Friday, 25 September 2015

Sacha Elliott - Burdon Moor/Causey Arch

Thinking of Gateshead doesn’t immediately invoke images of awe inspiring natural places or breath-taking wildlife encounters. The area’s raw and often tarnishing industrial heritage was cemented in the mind with the installation of the now (in)famous Angel of the North, encapsulating what many folk envisage when Gateshead is mentioned. However, seek and you shall find vast areas of rolling countryside (over half of Gateshead's countryside!), teeming with wildlife just waiting to be discovered. One such wildlife haven is Burdon Moor, my local patch. 

Roughly 4km directly west of the Angel of the North, Burdon Moor is one of the highest points in the area, showcasing panoramic views of both the Gateshead and Co. Durham countryside. Originally lowland heathland, this rare habitat was lost to agricultural “improvements” and opencast mining around 100 years ago. In an attempt to restore this location to its once glorious past, Gateshead Council instigated the ‘Bringing Back Burdon Moor Project’ to regenerate heather where it once grew. While the restoration of the site is proving to be a slow process, this doesn’t seem to be negatively affecting the many wild creature which call this site home and have readily adapted to a site still exhibiting signs of its industrial legacy.

Discovering this site purely by accident, I was immediately captivated by its 'diamond in the rough' qualities.  Here, in the heart of an agricultural landscape - and while a little marred by past industrial workings - was a wildlife Mecca and a jewel in the crown of Gateshead for bird lovers.  So enamoured with Burdon Moor, I paid a second visit that day, this time on an evening, to investigate potential nocturnal activity.  While I would have been happy to just watch passerines singing their evening melodies before heading off to roost, I also encountered Brown Hares and Roe Deer contently grazing the site.  However, what captivated my attention that night and cemented a great fondness for the site was the ‘squeaky-gate’ emanating from a tree a few paces ahead of me.  I lifted my trusty binoculars and there, illuminating through the dusk, was the glowing orange eyes of 4 young Long-eared Owls.  I could not believe it - my first real visit to the site and I encounter such enigmatic creatures.  Magic!

From birds to dragonflies to lizards, Burdon Moor is a tantalising experience for any keen naturalist and offers truly wonderful wildlife encounters with often very little effort.  If you’re lucky, the distinctive ‘wet-my-lips’ call of a Quail can be heard during summer and influxes of Short-eared Owls dazzle and perform over the cold and barren winter months. 

It was a natural evolution that I would choose this site for my Patchwork Challenge location, and while uni and work commitments restricted my time there over the summer period, I was pleasantly surprised with my species list so far.  Being a high point in the area, Burdon Moor is often used as a stopping point for birds, so species such as Wheatear, Whinchat, and Stonechat can be easily picked up before they move on to their breeding grounds. You have to be a bit luckier to catch Cuckoo or Ring Ouzel but put the time in and you’ll be rewarded! The site offers an array of common species and I’m ever hopeful that one day it’ll treat the local birders to a Shrike.  There’s also a scrawny, dead tree on site that is begging for a Red-footed Falcon to be perched atop its gnarly branches.  One can dream! For now I’ll look forward to the splendid spectacle of Golden Plover that will begin to amass over the winter. My PWC site also takes in a small section of the woodland and burn surrounding the Causey Arch.  This allows me to mop up a few other common birds like Dipper and Tawny Owl.  I’ve got four species of owl on my PWC list, however, I’m still sadly lacking Barn Owl for the area.

With the summer survey season winding down at work, I fully intend to hit the patch with enthusiasm and spend many a relaxing day enjoying the site for all that it offers. I’m not sure I’ll improve on my current total of 92 species with 102 points scored, but the time spent outdoors with be worth it nonetheless, and you never know what bird will drop in next! 

- Sacha Elliot (Burdon Moor & Causey Arch)

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Best Finds August 2015

The Bresser & Forest Optics Best Find Competition marks the pinnacle of the Patchwork  year. 
This prestigious award goes to the lucky patcher who turns up the years best bird. A bird that causes other discerning patch birders to turn green at the gills with envy. The fine people at Bresser & Forest Optics have once again demonstrated monumental generosity and have donated a pair of Bresser Montana 8.5 x 45 binoculars worth a grand total of £665.00. A fine prize that will be awarded to the winner come years end when the results are collated and the votes cast. 

