Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Stobswood 2014 - James Common

Stobswood is a site of perpetual change and is at present still in process of recovering from the opencast that adorned the site only a few years past. As time advances it appears the site is becoming of greater value to bird life; a fact well demonstrated by my comparative score for 2014, smashing my previous best my a rather nifty 130%. As I say, this is due in the large part to the site maturing though extending “the patch” boundaries to incorporate the new lake at Widdrington Village undoubtedly aided my cause. Combining the ex-opencast last, the new lake and the woodland surrounding my house I managed a respectable 126 species and 143 points. Not bad for a site branded a “wasteland” by some of the less avian orientated locals. This was far from a winning score and in the end landed me bang smack in the middle of the inland north table, where I stand content having given it my all in 2014 and noted some truly exciting species.


The New Year started rather well at Stobswood with 67 species noted in the first two months alone. Of course the majority of these were the run of the mill, everyday species. Many of which were noted from the comfort of my bedroom overlooking the splendid patch of woodland adjacent to my house. Among these a few common but somewhat more elusive critters including Jay, Bullfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Lesser Redpoll. Following a more in depth rummage around the wooded areas of the patch Stobswood soon yielded some other interesting species with Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Siskin and Redwing noted alongside the usual assortment of tits and finches. The addition of Willow Tit here came as somewhat of a surprise, first noted calling from the shrubs behind the house before eventually breaking cover and showing splendidly. Not common bird anywhere in the UK, and one I feel truly honoured to still harbour. Anyways, Treecreeper and Tawny Owl came next before my attentions finally turned towards the opencast and flocks of wildfowl that had been building nicely during the course of the winter. Here both Pink-Footed Goose and Canada Goose fed in their hundreds whilst the pools provided a nice array of duck species including Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall and Goldeneye. The real surprise here was pair of female Scaup which showed immaculately between the 17th and 22nd of February;  a rather surprising addition to the patch list given the shallow nature of the pools. The soggy areas of the patch also yielded the vast majority of the sites overwintering waders with Curlew, Redshank, Snipe and Lapwing all present in substantial numbers. Not a bad start..


March started with a bang with Stobswood Pools throwing up my first real scarcity of the year in the form of a drake Green-Winged Teal which showed intermittently for a fortnight or so. No finders points for this one sadly though I managed to pick it up mere minutes after discovery. Alongside the Teal, a host of other new arrivals had returned to the pools. Among these fifteen Avocet were perhaps the most striking though I was equally grateful for the presence of Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Shelduck and Shoveler. April found me connecting with the first returning passerines with Blackcap taking the coveted title of “first migrant” closely followed by Sand Martin, Chiffchaff and Swallow whilst both Willow Warbler and Wheatear arrived fashionably late in the closing days of the month. Elsewhere here other noteworthy additions included Stock Dove, Yellowhammer, Tree Sparrow, Grey Partridge, Barn Owl and Little Owl whilst I also managed a brief encounter with a family party of Whooper Swans. 87 species and counting..

May found me totally absent from the patch with commitments at university keeping me well removed from the region, much to my dismay.  I made up for this poor showing in June however with two stonking patch firsts; Mediterranean Gull and Arctic Skua. The latter of which came as a bit of a shock given the inland nature of my patch. Both Little Egret and Little Ringed Plover were new this month whilst  I finally caught up with the remainder of the common summer migrants missed during my academic hiatus. Among these House Martin, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Swift and Whitethroat.  Also noteworthy in June was the addition Great Crested Grebe at Widdrington with said site also yielding Red-Breasted Merganser and a long overdue flock of Reed Bunting. All of this brought me up to a reasonable 96 species; just shy of my previous year’s final score! Not bad for the midway point..


July and August found me predominately in Scotland with my work at St. Abbs Head NNR taking precedence over my patching endeavours. This in mind I still managed a few visits whenever the opportunity to visit my parents (and consume a hot meal) arose. The summer months provided an impressive set of visiting waders with Golden Plover, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank, Ruff and Green Sandpiper providing a relative smorgasbord of long legged delights whilst a patch first Wood Sandpiper was most unexpected. August 2014 will forever go down as the “month of many raptors” with two cracking patch ticks in the form of Hobby and Red Kite observed alongside the first Peregrines and Marsh Harriers of the year. Yellow Wagtail was another fine addition this month whilst the start of autumn migration threw up Lesser Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and another patch first, a Garden Warbler. The latter located after a most unpleasant half hour spent scrabbling around in the patches plentiful Bramble thickets. The highlight of the summer however was not an awe inspiring raptor or a scarce wading bird. It was in fact a combination of two exceedingly common and widespread species absent from the patch for almost a decade. I am of course talking about Moorhen and Little Grebe, both of which were duly noted in the closing days of August and helped give a new definition to the term “patch gold”. 113 species and four months to go..


As is the norm for this time of year the ticks began to ebb and new species were few and far between on the patch. This was the case almost two months until a tweet from Patchworks own James Spencer detailing the presence of a Rough-Legged Buzzard in the area caught me well and truly off guard. Dipping the bird the first day I was delighted to pick up the ghostly raptor early on the 24th watching the bird drift around the outskirts of Widdrington Moor Lake for ten minutes before it set off East and was never seen again.. At least by me. Following this two Slavonian Grebes on the aforementioned lake provided yet another new bird whilst a dreary walk across the opencast yielded yet another surprise; a single Snow Bunting. Two pointers aside my only other new additions this month came in the form of some c200 fly over Barnacle Geese, a charming female Stonechat and a pair of Grey Wagtail. The latter noted on my neighbours roof, comprising yet another new patch bird. 122 species.. Surely there was time yet for a final flourish of avian grandeur?


Well, truth be told 2014 was set to finish on more of a fizzle than a bang. Only 53 species were noted on patch this month with the majority seemingly vanishing into thin air. Despite this a few choice offerings could be found with Green Woodpecker heard yaffling from a unidentified loction near Stobswood Village. Green Woodpeckers on the Northumberland coast are like hens teeth thus the addition of this species to the patch list more than made up for the dreary feel of the early winter. Both Goosander and Pochard were likewise new for the year, both located on “the lake” whilst the addition of Fieldfare was somewhat overdue having missed them completely the previous winter. Not exactly the flourish I was hoping for though true to the nature of the site Stobswood held one finally ace up its sleeve and even the Woodpecker soon faded into obscurity following a sighting of an “unusual” raptor hunting the far shore of Widdrington Lake. After frantically unpacking scope the culprit was soon revealed and the unmistakable “ringtail” of a female Hen Harrier drifted into view, providing a rather nice county tick and of course an outstanding patch tick. Said bird stuck around for a good two months following our first encounter and was even kind enough to put on a show during the Northumberland County Bird Race. Supreme!

And there you have it. It appears the only way is up for Stobswood and in 2015 I hope to build on last year’s fantastic result. Indeed I didn’t produce any contenders for the converted “best find” prize nor did I find anything particularly rare (I can’t take credit for the Buzzard or Teal) though for me this is of little consequence. Patching for me is equally about the common, everyday species as it is the glamorous rarities. I will however go out on a limb make a few predictions for 2015; some of which are based more on desire than likelihood. I predict an American wader on Stobswood Pools, maybe White-Rumped or Pectoral Sandpiper. Likewise I feel “my” new lake has a lot more to offer and may well throw up a patch first Smew or more ambitiously an American Wigeon whilst a Woodchat Shrike at Widdrington Tip wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility..Only time will tell.

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