NATURE NOTES: Thousands of winter visitors flock to the coast

NARG 1401145AM1 Greylag Geese take flight  from The Wetland Bird Sanctuary next to Ripon Racecourse. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1401145AM1))
NARG 1401145AM1 Greylag Geese take flight from The Wetland Bird Sanctuary next to Ripon Racecourse. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1401145AM1))

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

The mild weather continued most of the month but around mid October winds around 70mph were recorded as the remnants of hurricane Gonzalo buffeted the region. As winter visitors arrived in greater numbers, large flocks built up along the coast and the first major influx of thrushes from Scandinavia was observed towards the end of the month.

There were 250 pink-footed geese at Hauxley on October 8, and 220 were present in Budle Bay on October 20.

The total count on the Lindisfarne reserve for the month was 6,000 birds.

Light-bellied Brent geese numbers reached 2,400 birds and 430 dark-bellied Brent geese were present at Lindisfarne during October.

There were 400 greylag geese at Hauxley on October 8, while numbers at Lindisfarne peaked at 70 birds.

A total of 4,000 barnacle geese passed through Lindisfarne during the month many of which would have been on their way to the Solway via the Tyne Gap. The peak count for Canada geese at Hauxley was 360 birds on October 15.

The peak counts for wigeon, common scoter and eider at Lindisfarne were 14,500, 315 and 300 birds respectively.

There were 70 mute swans at Lindisfarne during the month together with 30 whooper swans. The latter would be Icelandic birds and the good spring and summer there has meant a good breeding season with some families containing five or six cygnets.

There were some other large flocks of water birds including 70 gooseanders at Branton Lakes on October 1, and 20 moorhens at Hedgeley Lakes on October 10. There were 20 cormorants in Amble harbour on October 29, while flocks of 50 and 40 teal were in Budle Bay and on Monks House Pool respectively on October 30.

On the Druridge Bay reserve, maximum counts were 120 teal at East Chevington on October 8, 152 mallard at Cresswell Pond on October 9, and 50 gadwall at Hauxley on October 15.

Gull numbers also built up with 250 lesser black-backed gulls at Hauxley on October 3, 130 black-headed gulls at Druridge shore on October 8, and 250 herring gulls and 150 great black-backed gulls off Amble Braid on October 30.

The peak numbers of waders at Lindisfarne were 3,000 golden plover, 1,300 redshank, 1,000 knot, 500 oystercatchers and 300 grey plover. On October 30, there were 160 lapwing at Cresswell Pond and 220 at Monks House. There were 35 snipe at Monks House Pool on October 12.

Little egrets were again conspicuous and three were at Holy Island Causeway on October 29, and three in Budle Bay the following day.

On October 30, a kingfisher perched on a boat below Tweedmouth Lifeboat Station. It dived into the River Tweed and caught a fish but it was immediately pursued by a carrion crow.

Dippers were seen on the River Aln below Canongate bridge and in Upper Coquetdale. There were five grey herons at Hauxley on October 9, and on the Tweed estuary on October 30. Passage migrants included little stint at Cresswell Pond on October 2, and at Monks House Pool on October 12. A curlew sandpiper was at Cresswell Pond on October 2, and common sandpipers were at Hauxley on two dates.

There were 21 black-tailed godwits at Holy Island on October 12, while the following day five Pomarine skuas, three Manx shearwaters, a great skua and a little gull flew past Annstead.

There were 10 fieldfares at Eslington on October 22, but at the end of the month thousands of fieldfares and redwings were observed arriving over the Farne Islands. On October 30, 40 blackbirds, 40 redwings and 20 fieldfares were at Hauxley.

On October 30, flocks of between 45 and 200 starlings were seen at various locations between North Sunderland and Beal. It is likely that some of these birds were winter visitors from Europe and it will be interesting to find out where they are roosting.

A shore crab was being devoured by a curlew off Amble Braid on October 29, and the following day 75 curlew were present.

The mild weather encouraged some summer visitors to remain in the area. There were 26 swallows at Cresswell on October 2, and late afternoon at Seaton Point on October 4, there was a mixed flock of swallows and house martins but they had gone when the observer returned from a walk.

There were chiffchaffs at Alnmouth Station and in the Ingram Valley on October 5. On October 8, there were 13 chiffchaffs, two willow warblers and three blackcaps at Hauxley. A garden warbler and a migrating yellow-browed warbler were at Cresswell on October 9. A late common tern was at Stag Rocks on October 19.

