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The Dene through the Seasons


April 2018

Summer visitors arriving later this year

Grey Squirrels still being seen

Disastrous month for Butterflies

Plenty of Roe Deer to be seen

Woodcock and Grey Partridge seen

Many Pheasants to be seen and heard


The weather in April has made this the slowest butterfly start to the year, certainly since these reports commenced. There were only 7 reports of a butterfly being seen covering only 2 species. On 16th a Small Tortoiseshell was seen with 4 further sightings after that, while a Small White was first seen on 22nd followed by 1 further sighting on 28th – and that was that!


No Frog Spawn has been detected this year in any of the usual places in the Dene. Reports from areas away from the Dene indicate similar trends.


From the middle of the month onwards, the number of reports of Red Fox seen out in daylight increased dramatically, a sure sign that hungry young were demanding food. Strangely, the majority of these reports came from the east end of the Dene.

A rather strange month for Roe Deer sightings, with a single buck seen on 5th and then no less than 7 reports received in the second week of up to 4 animals, 1 of which was a buck.  The frequent reporting was because these animals seemed to spend the whole week between Hartley Car Park and the estuary fairly close to this main path. On 9th the report was of 2 animals on either side of the river in this area and then there were 2 reports of single animals seen just inside the Dene boundary fence, within 100 metres, and visible from, a well-used road.

After this flurry of activity, the rest of the month produced a pair seen in the central part of the Dene and a buck seen twice, once central and on the other occasion near the Holywell Road Bridge.

As regards Grey Squirrel sightings, April has been a frustrating month with almost all the activity between Holywell Road Bridge and the old railway line. On 4th an animal was seen in this area and then on12th an animal was seen, a little to the west, in a garden in Ridgeway, Holywell (adjacent to the Dene) and a trap was set but without success. On 18th an animal was seen near Holywell Road Bridge and then for a week or so boxes in that area were emptied of food but no hairs were left on the sticky tab and in addition, the boxes were physically damaged, so it was thought that a squirrel was possibly not to blame. After necessary box repair and strengthening, the 30th found box 62 empty and this time with hairs left. On the same day but this time to the east, a Grey Squirrel was seen on the bird feeders near the upstream wooden bridge. Regular box inspections by the volunteers continue and we wait with interest to see what happens.

On 12th 2 Hedgehogs from the Northumbrian Hedgehog Rescue Trust, Longframlington, were released into the Dene. For the first few weeks after release food is put out nightly to help their settling in.


The month has been a normal April as regards birds: a frenetic first half of the month as courtship and pairing up are in full swing and then the nest building and egg laying take priority. The result of this is that many birds are seen and heard during the first 2 weeks and then gradually the Dene goes quiet and fewer birds are seen and some disappear completely.

Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Blue, Great and Coal Tits are all in the first category while those virtually disappearing include Long-tailed Tits, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Dunnock, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Tree Sparrow, Robin, and Stock Dove. All these birds were well seen and reported during the first part of the month but then sightings decreased and bird reporting virtually ceased.

Birds seen less regularly have continued to be reported with Reed Bunting seen on 4th (a pair) and a single bird on the 12th. On the 3rd a Jay was seen between the upper bridge and tunnel and unusually a Greenfinch was reported in the estuary on the 8th.  A Nuthatch was seen on the upper bridge feeders on the 3rd and 8th and a Treecreeper in the same area on 17th. A Kestrel was seen hovering over the fields near Crowhall Farm on 22nd while a Buzzard was seen above Hartley West Farm on 19th and a second bird photographed in the trees in the central part of the Dene on 23rd.

Throughout the country our summer visitors appear to be later than normal this year with numbers still down at the end of the month: this has certainly been the case in this area. Chiffchaff  have been well reported throughout the month but there have only been 3 reports of Whitethroat, 2 in the Dene and I in the estuary and 9 reports of Blackcap being seen over a wide Dene spread. In the estuary on 24th were 2 Willow Warblers and it wasn’t until the 27th that the first report of a Swallow was received with 2 more reports received before the end of the month, all from the estuary area. The only report of House Martins came on the very last day of the month with 3 flying around Crowhall Farm.

