Winter waders remain and breeding birds arrive on scene

Roe Deer being watched. Picture by Brian Harle.
Roe Deer being watched. Picture by Brian Harle.

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

In a month when the first spring flowers appeared, many correspondents concentrated on the bird visitors to their gardens.

There have been several sightings of barn owls.

There have been several sightings of barn owls.

Following the disappointing count of buzzards in December, a much healthier position was recorded. Wintering wildfowl and waders remained in large numbers, and the first breeding seabirds returned.

In the RSPB Big Garden Bird Count on January 30 and 31, two Chapel Lands gardens produced counts of 11 and 14 species. The first included 19 goldfinches, a species that has seen a spectacular rise in a numbers in recent years. The second included two siskins, four long-tailed tits, four lesser redpolls and five blue tits.

At Riverside, Rothbury, coal tits, great tits, blue tits, chaffinches, greenfinches, tree sparrows and a nuthatch were regulars. There were 10 long-tailed tits on January 3.

In Belle Vue Gardens, Alnwick, 13 bird species were present on January 1. A male siskins was seen on January 3. Five chaffinches on January 6 were fluffed out against the weather. A flock of 20 goldfinches came for the sunflower kernels on January 7, and six collard doves were on the garden wall on January 9. The maximum number of house sparrows was 20 on January 20, with eight blackbirds.

A pair of bullfinches visited Chapel Lands on January 6, and seven greenfinches were present on January 20.

Kestrels were at Cullernose Point on January 7, Alndyke on January 17, Longhoughton on January 19, and at Hipsheugh, Howick, on January 21. A sparrowhawk swooped over Belle Vue Gardens at 8am, on January 11. A buzzard was in Beanley Wood on January 15, while two were in Hulne Park on January 17, one was flying and the other perched in a tree. A buzzard was being mobbed by a kestrel and jackdaw at Seaton Burn on January 21. Single buzzards were at Sturton Grange on January 22, Lesbury viaduct on January 28, and Hawkhill on January 29. There were pairs at Little Mill on January 23, and Howick on January 26, the latter playing in the high winds.

Barn owls were hunting at Howick on January 6, 7 and 11. One was hunting outside Howick Hall on January 13, and a bird was over the cricket pitch on January 19. They were also seen at Dunstan Hill, Craster South Farm and Denwick. On January 31, one was seen at 9.05am, flying along the hedge between Christon Bank and Rennington. A short-eared owl flew off a fence near Longhoughton Quarry on January 17. This species is frequently seen hunting in daylight.

A male blackcap fed on the fat balls in Belle Vue Gardens between January 16 and 25. It is thought that most overwintering blackcaps are from Eastern Europe. Wintering thrushes remained scarce, but 20 redwings were in Hulne Park on January 17.

Pink-footed geese were widely seen, with 500 over Low Hauxley on January 21. On January 23, 100 were at Cocklawburn, 500 at Haggerston and 2,000 in a flooded field at Goswick. On January 25, 70 geese flew over Alnwick towards the coast.

A pair of goldeneye were in the River Coquet at Warkworth on January 9, and 42 birds were between the road bridges at Berwick on January 23. A single male was on the Aln at Lesbury. A flock of 40 teal were at Amble weir. There were 50 wigeon on the Coquet estuary on January 17, 50 at Boulmer on January 19, and 50 above the Amble weir on January 30.

Whooper swans in a field at Northfield Farm, Warkworth, numbered 42 birds, five of which were immature. Red-breasted mergansers were regularly seen in coastal areas, with five at Druridge Bay Country Park on January 30. There were pairs of goosanders at Amble weir and Boulmer shore.

There were two little grebes on the garden pond at Howick on January 11, and a kingfisher was there on January 30. Dippers were on the Aln in Hulne Park on January 17, and at Bilton Mill on January 28.

There were large gatherings of waders, with 40 redshank at Boulmer shore on January 17. On January 19, 400 dunlin, 100 sanderling, 50 knot, 50 oystercatchers and 12 bar-tailed godwits were present. There were 500 curlews at Longhoughton Steel on January 21. Five snipe were at Hipsheugh, Howick, on January 19.

On January 23, 24 ringed plovers and 10 turnstones were on the Tweed estuary, below the Ness Gate. There were 200 lapwings over Elsdon on January 27, perhaps making a premature return to their breeding grounds.

A flock of 100 starlings flew over Ulgham on January 17, and smaller groups were noted at Red Row and Widdrington Village. On January 9, 300 jackdaws gathered over Alnwick and 150 were at Warkworth on January 17.

There were 75 rooks at Wooden on January 17, 100 were on Chevington Moor on January 21, and two days later 150 were at Widdrington. A mixed flock of 500 rooks and jackdaws was at Embleton Bay on January 23, and 200 rooks were at Higham Dykes on January 27.

A flock of 400 black-headed gulls were at Boulmer on January 17, and 700 were at Druridge Bay Country Park on January 30. On January 23, 150 wood pigeons were at Adderstone, and 250 at Cocklawburn. On January 23, 30 house sparrows were at the pier head in Berwick, and 70 goldfinches were in Chapel Lands on January 31.

As far as woodland birds are concerned, goldcrest were in Craster on January 11. There were two woodcocks at Howick on January 14, and one at Littlehoughton on January 25. There were two jays in Beanley Wood on January 15, and two birds were vocal at Howick on January 25. On January 17, a nuthatch was seen and another heard in Hulne Park. Pairs of mistle thrushes were at Wooden on January 17, and Warkworth on January 21, while at the end of the month crossbills were seen in Harwood Forest.

The long-billed dowitcher remained at Cresswell Pond and a probable black scoter was off Stag Rocks. A black-necked grebe was at East Chevington, and a green-winged teal at Alnmouth. A grey phalarope was at Bamburgh, while jack snipe was at Beadnell. A great grey shrike was near Redpath, in Harwood Forest, and an Arctic redpoll was at Birling.

On January 6, an albino robin was near Longhoughton and a water pipit was at Monks House, near Seahouses. On January 7, a fulmar returned to Cullernose Point and 45 birds were there on January 21, while 15 kittiwakes returned to the cliffs.

Robins ceased their aggressive behaviour and began to pair up, while a full song was heard at first light. A bird was singing after heavy rain in Holystone North Wood on January 27.

On January 4, 100 mole hills were by the Tenantry Column in Alnwick. An otter with two young appeared at East Chevington on January 5.

There were six roe deer at Helsay on January 21, one crossed the road at Hadston, four were grazing below the railway bridge at Warkworth on January 23, and one was in Holystone Woods on January 27. A brown hare was at Lionheart Station on January 28, while rabbits were spotted there and at Alnwick Rugby ground.

On January 4, a bracket fungus was on a beech stump in the Alnwick Garden. Red campion was at Cullernose Point on January 7. A snowdrop was in flower in Belle Vue Gardens on January 9, while the first at Howick was on January 14. Dandelions were in the Dunterns on January 12, and the following day hazel catkins were noted at Bilton Mill. On January 19, ramsons were in leaf in the Alnwick Garden and on January 21, winter aconites were at Denwick church. Primroses were in the A1 hedgerows near Morpeth on January 23.

The next field meeting is on Thursday, March 3. Meet in the car park at Branton and Hedgeley Gravel at 1.30pm. The party will visit the gravel ponds to look for wintering wildfowl. The AGM is on the same day, at 7.30pm, in the Costello Centre, Bailiffgate, Alnwick. The business meeting will be followed by a talk by Richard Poyer about the Natural History of Howick.