It’s hard to believe but yesterday was my last opportunity of 2014 to get out onto the patch in an attempt to push my current Patchwork Challenge score a little higher. Despite a less than attentive year I had still somehow managed to draw level with my previous comparative species count, though not score (lack of Grasshopper Warbler this time out really hurt me), but 63 species is never the less still something to be proud of. Yes it may pale into insignificance against some of the big hitters but for my little area of Wales it’s a hard earned result and one which represents many enjoyable hours spent out in the field. Along the way there have been some notable highlights including a strengthening in the Grey Partridge population to at least six individuals (still the only birds recorded anywhere in the Gower area as far as I am aware) as well as several new finds including Common Gull and White Wagtail. Even better were a continued increase in Raven and Red Kite numbers though the shocking decline in Green Woodpeckers continues unabated. In complete contrast the local Tawny Owls seem to have gone from strength to strength with one particularly noisy individual keeping us awake on numerous occasions, often early in the morning. Certainly beats being woken by an alarm.
Out in the garden our feeders felt relatively quiet for much of summer and autumn but the recent cold snap has changed all that. I’ve no idea where all our Chaffinches and House Sparrows have been hiding but they are back now and have been devouring the sunflower seed as quickly as we can supply it. Arriving alongside them have been other welcome returnees in the shape of a single Greenfinch and Starling so it seemed a suitable place to start this final outing.
Moving to Gopa Hill things were relatively quiet with no sign of the Goldcrests which had been so active just a couple of months ago. Instead we were treated to numerous Blackbirds and Song Thrushes, a pattern repeated on Bryn-bach-Common where they were joined by two Mistle Thrushes and upwards of thirty Redwings. The latter were particularly pleasing as they represented my first sighting of the species on patch this year having previously only been heard flying over the house at night. As ever they were particularly hard to get close to so instead we simply enjoyed watching them and in doing so spotted a male Reed Bunting moving through a nearby hedge. Though an occasional patch species it was the first one I’d seen all year and the much needed nudge to put me on a par with last year’s comparative score (64 species and 65 points if you were wondering).
Hoping for further success we moved onto the high level road which delivered some lovely frosty views (above) but not a lot else. It wasn’t until we’d dropped back down into the valley that I spotted a single Goldcrest and one very pale Red Kite which was soaring almost directly towards us. Up on Cefn Drum a couple of Stonechats showed that the species is still doing well here but there was to be no last hurrah from the Grey Partridges. Next year I must make a concerted effort to get them on camera again as up close they really are rather nice.
Descending once more we entered what can only be described as a winter wonderland with the ground and trees around us completely encrusted in frost and ice. At this time of year the narrow wooded valley floor gets little to no sun and after two days of sub-zero temperatures that lack of warmth was clear to see. With each crunching footstep we delved deeper and deeper into a world devoid of light, heat or even colour.
And with that another year of the Patchwork Challenge draws to a close. I’ve already mentioned that I would have liked to have made a few more visits but despite missing out on a couple of months still managed to beat last year’s species count and draw level with my comparative score. More importantly perhaps I furthered my understanding of the ecology right on our own doorstep whilst keeping fit and having fun at the same time. You can’t really ask for more and so unsurprisingly I’ve already signed up for what promises to be an even bigger and better event in 2015. Will this finally be the year in which I find a Treecreeper on patch? Only time will tell.
64 Species / 65 Points