An unusual sighting came on 5th when, early in the morning, 2 Woodcock were seen along the Holywell Road Bridge Path. On Hartley West Farm’s fields up to 4 Grey Partridge were seen on 5 occasions and amazingly, the most reported bird this month was the Pheasant with no less than 21 reports of up to 4 birds either seen or calling. Much of this is the result of a good number of Pheasants nesting in various parts of the Dene with their attendant male partners keeping up their incessant calling all day and a good part of the night.

Dippers were occasionally reported from the 2 nesting areas, at the tunnel under the old railway line and much further west, the smaller tunnel near Concorde House Bridge. Grey Wagtail were only reported three times from widely separated locations and a lone Kingfisher was reported from the estuary on 24th This month Grey Herons have been heard more than seen because most of their activity has been in the area of the heronry and their unattractive calling has gone on until after dark. Mallard reversed the normal April pattern with most of the sightings coming in the last week of the month with up to 4 birds being seen in the estuary. Also in the last week came the one report of 4 Redshank in the estuary and 2 reports of up to 4 Wrens, which means the Wren must be the most under-reported bird in the Dene!

Finally, the number of Crows, Rooks, Magpies and Jackdaws seen and heard everywhere in the Dene has not changed in any way throughout the month, except possibly to increase!

May 2018

Another poor month for Butterflies

Tadpoles found in all the ponds

A very active month with Grey Squirrels

Grey Wagtail seen feeding young

Tawny Owl nested again this year

Shelduck seen in the estuary

Buzzard seen in the Dene


May was a pretty disastrous month for butterflies. The only one to do well with reports of up to double figure sightings was the Orange Tip throughout the month. This was followed by a good number of low figure sightings of the Small White butterfly. A lone Peacock was seen on 3 occasions while the Large White was seen on 4 occasions each time just a single butterfly. A Speckled Wood was seen on 2 occasions, the second of which was of 2 butterflies and a single Small Tortoiseshell was seen on 2 occasions. Sadly, this poor report is in line with national surveys.


In the April Report it was stated that no Frog Spawn had been detected in the ponds in the Dene. I am delighted to say that, wherever it was hiding, in May it hatched into Tadpoles and was seen in all the ponds in the Dene including the 2 newly dug reed beds. As usual, the Hartley Pond also revealed that its residential Stickleback and Smooth Newt populations were in good order.


As expected no Roe Deer were seen this month and there were only three reports of a Red Fox out hunting in daylight. However, on one occasion 3 groups of walkers going along the northern bridleway were lucky enough to watch 4 Fox Cubs playing in the far corner of the field: sadly no one had a camera capable of taking a photograph at that distance.

After a lively end of the month, the April Report, with the last few words of the paragraph on Grey Squirrel sightings, said “we wait with interest to see what happens” What actually happened was that the feeding box checkers and the trappers had a very busy but productive month. On the 3rd a female was caught with another on the 12th and in the following 2 days, 13th and 14th, 2 males were caught. After a slight pause, the 19th saw a female caught followed 2 days later by a male on 21st and 2 days after that, on the 23rd and again on the 24th, 2 further females were caught. Between the 25th and 28th the odd feeding box was used by Grey Squirrels but the traps were ignored. It is thought that this late activity would have been by males who, finding the females no longer around, decided to move on and consequently we had a peaceful final 2 days of the month.

The 8 Grey Squirrels caught in May takes our overall total to 34 since the cull started in the Dene 18 months ago.

The 2 rescue Hedgehogs released into the Dene on 12th April are still being given a nightly feed in the area where they were released. They were joined by a third Hedgehog on the 21st May, which had been found by a FoHD Committee Member in their garden in daylight earlier this year, was then taken to the Rescue Trust and looked after until it gained enough weight to be released. The quantity of their evening meal is now gradually being reduced and some nights is not being fully consumed by them as natural food is plentiful, so everything appears to be going according to plan.


This month has been a typical May in respect of birds in the Dene, a very quiet start with a gradual build-up of activity towards the end as fledglings appeared on the scene.

Birds normally in the Dene that have been either seen with or feeding young this month include Blackbird, Blue and Great Tit, Dunnock, House and Tree Sparrow, Starling and in the estuary area a Song Thrush.

Birds normally or occasionally in the Dene but missing completely this month include Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Sparrowhawk, Moorhen and Kingfisher.

Single or pairs of Bullfinch and Chaffinch have only been reported 4 times with a Goldfinch seen twice: the surprise was a Greenfinch seen in the Dene on 27th.

