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The Dene through the Seasons

Fauna

March 2022

The first half of March was generally unsettled with the first week being cold gradually getting warmer in the second week. The second half had cold nights but generally warm days with some days exceptionally warm for March as high pressure took over. As the month drew to a close the days became much colder.

Overall, the average temperature for March was 1˚ warmer than the average annual temperatures since 1991 while there was 50% more sunshine than average and rainfall was 40% below average.

Butterflies

The warm sunny days in the second half of this month meant that this paragraph heading could be used in the March Fauna Report, with the first butterfly to be reported being a Comma near the pumping station on 25th and this was quickly followed by a pair of Peacocks 2 days later at the other end of the Dene near Old Hartley Pond (OHP) Sadly the warm weather then disappeared as did the butterflies.

Mammals

Red Squirrel Conservation

It is rare to be able to start a report on Grey Squirrels with the words “there is nothing to report” but that is true for March because there was no sightings of greys in our area, which is between the old railway line (ORL) and the estuary and along the Avenue, nor were any of the feeding boxes visited. In the months between September 2021 and March 2022 we caught 21 greys, of those all but 2 were caught in the 3 boxes on the south side of the river just inside the North Tyneside (NT) boundary. Sadly this just confirms our long-held view that until culling starts in NT, we and Newcastle will continue to have to put up with this annual migration of greys.

 

Roe Deer

As has become normal over the last couple of years almost every report of a Roe Deer in the Dene has come from the area closely around the horse field which is immediately on the east side of Holywell Village. In this area, stretching to either side of the ORL and to the fields to north and south, a number of different males have been seen, identified by their antlers, together with families of females, mothers and their female young born in 2021. The general consensus is that there are 3 families in the area but identification is impossible and we are aware that some similar families come north from Brierdene Farm area on occasions. Outside of this area there has only been a couple of sightings of single males and of a family with 1 or 2 youngsters.


Other Mammal Sightings

In the first 3 weeks of the month there were no reports of a Red Fox being seen but then in the last 10 days there were 3 reports, all of a Red Fox out early in the morning hunting along the hedge line of an open field. This could well indicate that they have young in their den. A Stoat has only been reported once on 5th when one was watched running west to east on the north side of the river close to the stone bridge carrying the farm road.

Birds

March is a month that has great changes between the beginning and end: this can be seen and heard on a walk through the Dene. By the end the first leaves are appearing while the spring flowers are showing colour and many birds are starting to sing. None of the regular woodland birds were missing so there were plenty of reports of Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Robins and Tree Sparrows while, if not often seen, Great Spotted Woodpeckers were certainly heard daily. As usual at this time of the year Coal Tits were regularly seen but almost always as single birds while Long-tailed Tits were most often seen as a pair. A single Willow Tit was seen on 3rd, 15th and 31st all in the stepping-stones to OHP area with the one on the 3rd becoming somewhat famous as it had an all-white tail. By the end of the month Song Thrush could join this common group as it was seen throughout the Dene often as a nesting pair. Where these birds go in the winter is a mystery but it is lovely to see them back. Similarly, a Chiffchaff was not seen or heard in the first few days with the first 2 being reported from the downstream bridge area but by the end of the month they were everyway. Compared with recent past years Stock Doves have been reported more often this March than before and also the reports have been more often of pairs with 2 reports of actual nesting pairs.


The larger common birds have certainly not been missing with, if anything, increasing numbers. Rooks in the rookery have now expanded into an additional tree while the flocks of Jackdaws are definitely getting larger. Woodpigeons are around in hundreds but Magpies still appear to be in normal numbers as do the Carrion Crows nesting in the Dene.


Returning to the woodland Goldfinch reports are certainly down this year although what reports we have received do cover the whole area of the Dene, although if there is a concentration it is around the OHP area.  Normally, it is just 1 or 2 birds being seen but on the 8th 4 were seen in the estuary. As mentioned before Nuthatch expansion of a few years ago appears to have levelled of. There was only 1 report in the first half of the month but the second half was better with single birds seen on a good number of occasions spread throughout the Dene although the most came from the stepping-stones area. Treecreepers had a good month with either 1 or 2 birds seen numerous times throughout the Dene area while a single Goldcrest was seen twice on 6th near the stepping-stones and the 16th a little further upstream. There was a single report of a Brambling seen on 16th in the OHP area, with a Mistle Thrush seen near the downstream bridge on both 3rd and 25th. 1 or 2 Jays were seen on and off  throughout the month, once again spread from Oxbow in the west down to the head of the estuary with a good number of Yellowhammers seen, mostly in the second half of the month either along the ORL or the hedges of open fields to the east. A surprising sighting this month was a Woodcock which was flushed from the area close to the stone bridge on the farm road early on the morning of 13th.


