The Dene through the Seasons
Over 1000 Geese in one field
Bad weather attracts Fieldfare and Redwing
Plenty of Roe Deer seen
The first sighting of a pair of Dippers this year
The cold, wet and generally windy weather in January has been continued in February, culminating in severe cold temperatures with gale force winds from the east, bringing in heavy snow towards the end of the month.
It will be surprising if this severe weather does not have some effect on wildlife in the Dene in early spring.
There have only been two sightings of a Grey Squirrel this month, once on 9th and again on 12th, both in the same area between Holywell Road Bridge (HRB) and the oxbow lake. There is a strong possibility that the sightings were of the same animal. Weekly feeding box checking has shown no visitors.
There have been twelve reports of Roe Deer being seen from as far apart as just downstream from HRB to the field above the pipe pond at the head of the estuary. The largest group seen was 6 (a male and 5 females) and the smallest a single male on the 25th, the last sighting. The usual group size has been between 3 and 5, with all being female.
Brown Rats have been reported a number of times from beneath the bird feeders, with reports increasing dramatically nearer the end of the month. The Rats only appear when no movement of humans or dogs can be detected. 2 Stoats have been seen, both thought to be male, once on the north side of the river opposite Hartley Pond and the second between the tunnel entrance and wooden bridge. Neither were white.
Starting in the adjoining fields, things have been quiet except for the massive flocks of Pink footed Geese, which took a liking to the grazing fields from the 7th onwards. On that date a flock, thought to number 1200 birds, spread itself across the whole field as they landed at 09.45 and there they stayed until late afternoon. The noise of their arrival could be heard some considerable distance away and, except for two or three circular flights above the fields during the day, they stayed feeding on the grass. After that initiation, flocks, albeit smaller of around 300 to 750 birds, were to be seen and heard on four other days. The flock seen on 20th had a lone Barnacle Goose in their midst and on 25th there were 2 White Fantailed Doves surrounded by 350 other much larger birds. Obviously the doves had escaped from somewhere but it is hoped they found their way home; as it is doubtful they would have survived the severe weather in the following days.
Male Pheasants were seen running across the fields on six occasions but others were often heard calling in all parts of the Dene but not seen. With all the geese about, the large flocks of Gulls, Crows, and Jackdaw were missing but Magpies appear to go from strength to strength with flocks of up to 15 having been seen and, in the same area, Woodpigeon flocks of 75 plus were common. Some 40 Rooks have continued to make a very loud noise from their rookery at the east end of the Dene.
Things have been quiet on the river, including the estuary. Grey Heron have been seen and heard all month,
with the majority of sightings coming from the area of their heronry: 6 birds were seen there on 5th. However, two of the sightings were well upstream, one in the Dale Top area and another near the tunnel entrance under the old railway line (ORL) Then on the 22nd 3 were seen resting in a straight line, equidistant apart, in a field already occupied by hundreds of geese. There was only one report of a Cormorant and that was early morning on 15th flying low going downstream towards the estuary.
Sightings of the Dipper have been very disappointing with only one report of a single bird at the tunnel entrance and two reports of a bird under HRB. Then on the very last day of the month 2 Dippers were seen at the tunnel entrance –perhaps nesting is still on. A Grey Wagtail has only been reported four times, once in the estuary and the other times in various parts of the central Dene. The Little Egret was only seen once on 23rd – no not in the estuary – but way upstream in the Dale Top path area. A kingfisher was seen on three occasions, once in the estuary and on the other two occasions upstream and downstream of the stone bridge. Moorhens continued to be seen up to 17th but not afterwards. On one occasion 2 were seen near the stone bridge with all the other sightings a little upstream of the metal bridge, with numbers up to 10 being seen.
There were four reports of Mallard with numbers of 1, 2 or 3. Two of the sightings were near the metal bridge with the others well upstream in the centre of the Dene. The only report of Redshank in the estuary this month was on 10th when 9 were seen. Finally along the river, reports towards the end of the month spoke of Wrens being seen flying from bank to bank low over the stream.
February is normally the month when bird activity and song increases as spring nears. This year all followed the normal pattern until the final week, when the easterly gales struck and the countryside was covered in snow and spring had been put on hold!
