Rainy patch musings

Tufted Duck

After tea today I looked out of the window and saw a sparrowhawk having an impressive aerial dogfight with a magpie, to an impressive backdrop of migrating swallows that had picked that moment to sweep past the Valley. Wow, I thought, this looks like an crackng birding evening to be had, and it seemed like time to get my boots on and have a wander down my much-neglected patch!

However almost as soon as I left the house I felt the first splat of rain on my head, and before long it was coming down in big wet sheets. Not the best birding conditions, and the best I got were a mute swan and nine tufted duck (admitedly a record number there) on Old Wheel Dam, proving it was nice weather for ducks, but now much else. This wasn’t much compensation for a drenching, but perhaps the patch-watching gods were punishing me for my dirty year-listing, patch-neglecting ways of late…

I love Sheffield, I really do, and I’ve got some good milage out of my local patch of the Loxley Valley. It’s nothing spectacular, but there’s some good birds to be had – dippers, grey wagtails, great spotted woodpeckers, bullfinches, treecreepers and nuthatches are all fairly easy to find, and green woodpeckers, kingfishers, tree sparrows, little owls and linnets make you work harder, but are around.

Patch-watching is always a good thing to do, keeping your eye on a perhaps otherwise unwatched site, watching the seasons and the years go by via its birdlife. You also end up getting thrilled by the most mundane birds – I virtually punched the air at my first herring gulls, snipe, spotted flycatchers and cormorants, and nigh-on wet myself when unexpected pied flycatchers, common sandpipers and grey partridges turned up.

But this time of year really makes the green-eyed birding monster come out in me – while my fellow patchers on the east coast are bashing bushes and revealing weird and wonderful passerines from around the world, and watching bizarre and exciting maritime wanderers pass over the sea, I’m stuck here getting mildly excited by three more than usual tufted duck… It’s the curse of the inland patchwatcher!

But while there’s little chance of a “mega” turning up, I reckon there’s still a few birds to wring out of the Loxley Valley. Some of the passage raptors that show up around Agden, such as red kite, peregrine and hobby, really should be spotted eventually, and yellowhammer and skylark really should have reared their heads by now.

And it may be a race against time for me to catch up with my Loxley bogeys – there’s a good chance I’ll be moving elsewhere in Sheffield sometime in the not too distant future, and acquiring a new patch in the process. I won’t curse the move by revealing exactly where it is just yet, but all I’ll say it’s a goodun. But I’ll always have a soft spot for the Loxley Valley, and I’ll always keep having a look every now and then, despite wet and miserable evenings like this one!


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My name is Pete

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