Thursday, 24 December 2015

Midlands Minileague - November 2015

Tom Shields manages to defend top spot despite heavy pressure from Andy Mackay and Dave Roberts who are pushing all the way to the line. At Holme Pierrepoint the chief bit of quality was a trio of Whooper Swans which take Tom to 112%. Andy Mackay is 1% further back thanks to Slav Grebe, Brambling and a patch tick Mealy Redpoll. Dave added 3% including a patch tick Goldeneye and three Greenland White-fronted Geese. If one of these three can get a December bonus pointer it could be game set and match.

Black Redstart - Richard Harbird

In the points minileague and Ian Cowgill's lead is cut to just 6 points after a blank November at Lound while Andy Mackay makes gains and reinforces his place in second. John Hopper at Hoveringham adds four points to keep him in touch at the top. This months additions for John were Tree Sparrow and Brambling.

There were no bonus points this month in the Midlands but there were plenty of patch ticks and aside from those already mentioned there was a Cetti's Warbler for Marc Landsdowne, a Black Redstart for Richard Harbird and a Great Northern Diver for Nick Crouch. Espen Quinto-Ashman managed to get to his patch for the first time in 4 months thanks to stints on North Ronaldsay and in Equador and managed to turn up a Brambling. Finally, Matthew Dick at Darley Dale connected with the Great Grey Shrike which is currently spending its sixth winter on site.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Glossy November

We have just received this snippet of video from Paul Bowerman of a Glossy Ibis at Severn Beach he found last month. It may be the easiest 12 points out there but still a great patch find.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Coastal South Minileague - November 2015

What a year it has been so far for the top three in the Coastal South Comparative Minileague with impressive 120%+ scores. 

Paul Freestone's run in first at Gwithian was boosted by additions of Fieldfare and Firecrest in November as he edges closer to 130% with one month left to go. Second place Andy Rhodes added three #fullfatpatchticks at Calshot with flyover Brambling and both Black-throated and Red-throated Divers (with his second Great Northern Diver of the year making for a nice trio that month). Amy Robjohns has been having a superb year at Titchfield Haven where she sits in third place on over 120% and just shy of 150 species and 200 points. Siberian Chiffchaff, Short-eared Owl and nice daytime views of Tawny Owl were all new for Amy in November.

Tawny Owl © Amy Robjohns

Sean Foote reached his 100% comp score target with Siberian Chiffchaff at North Portland but was knocked out of fifth place by Paul Bowerman who had a great month at Severn Beach where nine year ticks included a self-found Glossy Ibis and #fullfatpatchtick Black Guillemot and Black-throated Diver. 

An update from Joe Stockwell furthers his lead on the Coastal South Points Minileague table with a very nice bonus points find of Hume's Warbler for him back in October plus Barnacle Goose and Velvet Scoter in November at Ferrybridge to Weymouth bringing him ever closer to 300 points. Will he glean the final five points needed during December?

Kev Rylands added six new species at Dawlish Warren in November where he sits in third. The highlights section on the score submission form received yet another mouth watering list of species, simply put as follows: "Little Auk, 59K Wood Pigeon, Green Sand, BT Diver, Fieldfare, Lapwing, Tristis, YBW, Firecrest, Black Red, Bonaprte's Gull, SEO, Dartford W, Water Pipit".

Rarity find of the month undoubtedly goes to Andy Johnson with his Olive-backed Pipit at Sandy Point, just the 5th record for Hampshire but the second for his patch. Cracking stuff!

A Grey Phalarope which spent two days off Oldbury Power Station was new for Peter Hazelwood's PWC BirdTrack year list which is closing in on 250 lists and 11500 records.

Inland South Minileague - November 2015

A brace of points for Tom Raven means that he has a 12% lead over Tom Stevenson in second with Neil Burt a further 4% back. Mr Raven added Mediterranean Gull but he has three weeks off for December so more points may follow. Tom S added a single point of unknown provenance but Neil managed a decent trio of Pintail, Merlin and Goosander. Congratulations to Tim Farr who becomes the 8th member of the 100% club in Inland South with Pintail the bird that pushed him to the mark.

