My January patchwork challenge score was poor although this was not unexpected. After all, spending 10 days out of the country is good for a world list but adds nothing to a patch list, and the final killer was going down with energy-sapping flu almost immediately after arriving home. Once back to a reasonable level of fitness it was time to hit the patch hard. Number 1 target was the Rough-legged Buzzard on Haddiscoe Island which was being seen regularly from The Mound in Waveney Forest. My problem was that for it to count I had to see it from the New Cut, my patch boundary. Four times I trudged out along the New Cut in often dismal weather and four times I failed. At least for one of those efforts, it turned out the bird was on the other side of the high reed-fringed bank of the River Waveney and hence out of view from the Cut. Last Wednesday afternoon saw my fifth attempt. The portents were good; I had visited Breydon Water at lunchtime and almost the first bird I saw as I walked up on to the South Wall was a Rough-leg being mobbed by 2 crows on the opposite bank. I settled myself 2/3 of the way along the New Cut and started scanning. The Island was alive with Short-eared Owls, I counted a least 8 in just one sweep across the marshes, some close, some distant, but their (to me) butterfly-like flight makes them distinctive. Marsh Harriers were regularly on patrol, the occasional Common Buzzard put in an appearance and a single ringtail Hen Harrier drifted from Reedham across to Fritton. A single smart peregrine was perched on the marsh and Barn owls began to emerge as the afternoon drew on. There was no sign of the Rough-leg. Suddenly in the far distance a large longish-winged raptor flying quickly and low across the marshes caught my eye. I could make out nothing on it until a Short-eared harried it and it flipped up to reveal a white tail base with a dark terminal band. Here was the Rough-leg at long last. I followed it for a minute or two hoping it would come closer but eventually it merged in to the haze and landed on a very distant gate becoming an indistinct blob.
Other new birds were more of a surprise, not least the patch life tick I had. Coming home from work one afternoon I found the Haddiscoe Dam closed by a lorry in a dyke just a mile from home. Faced with the alternative of a 25 mile detour to get home, I parked my car up at the New Cut bridge and walked the mile and a half across the marshes to home. (Fortunately my car is fully equipped with walking boots, waterproof jacket, over-trousers, gloves, hat and spare bins for emergency twitches from work). Returning in the dark to pick up my car in the late evening Chris and I both spotted an owl sat on branch overhanging the road. There's occasionally a Tawny or Barn Owl on this branch but as we drove under it we both simultaneously noticed that this one had long ears! The car was quickly slammed in to reverse but the Long-eared owl, a patch tick, flew off across the fields never to be seen again.
Two weeks ago the dog and I did a big circular walk across the marshes hoping there might be a Water Pipit around one of the many pools on both the arable and grazing marsh. The marshes were surprisingly quiet at first, the large flocks of lapwings and Golden Plover seeming to have moved on, but on the return leg Chris phoned me from the house to tell me about 6 White-fronted Geese he could see from his elevated view point, which I eventually tracked down behind a low ridge. Nearing the marsh edge 5 Barn Owls appeared and I enjoyed the sight of 3 Hares having a bit of March madness in February. I was just watching the dog, a little Jack Russell, tanking off in another fruitless pursuit of a Chinese Water Deer when a small falcon rocketed past across the reeds. It turned and came back across the path in front of me, a superb female Merlin, actually quite a rarity out here.
The following weekend I was just about to head indoors after feeding the sheep when I head the distinctive wild sound of Bewicks Swans. I raced indoors to grab bins and head upstairs for an elevated view but I think they headed east low behind our wood and sadly I couldn't see them. However that afternoon on one of my rough-legless walks along the New Cut, I noticed a smaller swan amongst the 100 strong Mute Swan flock that winters on Thurlton marshes and had good views of a single Bewicks, another Patchwork 2 point bird.
With the first returning Lesser Black-back of the year added today, February ended with 14 species and 19 points added. Patchwork is back on track.