Thursday 13 February 2020

2019 - A Year of Patchbirding

I am now totally hooked on patch birding. Although I miss the days when I could drop everything and go chasing here, there and everywhere, there is a massive satisfaction from birding your own patch; from seeing your first returning migrants in Spring and Autumn, studying weather charts, patterns, winds and tides to guess at what you may (hope to) see, watching thousands of birds migrating in autumn, to finding the occasional scarce or (EVEN MORE occasionally) a rare bird. 
2019 saw me take part in Patchwork Challenge for my 5thconsecutive year. I managed to visit the patch on 128 occasions throughout the year, an increase on the previous two years (despite a few injuries and a house extension along the way). Despite this I ended up seeing 179 species through the course of the year (not the best, but certainly a big improvement on last year). Despite my best efforts I only added one new species to my patch list (Greater Scaup), although it was still nice to see a few species that are generally scarce or difficult to catch up with. 

Patch Visits – 13
Patch Species – 115 (137 points)
What better way to start the year than a full days “race” around the patch? Having limited my alcohol intake to zero on New Year’s Eve (yes, even I was shocked at that one!) I was up and out well before first light, and left well after the last embers of light. With a really good selection of birds lingering on from 2018, I was slightly disappointed to get to 96 (missing out reaching the magical 100), but added a nice selection of species including Great EgretHen HarrierWoodcockJack SnipeCommon SandpiperBarn OwlLittle OwlShort-eared OwlTawny OwlRing-necked Parakeet and Water Pipit. A couple of species that seemed nailed-on in the run up to the New Year, just didn’t play ball, but decided to make things easy on my next patch visit on the 4th when I quickly caught up with a couple of the more expected waders – TurnstoneKnotBar-tailed Godwit and Little Stint. The sunflower field also produced (having been like a desert on the 1st) with YellowhammerLesser Redpoll whilst even the gulls decided to make things easy with Iceland and Yellow-legged both putting in a showing. The 12th produced my only patch lifer of the year when I picked up two Greater Scaup flying up the Mersey before heading over onto the Weaver Estuary. This is a species that appears regularly at Frodsham, but rarely makes the effort to make the short hop onto the Mersey – I have regularly spent time scanning the Weaver Estuary gates hoping for one to fly out, so it was particularly satisfying to finally catch up with one! The 18th produced a good gull roost at Pickerings Pasture where I picked up a Glaucous Gull (along with another Iceland). A late visit to Pickerings on the 18th finally produced my first Whooper Swan of the year, whilst a breezy (insert “bloody windy”) high tide on the 27th allowed me to add some quality year ticks for the month in the shape of Red-breasted Merganser, Goldeneye and Guillemot (always a difficult bird to catch up with on patch). A pretty good start to the year on patch (although still short of my personal best of 120 in 2017).

Common Buzzard - Pickerings Pasture

Eurasian Kingfisher - Pickerings Pasture
Great Spotted Woodpecker - Hale Park
Little Egret - Pickerings Pasture

Great Cormorant - Pickerings Pasture


Patch Visits – 9
Patch Species – 121 (145 points)
The start of the month saw some snow on the patch (although the NW missed out on some of the heavier deposits of the white stuff) - however it failed to produce the hoped for cold weather movements. There were still a good mix of species to be seen though with a good mix of scarcer wader species including Bar-tailed Godwit, Woodcock, Jack Snipe and Knot. The 15th saw my first Corn Bunting of the year at Halebank Park (and increasingly scarce bird on patch). A change to more Spring-like conditions from mid-month got hopes up of the first returning migrants – but a Rook on the 20th wasn’t quite what I was expecting. The 20th also produced some good views of a Ringtail Hen Harrier, and 2 Common Scoter. Towards the end of the month, the weather continued to warm with the 24th almost feeling like a late Spring day. A Green Sandpiper was new for the year, but the clear highlight were 4 White-fronted Geese heading south over Hale Head towards Frodsham. With summer migrants already starting to appear in the south of the UK it felt like it was only a matter of time before one finally turned up on the patch, but despite my best efforts I couldn’t find anything.

