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.
There were large flocks of wintering wildfowl and waders throughout the region but winter visitors from Scandinavia remained comparatively scarce. A number of flowers remained in bloom and catkins appeared on many trees and bushes.
There were four black redstarts at Newbiggin on December 5. Three small flocks of fieldfares were spotted, these being the 10 birds on pasture near Shepherd’s Law on December 6, 15 at Branton Lakes on December 9 and 20 at Beanley on December 14.
There were 18 whooper swans together with 21 mute swans in a rape field between Amble and Warkworth on December 5. On December 6, 50 whooper swans were in the flooded field at Low Newton.
A total of 20 whooper swans were on the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve during the month and 10 were at Beal on December 20. A total of 1,350 pale-bellied Brent geese were present at Lindisfarne during the month. A flock of 200 pale-bellied Brent geese flew over Holy Island Lough on December 16 and 100 were grazing in a field near the Castle. There were 250 of these birds near the Causeway on the same date. There were also 10 at Beal on December 20.
There were 4,000 pink-footed geese around Lindisfarne in December but they did not spread out to other parts of the region. A flock of 100 flew over Warkworth on December 6 and 50 flew over the Coquet Estuary.
Lindisfarne was also host to 400 barnacle geese and 200 greylag geese during the month. A white-fronted goose was on the flooded field at Low Newton on December 23 and five Bewick’s swans were there on December 28.
Our river estuaries form havens for wildlife both for those species that get their food from the water and for those that get food from the mud at low tide.
On December 4, five cormorants and 150 curlew were on the Coquet Estuary while the following day a little grebe was in Amble Marina. On December 6, 400 golden plover, 250 lapwing and 60 wigeon were present. There were nine cormorants and 20 eiders in Amble harbour. Later in the month on December 23, 30 mallard, four grey herons and four female goosanders were present.
The Aln Estuary held 60 wigeon, four pairs of teal and a little egret on December 20. The latter species is now regularly seen and is a breeding bird. As many as six birds were seen at Lindisfarne during the month.
At Berwick, also on December 20, 80 herring gulls, 18 goldeneye, seven mallard, six mute swans and a pair of red-breasted mergansers were present.
At other coastal sites some large numbers of waders gathered to feed. At Boulmer on December 16, 270 dunlin, 100 sanderling and 37 grey plover were present.
There were 600 redshank, 1,000 dunlin, 1,000 bar-tailed godwit and 1,200 curlew at Lindisfarne. There were regularly 50 oystercatchers feeding on Amble Links. A flock of 20 sanderling were at Seaton Point on December 20.
Inland waters also provided some good birdwatching during the month.
There were four goosanders, three cormorants and three goldeneye on Branton Lakes on December 2.
Dippers were regularly seen on the Pow Burn and they weer joined by a pair of grey wagtails and a kingfisher on December 4. A kingfisher was also on the River Wansbeck at Morpeth on December 15.
On December 6, the pair of little grebes on the River Coquet at Rothbury were feeding on salmon spawn. On the same day, five pairs of goldeneye and a par of grey wagtails were at Warkworth Hermitage.
On December, 16 200 teal and 400 golden plover were in the Rocket Field on Holy Island and a water rail flew in front of the Lough hide. A flock of 16 shoveler were also present.
There were 500 wigeon, 250 lapwing, 100 starlings, 50 goldfinches and a snipe at Cresswell Pond on December 18. On December 20, 150 wigeon were on Newham Marsh.
Siskins and crossbills were calling in Beanley Wood on December 6 and a large number of siskins and goldfinches were at Branton Lakes on December 9.
A roost of 20,000 starlings was on Holy Island on December 13. On December 20, 150 rooks were at Chathill and 100 were at Pegswood. On December 27, 30 rooks were cawing at their rookery at Alnwick Infirmary.
A magpie and a jay were calling in Station Wood, Powburn on December 3. A great spotted woodpecker was also present on December 4.
There were 25 siskins and five coal tits in the Queen Elizabeth Country Park woodland on December 4, while three bullfinches were at Howick on December 27.
A pair of great spotted woodpeckers, a magpie and a starling were visitors to a Powburn garden. There were 150 starlings in Ann Crescent, Amble on December 6.
The cold weather around December 13 brought good numbers of blue tits, great tits, coal tits, a chaffinch , nuthatch, wren, dunnock,robin and blackbird to the Riverside, Rothbury feeders. They were joined by four long-tailed tits on December 21.
On December 16, seven chaffinches, six house sparrows, six goldfinches, three blackbirds, two coal tits, two blue tits, two starlings and a robin visited a Chapel Lands garden. There were 17 goldfinches present on December 19.
The garden hedge at Holy Island farm held 25 house sparrows on December 16 and two bullfinches were in Weavers Way, Alnwick on December 22.
A marsh tit was a regular visitor to a Craster garden where a robin could be found feeding from the hand.
A sparrowhawk was over a Powburn garden on December 2. Kestrels were reported from 10 localities. These included two birds at Hemscott Hill and two on Holy Island.
Buzzards were seen at Powburn, Hebron, Hepburn Woods, Hauxley and Belford. A rough-legged buzzard was on Chevington Moor on December 5.
Tawny owls were seen at Tynely and Alnwick but despite a good breeding season no barn owls were reported.
There were two ravens at Branton on December 12 and 1 flew alongside a car at Corby Crags on December 28.
Roe deer were seen at Cragside, Hedgeley Lakes, Beanley Wood, Station Wood, Powburn and Widdrington Station.
There were three red squirrels foraging in Debdon Woods near Rothbury on December 7 and other animals were in Powburn on December 9 and at Howick on December 28. A grey squirrel was at Lordenshaw, Rothbury on December 10.
A stoat crossed the A697 at Powburn on December 9 and another was on the disused railway at Rugley on December 30.
Moles have been particularly active with 25 mole hills in Alnwick Garden and St. Michael’s Church Yard on December 9.
There were 3 otters at Hauxley Reserve on December 18 and a grey seal was in Berwick Harbour on December 20.
A Welsh poppy was in flower at Arkle Court, Alnwick on December 1 and winter heliotrape was flowering in the Old Orchard on Alnwick Golf Course on December 5. A white foxglove was on the Woodland Walk in Alnwick Garden on December 9. Yarrow, cow parsley and white dead nettle were found elsewhere in the area along with a few flowers of red campion.
A feral pigeon was reported to be feeding young at Alnwick Leisure Centre at the end of the month and fulmars were already prospecting nest sites at Cullernose Point and Bamburgh Castle.
The next field meeting of the Society will be held on Thursday, February 5, commencing from Druridge Links at 1.30pm. We hope to see wildfowl and waders on the coast and Druridge Pools.
An indoor meeting will be held on the same date in the Costello Centre, Bailiffgate, Alnwick at 7:30pm. On this occasion, Geoff Sample the local and internationally known sound recordist will talk about Wildlife Sound Recording.
Visitors are welcome at both meetings.