Great Skua by Ian Bennell

Tom's lead at the top of the points minileague remains 35 points but his closest competitor is now Nigel Milbourne from Blagdon Lake. Nigel added 5 points to leapfrog Lee Evans while Lee failed to make an additions so it is a close race for second moving into December. Adam Bassett is close as well so a three-way shoot out between these gents will sort out the podium places over the Christmas period.

Best find of the month was a Great Grey Shrike for Roger Hicks at Henlow Grange for which he garnered half a dozen points. Ian Bennell managed to connect with Herfordshire's 8th Great Skua and the first twitchable one since 1987 whilst the storms also brought Kittiwake in for Adam Bassett at Little Marlow GPs. Nick Croft had a brace of Firecrests and a Silver Teal (nil pois) at Wanstead and there was a Brambling for Roger Murfitt at Moor Green Lakes.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Coastal East Anglia Minileague - November 2015

With just 5 out of 16 respondents in November perhaps some are holding their score back for the last. Despite this Craig Fulcher increased his comparative score by a further 4% to wrap up the minileague with a month to spare (unless Ryan or Tommy manages 40 odd points over the next few days). This month Craig added Suffolk's 10th record of Black Guillemot to his cannon alongside Little Auk and 18 Bewick's Swans. Ryan's sofa generated a Leach's Petrel but he had legwork for his other additions of Iceland Gull, Merlin and his second patch record of Avocet. Tommy Corcoran held onto third with 5% gains in November.

A flyby Velvet Scoter for Ryan

Nige Lound's seawatching efforts stretched his lead to 47 points in November. His best bits this month were 6 Egyptian Geese although honorable mentions go to his Slav Grebe and Long-tailed Duck. James Brown held onto a share of second thanks to a Little Auk but Ryan's assortments from Hemsby mean that it is a shoot out for the last days of the year.

Little Auk from Ryan's sofa

Friday, 18 December 2015

Estuarine Minileague - November 2015

Contestants in the Estuarine Comparative Minileague are holding on tight to their allocated positions on the league table with nobody budging except for Paul Freestone who moves up from last place and into eight at Hayle Estuary at 73%. At the top of the table, Ed Keeble scored well with a nice Rough-legged Buzzard at Brantham, boosting his first place position to 106%. 

Shaun Robson and Gordon Hodgson are almost neck and neck again this month with comparative scores now over 100%. Shaun leads by less than 1% from Lytchett Bay where he stays in second while Gordon remains in third with 103% at Saul Warth & Frampton on Severn. Shaun bagged some serious points during viz-mig watches where the obvious highlights were a pair of calling Penduline Tits flying low over his head (later to be found 8 miles away) and a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker! Gordon got in on the bonus points action too with Leach's Storm-petrel.

Ed's lead is now by no means certain. If the two guys in second and third connect with another good bird we may see a reshuffling by the years end.

The top of the Estuarine Points Minileague table is heavily dominated by RSPB reserves in the east yet Dave Craven battles his way through them, moving into third place at Hale & Pickerings Pasture with no less than five patch ticks in November including Great Northern Diver, Red-throated Diver, Light-bellied Brent Goose, Mealy Redpoll and a surprise Mandarin Duck! 

Mandarin Duck © Dave Craven

Paul Sullivan remains in first and closes the gap on 300 points by adding Bewick's Swan at the Frampton/Freiston reserves. Despite being ousted from third place by Dave Craven, Howard Vaughan adds three species (Woodcock, Black Redstart and Lapland Bunting) at RSPB Rainham Marshes and as such remains just two points behind in fourth.

Sometimes you can't beat just standing around and having a good scan of the patch. Doing just that resulted in five points in five minutes gleaned from Hen Harrier, Greenland White-fronted Goose and Egyptian Goose for Colin Bushell, now occupying eleventh place at Hesketh Outer Marsh, up from thirteenth. This move knocks Martin Elcoate down to twelfth where he had Jack Snipe and Firecrest at Topsham. Andy Jordan remains in tenth at Sharpness but did well, adding 10 points with some help from a Leach's Storm-petrel among others. 

