NATURE NOTES: Breeding begins as winter visitors remain scarce

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

The snow came and mostly went in January, although the remains of drifts still exist on the high grounds and in the dyke backs at the end of the month.

Winter visitors remained scarce although some snow buntings and whooper swans were observed. As early flowers appeared, some breeding activity was noted among our resident birds.

January 24 and 25 was the weekend of the RSPB Great Garden Birdwatch and when the results are published we will know which birds have chosen to share our everyday lives with us.

On January 5, two robins and a wren were at Arkle Court, Alnwick, while a pair of bullfinches were in Merchants Gardens, also Alnwick. On January 9, two wood pigeons were in Fullers Walk in Alnwick. On January 21, 10 house sparrows and nine blackbirds were in Swansfield Park Road.

At Riverside, Rothbury, on January 25, six long-tailed tits, coal tits, a robin, a greenfinch and a nuthatch came to the feeders while a wren, dunnocks and blackbirds fed on the ground. On January 27, a goldfinch and a treecreeper were in Weavers Way, Alnwick.

There were 15 black-headed gulls in Fullers Walk, Alnwick, on January 4, and 200 were on the football field on January 27. As the month progressed, many of these birds were changing to their breeding plumage with a chocolate brown head.

On January 8, at least three pairs of fulmars were back to claim their breeding ledges at Cullernose Point.

On January 23, three great spotted woodpeckers visited the feeders at Wallington Hall and one bird was heard drumming.

Blackbirds and robins were displaying territorial behaviours and began singing. Members of the tit and sparrow families were noted inspecting nest boxes but it would be later before serious nest building would begin.

On January 2, a black-throated diver was off Warkworth beach and probably the same bird was at East Chevington, while a long-tailed duck was at East Chevington on January 15, along with two pintail.

There were three red-necked grebes off Holy Island during January, while black-necked grebes were at Bamburgh, Seahouses and East Chevington.

There were 14 whooper swans beside the Coquet estuary on January 8, while 22 of these birds were in a rape field north of Warkworth on January 23. A single Bewick swan was at Newton Flash.

A single Ross’s goose was with 4,000 pink-footed geese in Druridge Bay, five Greenland white-fronted geese were at Warkworth Lane and five tundra bean geese were at Bothal.

A black redstart was overwintering at Spittal Point, Newbiggin, while 19 snow bunting were at North Blyth and 30 at Boulmer.

A single waxwing was located on Holy Island and two were in Morpeth. There were 25 redwings at Rugley Farm on January 8.

There were 20 common scoters off Berwick on January 2, and a black scoter was with the common scoter flock off Cheswick. There was little auk passage mid-month with 130 flying past Newbiggin.

Stonechat numbers have been down recently so it was nice to find pairs at Low Newton and Newton Pool on January 8, and also at Hauxley on January 27.

Crossbills were found in the Sweethope Lough woodland and lesser redpolls were at East Chevington, great grey shrikes were at West Hartford on Harwood.

There were two gooseanders (both male birds) on the River Tweed at Berwick on January 2. There were two secretive water rails at Newton Pools on January 4, and two were at Cresswell Pond on January 22.

On January 8, there were 12 mallard, two gadwall and a male goldeneye on Newton Pool.

On nearby Low Newton Flash, 250 golden plover, 200 wigeon, 35 greylag geese, 20 teal, 10 mute swans and 16 curlew were present. On the shore at Newton Point, 50 oystercatchers, 50 starlings, 25 purple sandpipers, five ringed plovers, three turnstones, two dunlin, a rock pipit and a cormorant were located.

A great black-backed gull was eating a crab in Craster harbour.

As is usual at this time of year, some large feeding and roosting flocks were observed. On January 5, 120 lapwings were on the Coquet Estuary. A flock of 150 rooks and 80 jackdaws flew over Warkworth on their way to roost. In addition 100 rooks were in a stubble field at Longhirst, 100 were at Cresswell Pond while on January 8, 250 were at Warenford.

There were 150 starlings at Cresswell Pond on January 5, and 100 were at Christon Bank on January 8. A flock of 400 wigeon were on Cresswell Pond on January 5, while on January 8, 60 dunlin and 50 sanderling were at Boulmer.

Barn owls were reported from Denwick, Little Mill, Stamford and Eshott. A short-eared owl was seen at Stobswood.

Kestrels were seen at 10 localities from Cresswell Pond in the south to Bamburgh dunes in the north, Low Newton in the east and Newton on the Moor in the west.

Sparrow hawks were seen at Hauxley on four occasions and on January 10, a female had wood pigeon prey in Plessey Woods.

Common buzzards were at Linton Pond, Hauxley, and Wallington Hall while a rough-legged buzzard was at Broadstruther on January 30.

There were 15 razor shells on Warkworth beach on January 2, and a dead shore crab was in Embleton Bay on January 8. A grey seal was off Newton Point on the latter date.

Mole activity was indicated by the 70 mole hills on Alnwick Golf Course on January 3, and on January 5, a hare was near Little Mill crossing. There were two brown hares and three roebucks near Cawledge bridge on January 15.

As many as five red squirrels were at Hauxley Wildlife Trust Reserve on January 20, as well as 80 per cent white, and 20 per cent brown stoat. Unfortunately, a grey squirrel was at Wallington Hall on January 23.

There were 70 winter heliotrope flowers near Orchard Cottage, Alnwick Golf Course, on January 3, and they were on the grass verge near Dunston on January 8.

Snowdrops were out at Rock Hall on January 5, Harbottle on January 6, The Alnwick Garden on January 14, and Riverside, Rothbury, on January 25.

A Welsh poppy was in flower in Alnwick Golf Course car park on January 5, and on January 12, buttercups were in flower at East Cawledge Farm and Arkle Court.

The flowers of white dead nettle, gorse, dandelion, daisy, winter aconite, hazel, willow and alder were widespread in the area.

The cones of Norway Spruce were strewn on the ground in Cawledge Wood on January 15, after a gale and the first leaves on the elder in Arkle Court appeared on January 25.

The next field meeting of the Society will be held on Thursday, March 5. Members and friends are invited to meet at the entrance to Hulne Park, Alnwick, at 1.30pm to look for early spring flowers as well as woodland and river birds.

In the evening of the same day the 51st anniversary agm of the Society will be held in the Costello Centre, Bailiffgate, Alnwick, at 7.30pm. Following the business meeting Philip Hanmer will give an illustrated talk about one of his foreign visits in search of birds and other wildlife.

NATURE NOTES: Read the review of the countryside in December – Scandinavians stay put as winter visitors flock in