On the river Dippers have been seen many times always 1 or 2 birds usually in the tunnel area and on one occasion carrying nest material into the tunnel itself. However, birds have been seen in the stepping-stone area and between there and the downstream bridge, so it will be interesting to see the nesting outcome this year. It has been similar with Grey Wagtails with 1 or 2 birds seen in the same areas and with nesting activity in the tunnel area. Moorhen sightings have been few and far between with all reports being of 1 or 2 birds in the area a short distance upstream from the Pipe Bridge. Grey Herons have been seen daily from way up in the west near the tunnel through to the estuary. However, the heronry doesn’t appear to be as active as in previous years although that could change very rapidly when the weather warms up. Wrens as usual have been in all parts of the river and they have started their unmistakable singing so perhaps will enjoy more reports in the future. Similarly, Mallard have been in all parts of the river, initially they tended to be in pairs but towards the end of the month most of the females had disappeared and were no doubt sitting on a nest while the males linked up in small groups. In the middle of the month a Little Egret was seen on the estuary on 13th and 15th and on 16th to the west of the tunnel, almost certainly the same bird.  2 Pied Wagtail were seen near the oxbow lake on 27th while on the fields immediately to the south 200 Golden Plover were seen on 25th together with 4 Lapwings. On 27th 2 Snipe were disturbed near the pumping station.


Large flocks of Pink-footed Geese of between 700 and 1000 birds were on the fields north of Hartley West Farm up to 15th after which none were seen and no doubt that was when they left for their breeding grounds. Pheasants were seen all month not only on the open fields but in the woodlands, initially as pairs but towards the end of the month males only indicating nesting activities. 2 Grey Partridge were near the pumping station on 9th while A few Red-legged Partridge were seen at various times of the month in the fields adjacent to the northern part of the ORL except on 26th when 2 were surprisingly in the meadow.


Between 23rd and 26th a Buzzard was in the Oxbow and Crowhall area and in the first half of the month a Sparrowhawk was reported from near the oxbow lake, from near the pumping station, from near the stepping-stones and from the OHP area, while a Kestrel was reported on no less than 10 occasions right through the month from various locations between the horse field and OHP. Tawny Owls caused problems this month in trying to determine how many of them were roosting in the Dene. There was a definite roost near the upstream bridge (seen by many people) and one not far from the downstream bridge but when both of these sites appeared to be occupied one was heard calling from West Hartley Farm. One thing is certain there will be Tawny Owls nesting in the Dene this year.


April 2022

April was a month of short warm and cold periods but it was very dry with the amount of rainfall being less than half the 1991/2020 average. This means that overall rainfall in the first 4 months of 2022 was well below average and could create a problem in the summer. Mean temperatures were very close to average for the month while the amount of sunshine was about 25% above average although it was closer to average near the coast.

Butterflies

More butterflies were seen this April compared with last year, however there were good and bad days depending on the warmth and sunshine. A single Small Tortoiseshell was seen along the old railway line (ORL) on 10th followed by 2 Red Admiral and 2 Small White on subsequent days, the first near Holywell Road Bridge (HRB) and the second near Old Hartley Pond (OHP) Then on 23rd and 24th a Speckled Wood of tiny dimensions was seen and on 24th the first Orange Tip was seen near the car park together with a Small White and Peacock. The last 2 days of the month generated reports from various locations of 3 Orange Tip, 2 Speckled Wood, 2 Peacocks and a Small White.

Mammals

Red Squirrel Conservation The 9 squirrel feeding boxes located in the Dene and along The Avenue continued to be checked on a weekly basis throughout April, but not once was one visited by a Grey Squirrel. One of the boxes along The Avenue was visited regularly by a Jay, which conveniently left one of its small feathers, so that box has been left empty of food for the time being. The only sightings of a Grey Squirrel have been close to but not in our areas. The first was seen in the grounds of Delaval Hall on 19th and the second was seen crossing the Seaton Sluice football pitch and entering the adjacent stables on 28th.

