Sunday, 3 January 2016

2015 - A Year of Patchbirding

Returning to the north west from Suffolk in 2012 was a shock to the system. Suffolk is blessed with some of the best birding in the UK and I held little optimism of seeing or finding much at all, let alone finding a local patch close to Liverpool with any decent birds on wrong I was!!

2015 was my first year of competing in the Patchwork Challenge, and it proved to be an exceptional one. I visited the patch on 144 occasions, managing to see 182 species. To put this in to context, my patch lifelist up to the end of 2014 was 159, and through the course of the year I managed to add 28 new patch lifers. It is likely that 2015 was a freak year, with some exceptional birds present, but we will wait to see what 2016 brings....


Patch visits - 8
Patch lifers - 2 (Twite & Rock Pipit)
Patch Yearlist - 99 (114 points)

(Great White Egret - River Mersey off Within Way)
(Grey Partridge - Hale Head)
The start to my birding year was to be delayed due to a mixture of a hangover and then a failed twitch for the Little B*stard in Yorkshire. Early highlights included a good haul of raptors on the 2nd including my first Merlin of the year. A full day out on the 3rd was more productive with my first Great White Egret, Tawny Owl (a bird I only heard a further two times all year), 3 Woodcock and my first patch lifer of the year Rock Pipit which flew over Withins Way. The rest of the month was spent cleaning up on the more expected yearticks on patch, but included an overwintering Common Sandpiper. It wasn't until the 24th that I found my next patchtick, a Twite, found in a group of Goldfinch by Hale Lighthouse. January came to a close on the 31st with a last ditch Marsh Harrier, stolen from the Frodsham side of the Mersey.


Patch visits - 7
Patch lifers - 2 (Red breasted Merganser & Common Scoter)
Patch Yearlist - 109 (126 points)

(Common Scoter - Hale Lighthouse)
(Bullfinch - Pickerings Pasture)
February continued as January left off, with many of the same birds. However the 7th produced the first real surprise of the year in the shape of a male Common Scoter with an overwintering Blackcap and Short Eared Owl providing a mix of winter and summer. Diligently checking the winter finch flocks finally resulted in my only Brambling of the first winter period on the 14th. A monster high-tide on the 20th persuaded me to take a days annual leave, and I was rewarded with a male Red Breasted Merganser, along with 3 Great White Egrets and a real spectacle of watching birds being displaced from their normal high tide roosts. Having failed miserably with gulls throughout the winter I was losing hope of finding any "white-wingers" but the 28th just proved that perseverance does pay off, with an Iceland Gull. However there was some frustration as I found a further Iceland Gull and a 1w Glaucous Gull (a bird that eluded me for the rest of the year) on the same day but from a vantage point off patch. Subsequent checking from the patch failed to relocate them!!


Patch visits - 9
Patch lifers - 1 (Red Kite)
Patch Yearlist - 115 (133 points)

(Corn Bunting - Burnt Mill Farm, Hale)

March proved to be a relatively quiet month, with many of the winter birds clearing out and migrants failing to make the early journey north. The 7th produced a nice Barn Owl, a bird that seems to be in serious decline in the area and that I only saw on a further 3 occasions. The 14th produced my only patchlifer of the month, a Red Kite that lingered over Hale Park, the grim weather failing to true a stunning bird in it's true light. The 14th also saw me finally ticking Rook for the year!! There are no Rookeries around the patch and it is in fact a very difficult bird, until the autumn dispersal of corvids. My final year tick for the month ended up being a Green Sandpiper on the 26th.


Patch visits - 19
Patch lifers - 4 (White fronted Goose, Firecrest, Egyptian Goose & Osprey)
Patch Yearlist - 145 (178 points)

(White fronted Goose - Frodsham Score)
(Channel Wagtail - Carr Lane Pools)

