The Dene through the Seasons
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
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.
First butterflies seen
First frog’s spawn
Hedgehogs out of hibernation
First summer visitor arrives
Last winter visitor departs
Red Kite 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.
Summer visitors including Swallows have continued to arrive
Dippers – 2 pairs are nesting
A Gadwall seen on the river
A Common Sandpiper seen in the estuary
Many reports of a Tawny Owl
A large flock of Redpolls seen
Song Thrush are back and nesting
After the 2 reports of butterflies at the end of March there was then a blank until the third week of April when temperatures increased and the sun came to the NE. The most reported butterfly was the Orange Tip, which was seen in all parts of the Dene with numbers up to 6. At the same time a Green-veined White was regularly seen in the central parts of the Dene by those who could differentiate it from the female Orange Tip. A Peacock was seen on 18th with one reported next day from the estuary. Finally the first 2 Speckled Woods were seen on 24th near the seat a little upstream from the pipe pond.
It appears that the Frog’s spawn reported last month has died and nothing further has been reported in April. The only sightings this month were of 3 mature Frogs in the meadow area and 2 Smooth Newts seen in the water from the Old Hartley dipping platform.
The very dry April has not been good for Hedgehogs with their diet of slugs and snails in short supply. The 2 rescued Hedgehogs, collected from the Longframlington Centre on the 6th and released into the Dene, are still returning each evening and consuming the food put out for them – we wish Sean and Nova the best of luck. Only 1 road casualty has been reported in this area this month, on the road passing the caravan site near the Delaval Arms pub
There have been a good number of Roe Deer sightings this month tailing off towards the end of the month as females move away to their breeding areas. 2 animals, sometimes thought to be 2 females and other times a male and female, were seen 5 times along the Holywell Road Bridge path, mostly on the north side of the river. In the same area early on the 20th a male was watched leisurely strolling through the jumps in the riding school and on the same day another, or possibly the same one, was seen on the Crow Hall farm fields near the lay-by.
Then on the 14th 3 female Roe Deer were seen on the Hartley West farm fields travelling north at speed and these could have been the same animals that had been seen on the south side of the river between the 2 bridges on the 11th 1 female and on the 13th 2 females Since this series of sightings only single males have occasionally been seen.
Although Grey Squirrels have been seen in the Dene throughout the month they have only fed from a feeding box on 2 occasions. On 25th a box near Crow Hall farm was visited and then 3 days later 3 boxes in the general area of the oxbow lake were found empty. This one-off effect has made trapping impossible. A Grey Squirrel has been seen on 9 occasions either in a group of 1 or 2, in two general areas: the first around the oxbow lake and the other area further east between the 2 wooden bridges.
Finally, a Bank Vole was seen at the upstream bridge feeders and on 2 other occasions a Brown Rat was having a feast on the droppings under the feeders with a further Brown Rat on the river bank further upstream towards the tunnel.
Some more summer visitors arrived this month to join the considerable number of Chiffchaffs that have been seen and heard in the Dene all month. The first male Blackcap was reported on 11th and then numbers of both sexes increased as the month wore on, some already nest building. Then on 19th 2 Swallows were seen in the estuary area to be followed by a Willow Warbler on the 23rd in the centre part of the Dene and finally 3 Whitethroats were seen on 27th on the east/west wagonway above the pipe pond at the head of the estuary.
On the river it appears we have 2 pairs of Dippers nesting as last year, with a pair in each of the tunnels. Then close to the entrance to the east tunnel a pair of Grey Wagtails has been well reported with, on 2 occasions, a bird seen taking nesting material into a crevice in the rock face. Wrens have been in fine voice along the whole river and very well reported while Mallard have been seen in all stretches of the river and estuary, sometimes pairs but as the month wore on the sightings were generally of males only.
Early in the month there were many of reports of numerous Grey Herons seen and heard in the heronry but then the curtain of leaves came down and reports almost dried up. Single birds continued to be seen along the river and especially in the estuary and on a couple of occasions 3 and then 4 were seen sunning themselves in the fields to the west of the heronry, staying for considerable lengths of time.
A Little Egret was only seen on 3 occasions, always in the estuary, on 2nd, 21st and 23rd while there was only 1 report of a Moorhen seen on the 9th but in a very strange location, on the sand bank close to the entrance to the east tunnel. 2 distinctly unusual sightings was a single Gadwall seen on the river west of the east tunnel on 17th and a Common Sandpiper seen in the estuary on 27th, probably visiting on its way to its breeding ground.
A Buzzard, that had become quite a common visitor during the winter, was only reported twice in April, on 9th and 14th whereas a Sparrowhawk, that from residents reports appeared to have spent the winter in adjacent gardens, suddenly appeared back in the Dene generating numerous reports, one of which was of a pair nest building on 20th. A Tawny Owl or possibly a pair generated many reports, all from the central part of the Dene. Initially most of the reports were of one calling but as the month went on these reports changed to sightings of it roosting in a particular tree and at other times seen flying in daylight in the area of the large trees on the south side of the downstream wooden bridge. There is one of our owl nesting boxes in that area and one has to wonder!
On now to the woodland birds and the biggest surprise of the month: a visit to an off-path inspection early on the cold morning of 4th a Blackbird was seen flying with a worm into a nearby bush. A gentle parting of 2 branches of the bush revealed a nest of open beaks. What a surprise to the watcher who was wearing a thick coat, gloves and a hat. Subsequent infrequent looks indicated all was going well for the brood.
All what might be called our usual birds Blackbirds, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Robin, Tree Sparrow, Nuthatch and Dunnock have all appeared in the numbers expected in April, although some people have commented that Blue Tit numbers appear to be on the low side this year. As usual at this time of the year Long-tailed Tit numbers have decreased dramatically with only 2 sightings of 2 birds while a Willow Tit was only seen twice, on 19th 2 birds and 29th 1 bird. Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been seen or heard in all parts of the Dene with much activity going on around the known nesting holes. Interestingly in the first half of the month it was almost all males that were seen but this changed during the second half to both sexes. There has been a considerable increase in Pheasants seen and heard in the Dene this year and this has continued into April. It is known that nest building and egg laying is under way in a number of areas. Stock Dove’s first brood have already fledged and the parents are presently starting on with their second with the aim of having at least 4 broods this summer.
To finish the common birds, fleeting mention must be made of the usual Rooks, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Magpie and Woodpigeon – they were all around in their usual numbers.
Moving now to the less common birds, in the first week of the month there was an amazing sight on the high cables to the west of Hartley West Farm, when 40 or so Redpolls took up residence for a few days. The quality of the photographs taken against a bright sky background made it impossible to say whether they were Common or Lesser Redpolls. There were just 2 sightings this month of a Greenfinch on 7th and 21st and 1 of a Stonechat on the old railway line on 7th and a Linnet with a good photograph on 26th. On the 11th 2 Redwing were seen, probably preparing for their migration,
Treecreepers were well reported with 2 pairs seen nest building, while there were just a few reports of Goldcrest with 1 pair seen starting to nest. Towards the end of the month a pair of Mistle Thrush were seen and on one occasion appeared to be nest building. Jays were well reported throughout the Dene from west to east but the concentration appeared to be towards the Tunnel/Crow Hall Farm area where on the 14th 5 were seen. Last year they nested in an owl box in this area and it is expected they will do the same this year.
A happy note to conclude with. During the winter a number of comments were made about the lack of Song Thrush in the Dene and this continued until the middle of April. Then all of a sudden they were back resulting in 6 being seen on 21st and reports coming in almost daily, with at least 2 pairs being seen nest building.
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.