Patchwork Challenge: April 2016


April can be a very varied and exciting month as both spring migrants and winter visitors are on the move across the British Isles. It was hoped that the delay in arrivals seen in March would prompt the floodgates to open in April, but the weather had other ideas. Cold spells saw snow fall in many places and with that the brakes were put on spring arrivals for many parts of northern Britain. Even so, by the end of April most patches had a fair dose of spring action and consequently new additions to patch year lists.

April's rarest visitor was the White-crowned Sparrow at Woolston Eyes. George Dunbar had the good fortune to be part of the ringing team that pulled this distinctive passerine from their mistnets on the morning of the 30th. Just the seventh recorded in Britain and Ireland, the bird stayed in a willow clump on release for just a couple of hours before last being seen at 11.45 am. Despite not getting the bonus points, it must have been an exciting and unexpected experience for all involved.

White-crowned Sparrow, Woolston Eyes, Cheshire (Photo: David Bowman)

The run of Green-winged Teal appearing on patches continued in April, with another six patchers racking up points for this North American wanderer. American Wigeon numbers have also been a feature of the early months of the competition and April saw a single appear on Christopher O'Sullivan's Clonakilty patch. Coastal locations were ironically outdone by the inlanders this month in the seabird highlights. Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters put in appearances at coastal locations but it was the Gannet at Linford NR, Arctic Skua at Paxton Pits and the large inland Sandwich Tern movement (including nine birds at Upton Warren) that created the bigger stir.

The Devon Bonaparte's Gull had the good manners to visit Martin Elcoate's patch at Topsham this month and Ireland produced yet another Ring-billed Gull, this time in Belfast Harbour. Caspian Gulls seem to becoming more numerous these days, perhaps because of an increase in identification skills and awareness of this larid. Birds north of the border continue to be notable, however, so a bird at Barns Ness was great reward for Geoff Morgan.

Recent breeding programmes and the possibility of escapes make records of Common Crane and White Stork a little tenuous, with genuine vagrants from the continent increasingly hard to prove. The increase in crane sightings has been increasingly obvious this year, with a further ten eastern locations reporting sightings. Two patches reported White Stork in the month, while Great White Egrets dropped in at five locations. The increase in Glossy Ibis records also continues apace, this time on Dave Craven's Hale and Pickerings patch. While populations of the two other egrets are increasing, Cattle Egret is still an excellent patch bird and one added welcome points to Noel Keogh's list at Tacumshin.

White Stork
Distinguishing a wild White Stork from the many escapes at loose is always a challenging task (Photo: Paul Riddle)

The annual spring appearance of elegant Black-winged Stilts from the continent is much awaited as birds often take a tour of the country at this time of year. Two well-watched birds performed excellently at Rob Hall's Manor Farm patch. Kentish Plovers have been getting rarer on these shores for some time now, so birds at Dawlish Warren and Sker Point were superb bonus-point birds. From a completely different direction, a Lesser Yellowlegs was a highlight of James Brown's excellent month at North Lowestoft.

Recently discussed changes to scoring will make the infamous two-point bonus pointers a thing of the past from 2017. Blue-headed Wagtails and Siberian Chiffchaffs are the two scoring anomalies with four patches reporting the former and three registering the latter. Channel Wagtails in particular have prompted much discussion on the @PatchBirding Twitter feed this spring.

Rarer migrants were pretty hard to find in April, however, with the cold weather putting paid to any larger movements. Three Hoopoes and a smart Woodchat Shrike graced southern locations, while just one Red-rumped Swallow was reported, a find for Paul Sullivan at Frampton Marsh. More northerly locations were represented as Colin Davison found an unseasonable Olive-backed Pipit at Scoughall and a Short-toed Lark was an unexpected pleasure for Nick Addey at Long Nab.

Olive-backed Pipit
Olive-backed Pipit was an unusual PWC April addition (Photo: Ian Andrews)

Exciting winter scarcities included a Great Grey Shrike at Trimingham and the increasingly scarce Shore Lark at Girdle Ness. A late record from earlier in the winter was also received this month, a Penduline Tit for Ben Lewis at Mid Yare.

