The Patches

Girdle ness
In a nutshell....a golf course next to the sea, next to Aberdeen! Decent seawatching and migrants but not a lot in the way of breeding birds. Over 230 species have been recorded there, and the highest year total recorded there (to my knowledge at least!) is 136. Would probably be much higher if there was some regular standing water! Some of the better birds recorded here more recently include Brunnichs guillemot, white-billed diver, desert wheatear, Radde's warbler and a good lot of scarce.

Galley Head
Hidden away down in County Cork in south-west Ireland, Galley Head is a grand spot altogether! Its not as blitzing as Cape Clear or Mizen can be, which is good cos it stops it getting overrun by birders, but it gets enough stuff to always keep me guessing. Perhaps most famous for the autumn sea-watching, Galley does ok for for migs in south-easterlies, although the numbers aren't anything like Cape standards e.g I've only just nailed garden warbler for the patch!

As far as I'm concerned, the "Shite Lane" area is the best bit for migs turning up - its on the western side of the head, and my half-baked theory is that stuff ends up on that side in a south-easterly, for shelter. This is kind of backed up by the fact that at least 4 yanks have turned up on the east side, in the scarily overgrown (particularly if you've birded Shetland) Dirk Bay - Philadelphia Vireo & American Redstart in '85, Hermit Thrush in '98 and Swainson's Thrush in '08 - classy birds! God knows whats been missed in there though!

All in all, its a great patch to have - there is nowt better than being able to stroll out the door and find class birds like Black-headed Bunting within 1/2 mile of the house! It doesn't happen often, but when it does, its feckin great!


View Galley Head patch in a larger map

South Don
The jewel in the crown of the North East. If you can avoid or ignore the dog walkers, joggers, kite surfers, canoeists, golfers, alcoholics, student beach party goers, muggers, naturists, fishermen and any other general malingerers it's not a bad place to bird. It gets a decent range of wildfowl, waders, gulls & terns on the estuary and the sea. The golf course, gardens and trees along the river and at the barracks pick up a smattering of migs if the conditions are right. The Don's biggest bird is undoubtedly the 1991 Lesser Sand Plover now accepted as the first UK record. Other birds of note are Pied Wheatear, Desert Wheatear and Hume's warbler.


View Untitled in a larger map

Boghall
Boghall is an obvious outlier, being almost bird free and inland. Although it appears to be no more than a random patch of farmland and hills in Midlothian, it became of key importance when I moved here in 2008. I have since found out about historic records of dotterel and great grey shrike, but any decent birds remain elusive. Benefits include not having to share it with anyone, it being easy to do in a spare half hour, my being able to get most species while drinking coffee and looking oot ma window and most importantly I can happily ignore it in spring and autumn i can go freelancing down the Lothian or Borders coast wherever i like without worrying what I may be missing (because I know there is nothing to miss).

Old Portlethen
Old Portlethen is the original fisihng village of Portlethen (some say derived from 'Port Leviathan' - see this link for lots more information about the village. It is mainly low cliff with a couple of pebble beaches. At the north end is a fairly birdless gorge made by the Findon Burn. However, there is some good habitat at Mill of Findon around the old mill pond and the sewage pumping station (where a Greenish Warbler was found before my arrival). In the village, the best habitat for migrants is in the taller trees around England Farm. My garden also seems to do quite well and I've built an impresive flock of Tree Sparrows in recent years. The tall trees at Mains of Portlethen Farm can be handy too. Seawatching is productive, and the Craigmaroinn. rocks off the village do a good job of attracting an interesting range of species. I can seawatch from my house and am slowly amassing a handy list of seabird (e.g. Sooty, Pom, White-billed Diver, Little Auk) and cetaceans (e.g. Humpback and Minke Whale, White-beaked and Bottlenose Dolphin). Further south is the village of Downies,which ought to get interesting migrants, but I've never found anything there yet. The patch has huge potential - who knows what I might add in the future?


View Old Portlethen patch in a larger map

The Cliffs (Abbotscliffe and Samphire Hoe)
Abbotscliffe is the jewel in the crown of my wider local patch, Folkestone and Hythe, which is set amongst the beautiful rolling chalk downland of the Kingdom of Kent. Well, at least it was until they went and built the Channel Tunnel right in the middle! On the upside the millions of tonnes of chalk marl that were dug were deposited at the base of the cliffs (or The Cliffs are they are known, for there are no others, well not in my patch anyway, or “Da Cleefs” to Mr. Blatter) now form the local nature reserve of Samphire Hoe which very handily comes complete with a warden to set up plenty of year ticks for me. These two sites comprise rough grassland, some fields, some mostly low scrub and bushes, a few wind-bent sycamores on the cliff and a couple of small, generally birdless ponds – The Garden of England it aint. It probably bears more resemblance to bits of Shetland (just without the rares) and is probably why I like it (though I would like more rares – one day however I will dig out Kent’s first Lancey!)