A Sparrowhawk was only reported once in the central Dene with a Kestrel seen on three occasions, twice hovering over the fields and once in the Dene. A Buzzard was seen in trees along the HBR path on one occasion and flying overhead twice. A Tawny Owl was heard calling on two occasions near Crowhall Farm.
A Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen and heard often from most parts of the Dene, including the estuary while a Jay was seen once in the central part of the Dene and heard twice near the ORL. February was a good month for Tree Sparrows with no less than twenty two sightings with numbers going from a single bird up to a flock of 15. The same can be said for the Stock Dove, except the flock size was lower between 1 and 4. The tiny Goldcrest was seen on four occasions, three times in the Dene and once in the estuary, but there was only a single sighting of a Treecreeper and that between the wooden bridges.
The first Nuthatch sighting reported was on 19th but was then seen a number of times after that date. However the 25th was the day remembered by two small family groups passing through the Dene looking at birds. At the upper bridge a kind Nuthatch appeared for them, then at the lower bridge 2 were on the feeders and on reaching the stepping-stone feeders there was a fourth. Just to make their day complete, as they reached the meadow a Kingfisher was sitting on a branch above the river.
Blue, Great and Coal Tits have all been well seen with Blue Tit flocks sometimes into double figures. Long-tailed Tits have had a quite exceptional month. The larger double-figured flocks tended to break up early in the month but after that small groups of 1 to 4 were reported on almost a daily basis. 1 or 2 Willow Tits were seen on six occasions spread throughout the month but all from the east end of the Dene.
As regards the finches, Bullfinch had another disappointing month with only six sightings, all of 1 bird except on one occasion when there was a pair. Chaffinch were regularly seen but of only 1 or 2 birds.
Of course a Robin appeared on most occasions, sometimes 2 but that usually ended in a fight, while Blackbirds have been everywhere, sometimes in double figure flocks and, needless to say, arguing with each other. Dunnock, usually seen cleaning up under the feeders, have been around all month, always of only 1 or 2 birds. The Dene feeders closest to human habitation have continued to attract Starlings, with up to 7 birds attacking the food as is their way.
The end of the month brought the extreme cold, gales and snow, resulting in Fieldfare, Redwing, Song Thrush and Read Buntings all appearing looking for food, not only in the Dene but also in peoples’ gardens. As well as these unusually seen birds, more common birds increased dramatically in numbers including Chaffinch and Dunnock, all the Tits and of course Blackbirds. Unusually, Robins almost forgot their aggression and fed together and on one occasion three Robins were seen picking up food within a 12” circle, which just shows how bad things must be for our birds.
First Chiffchaff heard on 30th
First Frog spawn found
First butterfly seen on 24th
Roe Deer seen all month
Short-eared Owl seen
Fieldfare and Redwing seen in the severe weather
It was a close run thing, but at last on 24th there were three reports of Small Tortoiseshell, with one report of 2 being seen together: this was followed by a further report of a single Small Tortoiseshell on 29th. In 2017 three species were seen in March, the first 16 days earlier than this month.
It wasn’t until the 26th that a report was received of Frogs and their spawn being seen in Old Hartley Pond (OHP) and that was 17 days later than 2017.
In the early part of this month Brown Rat were still being reported cleaning up under the bird feeders but, as the severe weather improved slightly, reports dried up.
A Grey Squirrel was seen near the Holywell Pumping Station on 13th and then one was seen on 21st and 23rd feeding at a bird feeder in a garden in the Dale Top area of Holywell. A trap was set but without success and the weekly squirrel feeding box check throughout the Dene reported no feeding activity.
On the 2nd 3 female Roe Deer were seen in a Hartley West Farm field and a single male was spotted much further up river near Crowhall Farm. This male was seen again on the 8th, 22nd, 26th, 27th and then on 28th three deer were seen slowly crossing the field SW of the pipe Pond just before sunset. In a surprise activity these animals laid down in the middle of the open field, a male and female close together, while the second female was some distance away. They were still there when night descended but were gone at first light.
Few will forget the severe weather of the first few days of this month but then the odd reasonable days plus the lengthening daylight, meant March reverted to norm, meaning bird life improved in sight and sound.
The river was particularly quiet in the first ten days or so. Only a very occasional Grey Heron was reported with the last Cormorant being seen on 8th and 9th. On the first two days of the month 2 and then 3 Mallard were seen, the first pair near the stone bridge with the 3 being seen in the estuary. The estuary on 2nd produced sightings of 4 Lapwings and a White/Pied Wagtail while 2 Little Egret were seen on 4th and singles on 17th 19th and 22nd.