Bullfinch - Pickerings Pasture

Hen Harrier - Carr Lane (Copyright Mike Roberts)

Tree Sparrow - Pickerings Pasture

Patch Visits – 12
Patch Species – 134 (163 points)
The unseasonable weather just about clung on into the start of March, with the first returning Coots finally turning up on the 1st. It didn’t take long for the grey, damp weather to return though and by the 2nd it was pretty miserable. However using my normal vismigging shelter to scan the Mersey/Frodsham/Ince Marshes produced 2 Pale Bellied Brent Geese. Lack of available time meant that I wasn’t able to get out again until the 16th, when I found a very smart 1stwinter Caspian Gull at Pickerings Pasture. The 17th again saw me focusing on the gulls at Pickerings and I was rewarded again with a Kittiwake and 7 displaying Mediterranean Gull’s. A wander around the control meadows was also productive with a small group of 12 Siskin and 2 Lesser Redpoll, but best of all a Tree Sparrow with the sparrow flock at the entrance to the car park. The 22nd finally saw the first Spring migrants returning to the patch with Wheatear and Sand Martin both appearing, whilst I also finally caught up with the 5 Ruff that had been giving me the run around. There was still a good selection of wintering species around with Merlin and Short-eared Owls being seen regularly. The 26th saw more migrants appearing, including my first Little Ringed Plover, however a downturn in the weather over the next couple of days clearly put a halt on proceedings. Despite some ideal looking conditions on the 29th, I only added Swallow to the yearlistThe 30th saw a real mix of Spring and Winter species on the patch, including a stunning male Ring Ouzel, although frustratingly an early start and finish meant that I missed both Osprey and Red Kite that were seen shortly after I left. Even more frustrating that I by the time I managed to get back out onto the patch the following day the glorious weather had deteriorated into murk again…..oh well, at least I was now heading into April (one of my favourite months on patch).

Siskin - Hale Park

Lesser Redpoll - Hale Park

Skylark - Halebank Park

Patch Visits – 20
Patch Species – 158 (198 points)
The weather at the start of the month really didn’t reflect that we were heading into Spring and the warmer months! Despite the weather there was still a steady trickle of migrants arriving and departing – with the 5th producing 4 southbound Bewick’s Swan (clearly they had forgotten that they were meant to be heading north!). The 9th finally saw my first Willow Warbler, Yellow Wagtail and after a few failed attempts Osprey! The 12th saw a big movement of Alba and Flava Wagtails – which included at least 2 Channel Wagtails. Pipits had clearly been caught up with the wagtail movement – so it was good to catch up with a Tree Pipit (which can be tricky at times on patch). A freezing cold start on the 13th saw me seeking shelter in Hale Park – and stumbling over a stunning shivering Wood Warbler – my first patch record since 2013. The 14th was also productive with a Redstart and smart Ring Ouzel along Carr Lane….and 3 Rook (WOW!!) heading south over Within Way. The 16th saw a big influx of migrants with Sedge WarblerReed Warbler, 2 Tree Pipit along Carr Lane and CuckooWhitethroats and another Tree Pipit along Within Way. The 17th started well with 2 singing Corn Bunting by Burnt Mill Farm (sadly this was one of the few times that these birds were seen and it looks like they no longer breed). Another new Redstart was along Carr Lane, whilst 4 high flying Arctic Terns were a real bonus along Within Way. The 18th produced my first Garden Warbler of the year in Pickerings Pasture Control Meadows. The 19th saw my first Lesser Whitethroat of the year by Burnt Mill Farm, and a smattering of migrants including another Cuckoo and some late Lesser Redpoll and SiskinsThe 21st finally saw the first returning Grasshopper Warblers along with a good selection of migrants including GarganeyRing OuzelRedstart, 2 Tree Pipit. The 22nd produced the first Whinchat of the year at Burnt Mill Farm, whilst Carr Lane produced yet another Redstart and Within Way produced a smart 1cy male Pied Flycatcher, the evening being topped off with a Ringtail Hen Harrier and Short Eared Owl. The 26th saw a new Ringtail Hen Harrier around Burnt Mill Farm which hunted across the fields before towering on the thermals and drifting off north (great to watch migration in action!). The 28th provided a big influx of Whinchat with at least 7+ scattered across the patch. Blue Headed Wagtail on the same date was nice to catch up with (with most non-flavissima on patch being Channels in recent years). The first Hobby of the year turned up on the 29th over Big Boar Wood. The 30th saw the best bird of the month with a flyby adult Spoonbill at Pickerings Pasture, whilst RedstartsLesser WhitethroatsGrasshopper Warbler provided a nice end to the month.

