Wednesday 14 March 2018

2017 - A Year of Patchbirding

So on to my third year in the Patchwork Challenge, and after a couple of very good years the bar was set pretty high for 2017. 

A house move towards the end of the year scuppered the last few months of the year and a slight increase in off-patch birding reduced the number of visits to 111, but I still managed to see 186 species (beating my previous year by 1, although the assigned scoring system actually meant I finished on a lower "score" than 2016). In all I managed to add 6 new patch lifers, largely helped by the big north-westerly winds that battered the UK in September (one of the few times it is actually a benefit to live in the North West!!).


Patch visits - 12
Patch lifers - 1 (Waxwing)
Patch Yearlist - 120 (139 points)

 Water Pipit - Carr Lane (Pic (c) Mike Roberts)

 Meadow Pipit - Carr Lane

Kestrel - Carr Lane

A virus that had ended 2016 prematurely kept me from getting an early start to the new year, but thankfully by the 3rd I was up and ready to go again. Brambling, Chiffchaff, Cetti's Warbler, Water Pipit, Merlin were quickly added to the new list. Having spent hours driving around Hale at the end of 2016, it was rather typical that 7 Waxwing flew over my car as I was driving along, a long overdue Patch tick. The rest of the day was spent catching up with the more expected species including Jack Snipe and Little Owl, ending the day on an impressive 85 species. The 4th provided only my 2nd record of Bean Goose as three flew north over Carr Lane. A couple of Goosander at Pickerings Pasture on the 5th, were joined by a nice dusk selection of Barn Owl, Woodcock and Tawny Owl along Carr Lane. A Short-eared Owl at Hale Shore on the 13th was nice to see, whilst a Common Scoter on the 14th was a good early winter record. A herd of 35 Whooper Swan and 1 Bewick's flying over the Mersey on the 20th was a nice surprise, and a 1st winter Glaucous Gull was a good record given the poor numbers of big Gulls up to that point. A Blackcap on the 21st at Pickerings was a relatively good winter record for the area. The 28th produced 3 Red-breasted Merganser on the Mersey from Hale Lighthouse, whilst the same location the following day was on fire with an adult Iceland Gull and Goldeneye. Overall this was my most successful January to date, with a really good mix of species.....the only down side is that it can make the remaining winter months painfully slow!    


Patch visits - 7
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 125 (144 points)

 Great White Egret - Hale Marsh

 Great Crested Grebe - Hale Lighthouse

Eurasian Curlew - Lighthouse Lane

After a successful January I was able to spend more time focusing on grilling flocks and targeting specific species. The 4th produced Tree Sparrow (an increasingly rare bird on patch other than on autumn migration), and waiting and scanning the Weaver Bend resulted in Pochard, Tufted Duck and some more Goldeneye. A twitching roadtrip (to take in Pine Bunting, Pacific Diver, Eastern Black Redstart etc) with best mate Nick Crouch meant that I was away from the patch for a little while, but I was back out again on the 18th where I caught up with Red-legged Partridge near to Burnt Mill Farm. The rest of the month was fairly slow going only adding Ruff on the 24th, and failing to connect with the Brent Goose that was present on Hale Marsh on the 25th. However even "slow" times on the patch produced a number of Great White Egret, Merlin, Water not all bad.


Patch visits - 10
Patch lifers - 1 (Cattle Egret)
Patch Yealist - 139 (171 points)

White Wagtail - Carr Lane Pools (Pic (c) Mike Roberts)

 Cattle Egret - Hale Marsh & Decoy (Pic (c) Mike Roberts)

 Lapland Bunting - Burnt Mill Farm

Garganey - Ibis Pool, Carr Lane

The month started well with a Red Kite high north west over Carr Lane on the 1st. The 4th produced 2 Pale Bellied Brent Goose which landed with the Goose and Swan herds on Frodsham Score and a flythrough ringtail Hen Harrier. But after a number of lacklustre visits, I decided to try a bit of off-patch birding (seeing some nice local specialities along the way). I finally found my way back to the patch on the 23rd, a male Garganey on the Ibis Pool, a Ring Ouzel over Town Lane and the first couple of returning migrants including Wheatear and Avocet helped to give me the push to concentrate on the patch again. A message from Luke Ozsanlav-Harris had me making an early dart from work on the 24th to catch up with only my 2nd patch Lapland Bunting, which stayed until at least the 26th. To top off the evening I found a Cattle Egret roosting on Hale Decoy (a first for the patch recording area). The remainder of the month saw a slow trickle of summer migrants including Little Ringed Plover, Swallow, Sand Martin and White Wagtails