(Little Ringed Plover - Hale Marsh)
As expected April proved to be the best month for patch yearticks with many of the expected migrants returning. However the month started with a lingering winter bird a White fronted Goose on the 2nd, scoped from Hale Lighthouse on Frodsham Score (a recurring theme for the year - patch theft from Frodsham!!). Even better the next day (3rd) was a Firecrest in the Lighthouse garden, sadly it didn't show well as it kept behind the fence for long periods. 2 Egyptian Geese that flew onto Hale Marsh on the 5th were patchlifers and were probably the Frodsham birds relocating. A smart male Ring Ouzel on the 9th was a surprise, as was a Tree Pipit over the horse paddocks in Hale Park on the 11th. Carr Lane Pools were starting to produce some brilliant birding with large numbers of passage waders and flava wagtails (Blue Headed on a couple of dates and up to 3 Channels on a number of dates). The 23rd produced one of my best visits to the patch all year, with a fine Wood Sandpiper and Channel Wagtail, followed quickly by an Osprey heading SW over Hale Marsh and a ringtail Hen Harrier being mobbed by Lapwings, all within the space of about 10 minutes! The 24th saw me in the gathering dusk looking for a recently reported Little Owl (a bird that had been absent from patch for nearly 3 years), I was delighted to finally catch up with the bird just as I was about to give in. My final yearticks of the year were on the 26th and were both the only records I ended up with all year, a Common Tern flying upriver off Hale Park and a skulking Garden Warbler in Hale Park.  


Patch visits - 14
Patch lifers - 5 (Bean Goose, Ring necked Parakeet, Spotted Flycatcher, Eider & Corncrake)
Patch Yearlist - 157 (190 points)

(Bean Goose - Hale Marsh)
(Common Eider - Within Way)

(Corncrake - Burnt Mill Farm, Hale)

(Corncrake - Burnt Mill Farm, Hale)

Where do I start with May?! A good early run of migrants in the month included my first and only Cuckoo of the year on the 1st, and a smart Hobby chasing hirundines on the 3rd. Carr Lane Pools has always been good for Garganey, and so it proved again with the first pair of the year on the 7th. The evening of the 9th produced a surprise find amongst the hordes of Canada Geese, a Bean Goose (presumed Rossicus) a patch first for one of the local birders who has been watching the site for 30 years! A Ring Necked Parakeet on the 15th along Church Road was a surprise, and a welcome addition. Carr Lane Pools continued to deliver with passage waders with large numbers of Black Tailed Godwits and Dunlins, supported by regular Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stint, Wood Sandpipers, Ruff, Bar Tailed Godwit, Ruff, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank - not bad for a large puddle! A scan of the incoming tide off Within Way providedmy 2nd surprise seaduck of the year - a female Eider. The 25th provided one of the highlights of the year, receiving a phone call from a stammering Rob Cockbain telling me to get down to the patch NOW! Not quite believing my ears I raced down to Burnt Mill Farm, and sure enough there it was......a CORNCRAKE!!!! It was amazing listening to such an enigmatic bird with a background of singing Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge. A 1w Little Gull on Hale Marsh rounded off the month nicely.


Patch visits - 21
Patch lifers - 3 (Sandwich Tern, Hawfinch & Pied Flycatcher)
Patch Yearlist - 161 (200 points)

(Sandwich Terns - Pickerings Pasture)

(Pied Flycatcher - Pickerings Pasture)

The Corncrake lingered on into June, and resulted in one of the most painful patch misses of the year - a Pacific Swift, which was reported over Burnt Mill Farm on the 3rd. Had it not been for the Trimley bird in 2012 I think I would have been near suicidal! June also saw the safe arrival of my second son, but meant that I had paternity leave and an excuse to do multi-tasking visits to Hale with my eldest son to the park.....and so it proved with my first Crossbills of the year over Hale Park. The 20th proved to be a bit of a red letter day when I picked up a Sandwich Tern on Hale Marsh from about half a mile. Deciding to go and have a better look from Pickerings Pasture I started to walk back to the car when a large finch flying into the tree ahead of me caught my eye.....a Hawfinch! A rather strange record for this time of year. Quickly moving round to Pickerings Pasture I scanned the gull roost and couldn't pick out the Sandwich Tern, had I imagined it? After all this would be the first record in over 20 years....but sure enough it finally stuck its head up, followed by another, and another AND ANOTHER?! 4 Sandwich Terns all together, I managed to get the news to a couple of the Frodsham regulars Bill Morton and Frank Duff who also managed to pick up the birds as they departed (although I'm still awaiting that promised pint.....!). The rest of the month was spent fruitlessly checking the gull and wader roosts on Hale Marsh, but did lead me to finding a Pied Flycatcher on the path down to the hide, providing a nice end to the month.


