The local countryside scene in April is reviewed by John Almond with the help of the members and friends of Alnwick and District Natural History Society.
The majority of our summer visitors had put in an appearance before the end of April but at the end of the month the first swifts had still to be spotted.
The first breeding activity was noted among our resident birds and some young birds were observed. The woodlands were full of spring flowers and the first leaves appeared on trees and bushes.
The distinctive song of the chiffchaff was heard from widespread localities throughout the month. On April 1, a bird was singing at Woodhorn and the following day, single birds were at Hedgeley Services, Ingram and Beanley, while four were at Branton.
On April 4, birds were heard at Whittingham, Biddleston and the Royal Mail sorting office in Alnwick, while on April 7, a bird was by the Carey Burn near Wooler.
April 15 produced birds at East Shaftoe Hall, Bolam Lake and Harnham, while the following day, birds were at Radcliffe, Tranwell and Longhirst.
A willow warbler with its descending song was heard by the Carey Burn on April 7. On April 16, there were two birds at Druridge Pools and a single at East Chevington.
Single wheatears showing their distinctive white rumps were at Ingram on April 2 and by the Carey Burn on April 7.
On April 16, two wheatears were at East Chevington and 15 were at Cresswell Pond, while five were at Boulmer on April 20.
There were two swallows over Warkworth on April 10, and one was over Craster on the same date. On April 15, swallows were seen at Bolam West Houses and East Shaftoe Hall. There were birds at Heighley Gate and Druridge Pools on April 16, while a single was at Riverside, Rothbury on April 17.
Swallows were back in the stable yard at Howick Hall on April 21 and at Beal on April 25.
Sand martins were checking nesting sites in the cliff at Boulmer on April 20. On April 23, two house martins were at Fairfields in Alnwick and six were at Alnwick Leisure Centre.
On April 9, 10 avocets were at Cresswell Pond and a pair of marsh harriers were at East Chevington reed bed.
A yellow wagtail was at East Chevington on April 16, and the first cuckoo was heard at Edlingham on April 26.
On April 1, a lapwing was on its nest near Elsdon, while the following day a stock dove was singing in Hulne Park. There were at least 10 skylarks singing on the moors to the north of Alnham on April 4 and both curlew and meadow pipits were observed displaying.
A great spotted woodpecker was drumming in the tree by the River Coquet at Rothbury over the Easter weekend and three grey wagtails were looking for nesting sites in the office eaves.
A pair of starlings were nest building in Arkle Court in Alnwick on April 8, on April 9, blackbirds and jackdaws were nest building in Aydon View and Wagonway Road respectively, while house sparrows were nest building in Warkworth on April 10.
On April 14, a pair of robins had chosen to build a nest in Fullers Walk, Alnwick. A pair of blue tits were using a nest box near Felton on April 23.
Acrobatic displays together with stringent breeding calls were noted from 10 lapwings and eight red grouse at Spylaw near Rothbury on April 13, while a male pheasant was sparring with three others at Low Hauxley on April 16.
Young birds were already in evidence. A blackbird was feeding chicks in Highfield Park, Alnwick, on April 9. A female mallard was with 10 ducklings on the River Coquet at Rothbury on April 18, while on Howick Pond on April 28, the little grebes and mallards had two and seven juveniles respectively.
Resident bird reports included a pair of long-tailed tits and a nuthatch at Riverside, Rothbury on April 1. There were three bullfinches in a Craster garden on April 3 and a pair were at Holystone on April 4. There were two yellowhammers, two jays and two mistle thrushes at Howick on April 6, and a pair of magpies at Cresswell Pond on April 16.
Stonechat numbers have been down recently but four pairs were between Druridge Pools and East Chevington on April 16, and a pair were at the Sugar Sands, Longhoughton, on April 20. Ravens seem to be making a comeback also and three were at Murder Cleugh near Barrowburn on April 22.
The Society’s outing to the Ingram Valley on April 2, produced six pied wagtails, two grey wagtails, four grey partridge and pairs of mistle thrush, oystercatchers, teal, mallard redshank and yellowhammer.
