NATURE NOTES: Summer visitors getting ready to up-sticks and go

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

The breeding season was over for most birds and our summer visitors prepared to leave the area.

The osprey pairs with their three chicks at Kielder.

The osprey pairs with their three chicks at Kielder.

The mornings fell mostly silent as the dawn chorus became more or less non-existent and many birds preferred to skulk to avoid observation as they moulted their feathers. There was an abundance of wild food in the environment so visitors to garden feeders were few and far between.

The house martins were still feeding their nestlings in the 10 nests on Willowburn Leisure Centre, Alnwick, on July 2, and on the same day eight swallows were resting on a telephone wire at Denwick. A pair of swallows were feeding six fledged young at Newton Steads.

At the Long Nanny, the colony contained 2,400 pairs of Arctic terns together with their juveniles. There were, in addition, 32 pairs of little terns together with eight fledged juveniles. The terns appear to have recovered from the loss of 140 eggs and 40 chicks to badger predation earlier in the season. A fox, though, was still causing problems.

At the end of the month, eight ospreys had been ringed in the three nests at Kielder so their future progress could be monitored. In addition, trackers were attached to three of the young so their migration flights could be followed.

There were six adult and four juvenile avocets at Cresswell Pond on July 5. The adult birds were seen defending their young, which were scattered over the mud, against a heron, little egret and magpies, as well as oystercatchers and redshank, which presented no apparent treat. There did not appear, however, any attempt to keep the youngsters together.

Family groups and mixed flocks of adult and juvenile birds were seen throughout the area.

July 2 was a good day for observations. There were 45 black-headed gulls beside Holy Island Causeway but, as there were only three immature birds in the flock, this must have been a largely non-breeding flock. A mixed-age flock of 10 meadow pipits were on Holy Island Snook, as well as 20 starlings, many of which were in an immature grey-brown plumage.

There were flocks of 20 wood pigeons at Fenhamhill and Elwick, while in Budle Bay, 60 per cent of the great black-backed gull flock of 250 birds were immature. At Monks House Pool, a female mallard had five young in tow. The flock of 16 meadow pipits on Newton Links contained a family of four juveniles, while the flock of 30 goldfinches included young birds.

At Newton Pool, the pair of mute swans had five cygnets and the pair of mallard had three ducklings.

A family party of five wheatears were at Shillmoor on July 3 and a mixed flock of 100 starlings were on the Otterburn Ranges.

At Linton on July 5, there were flocks of 150 starlings and 100 jackdaws. At Linton Pond, the 22 adult Canada geese had eight young while the 35 coot had six young.

There were two female mallard with four and three ducklings respectively and a blue-tit family was in the willows.

At Warkworth Lane, a pair of shelduck had eight young and a pair of Canada geese had four goslings.

On July 9, swallows were feeding nestlings in two nests in Alnwick Garden Pavilion, while a house sparrow was feeding a fledgling in Fullers Walk, Alnwick. There were four moorhen and eight mallard chicks on the pond in Alnwick Garden.

Buzzards were seen at four widespread localities. The bird at South Charlton on July 2 was being mobbed by two carrion crows. Kestrels were seen at three sites.

A possible family party of six ravens were carrying out acrobatic flights over Otterburn Ranges on July 3.

At the beginning of the month bird song could still be heard with chiffchaffs in particular being heard at numerous localities. Yellowhammers were heard at Easington Grange and Linton Lane skylarks on Newton Links, willow warbler at Barrowburn and blackcap at Windyhaugh. A whitethroat and sedge warbler were heard at Druridge Pools. At the end of the month, those species had fallen silent.

Inland breeding species began to return to the coast.

There were 52 oystercatchers at Newton Flash on July 2 and 30 at Linton Pond on July 5. There were already 50 curlew at Linton on July5, and 162 were at Hauxley on July 17. On July 5, there were eight dunlin at Cresswell Pond; by July 8, there were 40 redshank at Hauxley, while there were 200 lapwing at Druridge Pools on July 22.

Birds also passed through the area en route from their northern breeding grounds. A whimbrel was at Holy Island Snook on July 2 and three were at Hauxley on July 22.

On July 3, a green sandpiper was at Cresswell Pond, while three wood sandpipers and 44 black-tailed godwits were at Druridge Pools. There were three common sandpipers at Hauxley on July 4, while on July 5, 10 little gulls were at Cresswell Pond together with two common terns.

A curlew sandpiper was at Druridge Pools on July 22, a little ringed plover was at Hauxley on July 23, and a white-rumped sandpiper was at Cresswell Pond on July 26.

There were 50 swallows preparing to leave Blakemoor Farm on July 5, and the 20 swifts over Blakelaw Road, Alnwick, on July 29, would soon be heading south.

Little egrets which are now breeding in the area were seen at Newton Flash on July 2 and at Cresswell Pond on July 5. There were two of those birds at East Chevington on July 24. On July 31, two spoonbills were at Cresswell Pond.

There were some interesting reports on July 3, with a white house sparrow seen at Rock Moor, while two crossbills and two spotted flycatchers were at Wedder Leap car park.

The rarity of the month was a stilt sandpiper, which was at Cresswell Pond on July 29 and 30. This bird breeds in the Canadian Arctic and usually winters in central South America. This bird was possibly blown off course by the strong westerly winds at the time. It is only the second record of this bird for Northumberland the previous one having been at Low Newton in August 2012. The long legs of this bird enabled it to wade into deeper water than similar species often up to its belly.

The swan goose was seen at Hauxley on 11 occasions and a bar-headed goose was seen there on four dates.

Contrasting vegetarian types were seen at different localities on July 2. At Peter’s Mill meadow cranesbill, giant bellflowers and common poppies were in flower.

At Holy Island Snook marsh helleborine, Lindisfarne helleborine, marsh valerian, bog pimpernel, water dropwort, marsh pennywort, wintergreen and pirri-pirri bur were flowering.

At Newton Links, dyer’s greenweed, lady’s bedstraw, bloody cranesbill and hare bells were prominent.

The following day at Barrowburn in Upper Coquetdale monkey flower, water crowfoot, meadowsweet, melancholy thistle, lady’s mantle, dog rose and thyme were observed.

At the end of them on the the broom and gorse had turned to seed. The nuts were abundant on the hazel and beech as were the seed on the ash and sycamore and the fruits on hawthorn, rowan, bramble and raspberry.

It was another good month for butterflies with at least 15 different species observed in the area. The ringlet was certainly most frequently reported with, for example, on July 5, 12 were at Linton, 10 at Linton Lane and six at Willowburn.

There were three dark green fritillaries at Holy Island Snook on July 2 and eight meadow browns were at Linton Mill on July 5.

There were six spot brunet moths and cinnabar moth caterpillars present at the Snook on Holy Island on July 2.

A common darter dragonfly was at the Cawledge viaduct on July 26.

A roe deer was unusually at Holy Island Snook on July 2. A mole was at Cavil Head, Acklington on July 5, a short-tailed vole at Tanners Garth, Alnwick, on July 7, a brown hare at Bilton Mill on July 26, and a long-tailed field mouse in Swansfield Park on July 29.

On July 3, an adder was basking in the sun in the Barrowbun hay meadows until disturbed by walkers.

The next field meeting of the Society will be held on Thursday, September 4, commencing at 2pm from the lay-by overlooking Budle Bay near Waren Mill. The afternoon walk will take the party around the bay to look for migrating birds in particular. Visitors will be very welcome.