On the basis of the year list, it might seem that 2019 was something of a disappointing year; the 93 species spotted is the lowest figure since 2017. However, I think it is in fact the case that this has been my most rewarding year since I started birding. Quality rather than quantity is the real story of 2019 on the patch.
The biggest highlight for me personally was the evidence that water rails were breeding in Rači Potok. I had heard calls before, but had never seen a juvenile until July.
The water rails were also very visible in January on the coldest days. It became almost routine to see them, but I’m very conscious of how lucky I am to get any glimpse of these beautiful creatures.
The juvenile water rail was spotted hanging out with another of the year’s highlight, the group of at least four juvenile moorhens which were very fearless by the pond for most of the summer.
When I saw moorhen juveniles in 2017, I had to crawl on hands and knees to get a glimpse of them. So why were they so visible this year? Quite simply, this year I took a different route to the pond; in the past I blundered out of the forest in the exact point where the moorhens were sunning themselves every morning this summer.
Another breeding highlight was the successful fledging of four penduline tits in June.
After the unsuccessful attempt in 2017, I didn’t expect to see this species again, but it was fantastic to see them nest in such a perfect, secluded location this time. The juveniles disappeared almost immediately, although some others arrived during migration later in the year.
Another exciting breeding confirmation was woodlark. I had thought woodlark were only on the patch on migration, so I was very surprised to disturb a pair on the open space above the mine in July and then to spot three newly fledged birds a week later.
And although I didn’t see any actual juveniles, a pair of crested tits were regularly seen taking food to their nest at the Popradská entrance to the patch in April.
And finally, confirmation of my favourite species, wryneck, also successfully breeding on the patch. Always such a stunning bird…
The sheer numbers of breeding birds this year is summed up in some of my favourite photos of the year; the juvenile nursery on the solar panel fence. Wryneck, willow warbler (a good year for these guys after last year’s decline), black redstart, collared flycatcher, common & lesser whitethroat, robin and great tit, all hanging out and playing together.
In terms of non-breeders, I was incredibly lucky to get close to a pair of quail in May.
There were also quite a few corn buntings on the meadow in spring, a bird which is a real pleasure to watch and listen to.
I am calling these birds non-breeders, but the truth is that were it not for the utterly stupid decision to mow the entire meadow in early June, I am sure that these two species would have bred on the patch this year. They were singing every morning when I visited until the day the meadow was cut.
A long-awaited species was spotted in June when I finally saw a barred warbler. I have a sneaking suspicion that the species might be actually be breeding, but I’ve yet to confirm it.
Marked as a non-breeder but likely to be a future breeder are the linnets who seem to have settled in the big field above the mine.
A great find for me was a common redstart in April. It took a long time to get this shot.
Another first for the patch was this common crossbill which I initially mis-identified in July.
I also got lucky with this Montagu’s harrier in April. Another amazingly elegant bird which I would love to see more of.
And the most incongruous find was this escaped rosella in spring. Not exactly something I expected to see on that rainy morning…
These findings were amazing and are, of course, the main attraction of patch birding; there is nothing more exciting than the moment when you hear that unfamiliar call or the flash of unusual colour. But I can’t deny it would have been nice to have seen storks overhead or to hear the amazing river warbler song which I heard for a single morning last year…
If we are in fact speaking about disappointments from this year, then let’s mention the lack of red-backed shrikes, a theme from last year’s review also. Perhaps this is a longer trend, although maybe there is hope for a comeback this year. I heard a red-backed shrike sing for the first time this year, and it was not what I imagined it would be.
Another disappointment was that I failed to see a juvenile cuckoo again this year. I saw a female calling and two males were around for the whole season, but still no luck…
Off patch, 2019 was also an outstanding year for me. The biggest highlight was seeing 30,000 cranes in Senné in March.
To be alone with so many of these birds was an unforgettable experience.
I also loved seeing a pygmy owl and a three-toed woodpecker while looking (unsuccessfully) for capercaillie in Slovak Paradise in April.
Nearer to home I spent more time by the River Hornád in the city, with lots of highlights; juvenile dippers, kingfishers and a common sandpiper.
I can’t stress enough that this is a filthy patch of the river right beside one of the busiest roads in the city, so it’s amazing to see birds like this in such an environment.
And also in the city, indeed almost on the patch, a mere 200 metres from it in fact, I saw two nutcrackers in April, a bird I would be more than happy to see on the patch again.
So all in all a wonderful year, particularly so on the patch, but perhaps this is fitting, because sadly it may be my last; in the next couple of months I am moving to Budimír, a village a few kilometres north of Košice.
This is not my photo, nor is it actually Budimír, but it shows what the countryside around the village looks like. This area is good for raptors, and I have seen hen harriers and red-footed falcons there in the past. My new house is also only 10minutes from the River Torysa, so I should be in with a chance of seeing more waterfowl too.
I am not sure what this will mean for the blog because I haven’t started birding in earnest in my new locality; I’ll try to work it out in the next couple of months. But while I am looking to the new possibilities around Budimír, I’m going to be very sad to spend less time on my patch. I always look forward to visiting and never feel more relaxed and comfortable than when I am wandering around its grubby little paths. I only hope that someone else will be able to pays it and it’s beautiful wildlife the attention it deserves…