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The Dene through the Seasons


December 2018

Otter seen just south of Holywell Village

2 Grey Squirrels trapped

Great Spotted Woodpeckers abound

Collard Doves seen in the Dene

The Pink-footed Geese are back

Wonderful view of a pair of Buzzards

Pair of Dippers takes up residence


Continuing this year’s winter trend, there have been only a few reports of Roe Deer. In the first week there were 2 reports of 2 females in the fields near Hartley West Farm (HWF) followed in the next week by 1 near Crow Hall Farm (CHF), probably a male. Then on 21st there was a report of 3 females crossing a field near HWF and that was it for the month.

On the 14th there was a report of an Otter seen in rather a strange location, between the Concorde House footbridge and the small tunnel. It was watched for about 15 minutes before disappearing into the tunnel.

At the end of the November Fauna Report we were left rather in limbo when 2 Grey Squirrel feeding boxes were found empty on the 28th.  A check of boxes 2 days later, on 1st December, found an incredible 7 boxes had been visited by Greys and so at 8am on the 2nd traps were placed beneath the 2 boxes nearest to CHF. They were checked again, in according with the rules, at 5pm the same day and a mature male was in found in one and an immature female in the other.

As it was felt certain that, based on the number of boxes visited, there must be other Greys in the Dene we waited to see which boxes were next entered, with checks being undertaken on a daily basis. Nothing happened and throughout the rest of the month not a single box was visited. However, 3 Grey Squirrel sightings were reported, 2 on the south side in the area of the stepping-stones and the last on the 21st near the upstream wooden bridge.


December has turned out to be rather a pattern-less month with numbers of birds being seen varying in line with daytime temperatures. Starting with Blackbirds, virtually every report received contained a reference to them, with numbers up to 11 and usually the word ‘arguing’ was somewhere to be found. Blue Tits up to 7, Great Tits up to 7 and Coal Tits up to 4 have all been well reported with 7 reports of the rare Willow Tit being seen with 2 of those reports from areas further away from the usual sighting area, which is from the Hartley Lane Car Park to the harbour – a good sign for this rapidly declining bird nationally. Long-tailed Tit sightings have been very disappointing with only 2 reports of 5 and 4 birds.

Reports of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, either seen or heard drumming, have gone through the roof in the second 2 weeks of the month, with a number of reports of 2 birds drumming one on either side of the river. One wonders if the Dene is approaching saturation point for this bird.

Bullfinch reports, of 1 to 3 birds, have been about average for December and have come from all areas of the Dene. The same can be said about Chaffinch but numbers appear to be decreasing with most reports of only 1 or 2 birds. Goldfinch has been rare this month with just 1 report of 3 birds at the end of the month.

Dunnock, mostly seen hoovering under seed feeders, have been well reported and, where there are humans, a Robin will not be too far away and this has resulted in many reports, although only of 1 or 2 birds.

The number of Nuthatch sightings, from ever increasing areas of the Dene, has been exceptionally good with at least 50% of the reports of 2 birds. Tree Sparrow sightings go from strength to strength with many of the reports around the 10 figure. Most still come from the east end of the Dene but they appear to be expanding as I or 2 reports have come from the old railway line area. In the Dene at least they appear to have taken over from the House Sparrow, which is now very rarely seen. Stock Dove sightings have been very satisfactory this month, with 1 or 2 birds seen in various places including the estuary, with reports increasing rapidly towards the end of the month.

Jays continue to be seen or heard regularly from throughout the Dene, although reports dried up in the last 10 days of the month. On the 2nd 2 reports arrived from different people reporting sightings of 2 birds at the same time, the first from the Hartley Lane Car Park and the other from the Old Railway Line. There were 2 single reports this month, the first was of a Goldcrest seen in the estuary on 24th and the other was of 2 Collard Doves seen near Old Hartley Pond on 9th.

Finally under woodland birds, mention must be made of the Corvids, Jackdaws, Rooks, Carrion Crows, Magpies and Woodpigeon that have all been around in good numbers often making up flocks of 100s of birds flying to or from the woodland or feeding on the adjacent grazing fields, and making a considerable noise!  

On and above the adjacent fields, the bird that has been seen the most is the Pheasant, mostly male but occasionally a pair: often seen walking for incredible distances, when flying would be so much quicker. Birds have been seen in the open fields but often heard in the bushy field edges. Early on the morning of the 27th 2 Red-legged Partridge were disturbed on the edge of a field and had their normal short low flight, just far enough to get out of  harm’s way. Then on 27th came the first large Pink-footed Goose flock of the winter, although they didn’t stay long. 3 days later a similar flock of about 450 birds stayed a little longer. I think they are looking for a field that grew potatoes, recently harvested, which is their favourite

The 9th was a fine day with the sun shining in a beautiful clear blue sky and at 11.15 eyes were turned upwards to watch 2 Buzzards circling and drifting in the light winds at no great height so that one got a wonderful view of their plumage. Amazingly they were completely alone without a Corvid in sight. On the very same day but at around 21.30, a Tawny Owl was loudly calling from a tree on the very outskirts of the Dene and consequently heard by pedestrians walking on the south side of Seaton Sluice. Only 1 Sparrowhawk was reported all month, this on 24th in the estuary and on the same day 2 Kestrels were seen, again in the estuary, obviously on a visit from the dunes, their more usual hunting ground.

On the river the good news is that on 14th a pair of Dippers was seen sitting on the same rock near the tunnel entrance and have been seen a number of times since. Single birds have also been reported from the same area as well as from under the Holywell Road Bridge. On the other hand a Grey Wagtail has only been seen twice, on 20th in the estuary and on the 30th on the river in the Dene itself. A Kingfisher was seen on 4th near the Stone Bridge, while Moorhens, up to 5, have been seen on the edge of the vegetation a little upstream from the Pipe Pond Bridge. In the estuary a Little Egret was seen on 2nd and 22nd and Redshanks, between 1 and 20, have been regularly reported throughout the month. Wrens, towards the end of the month have been heard singing, resulting in a few more reports for this tiny grossly under-reported bird.

There have only been 2 reports of Mallard, 6 in the estuary on the 30th and 4 in the Dene on the 2nd, while a Cormorant has visited the Dene on 3 occasions, 2nd, 11th and 18th. Finally, Grey Herons have, as usual, been seen almost daily throughout the Dene and estuary, with numbers between 1 and 3.

And so to 2019 – to our readers “All the very best for the New Year”

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.

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.