A recent visit to various sites in the north of Northumberland revealed an encouraging number of finches and buntings, some in substantial flocks. At Outchester, near Budle Bay a flock of Yellowhammers had gathered this winter feeding in a stubble field and had numbered up to 150 birds at times. Lesser numbers were there when I visited but still a good few remained and on a calm, sunny morning one male even sang briefly. This weather also encouraged Skylarks to sing on high, with ten birds doing so in the area, being the first I’ve heard this year. Great to hear again them after 7 months. Further north at Elwick, there was a lot of Skylark activity, with birds chasing each other, establishing pairs and again around ten in song. In a game crop along a field edge here a large flock of Linnets fed, every now and then all taking to the air and alighting on a hedgerow. At least 600 birds were present! Not quite as many as the 700 near Morpeth in recent months. Also here were small groups of Tree Sparrows and Yellowhammers.
Back at Budle, and a ‘scope of the bay revealed large numbers of geese, with around 2,ooo Pink Feet, 1,200 Barnacles ( a large number for February here) and 450 pale bellied Brents out on the mudflats. The wintering Spotted Redshank fed close by in a deep channel, picking up food items as it floated at speed down the running water.
Up to Holy Island, and a female Merlin was perched on an old tree stump allowing super ‘scope views. A few Skylarks sang here too , at Chare Ends. More Brent Geese fed out in the shallows. In the quiet village, a solitary Redwing was in the churchyard where a Song Thrush sang.
Down to Old Bewick next, and another good flock of feeding buntings and Tree Sparrows, showing the value of game crops in winter. Here were the most Reed Buntings I have seen in many years, with birds on every bush and flying up and down into the crop to feed. At least 65-70 were counted. A similar number of Yellowhammers accompanied them and around 50 Tree Sparrows too. A great sight indeed. As a Buzzard glided by, the whole flock took wing giving an impressive show. Another Buzzard had appeared to have been electrocuted as it hung dead from a wire, a sad end.
Alan S. Jack