Sunday 1 January 2017

2016 - A Year of Patchbirding

This was my second year competing in the Patchwork Challenge, and after an excellent 2015 (including some exceptional records - Corncrake, Common Crane, White-Rumped Sandpiper to name but a few) I held little hope that 2016 could be anywhere near as good.....

How wrong I could be.....I visited the patch on 136 occasions and despite four separate months of failing to add a new yeartick I managed to see 185 species. Of the 185 species, 14 were patch lifers, not bad going, and pushed me onto exactly 200 for the patch in little under five years. Needless to say I think 2017 has a lot to live up to if it can come close to matching the last two years.


Patch visits - 5
Patch lifers - 1 (Lapland Bunting)
Patch Yearlist - 114 (133 points)

Corn Bunting - Within Way

Stonechat - Hale Shore

Rock Pipit - Within Way

After a pretty awesome 2015 I couldn't wait to get out and about to start the New Year off. A good stomp about the patch on the 1st got the list ticking over with some quality additions including Great White Egret, Merlin, Jack Snipe, Yellow-legged Gull, but the best of all was the Water Pipit which thankfully decided to hang about from December. The 16th turned out to be a good day on patch with some scarce patch birds including Woodcock, Barn Owl and the lingering 1st winter Shag. However the best bird of the month was a Lapland Bunting  that I found with the massive finch flock on Hale Head on 20th. My first patch lifer of the year, and a nice gripback from the five I missed last autumn. The rest of the month was mopping up some of the more expected patch birds, but a smart male Red-breasted Merganser was greatly appreciated. I ended the month on 114, already 15 ahead of January last year, not a bad start and hopefully a sign of things to come.  


Patch visits - 8
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 121 (144 points)

Merlin - Carr Lane, Hale

Iceland Gull - Hale Lighthouse

Skylark - Hale Head

February started and ended well, but had a little lull in the middle; however there was always a good selection of winter specialities with Merlin, Short-eared Owl, Jack Snipe, Great White Egret etc. A male Mandarin on Hale Shore on the 6th was only my second patch record (and quite possibly the same bird lingering from November 2015). A Firecrest was nice to catch up with at Pickerings Pasture on the 10th, having failed to connect with it on a number of previous attempts. A Common Scoter and 2 more Red-breasted Merganser on the same date were good records. A Red-legged Partridge on the 13th was a particularly good patch record, with very few annual records. A redhead Goosander flying west along the Mersey on the 22nd was an added bonus, for a remarkably scarce patch bird. Finally on the 26th the white-wingers finally arrived in force - with 2 Glaucous Gull and an Iceland Gull. Over the next couple of days numbers of Iceland Gull increased to at least 4 different birds, whilst at least one of the Glaucous Gulls stuck around. The one blemish on the month was missing out on 7 Twite that were seen along Hale Head, but then again you can't see everything!


Patch visits - 15
Patch lifers - 1 (Bittern, Caspian Gull)
Patch Yearlist - 135 (164 points)

Little-ringed Plover - Carr Lane Pools

Iceland Gull - Hale Lighthouse

Grey Partridge - Hale Head

March was spent largely Gulling at Hale Lighthouse, with the Iceland and Glaucous Gull's continuing to perform. The benefit of spending plenty of time by the Mersey is that you can pick up birds that can sometimes be difficult elsewhere on patch, with Avocet and Goldeneye on the 4th and Brent Goose and a further Goosander on the 12th. Surprise of the month came on the 11th after another gulling session; Iggy had seen an asio Owl at the back of Carr Lane the previous evening, so I decided to stop and take a look. Although there was no sign of the Owl, a Bittern flew in from the south and landed in the small area of reeds. A great patch lifer and only about the 3rd record I the last 30 years within the patch boundary. With increased numbers of Gulls and eyes watching the gulls it was maybe not too much of a surprise that we finally picked up our first patch Caspian Gull on the 12th as it flew west with hundreds of Gulls. With plenty of raptors on the move already, the 20th saw a nice Red Kite flying east along Runcorn Hill. The first "true" Summer migrants finally started turning up from the 25th, with early records of Wheatear, SwallowSand Martin, Whimbrel and Little-ringed Plover. For what can be a very quiet month, it had been a bit of a corker and we weren't even in to the proper migration months.


