Milder weather makes some linger for longer

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

The comparatively mild and open weather continued in November so a number of species lingered in the area longer than usual.

There were a number of bird movements offshore making some interesting sea watching and a number of rarities were also spotted. A few plants remained in flower, providing food for late flying insects.

An avocet was at Monks House Pool and two yellow wagtails were on the beach at Low Hauxley on November 10. There were four black redstarts at Newbiggin and a Siberian chiffchaff at Druridge Pools. A black guillemot and a great skua flew past Newbiggin. There were two barred warblers on Holy Island.

The black-headed gull is a very familiar resident bird and a few were reported to be developing their breeding plumage hoods. Less familiar however, are two of its cousins. A Mediterranean gull was on the Little Shore at Amble on November 10, while a Bonaparte’s gull flew past the Farnes on November 23.

Ospreys were spotted in the Upper Coquet Valley and on the coast between November 1 and 16. These birds would have been heading to their wintering grounds in Africa.

Passage off the Farnes included over 100 pomarine skuas and nearly 3,000 little auks. A storm petrel was also observed.

The mild weather and abundant food supply in Scandinavia meant that migrant thrushes and waxwings were scarce. A snow bunting was on Hauxley Shore on November 6.

Large feeding flocks of wintering birds were conspicuous throughout the region particularly at coastal localities.

On November 3, 75 black-headed gulls, 90 starlings and 110 lapwings were at South Beach, Blyth. On the same day 100 starlings, 40 feral pigeons and 25 black-headed gulls were around Blyth harbour. There were 50 starlings in Blyth town centre.

At the Amble weir on November 6, 25 mallard and 25 great black-backed gulls were present. On the Coquet estuary eight mute swans, 60 wigeon and 250 great black-backed gulls were present.

On Ladyburn Lake at Druridge Bay Country Park, two gadwall, two red-breasted mergansers, 20 moorhens, 50 mallard and 50 tufted ducks were observed.

At Fenham Flats 25 whooper swans, 300 pink footed geese, 300 barnacle geese were present during the month. The number of pale-bellied Brent geese reached about 2,500.

There were 150 lapwings on the Aln estuary on November 6, and 110 were over the Holy Island Causeway on November 13. On the same date, 120 Canada geese were at Hedgeley Ponds and 70 greylags were on Roddam Quarry Pond.

There were 100 common gulls near Doddington on November 13, and 100 were at Hebron on November 17.

On November 19, there were 65 oystercatchers on Amble Links while on the old water at Warkworth 150 curlew, 350 lapwings and 400 golden plover were present.

The highest number of wintering wildfowl must be the 9,000 wigeon in Budle Bay. An influx of grey plover occurred at Lindisfarne towards the end of the month.

There were six little grebes at Hauxley on November 6, and a pair were at Caistron on November 19. A dipper was seen at Powburn and four were between Bygate Hall and Barrowburn. Kingfishers were seen on the old water at Warkworth and at Branton Ponds.

The 25 mute swans at Ladyburn Lake on November 10, included 12 juveniles. One juvenile was being evicted by two of the adults. The 19 mute swans at Holy Island Causeway on November 13, only included one juvenile.

A pair of goosanders with a juvenile were on the river Coquet at Rothbury from November 26 to 30.

Elsewhere two bitterns and a red-headed smew were at East Chevington, a tundra bean goose was at the Long Nanny, a blue-winged teal was at Castle Island, Stakeford, and 12 long-tailed ducks were off Fenham Flats. There were 100 redshanks in Amble Harbour on November 22.

Little egrets were again widely reported. There were four at Beal Point on November 12, while on November 13, one was beside the Holy Island Causeway and three were in Budle Bay. On November 20, one was on the River Aln at Lesbury, one was on the Aln estuary and five were on Fenham Flats. There were also two on the old water at Warkworth on November 22.

A pair of marsh tits were seen on a daily basis on the feeders in a Craster garden. Flocks of six long-tailed tits were seen at the Cawledge viaduct on November 5, and in Swansfield Park Road on November 18. There were 14 blackbirds at Aydon View, Alnwick, on November 25, and these were probably migrant birds.

On November 29, goldfinches, great tits, blue tits and coal tits visited the Rothbury Riverside feeders. On November 30, a song thrush was hunting for snails and 10 long-tailed tits were in the trees.

In Chapel Lands, Alnwick, six jackdaws, six starlings, three chaffinches, three goldfinches, two rooks, two dunnocks and two blue tits were visitors on November 30.

There were 30 tree sparrows at Roseden while 75 goldfinches and 12 long-tailed tits were at Branton Ponds.

Kestrels were reported from Blyth Battery, Stannington, Beal, Felton, Elwick, Lowick, Tughall, Morpeth and Hadston. The Blyth bird was being mobbed by a carrion crow. The sparrowhawk at Branton on November 13, was also being chased by a carrion crow.

Buzzards were seen at the Cawledge viaduct, Alnwick Garden and Branton. A juvenile rough-legged buzzard was still in the Harthope Valley.

A hen harrier was in Druidge Bay on November 10, and a merlin flew across the old water at Warkworth on November 19.

A short-eared owl flew over Hauxley Nature Reserve on November 6, and a tawny owl was calling at 6.30am near Arkle Court, Alnwick, on November 28.

There were two ravens at Kidlandlee on November 13, and roe deer were spotted at Beanley and Powburn. On November 2, three animals were in a Riverside, Rothbury, garden after crossing the River Coquet and proceeding to Cragside.

A red squirrel crossed the road near Hedgeley Hall on November 7, but unfortunately a red squirrel was a road casualty at Wooperton and a badger at Barmoor.

At the middle of the month, the number of grey seal pups born on the Farne Island passed the 1,000 mark spread over Staple Island, Brownsman, North Wamses and South Wamses.

As the month progressed, salmon were making their way up the local rivers to their spawning grounds. At Berwick they would have to run the gauntlet of the resident grey seal.

There were a good crop of sloe berries at Cawledge on November 5. Hogweed and yarrow were in flower at the Greenrigg Bridge over the Aln Valley Railway.

On November 6, the ivy hedge at Ratcheugh was in full bloom. White-eared nettle, yarrow and smooth hawksbeard were in flower at Branton on November 13, and on November 20, a Welsh poppy was in flower at Arkle Court, Alnwick.

There were six puff balls in Kindlandlee Forest on November 13. On November 25, seven field mushrooms were on the grass verge near Herds House, Alnwick and a sickener (Russula emetica) was found in Hulne Park.

The last free-flying butterfly was a red admiral at Tughall on November 3, although several reports were received of small tortoiseshells entering hoses and out buildings to hibernate.

The next field meeting of the Society will be held on Thursday, January 8, commencing from Low Newton Church at 1.30pm. We will look for wintering wildfowl and waders along the coast and at Newton Pool.

An indoor meeting will be held on the same date in the Costello Centre, Bailiffgate, Alnwick, at 7.30pm. David Steel, head warden, will give an illustrated talk about the wildlife of the Farne Islands.