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