So long to last of summer visitors

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.

As is usual at this time of year, winter visitors continued to flock in while the last of our summer visitors hung on and a few migrants passed through the area.

A number of rarities were also recorded. The month was one of the warmest on record for October, so a number of plants remained in flower and a number of insects were still on the wing.

There were reported to be hundreds of redwings at the top of Lemmington Bank on October 1. Birds were later seen well inland as they spread out in search of food. There were for example 25 redwings over Powburn on October 12, and a further 12 redwing and two fieldfares were there the following day. Later arrivals were represented by the 100 redwings and 15 fieldfares at Hauxley on October 30.

On October 2, there were 1,800 Brent geese at Lindisfarne, of which 150 were dark-bellied the remainder being pale-bellied. There were 420 greylag geese at Hauxley on October 7.

On October 6, two skiens of pink-footed geese containing about 70 birds flew over Alnwick calling and moving towards the coast. There 1,000 pink-footed geese at Doddington on October 13. On October 14, 15 greylags called as they flew over Alnwick towards the coast.

The October count at Lindisfarne produced 350 barnacle geese, 4,000 pink-footed geese and 12,500 wigeon.

Whooper swans, recently arrived from Iceland, were seen at Hauxley Shore, Fenham Flats, Budle Bay and Branton Ponds with a maximum of 31 at the later locality on October 13.

Passage migrants included redstart, whitethroat and greenshank on Holy Island on October 3. Elsewhere firecrest, pallas’s warbler, yellow-browed warbler, subalpine warbler and red-breasted flycatchers were seen.

A corncrake was at East Chevington, nightjar on the Farnes, great grey shrike on Holy Island and a Siberian stonechat at Howick. A glossy ibis flew over Cresswell Pond.

Large wintering flocks built up throughout the area with, for example, 900 golden plovers over the Holy Island Lonnens on October 2. On the same date, there were 900 oystercatchers and 300 bar-tailed godwits near St Cuthbert’s Island.

On October 4, 100 pied wagtails were feeding on the lawn at National Trust Cragside. There were 80 lapwing at Hemscott Hill on October 7, and 250 black-headed gulls were on the Amble Braid mud.

There were 200 teal at monks House Pool on October 10, 100 knot were at Holy Island Causeway and 120 starlings by Holy Island Lough on October 10.

A flock of 10 jackdaws flew over Alnwick on October 15, 200 rooks and 100 herring gulls were at Low Hall Farm.

A chiffchaff was singing along the Commonburn Road on October 3, and a single house martin was calling incessantly for company beside the vacated nests at Alnwick Leisure Centre on October 5. There were still four wheatears on Otterburn Ranges on October 6. The last three swallows were at Hauxley on October 16.

Single buzzards were over Belle Vue Gardens, Alnwick, on October 6 and 12, and on Otterburn Ranges on October 6.

There were two birds along the Commonburn Road on October 3. A rough-legged buzzard was at Low Newton on October 21.

A female sparrowhawk and four ravens were seen at Langlee on October 3 and a peregrine falcon was at Emmanuel Head on October 7.

Kestrels were seen at Red Row, Clifton, Chevington Moor and Bolton. The kestrel suffered a collapse in numbers with the population down by 30 per cent in the last 25 years. It was once thought that kestrels could adapt to our modern life being seen in towns and hunting along motorway verges. There could be several reasons for the decline but most boil down to changes in agricultural practices. Readers are asked to report any sightings to the Hawk Conservancy Trust at www.kestrelcount.org

A roe deer was on the Otterburn Ranges on October 6, while four grey seals were feeding in Amble harbour on October 25 and 26. On October 27, there were said to be numerous fish in the River Coquet and numerous cormorants were also present. Red squirrels were regularly seen in the Powburn area.

Red and white campions, mimulus, white dead-nettle hedge woundwort, Himalayan balsam, herb Robert and harebell were in flower along the Commonburn woodland trail at Wooler on October 3. On the same day, bell heather was still in flower along the Harthope Valley and hedge bindweed was seen at Akeld.

Lady’s bedstraw, rock rose, yarrow, sea campion and white dead-nettle were in flower on Holy Island on October 10.

The fruit on elderberry, rowan, hawthorn and sea buckthorn awaited hungry birds.

Last month, it was reported that 80 small tortoiseshell had hibernated in bathroom at Tughall. Fearing for their safety, Butterfly Conservation suggested it would be better if the butterflies could be tempted into a cardboard box. The transfer exercise was carefully completed and the butterflies took to their new winter home.

A herald moth was found hibernating in a coal house in the area. This has been a record summer for moths, some gardens reporting well over 300 species.

There was hummingbird hawkmoth feeding on lavender in an Amble garden on October 3. This species is a migrant to the area.

A red admiral was in Belle Vue Gardens, Alnwick, on the damp, mild and misty morning of October 4.

A red admiral and a small tortoiseshell were on the yellow buddleia in the same garden on October 5 and 7.

A large white, four speckled wood and numerous small tortoiseshells were at Hauxley on October 7. The latter were feeding on rose hips opened by goldfinches.

Red admirals and small tortoiseshells were present in the Powburn area until at least October 25. Ivy flowers provided nectar for wasps, honey bees, hoverflies, blue bottles and a silver Y moth. Darter and hawker dragonflies were still on the wing mid-month.

l The next indoor meeting of the Society will be held in the Costello Centre, Bailiffgate, Alnwick, on Thursday, December 5, at 7.30pm. John Steele, the well-known local naturalist and artist, will give an illustrated talk, Natural Wonders of Northumberland.

A field meeting will be held on Thursday, December 12, starting from the north end of the Oldbridge in Berwick at 1.30pm, and along the Tweed estuary to look for wintering wildfowl in particular. Visitors are most welcome at both.