Mixed fortunes for birdlife, but moths thrive and flowers bloom


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

As the breeding season passed its peak the countryside and coast were full of young birds. The first of the late season flowers appeared along hedgerows, and the second broods of butterflies were on the wing. The creatures of the countryside appeared to be taking a rest after the frantic activity of previous months.

Our sea bird colonies had mixed fortunes this year. On the Farne Islands the puffin population was hit by heavy rain, which flooded burrows, reducing the number of chicks fledged.

At the Long Nanny tern colony there were around 2,000 pairs of Arctic terns. The 28 pairs of little terns suffered at the hands of a stoat feeding kittens and an Arctic tern pecking their eggs. They fledged five young, and while most re-laid, the success of the new clutches is not known.

There were 100 pair of kittiwakes with quite small young on the cliffs at Cullernose Point on July 2. There were 250 other birds on the cliffs and 250 on the rocks below. A further 50 were on the sea.

Shelduck seem to have had a good breeding season. There were five juveniles with six adults at Cresswell Pond on July 2. At Amble Braid pairs of shelduck had seven, three and one young, while at Cullernose Point there were seven juvenile shelduck and two juveniles with a single adult. The two pairs at Boulmer had four and two juveniles in tow.

Nesting eider ducks on offshore islands move their young to the mainland, and three females had nine young at Cullernose Point on July 2, where they were receiving the attention of a predatory black-headed gull.

The pair of mute swans at Druridge Bay Country Park had seven cygnets on July 2, and a pair of ringed plovers at the Long Nanny fledged two young. There were 50 sand martins in the Long Nanny dunes on July 2, and 20 were flying at Cullernose Point. There were 30 active nests at Sandy Bay on July 8.

A walk along Newton Links to the Long Nanny on July 2, produced a skylark, two meadow pipits, 30 black-headed gulls, two oystercatchers and a little egret.

In the grounds of Wallington on July 3, two marsh tits, a chaffinch, nuthatch, robin, blue tit, blackbird, tree creeper, great tit, chiffchaff and several moorhens with young were present.

At the Queen Elizabeth II Park on July 8, a chiffchaff, 25 black-headed gulls, four greylag geese and two moorhens were seen. At Druridge Bay County Park a chiffchaff, nine mute swans, 20 mallard and six moorhens with a single chick were observed, while at the Wansbeck estuary a whitethroat, little egret, cormorant, curlew, three redshank and 40 black-headed gulls were observed. Amble weir, on July 8, produced seven mute swans, three eiders and three Arctic terns.

Some large flocks began to build up. On July 2, there were 75 rooks at Howick Scar and 50 curlew at the Long Nanny, while at Low Newton 100 starlings, 30 greylag geese with four juveniles, 40 oystercatchers and 20 goldfinches were present.

On July 8, 28 eiders were off Spittal Point, 150 herring gulls and 70 starlings were at Sandy Bay, 75 mute swans, 70 Canada geese and 20 coot were at Queen Elizabeth II Park, and 70 black-headed gulls were at Druridge Bay Country Park. At Spittal Point, 10 sandwich terns were fishing and 10 house martins were hunting.

Water birds included grey herons at Cresswell Pond and Amble weir on July 2, Catcluegh reservoir on July 6, Druridge Bay Country Park, the Wansbeck estuary and three at Amble on July 8. An avocet was at Cresswell Pond on July 2.

Summer visitors were still seen and heard. On July 2, chiffchaff were at Hawkhill, Howick Gardens, Dunstan, High Newton and Low Newton church, a Blackcap was at Dunstan, a garden warbler was at Low Newton church, and whitethroats were at Howick Scar and Dunstan.

Autumn migration began with a ruff at Low Newton Flash on July 2, together with two black-tailed godwits. There were six lesser black-backed gulls at Ottercops on July 7. A further black-tailed godwit and a Mediterranean gull were on the Wansbeck estuary on July 8.

Kestrels were seen at Newton Links and Swinhoe, while a buzzard was at Kirkwhelpington on July 7. A barn owl flew along Burnside, Amble, on July 14, and one was at Craster on July 25.

Sea watchers spotted eight dolphins off Cullernose Point and a bottle-nosed dolphin off Newton Point. An otter was at Pauperhaugh and a dead roe deer was by the A68 at Rochester on July 6. Red squirrels were seen at Doxford Hall and near Whittingham Station.

A weasel carrying a shrew appeared in a Craster garden on July 24, followed by a hedgehog on July 31. A party of 100 grey seals hauled out and wailed on the rocks near Coves Haven on Holy Island.

On July 2, the first narrow-bordered five-spot burnet moths emerged from cocoons on Newton Links, and the six-spotted burnet emerged later, with three in Howick on July 15. The species pupate in a white papery cocoon positioned high on a grass stem or barbed wire fence. This is usually in full view of predators, but most seem to survive.

In the area of Emmanuel Head on Holy Island on July 21, 160 six-spot burnet moth caterpillars were feeding on ragwort, 200 cocoons were on vegetation and 50 adults were on the wing. A hummingbird hawk moth was on the lavender in a Craster garden on July 25. A common blue damsel fly was at Queen Elizabeth II Park on July 15, and three common darter dragon flies were on Alnwick golf course on July 23.

Nine species of butterfly were recorded. The commonest by a long way was the meadow brown, with eight at Longhoughton Steel on July 15, and six in Alnmouth dunes the following day. A painted lady, red admiral and ringlet were on Newton Links on July 2, with a common blue at Newton Point and five on Newton Links.

A red admiral was in the Alnwick orchard on July 2. A red admiral, ringlet and small tortoiseshell were at Wallington on July 3, and a ringlet and speckled wood were in a Craster garden on July 5. This later species is now the fifth commonest in the area.

There were two common blues, a small tortoiseshell and a ringlet in Sandy Bay on July 8, while small tortoiseshells were in Chapel Lands, Alnwick, on July 13, 17 and 21. A dark green fritillary was on the Straight Lonnen on Holy Island on July 21, and a peacock and red admiral were on the Inner Farne on July 23.

The roadsides were a great show of flowers, with creeping thistle, ox-eye daisy, meadowsweet, yarrow, hedge bindweed, honeysuckle, tufted vetch, rose-bay willowherb, great willowherb, cleaves and poppies. The latter were obvious on the River Aln bank at Lesbury.

The saltmarsh at the mouth of the Wansbeck was home to sea purslane, sea arrow grass, greater sea-spurrey and annual seablite. On the shore sea mayweed, sea milkwort, biting stonecrop, thrift, frosted orache, common orache and other species were found.

In the dunes bloody cranesbill, lady’s bedstraw, lesser meadow-rue, little mouse-ear, rest harrow, yellow rattle, toadflax, two species of dock, goatsbeard and grass were found. Hoary ragwort, common storksbill, devilsbit scabious, sea rocket, sea mouse-ear, common centaury and common mallow were also conspicuous. On the river bank wall barley, sea buckthorn, wild mignonette, weld, large bindweed and hemlock were growing.

On July 2, two pyramidal orchids were in flower on Newton Links. There were also three bee orchids, and several were flowering at Druridge Bay County Park on July 8.

As the month drew to a close the countryside fell almost silent, the only regular bird song being from the wood pigeons. Swifts, swallows, house martins and sand martins completed circuits over fields and water bodies, collecting insects.

The next field meeting of the society will be on Thursday, September 3, from Boulmer shore car park, at 2pm. The walk will take us along the coast to look for passage migrants and autumn flowers. Visitors will be welcome.