 

Roe Deer There have been numerous reports of Roe Deer this month but all have come from the surrounding areas of the horse field which is on the north side of the Dene immediately east of Holywell Village. The concentration in this area has made it difficult to determine actual numbers but it can be said that there are at least 3 males, 2 or 3 females who look distinctly pregnant and possibly 3 or 4 of last year’s female youngsters in the area: these youngsters will have disappeared before the females give birth. Roe Deer normally give birth between mid-May and mid-June so next month’s report might be more interesting.     


Other Mammal Sightings In the last week of the month there have been 2 reports of a Red Fox and its cubs out of their dens playing along a nearby hedge, one was in an adjacent field to the north of the river and the other to the south of the river. The bird feeders have generated not only bird reports this month but also other mammals visiting. Brown Rats have been seen hoovering up the food droppings beneath the food feeders while Wood Mice have been seen on a number of occasions eating from the actual feeders.

There have been 3 reports of a Stoat this month, 2 coming from near the stone bridge over the farm road and the third from close to HRB.

Birds

As regards birds April is the month when bird song diminishes and nesting activity becomes frenetic. None of the usual birds were missing in the woodland but very often it was males that were seen and reported while the females got on with nesting. Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Robins, Tree Sparrows and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were all well reported from all parts of the Dene. Pairs of Long-tailed Tits were reported 7 times from throughout the Dene but Coal Tits were very scarce this year with only 3 reports being received. A Willow Tit was seen only twice with 2 birds being seen near OHP on 17th and 1 in the same place on 26th.


Needless to say all the common larger birds were around for the whole month. Rooks were well on with their nesting and let us know with their usual chorus of noise. At least 3 pairs of Carrion Crows are nesting high in trees in the Dene while some of the large flocks of Woodpigeons have already nested with the youngsters out on their own feeding. There have been several comments made about the number of ever increasing Jackdaws about and they appear to be learning how to get food from the bird feeders, hence emptying them far too quickly. Magpies are still about in their usual numbers but spend a lot of their time out in the adjacent fields.


Stock Doves have done well and there have been many more reports of these birds than in previous years with some obviously nest building. A good number of Song Thrush have returned to nest but numbers are still way down from a few years ago. Treecreepers have had a good month with 1 or 2 birds being seen right through from HRB to OHP with some obviously nesting. Jays are being seen and heard throughout the Dene and are clearly nesting while Blackcaps have been very similar. In the second half of the month Goldfinch reports took off with all coming from the central part of the Dene with 5 being seen at OHP on 28th. Chiffchaff were still about all month and in all areas, often just a single bird but occasionally a small flock of 3 or 4 birds were seen.


A Willow Warbler was seen near the pumping station on 14th and 27th while 2 Linnets were seen near the stepping-stones on 23rd and a single bird near oxbow on the same date. 2 female and 1 male Wheatear were seen in the field N/E of the tunnel on 14th and further north along the E/W obelisk path Reed Buntings were a fairly common sight while the N/S path in the same area produced a number of Yellowhammers on a good few occasions. Amazingly, there was only 1 sighting all month of a Nuthatch and that was near the downstream bridge on 27th while on the same day close to Hartley West Farm there was the lone sighting of a Greenfinch. On the 23rd the only sighting all month of a Goldcrest took place near the upstream bridge. Last year the first Swallow was seen in the estuary on the 15th April, this year none have been seen except for 1 seen along The Avenue on the 25th. Pheasants have been seen and heard from all parts of the Dene and adjacent fields and by the middle of the month almost all sightings were of males as females settled in the undergrowth on their nests.


There were very few sightings this month of a Sparrowhawk with 1 being seen near the lay-by on 13th and then on the 16th and 30th 1 was seen near the HRB. It was similar with a Kestrel with 1 seen on 20th near the upstream bridge and then on 26th and 27th 1 was in the area of the waterfall not far from its failed nesting site last year. There were many more reports of a Buzzard being seen with all of them being in the area of the pumping station, horse field and Crowhall Farm spread throughout the month while 2 birds were twice seen enjoying the wind currents high above Hartley West Farm. Tawny Owls have provided the mystery of the month with many reports of up to 5 birds roosting in the Dene at oxbow and the upstream and downstream bridges. The mystery is why there appears to have been no nesting attempt; hopefully our watchers have just failed to see it.


