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The Dene through the Seasons


January 2019

A Row Deer killed on Hartley Lane

Only 1 sighting of a Grey Squirrel

Grey herons gathering near the heronry

Pink-footed Geese return

Little Egret visited twice

4 Teal seen on the river

Pheasants widely seen

January has been relatively dry and, up to the last week or so, was on the mild side but that final week came as a shock with temperatures well below zero. There has been quite a lot of sun and only a few gales and no floods so the Dene has got off lightly weather wise.


Perhaps in part due to the weather, mammal sightings have been well below average. Away from the Dene, in the Holywell Pond and Brier Dene Farm areas, a single Row Deer has been seen occasionally but in Holywell Dene there have been only 3 reports. On the 7th 3 females were seen on the hill between the 2 bridges on the south side of the river and then 5 days later disaster, a Row Deer was killed by a car on Hartley Lane and 2 females were reported the same morning near Crow Hall Farm. This illustrates normal deer activity in that the 2 would have been waiting for a few hours for the third member of the family group to re-join them, before moving away from the area. There were then no reports until the last day of the month when 3 were seen in the Holywell Bridge path area.

There was only 1 report of a Grey Squirrel being seen in the Dene this month and that was on the first day when 2 were seen between the old railway line and Holywell Pumping Station. All the boxes in the Dene have continued to be checked on a weekly basis. Agreement has been reached with the National Trust (Delaval Hall) for feeding boxes to be placed on their land, which included the narrow areas of woodland along the Avenue. The boxes on the Avenue produced very quick results with a mature pair being trapped in the middle of the month – could this be the pair that had been seen earlier in the Dene? It should be stated the Avenue boxes are not the responsibility of FoHD.

The only other animal reported this month was a Stoat, with 2 sightings. The first was about 100 metres downstream of the Stone Bridge and the other about the same distance and direction from Holywell Road Bridge.


Starting along the river life has been fairly quiet. The good news is that near the tunnel entrance Dippers have been reported throughout the month, mostly a single bird but on 3 occasions a pair. There have been no reports of sightings further upstream. A Grey Heron has been seen feeding in various places along the river but the number of reports has been well below average. What has been a surprise is the gathering of Grey Herons in or near the heronry. On 4 occasions a group of 7 or 8 has been seen sitting quietly in the trees.


Mallard have been seen in various locations along the river on a few occasions with numbers between 1 and 7, while Moorhen have been seen in their usual place, a hundred metres upstream of the pipe pond, on many occasions, varying from 1 to 4 birds. Finally, along all parts of the river Wrens have been seen, normally a single bird, but very few are reported, which is a pity. Reports will no doubt increase when they start singing.

Flying above the Dene  a Buzzard was seen twice soaring above the fields on the north side of the river, while early in the month a Tawny Owl was twice heard calling, the first time in the Holywell Road Bridge area early in the morning and them just after dark somewhere on the path between Hartley Lane Car Park and the pipe pond. A Kestrel was seen on 3 occasions, twice above the estuary and the other time near Crow Hall Farm. The only report of a Sparrowhawk this month was one flying above the estuary on 25th.

Just as we were wondering whether Pink-footed Geese were going to ever arrive this year, their iconic sound was heard at dawn on the 19th and around 600 birds finally landed in their usual field near Hartley West Farm. They stayed all day and then were back again on 4 occasions in the following week. As usual mention must be made of the massive flocks of Corvids regularly seen throughout the month in the adjoining fields. Counting is almost impossible but certainly there have been flocks of well over 100 birds made up of Jackdaws, Rooks, Carrion Crows, Magpies and Woodpigeon. There has been an unprecedented number of Pheasants seen or heard this month from every part of the Dene. Up to 3 male birds have been seen together but on 2 occasions 2 males were watched having serious fights. Near the end of the month 4 females Pheasants were seen near Crow Hall Farm, the only time females were seen all month.

Specific to the estuary, a Grey Wagtail was reported on 4 occasions and a Cormorant only once, while the Little Egret was seen on 4th and 27th.Redshanks were seen often with greatly varying numbers between a single bird and 12. On 8th an Oystercatcher was seen and on the 27th 4 Teal was seen on the river in the area of the heronry, upstream from the Pipe Pond.

