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* ;)