After those early days of severe weather things got back to normal with 1 to 4 Grey Herons being seen and heard, especially near the heronry, and 1 or 2 Grey Wagtails being seen regularly throughout the Dene, from the estuary to Holywell Road Bridge (HRB). Dippers, on two occasions a pair, were seen at the old railway line (ORL) tunnel and under HRB so there is still hope for nesting. The sightings of Mallard also increased with 1 or 2 being seen throughout the Dene on seven occasions, with a lone male being seen on the 30th in the Concorde Bridge area. Finally on the river, mostly in the area a little upstream from the metal bridge, Moorhens have been well reported with numbers from 1 to 5.
On the adjacent fields life has returned to normal with the departure of the geese, with the fields taken over once again by the Crows, Jackdaws, Rooks, Magpie, Woodpigeon and assorted Gulls. However on the 30th there were two unusual birds that joined them, White Fantail Doves, this being a repeat of 25th February when they were seen in amongst the geese. Where do they come from? The only other sighting in the fields has been a male Pheasant, seen in the last week just outside the start of the woodland, no less than 5 times, which probably means a nesting female close by. Many other reports have come in of male Pheasant calling from various locations throughout the Dene, a good indication of multiple nests. Finally above the fields a Buzzard was seen on two occasions and once resting in a tree in the woodland.
In the woodlands, the highlight was a Short-eared Owl seen on the 21st, initially resting in a tree but then taking off and flying across the field: a magnificent sight. The other unusual sights were Fieldfare and Redwing seen in those early bad weather days trying to find food in the Dene. At one stage 60 Redwing were counted but as the weather improved they left, with the last report being of 2 on 18th. The final highlight that must be included was the first summer visiting Chiffchaff heard in the Dene on both the 30th and 31st and in the estuary on the 30th some two weeks later than 2017.
Less common birds seen included a Collared Dove on 7th and 8th, a Mistle Thrush on 10th and a Greenfinch heard on 11th and 30th in the estuary. There was only 1 sighting of a Song Thrush again from the estuary and, much later than normal, reports of both male and female Reed Bunting arrived, with single birds seen on 5 occasions and a pair seen on the last day of the month, all reports coming from the Hartley Car Park area and the ORL. Treecreepers were not seen in the first 2 weeks of the month but then 1 was seen on 12th and on 22nd and then on 24th 1 was seen in the estuary and another in the Dene, and finally between the two wooden bridges on 30th, 6 were counted. A Nuthatch was seen on the feeders on 3 occasions in the month.
Coming to more common but no less important birds, a good starting point must be the Blackbird, seen everywhere with groupings up to 8, needless to say all arguing!. There has been a very good showing of Dunnock up to 3 often seen under the feeders and a totally normal show of Robin, mostly single birds but occasionally 2, either fighting or not. Great Spotted Woodpecker have been heard more often than seen but it is pleasing to report that they have been heard drumming from the estuary right through to the Dale Top, Holywell area, which is a good indication for multiple nesting.
The bird that appears to be taking over in the Dene is the Tree Sparrow with no less than 22 reports with flocks up to 9 but many in the 4 – 6 range. Blue, Great and Coal Tit have been well reported all month many seen enjoying the food in the feeders while Long-tailed Tit have had a particularly good month with many more reports than normal for March: all the reports have been in the 1- 3 range showing they are preparing for nesting, when they normally disappear from the Dene. Willow Tits have had another very good month with 10 reports, all single birds except on 27th when a pair was feeding together. The increase in reports this winter appears to have coincided with the feeders being spread more widely in the Dene. However interestingly, all the reports have come from the feeders between Hartley Pond and the metal bridge, the latter especially.
Bullfinch, Chaffinch and Goldfinch all have had a reasonable March with all the increase in Bullfinch sightings coming from the second half of the month, while the other two were more evenly spread.
Wrens have not been forgotten but only a couple of reports have been received: just wait until their song is heard and reports will no doubt rocket. Stock Dove, on the other hand, have been reported regularly throughout the month with numbers between 1- 4 but in past years have tended to disappear during the summer.
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!
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.