Spring has finally sprung over my little patch of coastal Northumberland it seems. Bees, buds, butterflies and a whole host of interesting birds making the last week or so an entirely enjoyable affair. Despite the resurgence of some much loved species, the weather has left rather a lot to be desired; hale, rain, sleet, strong winds and occasional bouts of sun triggering a number of mad dashes and homeward sprints. Perhaps I should simply use the term variable? Anyways, below is an account of the last weeks wanderings, the counts of species seen representing the peak number observed during any one outing. As you can see, I have been spoiled for choice of late..
Uncharacteristically, I thought I would start this entry on a brief entomological note. As ever, as winter transitions into spring, invertebrates begin to emerge from hibernation. This year I have endeavored to keep track of my “first sightings” in much the same way as I do, each year, with birds. The first winged beastie to reappear at Blyth was a Common Wasp on the 26th of March followed closely by a Buff-Tailed Bumblebee queen on the 28th. Next came Common Carder Bee and Peacock butterfly on the 30th and now, on the 1st of April, a delightful queen Red-Tailed Bumblebee. The latter at first appearing somewhat moribund by the roadside – something which prompted me to take the critter into a the house for a spot of TLC. A few spoonfuls of sugar water (50/50 mix as recommended) and the damsel in distress was soon fighting fit and off on her merry way in the garden. Hopefully to start a colony somewhere nearby.
Elsewhere this week the other noticeable indicator of the changing season has been the birds, namely – the large scale arrival of Chiffchaff into the area. Indeed, quite a few of these returning migrants have been noted this week, most heard as opposed to seen as they voice their monotonous call high in the canopy. Four individuals were heard singing in Ha’Penny Woods followed by more birds at Cambois, Sleekburn, Bedlington and Blyth. It’s great to have them back even if they are the only migrants to make it back to the patch thus far – the hirundines and Wheatears seen locally largely avoiding me. Drat.
Aside from the aforementioned little brown jobs, the areas additional bird-life has also delighted. Ha’Penny woods, now bursting into leaf and rife with the smell of Ramsons, throwing up a nice bag of atypical woodland species. Here Great Spotted Woodpeckers are knocking near constantly while the local Nuthatches have also proven somewhat vocal. Long-Tailed Tits (Lollipop Badger-Birds, according to a recent RSPB meme) remain equally numerous this week, scattered troops seen on various corners of the patch. They have in fact been rather numerous all winter, no doubt the mild temperatures leading to reduced mortality – in keeping with the recent findings of the Big Garden Birdwatch. Won’t catch me complaining!
Aside from these; Ha’Penny also came up trumps with Siskin, Bullfinch, Song Thrush, Treecreeper and Goldcrest among an array of more run of the mill odds and ends though the highlight here has to be the pair of Grey Wagtails that appear to have taken up residence around one the sides woodland pools. Both birds foriging, each day, amid the blooming Marsh Marigolds – a pleasant sight if ever there was one.
Moving on and as ever, the majority of my time has been spent around the estuary – the centerpiece of the patch. Here things remain fairly stable although wader numbers have plummeted astronomically – birds no doubt heading back off to their breeding grounds. The remaining birds have not disappointed however, two Avocet still in residence alongside a peak count of 8 Black-Tailed Godwit, some of which now fully kitted out in their delightfully rustic breeding attire. Three Knot were also seen, all be it distantly while the usual cast of Turnstone, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Redshank helped kill some time during quieter spells. Contrasting with the waders, wildfowl numbers have not yet tailed off on the Blyth. The only exception to this being the noticeable absence of the three wintering Wigeon and a slight drop in Goldeneye numbers – only two of the latter now remaining. Shelduck remain numerous, some 65-75 now apparent alongside a similar number of Teal and 14 Gadwall. With these, and bypassing the ever present Mallards and Mute Swans, 35 Eider, a female Goosander and two splendid drake Red-Breasted Merganser. Some “fly over” additions to this list being a few skeins of Pink-Footed Geese heading North and flock of 14 Whooper Swans passing low over the nearby industrial estate.
Spending some time on the coast, snuggled in my adopted hide at Cambois similarly yielded some good birds this week though these were few and far between. A handful of Red-Throated Diver remain, one of which now actually sporting a red-throat (ooft). With these a nice mix of Guillemot, Razorbill, Shag and more Red-Breasted Merganser, all of which will surely depart for more favourable climes in the coming days. An adult Gannet flying south today provided a breath of fresh air, as did the presence of some 25 Kittiwakes feeding quite far out with another, an immature individual complete with characteristic black “w” markings, flying overhead as I rambled along the beach. These aside other tidbits here included; 4 Fulmar, 3 Lesser Black-Backed Gull and, this morning, a superb Mediterranean Gull – the latter my first Patchwork Challenge tick of the month.
What else? Well, the walk between the coast and home proved fruitful. Meadow Pipit and Skylark singing in various locations and an alba “White” Wagtail foraging in the dunes. The same dunes also held 3 Stonechat, all of which proved as confiding as ever. Further inland, picking my way back through the various sections of farmland contained within the patch boundary turned up Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Kestrel and, perhaps best of all, a Grey Partridge singing from the cover of a thicket – if indeed you can all the peculiar croaking noise they make a song. A single Red-Legged Partridge was also seen, standing idle on a roadside verge, while passing back over the Sleek Burn two Little Egrets lifted before dropping back onto the mud to feed. These, alongside the resident pair of Water Rail – both of which have been showing impeccably of late – conclude this weeks avian offerings. Not a bad haul eh?
Before I depart for the summer come late April I hope to catch up with a few more returning migrants. Surely a Swallow or two should be on the cards? Followed (I hope) by House Martin, Wheatear, Ring Ouzel and Willow Warbler. Of course, the possibility of an early Cuckoo, an Osprey or Whinchat will also keep me out and about and I intend to make the very best of my time at Blyth before my upcoming hiatus.