Blue Headed Wagtail - Hale Marsh

Whinchat - Burnt Mill Farm
Ring Ouzel - Carr Lane (Copyright Mike Roberts)
Spoonbill - Pickerings Pasture

Grasshopper Warbler - Carr Lane

Patch Visits – 15
Patch Species – 166 (212 points)
May can either be absolutely amazing, or rather bland on patch….and sadly this year was on the rather bland side. With the rather chilly conditions persisting, it was probably not surprising that the Short Eared Owls and the Ringtail Hen Harrier hung on well into mid-May. A Spotted Redshank on the Mersey off Within Way was a bonus, with records on the downturn since the Ibis Pool was drainedWith snow on the Welsh mountains the 4th was rather a chilly affair, but also produced a new pair of Corn Bunting which hung on for the next couple of months. The 7th looked good for a Tern movement (with many moving in the rest of the UK), however I only managed to produce a single Common Tern. However despite missing out on the big movement across Cheshire on the 8th, I managed to find 2 groups of Arctic Terns and a single Black Tern on the 9th in rather miserable conditions. The 11th saw Short Eared Owl numbers jump to 5 different birds, but best of all was a smart male Eider on the Mersey from Hale Lighthouse (which produced a mini twitch from the Hale regulars!). 2 Spotted Flycatcher were a nice find on the same date in the Control Meadows at Pickerings. Wader numbers had been relatively slow through the early parts of May, but started to increase from the 12th on the Mersey with Curlew SandpiperSanderlingsGrey PloversWhimbrels and a monster flock of 50 Knot (on the 17th) appearing among the Dunlin and Ringed Plovers. Sadly Carr Lane Pools looks like it will never return to its previous form. After a few days away at Spurn it was nice to get back out on the 28th and catch up with a very obliging Wood Sandpiper on Carr Lane Pools and a cracking adult Little Gull flying east past Hale Lighthouse.  

Redstart - Carr Lane

Grey Partridge - Carr Lane
Wood Sandpiper - Carr Lane Pools

Wheatear - Hale Shore

Patch Visits – 11
Patch Species – 169 (218 points)
June carried on where May had left off, with relatively cold and wet conditions but eventually turned to warmer and drier conditions. The birding was generally slow and I spent the majority of visits on the loop of Hale Head or checking around Burnt Mill Farm for Quail. Wader migration had all but died off by the start of the month, with only the odd GreenshankWhimbrel or Common Sandpiper hinting that things should still be moving. My persistence of checking around Burnt Mill Farm did pay off on the 22nd though with a nice Red Kite drifting west. The 22nd also produced a Sandwich Tern off Within Way and a surprise 5 adult Mediterranean Gulls hawking insects. Finally on the 27th I was rewarded with my main quarry – a singing Quail at Burnt Mill Farm (although any hope of actually seeing it was a pipedream). So a pretty poor month was saved at the death…..

Whitethroat - Within Way

Hobby - Hale Marsh (Copyright Mike Roberts)
Black Tailed Godwit - Carr Lane Pools (Copyright Mike Roberts)
Marsh Harrier - Hale Marsh (Copyright Mike Roberts)

Golden Plover - Hale Shore

Patch Visits – 8
Patch Species – 171 (220 points)
Fortunately the start of July started off on a better foot, with 2 Egyptian Geese on Hale Marsh and a noticeable increase in wader numbers. Much of the month was spent checking the waders and gulls on the Mersey from Pickerings. Although I failed to pull anything scarce out of the bag, it was nice to pick up Yellow Legged GullsMediterranean GullsBar Tailed GodwitsCommon Sandpiper, Greenshank and Avocets. I disappeared off to Sardinia for the second half of July, which at least gave me chance to recharge the batteries and get myself ready for the autumn…..