Ian Ballam's fantastic BirdTrack recording effort from the mighty Lytchett Bay continues. He is surely set to reach 15,000 records and 400 lists by the end of December.

Hen Harrier, Greenland White-fronted Goose & Egyptian Geese © Colin Bushell

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Wales Minileague - November 2015

Will Alison get pipped at the post? With few additions after the spring (the usual story in the hills at LlanfairTH) Alison has two other competitors within 1.3% and just a single point for Alun John will take him past her 126.8% mark while Henry Cook in third needs 2 points on his Little Orme patch. There were no new additions to the 100% club with Julian Hughes still poised on 97.8% and Barry Stewart not far behind.

Firecrest - Peter Howlett

David Carrington stays top of the points minileague but has had his lead cut to five points by Mathew Meehan who jumps from 6th to 2nd at Newport Wetlands. David added Black Redstart this month whilst there was a Leach's Petrel for Mathew. Barry Stewart stays third despite a blank month. Henry Cook had a profitable time at Little Orme adding Hen Harrier, Lapland Bunting, Black Redstart and Black-throated Diver. Paul Roberts also had Black Redstart on the Ogmore estuary in a good month for this species. Peter Howlett had his most profitable month since January including Great Skua, Pom Skua and Firecrest whilst there was a Velvet Scoter for Mark Hipkin.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Coastal North Minileague - November 2015

After a couple of months on the second step of the podium, Stewart Sexton reclaimed top spot. His November at Howick featured Great Northern and Black-throated Diver plus Snow Bunting and Mediterranean Gull plus a liberal scattering of Little Auks. No news from Ash Baines in second place but Seumus Eaves closed the gap and kept the pressure on with Mediterranean Gull, Pintail and Snow Bunting new for the year. James Spencer became the fourth member of the 100% club and overtook Chris Bradshaw in the process with Tundra Bean and White-fronted Goose amongst his November additions.

Mick Turton adds 12 points in November including 6 for a Black Brant which he first found off patch and later added to his patch list. He is 79 points clear of Nick Addey in second who added Water Pipit, Shore Lark and Black-necked Grebe this month on his Long Nab patch. Martin Garner remains in third place despite a blank month. Pete Marsh in Heysham added Leach's Petrel and Great Northern Diver this month which moved him up a place into 9th whilst John Chapman had his first Little Owl at Whitburn for three years.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Inland Scotland Minileague - November 2015

November was a month of #patchday rewards for those who took part in the Inland Scotland Minileague. 

Alastair Forsyth started off his #patchday efforts with a #fullfatpatchtick drake Ring-necked Duck at Old Nisthouse but this was followed by a dodgy Black Swan (!) and what seems to be a mega patch grip after receiving a very good description of what may well have been a white morph Gyr pretty much in his back garden! Either way, he remains in second place on the comparative minileague table for another month with 108%.

Ring-necked Duck © Alastair Forsyth

Chris Pendlebury's #patchday birding at his multitude of sites added a flyover Barnacle Goose with Pink-feet at Dunlbane, a Cormorant at Blairdrummond and a trio of ticks at Kinneil (Rock Pipit, Raven & Stonechat). Chris remains in first place on the comparative minileague table with 114% at Stirling while his Kinneil patch remains in eight but increases the comp score there by 10%.

Alastair's Ring-necked Duck helps him secure his first place on the Inland Scotland Points Minileague table with a strong 20 point lead. The highest species lister on the table, David Douglas, remains in second place with 127 species and 142 points at Loch Leven.  

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Coastal Scotland Minileague - November 2015

The rankings on the Coastal Scotland Comparative Minileague table remain the same by the end of November but we see contestants continuing to add nicely to their scores.