Patch visits - 15
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 160 (204 points)

 Redstart - Carr Lane Pools

 Sedge Warbler - Ibis Pools, Carr Lane

"Channel" Wagtail - Burnt Mill Farm

April was a mixture of Spring like warmth and bitterly cold north-westerlies and the flow of migrants reflected the blocking conditions. The 9th produced a Tree Pipit (which turned out to be my only record of the year) in the paddocks by Burnt Mill Farm. The 10th saw my first returning Yellow Wagtail, but with the cold conditions it wasn't too surprising to still see a number of winter species including Whooper Swan, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin still moving around. The 13th saw a slight upturn in migrants and a smart male Common Redstart appeared on Town Lane. The 15th saw another push of migrants with upwards of 29 Wheatear by Burnt Mill Farm, along with a couple of the more expected mid-April returners; Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler. More surprising was a group of 4 Cattle Egret roosting on Hale Decoy (presumably a wandering family party), along with an Arctic Tern that flew along the Mersey. The 17th saw more migrant arrivals including another Common Redstart, Grasshopper Warbler and Greenshank. The 18th saw the first returning "Channel" Wagtails on Carr Lane Pools, but best of all an Osprey which flew west along the Mersey. The 27th produced the first returning Whinchat and Swift around Carr Lane Pools. Some big spring tides failed to produce much of note, but the 28th saw my first "proper" Blue-headed Wagtail on patch in 2 years. A couple of Crossbills moving west on the 29th was an unusual date, before some rather cold conditions returned on the 30th resulting in a good number of summer plumaged arctic waders on the move (Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Knot) and my first Little Gull of the year. However finding some sheltered spots still produced the odd migrant with a female Pied Flycatcher staying for a few days in the control meadows at Pickerings Pasture. Although a good month for a mixture of migrants, it just lacked a few more scarce species to make it feel like a good start to the Spring. 


Patch visits - 14
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 166 (212 points)

 Marsh Harrier - Within Way (Pic (c) Mike Roberts)

 Grasshopper Warbler - Hale Park

Avocet - Hale Shore

Compared to last year, May 2017 was a struggle, with a lack of scarce species in stark contrast to 2016; although (hopefully) it wasn't down to a lack of effort. A poorly timed family trip to Tatton Park (during a big movement of Black Terns) meant that I wasn't able to get out until late afternoon. Fortunately 4 Black Tern performed, along with another Little Gull and Arctic Tern....phew! Sadly that was about as good as May got! A colour ringed Avocet at Hale Shore on the 6th was interesting, whilst my only Cuckoo of the year was seen over Carr Lane. I spent a lot of the month grilling the roosting waders at Hale Lighthouse and searching all of the quiet areas of the patch for migrants with no joy. However it was still nice to see plenty of more expected species such as Garganey, Channel Wagtails and Grasshopper Warblers. The 13th saw a big arrival of Spotted Flycatcher, with at least 6 seen around the patch - a very good number for a normally scarce patch species. The 17th was probably my most depressing day of the year, with the local landowners deciding to drain the "Ibis" Pool on Carr Lane to return the area to crop producing land. Clearly no thought had been put into the timing of this with many breeders having to dessert young and nests and the worst part is that up until me writing the area has been left as rough ground. The 26th produced a nice Wood Sandpiper along Town Lane, which showed really well. The 28th saw a good movement of raptors through the patch, including a Red Kite, while a Spoonbill flew over Frodsham Score. The last couple of days of the month were fairly miserable weather wise, and unsurprisingly failed to produce much of note. 


Patch visits - 7
Patch lifers - 
Patch Yearlist - 169 (217 points)

 Ruff - Town Lane, Hale

 Black-tailed Godwit - Town Lane, Hale

Common Tern - Hale Marsh

A bit of off-patch twitching, a break away to Porto and lots of travel for work meant that I wasn't out on patch as much as normal this month. Although it probably wouldn't have made much difference given the lack of birds about still. The 3rd produced a singing Quail along Carr Lane, but sadly no birds turned up along Within Way this year. The majority of visits were spent between checking Carr Lane Pools (checking for colour rings on the Black-tailed Godwit flock) and Pickerings Pasture for the high tide roost on Hale Marsh. The 29th finally produced a few decent birds with a pair of Common Scoter on the Mersey, whilst the high tide roost finally produced some terns with both a Sandwich Tern and Common Tern. Rob Cockbain turned up a Willow Tit at the end of the month, but despite searching I failed to connect.


