The last week has been spent getting well and truly reacquainted with my local patch – the Blyth Estuary. The lowlands of coastal Northumberland a far cry from the precipices of the Cairngorms and Banffshire where I had been stationed until quite recently, and the wildlife a welcome change to iconic, yet limited cast of creatures present around my former haunts. Simply put, it has been great – with warm days and a fantastic assortment of wild titbits to ogle and enjoy as late summer gives way to early Autumn. And usual spectacles associated with this transitional period begin to unfold once more.
There has definitely been a noticeable movement of passerines of late, mainly at the coast, with migration and more localised dispersal evidence right across the patch. The coastal thickets are now teeming with warblers, with Chiffchaff, of course, the most numerous, closely followed by Blackcap. Many of which seem to have descended, true to form, on the plump Blackberries now bejeweling the various shrubby places. Whitethroat have been less numerous, but present nonetheless, while a number of Willow Warblers have begun to sing once more – somewhat more half-hearted that their Spring melodies. Likewise a Grasshopper Warbler in song yesterday provided a welcome surprise, reeling from the small reedbed that straddles the Southern bank of the estuary – my first here for quite some time. While each day now sees a steady passage of Hirundines heading South over most areas of the Blyth and the few remaining Swifts have now well and truly departed.
Elsewhere resident birds are also on the move, with the most notable trend observed in the local Goldfinch population which, with numerous juveniles in toe, have assembled into enormous charms in the sand dunes. With c250 observed on a recent foray, and few Linnet tagging along for good measure. Great Spotted Woodpeckers have begun to turn up in funny places, including at the coast, and juvenile Stonechats – doubtless the result of breeding in the dunes – have begun to move inland. With similar small-scale movements noted in both the local Dippers and Kingfishers too. As the fledged young of both, doubtless forced out by their parents, have now taken up residence downstream towards the estuary. With the latter, in particular, showing marvellously of late, and brightening up no end of morning walks.
The estuary itself has also seen its fair share of visitors of, with wader passage continuing at a steady pace. At least two Greenshank are now in residence, standing out like a sore thumb amid the ranks of the much more familiar Redshank which have arrived on mass back from their breeding territories. Black-Tailed Godwit numbers have increased also, to around forty birds, with some still clad in their delightfully crimson summer garb, while for a touch of scarcity, a lone Whimbrel and, more impressively, eight Ruff were also seen. The latter comprising my first record for the estuary, ever! Birds which, coupled with the usual assortment of Turnstone, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Knot, Dunlin and Ringed Plover, have made the Blyth an exciting place to be of late. Especially if, like me, you are fond of leggy birds.
Also in residence on the estuary at the minute are at least five Little Egrets, a jolly good count for the site, and something which would have seemed impossible in my childhood. Likewise, Goosander numbers are building nicely, with around twenty now fishing the river and the first of the “winter wildfowl” have arrived back in the form of a few Teal, Shelduck and Wigeon. With Eider numbers swelling just off-shore and a number of Common Scoter moving past in addition. The sea providing a real bounty of late, with Terns in particular rising to prominence. Monday’s seaward venture revealing no less than a hundred fishing close to the beach, with four species picked out from the fray. The best of which was a diminutive Little Tern which, like the Ruff, marked a patch-first for me. Here too Guillemots remain in evidence, with a number of growing chicks at hand, and other interesting sightings including Shag, Kittiwake, Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Red-Throated Diver and two more Whimbrel. Surely it cannot be long before an interesting Skua graces me with its presence?
What else? Well, moving away from the avian world and butterflies continue to dazzle. With a late “Big Butterfly Count” along the estuary providing an exciting variety of critters. Including, best of all, a few Common Blue and Small Copper looking altogether dishevelled as the Autumn draws in. Painted Lady and Red Admiral were also numerous here, as were Peacock, while elsewhere Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Comma, Large White and Small Tortoiseshell ensured that I was not left wanting. Speckled Wood have been incredibly numerous this year, cropping up everywhere from my urban garden in nearby Bedlington, to the small ornamental plantations that line coastal dunes. Representative of wider national trends I suspect? But we will have to wait for the results of the count to see just who the winners and losers this year have been.
Peacock and Red Admiral
As you can see, things have been far from boring at Blyth of late and it will be interesting to see what appears as Autumn migration enters full swing. A few wayward Pied Flycatcher would be expected but this year I have set my sights a little higher and have predicted the occurrence of both Wryneck and Pallas’s Warbler. It doesn’t hurt to aim high right?