Wrens, although less full of song as the month went on, continued to be seen flitting from bank to bank throughout the length of the river all month. Dippers are nesting in the tunnel and under the HRB but although the occasional sighting of Dippers has come from the stepping-stone area there is no indication of nesting in that area as they did last year. A pair of Grey Wagtails has been watched all month in the tunnel area on nesting activities and then, very conveniently, on 30th the youngsters joined their parents on the river.


Sadly, the number of Moorhens seen this month has been well down on previous years and there has been no indication of nesting activities However, the heronry has been as active as ever and 2 of the Grey Herons have be seen with a youngster in the nest, that is until the developing leaves on the trees and bushes obliterated the view. Other Grey Heron sightings have come from numerous locations of a bird fishing often early in the morning. Early in the month seeing a pair of Mallards was commonplace on all parts of the river but as time went on the pairs became males only as the females got down to nesting but so far no juveniles have been seen. A Little Egret was seen in the estuary on 4th and 2 days later 2 Little Egrets were seen flying upstream following the course of the river. Redshanks continued to be seen in the estuary but numbers tailed off after the 15 counted on the 1st of the month. On 20th 2 Shelduck were seen on an adjacent field to the north of the river and on the same day 2 Gadwall were on the river near the upstream bridge.

  

May 2022

Using the climate averages based on the period 1991 to 2020 the results for this May show it was a remarkably average month. Maximum and minimum temperatures and the mean temperature for the month all were within 1 degree of the averages. We got 87% of the average sunshine and 98% of rainfall and the NE was not listed for any short period extremes of temperature, rainfall or winds.

Butterflies

There were a fair number of butterflies seen during the month with the most reports being of Orange Tip butterflies, sometimes of numbers close to double figures. At the start of the month a Peacock was seen at the stepping-stones followed by a Speckled Wood and Comma. Speckled Wood continued to be reported through the month from various locations and then on 18th a Red Admiral was seen at the upstream bridge and near Holywell Road Bridge (HRB) Both Large and Small White butterflies were well reported from the middle of the month onwards and right at the end of the month at the top end of the estuary a single Green-veined White was seen.

Mammals

Roe Deer. All of the reports of Roe Deer seen this month came from the usual area west of the Old Railway Line (ORL) and in particular from the horse field immediately to the east of Holywell village. There were 2 or 3 females that looked decidedly pregnant and interestingly the females born to them last year have now disappeared, a sure sign that their mothers are about to give birth again, the usual month being June. There were also 2 or 3 males still in the area but their usefulness ceased a good few months ago.

 

Red Squirrel Conservation. The 9 strategically located feeding boxes continued to be checked on a weekly basis. There were no reports of Grey Squirrels seen in our area until the middle of the month when a pair was seen in a tree along The Avenue. Sure enough the check on 13th showed that 2 boxes had been visited with squirrel hairs left on the tabs. The subsequent checks showed repeated visits and finally a trapper was allocated and traps laid on the morning of 28th and by that evening a mature female had been caught. The traps were left in place until the end of the month when they had to be lifted...  


Other Mammal Sightings Other than Rabbits being seen in daylight in the adjacent fields the very long days meant there were no reports of other mammals except for Hedgehogs visiting adjacent gardens where food had been put out specially. No doubt these animals are crossing nearby roads but no Hedgehog remains have been found to date.

Birds

Only time will tell but the good weather in May will have helped the birds in their frenetic nesting activities and hopefully a good availability of food will mean overall a good nesting year. Unfortunately, what could be seen in the early days of May often had disappeared by the end of the month due to the expanding leaf cover and one is left not knowing the outcome. In the woodland all the usual common birds have been seen, some with fledglings, some building nests while others were seen carrying food to a nest, this list includes Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Dunnock, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Robins and Tree Sparrows. As is usual in May reports of Coal Tits have been few and far between with this year just 2 being received one on the 18th near oxbow and the other near Old Hartley Pond (OHP) on the 21st. Similarly, there were only 3 reports of Long-tailed Tits with 1 seen at OHP on 4th, 2 at oxbow on 19th and interestingly 3 fledglings at OHP on 23rd.  Willow Tits did slightly better with 4 reports all from the OHP area, the first on 7th of a single bird and then on 22nd a single bird carrying food, then 2 on 23rd and finally 1 on 24th.


