded by an over thick lardy pastry, guaranteed to have you reaching for the Rennies.

Fortunately South Yorkshire is blessed with several excellent purveyors of pork pie, among them  are; Elmhurst of Goldthorpe, Percy Turner of Jump and Waterall Bros in Sheffield Market. There may be others but these are my personal favourites.

I discovered Waterall Bros' several years back. One of my colleagues would occasionally take pity on me and on return from her weekly market trip present me with a small (ish) pork pie and a piece of black pudding. It was love at first bite - the light crisp golden pastry surrounding the delicious pink (proper) meaty filling with just the right amount of jelly to seperate them. A pie so good that any accompanying condiment would be deemed sacrilegious - even Henderson's! Followed by the most delicious black pudding it was a true northern delicacy, even if it was a little calorific.

Shortly before Christmas, via Twitter, I suggested to Steven Waterall (pork products supremo) that he could create a combination of his pork pie and black pudding. This wasn't exactly a eureka moment as I had tasted a similar creation from Elmhurst of Goldthorpe some years back.  To my delight a few days ago Steven 'tweeted' that his prototype pork and black pudding pie would be available for sampling this weekend. Steven kindly reserved me a 'review pie' and here it is in all it's delicious glory.

On the outside there's nothing to tell it apart from it's pork only sibling. But, once under the knife it becomes obvious. Rather than mix the two ingredients together (which I had expected) he has opted to lay about a half-inch of black pudding on top of the pork.  The real test is of course in the eating. First bite in and I was in pie heaven (and already regretting sharing it between the three of us) this was, to quote once funny comedian Peter Kay "a taste sensation" the pork complementing the pudding and vice versa. It was better than I could have imagined, no pie in my forty odd years of consuming savoury pastries has attacked my sensory organs in quite the same way, pure pie alchemy. Seeing the empty plate, now in front of me, left me feeling just as sad as the last day of the school holiday. Unanimous verdict in our pie loving household was that this simply was the best pie that any of us have ever eaten. One hour on and I'm still drooling - hopefully these will feature regularly on top of the Waterall Bros' counter.




Waterall's can be found in the new Sheffield Market situated at the bottom of The Moor - just look for the stall with the longest queue.

2013 The Patchwork Challenge

Thought that it was about time that I summed up 2013 from the aspect of my Patchwork Challenge attempt - it was pretty good! That was easy. Now, in the style of some of those lazy arsed bloggers who have nothing to say but feel obliged to post any old shit  here’s a YouTube clip of a cat licking his balls….


Joking of course.. Patch birding in 2013 was made all the more interesting by the Patchwork Challenge. This gave me the impetus to keep going during those dull days - of which for the inland patch birder - there are very many.


January


Much of my visits in January were taken in as part of the Foot It challenge (the brain-child of two idiots and a member of the BBRC) though despite this I managed not to miss too much, though missing the Waxwings on the 2nd would prove costly..


A couple of adult Caspian Gulls eluded me on the 6th but I eventually caught up with one later in the month. Bird of the month was a Jack Snipe, a new Orgreave bird for me and the first of three during the winter. An adult Whooper Swan, Merlin, Short-eared Owl and Red-crested Pochard were all good list padders and species that I’ve failed to get in previous years.



By the end of January I had notched up a reasonable 70 species though still lacked some, normally, very easy birds..


February


Typically one of the years quietest months this February was no exception. The first returning waders trickled in with Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher and Golden Plover. A site record count of 54 Whooper Swans went west at dusk on 17th, but otherwise it was very quiet.







March


March always fills me with anticipation for the coming spring, more so because after a long winter I can finally get down for an hour or so before work. The first of several Rock Pipits (littoralis) was feeding around the edges on the 17th. On the 18th an obvious movement of Kittiwakes was occurring throughout the Midlands. Jonathan Holliday had a couple at Pugneys, there must surely be one at Orgreave. Engineering an earlier than normal exit from work I headed straight to the patch where smack in the middle sat an adult Kittiwake, totally expected but self-found nonetheless.



March continued to be a better than average month with more Whooper Swans (a bumper year indeed) an obliging adult winter Little Gull (found by a dog walker) and bird of the month an adult Iceland Gull (2nd record) briefly on 28th.




April


Potentially one of the best months April really came up with the goods and visits were daily and usually twice. Aside from the expected migrants the accelerating list was boosted with Pintail, Ruff, Sanderling, Arctic Tern, a Blue-headed Wagtail (that was found by Pete Wragg) and Whinchat. Best of all was a partial summer plumaged Spotted Redshank, my first here - though I did record one in 1995 before the site was opencast.



