Hunmanby Patchwork Challenge 2016

Will Looks back at a very productive year taking part in this national patch-birding competition….

Patchwork Challenge is a birding competition with the aim of getting people to record birds on their ‘patch’. A patch can be no more than 3km2 – mine incorporates a small part of Hunmanby (my garden and the water treatment works), the road down to Hunmanby Gap and the Gap itself. Every single bird species on the British list is allocated a point score ranging from 1 to 5. 1 would be typically common birds such as Wrens and Dunnocks. 2 for scarcities which may be hard in some places but easy in others, an example is Shag or Gannet, for me at the Gap they are easy points but inland they are much harder; slightly scarcer birds such as Waxwings are also 2 points. 3 points are for commoner rarities, i.e. unusual and rare but not too rare, an example being Yellow-Browed Warbler (annual in Filey).

A bird worth 4 points is also a rarity (though rarer than 3 pointers) – White-Billed Diver, Black Stork and Hume’s Warbler are prime examples. A bird worth 5 points is a very rare bird or a mega (rarest of the rare) – species such as Spectacled Warbler, Alpine Accentor and Sooty Tern. Furthermore, for birds worth 3, 4 and 5 points, bonus points are available for finding the bird yourself, finding a 3-pointer becomes 6 points, a 4-pointer becomes 12 points and a 5-pointer becomes 15 points. There are also mini-leagues, and I was in both the Coastal North mini-league and the under 25’s mini-league.

Doing patchwork challenge made me want to get down to Hunmanby Gap more often than I usually would and doing this really made me realise that there were great birds right on my doorstep. It also allowed me to see a real change in species over the months and I got to know Keith Clarkson and Nick Carter both of whom I went birding at the Gap with a lot.

January got me off to a good start. On the 1st I got 19 species including a Blackcap in the garden. The 2nd boosted the list up to 35, having visited the Gap, a highlight was a Chiffchaff. The month continued to go well with the best birds being Little Gull, Great-Northern Diver, Black-Throated Diver and Red-Throated Diver on the 10 and Little Auk, Razorbill and Great-Crested Grebe on the 16. The month was topped off with Fieldfare and Redwing. By the end of January I was on 52 species and 62 points. At the time I did not know whether this was good or bad but one thing was for sure, I looked forward to the year ahead.

February was a much quieter month, though this was expected as I had got most of the common winter stuff in January. I added quiet a few common species such as Tufted Duck and Tawny Owl but all just 1 pointers. February got me to 63 species and 73 points, bearing in mind I still hadn’t made a morning (prime time) visit to the Gap.

March went by quietly with the exception of a vocal Siberian Chiffchaff at the water treatment works in Hunmanby. Once April arrived it was clear spring had too, and I added 17 species: the 2nd was when I had my first summer migrant, a Sand Martin at the Gap. Over the next week I also saw Kittiwake, Sandwich Tern, Swallow, House Martin, Black Redstart and Pink-Footed Goose. Hunmanby itself was also producing species with Willow Warbler on the 12th, Peregrine on the 14th, Yellow Wagtail on the 17th and Lesser Whitethroat on the 18th.

Moving on into May saw both Swift and Hobby being added within the first week in Hunmanby. Manx Shearwater and Puffin were welcome ticks on the 20 at the Gap. However the best day in May was the 28th: Arctic Tern, Rock Pipit, Goosander, Red-Breasted Merganser, Common Scoter and Shelduck were all added at the Gap.

As the year went on new birds gradually got harder to come across. In July Whimbrel, Teal, Knot, Pochard and Gadwall moved through the Gap and I also managed to get a long awaited Mistle Thrush. August seemed to signify the start of autumn for the birds and, on the 2nd an early Sooty Shearwater was fantastic. The 9th had Marsh Harrier and a Golden Plover fly through the Gap. Great Skua and Ringed Plover were also seen.

My next additions weren’t until the 17th September with a truly wildfowl focused morning. 449 Wigeon, 28 Pintail, 10 Shoveler, 586 Teal, 1 Tufted Duck, two Dark-Bellied Brent Geese, two Velvet Scoter, and 38 Common Scoter went north while 17 Pale-Bellied Brent Geese, two Eider and (presumably the same) two Velvet Scoter went south. 29 Sooties and 24 Manx Shearwaters also went north (although I did miss a Black Tern south) – a fantastic spectacle. September didn’t stop there, and on the 25th I added Whinchat and Yellow-Browed Warbler – the Yellow-Brow was found by Keith so no bonus points, although I was very grateful for the find!

In October I added lots of birds: Little Egret, Arctic Skua, Slavonian Grebe, Kingfisher, Balearic Shearwater, Grey Partridge, Barnacle Goose, Lesser Redpoll, Corn Bunting, (Greater) Scaup, Whooper Swan, Goldeneye and Mealy Redpoll.

November hosted (in my opinion) the best bird of the year. I had been seawatching at the Gap in the morning but gave up early due to the cold; five Little Auks were nice though but nothing too special. That afternoon dad and I returned in the hope of finding something. We arrived at 1500hrs – not much was passing through, a few Kittiwakes and the odd Gannet but nothing special. It was at 1530 we simultaneously picked up a small gull with Black-headed Gulls in the surf – a juvenile Sabine’s Gull! A great find and a first for the Gap, plus I got six points as the finder! This was followed by a slightly more distant Pomarine Skua. On the 13th I was vis-migging with Keith – over 5000 Woodpigeon and a Corn Bunting had passed through but nothing new until a pair of Snow Bunting went south.

The last month of the year was expectedly one of the hardest months to add things. Three Twite on the 4 were a pleasant surprise. December was good for (Eurasian) White-Fronted Geese: we had a juvenile on the 17th, 13 flew north on the 18th and on the 22nd another five flew north. On the 23rd I finally found a Treecreeper in Hunmanby, and the final bird was a Christmas treat with a Merlin that went south at the Gap on the 25th.

Patchwork challenge was a great way to spend the year (it did fly-by) and see some great birds with some great people. Though looking back on the year there are lots of birds that I missed! Short-eared and Long-eared Owl both eluded me for example (though KC, NC and I did have an Asio sp. and after I left both species appeared). Oh and I can’t not mention my many attempts to pick up the Filey Surf Scoter through the scope (they all failed).

I now can’t wait for the birds 2017 will bring and hopefully I will beat last years total of 182 points and 138 species.

Words & pictures – Will Scott