What is a patch and does it matter?

Yesterday was a busy one, bird wise, across the local area. At Canons Farm there was a Green Sandpiper (second ever) and a Mute Swan (almost as rare). This understandably aroused a cerain excitement amongst the regular birders. Apart from illustrating the joys and rewards of patch watching, it also illustrates the absurdities of doing so: had these two species been seen at Beddington SF or Holmethorpe SP, both places no more than five miles distant, they would barely have registered a second glance. So the same bird, seen at three different places within a ten-mile radius, could have gone go from 'expected species' to 'patch mega' and back again depending on where it had alighted. And what defines a patch? Where (and more importantly why) does its boundary exist and who rules upon it? If you see a bird flying from your chosen patch (but not actually in the air space above it), does that count as a patch bird? And does it matter? Any boundary declared by mankind - be they countries, counties or nature reserves are totally haphazard, most probably having boundaries chosen due to coastline, river, road or railway.

One of my 'on-off' patches, is called Holmethorpe Sand Pits for convenience, but a great deal of the area isn't sand pits at all, with a large part of it meandering across farmland and up onto Nutfield Ridge. These borders were agreed upon by the local birders and some parts of the patch were only 'cobbled on' because they were places that were nearby and regularly looked at. For convenience, you could say. The fact that the M23 and a railway line act as part border to this patch shows the arbitary nature of such things - had these man-made objects been 100m further west or 800m further east then the patch would be smaller (or larger) because of it. Still, if we play such games as listing wildlife then I suppose we need a hook to hang it on.

I think that I've lost the patch-watchers obsessiveness, as demonstrated by not really having one place that I regularly go, but having several, and even these are not visited with any regularity. And now that summer is upon us this will be watered down further as my attention will be increasingly turned towards other forms of wildlife. Part of me laments this loss - as much as I am glad that I didn't want to rush across to Canons Farm to 'tick-off' the Green Sandpiper, I must admit to being envious of those that were getting an ornithological high from doing so.


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