North Northumberland Bird Club, September meeting

At the September meeting of the North Northumberland Bird Club, John Almond, of the Alnwick Natural History Society, gave a talk entitled The Arctic Revisited.

Despite the very heavy and prolonged rainfall on the day, we had a big attendance and John spoke very enthusiastically and knowledgeably about all aspects of the wildlife and landscapes he has encountered over 35 years of repeated visits to the Arctic, Islands, Baffin Island, Greenland, Iceland and Alaska.

He showed examples of man’s intrusions, eg mining trucks in the middle of nowhere, and natural phenomena such as circles of stones created by repeated cycles of freezing and thawing.

The people at the northern limits of habitation have a mixed lifestyle embracing ancient and modern ways of life.

Many of the plants he came across were alpine but living at sea level in the Arctic, eg gentians and glacier buttercup, and a bladder campion but without petals because there are no insects to attract to help with pollination – instead it relies on the wind.

He described several insect species, claiming that mosquitoes were not a problem though the accompanying photo belied that. But there are butterflies and bumble bees in the Arctic.

In addition there are numerous kinds of mammals ranging from the large, whales and polar bears, to the very much smaller foxes, stoats and rabbits, with reindeer and caribou in the middle of the size range.

To attract polar bears you should burn bacon slowly over a candle and have a rifle handy.

The finale was a comprehensive series of slides showing Arctic birds.

Some of the birds are familiar to us because they are similar to those native to Northumberland but many others are winter visitors who return to the Arctic to breed and, of course, were resplendent in their breeding plumages.

There were many other examples of native Arctic birds such as pine grosbeak, which is a massive finch, Siberian jay skulking in the undergrowth, the magnificent great grey owl perched high in a tree and majestic white-tailed sea eagles.

All in all, there were photos and interesting descriptions and anecdotes of 48 birds found in the Arctic.

And a very good evening it was too.

The next NNBC meeting is on October 11, at 7.30pm at Bamburgh Pavilion entitled, Swifts: Keeping the Skies Alive by swift expert Edward Mayer. Visitors welcome, £2 donation please.