Surprisingly, both the Great Spotted Woodpecker and Robin have only been reported twice, with the former’s sightings being towards the end of the month on peanut feeders, a sure sign that young are being fed in the nest.

According to BTO’s national surveys this year, our summer visitors have been late to arrive and in considerably reduced numbers. This has applied to the Dene area with the first 3 Swallows seen in the estuary area on 13th and the first House Martin above the Dene on the 17th. Numbers of the latter have increased considerably as the month drew to a close but Swallows have been few and far between. There has been no report of a Swift this month.

Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat and Willow Warbler have been regularly heard but rarely seen during the month, all much as expected.

On the river Dippers have been the real disappointment. After last year’s double nesting there was high hope for this year but there has been no indication of any nesting activity. In fact a single Dipper has only been seen 3 times in the tunnel area and once at the Dale Top end. There has been better news for the Grey Wagtail with 3 fledgling being fed between the tunnel and upstream bridge in the middle of the month. Grey Herons, as usual, have been seen almost on a daily basis with plenty of noise coming from the heronry especially in the first half of the month while Wrens have been well reported from throughout the Dene.

The number of Mallard families seen so far this year has been lower than previous years. 1 family of 7 fledglings were followed by reports of 4 and finally 3 youngsters. Whether these were individual families or the same family, reduced by fox damage, is not known. Over and above these families there was a surprisingly large number of reports of Mallards, either in pairs or single birds from all parts of the Dene. A surprise in the estuary was a Shelduck with a youngster seen and photographed on the mud flats on 19th.

On the adjacent farmland 2 Grey Partridge and 6 Curlew were seen on 15th and throughout the month, both on the farmland and in the Dene, up to 4 Pheasant were seen or heard often on a daily basis. Interestingly, one of the male Pheasants has the very distinctive and attractive Asian colouring, which at least makes identification easy.

Returning to the woodland, a Tawny Owl nested in one of our boxes, a repeat of last year, except there appeared to be only one fledgling this year, while a Buzzard was seen resting in a tree on 25th and 1 Stock Dove was reported on 16th.

Finally, it goes without saying that Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Rooks, Magpie and Woodpigeon were around throughout the month with their numbers appearing to increase annually.

June 2018

Butterflies – another poor month

Roe deer – unusual sighting of 2

Grey squirrels – 2 more caught but others still around

Birds – many young birds in all parts of the Dene

Linnets – seen in estuary

Swallows and Swifts – a very poor month


Another poor month for butterflies, although I suspect this is due to the poor weather along the coastal strip bordering the North Sea, compared with the rest of the country, which appears to be having a much better year for butterflies. We have been saved by the Speckled Wood, which has become common and plentiful in the second half of the month, having been seen in all parts of the Dene. In the early part of the month a few Orange Tip were still being seen but after that there has been just 1 report of a Small Tortoiseshell, 1 of a Peacock and 3 of a Red Admiral. Very few Small and Large White have been seen, the latter pleasing gardeners and allotment holders.

Nationwide the butterfly situation is not good. Since 1976, when record keeping started, 2016 was the fourth worst on record and last year, 2017, was the seventh worst. Overall, since 1976, 34 species of butterfly have decreased in abundance in the UK, 22 of those species showing significant declines: a very sad situation.


Except for an occasional male Roe Deer, a sighting of deer in the Dene in June is very unusual. However, on 14th 2 Roe Deer were seen in the field on the opposite side of the river to the Holywell Bridge /old railway line path. Unfortunately, they moved to cover so quickly their sex could not be determined.

After the recent cull of Red Fox in the Dene and surrounding area, which resulted in very few daylight sightings in the last few years, numbers appear to be increasing again as there has been a number of reports of animals out and about in the early morning and evening in both east and west parts of the Dene. One, seen near Hartley West Farm, has a significantly longer tail than normal and so is easily identified.

As regards Grey Squirrels in the Dene, activity has continued this month although not with the intensity of last month. In the first two weeks feeding boxes in the area between Crowhall Farm and Holywell Bridge were occasionally visited and food eaten. Traps were put in place on occasions but without success but then on the night of the 14th a mature female was caught. Not surprisingly, boxes continued to be visited and food eaten because a mature female at this time of the year almost always has an associated male.

