Summer visitors linger a while before autumn starts to show


The local countryside scene in August is reviewed by John Almond with the help with the help of the members and friends of Alnwick and District Natural History Society.

As the last of our summer visitors prepared to leave the area, feeding flocks of swallows and house martins gathered over suitable feeding areas in appropriate weather conditions.

Cheviot view'Picture Jane Coltman

Cheviot view'Picture Jane Coltman

Swifts seem to have remained longer than usual this year in Northumberland, and a few warblers also lingered in the area.

Our resident birds formed feeding flocks in gardens, fields and woodlands.

Robins began to set up winter territories, and the first hints of territorial song were heard.

There was an upsurge in butterfly numbers as the month progressed.

And the roadside flora was dominated by ragwort and hedge bindweed.

On the moors, the heather came into full bloom, and in the wetlands purple loosestrife was prominent.

The first autumn tints were noted particularly on the horse chestnut beside the A1, north of Morpeth.

Cones developed on the alder, nuts on the hazel and seed pods on both gorse and broom.

Berries ripened on the rowan, hawthorn, elder and guelder-rose.

The sight and sound of flocks of swifts hunting for insects over towns such as Alnwick is one of the delights of late summer.

They are generally the last summer visitors to arrive, and are usually the first to leave, often after a thunder storm or heavy rain near the beginning of August.

This year was to prove an exception, however.

Four swifts were seen over Hope House Lane on August 1, and 12 were around St Michael’s Lane on August 9.

There were 20 spotted over Bridge Street on August 12, six were around St Paul’s Church on August 15, and the following day 10 were seen over Alnwick Market Place.

Finally, there were two swifts around St Paul’s Church on August 22, but there was no sight or sound of these birds the following day.

Swallows gathered in increasing numbers on wires and buildings as they prepared for their journey south.

There were 15 reported at Unthank Farm, Alnwick, on August 15, 20 spotted at Kirknewton on August 20, and 12 were seen on a wire at Elwick on August 22.

On August 27, 14 were on the power lines in Heather Leazes, Warkworth, and the following day 20 were on the telegraph wires near Rothbury.

On August 30, more than 100 swallows were on the wing at Howick Hall. They kept landing along a ledge on the hall, before taking off in a big group again.

In Fullers Walk, Alnwick, four house martins were present on August 5, and 12 were there on August 14.

There were 10 house martins at Hethpool, in the College Valley, on August 18, while on August 26, the house martins were very active in Wooler Main Street, where up to 10 nests were located.

There were 50 house martins on the roof at Kirkharle on August 29. On August 30, 20 were reported at the Leisure Centre in Alnwick, and eight were seen over Belle Vue Gardens.

A total of 104 pairs of roseate terns nested on Coquet Island this year, and 83 young were ringed.

Woodpigeons were nest building near Arkle Court, in Alnwick.

And swallows were feeding their nestlings in Alnwick Gardens on August 22.

Summer visitors still in the area over the month included two whitethroats and two chiffchaffs at East Chevington on August 4.

There were still 150 kittiwakes and two fulmars in Howick Haven on August 22.

Passage migrants, including eight black-tailed godwits, were in Budle Bay on August 22.

A greenshank was spotted below Warkworth bridge, and 30 Arctic terns were reported at Newbiggin on August 24.

Kingfishers were spotted at Branton Ponds on August 17, as well as on the River Coquet at Rothbury on August 27.

There were two little egrets in Budle Bay on August 22.

On August 24, 15 little egrets flew from Warkworth towards the coast, but they have not been roosting on The Butts this year. There were three little egrets on the Old Water at Warkworth on August 27.

On August 11, 29 goosanders were on the River Coquet at Amble, 50 were on the Tweed estuary on August 14, and 15 were at Branton Ponds on August 17.

There were also 128 mute swans recorded on the River Tweed at Berwick on August 14.

Some other large flocks of birds built up in the area.

On August 14, 150 starlings were seen at Berwick Pier, and 120 were at Newbiggin church on August 24.

There were 100 jackdaws at Widdrington on August 14, meanwhile 120 were seen at Flodden Field on August 19, and 100 were noted at Howick Scar on August 22.

A flock of 100 rooks had gathered over Warkworth on August 14, and a similar number were at Milfield on August 19.

There were 400 common gulls following a plough at Flodden Field on August 19.

There were 200 lapwings at South Charlton on August 20.

And 150 each of herring gulls and black-headed gulls were reported in Budle Bay on August 22.

A pair of crossbills were in Thrunton Wood on August 17.

Meanwhile, a pair of great spotted woodpeckers were seen in an ash tree at Riverside, Rothbury, on August 29.

There were two juvenile kestrels at Howick on August 8.

Buzzards have been well reported, with pairs noted at Wooler Common, College Valley, Ford Moss and Alnmouth Station, while singles were spotted at Heatherslaw and Brinkburn.

Two ravens were calling on Wooler Common on August 17.

The tawny owls were vocal at 9pm, at Howick, on August 23.

On August 10, a field vole was seen in Tanners Garth, Alnwick, and five brown hares were in a field at Howick.

There were three rabbits at the Station Cottages, Amble, on August 12.

An otter was seen upstream of Lady’s Bridge in Rothbury on August 21.

On August 22, a pipistrelle bat was flying over Arkle Court, Alnwick, at 5.30am.

The regular juvenile grey seal was hauled out beside Holy Island Causeway on August 22, while several hundred of its relatives moaned in the distance.

There were three roe deer grazing at Howick, at 8pm, on August 24.

And in other wildlife news, a common shrew was spotted in Alnwick on August 30.

A grey squirrel was seen at Cragside on August 30, and again the following day.

The only amphibians reported this time were the frogs croaking in Belle Vue Gardens, Alnwick, at 4am, on August 25.

There were still some attractive flowers around, with, for example, red bartsia, meadow vetchling and hedge parsley at East Chevington on August 4.

Monkey flower, golden rod and marsh woundwort were in flower on Wooler Common on August 17.

In the Cheviot Hills the purple heather coated the ground, as well as cross-leaved heath and sneezewort.

The butterflies that have been reported included 12 red admirals, six peacocks, two large white, and one green-veined white from Chapel Lands, Alnwick, on August 29.

Speckled wood, small tortoiseshell, painted lady, red admiral and large white were also seen at Howick.

There were three male blue damselflies at Wooler Common on August 17, and a fourth male was mating with a female beside the pond.

The next field meeting of the Alnwick and District Natural History Society will be held on Thursday, October 6.

Please meet in the layby alongside Budle Bay, at 1.30pm, for a walk to look for early winter birds, in particular.

On the same date, at 7.30pm, in the Costello Centre, Bailiffgate, Alnwick, Stewart Sexton will give an illustrated talk entitled Sketches From My Notebook.

Visitors will be welcome at both meetings.