To many birders, August marks the start of Autumn. Gone are the Summer doldrums, the days spent observing butterflies and the warm yet somewhat tedious days of July. August provides a much needed jolt of invigoration to many birders as the first scarce migrants begin to trickle through and a myriad of marvellous seabirds grace our coastal watchpoints. To many, August means shearwaters, skuas and shrikes. Returning waders and wayward warblers. This is reflected perfectly in the results from last month with a whole manner of early Autumn scarcities adorning patches from the north of Scotland to the very south of England. Although no true megas were unearthed during this period the species that were noted were more than enough to keep many patchers enthralled and entertained during the month.

Starting with the glaring rarities and Black Storks proved to be a real flavour of the month, occurring on not one but four patches throughout August. Three out of four patchers recieved bonus points for this species with Sean Foote at North Portland, John Hopper at Hoveringham and Mick Turton at Easington all benefitting from this years influx of this awe inspiring species. Mick was also lucky enough to pick up a superb Red-Footed Falcon on at Easington and surely must have concluded August with a large smile upon his face. Elsewhere a Melodious Warbler for Ian Ballam at Lychett marked a first site record with the same site also throwing up a Bluethroat for good measure. Dave Craven at Hale & Pickering Pastures was likewise ecstatic to pin down a White-rumped Sandpiper whilst exploring his local high tide roost. Finally over to the Inland North league where Bill Aspin's perseverance paid off as he picked up a Lesser Yellowlegs at Brockholes Nature Reserve. In addition to the aforementioned rarities perhaps the most unusual find of the month goes to Ian Thompson who turned up a Magpie on his Askernish patch in the Islands minileague. Magpies are far from common in the Outer Hebrides with only two records to date. This just goes to show that even "common" British birds can set the heart to pumping when they turn up in unusual places! Nice find Ian.
Magpie at Askernish - Ian Thompson

Lesser Yellowlegs - Bill Aspin

Moving on to your more typical but no less endearing early Autumn scarcities and Icterine Warblers featured on no less that 10 patches during August. One of these seems to have brought David Aitken a great deal of happiness comprising his first bonus point scoring species at Bempton Cliffs. Congratulations David! Likewise Wrynecks featured prominently this month occurring on six patches whilst Barred Warblers were located at two sites though only one of these was self found courtesy of Chris Bradshaw at Long Nab. Sticking to the theme of typical Autumn fare and a Red-backed Shrike was unearthed by Barrie Hamill at Burray who also found his second Common Rosefinch of the year. 

Wryneck - Nick Croft
As ever August provided an opportunity for those with coastal patches to indulge in a spot of seawatching, a trend highlighted by the prevalence of scarce seabirds in this months results. Balearic Shearwaters brought in points for Kev Rylands, Eamonn O'Donnell and Craig Fulcher, the latter a county tick for Craig no less. Sooty Shearwaters were similarly well represented whilst Black Terns were observed on eight patches. Damian Money at Saltburn in the Coastal North minileague was lucky enough to catch up with a Leach's Petrel whilst Long-tailed Skuas were notched at three sites and a Pomarine Skua brought in yet more points for Eamonn O'Donnell at Ninch, Ireland. Concluding the coastal offerings an unseasonal Iceland Gull was noted by Alastair Forsyth at Palace, Birsay.

As ever in late summer, waders featured fairly heavily in August with the highlight undoubtedly the Pectoral Sandpiper picked out by Eamonn O'Donnell at Ninch/Laytown. The bird in question showed very well at times and is sure to have bolstered Eamonn's score nicely. Elsewhere the late summer influx of Wood Sandpipers was reflected nicely in the results with birds recorded on 11 patches throughout August.

Wood Sandpiper - Ian Ballam
Pectoral Sandpiper at Ninch/Laytown © Jim Bowman

No clear contenders for "Best Find" this month but with autumn migration heating up it will be interesting to see just what is unearthed in September by Patchwork's diligent competitors. September has the potential to truly shake up the leader boards and I for one look forward to seeing what the coming month will bring.

