NATURE NOTES: Mild and wet but there were signs of spring to come

Barn owl boxes being installed in Marsden by Colin Shawyer from the Wildlife Conservation Partnership.
Barn owl boxes being installed in Marsden by Colin Shawyer from the Wildlife Conservation Partnership.

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

February was a mild, wet and dull month. The open weather again meant that wildfowl could spread out throughout the region in search of food and birds were more reluctant to visit garden feeders. A number of signs of spring were also observed.

Gorse comes into flower.

Gorse comes into flower.

Great tits, blue tits, coal tits, long-tailed tits and a nuthatch came to the feeders at Coquet Lodge, Warkworth, but were not frequent visitors probably because it was not that cold. Dunnocks were noted displaying at this locality.

A nuthatch was on a mossy wall at Warton on February 3. Siskins returned to garden feeders with a pair in Chapel Lands on February 5, and up to 10 birds alternating between Belle Vue Gardens and the trees at St Paul’s Church on February 6.

On February 26, six siskins fed on sunflower kernels in Bell Vue Gardens.

There were three long-tailed tits on the fat balls in Belle Vue Gardens on February 11, but the best day of 2014 so far was February 21, when 17 species were observed between 7.45am and 9am. These were song thrush, blackbird, siskins, dunnock, robin, house sparrow, chaffinch, wren, collared dove, wood pigeon, jackdaw, goldfinch, bull finch, staling, great tit, blue tit and coal tit.

Readers are reminded to ensure that their feeders and bird tables are thoroughly cleaned to avoid the spread of disease. It is also advisable to change the water in bird baths regularly.

The usual winter visitors, namely redwings, fieldfares and waxwings, remained scarce.

There were three goldeneye at Amble weir on February 3, and 21 were at East Chevington on February 9.

There were 60 birds at Berwick on February 11, three were displaying at Catcleugh reservoir on February 22, while back at Amble weir, eight were present on February 24.

On February 6, a green-winged teal was at Druridge Pools and nine goosanders were at Branton Pools. There were 100 wigeon on the river Aln at Lesbury on February 12, and 750 were at Cresswell on February 20.

There were 30 bramblings below the feeders at Wallington bird hide on February 7, and two were in a Howick Street garden on February 22.

On February 2, the River Aln was in spate and upstream of Canongate bridge a dipper was fishing in the turbulent water. On the same date, 20 mallard were on Abbeylands Pond. A little grebe, a moorhen and 50 mallard were on the River Aln below Alnwick Castle. A pair of dippers were displaying below Canongate bridge on February 9.

A crane was seen at Emmanuel Head on February 7, and bitterns were spotted at Berwick and Cresswell.

There were 1,500 pink-footed geese at Cresswell on February 10, and 100 Canada geese were at Hauxley on February 12.

There were 235 greylag geese at Hauxley on February 24, and Hauxley was also visited by two dark-bellied Brent geese and a single lesser white-fronted goose.

Flocks of 300 lapwings were at Druridge Pools and Fenwick on February 6 and 15 respectively. There were 80 jackdaws over Belle Vue Gardens on February 2, and 150 were at Deanmoor on February 6.

There were 150 rooks at each of Brandon and Belsay while over 1,000 starlings were at East Chevington on four occasions. A flock of 100 wood pigeons were in the Ghost Plantation near Shortridge Hall on February 12.

On February 12, 100 black-headed gulls were at Druridge Bay Country Park included three birds with completely black heads.

A great spotted woodpecker was drumming most of the month at Coquet Lodge, Warkworth while birds were also heard at Riverside, Rothbury on February 17, and at Howick on the same date.

There were five pairs of skylarks singing at Newton Point on February 6, while two displaying mallard and a yaffling green woodpecker were at Wallington on February 7.

In Belle Vue Gardens on February 17, while a song thrush and a great tit were signing a female blackbird was collecting nesting material.

On February 23, eight grey herons were at their breeding site at Howick Pond and five song thrushes were in full song near Loanhead House.

There were eight pied wagtails beside a hayrack in a Howick field on February 11, and 60 linnets were at Lowsteads, Longhoughton. Stonechats have become rather scarce but pairs were at Lowsteads and Warkworth this month.

Tawny owls were calling at Wallington and Riverside, Rothbury and a barn owl was perched on a fence post at Howick on February 9.

Barn owl boxes were found to be occupied near Rock, Boulmer, Craster, Howick, Foxton and Warkworth when checked over the last two weekends of the month.

There were, however, only a few boxes occupied inland where the population has not recovered from bad winters.

Kestrels and buzzards were each spotted at three localities, one kestrel was mobbed by two carrion crows and three buzzards were together at Hauxley on February 10.

A sparrowhawk was at Stannington and a merlin at Edlingham while ospreys passed through Kielder and East Chevington.

A badger was a road casualty on Belford Moor on February 4. Pairs of roe deer were at Branton Pools and Goswick. Red squirrels were spotted at Howick and Wallington.

There were five hares at South Charlton on February 16. The first frog appeared in Belle Vue Gardens on February 23.

A willow tree was in full flower beside Abbeylands Pond on February 2. Hazel, alder and sallow catkins were conspicuous at Branton Pools on February 6, and feverfew was also in flower.

Dog’s mercury was in flower along Smiley Lane on February 23, and by the end of the month the first coltsfoot and lesser celandine flowers were observed. Gorse bushes throughout the area came into full bloom.

The next indoor meeting of the Society will be held in the Costello Centre, Bailiffgate, Alnwick on Thursday, April 3, at 7.30pm.

On this occasion Chris Livsey, Conservation Officer for the MOD Otterburn training area will give an illustrated talk about conservation on the Otterburn Ranges.

A field meeting will be held on Thursday, April 10, for a walk to see spring flowers and bird activity on Ford Moss commencing from the Reserve entrance at 2pm.