Four Snow Buntings for Stephen Welch helped him get to 108% at his first place position held at Gosford Bay while Mark Lewis continues in fine form at Girdle ness where a Red-backed Shrike tipped him over the comp score target and on to 101% in second place. In third place at Girdle ness and Torry, Andrew Whitehouse is just a couple of species away from 100%.

Red-backed Shrike © Mark Lewis

The rarity highlight of the month involved a White-rumped Sandpiper at Musselburgh where Chris Rodger connected with it just before a Sparrowhawk did also! Otherwise, the status quo remains the same on the points minileague table where Mark leads the way with 225 points Girdle ness (a 'Green' patch with the highest number of BirdTrack records submitted also).

Friday, 11 December 2015

Inland North Minileague - November 2015

November proved to be an interesting month throughout the inland north minileague with a number of patchers adding new birds and some nice scarcities on offer across the region. The unbridled highlight of the month has to be the American Golden Plover unearthed by Tom Lowe at Goole Fields while a fly-over Waxwing for Damien Money was the highlight of his month at Skelton. Elsewhere Bill Aspin nabbed his first Black Redstart in seventeen years at Brockholes and Duncan Bye landed no less than three patch ticks at Wheldrake ings in the form of Cetti's Warbler, Barnacle Goose and White-Fronted Goose respectively. James Common also finally caught up with the longstaying Slavonian Grebe on his Stobswood patch in Northumberland. Elsewhere in the league other goodies included a ringtail Hen Harrier for Steven Ward, Firecrest for Phil Woollen, Caspian Gull for Tom Lowe and finally two Short-Eared Owls for David McGrath at Marton Mere. Examples of #patchgold were also rife throughout November with Mike Pilsworth adding both Shoveler and Goosander to his year list and Nick Morgan notching Wigeon at Ainderby Steeple.

Looking first at the comparative league and last months top three have been shaken up somewhat as Steven Ward overtakes Nick Morgan to claim the top spot with the help of four species and five points at Hawes River Ure. Nick Tonge remains rooted in third place while Keith Dickinson and James Common retain their positions in fourth and fifth. Further down the table Mark Reeder hops ahead of Andy Bunting to claim sixth position.

 In the points league things remain largely the same with Darren Starkey still firmly grounded in first place followed by Garry Taylor and Andy Bunting. Eight competitors have now surpassed the coveted 100% milestone this month and with numerous others within striking distance it looks as if the final month of the year could see many more climbing to similar heights.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Inland East Anglia Minileague - November 2015

The comparative league remains static at the top with the Ben Moyes at the head of the table with Nick Robinson in second and Ben Rackstraw is in third despite not a point added between the three. Steve Swinney is the latest addition to the 100% club thanks to a windblown Razorbill at Linford and leapfrogs Nick Moran in the meantime. Mike McCarthy drops down as we correct a maths error and he returns to 87.7%.

As with the comparative table the points minileague is quiet at the top end as Ben and Jamie are stuck in a slow race to the win. Throwing a potential spanner in the works is Steve Swinney whose 5 points in november almost put him in striking range as bridges the gap. Is 12 points too many? Ashley McElwee resisted the off-patch lure of Little Auks to bag a self-found Great Grey Shrike amongst a 10 point day. There were no other significant additions this month although a couple of scoreless finds were notable with a Caspian Gull for Nick Moran at BTO HQ and a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker for Darren Oakley-Martin at Potton.

Caspian Gull - Nick Moran

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Ireland Minileague - November 2015

The top three in the Ireland Comparative Minileague diligently tipped away during November, adding to their scores and securing their respective positions for yet another month.

Eamonn O'Donnell scored a #fullfatpatchtick in the form of a Pochard present offshore with the rafting Common Scoters at Ninch/Laytown while a trio of Whooper Swans was a further welcome addition to his year list, now over 130 species and with a leading comp score of 118%. 
Niall Keogh finally connected with Kingfisher at Kilbogget Park where some #patchday effort also added flyover Fieldfare for him plus an epic count of 173 Mediterranean Gulls feeding on the sports pitches! Niall's second place comp score of 111% at the South Dublin Parks is being challenged by Alan Lauder in third who adds 5% to his score at the Broad Lough to Wicklow Head patch, points there coming from Jack Snipe, Long-tailed Duck and a Nearctic harrier (more on this below). 