There were still some large flocks of birds around including on April 4, 100 common gulls at the Bridge of Aln, 100 black-headed gulls at Glanton and 50 jackdaws at Woodhouses.
On the water, two mute swans and two juveniles were on the River Coquet at Rothbury on April 3, and a kingfisher was at Warkworth on April 10. There were 24 tufted ducks on Bolam Lake on April 15, while in a flooded field at Low Hauxley on April 16, 12 greylag geese, four mallard and two shelduck were present. There were five grey herons beside Howick Pond on April 28.
Kestrels were spotted in Chapel Lands, at Netherton, Shafto Crags and Butterwell. Buzzards were seen at Biddleston, Alnham and Howick. A female sparrowhawk swooped over Druridge Pools on April 16.
Tawny owls were seen or heard at Denwick and Craster, while barn owls were at Lee Moor Farm, Hawkhill, Hipsburn, West Chevington, Boulmer and Denwick.
A few winter visitors lingered on. A waxwing was in Chapel Lands, Alnwick, on April 3, 4, 5 and 6. There were 150 fieldfares at Elsdon on April 4, while five Greenland white-fronted geese and a barnacle goose were at Hauxley on April 16.
Some interesting behaviour was noted during the month. On April 8, a coal tit was observed burying a sunflower seed in a hanging basket at Riverside, Rothbury. On April 9, at Hauxley Wildlife Trust reserve a great black backed gull was eating a gadwall.
There were three clumps of frog spawn and a pair of frogs were mating in a flooded ditch at Ingram Mill on April 2.
On April 1, and 2, male roe deer were along the River Coquet east of Rothbury. There were three sika deer in Hulne Park on April 2. This species was introduced from Asia in the late 19th century.
Brown hares were seen at Beanley and Hawkhill on April 2 and at Alndyke on April 5. Red squirrels were seen at Ingram on April 3 and on the back drive at Howick Hall on April 7. A grey squirrel was on the Long Walk at Howick on April 27.
Pipistrelle bats had emerged from hibernation at Riverside, Rothbury, on April 9. On April 29, a weasel was in a Craster garden and a stoat was at the Summer Seats.
Wood anemones were in flower at Weldon Bridge on April 1, while on April 2, coltsfoot was prolific in Hulne Park, a dandelion was flowering at Yearle and both lesser celandine and germander speedwell were at Ingram. The first marsh marigolds were noted at Alnham on April 4, while on April 10, forget-me-nots and butterbur were flowering on the riverbank at Warkworth.
Wild garlic or ramsons was flowering in Alnwick Garden on April 20, while on April 23, white dead nettles and bluebells were spotted at Felton.
Alkanet was in flower alongside the River Coquet at Brainshaugh. On April 30, bilberry and wood sorrel were flowering at Rothbury.
Hawthorn and sycamore were in leaf on Alnwick golf course on April 1. Rowan leaves were noted in Cordwainers, Alnwick, on April 2, and the beech buds burst on Wagonway Road on April 7. Maple was in flower at Weavers Way, Alnwick, on April 14, lime bud burst was noted along Hope House Lane on April 17, and ash was in flower at Aydon View on April 22.
As anticipated the number of butterfly sightings increased considerably in April. In all, five species were observed, with small tortoiseshell and peacocks being the commonest at the beginning of the month. On April 5, three peacock were in the walled garden at Howick and small tortoiseshell were numerous at Craster.
A small white was in Warkworth sand dunes on April 22, two orange tips were at Guyzance Mill and four at Coquet Moor caravan park on April 23. An orange tip and a speckled wood were on the back drive to Howick Hall also on April 23.
A honey bee was feeding in the Alnwick Garden on April 2, and on April 17, an orange tipped bumble bee was feeding on flowering gooseberry in the community orchard, Alnwick.
The next field meeting of the Society will be held on Thursday, June 4. Members and friends should meet at Carey Burn Bridge in the Harthope Valley, at 2pm to look for upland flowers and birds.