NATURE NOTES: Predators and the weather take their pick of birds

Swallows gather to head south for the winter.
Swallows gather to head south for the winter.
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THE LOCAL COUNTRYSIDE SCENE IN JULY IS REVIEWED BY JOHN ALMOND WITH THE HELP OF MEMBERS AND FRIENDS OF ALNWICK AND DISTRICT NATURAL HISTORY SOCIETY.

As the breeding season for most bird species drew to a close it was time to assess the success or otherwise this year when the weather has changed from one extreme to another.

The cold, wet spring had a particularly bad effect on butterflies but they seem to have made use of the mostly fine weather in July to get on with mating and laying eggs.

A spotted flycatcher was still nesting near Powburn on July 1.

In Belle Vue Gardens, a song thrush was taking food for young on July 1 and 5, a robin was collecting food for young on July 3, and a juvenile robin was present on July 5.

On July 4, blue tits, coal tits, song thrush and blackbird were reported to have nested in Royal Oak Gardens.

There was mixed success for the Long Nanny colony of nesting birds.

On July 4, there were 2,000 pairs of Arctic terns and 18 pairs of little terns.

Predation by a kestrel feeding young was causing problems with the subsequent loss of chicks and even adult birds.

There was only one little tern chick left at the end of the month, a badger being thought to be responsible for the losses.

A ringed plover was present on July 4, but the eight pairs that had attempted to nest were thwarted by black headed gulls.

Young starlings, blackbirds and house sparrows were feeding in Belle Vue Gardens on July 11, and the fat balls were reported to be disappearing in no time.

A pair of collared doves had raised two young in Chapel Lands on July 25, while young house sparrows and blue tits were being fed by their parents at Riverside, Rothbury, on July 27.

The breeding puffins on the Farne Islands made a strong recovery after the setback in March. There were thought to be 40,000 pairs this year, an increase of eight per cent since 2008.

The two brother ospreys each fathered three chicks in their respective nests at Kielder but two chicks in one nest died.

At East Chevington, the marsh harriers had five young but the avocets at Cresswell Pond were washed out. It is, however, thought that four pairs of avocets nested successfully elsewhere in Druridge Bay.

The shortage of caterpillars early in the breeding season meant that many young birds, particularly members of the tit family and tree sparrows,died of starvation in nest boxes.

However, later broods seem to have fared better and in a Warkworth garden three successive broods of tree sparrows were fledged from a nest box.

Bird song was reduced to a minimum in July.

A few species of finch, yellowhammers and the odd chiffchaff were heard but thrushes, robins and blackbirds went quiet as many song birds began their annual moult. When food is plentiful and the weather warm, they hide themselves away.

Adult birds may replace many feathers after the rigours of feeding young.

Some blue and great tits may literally go bald for a while but this is the normal process of moult.

Some species moult in preparation for their long migration south.

The swifts screaming over Alnwick on July 29 would not be with us for much longer.

Passage migrants included knot and dunlin on Coquet Island, 12 avocets at Cresswell Pond, green sandpiper, common sandpiper and black tailed godwit at Hauxley.

Wader numbers on the Lindisfarne reserve included 700 bar tailed godwits, 660 curlews as well as over 500 redshanks and oystercatchers.

Kestrels were reported from nine localities while buzzards were seen at Deanmoor, Eshott, Coquet Lodge near Warkworth and Bolton.

A sparrowhawk was hunting around St Paul’s Church, Alnwick, on July 3.

Red squirrels were noted in the Powburn area as well as a fox and a badger.

There were two hares playing in a field near Rothbury on July 3, while doe and buck roe deer were at Coquet Lodge on July 8 and 9 respectively.

A weasel was running along Riverside, Rothbury, on July 13, and a young animal was chasing sparrows on July 20.

The wild cattle numbers at Chillingham reached 101 and a white beaked dolphin beached at Amble.

A dead slow worm was fund on the track at Wooler Common on July 29. The slow worm is really a legless lizard.

On a warm, sunny, though breezy July 1, a silver Y moth was in Bell Vue Vue Gardens. An emperor moth caterpillar was rescued from the Common Burn Road, near Wooler, on July 29.

White butterflies were reported as numerous at Coquet Lodge with three small coppers, two red admirals and a few meadow browns and small tortoiseshell. Peacock and orange tip butterflies were seen near Powburn.

On July 4, on Newton Links, dark green fritillaries, common blues, ringlets and six spot burnet moths were present.

There were 10 small tortoiseshells feeding on thistles on Wooler Common on July 29. A single small tortoiseshell was also at Broadstruther.

On July 4, the elder was coming into flower and the tufted vetch was conspicuous along the A1.

On the same day common spotted and pyramidal orchids were in flower on Newton Links as well as lady’s bedstraw, bloody cranesbill, bladder campion and salad burnet.

The birdsfoot trefoil covered large patches of ground while there were also numerous bushes of burnet rose.

Rosebay willowherb, meadowsweet, ragwort and meadow cranesbill dominated the roadside verges in July. In the Cheviot foothills on July 29, bellheather and heather were in bloom.

Heath bedstraw was found and also some marsh woundwort.

The next field meeting of the Society will be held on Thursday, September 5, at 2pm.

Those interested should meet at Ingram bridge car park to look for autumnal changes in Cheviot flora and fauna.