Patch visits - 19
Patch lifers - 1 (Glossy Ibis)
Patch Yearlist - 159 (199 points)

Common Whitethroat - Within Way

Common Redstart - Carr Lane

Red Kite - Carr Lane

April has to be one of my favourite months on patch with migrants (both Summer and Winter) still on the move, and with the possibility of something rare thrown into the mix. The month started off well with a male Ring Ouzel at Burnt Mill Farm on the 3rd, along with my first couple of Yellow Wagtail and Willow Warbler. Having missed a couple of Osprey on patch, I decided to spend an afternoon raptor watching from Church Lane on the 5th, with my patience paying off with an Osprey flying NW over my head (and another on the 19th). A decent movement of Little Gulls elsewhere in the UK had me checking Pickerings Pasture on the 11th, and although no Little Gulls were present an adult Kittiwake was an unexpected bonus. My only Spotted Redshank of the year was picked up at the end of Within Way on the 19th, surprising given their relative abundance last year, A number of expected, but scarce migrants were picked up during the month including Redstart, Grasshopper Warbler, Whinchat and Garden Warbler. But the best bird of the month was a Glossy Ibis, which I managed to dip on the 22nd, before jamming in on it on the 23rd. The month ended with some unusual records including a Common Crossbill over Hale Park on 28th, before the 30th produced a male Pied Flycatcher and Ring-necked Parakeet, whilst a showy Red Kite was a nice surprise. The only slight disappointment for the month was missing a female Eider which drifted slowly past Within Way, mid-month whilst I was stuck at work. Then again I shouldn't really complain. I ended the month 14 ahead of the same point last year, not bad going ahead of the some of the big months!


Patch visits - 13
Patch lifers - 4 (Honey Buzzard, Temminck's Stint, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Quail)
Patch Yearlist - 171 (226 points)

Honey Buzzard - Hale Park

Broad-billed Sandpiper - Hale Shore

Temminck's Stint - Carr Lane Pools (c/o Ian Igglesden)

May was not to disappoint this year, despite having severe competition from last year! A good start to the month with a Spotted Flycatcher in Hale Park on the 2nd, followed by a (the?) Glossy Ibis flying SE over Carr Lane later that day. The 4th turned into a bit of a red-letter day with a Honey Buzzard flying north over the Mersey from Frodsham, before heading off NW (and later seen in north Liverpool). I also found a Wood Sandpiper, a number of Whinchat and the first Greenshank of the year. After a brief holiday in France, I was back out onto patch and the 9th produced a Temminck's Stint  on Carr Lane Pools, and a Cuckoo flying over Frodsham Score. So onto the 12th May, and following an enjoyable afternoon on patch watching numerous Sanderling and Curlew Sandpiper and a Short-eared Owl down to point blank range I received a hurried phone call from Iggy advising to get my arse down to Hale Shore NOW!! Racing down to the Lighthouse and running the last half-mile I joined Iggy, and after a brief panic relocated a stonking adult Broad-billed Sandpiper. To make things even better we also picked up a flock of c.43 Arctic Tern flying east up the Mersey (a great patch record!). A Common Tern on the 14th kept things ticking along, before Rob Cockbain found a singing Quail on the 15th. Amazingly the number swelled to at least 3 singing birds throughout the rest of the month. A female Garganey on the 21st was surprisingly the first record on patch this year, and my last yeartick of the month. The rest of the month was a little flat with plenty of the good birds present, but nothing that really got the juices flowing.


Patch visits - 8
Patch lifers - 2 (Green-winged Teal, Little Tern)
Patch Yearlist - 174 (236 points)

Green-winged Teal - Carr Lane Pools

Channel Wagtail - Hale Lighthouse

Egyptian Goose - Hale Marsh

June was a bit of a mixed month with a couple of nice "repeat" birds for the year - a singing Cuckoo over Burnt Mill Farm on 4th was nice given their relative scarcity on patch (especially singing birds). Hobby were very much in evidence and the Quail continued to sing from Within Way, whilst a Channel Wagtail pair seemed to be taking up territory. The 7th provided a massive surprise in the shape of a male Green-winged Teal on Carr Lane Pools which stayed well into July by which time it had moulted into some awful eclipse plumage and was never seen again. The 7th also produced a Little Tern at Pickerings Pasture, thanks to a quick text from Elliot Monteith who had seen them flying south down the Mersey earlier. Another Osprey on the 8th, was turning my initial panic of not seeing one into a bit of a farce! An Egyptian Goose took up residence on Carr Lane Pools from 10th and stuck around well into December. The 10th also produced a juvenile Spoonbill that appeared to roost on Hale Decoy with the Egrets. The remainder of the month was slow going, and it already felt as though it was descending into the Summer doldrums.


