Easterly winds bring some rare autumn visitors to our county

Emma Seed
Geese over Holy Island
Emma Seed Geese over Holy Island

The local countryside scene in October is reviewed by John Almond with the help of the members and friends of Alnwick and District Natural History Society.

The month was one of the most exciting and varied for birders as a number of rarities arrived, as well as large numbers of the usual winter visitors. On sunny days the last of our butterflies were on the wing and the ivy came into full flower, providing food for late flying insects.

Kestrel in flight

Kestrel hovering over a field near Humford Woods in Bedlington 
Albert Duffy
   Bedlington.
Northumberland.

Kestrel in flight Kestrel hovering over a field near Humford Woods in Bedlington Albert Duffy Bedlington. Northumberland.

As the chlorophyll left the leaves of trees and bushes, the rich colours of red, orange, yellow and brown appeared, producing a spectacular show.

Lingering summer visitors were reported.

There were three swallows over Budle Bay on October 6, with others at Creswell Pond, East Chevington and Linton Pond, and up to six at Hauxley on October 10. The last birds were probably those heading south from North Northumberland on October 15 and 16.

There were six house martins above the Woodland Walk in Alnwick Garden on October 5, and two at Hauxley on October 17, while nine sand martins were at Hedgeley Ponds. There was a redstart at Hauxley on October 5, and two late wheatears were there the following day.

The 30 song thrushes in Howick Gardens on October 1 were probably migrants from Scandinavia.

Fieldfares were seen at Hauxley and Howick, and six were at East Chevington on October 3. There were 100 redwings at Hauxley on October 12, two in a Craster garden on October 16, and others between Craster and Cullernose Point on October 28.

Blackbird arrivals were noted at Cresswell Pond, Druridge Pools, East Chevington and Linton Pond, while 100 were at Hauxley on October 12. There were six goldcrest at Cresswell on October 6, and five in a Craster garden on October 16. Twelve robins were at Hauxley on October 31, and a small fall of waxwings, with greenfinches and chaffinches, were feeding on rosa rugosa berries at Craster.

Passage migration involved birds probably heading elsewhere to overwinter.

A spotted redshank was at Cresswell Pond on October 1. On October 4, there were 18 black-tailed godwits at Monks House Pool, and two at Hauxley on October 28. On October 6, two greenshank were at Creswell Pond, with two at both Budle Bay and Holy Island causeway.

There were two yellow-browed warblers at Hauxley on October 7, and a Pallas’s leaf warbler on October 8. Six chiffchaffs were there on October 10, with lesser whitethroats there and at Druridge Pools on October 5 and 20 respectively.

Wintering goose numbers began to build, with 700 pink-feet at East Chevington on October 3, and 4,000 in Budle Bay on October 14.

On October 6, there were 240 pale-bellied Brent geese by the Lindisfarne causeway, and 600 barnacle geese in Budle Bay. October 19 saw 250 Canada geese flying north at Howick, and 1,400 greylags flying south east over Alnmouth in an hour.

Whooper swan numbers remained low, but five were at Hauxley on October 31.

A kingfisher was at Cresswell Pond and on four occasions at Hauxley. They were also seen at Thrum Mill, Rothbury, on October 4, and on the coast at Howick on October 28.

Two avocets were at Cresswell Pond on October 6. Small parties of goosanders were at Thrum Mill, Riverside in Rothbury and on the River Tweed at Berwick. Dippers were on the Howick Burn at Howick Hall and on the River Coquet at Rothbury. Little egrets were seen at five localities, including eight at Cresswell Pond on October 6.

On October 30, there were 20 grey herons and 10 mute swans at the high tide roost on the River Tweed, west of Berwick, while 75 cormorants were roosting off Berwick pier.

Some large flocks built up.

On October 3, 150 starlings were at East Chevington, with 200 at Smeafield on October 30. On October 6, 50 gannets were fishing off Budle Bay, while 20 goldfinches and 50 linnets were at Budle settlement. There were 150 great black-backed gulls, 300 common gulls, 400 shelducks, 500 wigeon and 500 herring gulls in Budle Bay.

