NATURE NOTES: Bird species get on the move to ring the changes

Adult male siskin on feeder.
Adult male siskin on feeder.

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

The open, though sometimes wet and windy, weather continued in December meaning that some flowers lingered on. The absence of frosts meant fields and water bodies were available to feeding birds which consequently spread out in the area.

Pink-footed geese are taking hold at Doddington.

Pink-footed geese are taking hold at Doddington.

Winter visitors included 80 whooper swans in an oil seed rape field at Beal on December 4, and eight waxwings at Felton on December 10. Doddington is becoming a stronghold for pink-footed geese and 1,000 were there on December 19.

Long-tailed ducks were seen at South Low, Goswick, on December 4, and at Hauxley shore on December 7.

A late sandwich term was on the Farne Islands on December 1, and a greenshank was at South Low, Goswick, on December 4.

Little egrets have expanded their range in recent years so they are regularly seen in places such as the River Tweed at Berwick, Lindisfarne and Budle Bay. It was perhaps more unusual to find that one visited a pond in a Lesbury garden on December 9, where it joined a pair of Aylesbury ducks.

There were two juvenile ivory gulls between Seahouses and Beadnell on December 7, and two grey phalaropes were off Stag Rocks on December 26.

Bird species that were often thought to be resident in the area have been shown by bird ringing studies to move around the country.

Lesser redpolls that arrived at Lemmington Hall last year had originally been at Ellington as well as Retford and Worksop in Nottinghamshire. Siskins had come from Suffolk, Shropshire, Lincolnshire and Peebles. A goldfinch came from Gibraltar Point, Skegness, Lincolnshire.

Siskins that were ringed at Lemmington Hall arrived in Peebles and Shrewsbury. The latter bird had been ringed in 2009 which begs the question of where it had been in 2010, 2011 and 2012. It had also obviously lived for four years.

On December 2, six blackbirds were feeding on cotoneaster berries and crab apples in Belle Vue Gardens, Alnwick, and a song thrush was a rare visitor there on December 7.

On the latter date, a great spotted woodpecker remained long enough in the sycamores in Dilston Terrace, Amble, to be photographed.

At Coquet Lodge, Warkworth, great tits, blue tits, coal tits, a nuthatch, a siskin and family of long-tailed tits visited the feeders. Bullfinches fed on nettle seeds and dried brambles.

Starlings have been known for some time to perform acrobatic displays, otherwise known as murmurations, as they prepare to go to roost.

It is thought that the more experienced birds get to the centre of the flock as they settle in trees to evade predation and to keep warmer.

It is estimated that thousands of starlings were murmurating over East Chevington Reserve on December 3.

A combination of rough seas and a high spring tide led to floods on the Amble to Warkworth road on December 5, and a cormorant was the only bird present at the weir. However, 250 jackdaws, perhaps driven from the flooded fields, flew over Amble.

An observer beside the River Coquet at Warkworth on December 7, saw three pairs of goosanders fly past and a pair of goldeneye were on the water.

In Upper Coquetdale at Shillmore, three grey herons were present while at Barrowburn six mallard and three dippers were seen. One of the latter birds was signing.

On a visit to Hauxley Nature Reserve on December 7, pairs of greenfinches and goldfinches as well as five tree sparrows were taking seed from the feeders while five goldfinches were feeding on the teasel seed heads.

Reflecting the state of the tide, only small numbers of curlews and oystercatchers were observed.

There were two cormorants, two little grebes, four teal and a pair of goldeneye looking for food in the water. A flock of 100 wigeon with three Canada geese were grazing on the banks and 100 greylag geese were in the surrounding fields.

The south pool, hopefully soon to be linked with a circular walk, held 25 mallard, a pair of teal and a skulking water rail on the bank.

On walking down the coast to Druridge Bay Country Park, there was a bigger collection of waterfowl on the lake. There were 30 tufted ducks, 25 mallard, 20 moorhen, four goldeneye, three little grebe, three gadwall and three pochard. There were in addition five mute swan and two pairs of red-breasted mergansers. The gull family were represented by 50 black-headed gulls and 20 herring gulls.

On December 12, valerian, ivy leaved toadflax and oxeye daisy were in flower on the quay walls at Berwick. There were four red-breasted mergansers beside the old bridge, together with two pairs of goldeneye.

The walk continued towards the river mouth and, as it was low tide, 50 redshank, 50 curlew, 25 turnstone, 20 oystercatchers, 10 bar-tailed godwits and grey heron were feeding on the mud.

There were 25 cormorants sitting on the island in the river and three pairs of eiders were on the water. On the pier there were six pied wagtails and two rock pipits while 16 sanderling were on the little beach beyond.

A buzzard was eating a pheasant road kill at Howick on December 1, while other birds were seen on Chevington Moor and at Barrowburn.

A sparrowhawk chased a song thrush at dusk at Howick on December 5, and another scattered the small birds at Hauxley on December 7. Kestrels were seen at West Chevington and Barrowburn.

On December 8, there were two red squirrels at Cragside and four brown hares were regularly seen in the Harthope Valley. On December 12, a grey seal was under the New Road bridge at Berwick.

On December 2, a small tortoiseshell butterfly found in the lounge of a Warkworth house was moved to the garage.

There were 23 new species of moth recorded for the first time on the Farne Islands last year, including the swallow kitten. In all, 138 species of moth were trapped on Inner Farne and Brownsman.

The next field meeting of the Society will be held on Thursday, February 6. Those interested should meet in the Branton Pools car park at 1.30pm to look for wintering wildfowl and waders.

On the same day in the Costello Centre, Bailiffgate, Alnwick, at 7.30pm a member of staff from the Dove Marine Laboratory at Cullercoats will give an illustrated talk about the Big Sea Survey.

Members past and present are reminded that they are welcome to attend the special 50th anniversary celebration evening in the Costello Centre at 7.30pm on Thursday, March 6.