NATURE NOTES: No lack of wildlife despite driest September yet

A grey heron having a morning snack on Holywell Pond. Picture by Jim Jones
A grey heron having a morning snack on Holywell Pond. Picture by Jim Jones

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

September was the driest on record and standing in a local wood on a calm day at the end of the month, the only sound was of the dead, multi-coloured leaves dropping to the ground.

The lack of moisture had not prevented the usual range of fungi to appear on the woodland floor among the fallen leaves. Butterflies remained on the wing during the month and the first winter visitors arrived.

The remaining swallows gathered in flocks prior to flying south. There were, for example, 75 at Holystone and 25 at Longframlington on September 1. On September 3, 20 swallows were in Widdrington Village and a family of birds were still roosting in a nest in Highfield Park, Alnwick.

On September 6, small numbers of swallows remained at various farms in the Upper Coquet Valley, but a massive 300 birds gathered on the power lines near the A1 at Warenford. The last birds seen were the two over Tumbleton Lake, Cragside, on September 20.

A flock of 100 house martins had gathered at Alnwick cricket ground on September 8 and eight flew over Chapel Lands on September 11. The last bird seen was a nestling at the council offices, Greensfield Industrial Estate, Alnwick, on September 12.

A willow warbler was still in the Wooler area on September 2, while chiffchaffs were heard at Bilton and in Belle Vue Gardens, Alnwick.

A wheatear was at Newbiggin on September 29.

Terns on the move included 10 sandwich terns at Warkworth shore on September 3, while the following day, five Arctic terns were at Beadnell and 400 were in Budle Bay.

On September 1, two female goldeneyes had returned to Cresswell Pond together with 34 dunlin and a single wigeon post breeding flock of 175 curlews, 150 lapwings and 30 ringed plovers had gathered on the Aln estuary on September 3.

A skein of 70 pink-footed geese flew over Alnwick on September 24, while a first winter snow bunting was at the bathing hut, Howick, on September 27.

Passage migrants included five ruff, three black-tailed godwits, two little stint, two common sandpipers and a curlew sandpiper at Cresswell Pond on September 1. There were five whimbrel there on September 2 and a Mediterranean gull arrived on September 3.

Little egrets were seen at three localities with a maximum of four at Cresswell Pond on September 1.

A spoonbill was also at this locality on September 2.

Grey herons were reported from six localities, with three in a field at Hauxley on September 3 and four over Alnmouth Station on September 10.

There were four grey wagtails on the River Coquet near Rothbury on September 7 and a pair were there on September 15.

There were a possible three kingfishers on the River Coquet near Rothbury on September 7 and on September 21, a bird was grappling with a 10cm fish for about 10 minutes. The kingfisher tried to subdue the fish and manipulate it to be swallowed, but it failed in this aim and the fish dropped into the river.

On September 6, two adult mute swans and five cygnets were on the River Coquet at Rothbury. A female mute swan was ringed at Ellington Pool on August 8, 1998, with a ring bearing the letters FUZ. This bird bred most year at Howick Pond until she disappeared in early 2013 and was presumed dead. However, FUZ, now 16 years old, has been located at Lee Moor Farm pool with a mate and cygnets.

A number of species formed large post-breeding feeding flocks. On September 1, 65 rooks were at Warton and 70 were at Newton. There were 120 rooks at Harbottle on September 6 and 400 were in a stubble field at Hadston.

On September 4, 1,200 herring gulls, 500 black-headed gulls, 500 starlings, 125 linnets and 25 golden finches were around Budle Bay. There were 35 house sparrows at Harbottle on September 6.

Garden reports included eight starlings in Belle Vue Gardens on September 9.

On September 11, four juveniles greenfinches were being fed by four adults on a Chapel Lands lawn while two wrens were in another garden on September 17. A male blackbird was feeding by street lighting at 7.30pm in Belle Vue Gardens on September 25.

A barn owl was at Rothley on September 1 and on the same day a female merlin was at Cresswell Pond. A buzzard flew over Warkworth Dunes on September 3, another was in Budle Bay on September 4, while an adult and juvenile were over Belle Vue Gardens, Alnwick, on September 7. A kestrel was at Warkworth shore.

On September 13, a stand-off between a cat and sparrowhawk took place in Chapel Lands, Alnwick. The cat won and, fortunately, the sparrowhawk was able to fly off. There were still some young birds around as represented by the 19 mallard ducklings on the River Coquet at Warkworth on September 5.

Farmland birds included three red-legged partridge at Farnham Moor on September 1 and eight at Blindburn on September 6. There were five linnets at Little Tosson on September 1.

A grey seal was at Birling Carrs, Warkworth, on September 5, while on September 10, a grey squirrel was at Bolton and a wood mouse was in the Alnwick Garden.

A young frog was on Weetwood Moor near Wooler on September 2.

There were three emperor dragonflies on Weetwood Moor on September 2. The male is easily identified by its deep blue abdomen with a black line running down the back. The female has a greenish-blue abdomen.

A number of local oak trees have been shown to have knopper galls which are hard irregular umbrella-like objects on their acorns. They are caused by a gall wasp.

When the female lays her eggs in the tissue of the tree and the eggs hatch, the gall swells up around the grub. The larvae feed on the nutritious tissues without appearing to harm the host.

The next field meeting of the Society will start from the main car park at Druridge Bay Country Park at 1.30pm on Thursday, November 6. We hope to see the first wintering wildfowl and waders. On the same date, a lecture will be given in the Costello Centre, Bailiffgate, Alnwick at 7.30pm. Hazel Makepeace from The Natural History Society of Northumbria will tell those assembled about Northumberland’s bats. Visitors will be most welcome at these meetings.