All the usual woodland birds were around in very good numbers, including Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and Dunnock. There were only 3 reports of Willow Tit this month, 2 on 3rd and 1 on 14th and 26th. Long-tailed Tits were well reported from various places in the Dene and in widely varying numbers, from a single bird up to 8. Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen or heard very often and from widely differing locations. Usually it was of a single bird but sometimes reports were of two birds ‘drumming’ from opposite sides of the river, a sure sign of territorial arguments. Slightly surprising was a pair in Bluebell Dene in the estuary being reported twice on different days.

An inquisitive Robin was reported almost daily but the usual winter grouping of a good number together was missing for some reason. As regards the finches results were more or less as expected. Bullfinch numbers were steady until the cold weather arrived when the number seen together increased from the earlier 1/2 to 4/5. There were many Chaffinch sightings but always of just 1 or 2 birds but only 1 report of a Goldfinch being seen, a single bird on 5th. Nuthatch was well reported with occasionally 2 being seen together. The location of some of these reports shows that they are gradually expanding into all areas of the Dene.

Stock Doves were regularly seen mainly from the centre part of the Dene with numbers up to 4. They are often mistaken for woodpigeon and so are probably widely under-reported. Reports of Jays dropped dramatically this month with only 3 reports, although it is thought that, being a relatively new bird to the Dene, its loud harsh ‘scraaaak’ cry is not being recognised yet. There was 1 sighting of a Collared Dove on 23rd and one of a Treecreeper on 30th.

A few reports arrive each month saying a number of ‘sparrows’ have been seen on a feeder. In the Dene these birds are probably Tree Sparrows as they have been increasing dramatically, while House Sparrows are only rarely seen in the Dene. Reports of Tree Sparrows are frequent with numbers varying from a single bird to flocks numbering into low double figures.

February 2019

No grey squirrel activity in the Dene this month

Pink-footed Geese have left for their summer breeding grounds

Red Kite seen

Merlin seen in the estuary

Siskins seen

Stonechat seen

Skylark singing above the adjacent fields

One of the mildest Februarys on record has caused havoc with both Fauna and Flora. The daffodils were out far earlier than normal and some birds were already in their nesting areas, some even tidying up old nests.


I didn’t think I would be using that heading in a February report but 2 fully grown Smooth Newts were seen in Old Hartley pond in the last week of the month.


A below average 5 reports of Roe Deer were received with 4 animals in the area of the oxbow lake (sex unknown) seen on 2nd, 3 females seen on 16th  and 26th both in the area of Hartley West Farm and then 3 females seen again near Crow Hall Farm on 28th. Finally, the male was seen on 10th near Holywell Road Bridge.

There is very little to report on Grey Squirrel activity, with no animals seen or feeding boxes visited in the Dene this month, although along the Avenue a mature female was trapped on the last day of the month. Also along the Avenue, a grey was killed by a car in the middle of the month. In this case no news is good news!

Red Fox were seen at last light on 2 occasions on the edge of the Dene near to Seaton Sluice, obviously on their way to their garden feeding grounds.


Starting along the water, pride of place must go to the Grey Herons who have been in the heronry day and night making quite a din with their calling. 10 have often been seen in amongst their nests as well as ones and twos feeding along the river and estuary, as well as others sunning themselves in the nearby fields.

Pink-footed Geese appear to have departed to their summer breeding areas because none have been seen or heard since 12th when a flock of around 500 landed on an adjacent field but stayed for less than an hour. Before that, 150 were seen on 3rd in the same field and stayed most of the day. Moorhen sightings continue to tell a similar story, with no sighting reports since the 10th of birds a little upstream of the pipe pond bridge, their usual winter quarters. Before that date, sightings of up to 4 birds were being regularly received.

Near the old railway line tunnel, 1 or 2 Dippers have continued to be seen especially early in the morning but there still have been no reports of Dippers near the smaller tunnel further to the west. In the estuary a Little Egret was seen on 3 occasions on 7th, 10th and 17th while 2 were seen on 20th, first in the estuary and then later the same day flying upstream. A Grey Wagtail has only been reported on 3 occasions, while a Kingfisher was only seen once, all sightings in the estuary. In the same location 10 or less Redshanks have continued to be seen but these are much smaller flocks than seen earlier in the winter.  

Once again Wrens have been grossly underreported but they are still about and beginning to sing but the surprise of the month has been the Mallards. Normally, most reports come from the estuary and a few still have but the concentration of birds this month has been in the tunnel area. On the 2nd 2 were reported but by 16th they were into double figures and these numbers have continued up to the end of the month. Why they have concentrated in this area this year is anyone’s guess.