It does very well for larks, pipits, chats, buntings and the like and has a growing warbler list but struggles for ducks, waders, terns etc. I’m reliant on spring seawatching really for so many species and if the weather’s not right in late April / early May I’m pretty much f*cked for the year. There’s some gank which is hard to come by e.g. Collared Dove, Rook, House Sparrow which I often have to resort to fannying about on the margins of the square trying to bag which can be fun or frustrating depending on your view. I’ve only seen one House Sparrow at Samphire Hoe and it was a punch-the-air moment to site tick it (and I’ve seen 180 species there) – an event which pretty much defines patch listing for me.

My overall species total for The Cliffs is 211 and my best find here was Kent’s first Isabelline Wheatear (a tenth for Britain at the time) way back in 1996 and there’s been other some cracking stuff – Black Kite, Red-footed Falcon, Alpine Swift, Bee-eater, Red-rumped Swallow, Siberian Stonechat, Subalpine Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Pallas’ Warbler and Dusky Warbler for example. Odd perhaps that I’ve never troubled the ‘best finds’ category of this competition but I have been saddled with two bairns in recent years. Some of the better birds lately have been within the wider patch – Green Heron and Dark-eyed Junco – not that I found either and didn’t even see the latter (ouch!). Still I have faith that both I and The Cliffs will come good, perhaps even in 2011.



View The Cliffs in a larger map


Blackdog
Named after Winston Churchill’s dark days, Blackdog is a stretch of sandy coast just north of Aberdeen. It is best known for the summer scoter flock which includes several Surfies each year. Few birders who visit do anything other than viewing this flock (and long may it remain so!) but as well as the beach and sea, the patch contains dunes, rough grassland, an old tip filled with toxic oil drilling-related sludges, a military rifle range, plantations and an occasionally productive line of sycamores.

Most folks who go ‘dogging are dog walkers (appropriately enough) and motorbikers but nudists can occasionally be seen, especially at the southern end of the patch boundary, whilst the Community Wood car park is popular for liaisons of the steamy window variety. The Rifle Range is used sometimes for military training or by clay pigeon fanciers but otherwise access across there is pretty well full access across the area.

My own patch lists stands at 188, at end of 2011. Several gaping holes in the list were plugged in 2010 and the most notable omissions now are Jack Snipe, Tree Pipit, Purple Sandpiper and Black-throated Diver (though curiously, or not so curiously, the latter species is reported more or less annually by scoter-spotters).


View Blackdog patch in a larger map


Newbiggin
Immortalised in Martin Garner's book 'Frontiers in Birding' Newbiggin is a birder's dream patch, migrants, seabirds and more importantly a relatively low number of other birders in comparison to east coast sites further south. It has  a good track record since being 'discovered' in 1989; Black-faced Bunting (2nd for Britain) is probably the pants filling find (though not mine), also had Blyth's Reed Warbler, Iberian Chiffchaff, Rustic Bunting, Feas Petrel and more recently Desert Wheatear (2nd record).
In the late eighties/early nineties it was like birding Beirut, you could spend as much time identifying burnt out cars as birds. I've variously been stoned, bitten (dog and horse), abused, followed over the years so we've shared a bit me and the patch, though I have blown hot and cold over the years.

A golf course, a few fields and hedgerows, one area of decent trees (The Mound), a couple of mining subsidence ponds and a big area with no access (former smelter lagoons) smack in the middle.

My best personal find, well Rod Stewart had it right when he sang 'first cut is the deepest', the one that started it all a Little Bunting on a foggy morning in October 89, when they were still BB. Since then Dusky Warbler, in on a Red-flanked Bluetail moments after, Barred warbler etc.

Total patch list is 195, I've had two years of achieving 144

Link to map of patch


Wanstead Flats & Park
Wanstead Flats and Park are a good area of green space in urban London. Well away from the Thames, the resident species are exactly what you would expect, with the exception of it being somewhat of a mecca for Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers until the bastard park keepers cut down their favourite trees in the name of health and safety. The Park is your typical "used to be the gardens of a really really big house but the whole lot went to wrack and ruin", whereas the Flats is a combination of acid grassland, copses, and about a trillion football pitches. It was also home to a flippin' huge Olympic Police base and a handful of air to air missiles in the summer of 2012, and whilst this was a pain at the time when a probable Honey Buzzard was shot down in a ball of flames in late August, it also resulted in an area so ravaged by Met horses that when it rained in winter it almost became a scrape. I say almost as all it pulled in were three Golden Plovers and an LRP before it all dried up again.

It's boring most of the year, June generally induces complete apathy, but for a few short months it becomes brilliant when local birders are beseiged by passage Wheatears, Whinchats. Ring Ouzels and Spotted Flycatchers. The best birds recently have been a couple of Wrynecks (Mega) and a Stone Curlew (Mega mega, found, unbelievably, by Derek), but in the past there have been Shrikes and everything, so we live in hope. The total patchlist, as far as we can work out from the mind-numbing exercise that was reading 75 years of London Bird Reports, stands at a monumental 200 and something species.