The usual range of species visited the feeders in Belle Vue Gardens, Chapel Lands and Riverside, Rothbury. In Belle Vue Gardens, 20 house sparrows were on the bird seed mix and a wren was a regular on October 14. A party of eight magpies visited Chapel Lands on October 18, while on October 30, six goldfinches, three chaffinches and two greenfinches were present. A goldcrest fed with great tits and long-tailed tits at Rothbury on October 31.

On October 2, a magpie with abnormal plumage caught the observer by surprise in Rothbury churchyard as it had white on its head. On October 22, 100 rooks were mobbing a male kestrel at Alnham while on October 28, 100 jackdaws were noisily roosting beside the cricket pavilion in Alnwick.

Buzzards were seen at seven localities. On October 4, birds were mobbed by corvids at Smiley Lane and Canongate. A rough-legged buzzard spotted on the coast was relocated in the Harthope Valley.

A sparrowhawk flew over the Column Field, Alnwick, on October 14, carrying squealing prey. A bird was also at Rennington. Kestrels were seen at six localities including two birds on Holy Island. Barn owls were spotted at Hauxley, Christon Bank and Embleton while a short-eared owl flew over Hauxley on three occasions.

Rarities included a bittern and Slavonian grebe at Branton Ponds. A hoopoe, an olive-backed pipit from Siberia and a red-eyed vireo from North America were also observed.

As the month began, ivy flowers were providing nectar for late-flying insects. A few flowers were on the gorse and spider cobwebs were picked out by early morning mist.

On October 3, watercress were flowering on the Willowburn, Welsh poppies were at Arkle Court and honeysuckle was in the hedgerow at Denwick. Flowers were found on the white dead nettles at Lion Bridge, ragwort and hogweed in Abbeyfields, meadowsweet at Canongate bridge and red campion on the riverbank at Denwick bridge on October 21. Tufted vetch and lungwort were still in flower on the Riverside path at Rothbury on October 22, while yarrow was in flower at the Little Shore, Amble, on October 29.

The berries on many bushes and shrubs awaited the arrival of winter visitors. Beech nuts covered the pavement in Denwick and crab apples were in the hedgerows at Broomhill.

As far as fungi are concerned, fly agaric and cep or penny bun were found in the larch wood near Thropton on October 1. On October 3, two birch polypore or razor strop were on a tree stump near Denwick and on October 15, field mushrooms were in Weavers Way, Alnwick. At Aydon View, six shaggy inkcaps were on the grass verge on October 27, and the following day, 10 honey fungus were around the base of a tree.

On October 2, a northern eggar moth caterpillar was found on the Society’s outing to Harbottle Crag.

A speckled wood butterfly was feeding on the Michaelmas daisies in Belle Vue Gardens on October 1, and a further two of this species were near Chatton on October 8, and a single was in Morpeth on October 10.

On October 2, 13 red admirals were on Alnwick golf course and a comma was at Arkle Court. On October 7, red admiral, large white and small tortoiseshell were seen at Embleton while on October 11, painted lady, small tortoiseshell, peacock and three red admirals were seen near Powburn.

The last butterfly record of the month was the red admiral near the Royal Mail sorting office on October 25.

Unfortunately a red squirrel and three badgers were road casualties in October. A grey squirrel was in Felton and a fox was above Alwinton. A carrion crow was feeding on a brown rat on the A1 near Felton on October 2. A pipistrelle bat was in Upper Dodds Lane, Alnwick, on October 3. Brown hares were at Newton Barns on October 18, and at Alnham on October 22. A mole was scurrying about on the bank of the River Aln opposite Alnwick Castle and a stoat was on the riverside path at Rothbury.

The first grey seal pups were born on the Farne Islands and the numbers rose rapidly as the month progressed. On October 30, a grey seal was on the Tweed estuary and 60 grey seals were hauled out on the Holy Island sand banks.

The next field meeting of the Society will be held on Thursday, December 4, at 1.30pm from the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, near Woodhorn. We hope to see wintering wildfowl and waders as well as some woodland birds.

On the same day, an indoor meeting will be held in the Costello Centre, Bailiffgate, Alnwick, at 7.30pm. On this occasion Stuart Sexton will give an illustrated talk about the moths at Howick entitled Howick’s Dark Secrets.

Visitors are welcome at both meetings.