Patchwork Challenge 2023


In 2012, Mark Lewis and Ryan Irvine got together somewhere in deepest darkest Peterborough and considered the idea of a birding competition focused on patch-watching. Having a patch has always been key part of birding, but this was a means of bringing that community together into a format that provided friendly rivalry between sites and, even more importantly, competition with yourself.

That idea became a reality in 2013 with the launch of Patchwork Challenge. I (Peter Williams) joined in that first year at a time when I couldn't bird further afield. The challenge really added an extra dimension to my birding and records on my patch just outside Keighley, such as Red-Breasted Merganser and Sanderling, provided just as much excitement as most coastal twitches.

In the years that followed the number of entrants grew to eventually exceed 500, covering all corners of the UK, from Scilly to Shetland. However, the workload associated with running the competition was making it difficult to continue, and the launch of a website to try to help to combat this did not in the end prove to be the solution. Consequently, the competition tailed off in recent years.

Fast forward to the autumn of 2022, and during an entirely separate conversation Mark Lewis and James Spencer casually mention that 2023 would be 10 years since its launch, a throwaway comment which resulted in a proposal to relaunch with a revamped edition. So, here we are today, with currently over 300 birders signed up to take part – and for the first time it is going international with a Dutch / Belgian league.

Below are eight reasons why you should consider entering Patchwork Challenge 2023:

  1. Focusing on a local patch adds an extra dimension to birding.
  2. Birding locally is birding green. Carbon friendly birding has never been so important.
  3. It is your patch, and therefore it becomes personal. You get to know each area of your patch like the back of your hand and the lives of the birds that you share it with. You also get to dream of those that you would love to find in that corner of bushes that you know will produce a mega one day.
  4. Most birders like to make lists, and patch-birding loves a list.
  5. There is a great social media community out there on both Facebook and Twitter (@patchbirding) which provides encouragement as well as being able to share your sightings and exciting patch experiences and enjoy those of others.
  6. You can find yourself punching the air in excitement with #patchgold finds such as a Eurasian Coot. Every patch is different and has its own challenging species which are otherwise common everywhere else.
  7. Your little corner of the birding world can contribute to citizen science by submitting your complete lists on BirdTrack or eBird.
  8. Some friendly competition is an excellent incentive to get out birding. Many birding friendships have started with Patchwork Challenge.

So having whetted your appetite, what do you need to do to enter and how can you become a part of the Patch Birding community? Here is a quick Q&A to help.

How does patchwork challenge work?

It is based on the number of species seen on your patch in a year. Enter your patch into the competition and start to bird the hell out of it. Each new species for the year equals points. There is a spreadsheet to enter the birds onto which will help to calculate the points which range from one to five depending on rarity status. Bonus points are available if you find a rare or scarce bird on your patch. You will be entered into a league depending on the geographical location of your patch.

What are the rules on what my patch should be?

Your patch can be wherever you like as it is your patch. But for Patchwork Challenge it must be a maximum area of 3km2. It also must be one single continuous shape and not look like a squashed spider with lots of connecting paths connecting multiple patches. Continuing with BirdGuides' #LocalBigYear in 2022, there is also the option of entering your patch into the 10 km league where you can record all sightings within a 10 km radius.

How can I map my patch?

There is some really good software out there, just google 'map an area'. Google Earth and FreeMapTools are both good options. 

How do I enter?

Patchwork Challenge is on Twitter under @patchbirding. The pinned tweet has all of the info and links on how to enter and there is a YouTube video showing you how too. Alternatively send an e-mail to patchworkchallenge@gmail.com if you are struggling and one of the team will be happy to help.

How do I set a target score?

Use the scoresheet to enter the birds that you think you will see on your patch in the year. Be ambitious! The scoresheet will provide a points total which you can enter onto the spreadsheet.

How do I update my scores through the year and how do I find out how I am doing?

Update your scoresheet to get the points total, and then you can update your score anytime you like on the score spreadsheet which is linked on the twitter thread. There are columns for your actuals scores, highlights and bonus points. League updates will be delivered via our YouTube channel on a monthly basis. Keep an eye on social media for updates! 

So there you have it. The Twitter feed is buzzing with those heady days of early January where every sighting is a year tick. The enthusiasm for local, carbon-friendly birding has never been so much at the forefront of the UK birding scene and maybe it is time to identify your local patch, join the Patchwork Challenge family and find your own #patchgold in your 3km2 corner of the world.

Written by: Patchwork Challenge