I am a patch worker. I have always been a patch worker. Twitcher? Maybe a bit, maybe more than a bit lately. There is an undeniable thrill about seeing an extremely rare bird, especially one that your mates haven’t seen. The travelling part is what does my head in. As part of a longer trip, say a weekend away, I can cope with a bit of car time, but the mad dashes, rushed views and then piling back into the car I can do without. A weekend trip, albeit planned at very short notice, where you score the bird in question first thing and then have essentially two whole days of relaxed birding in front of you, they can be really good. Often though, that isn’t possible. Various commitments get in the way, and so if you’re going to see a bird, you’ve got a very limited window.
On the patch there is rarely that worry, and even a fifteen minute visit can be rewarding. I’m fortunate in that I live literally next to the patch – I can be counting birds on my patch list as soon as I’m out of the front door. This past year has seen me eclipse my previous best year by some margin. For a while I thought I might not make three figures, but I needn’t have worried. Some fine autumn migrants saw me slip past that particular hurdle, and before I knew it I had equalled my previous best of 108. A late flurry of winter quality, including garden Crossbill and Brambling, and then the memorable and invisible Oystercatcher, and I had chalked up a new record. Time to wheel out those laurels and have a well-deserved rest on them methinks.
Not so! Enter the Patch List Challenge! The theory is quite simple, thrash your patch day after day and you could win the coveted Golden Mallard, worth, I am told, at least fifty quid on Ebay. How could I resist, the thought of that gem of pure quality gracing my mantelpiece....I had to enter! In order to even things out between those lucky so and sos who bird blinding coastal patches, you’re competing only against yourself – you need to beat the average of your three previous yearlists. The patch worker who has the highest percentage versus that number wins the duck. It was unfortunate that this year’s patch total was my highest ever and thus bumped up the average, but as soon as I decided to enter I stopped going on the patch and closed my eyes whenever I went near a window. Not that I have had any time anyway, meagre daylight (though I enjoyed my extra minute yesterday) and work have essentially killed off any patch-working ambitions these past three months. But if I can get myself back into the groove of birding before work in the spring months, I could be a contender! Hopefully it will be a laugh, and though I have only actually met one of the entrants, they all seem eager to take the piss and generally muck about, which is one of the things I particularly enjoy about birding. Don’t take it, or yourself, too seriously.
I’m eagerly awaiting January 1st 2012. My spreadsheets are primed and ready, and my mental list of ticks is at the forefront of my mind. Last year Nick and I managed 56 species, this year I’m aiming for 60. The only thing that’s going to stop me is rain. Or if it’s a bit cold. Or windy. Or.....