May


The 15th May 2013 will stay with me forever and go down as probably the best days (mornings) birding I have ever had locally. No major rares but an amazing fall of waders; Turnstone 3, Sanderling 10, Knot 5, Black-tailed Godwit 3, Ringed Plover 20, Dunlin 30+, Common Sandpiper 4 and Wood Sandpiper. Quite a spectacle and one that wasn’t echoed elsewhere locally.



The 18th of May was my first twitch of the year. Whilst watching the Dusky/Naumann’s/intergrade Thrush in Margate Cemetery I was gripped by news of a Sedge Warbler adjacent the River Rother - a species that I have only recorded on one previous occasion (most reports from here involve bush singing Reed Warbler). The feeling of dipping such a relatively common migrant made me realise just how hooked on patch birding I had now become.


The end of the month finished with a flurry with two ticks in the same evening visit; Barn Owl and Red-legged Partridge.


June


Generally I take a break in June and this year was mostly spent in the garden. A Red Kite over the house whilst glazing the greenhouse headed straight towards Orgreave where I would normally have been. Despite the migrant lull I still added a couple, namely Common Scoter (7) and Green Sandpiper - the latter a species that my Patchwork nemesis Johnny would fail to see during 2013.


July


July was quiet but Sanderling, Black-tailed Godwit and Little Gull brightened up the quiet days the only new bird was Yellow-legged Gull.


August


During July I commented to Jonny that August would be the make or break month and with just a couple of species between us it could potentially be game changing.
I wasn’t wrong. The 1st produced an eclipse Garganey (another patch first) followed by the next new bird, a Great White Egret that came in low from the east being replaced an hour later by two Little Egrets. The 10th produced the only Mediterranean Gull of 2013, a juvenile, with an area record count of 14 Yellow-legged Gulls the following evening. A few more Yellow-legged Gulls, Black-tailed Godwits and Turnstone filled the gaps up towards the month end.



Bird of the year decade (so far) came on the 24th with a sadly all too brief juvenile Long-tailed Skua which headed south after being flushed by a dog walker, full story HERE. A Grey Plover later the same day whilst not so rare was just as welcome, “they’re all the same size on the list” as one local birder might say!





September


With such a good spring and late summer the autumn was always going to be difficult. The new birds dried up and apart from Little Egret (4), a few Ruff, Sanderling, Arctic Terns, Little Gull and a Rock Pipit there was little else to sing about. The only list addition being Goldcrest!


October


A trip to Spurn, in westerlies and gale force northerlies, took me away from the patch for the first week of October, but as no other birders reported anything I wasn’t too upset. The 12th and 13th would prove to be the last good days of the year. Classic ‘clag’ conditions brought Marsh Harrier another Great White Egret and a Rock Pipit. The following day two Red-breasted Mergansers added themselves to the list (1st record) with a late Arctic Tern and 2 Pintail later in the day.



Pre and post-work visits were now at an end and weekends and every other weekend were my saviour. By now I had conceded to the Pugneys stalwart Johnny and my only goals were beating last years self-found patch list (138) and holding on to 2nd place in the Inland North Patch Challenge League.  


November


Surprisingly the Daily Express’ predicted winter armageddon didn’t materialise and Novemeber was mild and wet. Consequently the hoped for winter bonus birds didn’t happen, though I finally caught up with Water Rail (3).


December


Stuck on 136 I still needed two species to equal last years SF list. The lack of cold weather meant there was no hard weather movement and it didn’t look likely. I tried in vain to flush Woodcocks (a patch tart) I even scanned the Greylags and Canada Geese for just about tickable wildfowl, what I wouldn’t have given for a Mandarin, Egyptian Goose or Parakeet (two of which Johnny had ticked) but alas it was not to be…


Despite ‘failing’ to beat the previous year and visiting on approximately 300 occasions, having had just a dozen or so good days, 2013 was by far the best years birding that I have had. My final Patchwork Challenge total was 137 (136 of which were self-found) netting me 167 points, overall 8th in the national inland section and 2nd in the Inland North League (the Doc’ Martins League of the Patchwork Challenge).


I missed a few birds, namely; Waxwing, Cuckoo (no records), Little Tern (2 on the May wader day), Black Tern (a very early bird) and a Curlew Sandpiper but you can’t see them all.

Already 2014 looks interesting with some excellent inland north sites such as Swillington, Alkborough, Brokholes and Pugneys the competition in 2014 looks tough - all these sites have a good track record and unlike Orgreave have all recorded BB rarities - maybe that will change this year...