Ringed Plover - Hale Shore

Yellow Wagtail - Lighthouse Lane
Egyptian Geese - Hale Marsh
Reed Warbler - Hale Shore

Whimbrel - Hale Shore

Patch Visits – 10
Patch Species – 171 (220 points)
I was back out on the patch on the 2nd with motivation levels restored. A juvenile Redstart along Lighthouse Lane is intriguing and may point to a fairly local breeder. Gulls and Waders were the focus of much of the patch birding with SanderlingKnotWhimbrelGreenshank starting to increase in numbers, whilst Mediterranean and Yellow Legged Gulls were present in varying numbers on most visits. Mid-month saw me rip the ligament in my shoulder – this would have a major impact on my birding for the remainder of the year (with long walks and carrying a scope causing me a lot of pain). Thankfully I was still able to get out a little and by the 25th it was clear that autumn migration was kicking in with more Redstarts, Garden Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats and Great White Egrets reappearing around Hale Marsh and wader numbers continuing to impress over the next few days. However the 27th was a day not to be forgotten, with 9 species of raptor being seen, with highlights of a Ringtail Hen Harrier on Hale Marsh, before it got even better with a Red Kite over Higher Road and then a quick return to Hale Marsh to find a stunning Osprey roosting on the decoy. With the forecast set to change moving into September (strong WNW – NNW winds) I was hoping to have a repeat of the storms of 2017.

Mediterranean Gull - Hale Shore
Ruddy Shelduck x Common Shelduck - Hale Shore
Greenshank - Carr Lane Pools

Osprey - Hale Decoy (Copyright Mike Roberts)


Patch Visits – 8
Patch Species – 175 (229 points)
Sadly my shoulder was really starting to flare up and the amount of time I was able to spend on the patch was severely impacted. Wader numbers were still good at the start of the month with Little Stint, Curlew SandpiperKnot and Sanderling continuing to appear in small numbers. I was unable to get to the patch for the main period of strong winds, but was still in luck on the 7th (despite the winds having dropped to near zero). 2 Leach’s Petrel gave good (but distant) views from Hale Lighthouse, sticking to the far shore and even over Frodsham Score on occasion! The 7th also saw plenty of vizmig movement with my first Rock PipitTree Sparrow and Lesser Redpolls of the autumn along with an impressive movement of hirundines….however the best was reserved until last with 2 Red Legged Partridge along Town Lane (my first patch records for 2 years!). The 14th produced 3 Cattle Egret going to roost on Hale Decoy (presumably the same group that eventually settled at Frodsham later in the autumn/winter). The 25th saw my first patch Cetti’s Warbler since 2017 – things got better later in the year with up to 3 being present in 2020. A late Reed Warbler on the 25th got the pulse racing, but despite my best efforts couldn’t be turned into anything more exciting. The end of the month saw an increase in Pink Footed Geese and winter ducks including Pintail moving into the patch, the end of autumn is nigh!

Wren - Carr Lane

Reed Bunting - Carr Lane

Song Thrush - Carr Lane

Patch Visits – 7
Patch Species – 178 (235 points)
The 2nd saw a very random record of a juvenile Gannet flying west over Within Way having appeared from the east. With next to no wind, and none to speak of over the previous days it makes you wonder where it had come from! 3 Whooper Swan settled on Hale Marsh on the 2nd were also a nice record (with the majority recorded on being flyovers). The rest of the visits were spent vismigging along Church Lane with highlights being Hawfinch (20th), Crossbill (20th) with some supporting Brambling, Tree Sparrow, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin and some impressive counts of WoodpigeonRedwing and Fieldfare. The only non-vismig birding I did during the month was on the 17th at Pickerings Pasture, where I failed to find the Firecrest that had been seen earlier…..but instead jamming in on a Yellow Browed Warbler. Not a classic October on patch by any stretch of the imagination, but some nice species. The lack of visits and many of the regulars being off-patch contributing to what was (or wasn’t) found!

