This year’s Local Patch Big Weekend was challenging in more ways than one.  Eleven teams faced the task of finding as many different birds on their local patches over the 48-hour period as possible.  Many of them started bright and early on the Saturday morning only to find that while it was early, it was far from bright!  Instead, heavy rain greeted them and did on and off throughout the weekend.

Conditions at some points were miserable and particular credit must go to those 3 teams who carried out the challenge on foot!  The Harpo No-hoper, The Ver Dippers and the Park Street Part-timer all earned their bonus 20 points for their low carbon, if not muddy, footprint.

However, all clouds have silver linings, and, in this case, it was the birds that turned out to be remarkably good for anyone brave enough to find them.  By the end of the weekend the eleven teams had clocked up 113 different species between them and indeed throughout the whole of Herts 129 species were reported.  Loitering just over the border in Bucks, a Black-winged Stilt looked poised to make it onto someone’s list but sadly not to be as the bird stayed put, outside of Herts.

As was to be expected for this weekend in late April, Spring migrants were not too hard to come by with plenty of hirundines and growing numbers of Swifts arriving.  Both the “Tyttenhanger Birders” and “Fairlands 101” noted a Hobby, while 7 teams picked out a Cuckoo.  With the chill, wet conditions warblers were harder to come by with just two teams achieving the 8-warbler bonus point including a Grasshopper Warbler for Paul Ward of “More in hope”.  Two teams managed to the ‘Crest-double’ finding both Goldcrest and Firecrest on their patches.

Waders were also thin on the ground with Ringed Plover and Dunlin notable and a Grey Plover present briefly at Stanborough Gravel Pits for the “Ellenbrook Strider”.  Stanborough GPs also delivered a surprise in the form of a Short-eared Owl flushed by “The Stanborough Swingers”.  Other highlights included a Great White Egret along the River Ver for the “Ver Dippers”, a lingering Goldeneye at Wilstone and a Common Scoter found at Stocker’s Lake late afternoon on the Sunday – a welcome 4 points for team “More in hope”.  Thanks to access to a private garden, “More in hope” was also able to add Mealy Redpoll to their list.

While a juvenile Marsh Harrier toured the St Albans area making it on to two patch lists a real surprise came in the form of a ringtail Hen Harrier spotted heading north by the “Tyttenhanger Birders”.  Just the second record for the site and making for a harrier-double at Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits.  A Yellow-legged Gull also made it on to the “Tyttenhanger Birders” list thanks to an adult in the Saturday evening roost.

Despite reports from neighbouring counties, terns were scarce except for the Wilstone Wanderer who not only added Arctic and Common Terns but was treated to a rare Little Tern over Wilstone Reservoir.  Based on its rarity in the County Ian Bennell, aka the “Wilstone Wanderer”, receives this year’s “Best Bird” prize – a painting of the bird by local wildlife artist Matt Moreton.  Congratulations Ian!

With just 5 points between them the top-scoring teams were at points neck and neck.  Congratulations though go to Chris Ruis - the “Ellenbrook Strider” who recorded 90 different species in the Ellenbrook area gaining a winning 138 points.  He wins the coveted Herts Bird Club mug and a bird book.

Not far behind and just beating the “Tyttenhanger Birders” by a single point were the “Ver Dippers” covering Gorhambury, Redbournbury and Childwickbury noting 83 species and earning 134 points.  Congratulations to the runners-up – John Pritchard, John Fisher, Alison Debenham and Simon Osborn – who all receive the Herts Bird Club notebook for their efforts.

A very big well done to all the teams that took part including those not already mentioned – the “Harpo No-hoper”, “The Ayres End Amblers” and “Tyttenhanger Rick”.  As always, the weekend challenge was about taking part and enjoying the birds that can be found on familiar local patches.

Finally a thanks to the organisers, Rupert Evershed and Tom Speller.