We see some movement elsewhere on the comp league table. Keith Bennett adds seven species at Ballyquintin to take him from ninth to sixth place and well past 90%. Niall had a great month at Kilcoole jumping from eight to fourth place (comp score of 95%) where a double act of Lapland and Snow Bunting was overshadowed by the discovery of a juvenile harrier with the hallmarks of Northern Harrier. The bird has since been ranging widely up and down the full length of The Murrough wetland complex where Alan Lauder was poised and ready to get some nice images of it at his Broad Lough patch the day after its initial discovery. This 12-pointer would represent the eight Irish and second county record if accepted.

Northern Harrier at Broad Lough © Alan Lauder

With a month still to go it may be a bit early to make predictions on how it will all pan out. Will Eamonn hold on to his first place position? Looks like Alan is now well placed to take second should he connect with a couple more species in December also.

A clear lead of 46 points leaves Dave Suddaby unchallenged at the top of the Ireland Points Minileague. No rarities for Dave in November but some great patch birds for Blacksod including his second record of both Barn Owl and Black Redstart plus welcome Short-eared Owl and Grey Phalarope.

Black Redstarts were also recorded at Baltimore by Julian Wyllie and at North Galway Bay where it was a great local record and self-found lifer for Cathal Forkan. Water Rail was a patch tick for Cathal while the like of several Ring-billed Gulls, a 1st-winter Iceland Gull and the 'usual' Forster's Tern showed up again for the winter around the Nimmo's Pier area.

An obliging Snow Bunting was present at the West Pier, Dun Laoghaire Harbour, the overlap zone between both Noel Keogh and Eleanor Keane's Dublin patches. A couple of Slavonian Grebes were not new for the year at Larne Lough but the first time Neal Warnock has seen more than one bird there. 

Finally, Des Higgins added a trio of year ticks in one day at the UCD Belfield campus... Siskin, Curlew and Mediterranean Gull.

Forster's Tern at Mutton Island © Cathal Forkan

NGB Minileague - November 2015

No change in the NGB comparative minileague throughout November, the top nine competitors remaining fixed in a now familiar order. Amy Robjohns remains in pole position this month with an impressive score of 121.38% at Titchfield Haven, adding nine species and 16 points throughout November. Josie Hewitt remains in second place despite not submitting a score this month, a familiar theme right down the table with many competitors away from patch for the duration.

Over to the points league and again the top three remain the same despite all three failing to submit scores for the month. Cathal Forkan jumped a place however, edging out Lee Fuller for ninth place gaining 11 points and 5 species at his North Galway patch. In terms of the best birds seen throughout this league in November pickings were rather slim. A Siberian Chiffchaff brought in some bonus points for Amy Robjohns while a Slavonian Grebe at Stobswood for yours truly was a sight for sore eyes. Elsewhere a Black Redstart for Cathal Forkan provided not only a patch tick but also an Ireland tick and a Brambling for Espen Quinto-Ashman was a nice touch following months off-patch. Elsewhere Cathal also noted a patch first Water Rail, Amy landed both Short-Eared and Tawny Owl and Drew Lyness nabbed Yellowhammer at UEA.

Black Redstart - Amy Robjohns

- James C (Patchwork Challenge)

Monday, 7 December 2015

Islands Minileague - November 2015

Alastair Forsyth keeps his roll going and an additional 3% in November takes him onto 117% and extends his formidable lead to 9%. Perhaps an unbridgeable gap? Pochard, Grey Plover and Common Scoter were this months additions at Palace. With no word from Mull this month, Ian T takes advantage and climbs into second after a successful #Patchday and his first Corn Bunting at Askernish since 2012. John Bowler becomes the fifth member of the 100% gang which is especially impressive considering his 343 target.

