#PatchChat: No Place Like Home

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There really is no place like home. Having arrived back for some much needed TLC following two months surveying in the Highlands, this week I set about reacquainting myself with the local patch. My how things have changed since I departed at the back-end of Spring.

The Blyth is certainly in bloom at present, the meadows (verges left to grow wild by the local council) alive with resplendent purple and radiant yellow. The blooms of Black Knapweed, Yellow Rattle, Trefoil and Common Spotted Orchid too numerous to count. Elsewhere the areas of waste-ground are looking similarly kaleidoscopic, Biting Stonecrop and Viper’s Bugloss two of the more impressive finds over the last few days. The towering, sapphire blue blooms of the latter providing a real draw to bumblebees with no less than six species noted today alone. Elsewhere, the wood has begun to resemble somewhat of a tropical rainforest, overgrown and very, very green. Bramble, Balsam and some truly colossal Butterbur leaves rendering some areas totally impassable. Perhaps I should invest in a machete?

(From the top) Dog Rose, Yellow Rattle, Common Spotted Orchid & Viper’s Bugloss

The various leafy areas of the patch have, of course, proven irresistible to insects, with butterflies a particular delight this week. Ringlet and Meadow Brown two of the more common species but augmented, in some places, by a healthy dose of Speckled Wood, Green-Veined White, Common Blue and Large Skipper – a real favourite of mine with their vibrant orange/gold wings and short energetic flights. As ever though, it has been the birds that have enthralled the most and, at present, the Blyth and her surroundings are positively bursting with avian life.

Each bush it seems now plays host to fledged young of some description: juvenile Blue Tits with their delightful yellow tinge, immature Stonechats, Robins, Wrens and thrushes. Warblers too are numerous at present, with the area brimming with newly liberated Chiffchaffs. Most of the adult warblers are now singing again, hoping to attract a mate and raise a second brood. Of these, a handful of Grasshopper Warblers reeling from the riverside scrub were perhaps most exciting, with the exception of the years first Reed Warbler emitting its characteristic scratchy chords from the outflow pools. Add to them a plethora of amorous Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat and Chiff and you have the makings of a true summer spectacular. Only Garden Warbler continues to elude me..

Speckled Wood, Ringlet and Cheilosia illustrata

Down on the estuary – where I spend most of my time – wader passage has started again, though with more of a fizzle than a bang. A smart looking Greenshank has been in residence for the last few days, feeding on the flats and then retiring to roost alongside the fifty or so Redshank already back. Likewise, each day this week has provided sightings of Whimbrel and a nice mixed flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plover is already accumulating. Presumably, most of these will be failed breeders, returning early after having their nests pilfered by a predator on their breeding sights. Though not in all cases it seems, a juvenile Ringed Plover observed yesterday – its washed out sandy hue contrasting nicely with the more vibrant shades of the adults surrounding it. Elsewhere eleven Turnstone were noted, some of which clad in their ruddy summer finery and three Black-Tailed Godwit were seen. Alongside, of course, an ample supply of Curlew and Lapwing. One only hopes that upon my return in August, something a little scarcer may be found..

The waterfowl of the Blyth, are looking a tad less impressive at present – befitting the summer season when most ducks enter their gloomy eclipse phase. Eider are back in force, some females boasting small broods of wonderfully fluffy ducklings, a trend apparent in the Mallards and Shelducks too. Seventeen Goosander have now built up in the estuary, fishing amid the broken piers of Blyth Harbour most days while elsewhere other aquatic bits and pieces include Teal, Gadwall, a record count of six Canada Goose (unusual, I know) and the odd Mute Swan. Though this does not take into consideration all of the goodies seen on the sea of late. The highlight comprising a single Manx Shearwater heading North yesterday. Closer to shore a feeding frenzy of Gannets was nice to see while a mixed bag of Arctic, Common and Sandwhich Tern, Guillemot, Common Scoter and Shag soon resulted in me losing track of time and spending hours rooted in the sand dunes.

What else? Well a short walk down the road on Monday yielded a welcome touch rarity in the form of the long-staying Bonaparte’s Gull on the Wansbeck Estuary. A new species for me and an educational one if that – half way in between a Black-Headed Gull and a Little. Closer to home, a few hours spent roaming the reaches of the wood produced all the typical characters: Nuthatches transporting food to their nest hole, fledged Treecreepers (another first for me), drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a Buzzard. The latter traversing a branch with what looked to be a vole clasped in its talons. Feeding young perhaps? I have suspected that they breed here for a few years now but have always failed to turn up definitive proof. Perhaps that is best. Elsewhere the Dipper pair continue to feed their ever growing chicks and a particularly confiding Grey Wagtail left me grinning like a Cheshire cat. Lovely birds.

Oh, I forgot to mention a brief glimpse of a Harbour Porpoise on Tuesday..

This will no doubt be the last patch update for a while, duty calls and come Tuesday I will be back off to the uplands. Hopefully to enjoy more tantalising encounters like those shown below, all taken during my ventures over the past few weeks.