NATURE NOTES: Welcome return for the visitors from the south

A cuckoo being fed by it surrogate mother.
A cuckoo being fed by it surrogate mother.
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The local countryside scene in May is reviewed by John Almond with the help of the members and friends of Alnwick and District Natural History Society.

The last of our summer visitors arrived in May and the area was soon full of young families of birds.

The roadside shrubs came into full flower and it was a good month for butterfly observations.

A cuckoo was calling near Titlington on May 3. Others were spotted in the Harthope Valley on May 18, being chased by a meadow pipit through Warkworth dunes on May 28 and in Hepburn Wood on May 29.

The cuckoo is regarded by many as the herald of spring and is well known for its characteristic call and parasitic breeding behaviour.

They are in declining numbers and this may well be due to problems in their wintering area in Africa.

The swift is also a much-awaited bird and the first was seen over Rothbury on May 4. A single bird was over Warkworth on May 6 and on the same date, two birds were over Howick Street, Alnwick.

A single bird was over Swansfield Park Road on May 7, there were five at Hauxley on May 15 and three were screaming over Alnwick on May 16.

Swifts are thought to nest around St Paul’s Church in Alnwick and they rarely land anywhere except at the nest site.

This has given rise to speculation that they must actually sleep on the wing. Swifts are long-lived for their size with an average life expectancy of nine years and the maximum record age of 21 years.

There were two ring ouzels together in a rowan tree along the Hawsen Burn on May 3. The ring ouzel is often called the mountain blackbird because it resembles its lowland relative but it has a white crescent across the chest. They feed on worms and berries, often seeking out a crevice in a rocky outcrop to nest.

House martins returned to Rock Moor Farm on May 6, four were over Swansfield Park Road on May 7 and they were said to be in good numbers over Alnwick by May 10. There were 10 feeding over Hauxley on May 23.

There were three singing willow warblers at Hauxley on May 1, a blackcap was singing at Riverside, Rothbury on May 3, a grasshopper warbler was at Druridge Pools on May 8 and on the same date two common whitethroats were at Hauxley. A whitethroat was heard in Smiley Lane on May 25.

Chiffchaffs were regularly heard throughout the area, seven sedge warblers were at Hauxley on May 14, and three reed warblers were at the same locality on May 21.

Common sandpipers were seen at Hauxely and Cresswell Pond white wheatears were seen at Hauxley, East Chevington and Cresswell Pond.

Birds on passage migration included eight wimbrel at East Chevington on May 1, while a grey plover in summer plumage and a greenshank were at Cresswell Pond on May 25. A curlew sandpiper was at Cresswell Pond on May 27, and 43 black-tailed godwits were there on May 29.

On May 1, a great crested grebe was on its nest at East Chevington closely attended by its partner while nearby a pair of stonechats were carrying insects suggesting they already had young to feed.

At the Carey Burn on May 3, a pair of dippers had four youngsters scattered along the Burn. There was possibly a further youngster as the parents kept returning to the nest site which was on an open rock face about four feet above the water. On the same date, a mistle thrush family was on Howsen Burn.

There were also five dippers on the River Coquet at Rothbury on May 11, and this number included two juveniles. There were 15 goosanders, including six males, on the River Coquet at Rothbury on May 7, while a female goosander had nine young at Hedgeley Lakes on May 16.

The mute swan pair at Hedgeley Lakes had five cygnets on May 16, while the pair at the Long Walk at Howick Hall had six cygnets on May 31. The first fledged starlings were seen in Belle Vue Gardens, Alnwick, on May 18, and the flocks of 10 house sparrows there on May 22 contained several juveniles.

On May 28, there were nine female and 32 juvenile eiders on the Coquet estuary, while a pair of mallards had four young on Kielder Water on May 29.

A great spotted woodpecker and a nuthatch were among the visitors to the feeders to the Coquet Lodge, Warkworth, during the month. A swallow had to be released from a Chapel Lands house it had flown into on May 25, while in the same part of Alnwick, a female blackbird has been stamping on the roof of a car to seek attention when it wanted sultanas.

There were still up to three siskins visiting Belle Vue Gardens on May 22 and a visiting jackdaw had a white collar resembling the daurian jackdaw which breeds in SE Siberia, Mongolia and NE China.

On May 1, in Druridge Bay a pair of marsh harriers were seen performing their famous food pass. Buzzards were seen on the Felton bypass, two were at Plashetts and one was at Billsmoorfoot. A kestrel was at East Chevington on May 1 and one was carrying prey at Harnham on May 29.

Unfortunately, barn owls were road casualties at Maidens Hall on May 1 and North Middleton on 30.

On May 29, a green woodpecker was feeding on the grass verge shortly before the entrance to Hepburn Woods car park.

An adder was the first recorded in a garden a Yearle on May 9. Slow worms were road casualties in the Harthope Valley on May 3, at Yearle on May 19 and on Beanley road on May 27.

Pipistrelle bats were seen all the month in Belle Vue Gardens, Alnwick, and soprano pipistrelles were regulars at Yearle with a maximum of five on May 10.

Roe deer were seen at Doddington, Lowick and Coquet Lodge, Warkworth and Amble, while on May 18, there were 12 hares at Hunting Hall Farm, Lowick.

As the gorse in many places turned to seed the broom came into full flower.

Hedge mustard and apple were blooming in Belle Vue Gardens on May 3.

There were a good show of thrift or sea pink in the Warkworth dunes on May 28.

Many correspondents reported a good month for orange tips and they were seen at Alnwick on May 6, and at Powburn on May 8.

A speckled wood butterfly was at Howick on May 8, and a wall was at Tughall on May 12. Red admirals were at Coquet Lodge, Warkworth and Embleton. There were five wall butterflies at Tughall on May 26, and a peacock was at Coquet Lodge on May 30.

The next field meeting of the Society will be held on Thursday, July 3, commencing from Wedder Leap car park in Upper Coquetdale at 2pm. We hope to look at the traditional hay meadows at Barrowburn with their associated flora and fauna. There will be an opportunity for a farmhouse tea at the end of the meeting.