Ian T at Askernish on #Patchday courtesy of YvonneB

John remains top by miles and adds 18 points in November including self found Lesser Scaup and Waxwing. Neither Bardsey nor Skomer troubled the scorers in November but remain in second and third place respectively whilst Burray Barrie (Hamill) scored a solitary one in fourth. Hurricane Abigail delivered a late House Martin for Stuart Taylor at Balivanich which should have been a Cave Swallow really whilst on Scilly finders points evaded John Headon when a Lesser Scaup was identified from photographs.

#PWC2016 - How to take part.

Welcome one and all to Patchwork Challenge 2016!

2015 is drawing to a close and registration for next year is open (see the form on the right hand side of the blog). But what is Patchwork Challenge and why do we need your details?

Patchwork Challenge (PWC) has been running since 2013 and is a friendly, community orientated competition to help link patch birders and encourage birding your local area whilst providing support and context for this. Friendly rivalries are encouraged and regional minileagues are often the forum for this. We also aim to help you push yourself by providing you with a measure of year on year comparison in our comparative leagues. The registration form in the right sidebar thus needs your name, patch name, which minileague you would fit into (or your general location if you dont know), whether you have competed before (in order to work out your comparative score), whether you are eligible for the Under 25's league or the Green league. And thats it. For us it gives us an idea of how many people are taking part and where people are. Listed below are a few bits of information to help you with the challenge.

(1) Your patch must be no larger than 3 square kilometres. It can be any shape that you wish it to be as long as it is joined together. There is a mapping tool available to help map out your patch (linked here). It would be useful to take a screenshot of your mapped out patch for future reference. 

Ryan Irvine's Patch at Hemsby, Norfolk
(2) All birds seen or heard on the patch count. Similarly, all birds seen from the patch count too (i.e. seabirds seen offshore while seawatching, distant soaring birds of prey etc.). Therefore a bird seen outside your patch area but whilst you are standing in it can be added to your scores. Equally a bird seen which is inside your patch but you are outside also counts. This is purely for comparison between patches and what you count for your more formal patch list isn't important in this instance.

(3) PWC has its own scoresheet which can be downloaded via the link here. Birds have a value of between 1 and 5 depending on rarity value. Birds scoring higher than 3 points receive additional points if they were found by the patcher (add an F in the appropriate column if you find such a rarity). The best part is that the spreadsheet will calculate all of this this for you!

(4) The leagues are based on geographical location including different leagues depending on whether you are a coastal or inland patch.

Alison and Ian's Gyrfalcon from Askernish in 2013
(5) There are also leagues for green birding (no use of motorised transport) and an under 25's league for NGB and AFON members.

(6) There are two types of scores, points score and comparative. The former is the straightforward score for the year. You can start scoring comparative in your second year with PWC. This will be a comparison to your previous year in the competition and will give a percentage. It is this that allows all patches to compete on a level playing field.

(7) We have prizes which will be announced in the New Year.These include the best find competition which is sponsored by Forest Optics. A shortlist is drawn up at the end of the year, and then it is open for patchers to vote for the winner. Former winners are Andy Johnson's Semipalmated Plover at Sandy Point from 2013 and Jonny Holliday's Blyth's Pipit at Pugney's in 2014. Amongst the favourites this year are Tom Raven's Hudsonian Godwit and Dave Suddaby's Two-barred Crossbill. The 2015 winner will receive a pair of Bresser Montana 8.5 x 45 binoculars. Further prizes for the 2015 competition include Undiscovered Owls by the South Approach, British Birds subs, Birdguides subs, BTO goodie bag and nest monitoring guide, £50 Natural History Bookstore voucher, a week on Bardsey thanks to the Obs, and some Birding Frontiers goodies.

Patch - the dearly departed PWC Cuckoo

(8) We encourage participation in BirdTrack. We would love it if all competitors to put their data into this BTO initiative. It is easy and provides a vast swathe of data to the BTO from across the UK, including many under-watched areas. Many patchers already contribute and we hope this will increase next year.

