26th May. Two Ticks in The Twilight

Things are really winding down now and movement through the patch has been virtually non-existent in the last week or so, apart from a steady trickle of what I presume are tundrae Ringed Plovers.

Taking advantage of the warm bank holiday weekend and extra day off I paid a late evening visit, a similar visit on the same weekend last year produced Black-necked Grebe and a calling Quail. Much to my surprise I picked up a new bird for the patch as soon as the sun had set - a Red-legged Partridge calling from the top of one of the rock piles. Not the game bird I had hoped for though equally as valuable.

As darkness set in I picked up a distant Barn Owl at the southern end that skirted the grassy edge of the lakes before retreating from a mob of Lesser-black Backed Gulls roosting on the lake. This was a long awaited new addition and one that had taunted me for a while I'd seen them just yards from the site boundary twice before and even found pellets on site.


18th May. Daaaaarn To Margate

The downside of getting up at 5am is that by 9pm I'm knackered.  Friday night was no exception and despite having a lunch break power nap I was under the duvet by 10 with the phone switched to silent.
Whilst getting back in bed after one of those early hours toilet visits I glanced at the phone and noticed I had a text message. I read it without my glasses on and then with them on as it made no sense whatsoever.  The text was from Leicester birder Neil Hagley asking me if I was going for the Dusky could he have a lift? Eh? Dusky what? Were these the Friday night drunken ramblings of a Midlands birder? It soon became obvious that they weren't and after scrolling through an endless stream on Twitter all was clear - even at 3am.  I managed to get back to sleep for a couple of hours getting up at six (I had intended to rise at 5) prepared to go down to Orgreave. This coincided with news that the Thrush was still present and within a few minutes arrangements were made and after picking up Roy we were off, picking up Neil en-route.

Despite being some 240 miles away it never seems to take that long to get anywhere in Kent and by 10:30 we were there and just a few minutes later Dusky Thrush was on the list.  In the two hours that we were there it spent all of the time in the same sycamore and ash trees, mostly obscured
 but occasionally showing very well between the gaps in the leaves.

Despite resembling extras from a low budget horror film birders behaviour was exemplary whilst we were there.

The first twitchable since the Hartlepool bird of 1959 this really was one of those mythical blockers and very much on most birders wanted list.  Not quite a year to the day I was at Hartlepool looking enviously at this notice board showing that very bird..

15th May. Mental Wader Day

It would be fair to say that for every good day on a patch you'll get 20 bad ones. So by my reckoning that's about 1.5 good days per month, though to be honest that's probably pushing it. Today wasn't a bad day or a good day, today was an amazing day, actually it was an amazing 3 hours and days like that don't come very often.

As I disembarked the bus the light rain had turned heavy. Within just a few minutes of being onsite the good birds started to come, 3 Black-tailed Godwits, feeding on the island, were immediately followed by the first of 2 Greenshank.  

The weather by now couldn't have been better: heavy low cloud, rain and that all important northeast wind - the perfect storm. I made my way to the larger lake just as an Arctic Tern bounced by and the first of ten Sanderling dropped down briefly. 

I scanned the distant edge and instantly picked up a Turnstone among a good sized flock of smaller waders, mostly Ringed Plover and at least 4 Sanderling. I waited for a dog walker to pass them, suspecting they might fly nearer. Ironically they didn't flush. 

When I eventually got to the flock there was a total of 6 Sanderling, 16 Ringed Plover, Dunlin and the aforementioned Turnstone. Quite a tidy flock and the largest gathering of Sanderling I'd ever seen inland. 

Heading back towards the causeway between the two lakes a Wood Sandpiper had joined the resident Redshanks feeding close enough for a few record shots.  The birds just kept coming and scanning the sky I picked up another Turnstone dropping in with a Dunlin, a second Greenshank, 4 more Sanderling in 2 pairs and a seemingly constant stream of Dunlin heading north. This was movement more akin to the East Coast not a former colliery site 50+ miles inland and it wasn't over.  

