Soaking up Spring on the local patch

Spring is well and truly here and the the last few days have been nothing short of glorious. Invertebrates emerging from hibernation, migrant birds fresh from Africa and a surplus of beautiful wildflowers bursting into bloom – the tedium of winter has been well and truly banished it seems. Of the plentiful wildflowers on show, it has been the yellow ones that are most apparent – Gorse, Broom, Dandelion, Colts-Foot, Lesser Celandine and, of course, Daffodils providing a true feast for my winter-weary eyes. Not to mention the first Ramsons and Bluebell blooms of the season.

My time this week has been split equally between the three habitat types that make up my humble Northumbrian patch; the Blyth Estuary, the dune system between Blyth and Cambois and the cracking stand of deciduous woodland that is Ha’Penny Woods Local Nature Reserve. There has been an awful lot to see here of late so I thought I best jump right into it with a not so brief summary of this weeks antics. I apologise in advance for the prolonged bird-based waffling..

Starting out at the coast and things have proven rather lively of late – each trip accompanied by a light passage of hirundines heading North with some haste. Sand Martins have been most numerous, a good dozen passing by and a further ten now back at a favoured nest side. With these perhaps a dozen Swallows and four House Martins, my first of the year. Wheatear seem to have tailed off after their initial arrival though Meadow Pipit and Skylark remain numerous and a good c40 Linnet have now materalised, seemingly from nowhere. Elsewhere here three pairs of Stonechat added a welcome touch of glamour, a Mistle Thrush foraged amid the wrack – weird right – and a walk around the adjacent scrubby areas provided a hearty mix of common passerines; BullfinchLong-Tailed Tit and four Song Thrush perhaps the most noteworthy. A Water Rail here came as somewhat of a surprise however; this individual struggling with a rather large food item which later turned out to be a newt! That is certainly a first and, despite the untimely demise of said newt, was quite interesting to see.

Of course, while visiting the coastal expanses of the patch it would have been rude not to put in a few hours seawatching. Two stints on my favoured dune this last week turning up a decent array of maritime species. The best of these was certainly the returning Sandwich Terns; a count of twelve birds today my highest of the year so far. Gannets continue to feature, as of course do Eider while the two Red-Throated Divers still lurking offshore have now morphed into their impressive summer garb – red throat and all. Other highlights here of late include Common ScoterGuillemotKittiwakeFulmarRazorbill and Red-Breasted Merganser while today found me squinting to get better views of a very distant group of Skuas heading north in earnest. Probably Arctic but I will never know. Better still, today found White-Fronted Goose added to my every growing ‘patch list’. A small flock of five birds passing high over head  as I packed up to leave – marking my latest record of this species in the UK to date! I honest wouldn’t have been able to identify them if it wasn’t for their unmistakable barring illuminated nicely by the early morning sun. Not a bird I expected to catch up with in late April.

Moving on to the Blyth estuary and the theme of returning migrants continued here also. Two Whimbrel were noted on two occasions – one of which posed for a rather dreadful ‘record shot’ that can be seen above. A pair of Common Sandpiper were likewise new for the year while the surrounding scrub is now bursting with the song of both Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. Hirundines featured here also, as did two Avocet while a few Black-Tailed Godwit remain, looking undeniably handsome in their rustic summer plumage. Visitors aside; the pickings have been far from slim on the Blyth. The harbour area continues to hold a few Guillemot and Red-Breasted Merganser, as well as a great deal of courting Eider while elsewhere a quick tally of the more regular waders revealed; 72 Redshank, 32 Turnstone, 20 Curlew, 26 Oystercatcher and a lone Lapwing. Wildfowl wise, Shelduck remain the only numerous species – some 70+ still in attendance. A few GadwallMallard and Teal comprising the ‘best of the rest’ so to speak.

Upstream towards Ha’penny woods things remain similarly lively. Blackcap have arrived back on cue – six males noted on my last venture. Their scratchy call a welcome addition to the choir of woodland birds now in full song. Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff proved numerous here also while elsewhere a quiet hour perched amid the sites vast swathes of ‘Wild Garlic’ produced nice views of JayGoldcrestGreat Spotted WoodpeckerNuthatch and the usual medley of tits and finches. Combing the inland reaches of the River Blyth failed to produce my long awaited Kingfisher though two of each Grey Wagtail and Dipper were graciously received.

Of course birds are not the only thing on offer around Blyth and as usual my attentions have wandered to other species. A snoozing Roe Deer proved enjoyable, as did a the surplus of Rabbits that seem to have reappeared of late. With these, a nice mix of Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies and at least four species of bumblebee. These however conclude this weeks offerings…

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