After a few days, activity appeared to be directed closer to Crowhall Farm so a trap was put in place, initially without success, but on the 20th, the day before the trap was to be lifted, the expected male was caught. While this was going on, the surprise of the month happened to one of the boxes along the Hartley Lane car park /estuary path, it was found with the peanuts gone and tell-tale hairs on the sticky tab, the first time one of these boxes has ever been visited. Subsequent box checking indicated that this Grey Squirrel had moved through the Dene in a westerly direction towards Holywell having fed from two other boxes on the way. It could well have been the same animal that was seen early one morning near the stepping-stones.

The 3 Hedgehogs, released into the Dene earlier this year and reported in detail last month, are still being given a light mealworm feed each evening due to the exceptionally dry weather throughout the month being not conducive to providing their natural snail, slug and worm diet. Once the rain returns the light supper meal will be withdrawn.


June, as usual, was a month of two halves; building nests, laying eggs and hatching young creates quietness but then the young take to the skies and activity and noise level increase dramatically. These are the residential birds that nest in or near the Dene with little expectation of unusual or rare visitors.

Birds seen with or feeding young or young visiting the Dene this month include Blackbird, Blue and Great Tit, Dunnock, House and Tree Sparrow, Robin and Starling. A family of 6 Long-tailed Tit was seen on 10th while a Willow Tit was seen on 19th, 20th and twice on the 23rd. Coal Tit have been few and far between with single birds seen on 3 occasions and once 2 birds, one of which looked very immature. Most reports of Song Thrush have come from the estuary and, unlike past years, there has been no confirmation of them nesting in the Dene. Treecreepers have occasionally been seen with a rare sighting on 17th of one feeding its young. On the 9th and 10th Linnets were seen in the estuary with 2 on the latter date.

Bullfinch have been seen more often as the month has progressed but no young have yet been reported. Chaffinch have been seen regularly through the month but only as single birds while Goldfinch have been similar, except that on 10th 5 were seen and on the 29th 6, on both occasions in the estuary area. A Greenfinch has been seen on 3 occasions in the estuary as single birds but once a pair, and on one occasion a single bird was seen in the centre part of the Dene.

Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been very well reported this month desperately getting food for its offspring. Finally, on 22nd a young woodpecker was seen in the open being fed by its father. Stock Dove have also been well reported in good numbers, which indicates successful breeding.

There has only been one report of a Sparrowhawk this month on 18th in the centre part of the Dene, which indicates that they are no longer nesting in the Dene as they were a few years ago. In the first half of the month there were reports of Jays being seen in the Holywell area of the Dene and near the old railway line, both being their normal areas. Then on 23rd 2 birds arrived along the path linking Hartley Lane Car Park with the estuary and were still being seen and heard on the last day of the month; a surprising change of location for Jays. Throughout the Dene Pheasants have generated many reports mostly heard rather than seen, although towards the end of the month some young did put in an appearance.

Now that the summer visitors are not singing as much and the trees have leaves, it is very difficult to identify them and hence they are likely to be under-reported. However, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap have all been reported occasionally, spread throughout the Dene.

It has been a very disappointing month for our other summer visitors. There has only been 4 reports of Swallows being seen, 2 from the estuary area and the others from the fields near Crowhall Farm, with numbers very low between 1 and 4. Swift sightings are even worse with just 2 reports, both from the estuary: on the 14th 6 were seen and three days later there were 2. House Martin have been a little better, seen feeding mainly in the evening above the river on 8 occasions with numbers up to 15. These results are in line with National Reports, which have indicated late arrival and low numbers compared with past years.

It has been a very disappointing year for Dippers with only 3 reports from the tunnel area this month the last being on the 15th, while a Grey Wagtail was only reported once on the 10th from the same tunnel area. From the estuary came a report of 2  Moorhen seen on the 9th and a single Pied/White Wagtail seen on 17th.

As usual Grey Herons and Wrens have been well reported from all areas while there have been numerous reports of Mallard with young, although, as always, it has been impossible to determine duplication from new birds, as numbers of young can vary dramatically with overnight losses to a Fox. Highlights were a Mallard family with 10 young on 4th, another with 7 young on the 9th and, later in the month, a family with 7 well grown youngsters seen often from the 18th onwards. Well done to that Mum!

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.