- James C (Patchwork Challenge)

Monday, 21 September 2015

Patchwork Introducing: James C.

Recently I was asked to join the prestigious ranks of the Patchwork Challenge team, a challenge I welcomed with open arms. I have participated in the Patchwork Challenge since the beginning and as such find myself honoured to have been invited to blog, tweet and otherwise help with the challenge. As you will no doubt be seeing my name crop up on the blog from time to time, and may well receive the odd email from me in reference to finds and such I thought I should provide a little background so that you know just who it is you are speaking to.

I'm James, a twenty-two year old naturalist and birder from the North-East of England. As I said above, I have participated in PWC since the outset and have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Anyone that follows my blog will know that I have a special place in my heart for Stobswood, a rather barren and hideously under-birded site that falls within the Inland North mini league. This is a site that I have watched since a very early age and above anything else, the site that first inspired my love of birding (and patching). Once the largest opencast mine in Britain, Stobswood now stands a mosaic of forgotten pools, rolling grassland and woodland and over the years of  PWC the site has thrown up some real gems. Among these; Rough-Legged Buzzard, Green-Winged Teal, Curlew Sandpiper, Hobby, Snow Bunting, a rather credible Ross's Goose and all five species of breeding owl., to name a few. Nothing that in any way, shape or form classes as a"mega" but enough to keep this humble patcher visiting the site day in, day out whilst enduring a whole manner of weather conditions. Alas Stobswood's days are now numbered and next year I will be departing for new and less familiar climes. Despite this however I will continue to take part in PWC and relish the opportunity of a move to somewhere a tad more productive!

Little Owl, Stobswood - James Common

Long-Eared Owl, Stobswood - James Common

What does the Patchwork Challenge mean to me? Well, PWC has added a delightful competitive element to a pass time I truly enjoy. Patchwork provides motivation to get out the house on even the most atrocious days and helps makes every find, however small, extremely exciting (patch first Red-Legged Partridge this Spring proved cause for celebration). In addition to this PWC has allowed me to meet and connect with scores of like minded individuals, all of whom are equally passionate about their local patches and many of whom are more than willing to share their vast knowledge with a wee upstart like myself. Something that in hindsight has undoubtedly made me a better birder! I would advise anyone with a love of birding to get involved with Patchwork, you really won't regret it. I look forward to seeing how the challenge develops in the coming years and look forward to playing my part in the growth and development of what I feel is a truly exciting cause. 

- James C (@CommonByNature)

Inland East Anglia - August 2015

Ben Moyes stayed top of the Inland East Anglia comparative minileague as his score surged to 118% after adding Ringed Plover in August. Nick Robinson stayed in second and 5% behind after adding Tawny Owl. Mike McCarthy at Taverham and Ringland displaces Ben Rackstraw and moves into third spot after adding a monster 23% since his last update. Jim Bradley also passed 100% and closes in on 4th thanks to an Osprey.

Neither of the top two entered a score for August so it it as you were and Ashley McElwee closes right up on them at Felmingham after a 17 point month including flyover Dotterel and Black-tailed Godwit. Have we got a three way race? Nick Moran managed to make headway thanks to Tree Pipit, Firecrest and Osprey at BTO HQ whilst there was a Red Kite for Rob Lucking at Colkirk. Darren Oakley-Martin managed to add Redstart on the Bedfordshire Fens. Finally Drew Lyness managed to add Green Sandpiper and Spotted Flycatcher at UEA.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

NGB Minileague - August

Another quiet month in the NGB minileague with only a few competitors publishing their score, namely due to commitments at university and so forth. Its a hard life for young patchers! Despite this the comparative league appears to have been shaken up somewhat with Amy Robjohns overtaking yours truly (James Common) to claim to the top spot and Johnathan Scragg falling to third place. Amy's leap from fifth place to first was aided by some good birds at Titchfield in August including five individual Wood Sandpipers. With only a minute fraction between Amy and James at the top of the comparative league it will only take one good bird during september to clinch it during the coming month. Further down the table the lineup of Patchwork stalwarts remains largely the same.

