The local countryside scene in December is reviewed by John Almond, with the help of members and friends of Alnwick and District Natural History Society.
In a mainly mild month noted for its rainfall and generally dull conditions, a hard frost descended upon Alnwick on December 11, while snow fell on high ground to the west of Rothbury on December 12. The following day was cold, dry and bright.
A number of plants remained in flower, but many winter visitors such as bramblings, redwings, fieldfares and waxwings remained scarce or absent. A number of large flocks of wildfowl and waders built up in the area.
Wood cranesbill was in flower on the Thomas Percy footpath in Alnwick on December 2, and the following day, cow parsley, yarrow, ragwort and white dead nettle flowers were discovered in Warkworth’s dunes.
Primulas were still in flower at Riverside, Rothbury, on December 6, and the last alpine strawberries were picked.
Buttercups were flowering at Greensfield Farm in Alnwick on December 8, and on December 10, feverfew flowers were spotted in Glovers Green and winter heliotrope was found in the old orchard near Alnwick golf course.
Oxeye daisies were seen on the Willowburn Banks on December 12 and Welsh poppies were spotted in Weavers Way on December 15, as were strawberry flowers in St Paul’s Park on December 17.
Daisies, harebells, primroses and red campion were noticed in flower at various localities mid-month. On December 22, valerian was seen in flower on Watershaugh Road in Warkworth and hazel catkins were seen along the River Coquet. The gorse was in flower on Alnwick golf course on December 28.
At Greensfield Farm, the ivy had black berries, while hips were on the dog rose and haws on the hawthorn on December 8. On the same day, a parasol fungus was observed in the pine plantations along the Cawledge Burn near Alnwick.
The only butterfly reported in December was a peacock disturbed in a wood store in Craster mid-month.
A few waxwings were seen in the Ashington area, and a fieldfare visited a Lesbury garden. Redwings were spotted at Seaton Point, near Boulmer.
There were 1,800 pink-footed geese in the Doddington area between December 1 and 12. A flock of 750 greylag geese were noted in Budle Bay, together with 1,500 barnacle geese. The numbers of pale-bellied Brent geese on Fenham Flats reached 1,500, but more unusual were the two birds of this species sighted at Alnmouth on December 16.
A woodcock, possibly a migrant, was seen at Redsteads Farm, Howick, on December 12. On December 13, 25 adult and three immature whooper swans were spotted in the field next to Shortridge Hall.
On December 3, there was a roost of 200 starlings at Ashington’s Queen Elizabeth II County Park. On top of that, there were 300 black-headed gulls at Widdrington, 250 golden plovers at Amble Marina and 60 knot at Birling Carrs, near Warkworth.
On December 4, there were 160 shelducks, 100 bar-tailed godwits and 50 oystercatchers beside Holy Island causeway, and 150 starlings were seen at Elwick.
A flock of 75 common gulls was sighted at Redscar Bridge, near Milfield, on December 6, and 100 herring gulls were seen in Weavers Way, Alnwick, on December 8. A number of the latter birds were paddling the ground to attract worms to the surface.
On December 13, 80 wigeon were seen at Hauxley Nature Reserve and 150 lapwings were in a field at High Hauxley.
At Duchess Bridge, Alnmouth, on December 16, there were 58 very vocal teal and 50 mallard, and on the shore 1,000 dunlin were present.
On December 17, 200 herring gulls were seen at Hebron, 200 lapwings were observed at the Coquet estuary and 150 common gulls were spotted in a flooded field at Otterburn Mill. A count of 100 sanderling and 65 turnstones was made at Boulmer Haven on December 29.
There were 500 jackdaws and 500 rooks at North Field Farm, Warkworth, on December 3, and the following day, 200 jackdaws and 100 rooks were recorded at Elwick.
A flock of 250 jackdaws was seen at Newbiggin on December 5, and 100 rooks were sighted at Chillingham on December 6.
The pair of magpies at Riverside, Rothbury, on December 9, was the first sighting in the area, and on December 21, 100 very noisy jackdaws were heard in the trees near the pavilion at Alnwick Cricket Club.
Moorhens were well observed during the month. There were five on the duck pond in the Alnwick Garden on December 2, and 15 were at Druridge Bay Country Park on December 13. Another was seen searching for food at Riverside, Rothbury, on December 15.
There were 29 coot at Queen Elizabeth II Country Park on December 3. On December 5, four male and two female goldeneye were at Amble weir and seven gadwall were on the River Wansbeck at Ashington.
A pair of red-breasted mergansers were seen on Alnmouth shore on December 16, and on December 18, a cormorant was fishing in the bog garden in Howick Gardens.
Warkworth’s little egret roost contained five birds during the month, and two birds were usually present in Budle Bay.
A male and female siskin visited the nyger feeder in Belle Vue Gardens in Alnwick on December 7, while 12 goldfinches fed from the feeders and on the ground.
On December 10, in Belle Vue Gardens, six collared doves and four woodpigeons fed on sunflower kernels, and on December 15, 10 collared doves were present. On December 11, 10 long-tailed tits fed on fat balls. December 12 yielded sightings of three male and two female chaffinches, and eight blackbirds arrived on December 13.
In Chapel Lands, Alnwick, a territorial robin was present on December 12, and 32 jackdaws settled on a rooftop on December 16.
There were 10 long-tailed tits on the feeders at Riverside, Rothbury, on December 23, and 20 siskins were spotted in the trees in Belle Vue Gardens on December 31.
Readers are reminded that the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch takes place over the weekend of January 30 and 31. To take part, watch your garden or park for an hour and count the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time.
The tawny owls at Howick were very vocal all the month. Barn owls were seen between Dunstan and Embleton, between Howick and Littlehoughton and between Howick and the coast. A long-eared owl was seen on a hedge near Wooler on December 11.
A sparrowhawk sat for five minutes in a Belle Vue Gardens fruit tree on December 9 after a failed chase. One was also seen hunting along the coast at Howick on December 14.
The only buzzard reported was the bird seen at West Chevington on December 6.
One kestrel was noticed on an electricity pole at Lynemouth on December 3, and others were beside the A1 at Haggerston and at Scremerston on December 4.
A kestrel was also seen at Newbiggin on December 5, and another bird was observed in a tree on Alnwick Moor on December 17.
A female roe deer was seen beside the A1 at Cawledge Burn on December 8. A stoat crossed the Bondicarr Road on December 13, and an otter was heard at night on the River Coquet at Rothbury on December 14.
A red squirrel was sighted at Howick Grange on December 15, and at about the same time, a grey squirrel was noted on Howick Long Walk.
In mid-December, two porpoises were seen off Dunstanburgh Castle, and a brown hare was sighted by the Cawledge Burn in Alnwick on December 26.
A walk along the strandline on Warkworth Beach uncovered bladderwrack, tangles, limpet, grooved razor, winkle, cockle, shore crab and carpet shell on December 3.
A purple sunstar was on the back at Alnmouth on December 29, and a codling was being eaten by a herring gull.
The next field meeting of the society will be held on Thursday, February 4, commencing from the Warkworth dunes car park at 1.30pm, prior to heading along the old water to the Coquet estuary looking for wildfowl and waders.
On the same day, a lecture will take place in the Costello Centre, Bailiffgate, Alnwick, at 7.30pm. Ornithologist Graham Bell will talk about the wonders of bird migration. Visitors will be welcome at both meetings.