28th December. Long Time Coming

I don't recall, in 30 years of birding, that I've ever had a tick during the Christmas period and given that I haven't had a sniff all year (excepting the pending Duskyish Thrush and the Flamborough Baikal Teal) I couldn't see this year being any different. So whilst driving towards the Broomhead Crossbills Jo showed me a picture of an 'interesting' Guillemot that the Portland Bird Obs' had 'Tweeted'... It certainly was interesting - it was a bloody BRUNNICH'S!! Unfortunately a prior Boxing Day arrangement meant I couldn't go and as Jo had foolishly agreed to work the following day it meant sweating until the Saturday.  The Bird was still present Friday afternoon and arrangements were made for an early departure south. Despite Roy having an unscheduled lie-in he managed to get us at Portland by 9:30 where the bird was still performing to the crowd of a hundred or so. So on the final weekend of the year I finally got to put a firm indelible tick at the side of this chunky Arctic Auk.



This wasn't however my only tick. At the other side of the breakwater was a Black Guillemot my first English record.

It was also nice to catch up with the Brixham White-billed Diver and indeed another first for me - 4 species of diver at the same site.


A handful of Purple Sand's just over the wall.


21st December. Pigeon in Flight

Finally one of the half dozen or so Ivory Gulls, that turned up following the recent tidal surge, stuck in the same place for more than just a few hours and conveniently just an hour and half away. Jo could hardly contain her excitement at this rare chance of seeing this high Arctic scavenger almost six years after we first met - I really spoil that girl.

Sat out on the salt marsh, when we arrived, Jo looked through the scope declaring "It looks like a Pigeon" and showed no further interest in it... Obviously not cute enough.

After meeting up with my Patch Birding nemesis Jonny Holiday and having a mutual moan about how crap our respective patches have been for the last few months the gull had the decency to come closer and investigate the festering fish that had been laid at it's table - clearly affluent southern birders had visited as smoke Salmon was on offer and seemingly favourable to the poor northerners offering of Mackerel..








1st December. Oh Go On Then

After what I can only describe as a spell of the birding blues, pretty much affecting me for the whole of the autumn, it's time to pick myself up and get back into it.

With exactly one month left of the Patchwork Challenge it's looking highly unlikely that I'll catch Jonathan Holiday, whose now at least 18 points ahead. Jonny and I had a little side competition back in January to see who could get the highest self-found total, currently he's about 6 species in front and again I'm unlikely to catch him, unless there's a sudden drop in temperature coupled with Jonny falling off a ladder. Hmm.....

Aside from the above I'm just two species off equaling last years self-found patch year list currently standing at 136 and for the next 4 weeks that's where my efforts are going.

As we rapidly approach the year end I've had a few inquiries as to whether I'll be running the Footit Competition again.  Well, I was thinking maybe not - but after several requests from Twitter followers and a telephone conversation with Mr Garner I thought what better way to start the years and shake off the Birding Blues?

So there it is, Footit 2014 officially launched. However this year they'll be a few changes..... though at the moment I'm not entirely sure what they are.

Entry details and the rules will be on the Footit blog in the next few days..




 

13th October. Deadlock Broken

The only saving grace of coming home from Spurn in easterlies was the apparent flood of inland seabirds, mostly Gannets and Great Skuas. So filled with enthusiasm I hit the patch at first light, I say first light but at 07:30 it was still dark and in fact it didn't get light for another hour.

The rain was relentless and with the strong north easterly wind keeping the rain off optics and specs was near impossible - I really need to get some contact lenses sorted. In the gloom I picked up a Rock Pipit, a coastal species but by no means a lost seabird!

The first lap of the lake was fairly uneventful though the second lap was better. High up in the gloom I picked up an egret slowly heading south. Slow wing beats, long projecting black legs, an apparently pale bill and a neck like the Toilet Duck bottle referred to in an earlier post. Unfortunately after my first lap I'd ditched the camera in the car - due to the incessant rain - and now relied solely on my now fogged up bins, subsequently these were the only points that I picked up, but surely this was another Great White?

I was still in need of that all important patch year tick, having gone a full six weeks since the last one, and I finally got it when I picked up two crows mobbing an immature Marsh Harrier as it headed east. At last deadlock finally broken..

Despite getting soaked for 8 hours I was keen to get back the following morning. The rain and wind were even worse this morning and after getting drenched on the first round I sought shelter at least from the wind. This paid off when two Red-breasted Mergansers appeared in front of me, a new bird for the patch.


A return visit in the evening finally came up with a disorientated seabird - an Arctic Tern and two very wary Pink-footed Geese.


Having spent a total of 13 rain soaked hours on the patch this weekend I'm slightly miffed not to have a sniff of either a Gannet or a Skua - I'll probably see one from the bus on the way home tomorrow!










12th October. A Break

As compensation for not going to Shetland again Jo suggested, earlier in the year, that we might take in a short break on the East Coast during October. I settled on a few days at Spurn. Unfortunately we arrived just as one batch of easterlies finished and left the day that another wave arrived.

