Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Local Patches or just self flagellation?

The last two days have flown by and its work tomorrow. Since Sunday I have had a few short dog walks around the village, down to the pond, but there have been no further list additions. I suppose that's January for you.

This got me thinking about patch watching, and in particular 'local' patch watching. I think few birders actually watch a patch local to where they live. From monitoring the Patchwork Challenge it seems that the majority of people select a patch, not for its links locally, but for its bird list. Loads of patches are Nature Reserves, headlands and known migration watch points. You cant blame observers for doing this either, it is a hobby after all and we all like a good day out, but maybe it makes a change to think differently to the masses?

My own patch, Howick to Craster ( see map at the top of the sidebar to the right) is just a random bit of countryside around where I live. It is very scenic and attracts a good number of outdoor tourists who enjoy walking the coast path, but as for being a birding location, its not a destination that Northumberland birders choose to visit. The problem here is that there is no focal point. No large ponds, scrapes, estuaries, roosts or harbours. No places that attract and hold large quantities of birds.

But here lies the discussion. If we all just claimed the hotspot areas as our patch, places in between would never be looked at. When looking for a new place to go birding how do people select? Today, I suspect that is based almost solely on what has been on the pager over the previous 12 months. I have been amazed by the areas that have been selected in the patch challenge. Some are starfish ( or even sea urchin!) shaped or strips zigzagging around reserves, ponds, etc in an attempt stretch the size to gather as many species as possible. When picking a site it shouldn't be the intention of racking up most of the British list over the coming year? What is wrong with just selecting a place with easy access, that is manageable, with some birds and monitoring whatever turns up? You don't need to stretch another half mile because there is chance of a Tawny Owl and Nuthatch there.

To keep in the spirit of local bird study take a map, look for somewhere that has three or four habitat types within a clearly defined boundary not far from home, hopefully it will be very under watched, and there you have it.

Wait a minute....that could be here!  Or here ,  here and a good few other patches too, and it is to these watchers I wish a gob smacking rarity to turn up to get twitchers asking 'Who found this? What were they doing here?!' Good luck for 2015...


Common Rosefinch, Great White Egret and Barred Warbler all from nowhere.


11 comments:

Steve Gale said...

Any of those three species in the photograph will do Stewart!

amanda peters said...

My patch is the park I visit most days while walking the dog, I will never see great masses of different birds here but still have managed to see over 40 different species in the last few years.I know them all and get very excited when they come back to nest, this year Treecreepers are back after not been around.
last year I recorded a Redstart which was just as exciting as sening any fancy bird.
Amanda xx

Anonymous said...

Good post Stewart. Much as I love the Northumberland coastline I plan to concentrate a lot more on my home town of Alnwick this year and do a lot more exploration of Hulne Park...a full time job in itself!!! It'll be interesting to see what turns up, and not just birdlife, over the coming 12 months.

matt knott said...

Hi Stewart - like this post. I too get quite frustrated with birders heading to the hotspots and often wonder what would get found if people were a bit more imaginative and prepared to look in those less obvious places.
Love the bog by the way.
Cheers,
Matt

Stewart said...

Steve, oh yes they were all good, I would like something different but possible, like an RB Flycatcher or Wryneck maybe?

Amanda - As long as you enjoy your birds and keep learning as you go, thats all you want. Redstart is good, even here on my bit of east coast.

Anon - Thats interesting, do I know you? I would like to keep abreast of your Alnwick studies, some of the river in the pastures etc is quite good. I'm not sure how long you have been birding but I remember flocks of 30+ Hawfinches in Hulne Park, sadly no more....or are they?

Matt - Cheers Matt....

Ipin said...

I have considered abandoning Druridge Pools for a 'on-foot' patch, roughly taking in my house, Cresswell, Snab point, mouth of the lyne, the sewage works and lynemouth dene. It would just fit into the 3km for PWC. No open water though, but good nirds to be found for sure. Maybe when the opencast engulfs half of my patch?

Warren Baker said...

Thanks for the plug Stewart, made me feel quite important!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Stewart - I'm Gill, probably know my face from the Alnwick Wildlife Group meetings (fat bird with purple hair haha). For some reason my google account was playing up and not accepting my password so I had to log in anonymously which I hate. I've been birding 30+ years, grew up on Tyneside, but lived in Northumberland 10 years now...8 of them in Alnwick. I've tended to be put off Hulne Park in the past because of the sheer size but after a pretty interesting walk in October I started thinking that it would make a decent patch, being only 5 minutes from home, and I'm really looking forward to getting to know it's residents this year and improve my wild flower & butterfly id. As to the hawfinches ~ I've never seen them myself but it'll be interesting to see if they are still around in the Park's 3500 acres. The Pastures & Peter's Mill I know well as they were a regular walk in my dog owning days - best sighting being an Otter swimming past at 3.30pm one July afternoon in 2008! Or the Great White Egret a few years ago.

Gill

Stewart said...

Iain - You cant change Druridge now!

Warren - Thats because you are...

Gill - Hi, I must keep up with what you see and find in and around Alnwick. It might be more interesting and easier to access, ares around the town for some market town wildlife? Loads do urban wildlife, no one does our market towns. You could watch the river, Hulne Gate, the summer Seats woods etc... Good luck with what ever you choose...

Steve Ward said...

Hi Stewart. As others say, great blog post, summing up the bread & butter of Patch Birding well. My own local patch is a stretch of river and surrounds a 5 minute walk from my home in the Yorkshire Dales. When I began birding seriously, I didn't particularly choose it as a local patch per se at first, it probably chose me in a way. It just felt the most natural thing in the world to go birding 'down by the river.' With a fairly modest but decent bird list of 126, what makes it all worthwhile is that all the finds are my own.

Thanks

Steve

Stewart said...

Hi Steve, sounds excellent, maybe you should take a fishing rod too ;) I used to spend a lot of time watching waldlife on rivers and fishing too, I sometimes miss the sounds. Spring is the best time down on the stream...Enjoy!