A flock of 200 black-headed gulls were at Hauxley on October 6, while 200 lapwings were there on October 19. On October 30, 75 rooks were at Bilton and 120 were above Whitesand Shiel, Berwick.

A marsh harrier was at East Chevington on October 3. There were three buzzards over Alnwick Road, Lesbury, on October 10. Pairs were seen over the Aln near Alnwick Castle, Hauxley and Heckley. Single birds were at Warkworth, Hampeth and West Chevington.

Kestrels were over the A1 north of Morpeth, as well as at Craster, Cresswell, Druridge Pools, East Chevington and Hauxley. Sparrow hawks were at Cresswell Pond and Hauxley. A short-eared owl was at Cresswell Pond on October 4, and tawny owls were vocal at Howick.

There were 20 house sparrows in a Chapel Lands garden on October 22. In five minutes on October 23, 10 species were observed there.

There were seven long-tailed tits at Thrum Mill, and 11 at Cresswell Pond. A nuthatch visited the Riverside feeders.

The anticyclone over Northern Europe produced easterly winds, which brought a number of rarities. Holy Island was the landing place for many, including White’s thrush, Siberian accentor, Isabelline wheatear, red-flanked blue tail, red-breasted flycatcher, Isabelline shrike and Richard’s pipit.

A pectoral sandpiper was at Druridge Pools, a Baird’s sandpiper at Newton Flash, and a great white egret was at the Old Water, Warkworth. Little buntings were seen along the coast and a dusky warbler was on the Farnes. A king eider made its way from Budle Bay to Newbiggin on October 23.

Red squirrels were seen at Trewitt Hall on October 4, feeding below a beech tree in Howick churchyard on October 20, and at Howick Lodge on October 30.

There were 50 mole hills by the River Aln at Denwick Bridge on October 5, six rabbits were at Heather Cottages, Budle Bay, on October 6, and a pipistrelle bat was in the Dunterns, Alnwick, at 7pm. An underweight baby male hedgehog found in Craster on October 15 was taken to the refuge in Longframlington.

A harbour porpoise was moving south between Craster and Cullernose Point on October 28.

Plants in flower included yarrow, red campion, ox-eye daisy and devilsbit scabious in Bamburgh dunes on October 6. Foxgloves and rosebay willowherb were flowering at Heiferlaw. Hogweed, hedge parsley, white-dead nettle, stinging nettle and bramble were around Alnwick on October 13. Bush vetch and periwinkle were flowering by the River Tweed at Berwick on October 30. Sloes were ripe on the blackthorn at Thrum Mill on October 4, and on the recreational ground near Hulne Park on October 12.

There were six wasps on the pungent ivy flowers in Abbeylands, Alnwick, on October 12.

Tree colour change was dramatic from Coquet rail viaduct at Warkworth on October 30.

Shaggy ink caps, or lawyers wigs, were growing in Alnwick Pastures on October 12. On October 28, 50 were on the roadside at Widdrington Station. A parasol mushroom was near Arkle Court, Alnwick.

Red admirals were the most common butterflies in October. There were two in Alnwick Castle grounds on October 5, one in a Lesbury garden on October 10 and 22, and others in an ivy hedge at Hipsburn on October 16, a stubble field margin at Howick on October 16 and 30, and on ivy flowers on Alnwick golf course on October 31. On October 6, a peacock was in Bamburgh sand dunes, while six speckled wood and a meadow brown were at Budle. The painted lady at Hipsburn on October 16 would soon be migrating south.

The next field meeting of the society is on Thursday, December 1. Meet at Linton Ponds Wildlife Trust Reserve at 1.30pm. On the same day an indoor meeting will be held in the Costello Centre, Bailiffgate, Alnwick, at 7.30pm. Steve Lowe, head of conservation at Northumberland Wildlife Trust, will give an illustrated talk on Dynamic Druridge. Visitors welcome.