I set off back round towards the drain mouth where the small waders were gathering, presumably taking advantage of the food being flushed down with the surface water run-off. As I crossed the drain most of the flock got up and settled on the short grass of the 'plains' as I scanned through them I picked up yet another flock, overhead, of about 20 waders some clearly bigger than the others. Checking through them I picked out 5 partial summer-plumaged Knot, the rest of the birds being Dunlin I dare say I might have missed other similarly short staying birds. Dunlin continued to go through and I estimated at least 30 birds between 06:30 and 09:00, but on reflection I think this might have been double.  Shortly after 08:30 the weather broke and with it the migrant stream.  Another regular birder arrived and I regaled him with tales of my haul. He looked a bit despondent but I suggested that with another front coming through there was bound to be something else. Sadly I had a meeting arranged at work and had to leave, but my tip paid off as he had 2 Little Terns and another 7 Turnstones drop in an hour after I'd left. 

As I write this I'm still struck by the sheer amount of waders (13 species in total) that were moving just 36 hours previously. Anyone reading this or trawling through the list of species on the Sheffield Bird Study Group site might be thinking that they might start concentrating their efforts at Orgreave, but days like this don't come often, in fact this was a once in a my 30 years of birding life (from an inland perspective) and this morning it was business as usual with just 6 Ringed Plovers. 

Putting it all into context this was the equivalent of those famous East Coast falls that as a young birder I used to dream about and for me the memory of 15th May 2013, or Mental Wader Day as I referred to it in my notebook, will stay with me forever.

Curiously the events of yesterday morning were not mirrored at nearby sites such as Old Moor, Potteric etc Though good numbers of Sanderling and Turnstone were reported from several Midlands sites.

12th May. Go Jonny Go

Back in late December I foolishly threw down the gauntlet to Pugneys stalwart Jonny Holiday for a self-found patch challenge throughout the coming year. He and I both finished 2012 equally matched on 138, so it was obviously going to be a close fight, or as least I thought that would be the case.  As we stroll into the second third of the year I'm getting a metaphorical arse kicking, recent calculations indicate that he is at least a full 16 species ahead. I shouldn't be too concerned it's still early days, but my list is in need of a severe amount of luck or a change of strategy.  Luck is certainly something Jonny has had no shortage of for example: On Wednesday sighting classic 'clag' conditions I put in a last minute leave request. Jonny sensed a comeback but I had no such luck spending a total of seven hours on site (5:15-7:00, 08:45-13 and 18:00-19:00) for the sum highlights of  4 Common Terns and 3 Dunlin - it was that good at one point I fell asleep on a bench. Jonny, on the other hand had a similarly early visit but scored big in the evening with a ring-tail Hen Harrier (a real lowland mega in these parts). Along with a self-found Lesser Scaup, which netted him a full 12 points in the Patchwork Challenge, it would seem that he can do no wrong.
This Tree Pipit is as good as it's been over the last couple of weeks.

I recently discovered that my early morning boost
has laxative properties!
Patch birding so far this year has become a total addiction, where I've taken every available opportunity to get out, missing only one day in the last seven weeks! With the persistent cold weather it's not been easy and birds that I should have found have simply not appeared yet, such as Reed and Garden Warbler, frustratingly they can along with Sedge Warbler - very rare on my side of the Rother - be found just 100 metres or so from the patch boundary.  I've missed a few key species too, Little Egret and Hobby (both of which I've failed on in recent years).  The early starts and the very early starts are mostly proving unrewarding, with the evenings being better. The problem with Orgreave is that no time is particularly better, in fact you are just as likely to see movement at lunchtime as you are at 5am, but without the need for copious amounts of caffeine. For now I'll just have to grit my teeth and hang in there, there's still a good few weeks left of the spring and time to give Jonny a few scares... a proper BB rare is overdue and would be most very welcome at the moment..