Patch visits - 11
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 161 (200 points)

(Wood Sandpiper - Carr Lane Pools)
July proved to be my only blank month of the year for patch additions. The majority of time again spent searching the gull and wader roosts on Hale Marsh with little to no success. My second records of the year of Little Owl along Within Way and Little Gull at Pickerings Pasture on the 11th, and a smart Wood Sandpiper (presumably an early returning bird?) were a few of the highlights of a slow month. A pair of Willow Tit were found on Hale decoy at the end of the month, but despite keeping a look out there was no further that got away?


Patch visits - 9
Patch lifers - 2 (White rumped Sandpiper & Willow Tit)
Patch Yearlist - 164 (208 points)

(Whinchat - Carr Lane Pools)

Due to family holidays I was unable to get down to patch as much as I would have liked. My visits at the start of the month again mainly focusing on the wader an gulls roosts, surely it would pay off eventually? A small pale skua sp. remained too distant to identify positively whilst scanning the Mersey from Within Way. Finally on the 18th I stumbled across a large 'crest and tit flock behind Pickerings Pasture hide, and sure enough there was a Willow Tit, presumably the wandering pair that had originally been seen on Hale Decoy. Having returned from Cornwall I was keen to get one final visit in to the patch on the 31st. It started well with my first Tree Sparrow of the year along Town Lane, and a few returning Whinchat. Scanning Hale Marsh it appeared to be crawling with waders, so I relocated to Within Way to get a better look. Nearly the first bird I picked out in the swarms of waders was a White Rumped Sandpiper! I managed to get Rob Cockbain and a few birders at Pickerings onto the bird before the high tide covered the marsh and the waders all relocated to drier ground. Finally a decent self-found bird on patch, and my only big point scorer of the year.


Patch visits - 17
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 168 (218 points)

 (Common Redstart - Within Way)

(Crane - Within Way)

Whilst the east coast was dripping with mouth watering rares, the patch didn't fare quite so well. However the 5th produced my first patch Redstart, a cracking female which showed really well. A 1w Pied Flycatcher by the farm on Within Way on the same day, clearly got my expectations up, but it wasn't to continue for the rest of the month. A walk along Within Way on the 10th provided a surprise of another Little Owl, but even more surprising was that it was sat next to two recently fledged birds! The first confirmed breeders for well over 4 years, although I'm not sure how I had overlooked them all year? A Kittiwake on the Mersey off Hale Marsh on the 12th was not expected, but much appreciated. The best bird of the month appeared on the 26th when I picked up a Crane flying NW over Within Way (this or another was seen at Frodsham a week later). Some good birds considering the location of the patch, but what I would give to have an east coast patch again!


Patch visits - 9
Patch lifers - 4 (Great Skua, Black Redstart, Woodlark & Spoonbill)
Patch Yearlist - 175 (230 points)

(Bonxie - Hale Shore)

A couple of trips away again meant that I missed some of the prime birding season on patch, but the 11th started well with a Firecrest in Hale Park whilst again searching for Yellow Browed Warbler. Whilst scanning the Mersey from Hale Shore I picked up a large dark blob, which on closer inspection turned out to be a Bonxie, a very good record for this far down the Mersey. The 17th produced only my second record of Cetti's Warbler for the patch, surprising given that they are regularly recorded across the water at Frodsham. The first returning winter birds included Jack Snipe, Merlin and Short Eared Owl, but despite lots of trying there was still no Yellow Browed Warbler. I was finally in the right place at the right time to catch up with 3 Goosander flying upriver, having dipped on at least five occasions through the year. Even better was a female Black Redstart at Pickerings Pasture on the 25th, having taken the more sheltered route back to the car to avoid the bitter wind. Note to self - vary your walks to and from the car!! Having been stuck at work all week, missing a number of good birds at the vizmig watch, I was finally able to get out onto patch on the 31st, and it wasn't going to disappoint. Not being able to get out as early as hoped I had already missed a number of quality patch birds and the number of birds moving had dropped off drastically. Positioning myself by the lighthouse I suddenly heard a Woodlark flying over, which continued over the Mersey and towards Frodsham. Scanning the Mersey I saw a large white heron get up with the Egrets, a Spoonbill! It settled on the bank of Frodsham Score, but was just out of view for the Frodsham stalwarts. As the tide rose rapidly I picked out a Guillemot and two female Common Scoter. An amazing end to the month with two new patchlifers and only my second Guillemot.


