The joys of patching

The highs of patching North East Hampshire ~ 13th April 2015 ~ 

Patching, or patch birding, is where you regularly bird a specific area and record what species you see there. Patching is something that I have become much more fond of over the last year, with the simple pleasures of appreciating the common species and trying to see new species on my patch trumping the sometimes short-lived elation of a successful twitch.

Sunset at the Road GPs. Huge thanks to Martin
for lending me his scope - I am very grateful and really appreciate it!!

My patch is located in North East Hampshire and consists of a disused airfield, a SSSI and some pools formed as a result of gravel extraction. The habitats range from heathland, dense scrub to open grassland and small water bodies so there is a lot of potential for birds, however inland Hampshire is not exactly a birding hotspot!

This year, as with last year, I am participating in the Patchwork Challenge which aims to promote patch birding. It does so through a bit of friendly competition in the form of minileagues so you can compare how you're getting on, with how other local patchers are doing, or between your current score and previous year's scores.

Up until a few weeks ago my patching attempts weren't really turning up much of interest; the usual suspects - Skylark, Dartford Warbler, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull etc... but over the last month or so, things have really picked up. With spring migration now in full swing and me now fully recovered from illness, I have been getting patch ticks (new species for my patch) at a rate of knots!

First came the garden Brambling which visited the feeders regularly over a few days, next came 2 birds I flushed up which I have only managed to narrow down to a partridge sp. so far as my views were so fleeting!

On the 6th I saw my first summer migrants - two Swallows and as well as the hirundines, I also ticked Coot, a patch lifer, and Woodcock, a year tick on an evening stroll around the gravel pit pools.

The 7th April proved to be one of my best days on patch EVER, with 3 superb patch lifers - Osprey, Little Ringed Plover and Little Grebe.

Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) on my patch

Since the 7th, LRP numbers have tripled from two, to at least 6, individuals on the 12th. Along with the LRPs, my first unusual waders on patch, a supporting cast of 4 Stock Dove, 3 Egyptian Geese, 3 Mallard, at least 3 Swallow and a pair of Lapwing made for a lovely evening stroll.

Today (13th) was another great day with yet another patch tick and a wide variety of species being seen on patch - 34 different species in fact! My latest patch tick came in the form of a superb Green Sandpiper, bobbing up an down along the edge of the gravel pit pools, acting like a little wind-up toy, sprinting and bobbing in the shallows.

Distant Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) from this evening.
Apologies for the dreadful record shot - best I could manage under the circumstances!

Over the next few days and weeks I am eagerly awaiting some more passage migrants: Wheatear, Redstart, Sand Martin etc... and the return of the breeding migrants: Whitethroats, Garden Warblers, Cuckoos and hopefully Nightingales, to my patch. Oh, and not forgetting the absolutely wonderful Nightjars!!

Let me know in the comments below how you're getting on with patching this year - I love hearing what species other people are seeing, no matter how envious it makes me *cough* Ring Ouzels *cough* ;)


Inspiring people, one bird at a time

Hazeley Heath Bird Ringing Demonstration ~ 22nd February 2015 ~ 

Back in August 2011 I attended Birdfair, the annual birding event held at Rutland Water. The BTO had a stand there and were putting on a bird ringing demonstration for the public to see and get involved with by being able to release some of the birds. Being the wildly enthusiastic and bird-loving youngster that I was, I was totally fascinated by this and was absolutely delighted to be asked if I'd like to release a Sedge Warbler.

This event got me, and has since shaped my life in a way I could never have imagined.

I don't think I stopped grinning or talking about it for the next month or so while I tried to find a trainer who would take on a 13 year old trainee. Eventually, I did, and for that I will be forever grateful - I owe a huge amount to my old trainer, not only for training me up to be a competent ringer with the skill set needed to deal with a variety of ringing situations, but also for the advice he gave me on everything from education to business, decision-making to making the most of the opportunities that get thrown at me and many other things too.

