Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Choose a patch

Do I detect a subtle shift in the UK birding psyche? Whisper it, but I really do believe that there are birders out there that have rediscovered the joys of working a patch. These are not all wide-eyed beginners or just washed-up faded has-beens (yes, yes, I know, the latter could be me). I seem to be bumping into plenty of people who have done their time - local park, local sewage farm, coastal hotspot, Scilly, Fair Isle, UK twitching, world birding domination - but are now choosing local patch again. I can see a skinny Ewan MacGregor running down an Edinburgh street to the strains of Iggy Pop whilst incanting "Choose binoculars, choose a scope, choose a warbler, CHOOSE A PATCH" If you don't know what the hell I'm on about watch the opening credits to the film 'Trainspotting', which by the way, should be shown to all school children as the best anti-drug message that is available. Blimey, where did that come from....

Back to the patch. Is there really this shift in birding choice? And if so, why? I think that I can offer an explaination. Wherever we wish to go for our birding fix - Dunge, Beachy, Pagham - we know what has been seen there today, yesterday, last week and we can almost make an educated guess as to what will be there tomorrow. The surprise has gone out of well-watched places. Go to Dungeness at the weekend and count the birders, let alone the birds. Several hundred will be present, and that's no exaggeration. Even, by comparison, a relatively underwatched site will have up to a dozen souls combing the bushes. In these days of 'seen-it, done-it' most birders have paid their dues to the birding life and are looking for fresh challenges. Why go to Dungeness to look at someone elses Wryneck when you can find your own? Why drive ninety miles when you can walk down the road to a farm and find your own? Think of the thrill, the warm glow of satisfaction and the thanks and kudos you will receive when other locals come along for a look. And if there is a Wryneck to be found, what else will there be? There is a perverse thrill in birding off-piste. It's like whipping yourself with birch twigs and plunging into ice-cold baths - suffering that will ultimately pay off. The seed has been sown...

Granted, patch watchers will always nip off for an illicit squint at someone elses birds. But watch them blanche when they are told that they have missed a Great Grey Shrike, or a Tree Sparrow on their patch.


  1. Good article.

    I blanched in May when i went to Lancashire for a week and missed a purple heron on my patch. i blanched even more when i missed a great white egret by 5 minutes on a day that i was recording nesting activity for the BTO.

    Here is my patch if you wish to have a look -

  2. "But watch them blanche when they are told that they have missed a" so & so.

    I wish that was the case Steve, but there`s only me that watches my patch. It would be nice to know that i`ve missed something. Then i`d have the inspiration to keep flogging it intead of missing days now & again.

  3. Thanks Simon, I've linked your blog to mine. Nice to have a Cornish link.

    Lone patch watching does have that added bonus of never missing anything Dean.