By Joe Parham
In October 2020 I was appointed a Youth Representative of the British Trust for Ornithology, with the goal of increasing access to and knowledge of birds among young people across the country. Pondering how I might initiate this, I thought that green patch birding would be worth promoting—it is an accessible form of enjoying birds and it is important to me.
Exploring places close to you can seem like a daunting prospect for those of us living in cities where access to green spaces may be limited, and it is easy to understand the hesitation: why go to a tiny patch of local wasteland or woodland when you can travel to a designated nature reserve nearby or further afield? The answer is that our cities are littered with green areas and many of our local parks, areas of scrubland and even local ponds do bring in birds, even scarce and rare ones. The idea that birds confine themselves to nature reserves is simply not true. Take for example my town near Coventry, essentially as far from the coast as you can get in Britain. Could anything turn up in small patches of urban woodland in such a densely populated area? The answer is simple: if you explore, you will find birds, as I discovered last year.
I decided I would spend as much time as possible exploring local areas on foot or by bike, doing vismig (visible migration) from the garden and live nocmig (standing outside at stupid times of night listening to migrating birds). My local patch list during the last 12 months has far exceeded my initial expectations. The highlights were a Yellow-browed Warbler in an urban wood five minutes from my house in October which stayed for a remarkable ten days, coupled with a male Firecrest in the same tree (second record there of the year) on one day in that period.
Urban gull flocks also proved worth watching: three species were added to my garden gull list. An adult Little Gull flew over with a flock of Black-headed Gulls in spring! And this was followed by an adult Mediterranean Gull in September, along with a Yellow-legged Gull. All great inland birds! Local Little Owls, a Barn Owl on a couple of occasions as well as no fewer than two female Marsh Harriers in spring kept the pace going for the raptor list.
But it is not just unexpected sightings. In spring I took to walking around a playing field behind my house every day, getting my lockdown list well underway. Two singing Willow Warblers on 7 April were a great garden tick, and these would turn out to be recorded much more regularly in autumn. Spring brought both Lesser and Common Whitethroat, Hobby, singing Yellowhammers, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and even a singing Reed Warbler. All these were accompanied of course by Swifts and Hirundines—all in a field in Coventry. This illustrates the ornithological diversity that can be observed by committing to patch birding, even in the most land-locked area of England.
For 2021 I have set up a young birders green patch year list challenge with the aim to explore our local patches and find birds while doing it. I am excited to see what species are found up and down the country on all types of patches! Only six days in and already on a local walk with fellow patcher Jonathan Dean we came across at least one confirmed, but I suspect at least another if not two more, Mealy Redpoll amongst a flock of Lesser on the University of Warwick campus. A couple of days later I hit the local gull jackpot so to speak, when an adult Caspian Gull appeared in my bins on a local park lake! By 6 January, the combined total of birds of all those taking part in the Green Patch Challenge is a pretty solid 142, with Yellow-browed Warbler, Long-eared Owl, White-fronted Goose, Long-tailed Duck and more all recorded within the first week of the year.
Local patch birding is well worth trying. You will find some decent birds and it will allow you to explore new areas, taking in species you perhaps never realised were present there before. I encourage everyone to explore the places near their homes. The new lockdown in the UK is an opportunity to do so on your daily walk. I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you might find.
Header photo: Ludlow by Elliott Stallion