Monday 15 May 2017

Patchwork Challenge 2017

Patchwork Challenge is a friendly competition based on points scored for each species that you record on your chosen patch. The commonest birds score 1 point, the rarest 5, and for birds that score 3 or more you get double points if you are also the finder. Hoopoe is a 3-pointer, so if I'd been competing in the Patchwork Challenge my thrilling encounter on 2 May would have earned me 6 Patchwork points. It is quite impossible to live a happy life knowing that you are missing out on such bounty, so of course I've signed up and registered a patch.

I've called the patch Burton/Cogden.

As I said, Patchwork Challenge is a friendly competition, so I was quite eager to see who my competitors in the Coastal South Mini-League might be. To give it some relevance I focused only on those patches that fall between Portland and the Exe (that's the eastern two-thirds of Lyme Bay) and which appear to be currently active. Starting at the western end we first have Chris Townend at Budleigh Salterton, then Steve Waite with Axe Estuary & Seaton, Brendan Sheils with Charmouth, myself at Burton/Cogden, and finally Joe Stockwell with Ferrybridge to Weymouth. Five local patches of diverse nature and potential, but all within around 40 miles of coastline.

As a keen competitor my next move was to see how my fellow patchers were doing thus far. I don't know them all personally but that doesn't matter; it is those all-important lists that I'm interested in! What had I missed during the first winter period and early spring as a result of my late start? What envious goodies did they have? But before I got carried away with close analysis I thought I had first better look at the numbers...

As of this morning, here are the current scores:

Patch Species Score
Ferrybridge to Weymouth 154 200
Axe Estuary & Seaton 152 194
Charmouth 105 126
Budleigh Salterton 97 113
Burton/Cogden 94 111

Having effectively started in late April it is hardly surprising that I'm last. Joe and Steve are miles out in front at Weymouth and Seaton. Given the superb mix of habitat on both patches this is no shock either.

Next then, what goodies? I thought I'd begin with 3-pointers or better...

Ferrybridge to Weymouth
Joe has a terrific collection: Spotted Crake, Serin, Red-rumped Swallow, Sibe Chiff and Cattle Egret, all 3-pointers. No finds as far as I can see, so no bonus points.

Axe Estuary & Seaton
Steve has self-found Sibe Chiff and Cattle Egret, so an extra 3+3 bonus points for those.

Brendan had a Cattle Egret fly past on 5 Feb, which means 3 bonus points too.

Budleigh Salterton
No 3+ pointers yet for Chris.

The Hoopoe on 2 May earned me 6 points including the bonus.

In practical terms Burton/Cogden is in no position to compete with either 'Ferrybridge to Weymouth' or the 'Axe Estuary & Seaton'. Both patches are simply too rich in habitat and potential, and each is no doubt worked by several other birders likely to turn up goodies for Joe and Steve to add to their lists. So I shall set my competitive sights somewhere more realistic...

How about Charmouth?

Charmouth is the nearest patch to mine. Potential-wise I would have thought it is fairly similar. A lot of passerine habbo, a nice stretch of coast and not much fresh water. Yes, perhaps Brendan will unwittingly be a worthy adversary...

With 105 species in the Charmouth bag already I thought it might be instructive to see what I was missing. Well, I was in for a shock. Charmouth is absolutely on fire!! Brendan's haul predictably includes the complete set of regular spring passerine migrants like Tree Pipit, Redstart, Whinchat, Spot Fly etc, but also scarce ones like Ring Ouzel and Pied Flycatcher. Nice. But this isn't all. Sifting through the list I also found Woodlark, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Wood Warbler and Nightingale, Twite and Corn Bunting! In order to appreciate why I am so blown away I should probably give the reader an idea of the local status of some of these species. My old haunts the Axe Estuary, Seaton, Beer Head etc are not a million miles away from Charmouth, and I would say compare pretty well in terms of relative status:

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker I don't know any birders who have seen or heard one locally for at least ten years. [Personally I thought they were all gone from this part of the country now, so a drumming, calling male was a bit of a surprise.]
Wood Warbler Just one spring bird in at least the last ten years.
Nightingale Forget it! None, ever. They used to breed on the Axmouth to Lyme Undercliffs until a few years before I moved down here. Since then a total drought.
Twite Steve had an autumn flyover at Beer Head once. Much envy. Otherwise - again - forget it! A lot of E Devon birders would move very quickly for a Twite. And maybe some W Dorset ones too??
Corn Bunting An autumn bird on Beer Head once. First for the patch, that we knew of. Twitched from at least Exmouth. [They do breed near Dorchester, and are scarce visitors to Portland.]
Ring Ouzel Very scarce in spring; one every 3 or 4 years maybe?

You get the idea. As I said, on fire...

When I'd recovered from this battering of quality I had a look at the gaps. Again, some real surprises. No Pheasant? Must be an error. Also I distinctly recall Brendan tweeting about a flock of 16 Waxwings back in January, along with the #PWC2017 and #patchgold tags (a cry of triumph if ever there was one!) but Waxwing is a glaring gap on the current Charmouth patch list. Another oversight, surely? The only waders are Snipe, Jack Snipe and Woodcock. And finally, no seabirds! Apart from Med Gull and Cormorant there is not a single bird that you might have to look offshore to see. No Gannet, no Common Scoter, nothing.

Given its current amazing form I dread to think what will be found when eyes on the Charmouth patch turn seawards...

Altogether a very singular list. Perhaps in a league of its own.

Somehow I really don't think I am able to compete with Charmouth, and will henceforth ignore it...

Which leaves Chris Townend at Budleigh Salterton. Admittedly Budleigh does have an estuary and on paper might have a better list potential than Burton/Cogden, but we shall see. If you read this, Chris, game on!

Standing on Cogden Beach, looking W and contemplating the gruelling task ahead. #PWC2017


  1. Interesting reading Gavin - Good to see we are running close for some good healthy competition and motivation! You will see from my list, I am taking a somewhat "casual" approach but with age comes wisdom as there is nothing to gain from peaking too soon (take note Steve #smiley face), it's all about the long game! Then again, I may just have to move to Charmouth......

    1. Yep, I understand 'casual' Chris. Almost 4 months of not realising I'd be signing up for PWC at all this year is just the laid-back kind of start I needed! Keep that powder dry!

    2. I was going to say Gav I wouldnt worry about Chris, he doesn't go out until October.