Wildlife at Walker Riverside

Of all of the places I regularly visit in Newcastle, Walker riverside has to be my favourite. Owing to a mix of abdanonment and neglect, it just about the most diverse local site I know of for plants and insects, and is well worth a visit if you’re able to look past the disgarded beer bottles and other unsavory items.

Heading to Walker last Thursday morning, a four-hour rummage on the South-facing banks of the Tyne yielded a number of interesting sightings – the riverside (seeded) meadows and forgotton corners alive with wildflowers.

Starting out to the West, and I was immediately struck by the abundance of Common Mallow in bloom along the riverbanks, pink flowers mixing nicely with the similarly abundant blooms of Oxford Ragwort and Purple Toadflax – both attractive non-natives. It was nice to find a new stand of Black Horehound in flower here too, and attention turned breifly to the trees here with Italian Alder and Wayfaring Tree both notable on the river banks.

Further along, towards the carpark, Hedgerow Crane’s-bill and Common Toadflax were observed too. The highlight here, however, was surely a rather striking bellflower found growing in the stone walls that line the riverbank. This was later revealed to be Peach-leaved Bellflower, a new species for me.

Walking East along the Tyne, you soon come to a striking stretch of riverside grassland adorning the former site of the St. Anthony’s Tar Works. Seeded at some point in the past to aid in it’s restoration, this particular stretch is incredibly diverse and never fails to reveal something new.

The plant community here is dominated by a number of particularly abundant species including Wild Carrot, Common Restharrow, Common Knapweed, Birds’-foot Trefoil and Wild Mignonette but look closer, and a host of other species reveal themselves. Today, interesting discoveries included Musk Mallow, Small Scabious, Field Bindweed and Lucerne. The small expanse of Greater Knapweed discovered last year was also in ful bloom, though I failed to find the Wild Basil noted previously.

With so many wildflowers in full bloom, insects were incredibly numerous. Ringlet and Meadow Brown represented the most numerous butterflies, closely followed by Small Skipper and Common Blue, while freshly emerged Six-spot Burnets were plentiful and myriad unidentified grasshoppers lept from the vegatation. Slightly more surprising, a beautiful Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing was observed roosting on the underside of an Aspen leaf.

Bumblebees were too numerous to count here, the bulk of these comprising Common Carder, White-tailed, Buff-tailed and Red-tailed, with a few Early Bumblebees thrown in for good measure. A fleeting glimpse of what was likely a male Red-tailed Cuckoo Bee was exciting; though I was unable to get any closer. Whereas the mining bees abundant here in May have now vanished, they have been replaced with leafcutters. Patchwork Leafcutter Bee was spotted first, followed by six female Willughby’s Leafcutter Bee feeding on restharrow. A male Fork-tailed Flower Bee whizzed past breifly and a small bee potted on Wild Carrot was likely a male Orange-legged Furrow Bee.

Set back slightly from the river and connected by a steep muddy path, a small area of wasteground marks the site of what was likely a former building. Despite being used (frequently, it would seem) as a site at which to dump unwanted waste, it does make for an interesting pitstop.

Here, Kidney-vetch was incredibly numerous and was popular with the local bees. More interesting discoveries included farely large areas of Sainfoin and mutilple plants of Clustered Bellflower. Both plants I’d never seen before. A slightly surprise came from a rather large patch of garden Nasturtiums – clearly having thrived after being turfed out in someone’s garden waste.

Here too, small patches of Wild Thyme clung to rubble heaps and Slender St. John’s-wort was also observed. Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood were noted too, whereas just across the road, another area of grassland turned up Field Scabious and Meadow Crane’s-bill. The former of which appeared popular with the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnets which, like their six-spotted cousins, were out in force during the visit.

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