With but a few days left in 2015 thoughts predictably turn to those things coming to an end as plans start to form for the coming year. For me this means winding up the latest Patchwork Challenge which has proved to be a record breaker in more ways than one. First, and perhaps most importantly, I managed to smash my previous record of 64 points by coming in with an impressive 69. OK, I admit this looks pretty paltry compared to those who are fortunate enough to call birding meccas such as Titchwell their local patch but for an area of old industrial Welsh valley, I’m pretty chuffed. Of course numbers don’t tell the whole story and hidden within mine sit a few juicy morsels which without regular visits I doubt would ever have come to light. My favourites include confirmed breeding records for Grey Partridge, Green Woodpecker and Shelduck, plus new knowledge including the annual return of Grasshopper Warblers. Then there were the never before recorded species including Garden Warbler, Treecreeper and Great Black-backed Gull, not forgetting of course that evening when the sight of a Mallard got me far more excited than it really had any right to do. Funny how even the commonest of species can take on a new emphasis when it comes to birding your local patch. For a full review I recommend reading back through this years ramblings on the subject here, just please ignore the absence of postings since September. I fully admit that my dedication waned somewhat in the second half of this year but for 2016 I have set new goals which should keep me going right to the bitter end. More on that in January.

Back to the present and on Christmas Eve we headed out onto the patch for what would be our final visit of the year. We didn’t need to go far to see one of the real success stories though which has been the long awaited return of Starlings to our garden. I first blogged about this resurgence last week and am happy to report that not only have those initial three birds been back every single day since, they’ve even brought some friends. We’ve had up to six individuals at any one time and their noisy calls as they squabble has been music to my ears. I just hope the neighbours agree.

P1160899 - Garden Starlings

Heading up to Gopa Hill we spotted a Grey Wagtail fly catching in the waterlogged fields whilst overhead one of three Red Kites seen across the day was observed hunting low before vanishing down into the valley. The pale Buzzard was also about as were a pair of Ravens, all my favourite species turning up as if to bid farewell to 2015. Other than a few Meadow Pipits small birds were almost entirely absent, due in no small part to a strong wind blowing in from the coast. Temperatures were a couple of degrees cooler than they have been in recent weeks, though still way above average for this time of year, but that was just enough to deliver a brief but sharp hailstorm. The sight of ice on the ground served as a bitter sweet reminder of what we’ve been missing out on this winter thus far. I want same snowy days in the Brecons god-dammit!

P1160901 - Cefn Drum

Back to the patch and after taking a look at what must be the slowest flood defence construction project in the history of civil engineering (three years and counting I think) it was a brief climb up to the top of Cefn Drum. Unfortunately illegal off-roading is continuing to have a detrimental impact on the environment up here but look beyond that and the views were as spectacular as ever. We had a couple of Rooks for company but other than that were alone with our thoughts.

P1160905 - Cefn Drum

Dropping back down to the village necessitated a quickening of pace as the next band of weather could be seen rapidly approaching but we made it back home without getting a soaking. There the feeders were absolutely rammed with birds including those aforementioned Starlings plus flocks of both Long-tailed Tits and Goldfinches. Sitting in my kitchen watching their antics seems like a suitably fitting place to sign off from the Patchwork Challenge for 2015. Here’s looking forward to the next one.

2015: 69 / 2014: 64