As 2015 draws to a close, the time has come to begin thinking about the coming new year and what it might hold. As a dedicated Patchwork Challenge competitor, the new year marks a fresh start as leader boards are reset and previous scores abolished, as such I have decided to enact whole scale change during 2016. For years now I have religiously birded Stobswood as part of the competition, unearthing some decent birds and enjoying all the seasons have to offer around my little chunk of inland Northumberland. Now however I have decided to up the ante (hopefully) and due to a recent change in circumstances have opted to take on a new local patch, one that holds great meaning to me. Yes, next year I will abandoning Stobswood and adopting the Blyth Estuary as my favoured stomping ground. A map of which can be seen below:
The area highlighted above is undoubtedly the site that first inspired my love of birding (and ecology, conservation and so forth). As a child I visited the Blyth each weekend with my grandmother to enjoy the various species of wader and wildfowl that call the site their home. Here I encountered my first Goldeneye, Kingfisher, Tawny Owl and Merganser thus now, as a marginally more serious patch watcher, it seems only fitting that I revisit my childhood haunt and welcome the friendly competition with other dedicated local patchers whom occupy seats in the ‘Coastal North’ league. Indeed, moving to the coast will open up a wealth of new birding opportunities in 2016, many of which were absent from my landlocked patch at Stobswood. So what exactly am I expecting from the Blyth over the coming year?
Well, the estuary has always played host to a wealth of wading birds, with many such as Black-Tailed Godwit, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin and Grey Plover fairly commonplace. Others, such as Whimbrel and Avocet are less regular though I hope to catch up with these species over the coming months. Equally however I would welcome the new additions of Little Stint, Spotted Redshank or Ruff and who knows, perhaps 2016 could turn up something all together more interesting. Stilt Sandpiper perhaps? I can dream.
Alongside the sites abundant waders, the Blyth holds a decent array of wildfowl, particularly in the winter, though to date both Pintail and Shoveler remain absent from my list. Something I intend to rectify during 2016. Elsewhere the estuary and adjacent harbour regularly host all three species of diver, sawbills, Eider, Little Egret, Kingfisher and a nice variety of coastal species blown in during bouts of bad weather. Of these, Velvet Scoter, Long-Tailed Duck and Little Auk bring back particularly fond memories. Will 2016 continue to deliver on this front? Surely a Shag amid the cormorant roost or a white-winged gull would not be too much to hope for. Likewise a patch first Roseate Tern seems equally likely at this point.
With my interest in seawatching growing annually and to add a more competitive element to my PWC efforts I have also decided to incorporate the North Sea into this years patch. Seawatching from Blyth throughout 2015 proved most enjoyable, turning up goodies such as Sooty Shearwater, Scaup, Black-Throated Diver and Arctic Skua alongside a wealth of more regular species. Here’s hoping that the coming year allows for a repeat of this and who knows, maybe enough hours spent perched on top of the seawall will reward me with a patch first Slavonian Grebe or even a passing large Shearwater. Failing this Pomarine Skua or Red-Necked Grebe would equally delight. It is however impossible to guess what 2016 may hold on this front, all or nothing, such is the nature of seawatching.
Finally, in an effort to mop up a good number of common woodland and farmland birds, I have also incorporated elements of both habitats into the above map. Ha’Penny Woods Local Nature Reserve makes up the more westerly expanses of the site and holds many atypical tree loving species including Nuthatch, Siskin and Treecreeper and has the potential to attract a few notable patch omissions including Marsh Tit and Redstart. The various portions of farmland included this time round should also add Yellowhammer, Grey Partridge, Stock Dove and perhaps with a little luck, Barn Owl, to the fray.
As with any coastal patch, it is impossible to guess which migrants may grace me with their presence over the coming year. A repeat performance of this year would at least add Pied Flycatcher and Yellow-Browed Warbler to the tally though with a little effort I hope to add at least a few common but so far absent migrants. Among these; Yellow Wagtail, Snow Bunting, Tree Pipit and a ridiculously overdue Sand Martin. On top of this there is also the possibility of something all together scarcer. Great Grey Shrike in the surrounds of Cambois power station perhaps or maybe even a Greenish Warbler in one of the sites two coastal thickets. After a good showing over the past few years, Waxwings are certainly a good shout. I do love the east coast..
Truly I could waffle on about the Blyth all day and at this point, it is safe to say I am pretty excited about birding the site somewhat competitively for the first time though this could soon change. Curtailing my bird based blabbing I have decided to set out ten target birds for the coming year, all of which would be site firsts for myself at least. It will be interesting to see just how many of these I can connect with..
- Iceland Gull
- Roseate Tern
- Snow Bunting
- Short-Eared Owl
- Great Skua
- Black Tern
- Little Stint
Possible, unlikely and just for fun:
- Red-Backed Shrike
- Great Shearwater
- Barred Warbler
- Greenish Warbler
- Great White Egret