Patch visits - 14
Patch lifers - 1 (Stone Curlew)
Patch Yearlist - 170 (219 points)

 Stone Curlew - Hale Marsh (Pic (c) Mike Roberts)

 Wood Sandpiper - Town Lane, Hale

Common Whitethroat - Town Lane, Hale

The month started well with a (the?) singing Quail along Carr Lane again. The 7th saw the first wave of returning waders with a couple of Common Sandpiper and Little-ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit numbers picking up. I finally managed to connect with the Willow Tit on the 14th along the United Utilities pathway to Pickerings Pasture. This is the third year running that Willow Tit has turned up in June/July and raises the question of whether they are dispersing post-breeders from Moore or maybe a relic population closer by? The 15th produced a patch high count of 4 Common Tern, whilst the 21st onwards saw an increase in returning waders (Common and Green Sandpiper) and the first couple of post breeding dispersal of summer migrants (Common Redstart and Wheatear). The 25th produced the highlight of the patchbirding year, although I probably wasn't expecting it after a very poor visit earlier in the day. A check of my phone after putting the kids to bed, cooking tea and washing up found multiple missed calls and messages from a rather excited Iggy telling me to get down to Town Lane. A VERY quick (but safe) drive down to Hale in the slowly gathering darkness found me watching a Stone Curlew walking around on Hale Marsh which had been found by Mike Roberts! Amazingly it was a ringed bird, which had only been rung this year as a nestling in Wiltshire - clearly it hadn't worked out how to navigate just yet. Only about 15 locals managed to connect with the bird, and I'm just glad that I had checked my phone before pouring myself a bottle of whiskey, especially as it had done a bunk by the following morning. The rest of the month sort of tailed off, with Common Scoter on the Mersey on the 30th being the only bird of real note.   


Patch visits - 15
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 173 (225 points)

 Dunlin - Hale Lighthouse

 Ringed Plover - Hale Lighthouse

Common Sandpiper - Hale Lighthouse

August was again a rather slow month on patch, with plenty of time spent searching through the wader and gull roosts on patch with little success. Yet another Cattle Egret roosting with 37 Little Egret on Hale Shore on the 10th provided some entertainment. The Egyptian Goose finally returned to the patch from the 11th and stayed for the majority of the remaining summer and autumn months. From the 15th saw an increase in the number of migrant passerines, with a couple of Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher and a good selection of sylvias. After a run of fairly poor wader roosts, the 18th saw numbers finally start to pick up off Pickerings - which included 17 Sanderling and 2 Curlew Sandpiper. Great White Egret numbers started to pick up as well, with up to 4 birds regularly seen along the Mersey around Hale Lighthouse. With some big spring tides up to 8500 waders started to roost on the fields along Lighthouse Lane which made for an impressive sight, but sadly despite some thorough searching it didn't yield anything better than an odd Sanderling or Little Stint. The 27th produced a surprise juvenile Caspian Gull off Pickerings Pasture, only my second patch record. The rest of the month meandered on with the same fare, but the local Hobby put on good displays throughout. The 30th ended with a distant Osprey circling over Frodsham, before I jumped on a plane to Majorca for a family holiday.


Patch visits - 9
Patch lifers - 2 (Leaches Petrel, Razorbill)
Patch Yearlist - 181 (244 points)

 Pale-Bellied Brent Goose - Hale Shore

 Mediterranean Gull - Pickerings Pasture

Egyptian Goose - Carr Lane Pools

Where autumn 2016 was all about the east coast, this year it was about the westerly airflow and north-westerly gales. Returning from Majorca I found that little had changed, although it was nice to find that many of the waders were still continuing to roost on the fields along Lighthouse Lane. From the 10th the winds swung round to increasingly gusty westerlies. However the only highlight of my first "seawatch" of the autumn was a bizarre male Mandarin flying east along the Mersey. With storm warnings and winds swinging round to NNW I had limited time in the evenings, resorting to popping to Otterspool (which produced a number of good seabirds including Grey Phalarope, Sabine's Gull and Leach's Petrel). It wasn't until the 13th that I was able to get out onto patch (and even that was delayed after my car was broken into). However an adult Gannet was a nice surprise as was an immature Kittiwake....but still not quite the return I had hoped for. The 14th however finally delivered with 3 Leach's Petrel, Razorbill, Guillemot, 3 Eider and 2 Pale-Bellied Brent Geese (all either "new" for the patch or megas in their own right). The 16th produced yet more Cattle Egret, with 2 joining the Egret roost at Hale Decoy. A Firecrest at Pickerings Pasture on the 23rd was a nice discovery, but probably not quite to the level I had hoped for despite the hours of searching. I finally connected with a very vocal Yellow-browed Warbler in Hale park on 28th, although it was a far cry from last years deluge. A mixture of regular returning waders (Wood and Green Sandpiper) and passerines kept the interest just about going, although with a westerly airflow it never really felt as though a mega was waiting to be discovered.