Birds of prey have generally been few and far between, with a Sparrowhawk being seen only once in the Dene on 8th but many times in the gardens of nearby houses and a Kestrel was reported in the Crow Hall Farm area on 10th. A Buzzard has been regularly seen or heard through the month with 2 birds seen on the 10th, all reports were of birds flying above the adjacent fields. There has been 1 report of a Red Kite seen on 15th above the obelisk fields. Finally, around the middle of the month, a Merlin was seen in the area of the estuary cottages and in a garden between there and the grounds of Delaval Hall. There were 3 reports of this unusual bird and it is thought it was migrating down the coast, as they do, and popped inland for a quick feed.

The Dene woodlands have had all the usual common birds some beginning to sing, which is nice to hear, while others have been arguing over territory. Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits have all been seen in expected numbers but there has not been one report this month of a Willow Tit.  The larger groups of Long-tailed Tits have broken up as the month progressed, with the second half generating many sightings but only of 1 or 2 birds.

The usual 1 or 2 Dunnock have been seen cleaning up under the feeders as have Robins, although as the month has gone on their numbers have gradually reduced to single birds. Tree Sparrows have continued to either dominate feeding areas with flocks into double figures or not be seen at all: it is rare just to see 1 or 2 of these birds on their own.

Bullfinch have dominated the finches with numbers between 1 and 5 seen almost daily, while Chaffinch have regularly been seen but only in singles or pairs, except on 24th when 5 were seen in the Dene. Goldfinch numbers still continue to be well below those of a few years ago, with only 1 to 3 being the numbers most reported, although on 24th there was a report of 7 in the central part of the Dene.

As usual Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been seen or heard by virtually everyone visiting the Dene, many devouring the peanuts in the feeders at great speed. The majority of the birds seen are male, so it is assumed the females are on nesting duties. Both in the Dene and adjoining fields Pheasants, of both sexes, have been regularly seen and heard throughout the month, with numbers appearing to be well up on recent years. It is pleasing to report that Stock Doves have been seen in the Dene on 11 occasions this month, although only single birds or a pair

Birds making a great deal of noise in the Dene this month are the Rooks who have been in their breeding sites all month with numbers, overall, around 50. In the adjacent fields the massive flocks of Jackdaws, Carrion Crows and Magpies appear to be breaking up but the Woodpigeons continue in their large flocks often 50 or more.

Sightings of less common birds have included 1 or 2 Nuthatch, seen twice in the Dene and twice in the estuary, a Jay once in the estuary, a Song Thrush twice in the Dene and once in the estuary, a Treecreeper and Goldcrest once in the Dene, a Stonechat once along the old railway line and 2 Siskin on one occasion seen on feeders near Old Hartley car park. Then to show spring is really here, a Skylark was singing above the fields adjacent to Hartley West Farm on the 24th.

March 2019

First butterflies seen

First frog’s spawn

Hedgehogs out of hibernation

First summer visitor arrives

Last winter visitor departs

Red Kite seen

Kingfisher seen

The final 10 days or so of March were unseasonably warm and sunny and this got the wildlife and vegetation going although the last couple of days would have given everything a rude shock as below average temperatures returned.


It wasn’t until the 29th that the first butterflies were reported, a Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral both in the area of Old Hartley pond, this being the last day of the warm weather. They were not seen in the final 2 days of the month when the temperature dropped.


Smooth Newts continued to be seen in both the Hartley and Pipe ponds with the occasional Frog and Toad in the damp surrounding areas. Towards the end of the month Frog’s Spawn was reported in the Old Hartley pond, this being the same date it was reported in 2018.


The nights of the warm spell had Hedgehogs appearing from their winter hibernation, although with the ground so dry finding food might have proved difficult. At least there were no reports of daytime observations of these animals, which would mean food problems.

There were a good number of Row Deer sightings throughout the month and from a wide area. On the 18th and then the 27th 4 and 2 Deer were reported from the area between Holywell and Seghill and on the last day of the month 1 was seen in woodland near the Avenue. In more central areas the male was seen on its own on a number of occasions throughout the month, with 4 and then 5 female Deer seen on Hartley West Farm on the 8th and 16th. Finally 2 were seen in an adjacent field to the south of Hartley Lane, opposite the layby, on the 25th.  

