Last Saturday was my first opportunity of 2017 for a proper days birding and, in keeping with my new year resolutions, that meant Patchwork Challenge time. As mentioned previously I’ve abandoned the two patch plan from last year and instead returned to the area that started it all, Cefn Drum and Bryn-bach-Common. Hopefully this will refocus my efforts and allow me to put in the time required to trump what, to my surprise, turned out to be a rather competitive score in 2016. Despite a scarcity of visits from summer onwards, early two-pointers and good appearances by spring migrants meant that things weren’t as bleak as I’d expected falling only one point short on 2015. If I’d known that a little earlier I might have put a bit more effort in towards the end but alas I didn’t pull together a final tally until London was being engulfed in firework smoke. Something else which I must improve on this year to avoid me toiling at the bottom of the league tables before a last minute jump to something approaching respectability.
But I digress. This is 2017 and having battled through a working week which saw some stunning winter weather, Saturday dawned misty, dull and mild. Bum. Still, we had our target set and were soon picking up a few easy ticks care of our garden birds. Numbers have remained pretty healthy over winter despite a lack of snow and ice with most days seeing a trio of Coal Tits, up to eight Long-tailed Tits, two Robins, three Dunnocks and our usual selection of Blue Tits, Great Tits and House Sparrows. Goldfinches continue to be as numerous as ever with what I’m pretty sure is a record 45 yesterday morning as well as Bullfinches which are increasingly gaining in both confidence and regularity. What used to be a hard to find species during the first Patchwork Challenge has now become much more common, a fact perfectly demonstrated by the presence of six (three males and three females) on this particular morning. Pretty impressive I’d say! Heading to Gopa Hill added several Blackbirds before two Goldcrests brought a splash of colour to proceedings up by the old ruin. Both were feeding high in the canopy only a stone’s throw from where I’ve found evidence of breeding in the past. Members of that same family perhaps? Breaking out onto open ground delivered a small flock of Starlings making their way down the valley before it was on to Bryn-bach-Common where things began to get a little more interesting.
First up were a pair of Red Kites (my first two pointer of the year) closely followed by the local gronking Ravens before a passing Lesser Black-backed Gull hinted at poor conditions out at sea. A distant Jay was relatively unusual up here as they tend to prefer the wooded valley bottom but the same couldn’t be said of the mixed Thrush flock in a neighbouring field. Each January for the last three of four years has seen a similar gathering with today’s consisting of at least six Redwing, two Mistle Thrush and a solitary Song Thrush. All were very mobile continually switching between the ground and surrounding hedgerows whilst frustratingly remaining well out of camera reach. Another similarity to previous years as was the complete absence of Fieldfares. Is it me or do these get harder and harder to find.
There wasn’t much time to ponder before a quartet of Herring Gulls took our attention as they passed overhead. That’s why I love the Patchwork Challenge as when else would such a species cause anything approaching excitement? They too were soon usurped though as I spied a smaller lone Gull stood amongst some distant Sheep. Closing the distance a little it soon became evident that it was in fact a Common Gull, only my second ever patch record and in exactly the same location as the first. Disappointingly though we couldn’t turn up either Green Woodpecker or Stonechat, two normally reliable species, before we had to move on to Cefn Drum. By now a light drizzle had developed which, accompanied by the strengthening breeze and some illegal dirt bikers, made for a rather unappetising proposition for birds and walkers alike. Indeed all we could turn up was the resident flock of Rooks and a Buzzard before it was back to the valley floor and then home.
Probably not the greatest first day of a Patchwork Challenge then but a solid start on my, comparatively, meagre patch. A couple of glaring omissions and the absence of Woodcock could put me on the back foot if I don’t turn them up in the next couple of weeks, but there are signs of hope. I’m pretty sure I glimpsed a Peregrine but didn’t get a good enough look to definitively tick it quite yet and there are now a couple of promising pools as part of the flood alleviation works that still look a good ways off completion. At least we are up and running though and that’s the most important thing.
2016: 68 / 2017: 29