Patch visits - 15
Patch lifers - 2 (Turtle Dove, Black Tern) 
Patch Yearlist - 178 (245 points)

Garganey - Town Lane, Hale

Glossy Ibis - Carr Lane, Hale

Little Gull - Hale Marsh/Pickerings Pasture

A very slow start, to what can ordinarily be a relatively dull month on patch was blown out of the water on the 5th. Whilst watching a smart 2cy Hobby at the back of Carr Lane Pools I was astonished to find a Turtle Dove, a very unexpected patch and county lifer. Moving onto the hightide roost at Pickerings I picked out my only 2 Little Gulls of the year (a 1cy and 2cy). The 10th provided only my 2nd patch record of Sandwich Tern (followed swiftly by another on the 12th). There was a good selection of ducks and waders around with 2-3 Garganey, Green-winged Teal, Wood Sandpiper and some good gatherings of Black-tailed Godwits (which I spent many hours reading rings). There were also surprise young passerines in the shape of 2 Redstart and Wheatear mid-month. A Glossy Ibis appeared on 24th and remained for a few days, showing well (from car roof tops) along Carr Lane. The month ended with another surprise with an adult Black Tern flying west up the Mersey from the Lighthouse.


Patch visits - 14
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 178 (245 points)

Ruff - Carr Lane, Hale

Sanderling - Hale Lighthouse

Curlew Sandpiper - Hale Lighthouse 

Little Stint - Hale Lighthouse

August turned out to be my first blank month for yearticks, but with birds present in both quality and quantity it kept the enthusiasm up. A Tree Sparrow on the 3rd  was only my third record of the year. Wader numbers continued to impress across the site with some large c.1300 roosts of Black-tailed Godwit. The 6th produced my 2nd Spoonbill of the year which roosted in the decoy, but frustratingly missed it on a number of other occasions. Wader numbers started to grow on the Mersey as well with some large counts of Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Sanderling, but sadly despite a lot of time scanning through them could not pick out anything more impressive. The Wood Sandpipers on Carr Lane provided awesome views from mid-month as they fed down to 15ft at times. Bizarre record of the month has to go to the Nuthatch that flew out from the copse at the end of Within Way towards Frodsham on the 29th, what potentially would have been a Frodsham "mega" had any of the Frodders boys been available. Final mention goes to the flock of 24 Snow Geese that turned up on Hale Marsh on the 20th, which provoked some interesting discussion (but obviously not counted for my yearlist!!).


Patch visits - 12
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 178 (245 points)

Curlew Sandpiper - Town Lane, Hale

Wood Sandpiper - Carr Lane, Hale

September was quite possibly my most frustrating month of the year, compounded by a broken rib and a week away in Mallorca. With the East Coast again being battered by a wealth of mega and scarce birds, the patch was lifeless; and despite spending a lot of time working suitable looking areas the birds were just not coming. A Garden Warbler (a generally scarce bird on patch) spent the majority of the month around the Pickerings hide. A few Whinchat, Redstart and the odd Wheatear were the best of a very slow month for passerines. Waders were relatively good, but with the majority decamping to the Mersey of Pickerings Pasture, getting birds close enough to properly search through proved difficult; however Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, KnotWood Sandpiper were all good value. By mid-month the first returning Merlin, Short-eared Owl and Rock Pipit, were already turning up (not a good sign when you're still hoping for the quality autumn migrants). An Osprey flying east along the Mersey on the 21st, was my fifth on patch this year (clearly a good year, or maybe just being in the right place at the right time). The rest of the month was beyond slow, and I wasn't too sure whether to laugh or cry with every passing rare bird notification from the East Coast....I really didn't think that I would get through the whole of September without a single yeartick.


Patch visits - 11
Patch lifers - (Yellow-browed Warbler, Gannet)
Patch Yearlist -185 (266 points)

Pectoral Sandpiper - Hale Marsh

Yellow-browed Warbler - Hale Park (c/o Mike Roberts)

Gannet - Hale Shore

Fortunately October didn't decide to continue in the same vain as September, and my misery of two months without a yeartick was quickly forgotten when I found a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper on Hale Marsh. With the numbers around elsewhere in the North-West I had been amazed that one hadn't turned up earlier. The 7th produced the first of what would be a phenomenal influx of Yellow-browed Warbler to the patch (and UK as a whole). Throughout the rest of the month I found a further 9-11 birds, including an amazing 5 in one day on the 13th. Plenty of vizmigging during the month produced the goods, with a Hawfinch through on the 8th, with good numbers of other passerines (Tree Sparrow, BramblingLesser Redpoll etc) moving through. The 8th also produced a flock of 12 White-fronted Geese south over Church Lane prior to vizmigging, just going to show that it pays to be out on patch early. A Pale-bellied Brent Goose on the 10th was only my 3rd patch record of Brent Goose. A Firecrest on the 13th was nice, whilst the 19th produced a patch lifer in the form of a sub-adult Gannet flying west up the Mersey in strong North-Westerlies. A male Pochard on the Mersey on the 24th was noteworthy due to its scarcity on patch. The final yeartick addition of the month (and what would ultimately be my last of the year) came in the form of a Cetti's Warbler that I found along Carr Lane (only my 3rd on patch), which ended up staying until the end of the year; fingers crossed it finds a mate for 2017! October also saw me reach the milestone of 450 on my British List with one of my highlights of the year - the Siberian Accentor at Easington (one of my few twitches of the year).       


