Exploring Hauxley Nature Reserve

Recently, NHSN Student Naturalists Aimee & Carter, set out to visit Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s beautiful Hauxley Nature Reserve. Take a closer look at what they discovered.

On a beautiful sunny day in early November, Aimee and I were lucky enough to visit Hauxley Nature Reserve. The purpose of our trip was to learn about how the Northumberland Wildlife Trust manages its reserves, to explore the problems they face, and of course, to see some fantastic wildlife! 

Joined by NHSN Education Ranger, Julian Thomas, we drove from Newcastle to Hauxley. The first thing we did was pull into the car park and have a look at the bird feeder here. Even in the car park, we were overwhelmed by the quantity and diversity of bird species visiting the feeders. Blue Tits, Great Tits, Goldfinches and more were visiting, including the usually uncommon Tree Sparrow. Normally, the odd Willow Tit can be seen visiting these feeders, but we were not able to stay long enough to spot one, although Julian was joined by a friendly Robin while buying his parking ticket. 

We then walked into the Discovery Centre at the reserve and met with Alex, the Reserve Manager. Alex showed us the current bird list for the reserve as well as the café, an important social and financial asset for the reserve. Alex told us that they like to run Hauxley as a sort of introductory reserve to get people more interested in nature, and the café is one of the main ways that they do this. It keeps people coming back to connect with nature while enjoying coffee, great food and some stunning views. 

After we left the café, we started on Hauxley’s circular reserve walk, while keeping our eyes peeled for birds and other wildlife. The first stop on our walk was the top hide. From here we spotted many Cormorants, Redshank, Green-winged Teal and two flyby Whooper Swans. We also spoke to Alex here about the seasonality of Hauxley Nature Reserve. Expecting to hear about a drop in numbers over the Winter, we were surprised to find out that Hauxley attracts a steady flow of visitors year-round. One reason for this is that they have designed Hauxley to be very beginner-friendly – it is designed to nurture an interest in the natural world rather than being designed for more experienced birders (that’s not to say it doesn’t attract great birds though!). It also attracts a lot of tourists keen on visiting the North East coast.  

After we left the top hide, we walked onward towards the Skua Hide. Here, Alex told us about some of the problems the reserve has, mostly with dog walkers. Hauxley operates under a strict no-dogs policy, except for guide dogs. The reason this is a problem is that dogs can disturb wildlife – even just the scent of a dog could deter a badger, for example. Alex believes that the way forward is to educate the public on the reasons for the banning of dogs through informative posters. 

Once we reached the Skua Hide, we were graced with great views of Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and many Tree Sparrows. We were informed that there is a Tawny Owl regularly seen from this hide, a great source of personal pride for Alex. The reason the Tawny Owl made Alex so happy is that they are woodland specialists, and Hauxley was built on an old colliery that previously had no trees. The fact that Tawny Owls are now here means that Hauxley’s management plan of playing host to a good variety of wildlife is working. Hauxley is trying to manage itself to have a variety of wildlife as this supports its goal of being a good stepping-stone reserve. 

We then left the Skua Hide and continued the circular walk. We reached a Sycamore tree which Alex was telling us about, and how it was a haven for migrating wildlife like Redwings and Goldcrests. During this explanation, a Woodcock flew out from the bottom of the tree! We got a good view of it and it was easily my highlight bird of the day! 

After this, we had a look at the Tern Hide, which was a newer addition to the reserve as a donation. From here we spotted a Pheasant, Teals, Pochard, Mallard and Little Egret. This hide also sports a great view of a Barn Owl nest box, which has been active since it was installed. 

We then continued onwards to view the Ponteland Hide, which has fallen into disrepair since it was first donated many years ago, Alex told us that he strongly wishes to renovate the hide, as he doesn’t believe it is in a suitable condition anymore. We then left the Ponteland hide and spotted a Kingfisher in the distance. We tried to get a better view of it, but a nearby Little Egret scared it away. 

After this we made our way to the beachfront, giving us fantastic views of the nearby Coquet Island. Here we saw Bar-tailed Godwits, Sanderling, Common Gull, Eider, Redshank, Common Ringed Plover and Ruddy Turnstones. It was on this beach where Julian gave us a little geology lesson, as the geology of this particular beach is ancient and fascinating. He showed us the layers in the rock and peat where an ancient forest used to be, and we could even find remnants of the 7,000-year-old trees that used to be here. You can even see the footprints of 7,000-year-old humans when the tide is right! 

Our trip to Hauxley Nature Reserve was very informative, and a great time was had by all, I would like to give a special thanks to Julian Thomas for driving us to the reserve and teaching us some geology, and to Alex for showing us around and providing us with so much information and insight. The highlight birds for me on this trip were Woodcock, Whooper Swan and Tree Sparrow. We will be sure to come back again!  

P.S. Attached is a link to the eBird checklist I made during this trip for those who are interested,  

eBird Checklist – 7 Nov 2023 – Hauxley NWT NR – 46 species  

Carter Smith
Student Naturalist

Carter is a keen birder who has recently completed his Zoology degree at Newcastle University.

He is currently an NHSN Student Naturalist, assisting with events, walks, project planning and communications.