NATURE NOTES: Blaze of colour in mellow times

Photos from Northumberland by Gavin Elliott of AmblePhotos from Northumberland by Gavin Elliott of Amble
Photos from Northumberland by Gavin Elliott of AmblePhotos from Northumberland by Gavin Elliott of Amble

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.

As the unseasonably mild spell of weather continued throughout the month, many trees retained their coloured leaves.

The larch, silver birch, oak and beech trees stood out in particular and there were fine displays at New Moor House, Corby’s Crags and Powburn.

As a few large flocks of wintering birds built up, the first snow bunting and bramblings appeared. Three species of butterfly remained on the wing.

Winter visitors continued to be seen in the area. There were 50 fieldfares at Barrowburn on November 3, 25 were at South Middleton on November 6, 50 were at Prestwick Carr on November 5, and 45 at Corbys Crags on November 17.

The only report of redwings was of the 20 birds which flew over Belle Vue Gardens in Alnwick on November 11.

The 65 blackbirds at Howick on November 11 were no doubt migrants as were the 40 mistle thrushes at the same locality on November 28.

Single woodcocks were at Howick on November 6, 18, and 19. A further single bird was at Foxton on November 10, while two were at Boulmer on November 18.

There were a pair of adults plus four juvenile whooper swans near Powburn on November 4.

A herd of 11 whooper swans were in the fields opposite Amble weir on November 14 and eight were on the Coquet estuary on November 17.

A skein of 70 pink-footed geese flew over Belle Vue Gardens, Alnwick, on November 13, while 500 were at Cresswell on November 14.

A single snow bunting was at Howick on November 4. There were two bramblings with redwings and fieldfares at Branton on November 6.

A barn owl flew across Longhorsley Moor on November 4, while tawny owls were calling at Howick on November 8 and 10.

Kestrels were seen at Stannington, South Middleton and Newton-by-the-Sea, while a sparrowhawk was at the top of an oak tree in Belle Vue Gardens, Alnwick, on November 19.

Buzzards were seen at Maidens Hall, South Middleton, Roddam Quarry, Alndyke and Lowick.

The three birds at Howick on November 5, were calling to each other, while the bird over Belle Vue Gardens on November 13 was being mobbed by a herring gull.

At high tide on November 4, 40 curlew were feeding at Moorhouse Farm and 20 curlew were at Low Hauxley.

There were 140 common scoter offshore at Bamburgh on November 5, while 60 mallard were on Roddam Quarry pond on November 6.

At Berwick Cricket Club on November 7, 12 pied wagtails and 50 oystercatchers were present.

It was also on November 7 that 90 wigeon, 30 teal and 20 mallard were on Alnmouth wetlands, 300 black-headed gulls and 150 wigeon were in Budle Bay and 150 black-headed gulls were on Monks House Pool.

November 9, produced 300 herring gulls at both Foxton and Alnmouth shores. There were also 100 black-headed gulls and 50 curlew at Foxton while 50 rooks and 50 jackdaws were at Boulmer.

On November 14, 200 lapwing and 150 wigeon were on Cresswell Pond while on November 17, 120 lapwings were on the Coquet estuary.

There were three dippers at Barrowburn on November 3 and birds were also seen at Thrum Mill on November 16. There were also four goosanders at Barrowburn on November 2 and three red-throated divers were off Bamburgh on November 5.

A red-legged partridge visited a Chapel Lands garden on November 5 and three birds were at Roseden the following day. At least six pied wagtails gathered to roost in Bondgate Within, Alnwick, on November 16, while grey wagtails were at Thrum Mill on 16 and Howick on November 26.

Stonechats have been having a bad time recently mainly due to the hard winters but pairs were at Cresswell Pond on November 14 and Lowsteads, Longhoughton, on November 18.

A charm of 12 goldfinches were at Elwick on November 7 and three were at Druridge Pools on November 14. Goldfinches were frequently seen feeding on thistle and teasel seeds.

An unusual visitor to Chillingam Park on November 30 was a mandarin duck. This bird is a native of the far east and is expanding its range. There has been confirmed breeding at Kielder and Berwick.

A Chapel Lands garden had the most species on November 6. The eight different birds observed included five goldfinches and seven house sparrows.

In Belle Vue Gardens on November 17, six species were observed. A song thrush paid its first visit for months but the wren was a daily visitor.

The first ice was on the pond and the first snow fell on November 19, but a pair of chaffinches and a pair of blackbirds still visited.

A flock of about 30 siskins passed through on November 22 and eight house sparrows were on the feeders on November 29.

The same day, the buddleia was still in flower in Belle Vue Gardens and elsewhere, while some ivy flowers could also be found.

Peacock butterflies were near Powburn on November 3 and 11, a red admiral was in Royal Oak Gardens in Alnwick on November 6 and a small tortoiseshell was at Warkworth on November 14.

Single red squirrels were seen at Harbottle on November 4, at Howick on November 10 and 24 and at Falloden on the 27. There were three red squirrels in Chillingham Park on November 30.

A red squirrel with a red tail was dead on the road east of Harbottle on November 9, while an animal with a black tail was found dead at the same spot on November 13.

A hare was at South Middleton on November 6, and a weasel was at Powburn on November 7.

There were hedgehogs at Rennington and High Newton on November 7, when in normal years they would have been in hibernation.

There were two roe deer at Howick on November 14 and a stoat was dead at the top of The Peth in Alnwick on November 17.

Otters were heard squeaking in the evening on the River Coquet at Rothbury up until November 13.

On November 16, no salmon were were jumping at Thrum Mill but a headless fish had been pulled onto the rock by an otter.

At the end of the month, 1,457 grey seal pups had been born on the Farne Island.

Grey seals pups found at Spittal and Beadnell were being cared for by the Blue Reef Aquarium Marine Rescue centre in North Tyneside.

They were malnourished but responded to treatment.

l The Society will hold a field meeting on Thursday, January 9, at 1.30pm.

Members and friends should meet at the entrance to Caistron, to the west of Thropton in the Coquet Valley, to see wintering wildfowl and other birds at the restored gravel works.

On the same day, an indoor meeting will be held at 7.30pm in the Costello Centre, Bailiffgate, Alnwick. Dr David Mitchell will give an illustrated talk entitled The Natural Vegetation of Northumberland.

Visitors will be most welcome at the first meetings of our 50th anniversary year.