Winter is by far my favourite season. Crisp mornings, migrant thrushes, geese, ducks, snow and the promise of wayward Snow Buntings. So far this year most of my ramblings have been centered on my “local patch” at Blyth as I try to kick off this years Patchwork Challenge in promising fashion. This venture appears to be going rather well in truth with 86 species (and 97 points) wracked up at Blyth thus far in January. Despite the low temperatures and well disguised swathes of black ice, birding on the Blyth has been thoroughly enjoyable of late with this post detailing some sightings over the past week.
Starting off at the Easterly extremes of the patch and a few rather nippy seawatches from Cambois have proven mildly productive. This past week saw me finally add Red-Throated Diver to my Patchwork tally with at least four birds hanging around close to shore. With them a generous scattering of Red-Breasted Merganser, Shag, a single Common Scoter coupled of course good numbers of Eider. This is Northumberland after all. Guillemot was also new for the year this week with five birds noted, among them a rather showy individual fishing in Blyth harbour. While on the subject of auks, another Little Auk was also picked up this week (all be it distantly) though thus far Razorbill continues to elude me. In addition to these the coastal expanses of the patch have also thrown up a good variety of gulls, including a few unseasonal Lesser Black-Backs as well as Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper and a probable Black-Throated Diver which had it been a little closer to shore and gave better views would have been a splendid addition to this years patch list. I would like to think that come the end of the month that I will have added Velvet Scoter, Great Northern Diver and Slavonian Grebe to the proceedings but who knows, seawatching at Blyth has proven distinctly unpredictable at best.
Moving a little further inland and a brief wander around Cambois and the Sleek Burn area threw up a brace of new species with perhaps the most surprising being a convoy of five Red-Legged Partridge foraging by the roadside. These marked not just a first for the year but a full fat patch tick though I can only assume they have been turfed out by a local farmer and may not be here overly long. Also here Buzzard and Mistle Thrush were new for the year while a rummage around Cambois produced Stonechat, Bullfinch, Collared Dove (at last) and Sparrowhawk. The latter trying and failing to make a meal of one of the local Great Tits.
As ever, most of my time this week has been spent patrolling the fringes of the Blyth estuary. The centerpiece of my modest Northumbrian patch. Visiting the site at low tide today proved most enjoyable with good counts of most common wader species, including a a personal “record” count of five Grey Plover foraging on the flats. With these, two Black-Tailed Godwit and five Bar-Tailed Godwit were also noteworthy, as was a good count of 320 Dunlin. Elsewhere a quick attempt at counting the other leggy offerings went as such; 33 Curlew, 50 Golden Plover, 22 Lapwing, 25 Oystercatcher, 24 Ringed Plover, 110 Redshank, 1 Turnstone and 5 Snipe. The latter in the vicinity of the sites only small reedbed. No Jack Snipe this week, nor any Knot but with given the array of species on show I think I can let that slide for now. Further up river a Little Egret was observed beneath the Kitty Brewster bridge – my first record since early December and a welcome two pointer in the PWC stakes.
Paying some addition to the sites wildfowl proved worthwhile this week with two drake Wigeon (another PWC tick) among the flock of 70+ Teal and a peak count of 18 Goldeneye looking glamorous in the afternoon sun. In addition to these, eight Gadwall and 25 Mallard were also noted while the open expanses of the harbor held a further 22 Eider and five more Mergansers. Mute Swan numbers on the Blyth have also swelled to a grand total of six birds this week following the recent cold snap, much to the dismay of the resident pair who appear to have spent most of their time harassing the newcomers, making quite a racket in the process. Aside from these however little else put in an appearance here with the exception of the years first goose species in the form of 4 Canada Geese and a pair of flyover Pink-Feet.
Picking my way along the southern shore of the Blyth, this week saw me finally catch up with the troop of Grey Partridge that have taken up residence on the outskirts of the industrial estate having teased me continuously this month. Picking through the various finch flocks in residence also helped kill some time with totals of 30 Goldfinch, 20 Linnet, 4 Greenfinch, 5 Bullfinch, 6 Chaffinch and a few Reed Bunting nabbed in turn. Surely it cannot be long before I am graced by the presence of a Twite or Brambling? I would however settle for the years first Siskin or Lesser Redpoll – two species that seem to have vanished since the New Year. Elsewhere here a few Redwing and Fieldfare have taken the place of last weeks Waxwings, feeding on the remaining Buckthorn berries or foraging in the various horse paddocks alongside droves of Song Thrush and Blackbird. A single Meadow Pipit was similarly welcome this week (every species counts) while elsewhere passerine highlights include Grey Wagtail and Rock Pipit by the boatyard, Dipper at Furnace Bank and good numbers of Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Goldcrest in Ha’Penny Woods. Not a bad haul in truth and topped off nicely with three separate Sparrowhawk encounters at Bedlington, two Kestrels and a Peregrine causing havoc among the roosting waders.
The quest for the January 100 looks set to continue next week with perhaps a little too much time on my hands at present. At least I am hoping to mop up my few remaining notable omissions with Stock Dove, Kingfisher, Skylark, Rook and Siskin top of the agenda. It seems Tawny Owl may also be a possibility following a conversation with an extremely keen dog walker. Who knows! Still, I cannot help but wish for a good storm to hopefully bring some divers and ducks into the relative shelter of the estuary.