It is thanks to the demo at Birdfair all those years ago that I am now a qualified C Ringer and my passion for birds, their conservation, ecology and behaviour is more deep-seated than ever before.

So enough reminiscing and back to the present. Way back in January, Martin asked if I would be able to help with a ringing demo on Hazeley Heath, one of our usual sites, in conjunction with the Hart Countryside Services. Of course I said yes and marked the weekend on my calendar to ensure I kept it free.

Last week was half term and I had fellow young birder, NGB and photographer Sorrel Lyall come to stay for a few days with the aim of doing some ringing, getting her a lifer or two and seeing some nice birds. You can read her blog about her visit here: While Sorrel was here I checked the weather forecast for the weekend quite frequently because it was looking iffy and until lunchtime of decision day (Friday 20th) it looked as if the ringing demo would have to be cancelled as the forecast was for it to be windy and to start raining at 10am! Thankfully, by about 15.00 that afternoon, the forecast looked rather different and was good enough to warrant the demo going ahead, even if there was the chance we may have to pack up slightly early.

Sunday dawned bright and early, but not too early thankfully, as my alarm was set for 6.00. Martin picked me up at 6.30 and we headed to Hazeley where we met Ian, another ringer, loaded up with all the kit and headed over to the net rides. It took us about 40 minutes to put up all the usual nets and then we returned to base where we processed a Song Thrush and Great Tit and then waited there until Dave, the countryside ranger, turned up with all the demo stuff - marquee, table, display box, demonstration net etc... We then moved all our chairs, rucksack and other stuff over to Dave's van where we then set up the marquee, table and other bits and bobs, ready for when members of the public started to arrive.

Over the course of the morning approximately 50 people stopped to see what we were doing, many stayed for ages, fascinated by the birds and hearing all about ageing and sexing techniques as well as background information on species and any re-traps we had the original ringing data for. It was awesome to have so many people captivated by what we were showing and telling them! We caught a lovely variety of species including 3 Siskin, 1 Lesser Redpoll, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Goldfinch and of course the obligatory Blue Tits and Dunnocks.

The weather held out for much longer than expected and we definitely got packed up just in the nick of time, as the rain started almost as soon as we got back in the car to head home.

All in all the demo went really well and to be fair, really couldn't have gone much better!!

There were two main highlights for me. Firstly, it was fantastic to see young people taking an interest in the birds and secondly, but most importantly (for me), the huge smiles on people's faces at seeing the birds up close and people's faces completely lighting up with massive grins when we helped them release a bird.

And that's what it was all about for me - inspiring and engaging others, while increasing awareness and educating people about birds and the environment.

Here are some photos from the morning:

Snipe Ringing

Snipe Ringing ~ 8th February 2015 ~ 

Yesterday evening (Saturday) Martin, Liz, Andy and I headed to Fleet Pond at 7pm to set the nets for this morning's session. We set all the usual nets - the straight double and dog-legged triple but we also set the extra double as we had high hopes after the last session (20 birds of which 18 were new)!

This morning dawned bright and early and Martin got there first to open the nets and then Liz, Andy and I got to the site for 6.15 to join Martin and Ian joined us shortly after. We donned our waders and then headed down to the marsh with all the kit.

Approximately 45 minutes before sunrise seems to be the optimal time for heading out onto the marsh and despite it being very clear with a very bright moon (not ideal conditions by any means), at just after 6.40 we decided to give it a go. When we were setting nets last night, there was a lot of evidence that Snipe had been roosting all around the nets - lots of poo on the ground and the odd feather - so we were very hopeful of a good catch this morning.

As we walked towards the nets we flushed a few birds, some flew straight over the top of the nets, or even round them. We quickly extracted those that had been caught in the nets and returned to base, where we ringed and processed them. In total we caught 11 Snipe, including 1 re-trap and a Song Thrush (quite unexpected)!