Tales from the urban jungle

It certainly feels like Spring has sprung in my little corner of Newcastle: garish daffodils of all shapes and sizes adorn the roadsides, House Sparrows emerge from beneath the slates of terraced homes and cool yet brighter mornings are marked by the fluted notes of Song Thrush and the caterwauling of returning Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

In the small park at the end of my street, the regulars are busy. Blue Tits make tentative inspections of nestboxes lovingly placed by local volunteers, plump Woodpigeons haul twigs back and forward and each tree, whether Ash, Oak or Sycamore, seems to sport at least one bird in full song. On today’s walk, it was the Robins that sang the loudest; although the song of Greenfinch, Dunnock and Goldfinch was audible during the lulls.

There have been a few new arrivals on the local patch this week – new species to adorn the growing list of critters with whom I share my street. Among these, the oystercatcher was the loudest – shrieking at dawn as it circled the wasteland a stone’s throw from home. Doubtless, a suitable breeding site for a pioneering wader. Slightly more demur was the reed bunting – a handsome male – that turned up on the parkland pond, singing amid a stand of reeds no bigger than your average office. Not a bird I had to expect to see in the city when I set out to record the wildlife here.

Also new this week were the frogs – not that I have seen one yet. City amphibians appear far too savvy for that. No, instead I must make do with the leftovers of their nocturnal antics – several globs of spawn deposited around the margins of the pool. A promising sign that, despite everything, frogs still persist here.

Earlier, I mentioned daffodils – the flower of the moment and everyone’s favourite springtime bloom. Not mine, I’m afraid, my efforts this week focused on unearthing (figuratively speaking) other treasures along the path sides and fractured walls of the street. A successful mission, with a few new species for the patch: Green Alkanet, adorned with gorgeous, deep-blue flowers; fuzzy Common Mouse-ear and, perhaps most exciting of all, what I think could be Danish Scurvygrass. A salt-tolerant species now flourishing along the perpetually gritted motorways of the UK, growing here (ironically) outside the local salt storage depot.

Green Alkanet, Danish Scurvygrass and Common Mouse-ear

Plants need not be new to be exciting, however, and this week, the dainty white blooms of cherry plum have reigned supreme. A naturalised species in the UK, this eye-catching member of the prunus family is one of the first trees to spring to life, blooming even earlier than our native blackthorn with which it shares many similarities. Blooms which, at present, are painting my local park a beautiful white, all while providing a welcome source of nectar to the few intrepid pollinators willing to brave the chill and venture out.

The blooms of Cherry Plum in the local park

Well, that’s just about a wrap for this weeks update. Honourary mentions this week go to the Ring-necked Parakeets who, having well and truly colonised the North, appear resident on the street – flying too and fro and never failing to rattle the nerves with their piercing shouts. Somewhat less obtrusive (yet no less colourful), Goldfinches also continue to raid the feeders daily – a welcome splash of colour against a backdrop of aged brick and flaking window frames.


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