Patch visits - 10
Patch lifers - 4 (Mandarin, Brent Goose, Great Northern Diver & Red Throated Diver)
Patch Yearlist - 180 (240 points)

(Mandarin - Hale Lighthouse)

(Pale Bellied Brent Goose - Hale Marsh)

(Common (Mealy) Redpoll - Within Way)

Nearing the closing stages of the year I was scratching my head to think of potential new additions for the patch yearlist. An afternoon off work on th 3rd provided me with an excuse to get out on patch (as if I really needed one), and resulted in one of the more surprising records of the year - a male Mandarin. Just goes to show the importance of checking each group of birds thoroughly (even the common ones like Mallards!). The winter migrants were starting to pour in now with regular Merlin, Hen Harrier, Great White Egret and Short Eared Owl sightings. November saw some strong winds, and saw me regularly watching the Mersey from my vantage point on Hale Shore. It proved very worthwhile with records of Great Northern Diver (15th), Kittiwake (15th) and another Bonxie which the Frodsham regulars finally caught up with. A text from Frank Duff on 15th had me racing  onto patch to see 5 Pale Bellied Brent Geese, another very good bird for the area. After a very cold and unproductive "sea"watch on the 21st I was pleased to find a group of 8 Redpolls land almost next to me on Within Way - a closer look found that one of the Redpolls was in fact a Mealy, very nice! The strong winds continued and the 29th was no exception, with a Red Throated Diver noted and a further Kittiwake. A surprisingly good month, maybe next year with the right winds at the right time an even better seabird is possible?


Patch visits - 10
Patch lifers - 1 (Water Pipit)
Patch Yearlist - 182 (244 points)

(Merlin - Carr Lane Pools)
(Shag - Within Way)

Into the last month, and I was hopeful that I may still be able to add a further couple of species, identifying the gull roosts as the most likely source. The last bird that I had expected to find on the 11th was an adult Shag, but one was found roosting with Cormorants on Hale Marsh. Amazingly this bird and further 1w were present for much of December along the Mersey, but proved very mobile and difficult to catch up with, with intermittent reports from both the Frodsham and Pickerings sides. A text from Rob Cockbain had me rushing down to Carr Lane Pools on the 18th to catch up with a Water Pipit, which ended up being my last patch lifer and yeartick of 2015. It didn't quite end there with regular checking of the gull roost at Pickerings Pasture. I again found a Glaucous Gull, which again was frustratingly off patch whilst searching for a small wader that looked remarkably like a Purple Sandpiper....two that got away!! The rest of December was spent enjoying the vast array of winter birding available on patch.

2015 Summary

So what did I miss? In the patch area I missed a few decent birds including Pacific Swift, Siberian Chiffchaf, Lapland Bunting, Caspian Gull, Glaucous Gull, Marsh Tit amongst others, and when taking into account birds recorded at Frodsham (only a short hop across the Mersey) roughly 204 birds were recorded. So plenty of room for improvement in 2016......!! Saying that the other birder who watches the patch felt that 2015 was phenominal and won't be repeated in a hurry. So what made 2015 so good? Increased coverage, time spent on patch, targeting the right species for the weather conditions or was it just pure luck? Well 2016 will be the acid test and I can't wait.


  1. Great account of an under-estimated location. Given me resolve to visit there more often, but it will help if I can actually identify the birds!

  2. Thanks Jenny. Good to finally meet you the other week, sure we'll catch up again soon.

  3. If you bird it they will come...or something to that effect. Well done Dave and more power to your focusing finger for 2016.

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  5. Thanks Bill. I thought that was from 'The Frodsham of Dreams'?! :) Hopefully 2016 will bring that mega that both sides can enjoy.

  6. Perseverance pays Dave, I admire your dedication, all those visits to what we know as a great birding patch, well done