2016 is here at last and, as ever, marks the start of a new year for discerning Patchwork Challenge competitors. More about the challenge itself can be found here for anyone interested. Although the aim is actually pretty simple; to find as many species of bird as possible on your patch during the course of a year. Departing my former stomping ground at Stobswood, the New Year found me taking up residence at my childhood haunt of Blyth and it is safe to say that during the first five days of January I have not been left wanting by my little corner of coastal Northumberland.
First to the highlights and perhaps the greatest (so far at least) was the Waxwings sighted on numerous occasions in Blyth Industrial Estate. With between one and five observed on different days and some showing well enough for some good photos these migrants were a real treat to behold and kicked the year off splendidly. Next, a Jack Snipe was unearthed on the flooded ground near Blyth Boatyard comprising only my second record of this species “on patch” and followed promptly by a Woodcock that flew in off the sea further adding to the excitement. Seawatching has likewise proved thoroughly enjoyable with the recent bad weather bringing a number of Little Gulls close to shore with two noted on Monday and a further four today. A single Little Auk was also picked up here this morning while other “two point” scoring species notched include Purple Sandpiper, Eider and Peregrine. Not a bad start eh?
Of course it is not all about the rares and a few jaunts around the estuary provided a pleasant, if somewhat atypical array of waders. The best of these, four Black-Tailed Godwits although Bar-Tailed Godwit and Sanderling were equally welcome. Alongside these a good supporting cast of more familar faces including Lapwing, Curlew, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Oystercatcher. Both Golden & Grey Plover remain conspicuous in the absence thus far this year though I am sure I will catch up with these species sooner rather than later.
On the wildfowl front now and the estuary continues to support good numbers of Shelduck, Mallard, Teal, Goldeneye and Gadwall as well as the odd Red-Breasted Merganser and of course, the resident pair of Mute Swans. Aside from these however little else has put in an appearance of late, the long-staying drake Velvet Scoter apparently long gone alongside the Brent Geese that appeared sporadically before Christmas. A female Goosander up river towards Ha’Penny woods was however nice to see and marked one of my earliest records to date. Speaking of the river, a failed search upstream for Little Egret did yield Little Grebe, Dipper and Grey Heron so I guess I cannot complain too much. I would certainly be hard pushed to miss Little Egret this year given their prevalence in the region of late.
Back on the coast, aside from the additions of Little Gull and Litle Auk things have been rather quiet, the poor conditions scuppering my chances of even a Red-Throated Diver or Guillemot. I did manage Cormorant here, as well as five gull species with the best of these comprising two wintering Lesser Black-Backs. A Shag in the harbour a few days past did however mitigate my loses somewhat to the best of my knowledge is the first time I have recorded this species away from the sea at Blyth. Another welcome two points. Scouring the dunes at Cambois a pair of Stonechat were, as ever, nice to see as was a hunting Kestrel and a lone Rock Pipit. Still plenty time for a Snow Bunting or two yet so this is one area of the patch I will be scouring regularly during the course of the winter.
Finally, a trip around Ha’Penny Woods Local Nature Reserve provided the perfect opportunity to mop up a few familiar woodland species for the challenge. Sure enough, with a little patience the ticks began to come thick and fast here and before long an additional ten species were added to my tally; the best of which included three Jay, three Treecreeper, a Nuthatch and a raucous pair of Great Spotted Woodpecker. With these, the usual assemblage of woodland critters and the later additions of Bullfinch, Redwing, Song Thrush and a large troop of Long-Tailed Tits. Indeed it appears I have already caught up with most of my expected woodland quarry and really do not need to visit this region of the patch again until the Spring. This however seems rather unlikely as thanks to the areas phantom bird feeder and his/her installment of a feeding station, many birds are now much easier to see. Ha’penny is indeed one of my favourite places to spend time during the winter and who knows, perhaps a Marsh Tit, Willow Tit or Brambling may not be far away?
A quick note on my biggest omissions so far this year and much to my horror I am yet to catch up Collared Dove or Meadow Pipit thus far. These alongside other notable no-shows such as Sparrowhawk, Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher, Stock Dove and Yellowhammer will at least give me something to look for between now and spring. Between bouts of seawatching of course.