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The Competition

The birding fraternity has seen a shift in attitudes recently, with many birders turning their attention from twitching towards rarity finding.  As a result, there also seems to have been an upturn in the profile watching a local patch.

The advantages of watching a local patch are obvious. Low fuel costs and travel time aside, great pleasure can be derived from getting to learn a place inside out, observing how the seasons change, and getting value from common species that otherwise wouldn’t get a second glance. Throw in the potential for the odd rare bird or scarcity and to me, you have a really exciting, involving way to enjoy your birding.

So what could enhance the patch watchers enjoyment a little? Well, perhaps adding an element of competition would do the trick. We’re a competitive bunch, us birders, both with our peers and ‘internally’ as well. We like a gloat, we like to add things to lists, and we like to know what the numbers are. So why not see if we can add a little friendly competition to our patch birding.

There is one immediate problem with this – how do you compare one patch with another? The birder who ‘patches’ at Minsmere is going to see a lot more species than the birder who patches at some inland woodland. Also, how do you rate the species seen? It’s hardly fair that the hard earned Radde’s warbler earns the same number of points as a meadow pipit. And it’s a bit unfair that a self found Radde’s would score the same as one that you’d twitched.  I think coming up with an absolutely bulletproof way of scoring a competition like this is impossible – there are too many variables, but after some long and hard thought, we’ve come up with a scoring system (actually a combination of two existing scoring systems with a few tweaks) that we believe is suitable.

So bear with me while I go through the rules and the scoring system….it might get a bit dull…

The scores

As I alluded to earlier, the score each bird earns will be related to its rarity. We have used the ‘Birdguides’ rarity categories, which gives every species on the BOU British list a rarity value (common, local, scarce, rare and mega). These categories will be scored 1 – 5 respectively. Those species categorized as scarce or rarer, if self found, will have their points doubled, so, for example, the Radde’s warbler mentioned above will be worth 3 points if you twitch it, but 6 if you find it yourself.

You can also score bonus points for certain rare subspecies. These are incorporated into the scoresheet (see below).

Again though, this definitely seems to favour Minsmere over Manchester, and a patcher working Fair Isle could well score an awful lot of points! But to level the playing field, to even out ‘patch quality’, we propose a scoring system that relates the observers’ score to the tallies run up over previous years. This makes your score representative of how good your year has been on your patch. To do this, all you need to do is present your score as a percentage of your last years score – and as the competition goes on, as a percentage of the average of the previous PWC scores.

This may seem complex but there is a reason. We’ve trailed the points scoring system, and for the most part it is fine. However, we noticed that there could be a little contention regarding the value of some birds. A kittiwake, for example, is worth 2 points. A coastal observer will probably see kittiwake every year, a lot, whereas someone based inland would be very pleased when a kitti graced their patch. Using our system, the points gained for the kittiwake by the inland birder (in this instance) will have more impact on their overall score than the kittiwake scored every year by a coastal observer.

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