I did however manage a few bits and pieces with a couple of Firecrest and a Yellow-browed Warbler and a few amazing high tide wader roosts. On Thursday the wind swung north hitting speeds, at times, in excess of 50mph. As a result I spent the day sea watching and had probably one of my best spells ever of staring at waves on the Yorkshire coast, that included 4 Leach's Petrels, 50+ Sooty Shearwater, Grey Phalarope, 3 species of Skua; Arctic, Great and Pomarine.

Not suprisingly following a combination of high tide and high winds the road to the point was subsequently closed to vehicles. Having walked up to the point (for the first time ever) on Tuesday I was curious to see just how much damage the storm had caused:

The Rufous-tailed Robin at the point in the next few days, will require a 6 mile round walk.

26th September. Wake Me Up When September Ends.....













What a God awful month September is proving to be - at least for me. Those two bastard Ravens that flew over on the 1st seem to have placed some kind of curse on the patch leaving it devoid of anything worthy, certainly a case of 'Nevermore' for the time being. In almost forty visits this month the best that I've managed is 3 Ruff, 4 Little Egrets and today, bird of the month, a Rock Pipit which was my first autumn record here.


To add to my woes Shetland looks set to be sinking under the weight of rares and scarce in the coming days, with Yellow-broweds almost as numerous as the number of 'crews' up there. Which brings me to another moan. Who the f*ck started calling a carload of birders a 'crew'?  When I think of a crew I think of youths wearing tracksuits and bandannas or a ship load of blokes a bit like this:
So as correctly pointed out by Dr Collinson, of the BOU, the correct terminology is a 'carload' or a 'busload' (if more than 5 and over 65). If you use the term 'crew' then you deserve your cars brakes to fail sending you over Hermaness to a salt watery grave.. So don't!!

More gripping than any of the Shetland birds so far has been the abundance of rare pies seemingly concentrated in the Voe area despite rumours (on Twitter) to the contrary. Ryan Irvine (one of the Patchwork founders) tweeted these gripping images of a massive fall of the Johnson and Wood variety.

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Having sampled all of the above I wasn't too upset but then he tweeted a picture of a previously undescribed specimen with an Asian influence I was truly gripped:
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Showing well

6th September. Another Promising Day

Keeping an eye on the weather through the week suggested that Saturday could be good and Friday would be wet, very wet.

Arctic Tern in the murk
Setting out at dawn it was disappointingly dry, though there had been some rain during the night, but there was a light northeasterly wind and it certainly felt promising, almost as good as skua day (I really need to move on from that). Arriving at the patch I first checked the small lake, surely there would be some waders around the edge - there wasn't. Plenty of gulls on the larger lake, including an adult Yellow-legged and a group of terns, an adult and 3 juvenile Arctics, surely a good sign.

I did two laps of the lakes and as the rain by now seemed set in and the birds just weren't happening I threw the towel in and headed for work.  This was one of my fortnightly Fridays off and I needed to build some time up so at the time it made sense to work - didn't it?
Well no it didn't. Throughout the morning there were messages of inland skuas in Derbyshire and West Yorkshire and clearly I had made the wrong choice.

I left work at 3 getting to Orgreave just after 3:30 where immediately it was clear that birds had arrived. More ducks, 4 Curlew a couple of Snipe and lots of Meadow Pipits. A juv' Arctic Tern and better still a juv Little Gull on the western edge, clearly birds out of the North Sea. Ten Snipe heading high north, a juv Wheatear, 2 Whinchats and a circling Ruff added to the magic of this 60 miles inland 'fall'. But all this left a bitter taste in my mouth - what had I missed? What if I hadn't gone to work and stuck it out in the rain? I'll never know and as seemingly no other local birders were out I didn't suffer being gripped off.


1-5 September. Dog Days

After the excitement of the Long-tailed Skua things gradually reverted to normal i.e. not very many birds.  The less than great birding conditions became frustratingly difficult with an apparent increase in dog walkers flushing everything. After noting the actions of one individual previously in the week - he basically did two laps with the dog constantly barking and disturbing everything - I decided to ask him (politely) if he wouldn't mind avoiding the west bank. To my surprise he was very pleasant and said he would try to keep the dog away. Unfortunately all the time I was chatting to him, the dog playing in the mud, a Dunlin stood no less than 3 foot away literally watching us seemingly unconcerned. The nice dog walker commented on it and I felt a right tit. In future I'm just going to look the other way and let them get on with it - stupid birds.

I did however, in the last couple of weeks, manage another two patch firsts, a Tawny Owl, a couple of Ravens and an eclipse drake Garganey next door on Catcliffe Flash. The flash subsequently enjoyed a purple patch with Bittern (which was seen to fly off over Orgreave) and a Marsh Harrier - maybe it's time to stretch the patch boundary.