NATURE NOTES FROM MAY: Last summer visitor is swift to make an appearance

THE last of our common summer visitors, the swift, did not wait long to put in an appearance as one was seen over the Northumberland Hall in the centre of Alnwick at 8.15am on May 1, writes John Almond.

There were reported to be numerous swifts circling high over Warkworth on May 8, a handful were at Glanton on May 9, while they had returned to Loansdean, Morpeth and Snitter near Thropton by May 12.

Swifts were screaming over Loansdean, Morpeth on May 16.

Swallows at last returned to the riverside at Morpeth on May 6, and were said to be common at Harbottle by May 17.

There were 20 sand martins over the river Breamish at Branton on May 5, a dozen or so were at Cresswell on May 12, while a colony was present in the College Valley on May 25.

A pair of house martins had returned to Powburn by May 6.

It is thought that both swallows and house martins will have had trouble finding mud for their nests this year and in areas where this is the case the public are being encouraged to create muddy patches for this purpose.

The iconic cuckoo appears to be commoner in the area this year. Birds were heard calling in the Ingram Valley on May 5, and 7, at Harbottle on May 17, Dukesfield, Bamburgh on May 18, Kirknewton on May 25, and finally Rothbury carriage drive on May 30.

It would be interesting to know how many cuckoos there are in the area and readers are urged to send in records of any birds they see or hear.

The British Trust for Ornithology are so concerned about the reduction in cuckoo numbers that they are fitting tracking devices to five male birds so their movements when they leave this country can be monitored.

Among the other migrants two common sandpipers were at Ingram bridge on May 5, while a pair of common terns and a wood sandpiper were at Branton on May 8, and 9, respectively.

On May 9, an osprey was at Sweethope Lough and two pairs of willow warblers were in the bushes at the summit of Carter Bar.

The dawn chorus of bird song reached a peak in May.

The blackbird is often the first bird to be heard followed closely by their resident birds and summer visitors. The blackbird is often still singing when the others have finished.

The serious business of raising a family was in the minds of all of our birds. There were 10 young starlings and 10 young house sparrows in Loansdean, Morpeth by May 18.

Blue tits have nested earlier this year and by the end of the month the juveniles had left their nest boxes but were still being fed by their parents attracting attention by shivering their wings.

Ospreys had returned to breed for the third year at Kielder and they had three eggs by May 26.

The first pair of avocets to nest at Cresswell Pond produced three chicks but unfortunately they were preyed upon before fledging. However, two other pairs were incubating eggs at the end of the month.

On May 30, Arctic, common and sandwich terns had chicks on Coquet Island. The puffins, eider ducks and black headed gulls were sitting on eggs and the roseate terns were yet to lay.

It is sad to report that at least three red squirrels lost their lives on the roads of Coquetdale during the month. A further dead animal was on the A697 at Lilburn.

A pair of roe deer were in a new plantation at Branton on May 5, and a brown hare was at Kirknewton on May 25. There were seven feral goats with kids in the College Valley on the same date.

A red fox was a regular visitor to a Nedderton garden but on May 26, it was joined by three others. Hedgehogs were also regular visitors and a young animal was there on May 25.

An adder was lying very still on the track to the Drakestone near Harbottle on May 8.

Elder, bramble and common spotted orchid have been noticed in flower earlier this year.

Pink purslane and leopardsbane were blooming in Ingram village on May 5, while lady fern was found among the recently disturbed banks of the river Breamish.

There was a field full of marsh marigolds at Ottercops on May 9, and a drive between Powburn and Morpeth on May 21, produced an array of flowering plants.

Water avens and wild garlic were flowering in Crawley Dene while red campion and cow parsley were at Glanton crossroads.

Bluebells and crosswort were in flower alongside Thrunton Wood while gorse and hawthorn were in blossom on Longhorsley Moor.

Many butterflies have appeared earlier than usual this year and it is hoped that the appropriate nectar sources and caterpillar food plants are available.

Peacock and green veined white butterflies were in the Ingram Valley on May 5, a red admiral was at Branton on May 11, and two small coppers were in Plessey Woods on May 22.

The next field trip of the Society will be held on Thursday, July 7. Those interested should meet in the Newton Links car park at 2pm to explore the flora of the dunes, the associated insect life and the tern colony.