December 2021

Evening has fallen
The swans are singing
The last of Sundays bells is ringing
The wind in the trees is sighing
And old england is dying

Possibly the month I like least in any year, too much to do, not enough daylight to do it in, too many competing needs from too many people and too much darkness (metaphorically and literally).

An afternoon around several local sites on the 1st threw up little of note, around 1,000 Pink-feet in the Longhirst Flash area, an adult Mediterranean Gull on the shallow water of the Hospital Pool at Woodhorn and 5 Fieldfares in the Bothal Pond paddocks as much as I could squeeze from the gloom.

Scruffy Fieldfare

The following day a single Willow Tit was around the garden and joined by a male Siskin as well as a snow white male Pheasant, one of several releases in the fields to the north provided the only white stuff in the month.

Fast forward to 7th and I was pleased to find a 1st-winter male Black Redstart at the mouth of the Wansbeck Estuary, then, further upriver, a Spotted Redshank at Castle Island, presumably the same individual that wintered between here and Bothal Pond in 2020 returning. Scaup and Spoonbill were also present at Castle Island, the latter around for some days prior but the first ever December record for Northumberland I believe.

A Pale-bellied Brent Goose on the field west of Woodhorn Church Pool on 8th was the bird of the day. The following day a walk around Far Letch NR offered a flock of 40+ Yellowhammers and a third Grey Partridge covey in as many days (10, 10 and 8) locally. Friday 10th I made a brief visit to Widdrington Moor Lake and saw the returning redhead Smew, Red-necked Grebe and Great Northern Diver.

The Spoonbill remained at Castle Island throughout December and was there on 13th when i counted 263 Teal on the now tidal river following the NCC/Environment Agency decision to attempt to de-silt the river by opening the weir throughout the 2021/22 winter. I can’t see the plan working but it has demonstrated the habitat lost as a result of the weir installation. By 27th the Teal numbered 602 and 213 Mallard were also present.

Treecreeper and 5 Lesser Redpolls were garden highlights on 15th, the former one of only 5 garden records to date, most since the trees have matured. Two days later another Treecreeper surprised me as it was high up in Harwood Forest with a big mixed tit/crest flock. Mild winter weather resulting in many more birds in that area than I would have typically expected on a mid-December day. Other species that day included 2 Stonechats, 50 Chaffinches and 11 Crossbills including a couple of singing birds.

The Spotted Redshank appeared at Bothal Pond on 20th and a Short-eared Owl was near Abyssinian Pond later that day.

Tuesday 21st brought the bird of the month in the form of a drake Surf Scoter off Cambois. Tracked from Whitburn past St Mary’s Island then lost, it was a good relocation by Steve Taylor off the Cambois outfall pipe.

Post-Christmas was even quieter with 13 Gadwall on the Wansbeck Estuary, a Merlin doing it’s thing atop a hedge by Ellington Wind Farm and a 1st-winter Mediterranean Gull in the regular paddocks at Blue Sky Stables, Linton.

Med Gull (adult from QEII Country Park)

A final visit to Bothal Pond on New Year’s Eve ably demonstrated that any year-long birding list is a full year long when a chocolate brown Marsh Harrier spent several minutes over the west end scaring the living daylights out of the assembled ranks of Teal to become the 133rd bird species I saw in 2021 within a 5km circle from home.

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