Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Fourth Dimension....

Just what is the Patch? I go on about it a lot in these posts without much explanation.

I have not presented you with any definitive maps, measurements or definitions. All I have provided you with is a location, the Dee Estuary.

Truth is the Patch is a little vague. It is a loose affiliation of habitats, it isn't contiguous, just a collection of sites clustered on or adjacent to the English side of the Dee. Essentially it is anywhere good for birds and bird photography that I can easily access on foot or by bike. I don't really have any clue as to its actual area.

Then there is the concept of what the Patch is to me. This is not something that is all that easy to define either. After a little thought I have concluded that, for me, it is nature in three dimensions.

1. Birds. Obvious I suppose but needs to be said. The variety and seasonal changes in their activity and abundance are fascinating to study. Life history strategies and migration patterns are equally intriguing. Some are just great to look at, all are challenging and rewarding to photograph.

2. Photography. I get to learn and improve my craft in a great setting with beautiful subjects. I get to capture moments and memories in my life and the lives of the Patch inhabitants.

3. Perspective. No matter what is happening "off Patch" it is always there. The fields, woods, beaches, marshes and mudflats. If I'm happy it heightens this feeling, if I'm a little blue it cheers me. If stressed out it relaxes me. It keeps me grounded, reminds me not to get too big for my boots...

Now there is a fourth dimension. A list, value, points, competition.

The list of lists related to birdwatching is a long one. Life, year, county, British, January - you get the idea. Now I have never been a great lister, I've kept a few year lists but I can't honestly tell you how many birds I have seen in my life. This is not because I am anti-lists, not in the slightest, it's just that recently I have been more interested in photographing the birds than counting them.

Then I came across Patchwork Challenge on Twitter (check out the website for the rules etc HERE )
and after reading up on it I thought I'd like a piece of that pie!

First I had to choose which 3km2 of Patch to enter as my official patch, the patch within the Patch (I have come to call this micro-patch).

Choosing the part of the (macro) Patch was trickier than I thought. Should I go for the part easiest to watch regularly? The region most likely to yield the most species, even if they are "low value" on the points table or the part more likely to produce something really rare and consequently of higher value? Hmmmm.... decisions.

In the end I settle on my favourite part of the macro Patch. I figured that I would enjoy spending extra time here and although it has no chance of winning the contest I honestly think that it is the taking part in Patchwork Challenge that counts! So the micro Patch is Thurstaston to Heswall Shore, from the Dawpool Banks to the Marshes off Riverbank Road. I have even been able to include the farmland adjacent to the Wirral Way and the woods of The Dungeon in my 3km competition Patch.

So now as well as charting the stories of all the Patch regulars, the changing of the seasons and my photographic adventures I will be keeping close records of all I see and totting up the points they are worth. It has got me thinkingh about the Patch in a different way, a 4th dimension. I'm still thinking of abundance....

I'm also thinking about what could happen. Questions that I have not asked before are occurring to me. How many species will I see? Potentially how many could I see? Will I miss any top scorers? Could I find some thing rare? Could I hope to find one of these on the micro Patch?

I'm now thinking of a graph. What would my year on the micro Patch look like if I graphed it? I think it'd start with a steep gradient that would flatten out until the arrival of the spring migrants where it would rise once more. A long summer plateau would follow with possible spikes of unusual sightings then some more species should be added on autumn passage. Then a long flat line into the winter and the end of the challenge. Will this see me zooming out to add anything to the list if I get wind of something rare about?

We will see. For now I have a reasonable list with nothing out of the ordinary on it. Most of the winter stuff I can easilt see is on it and reading through it makes the rest of the year bulge with opportunity.

I'm already thinking of the Spring, Swallows and Wheatears. I didn't need another reason or encouragement to get out on the Patch but this project has spurred me on.

I'll report some scores and Patching adventures soon....


  1. I'd be interested in knowing just how you get such amazing photos Matt- they always have something 'extra' to them- is that cos they are shot in RAW and it's in the post processing or something else?

    1. Many thanks for the generous comment on this post and the others on my blog!

      I do shoot in RAW and I try to expose the pictures to the right on the histogram displayed on the camera screen. Afterwards I adjust the "levels" in Photoshop to bring out the midtones then usually add a whiff of sharpening.

      I try to spend a long time with my subject to get a range of shots to choose from, the rest is just plain luck...