(9) We have a social media presence on Twitter (@Patchbirding), Facebook and the blog. Join us and enjoy all of the latest updates, discussion and observations from patchers.

(10) We have the new website which will run alongside the blog. It was delayed last year due to coding issues and will initially run alongside the blog and scoreforms but once all the problems are ironed out it will replace the scoreforms. Further details on how to use this will emerge once beta-testing is complete but at the moment it is planned to go live on January 1st 2016.

Finally, PWC is about enjoying your birding above all. It is a hub for birders who all share the same love of birds and patch working. Whilst there may be competition with others, it adds enjoyment to your own birding experience too.

Here are a couple of links to older posts about taking part:

Sunday, 6 December 2015

PWC Interview Series: Howard Vaughan - RSPB Rainham Marshes

PWC Interview Series
Patch birder: Howard Vaughan
Patch: RSPB Rainham Marshes (Estuarine minileague)
Date: 13th November 2015

Niall Keogh (PWC) and Howard Vaughan (RSPB) at Rainham 13th November 2015

Introduction: Tell us a bit about yourself & your general birding habits...

My name is Howard Vaughan and I am the Visitor Experience Officer at RSPB Rainham Marshes in Essex. I have been working at the marshes for nearly 13 years and seem to spend most of my time here nowadays. Thankfully the view from the visitor centre is open enough that I can bird even from the inside and it affords a great vista over the marsh and the adjacent Thames so even on foul days I have a chance of finding something. I was Essex County Bird Recorder for ten years and birding is without a doubt in my blood.

View across Rainham marshes from the RSPB visitor centre © Niall Keogh

Background info on your patch: A brief history of the site. What habitats & key species can be found there?

Rainham Marshes sits on the site of an ex-Ministry of Defence firing range that the RSPB bought in July 2000. Ancient medieval lowland wet grazing marsh and pools with some reedbed, scrub and a small bit of damp woodland hemmed in by the Thames, two railways, the A13, housing estates and two industrial estates.

Over 270 species on the site list including some historical goodies such as Western Sandpiper and Solitary Sandpiper. Excellent gulling including the UK’s first Slaty-backed Gull and numerous Caspians. Increasing numbers wintering wildfowl and waders as we improve the grazing marsh through habitat management. Breeding Cetti’s Warblers, Marsh Harriers, Bearded Tits and nationally important numbers of Redshank and Lapwing.

Good track record with Penduline Tits and some monster rarities over the last ten years such as Sociable Plover and White-tailed Plover, Baillon’s Crake and Eleonora’s Falcon (…even if they did reject it!)

(left) Penduline Tit © Jonathan Lethbridge / (top right) Bearded Reedling © Chris Lowe / (bottom right) Slaty-backed Gull © Priscille Durnerin

Why did you choose your patch? (for general birding and/or for taking part in PWC)

I have been birding at Rainham Marshes since the mid 1980’s at which time there was basically no legal access to anywhere except the foreshore by the Stone Barges and when I was asked, as WeBS co-ordinator for Essex, to help the RSPB to carry out counts on the newly acquired site in 2000, I leapt at the chance.  Being full time with the RSPB since 2003 has meant that most of my life since then has actually been spent on this site and as I practically live here it was the natural choice. I actually feel slightly guilty about not doing one of the great sites close to my home in North Kent but despite living within five miles of RSPB Cliffe Pools, I would never have the time to do it justice!

Let's get straight to the juicy question! What is the best rarity you have found on the patch?

The Sociable Plover of the 4th December 2005 was real heart stopping moment for myself and Mike Dent who were out busily counting for WeBS.  I seem to remember the Lapwing count going something like "273, 274, 275 oh... clucking bell". At the time they thought that there may only have been 200 left in the world.

Five years later in July 2010 Sam Shippey and myself found the White-tailed Plover in exactly the same spot much to the amazement of those with us on the Wednesday Walk. I seem to remember picking Sam up in a bear hug! Amazingly Mike Dent was only a hundred yards away the time.

