Enjoy our wonderful birdlife

Local ornithologist Alan Todd has kindly provided this information to encourage people to enjoy our wonderful local birdlife. He has personally spotted over 100 species within 2km of Great Whittington. Even during the coronavirus lock-down, you and your children can experience the joy of bird spotting. Read on to find out how.

Introduction

As a young lad in the 1960s, love of nature was stirred in our home garden; looking for ‘Magpie Moths’ in Euonymus bushes, watching Peacock butterflies on Sedum flowers, and attempting to identify feeding birds on my father's home-made bird table.

Then in my late 20’s, a work colleague introduced me to ‘Ornithology’ and bird watching; and my life changed forever! Many weekends were spent visiting a local nature reserve, progressing to produce a warden rota and even manage the reserve; and complete wildlife surveys - all voluntarily in my spare time.

Whether on dedicated trips, family holidays, walking near home, or even sitting in the garden; watching and recording nature and particularly birds, gives me immense satisfaction; and as equally important, peace and solace during stressful times.

Citizen Scientists

The current COVID-19 restrictions - whether ‘stuck’ indoors, sitting in the garden, or going for a daily walk - may provide the ideal opportunity for you, or your children, to pick up a pair of binoculars and become ‘Citizen Scientists’; watching and recording nature, as I did in my garden many years ago. Or you might want to go further by identifying birds while out on a daily exercise regime.

Its an ideal time to start, as migrants are now arriving from their African wintering grounds.

One of the earliest arrivals, small warblers called Chiffchaffs, are already singing in the village as I write - listen for the male’s slightly jerky repetitive ‘chiff-chaff’ song.

Maybe you can start a COVID-19 Garden Bird List. In the first week I’d ‘ticked’ 30 species, while sitting on the bench in my ‘postcard-sized’ garden! A larger garden or water feature will attract more species - and don’t forget to look upwards and outwards to the sky and fields around.

Favourite birding spots

Away from the garden, here are my favourite birding spots on walks around Great Whittington:

A:  Adjacent to the main access road towards the B6318, south of High Baulk Farm, lies a large marshland suitable for wading birds such as Lapwings, Snipe and Curlew; also Mallard, Teal and other wildfowl in Winter and Spring. These can be observed with a good pair of binoculars. View ONLY from the roadside - Please DO NOT access the fields! Best view (if walking) is situated behind the bridge parapet over the River Pont or the roadside hedge - both act as a screen to reduce disturbance to farming stock and/or wild birds. I used my car as a ‘hide’ in the adjacent lay-by before COVID-19.

B:  Circular walk following track and road from the village via Rose’s Bower, Shellbraes, Click-em-In and Quarry House: Tree Sparrow, Rook, Whitethroat, Linnet, Fieldfare, Redwing, Goldcrest, Lapwing, Partridges, Redstart and various Tits and Finches.

C:  Main road to Matfen: Redstart, Fieldfare, Redwing, Kestrel, Little Owl. Check any flooded areas for Gulls and passage waders. (A little beyond 2km, at Matfen, can be found Dipper, Grey Wagtail, House Martin, Spotted Flycatcher, Nuthatch, GS Woodpecker etc.)

D:  From Whittington Old Mill (via Toft Hill and West Clarewood) to Millers Lane: Finches, Reed Bunting, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Grasshopper Warbler, Tree Pipit, Jay. Please use St Oswalds Way footpath and designated Rights of Way.

E:  In the Village: Garden birds include various Finches, Tits, and Thrushes, Collared Dove, House Martin, Swallow, Swift, Goldcrest, Tawny Owl, House Sparrow, Sparrowhawk and occasionally a Peregrine Falcon (I watched a Peregrine catching a Blackbird outside the Queens Head one snowy winter morning).

Monthly checklist

To get you started, attached is a monthly checklist of 101 species (mostly my records) found within 2km of Great Whittington.

Feel free to print it and use as a reference, or keep a copy on your phone or computer. I hope you find it interesting!

Click here to view the monthly checklist online.

Click here to print or download the monthly checklist.

Of course, this list is only accurate on the day it was compiled - so please forward interesting sightings via this website, or better, use an online recording system such as listed in the Appendix below.

If you don’t have a field guide, the BTO and RSPB websites contain aids to identification including songs and new COVID-19 projects. There’s also a handy ‘Merlin’ ID App (The Cornell Lab) that has photos, descriptions, songs and calls, and a map for each species. To use, register then download the ‘Europe: Britain and Ireland’ bird pack.

Sightings

If you scan down the village bird list, you’ll notice individual sightings of scarce or vagrant birds, Here are further details of some:-

  • Little Egret: This small snow-white heron was feeding by the stream close to Quarry House on 24th and 25th Feb 2017.
  • Hen Harrier: A post-breeding Adult Male drifted back and forth low over marshland all morning, south of High Baulk, in search of prey on 30th Sept 2012.
  • Cuckoo: Flying south past ‘The Whiggs’ on 6th July 2015.
  • Hoopoe: This unmistakable orange coloured vagrant with crest, and black and white striped wings, was seen in the garden of Longstaff House on 24th April 2008. - Unfortunately I was at work and missed it!
  • Waxwing: On 4th Dec 2010, 12 perched in trees between Hill House Close and North Cottage. On 15th Nov 2012, another observer noted 10 beside the road to Matfen.

So keep watching and you might be lucky!

Appendix

There are many websites, apps and field guides available for identifying wildlife. Access the following for further information or ideas:

  • BTO Garden Bird Watch: www.bto.org/our-science/projects/gbw/join-gbw. Contribute your own garden records to Scientific research
  • BTO Birdtrack: www.bto.org/our-science/projects/birdtrack. Excellent recording system for Birds, Mammals and Dragonflies to collect your own sightings and view others. Available as an App
  • RSPB: www.rspb.org.uk. New ‘Breakfast Birdwatch’ and Annual Garden Birdwatch
  • Northumberland Wildlife Trust: www.nwt.org.uk. Local branch of ‘The Wildlife Trusts’ with access to many nature reserves around the county
  • Natural History Society of Northumbria: www.nhsn.ncl.ac.uk. Local wildlife organisation based at the Hancock Museum, offering frequent publications, outdoor and indoor meetings, and access to Gosforth Park Nature Reserve.
  • Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club: www.ntbc.org.uk. Local bird club with frequent publications of records in the county, plus outings and indoor meetings
  • ‘Merlin’ ID App (The Cornell Lab): Available on Google Play

Photos

Send your photos to us and we'll add them here, or even create a full size gallery of them.

click on images to enlarge

Media articles

Here are some links to recent birdwatching articles in the media


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