Every dedicated birder or wildlife watcher has a place special in their hearts, for whatever that reason might be, and visit it as regularly as possible. This is a patch, and it’s been rapidly growing more popular amongst the birding community in recent years, encouraged by healthy competition amongst friends, communities, even nationwide (this mostly thanks to the Patchwork Challenge, whose website can be found here). However, sometimes it’s nothing to do with finding rare or scarce birds, or competitions, it’s just about exploring an area near to you & enjoying the wildlife you can find there. I like to think that I have two patches, both at the extreme end of the scale, both of which I will hopefully be entering into Patchwork Challenge next year!!
Patch 1- Cley Marshes NWT to Kelling Water Meadows- Obsessive Rarity Finding
My first patch, just 20 minutes drive from home, is the local marshes at Cley-next-the-Sea on the North Norfolk coast. This is a vast expanse of reedbed, wet grazing marsh, freshwater scrapes & shingle ridge with a more-than-envious track record with rarities turning up on a fairly regular basis.
Inevitably, waders are the main focus, although the area I call my ‘patch’ includes nearby passerine-rich areas including North Foreland Wood, Walsey Hills (the NOA reserve across the road), Gramborough Hill, the migrant trap on the coast close to the neighbouring village of Salthouse; and Kelling Water Meadows beyond that, a small lagoon surrounded by grazing marsh & arable fields. Together, these have a mouth-watering trickle of rarities which I hope will continue to run for all eternity.
But it’s not just about the rarities here. It’s an extremely pleasant place to walk & to experience the sights & sounds of the North Norfolk coast, and every visit turns up something unusual, exciting or just downright bizarre. Let me give you a very recent example…
The Big Young Birder Norfolk Meet-Up
Having conferenced over Twitter, I had engineered a meeting with fellow young naturalists Zach Haynes (yearofnature.blogspot.com) and Paddy Lewin (paddylewinwildlife.wordpress.com), both of whom I had met at the BTO Bird Camp in May of this year. Our plan was to head to Kelling Heath to look for Turtle Doves, which they had both missed on the camp, but first I wanted to show them why Cley was so special. First, we had a brilliant flyby Marsh Harrier over the grazing marsh, a Great Spotted Woodpecker (yes, you heard that right) flushed from one of the bushes, the kind & sociable people in the hide, and to cap it all off a Hobby decided to tuck into its Dunlin dinner… RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE HIDE!!!
Having seen a Snipe asleep on the Whitwell Scrape, we made our way to the East Bank which unfortunately yielded nothing. We then moved on to Kelling Heath, which was annoyingly silent, save for the two Turtle Doves which we flushed after about 10 minutes!! Despite not seeing or hearing any Dartford Warblers, everyone was happy as we’d seen our target bird. Having bid farewell to Paddy, Zach & his birding dad Alex Haynes, I was slightly annoyed to see a Woodlark perch on a bush in the car park as they pulled out!!
Patch 2- My Village- No Rarities Needed
Now my second patch is much closer to home, in the form of my local village! I particularly focus on a small pond just outside the village though. It is an absolute haven for dragonflies, and despite birds being thin on the ground, odd surprises turn up occasionally. These have included Quail, Hen Harrier, Water Rail, Common Sandpiper, Common Redstart, Ring Ouzel, Tree Sparrow, Crossbill & even Lapland Bunting!! Here follows an account of my most recent visit to said pond…
Having left the house, I took the short walk down to the pond. Some of the more invasive vegetation has been removed to leave almost a kind of scrape in the pool. Unsurprisingly dragonflies were all over the place: Common Darters were absolutely everywhere alongside the odd Emperor Dragonfly, Small Red-eyed & Blue-tailed Damselflies, and a beautiful Southern Hawker on a nearby pine tree.
Having successfully photographed the local Buzzards, I had a quick click at a bird on the wires just to see what could turn out. I looked at the photos, and nonchalance soon turned to uncertainty and then sheer panic as I ran back to the house and found my dad mowing. Thinking I was overexaggerating, he calmly walked over to me. As soon as I showed him the picture, his face dropped and he told me to go straight back and stake out the wires. He arrived with binoculars in hand, and almost immediately he found not one, but two of these patch megas: SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS!! They are very rare in North Norfolk apparently outside of migration season, so to see two birds (at least one looked like a juvenile) in the back end of nowhere in the middle of Norfolk was beyond extraordinary. They used to breed nearby until 2010, when they stopped for some reason. They weren’t recorded again on patch until three birds in 2015, then these two now, making these the fourth & fifth birds in six years!!
I then moved around to watch the dragonflies again only to see more of the same.
So what kind of patch do you prefer out of these two? Leave a comment, or message me on my Twitter.