(top left) Sociable Plover © Reg Mellis / (top right) Sociable Plover twitch © Howard Vaughan / (bottom left) White-tailed Plover twitch © Jonathan Lethbridge / (bottom right) White-tailed Plover © Tony Coombs

What is the best blocker or most coveted species you have seen on your patch?

Taiga Bean Goose: three west with 354 White-fronted Geese on 16th January 2000. By far the biggest flock of WFG’s ever through the site (and probably London) and thankfully they were low enough for us to pick out the big Beans. Tundras have now become the almost annual Beans over the last few years while the English Taiga population dwindles further and a re-run looks unlikely.

Willow Tit: now extinct in Essex and yet they were hanging on mid-county up until the early 2000’s. Odd birds were occasionally encountered elsewhere and on the National Bird Race on the 14th May 2000 (technically three months before the RSPB bought the site) we snuck on to look for (and find) singing Turtle Dove and found a singing male Willow Tit as well!

Strangely enough the Bee-eater of the 11th May 2007 is actually more likely to become unblocked than the other two. I shouted quite loudly to get everyone’s attention when it flew over the centre calling. Happy days...

And now for those painful moments... What is your biggest dip on the patch?

Ducks... Green-winged Teal, Mandarin and Red-crested Pochard!

Green-winged Teal: strangely just the one record of an erratic drake in late April 2013 but I was in Lesvos and could cope without it!

Mandarin: only one previous record and this fine drake chooses to appear on one of my very few days off sick over the last 13 years.  I put the news out and phoned round and everyone else was happy but the little bugger had gone the next day.

And last duck trauma… a female Red-crested Pochard last summer was a first of the reserve and on its second day it quite literally vanished just before I got to the pool.

There have been many other superb birds over the years but most were before my time in the Silt Lagoon golden years of the 1970s with Western and Solitary Sandpipers and such waifs that we may once again find if we keep looking.

It's not all birds. What other wildlife of note can be found on your patch?

I found a new bug (Rhyparochromus vulgaris) to Britain several years ago and a 4th record for Britain of the hoverfly (Eristalis similis) two years ago. It is a superb location for butterflies and dragonflies including Scarce and Willow Emeralds. Excellent populations of Water Vole, Marsh Frog, Wasp Spider and Ivy Bee also.

(top left) Wasp Spider / (bottom left) Eristalis similis / (right) Rhyparochromus vulgaris © all Howard Vaughan

What was your funniest moment on the patch?

Trying to conduct a raffle draw at our September fair in 2009 and realising that a large, angular, dark falcon above looked horribly like an Eleonora’s and instead of calling ticket numbers I shouted for any birders to get out of the tents and look up to puzzled expressions from those gathered around me. It was seen by about 7 or 8 people but unfortunately there were no images obtained and it was ‘record not proven’. Still on my list though!

Most patch birders will dream of that ultimate prize... What national first would you like to find on your patch?

Moustached Warbler: I reckon the chances are almost zero for this but you never know and perhaps one may pop out of the reedbed one winter’s morning on the Northern Trail to feed down at water level in one of the ‘reed rides’ we have created. We can but dream... perhaps more topically I would dearly like to find the French Caspian Plover with my Lapwing flock. It may not be a first but it would certainly be popular!

But back to reality... What is the next most likely patch tick you'd like to find?

Sadly, ducks... probably a Green-winged Teal but would be happier with an American Wigeon.

Each patch birder is probably the biggest critic of their own patch. What one thing would you change about your patch and why?

I would like to move us 15 miles closer to the mouth of the Thames Estuary and strangely enough I would love more eyes on the site.  We have some great local patch birders but who knows what we could find with more...?

When you're dead and gone and there's a bench on your patch commemorating you, what would you like the plaque to say?

"He Came; He Saw; He Rarely Went Home"...                

Evening over the River Thames from RSPB Rainham Marshes © Howard Vaughan