Patch visits - 4
Patch lifers - 1 (Arctic Skua)
Patch Yearlist - 184 (249 points)

 Green Sandpiper - Carr Lane Pools

 Spotted Flycatcher - Pickerings Pasture

Stonechat - Hale Shore

The return of some gale force north-westerlies at the start of the month produced both Great and Arctic Skua on the 2nd off Hale Lighthouse. Work and a bit more off-patch birding meant that I wasn't back on patch until the 20th, by which time there were plenty of signs of winter with Jack Snipe, Merlin, Redwing and Fieldfare. The 28th produced yet more returning winter visitors including Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese but sadly not a sniff of the Hawfinch invasion that was going on everywhere around me. Thankfully that all changed on the 29th with winds easing off to a light south-easterly. 5 Hawfinch were the undoubted highlight of the mornings vizmig, but the 5878 Woodpigeon moving south was an impressive sight too. In other news I finally managed to exchange contracts to buy a new house, which would sadly mean that the rest of the year on patch would pretty much be a write-off. For what is ordinarily one of the most exciting months of the year, it felt like somewhat of a damp squib (even with a few off-patch sorties). Fingers crossed for a mix of north-west gales and monster easterlies for 2018!


Patch visits - 1
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 184 (249 points)

 Peregrine Falcon - Hale Decoy

 Black-headed Gull - Pickerings Pasture

Little Egret - Pickerings Pasture

Between the impending house move, associated packing and work I was limited to just the one patch visit all month on the 24th. Even that was a last ditch two hour pre-dusk visit. However it still produced the regular wintering species including Water Pipit, Merlin, Peregrine, Kingfisher, Barn Owl and Water Rails. It turned out to be my only blank month for new additions on patch all year.


Patch visits - 3
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 185 (251 points)

Brambling - United Utilities, Halebank

 Raven - Hale Lighthouse

Little Owl - Within Way

December proved nearly as bad for visits to patch; the house sale and purchase went through fairly smoothly at the start of the month, but sadly the resultant work required on the new house meant that I would end up staying in Maghull for just over 2 months, and any chance of making "quick" patch visits was near impossible. The month started well on the 3rd with a 1st winter Shag at Pickerings Pasture, which would ultimately be my final new species on patch for the year. As always birding around the patch was fun with plenty of good winter species around including Brambling, Water Pipit, Merlin, Peregrine. The only slightly unexpected species was a Green Sandpiper on the 14th. The biggest disappointment was the downturn of Carr Lane as a dusk venue, following the draining of the Ibis Pool.....fingers crossed for some torrential rain to bring it back to its former glory.    

2017 Summary

Ooooooo flashy charts this year!!

 Number of Species (cumulative) Comparison Chart for 2015-2017

 Overall Points Comparison Chart for 2015-2017

Points Per Bird Comparison Chart for 2015-2017

So what did I miss? Fortunately I didn't miss out on any megas, but I still failed to connect with some quality birds - Bittern, Green-winged Teal, Little Tern, Twite, Mealy Redpoll, Siberian Chiffchaff and Rough-legged Buzzard. There seems to be trend of species that I just never seem to catch up with on patch.....hopefully 2018 will finally put some of them to rest!

Losses on 2016 - White-fronted Goose, Green-winged Teal, Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Honey-buzzard, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint, Pectoral Sandpiper, Little Tern, Turtle Dove. A pretty impressive list and unsurprisingly impacting on my "score".

Despite seeing the highest number of species on patch in the three years that I have been in the Patchwork Challenge, it was fairly evident that the "quality" in other years was slightly higher. Then again, species such as Stone Curlew are only "worth" 2 points despite being only the 10th Cheshire record.

Although 2017 was a successful year in the number of species seen on patch, it was relatively poor in both numbers and scarcity. Both Spring and Autumn were disappointing, although it was not too surprising given the generally poor year Nationally (albeit with some absolutely mind-blowing one offs - the Siberian Blue Robin springs to mind). However the biggest plus for me, both on and off patch was finally seeing some decent north-westerly winds at the right time of year. September and October will be remembered for some excellent seabirds on patch.....even if it was slightly frustrating that I saw an additional 5 species just a few miles further upriver at Otterspool which would have been patch lifers. 

So on to 2018, and despite a house to renovate I am looking forward to getting back out onto patch, and keeping every possible limb crossed for some decent Spring and Autumn migration.

As always a massive 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 sometimes the odd kick up the behind to get me back out on patch! 

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