Summer visitors start to arrive to join the county’s resident birdlife

A tortoiseshell butterfly. Picture by Alistair Brook.
A tortoiseshell butterfly. Picture by Alistair Brook.

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

The first of our summer visitors began to arrive in the area, while resident birds commenced their breeding activity. The dawn chorus increased in volume, the roosting calls at dusk developed, the first butterflies were on the wing as species emerged from hibernation, and amphibians began to produce their spawn. A number of adders were spotted on warm days.

Grey seals were hauled out near Lindisfarne. Picture by Jane Coltman.

Grey seals were hauled out near Lindisfarne. Picture by Jane Coltman.

Sand martin, a swallow and ring ouzel were all spotted before the end of March, while the familiar song of the chiffchaff was heard throughout the area. The first was at Low Hauxley on March 26, and birds were heard at Howick on March 27 and 28. They were later heard in an Alnwick wood and at Alnwick Rugby Club on March 29. One was in a Craster garden on March 31.

The first returning sandwich terns were seen along the coast.

A great spotted woodpecker was drumming all month at Howick. Birds were also displaying at Allerburn Lea on March 17, and at the entrance to Hulne Park on March 22.

A blackbird was singing from a roof at 6.35am in Wagonway Road, Alnwick, on March 4, and another was nest building in Fairfield, Alnwick, on March 14. On March 15, a female blackbird with a beak full of nesting material was pursued by several others, and the next day two males were facing off in Aydon View, Alnwick. A pair of starlings were nest building in Arkle Court, Alnwick, on March 5. Lapwings were displaying over a field of winter wheat at Low Buston on March 11, as well as at Holy Island Lough on March 17. A jackdaw was collecting nesting material in Willowburn Avenue on March 11, as was another in Fenkle Street on March 30.

Rooks were also busy, and five were collecting nesting material at Alnwick golf course on March 14. On March 18, 20 rook nests were in trees near Rothbury recreation ground, and four were at Hope House on March 24. A pair of carrion crows were displaying on Holy Island Straight Lonnen on March 17. Another pair had a nest behind Aydon View. Magpies were renovating last year’s nest in Belle Vue Gardens on March 20.

Goosanders were making their way up the North Tyne and River Coquet to their breeding sites, and a pair of mandarin ducks were mating at Bake Thin on March 20. Two pairs of ospreys had returned to Kielder by the end of the month.

Two house sparrows were occupying a nest box in Fullers Walk on March 23, and four skylarks were singing above Amble dunes on March 26.

The RSPB announced the results of its Big Garden Bird Watch. The house sparrow remained the top bird in Northumberland, but starlings came second, bucking the national trend.

Long-tailed tits were in Belle Vue Gardens on March 3, and at Riverside, Rothbury, on March 6. Siskins were on the feeders at Riverside on March 14, and in Belle Vue Gardens the following day. A grey wagtail fed in Riverside Gardens, Rothbury, on March 9, and on March 18 a great spotted woodpecker and a nuthatch came to the feeders. A tree creeper was in an ash tree at Riverside on March 19, one was at Howick on March 27, and another was near the Tree House in the Alnwick Garden on March 29.

Pairs of bullfinches were in a Craster garden and Alnwick gardens. There were two willow tits in a Craster garden all month.

Winter visitors were still around. On March 2, 13 whooper swans were at Northfield Farm, Warkworth, and 40 flew north in V-formation over Low Hauxley on March 26. A redwing visited Riverside, Rothbury, on March 6 and 9. On March 13, pink-footed geese flew over Alnwick in mist, heading towards the coast. Male and female blackcaps were feeding on fat off Denwick Lane on March 16.

Some large flocks remained. On March 1, 15 mistle thrushes were feeding in a field at Howick. March 2 saw 200 black-headed gulls on the River Aln below Alnwick Castle, and 25 Canada geese were below the Lion Bridge. There were 100 lapwings and 50 greylag geese at Branton Ponds on March 3, and the next day 55 mallard, 30 teal and 20 wigeon were on the River Coquet at Warkworth.

On March 5, 70 chaffinches were at Longwitton, and 60 were on the stubble at Howick on March 8. On March 17, 250 starlings were over the Straight Lonnen on Holy Island and 100 were at Swinhoe. There were 150 teal in Budle Bay, along with 100 herring gulls, while 100 dunlin were at Seahouses. There were also 50 curlew by Amble weir, and 40 were at North Field Farm, Warkworth. On March 22, 65 jackdaws were in sheep pasture in Hulne Park, and 50 eiders were in Amble harbour on March 26.

There were three little egrets around Holy Island causeway on March 17, and one in Budle Bay. A pair of mature swans tried to land on Howick Pond on March 26, but were chased off by the resident birds. A dipper was on the Aln, between Peter’s Mill and Canongate, on March 2, and on March 18, another was on the Coquet at Rothbury.

Buzzards were daily visitors at Howick, while four were at Longwitton on March 5. They were also seen at South Charlton on March 7, and Belford on March 17. On March 20, a buzzard was mobbed by a carrion crow over Alnwick. Kestrels were at Learchild, Hampeth, Clifton, Tughall and Felton. On March 4, a sparrowhawk was trying to flush birds from a hawthorn bush in a Craster garden.

Barn owls were at Longhoughton, Howick, Battle Bridge, Craster and Little Mill. There were three hunting at Howick, at 6pm, on March 8. On March 20, two tawny owls were calling at Rothbury.

A shore lark was at Alnmouth on March 10, while two snow buntings were at Newbiggin.

At the start of the month frog spawn was noted in a Craster pond. On March 10, frogs we active in Belle Vue Gardens, croaking at 10.15pm. Frogs were on the move to Howick Ponds on March 12, while by March 13, there were three pairs in Belle Vue Gardens and masses of spawn on the pond surface at 5.30pm. A male newt was in a Craster pond on March 14.

Rabbits were in Abbeygate, Weavers Way and the rugby ground in Alnwick, as well as Warkworth caravan park. There were four hares at Howick on March 7, with singles in Hulne Park on March 22, and Craster on March 30. Red squirrels were in Howick Gardens on March 12 and 23, and two were at Low Hauxley on March 26. A pipistrelle bat was on the wing at 6pm, at Howick, on March 12.

There were 150 grey seals hauled out near Guile Point, Lindisfarne, on March 17, emitting moaning noises.

Lugworn casts were prolific on both sides of Holy Island causeway on March 17. These coiled casts would have been exuded from the worm during feeding. A circular depression in the sand showed where the mouth lay below the surface.

Blackthorn was in flower at Belford, and from Rennington to Denwick, at the beginning of the month. Dandelions and white dead nettles were flowering in the Warkworth dunes car park on March 4. On March 9, ivy leaved duckweed, blinks and water purslane were noted at Shaftoe Crags. A winter fungus was founding Bolam Woods.

Coltsfoot was starting to show at Howick on March 10. It was in Lady’s Well Drive in Hulne Park on March 22, and on the roadside near Craster on March 24. Lesser celandine was flowering on the Thomas Percy School footpath in Alnwick on March 14, while flowers were noted on the gorse and primroses in Hulne Park on March 22. Ramsons and dog’s mercury were in flower on the woodland walk in Alnwick Garden on March 29.

On a sunny March 14, peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies were in a Craster garden. A small tortoiseshell was in Alnwick Garden on March 29. A bumble bee and honey bee were on the wing at Howick on March 28, and a honey bee was in Alnwick Garden on March 29.

The next field meeting of the society is on Thursday, May 5, when there will be a walk through Hulne Park to look for river and woodland birds. Meet at the park entrance at 2pm. Visitors welcome.