Robin - Lighthouse Lane

Chiffchaff - Hale Park

Patch Visits – 8
Patch Species – 179 (237 points)
The month started with me dipping a White rumped Sandpiper at Pickerings, and despite a couple of further visits yet another dip! However the winter species were really starting to push in with Water Pipit, MerlinWater Rail and Stonechat numbers starting to build. Some more vismigging on the 9th produced some good numbers of winter thrushes, which included a single Ring Ouzel, more surprising was a Firecrest (which ultimately turned out to be my last patch year tick of 2019) that flicked past me following a group of GoldcrestThe 17th produced a smart dark Glaucous Gull heading north over Higher Road. The end of the month got progressively cooler and migration had all but died off by mid-month. However with a nice selection of typical wintering species made for some enjoyable birding. Goosander, Woodcocks, Barn Owls added a little spice to the expected species and provided some really exciting dusk birding along Carr Lane.

Greylag Goose - Within Way

Starling - Carr Lane

Siskin - Pickerings Pasture
Redwing - Lighthouse Lane

Mistle Thrush - Pickerings Pasture

Patch Visits – 7
Patch Species – 179 (237 points)

December settled into a regular rhythm, although a Guillemot flying east past Within Way on the 7th was a little less expected. The 8th saw my first Iceland Gull of the winter, although subsequent gulling sessions from Hale Lighthouse swayed from dreadful to awful! Regular visits to the patch through the month produced a really nice selection of winter species (which at least kept the interest up) including Water PipitsRock PipitsStonechatsCetti’s WarblerMerlinPeregrinesGreat White Egrets, Jack Snipe and the regular wintering Little Stint. Despite my best efforts I failed to add any further birds to the patch yearlist, but the year closed with some really enjoyable winter birding and some stunning sunsets at Hale Lighthouse.

Sunset over the Mersey from Hale Lighthouse

Rock Pipit - Hale Shore

Stonechat - Hale Shore

2019 Summary
So 2019 was a fairly productive, if a little underwhelming. It was a bit of a mixed bag weather wise, with generally poor weather conditions at key times of the year; this was not helped given I managed to conveniently miss a number of the good species seenBoth winter periods produced a good variety of species (although the 1st winter period was slightly more productive for Gulls). Early Spring, despite being pretty wet, was probably the most productive I have had on patch (although the lack of a scarce or rare bird was somewhat disappointing given the time spent out on patch). The impact of the draining of the Ibis Pool continues to be felt, and it has clearly had an impact on breeding species on patch (especially waders which used the Pool as a safe feeding area away from Carr Lane Pools). The high water levels clearly had a big impact on breeding success of Lapwing and Redshank sadly, and breeding duck numbers also suffered. The Atlantic weather systems again dominated the Autumn with winds predominantly from the west (although not enough big blows from the NW) – hopefully 2020 will see a return to some traditional Easterlies….

So what did I miss out on in 2019? A rather painfully good selection of birds (along with the usual species that are quickly becoming patch bogey birds!)….. Bean GooseMandarinGreen-winged TealHoney-buzzard, Rough-legged Buzzard, GoshawkWhite-rumped Sandpiper, Little TernWaxwingMealy Redpoll, Marsh Warbler, Siberian Chiffchaff, TwiteLapland Bunting. A couple were exceedingly frustrating, missing them by minutes or (in the case of the Honey-buzzard) just looking in the wrong direction! 

With 2020 well underway it will be interesting how this year goes. Thankfully the shoulder is slowly on the mend, and hopefully I can stay injury free to really give the patch a proper Spring and Autumn bash! 
As always a massive thanks to Rob and Carol Cockbain, Ian Igglesden, Mike Roberts, Sean O’Hara, Geoff Bond, Dominic Gannon and Steve Tomlinson for the regular news, information, updates, pictures and general banter through the year.

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