The 3 reports of Goldfinch all came from the OHP/meadow area and consisted of 1 and 3 birds. There were a similar number of Stock Dove reports all coming from between the downstream wooden bridge and OHP with pairs of birds being seen on 18th, 19th and 29th. Whitethroats were seen on a good number of occasions, spread through most parts of the Dene and always of 1 or 2 birds, with the bird being seen near the upstream bridge on 23rd being a juvenile. Blackcaps were similar although their numbers were between 1 and 3 birds and none were identified as juvenile. Single calling Chiffchaffs from all parts of the Dene were reported almost daily at the start of the month tailing off towards the middle and end of the month. Unusually, Jay reports were confined to the first half of the month with single birds being seen between the stepping-stones through to Holywell pumping station. After that it is thought they were nesting behind a wall of leaves.


Early on the morning of 5th at least 2 people heard a Cuckoo calling in the Dene because they sent in reports! Nationally, BTO have reported that our main summer visitors Swallows, House Martins and Swifts all arrived later than normal and in much reduced numbers. This has played out in the Dene area with only 7 reports of Swallows of between 2 and 7 birds, and only single reports of 3 House Martins and 2 Swifts and all reports coming from the east end of the Dene. Treecreepers have been reported occasionally in various parts of the Dene of 1 or 2 birds and it appears that they have nested near the tunnel as one bird was seen carrying food.


There have been plenty of reports of a Barn Owl out hunting in daylight, often carrying food, from the pumping station area right through to OHP on both sides of the river. A Kestrel is having more success this year with its nest near the waterfall than last as there are young in the nest. However this is one of the nests disappearing behind leaves so it is not known whether the young have fledged. A Sparrowhawk has been reported just once in May on the 18th when one was seen near OHP. There have been many reports of Tawny Owls roosting in 3 locations in the Dene near oxbow and near the upstream and downstream wooden bridges. It is thought they must be nesting in the Dene but no young have yet been seen. The answer should become apparent in June. Numerous Pheasants must be nesting in the Dene because there have been many reports of males hanging around in and defending an area but no families have been reported to date.


Along the river numerous Wrens have been seen flying into the adjacent vegetation and no doubt they are nesting as usual but no specific nesting location sites have been reported. As usual at this time of the year there has been much interest in Mallard families and their ever decreasing number of offspring due mainly to the fox population. Nests have been in unknown places throughout the Dene and the fledglings for safety reasons will be on the river soon after the eggs have hatched. The best report this year has been of a mother already on the river encouraging her 14 fledglings to scramble down the river bank onto the water.12 summoned up the courage quite quickly and joined her on the water but it took a long time for the last 2 to join them.


The noise and activity in the heronry has decreased significantly as the month has gone on and in the last few days of the month there have been a couple of sightings of juveniles out on the adjacent fields. Meanwhile the adult male Grey Herons have returned to their river fishing and have been seen in all areas of the river and estuary especially first thing in the morning. It is not clear this year how many successful Dipper nests there have been. There was nesting activity under HRB and a juvenile has been seen in the area. The most reported sightings/activity has been as usual near the tunnel and there was definitely a nesting attempt but what was not seen this year was the male and juveniles out together. There was a juvenile seen in the area but nothing to say it came from the tunnel nest. Then near the stepping-stones adult birds were seen earlier in the year and a juvenile was seen 2 or 3 times close by so probably there was a successful nesting. A pair of Grey Wagtails has twice nested in the tunnel area successfully and downstream in an area close to the stepping-stones a family was seen indicating a nest in that area to a second pair. Finally on the river between oxbow and HRB on 24th 2 Canada Geese and a juvenile were seen.

As far as I can remember this is a first report of a juvenile goose seen on the river.


This monthly Fauna Report is based on sightings submitted by people, expert and amateur, interested in birds and wildlife. The more reports we get the better and more interesting the Fauna Report will be. If you visit any part of the Dene or adjacent fields and you see birds or animals you recognise we would love to hear from you. Ideally, what you saw, how many, the rough location and date/time are the details we want.


You can let us know by:          Text to 07958640903 or email to www.friendsofholywelldene.org.uk


We really do look forward to hearing from you.