Patch visits - 8
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 185 (266 points)

Water Pipit - Town Lane, Hale (c/o Mike Roberts)

Pink-footed Geese - Town Lane, Hale

Little Owl - Within Way

With some new found optimism from October, it was back to normal again in November with no new yearticks; and it was made worse by a number of good birds that I missed (Rough-legged Buzzard, Siberian Chiffchaff, Waxwing). However as with August there were still plenty of good birds to be seen. One of the highlights of the month were the Water Pipits (ordinarily a rare patch bird), with up to 5 birds present throughout the month and into December. They were often very confiding, allowing great views of what can often be a skittish species. I found a late Yellow-browed Warbler (possibly up to my 12 on patch this year) on the 25th whilst unsuccessfully trying to relocate the Siberian Chiffchaff. Raptor numbers were particularly good with regular Merlin (up to 4-5 different birds), Peregrine (3-4 different birds), Marsh Harrier among the expected raptors. The rest of the month involved enjoying plenty of winter species on patch with loads of Pink-footed Geese, Water Rail, Great White Egret, Whooper Swan and Woodcock. As much as it was disappointing not to add any new birds to the yearlist it was still a really fun month to be out and about, even if the cold weather meant that I have only just regained feeling in my toes!


Patch visits - 8
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 185 (266 points)

Little Egret - Carr Lane, Hale

Peregrine - Hale Marsh (c/o Mike Roberts)

Meadow Pipit - Carr Lane Pools

Into December, and it was all becoming a bit desperate. Again there were good numbers of quality winter birds with the Cetti's Warbler, Water Pipits, Water Rail and Pink-footed Geese, being joined by regular sightings of Barn Owl and the occasional Short-eared Owl. Raptors were again plentiful with Merlin seen regularly. The start of the month also saw a report of a Spotted Sandpiper at Pickerings, which sadly was only a Common Sandpiper. A very pale quiet Chiffchaff may well have been something more interesting, but I couldn't relocate it on further visits and will have to go into the "one that got away" pile. 4 Ring-necked Parakeet at Hale Park on the 24th was interesting, and may point to expansion from the South Liverpool Parks? A few late Little Stint and a single Curlew Sandpiper were interesting amongst the large wader numbers on the Mersey. Gulling was particularly poor, with no white-wingers (but with low numbers in the UK at present, maybe we won't see any until 2017 now). I spent numerous hours driving around Hale and Halebank villages looking for Waxwings in vain, with the push of numbers into the North-West coming a little too late. Sadly the end of the month was scuppered with me coming down with a virus, which stopped me from getting out onto patch again (but on the plus side gave me time to write this Blog!) ending the year on 185 species on patch.

2016 Summary

So what did I miss? Fortunately I didn't miss too many this year, but what I did miss was fairly good - Twite, Eider, Waxwing, Mealy Redpoll and Rough-legged Buzzard.

Losses on 2015 - Bean Goose, Eider, Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Corncrake, Common Crane, White-rumped Sandpiper, Great Skua, Willow Tit, Woodlark, Black Redstart, Twite and Mealy Redpoll.

The first half of 2016 was immense on patch, both in terms of quality and variety of species. The second half was disappointing, partly because the Spring had been so good. However the biggest kicker was the lack of decent NW'lies to push any seabirds down into the Mersey this year. October was notable due to the number of Yellow-browed Warblers, so it was slightly disappointing that we didn't unearth anything better. Given the number of both Cattle Egret and Waxwing in the North-West it is slightly annoying neither made it anywhere near the patch.....then again there is always a chance for 2017.

So what for 2017? Well based on the last two years I can't wait to get out and about again, although whether I can match either of the last years totals will have to wait to be seen......

With thanks to the Hale regulars, Rob and Carol Cockbain, Ian Igglesden, Mike Roberts, Sean O'Hara for all of the information/texts/messages through the year......and to the Frodders Boys for regular banter and "very" occasionally a decent bird to share!! 


  1. Great summary of the year. Wish I'd seen half of them. Good luck for 2017

    1. Thanks Mike. Hopefully 2017 will be just as good. Looking forward to seeing some more of your excellent pics....hopefully of a patch mega :)