Cotehill

The Patch

Total perimeter 7.4 km (4.1 miles)

Total area 2.3 km-2


'ere be birds... sometimes.


Although a relatively new comer to the patchlist challenge (a mere two years old), the origins of the Cotehill patch lie in the original Patchlist 2000 challenge and covers the same area as the long running Collieston Patch.

The relatively short stretch of coast comprises of rocky cliffs and the sandy beach in Collieston harbour which are generally poor areas for birds but sea-watching can be good at Cransdale just north of the village.  The majority of the patch stretches across farmland with a number of scattered bushes and trees and occasional flooded pools all of which can hold a migrant or two.    Collieston village itself is one of the best places in North-east Scotland for migrants with birds turning up in any of the gardens.  The two large bodies of freshwater: Cotehill and Meikle Lochs, are good for the obvious wildfowl but alas do not get good muddy edges for waders.

No idea what the total patchlist is but I guess is quite good as over the years there's been a few good birds...



















The Mall

The Mall is an unassuming little patch just off the main N71 road between Clonakilty and Skibbereen in the far south of the Republic of Ireland. It's not too far from Seppy's stomping ground over at Galley Head, but being inland it doesn't get inundated with migrants twice a year like Galley, nor can I sit on my patio picking off seafaring year-ticks with my scope. No, some of us have to work at our birding ;-).

Naturally with limited migs and no coastline the patch list sits at a relatively pedestrian 96 (but I have high hopes of breaking the 100 barrier this year with the Patch Challenge to motivate me). But low-listing suits me just fine... especially as we're playing percentiles here.


View The Mall Local Patch in a larger map

It's a grand little patch to have, all things considered.

It consists mainly of dairy pasture, so there's a lot of grass and hedgerow, with the occasional bit of scrub and bog thrown in for good measure. Streams and drainage ditches criss cross the patch, and can harbour ducks, herons and other aquaphiles. The lake at Corran should be good for wildfowl, but so far has under-delivered spectacularly on that front... perhaps this will be the year.

There's a little sliver of oak wood lining a steep valley on the way down to Connonagh, which has some promise, and of course there's the obligatory on-patch-pub (The Beehive Bar) which offers an ideal rest stop on a hot day's tramp around the perimeter.

Cheers!



Longhaven

Welcome to the Longhaven Patch

Longhaven Patch…'ere be rares!
 Situated on the coast between Peterhead and Cruden Bay, Longhaven is one of those quick stop off points where North-east birders looking for migrants dip into as they trawl up and down the coast during autumnal easterlies.  It’s an easy quick win site with two small sycamores, a few wind blown stunted willows and some rosebay all within 30 seconds of getting out of the car.

It hasn’t got a great track record but then is it properly worked?  

Longhaven and Norway
Total area 1.40km2

278 miles from Norway

The coast is high exposed cliffs with loads of Geos for rares to tuck themselves into and there’s large areas of damp, rough sheep grazed fields for rares to hide in.  There’s a large disused quarry providing shelter for more rares in the sheltered weedy vegetation and scattered patches of gorse which are invariably useless for rares and a pain to work.

Although there’s been no major rarities there (that I’m aware of), it does get migrants with a greenish, firecrest and yellow-browed all in the only two sycamores last September.  So the site has potential.


L
To the south of Longhaven and the southern end of the patch lies Bullers of Buchan.  A small village that again can hold a migrant or two.  It once had the region’s first Hume’s yellow-browed but nothing much before or since.  But it’s not checked much and I’m sure will hold the occasional bird. 

The patch stretches only a small way inland to capture one of the few areas of trees along this stretch of coast.  I don’t think anybody has ever looked at them so I thought I’d squeeze them into the patch… you never know.

Is this a good patch?

I’m not sure, but it’s new and quite exciting in an area that I’ve only occasionally been to, so worth a year or two of patch listing.

I’ve no idea what the annual tally will be but I guess will be lower than Cotehill, probably around the 120 -125 mark.  But as all new patches invariably underestimate the total in the first year, I’ve set a target of 130 and will see how I get on. 





Singapore Botanic Gardens

This small and well manicured part of the city state of Singapore will be my prime destination for local birding this year.

Singapore Botanic Gardens 

This area trademarked by National Geographic

Highly flexible boundary in yellow. The green space to the west is private. Really private.
It measures about 2 km north south, and is no more than a couple of hundred metres wide at most. It does have three ponds, complete with black and mute swans (NOT on the list unless I get really needy). 

Zoom in to look for black swans


Also some good mature trees, and four (count 'em) places to feed along the way. 

Human feeding stations, not bird feeders (unless you are a myna)

It's is also being promoted for World Heritage Status. Not likely that Girdle will ever get that accolade..