No shock changes in the points league on this occasion though a few competitors did make gains with Cathal Forkan jumping up a place, Amy Robjohns hopping from sixth to fifth place and Ash Baines and Drew Lyness jumping ahead of James Common. Admittedly very few NGB submitted scores this month though I hope this will change as September draws in and motivation levels increase in tandem with Autumn migration. Though Joe Stockwell boasts a stranglehold on the top of the league there is definite potential for change and a good flurry of Autumn migrants could cause huge changes in the coming months.

As for the birds this month Joe Stockwell's Wryneck was the cream of the crop when it comes to self-finds during August. Joe also noted a superb (though rather distant) Kentish Plover whilst the best of the rest consisted of a Hobby for Jonathan Farooqi, Little Stint for Cathal Forkan, Ruff for Rhys Chivers at Soar Valley Pitts and Green Sandpiper for Drew Lyness at UEA.

Hobby - Jonathan Farooqi

- James C (Patchwork Challenge)

Coastal East Anglia - August 2015

Craig Fulcher is the first contestant to breach the 100% barrier in Coastal East Anglia thanks to adding Balearic Shearwater and Wryneck this month. Tommy Corcoran moves into second after adding 7% this month. Ryan drops to third after spending most of the month off patch. James Brown adds 5% to get very close to the podium places - perhaps a decent September at North Lowestoft will elevate him.

Wryneck - Craig Fulcher

Nige Lound stays top in the points minileague after adding 20 points this month with Black Stork, Red-backed Shrike and Barred Warbler seen and a self-found Wryneck adding some bonus points. Robert Smith moves up a place into second after a decent August at Holme adding 14 points this month. James Brown does make the podium in the points minileague after adding Wryneck, Black Tern and Little Stint. Away from the top of the table and the only additional bonus points this month were for a Wryneck unearthed by Scott Mayson at Thorpeness which moves him up a place.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Coastal North - August 2015

A new leader emerges in the Coastal North Comparative Minileague at the end of August as Stewart Sexton adds nine new species to his Howick patch year list (including two Pied Flycatchers in the garden!) taking him over 95%. A classic August Spotted Crake plus a Short-eared Owl at Fleetwood boosted Seumus Eaves over the 90% mark and into second place. 

Pied Flycatcher at Hoswick © Stewart Sexton

The rather excellent fall of migrants which hit the east coast at the end of August allowed many contestants to add significantly to their species lists. Martin Garner jumped from 172 to 187 species (and past 70%) at Flamborough with a superb tally of three Icterine Warblers, Wryneck, Long-tailed Skua and Garganey. PWC's own James Spencer went from 72 species at St. Mary's Island to 81 species with some patch goodies such as Black Tern and Little Stint.

Mick Turton continues his run in first place on the points table. He cleaned up nicely during August where Spurn was certainly the place to be. A stellar self-found Black Stork added some hefty bonus points along with extra finds in the form of Long-tailed Skua, Barred Warbler and Icterine Warbler. No content with finishing there, Mick also connected with a Red-footed Falcon on his patch which had the gall to spend five hours sitting around on wires outside his boundary beforehand! Grit determination sorted that one out! The result of all this effort/ enviable 322 points and just shy of 200 species by the end of August!

Other members at the top of the points table added several juicy species. Chris Bradshaw clocked Red-necked Grebe and Barred Warbler at Long Nab to Scalby Mills where he sits in third place. Spotted Redshank, Marsh Harrier and Reed Warbler were all species which he missed out on in 2014 so good to get those this time around too. In second place, Nick Addey chalked down self-found Long-tailed Skua, Icterine Warbler and a late calling Quail at Long Nab - Scarborough.

Another delighted recipient of the August fall was Damian Money who moves up from tenth to sixth at Saltburn in a cracking month there with 13 additions to the list featuring Great White Egret, Leach's Storm-petrel, Wryneck and Icterine Warbler (all self-found).

Icterine Warbler at Flamborough © Martin Garner

So we have several patch birders set up nicely even before Sept and Oct kick off. Could be an interesting rest of the autumn in the Coastal North Minileague!