The only sighting of a Red Fox in the month was a dead one in a field to the south of Hartley Lane, probably having been shot.

Weekly checking of Grey Squirrel feeding boxes has continued throughout the month by FoHD volunteers but no box had been visited. One box, near Crow Hall farm was found vandalised and has been replaced. To the west of the Concorde House area tunnel, 3 new boxes have been erected, not the responsibility of FoHD, and soon after they were put up a mature male was captured. There have been no reported sightings of Grey Squirrels except in the area between Holywell Road Bridge and the footbridge below Concorde House. Sites for feeding boxes in this area are being investigated but it is proving difficult to find suitable secure locations.


The river has been an interesting place for birds this month and I must start with Wrens. A difficult bird to spot but one you cannot miss with its loud song. Consequently, reports increased dramatically as the month wore on, with up to 8 being heard along some stretches of the river. There has been plenty of activity near the main tunnel with numerous reports of 1 or 2 Dippers being seen, often with 1 carrying nesting material. Then from the middle of the month there were a number of reports of 1 or 2 Grey Wagtails in the same area.

The surprise in this area has been the Mallards seen. Very early in the month there were no less than 15 in the area, this number gradually dropping to 7 towards the end of the month. They consisted of 3 pairs and a lone male that was constantly being pushed away. On the 26th they were joined by a Moorhen, a rarity in this area.

In the area of the stepping-stones the river produced reports of a Kingfisher on 26th and 27th with one of the reports saying it was probably a pair but the person couldn’t be sure. Single Grey Herons have still been seen on various parts of the river and estuary but the concentration has been in the heronry where 10 birds have been regularly seen. Nesting is well under way and I am pleased to say the recent noise level has decreased dramatically and sightings become more difficult as leaves develop on the trees. The first half of the month produced 5 sightings of a Little Egret in the estuary but nothing since, as they may have departed to their breeding areas. Redshank numbers seen in the estuary have shown a major drop since last month with only 1s or 2s being reported. On the14th one surprised reporter saw a lone Mute Swan in the field just south of the pipe pond.


In the skies above the area a Sparrowhawk was reported only twice, with a single Buzzard being seen or heard on 8 occasions above the fields to the north and west of the river, while on 24th a Red Kite was seen between the Dene and Delaval Hall and on 26th, in the same area, there was a pair.

The massive winter flocks made up of Jackdaws, Carrion Crows, Magpies and Woodpigeon have continued to be seen in and above the adjacent fields. A full day shooting cull of these birds took place towards the end of the month organised by the farming community to try to reduce the damage done to their crops: hopefully it will have done some good. Rooks have been seen and heard in their rookeries in the Dene all month.

March is the month when we say goodbye to the last of our winter visitors and hello to the early summer ones. Generally there have been few Redwings reported this winter and the last of these was seen in the estuary on the 3rd. Then 3 weeks elapsed before the first Chiffchaff was heard on 24th with their numbers increasing rapidly as the days went by.

A number of less common woodland birds were seen this month with a Greenfinch seen in the estuary on the 3rd, a Jay seen on 5th and 19th, a Goldcrest seen between the two wooden bridges on 13th and Treecreepers seen in the centre part of the Dene, with 1 on 20th and 24th and 2 on the 27th. Sadly the Song Thrush must now be included in this group as it was only reported twice, on the 8th near Old Hartley Pond and on the 20th in the estuary, where it was seen carrying nesting material. It was not a good month for Willow Tit sightings with only 2 reports of a single bird seen on the  12th and 26th from its usual area along the Hartley/Seaton Sluice path.

All the common woodland birds were around in their expected numbers, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Tree Sparrow, Robin, Nuthatch and Stock Dove.

As usual at this time of year Coal Tit numbers seen, started to decrease as the month wore on with only single birds being reported in the second half of the month while the Long-tailed Tits almost disappeared in the second half of the month with just 1 sighting of 2 birds on 27th. There was just 1 report of 5 Goldfinch in the first half of the month but in the last 7 days sightings and numbers increased up to low double figure flocks.

So to the 2 most reported birds this month, the Woodpecker (mostly male) generated daily reports either from sightings or their very recognisable drumming sound and the Pheasant that was everywhere and is not only known to most people by its shape, size and colouring but also from its very loud call, something that if the bird has not been seen but is nearby can come as quite a shock.

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.