So that just leaves us with this month's #patchgold. This is the Twitter hashtag for nationally common birds that are rare on your patch. John Bowler on Tiree is normally known for topping the points-per-bird table and featuring in the annual best find competition but by far his highlight of the month was a first patch record of Great Tit!

The Comparative League allows all patches to compete on a level playing field. In the early months the inland patches dominate but from April the coastal locations start to make their moves as migrants drop into their patches and the changing of the seasons that comes with this spring month has shaken up the table. Congratulations to all eight patches that have surpassed the 100 per cent marker. David Franklin continues to top the table with a fortuitous flyover Osprey during a funeral pushing his score on to an enviable 116 per cent. Adam Nicholls bagged a number of patch ticks including a reeling Grasshopper Warbler to prevent David Franklin from a one-two. Final mention goes to Amy Robjohns, whose coastal patch has gone past the 100 per cent mark before May which puts her in a prime position to make a move on the top spots next month.

Dave Craven at Hale and Pickering Pastures is once again the bridesmaid as he has to settle for second again in the Points league at the end of April. Last month it was Mick Turton who topped the chart but this month it is James Brown at North Lowestoft, who chalked up his double century by adding 51 points in the month thanks to Lesser Yellowlegs, Blue-headed Wagtail and a raft of two-pointers. Mick still lurks in third and with May to come it will be interesting to see how the table changes next month.

Last month Rutland Water had topped the inland table with Erik Ansell holding a nine-point lead over Rod Baker. Rod has narrowed the lead this month to three points in April but has to settle for third this time as Ben Lewis' Mid Yare patch comes railroading in to spoil the Rutland party. Ben's score in April was a catch-up from February but included excellent birds such as Penduline Tit, Great White Egret and Green-winged Teal. The chasing pack are not far adrift and a couple of a major finds could result in jumping a lot of places in the table.

The Top 20 species table highlights the diversity of some patches and Dave Craven might start taking it personally as James Brown's Lowestoft patch robs him of top spot here too. Dave added 14 species in the month but James moves six species clear nevertheless. In an exact replica of the points table, Mick Turton makes up the top three.

Green birding is the league for birders who see what they can from their front door without using motorised transport. There are just six points splitting the top five places this month. Last month's leader Chris Rodger drops to fourth place as Andy Hood at Flamborough takes top spot – Black-necked Grebe and Dotterel providing him with patch ticks. Eric Ansell and Andy Johnson take joint second spot, the latter finding a Hoopoe to give his score a boost. Last year's winner, Nige Lound at Gibraltar Point, stays in touch with the leaders in fifth.

While the species table represents quantity, the points-per-bird table celebrates quality. As expected, scores have dropped as patchers bag single points for spring arrivals, but John Bowler maintains first position on 1.517 ppb while Rob Hall's Suffolk patch is in second on 1.434. Ilya Maclean's Cornwall location turned up Woodchat Shrike, Hoopoe and Siberian Chiffchaff, helping him to seal third spot with 1.406.

Amy Robjohns' fantastic start to the year saw her top the under-25 league last month and puts her in a great position in the comparative league. She scored four lifers in the month, but Joe Stockwell has pipped her to the post in spite of, by his own admission, a poor month with his highlight a Balearic Shearwater. Just two points are between them before a gap of 19 points to Jonathan Farooqi in Northumberland. The south-coast duo seem to be running away with it at this early stage but there is plenty of birding to be done yet!

Alastair Flannagan continues to lead the BirdTrack league at Swansea Vale with 329 complete lists. It is rapidly becoming a two-horse race, with Ceri Jones just one complete list adrift of the leader. The winner with BirdTrack, however, is citizen science and Patchwork Challenge competitors have compiled a mighty 7,298 complete lists by the end of April comprising 208,910 records.

Written by: Patchwork Challenge