Patchwork Challenge

26 May 2017 | Posted in Barry Yates , Rye Harbour
Patchwork Challenge
Red-breasted Merganser

PWC is a friendly competition between patch birders which has been running since 2013. The idea is to log as many species as possible during the year, each scoring between 1 and 5 points according to rarity. As an incentive to ‘finding your own’, bonus points are scored if 3, 4 or 5-pointers are self-found. Website here.

You may already be thinking it rather meaningless to compare scores from different locations, and so in second and subsequent years the comparative leagues also become available, whereby your score is expressed as a percentage of your average previous scores, thus levelling the playing field to a degree.

Anyhow, rather rashly I registered to take part in 2017 using Rye Harbour Nature Reserve as my patch.

The year began briskly, but of course the trouble with clearing up all the easy species too quickly is that it rapidly becomes much harder to add to your score!

The long-staying Red-Breasted Merganser (above) and Black-Necked Grebe (below) were of course useful, and on January 11th I was lucky enough to witness a very brief visit from a Glaucous Gull, presumably a token spill-over from the Laridfest being enjoyed at Dungeness this winter. On the 22nd a party of 9 Goosander paid an equally brief visit to the Long Pit.

On most visits I spend some time sea-watching (yes I know, but needs must!) but aside from a couple of Velvet Scoter on January 25th this has yielded precious little so far.

As for February, the best bird so far has probably been a male Hen Harrier, drifting slowly inland over Camber Castle on the 15th. The first Mediterranean Gulls on the 19th were nice, and a welcome hint that spring isn’t too far away.

As I write in late February, all my blunderings around the Reserve thus far leave me on 108 species for 127 points, good enough for 5th spot in the Coastal South league and 20th (out of 464) in the National standings. I would hope to maintain things at something like this level - I can’t compete with some of the east coast spots but Rye Harbour does of course offer an excellent variety of birds over the various habitats. Where the top guys tend to pull away is on the self-found rarity front, and this is where I need to try to make some impact. That Blyth’s Reed Warbler last June is beginning to seem like a long time ago!


The main thing I have learned over the last three months is that I don’t go birding often enough!

According to my Birdtrack data I have visited Rye Harbour 45 times so far this year, which seems like a fair effort to me, but as the list of birds I’ve missed ticks relentlessly over it has become clear that to get anywhere near seeing everything that passes through I need to visit every day, which is what some Patchwork Challengers manage somehow to do. Some of them live and/or work on their patches, which is obviously handy, others just have, well……. too much time!

March felt like hard going at times, but slowly the summer visitors started to accumulate, beginning with my first Wheatear and Sandwich Tern on the 9th. The most unusual sighting though was a Woodcock, flushed from alongside the path behind the industrial units on the 15th.

April continued where March left off, rather slowly, although the Little Gull picked out of the fog on the Long Pit on 4th was a very welcome addition, as was a Jay on the edge of the wood on the 11th, the first I have ever seen here.

The first May Bank Holiday coincided with the start of a remarkable spring passage of Skuas along the south coast, so of course I had to have a go at this. I settled down on the beach for a session on the 1st and fairly quickly picked up two Arctic Skuas reasonably close in. I was rather pleased with myself for this, right up to the point where I discovered that Sam Smith had been photographing a Temminck’s Stint (below) on the Beach Reserve just a couple of hundred yards away at the same time!

My first (and possibly only) 4.30am start of the year on the 11th was rewarded with a singing Grasshopper Warbler at Castle Water, although sadly this one didn’t choose to stick around. A few days later, on the 16th, the same venue provided a Spoonbill, and finally another embarrassing first for the reserve for me, a Red Kite on 24th.

So that’s the spring over with, and it leaves me on 144 species for 172 points, good enough for seventh in the Coastal South league.

Until the waders start to return, it’s a little hard to see where the next points are coming from, but let’s not forget that last year the two best birds of the year, American Golden Plover and Blyth’s Reed Warbler (below) both turned up in June, so here’s hoping…….

Mike Russell (not the SWT one!)