The Dene through the Seasons
Barn Owl seen
Tawny Owls breeding
Pair of Gadwall seen
First young Woodpecker seen
The month started off well for butterflies. Speckled Wood up to 4, Peacock 5, Green-veined White 4, a single Red Admiral and 2 Small White were all seen in various parts of the Dene, although the concentrations were mainly in the estuary. However, the surprise was a Common Blue seen in the estuary on 10th which, despite specific searches in the following days, was not seen again. In the middle of the month the weather changed and the butterflies disappeared except for Orange Tips, which went from plentiful everywhere in the first half of the month to only occasional in the second half.
I am delighted to say that the report in April that the Frog’s Spawn had died proved incorrect because in May the Old Hartley pond was teeming with Tadpoles while other areas of water had at least some. Damp areas produced a few Frogs and Toads while Common Newts and Sticklebacks appear to have done well in the Old Hartley pond. Other areas usually with water were mostly dry.
The last female Row Deer was seen in the tunnel area on the 2nd and then for the rest of the month very occasional sightings of a male Row Deer came in from various areas of the Dene. Now we wait for the arrival of the new families in the autumn.
The 2 rescue Hedgehogs, from the Longframlington Rescue Trust, released into the Dene in April were still being fed throughout May, although the amount was being gradually decreased. In the last days of the month, during wet nights when their natural food was plentiful, they failed to consume the evening meal offered, showing they were in good order.
With the nights being short it was not surprising that on 3 occasions a Red Fox was seen in daylight by both early and late visitor to the Dene. One report was of a Fox returning to the Dene from a nearby garden.
Grey Squirrels provided a busy time for the feeding box checkers and trapper this month. The regular sightings of these animals continued from April into May but still they were not regularly visiting the feeding boxes and so catching them was impossible. They were concentrated in 2 areas, in the centre part of the Holywell Road Bridge path around the oxbow lake and another group to the east, centred on the upstream wooden bridge. This frustrating situation went on until the middle of the month when suddenly in both areas boxes started being emptied and it was possible to set traps. This resulted in 2 being caught on 17th, 2 on 18th and 1 on 19th in the oxbow area and 1 being caught on 27th, 28th and 29th in the upstream bridge area. This meant 8 had been caught in a relatively short period of time but importantly 4 were females that would have produced a family later in the summer. Sightings continued so it was known that some were still around as we moved into June.
This is the month when in the first half reports flow in of birds courting or nesting or preparing to nest, all easy to see and hear. By the end of the month reports dry up as the leaves on the trees and other foliage thickens and birds keep a very low profile to protect their nests or youngsters.
On the river the Dipper with its young, in the area of the tunnel and downstream, was seen by a number of people but reports of the Grey Wagtail nesting in the same area dried up by mid-month and there is fear of what happened to the birds or its nest. The Moorhen nesting in that area had greater success with 4 youngsters and may even be having a second brood. There was only 1 report of a Kingfisher being seen on 14th near the farm road stone bridge.
Numerous Grey Herons continued to be seen in the heronry until it became impossible to see them through the trees. After that it was the single birds along the river up to the tunnel and right down to the estuary that generated the most reports. At the other end of the size spectrum the tiny Wren was about everywhere but with its loud song mostly silenced it was much more difficult to see its fast short movements.
It was almost impossible to keep up with the many reports of Mallards. Not one described an adult with a large number of youngsters, the most being 2, 3 or 4 which indicates the fox had been having successful excursions. This is disappointing as the birds have nested in various places in the Dene and had not been concentrated in one area.
On the 7th a Shelduck was seen in the estuary and on 14th a Common Sandpiper was seen about a mile upstream from the pipe bridge. However the surprise of the month was a pair of Gadwall seen in the oxbow area of the Dene, this coming after the single bird was seen in April.
Owls have been particularly interesting this month. On 18 May in the early evening above the uncultivated field at the top of the steps leading up from the pipe pond was a Barn Owl hunting for food. It is interesting to speculate as to where it is nesting. Tawny Owls have been well reported both calling and producing youngsters. A pair nested in one of FoHD’s nesting boxes on the south side of the river near the downstream wooden bridge. Initial reports were of birds in the area, then of adults carrying in food, then an adult looking out of the box and then 2 youngsters looking out and finally the youngsters on the branch of a tree nearby. Meanwhile further upstream north of the upstream wooden bridge a Tawny Owl was seen roosting in a tree a number of times. Whether it is one of another pair with a nest nearby is not known. Mention must be made of the numerous people reporting Tawny Owls calling from areas totally different to this central area. From the estuary to Hartley Lane car park and then west to the oxbow area and even further to the Concorde House area Tawny Owls have been heard.
Birds of prey have been almost non-existent this month with just 1 report of a Sparrowhawk seen near the upstream bridge on 2nd. In the woodland the most reported bird has been the Greater Spotted Woodpecker, seen by many gathering food for its youngsters and then on 29th came 3 separate reports from different areas of the first youngster being seen. Most of the usual birds have been reported throughout the Dene in varying numbers often gathering food or feeding young. These included Blackbird up to 6, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Bullfinch up to 4, Chaffinch, Goldfinch up to 4, Dunnock with begging youngsters, a Robin with young, Tree Sparrows up to 5 and a Song Thrush with 2 youngsters being fed. An amazing number of Pheasants were either seen or heard this month, reports coming from every area of the Dene.
There were only 6 reports of a Coal Tit being seen, 3 of a Willow Tit on 6th 8th and 18th, and not one of a Long-tailed Tit or a Nuthatch. A pair of Stock Doves has nested close to Hartley Lane car park so they have been well seen. After the increase in sightings of Jays over the winter, this month there has just been 1 report on the 11th. Surprisingly a Pied Wagtail was seen in the tunnel area on 22nd. Whitethroat, up to 3, were seen or heard in the Dene and estuary in the first half of the month and Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were well reported from all parts. There were 2 reports of Swifts, the first a single bird on 8th and then 3 on 22nd in the estuary. Swallow sightings were disappointing with only 4 reports with the best being 4 birds on 14th in the estuary and at the same time and location 2 House Martins were seen.
Many Painted Lady butterflies seen
7 Grey Squirrels caught
Mixed flock of hundreds of House Martins, Swallows and Swifts seen
Greenfinch family seen
Skylarks seen and heard
June is not normally a good month for butterflies but this year it has not been too bad. In the first half of the month Orange Tips were still being seen in many parts of the Dene but as they disappeared they were replaced by an unprecedented number of Painted Lady butterflies. Many were not in good condition but still flying and reports of up to 6 came in from all parts of the Dene, as did many reports of Red Admirals being seen up to 4 at a time and surprisingly early in the morning on occasions. On the 10th in the estuary a Common Blue was seen to add to the one seen in May. On the same day a Small Tortoiseshell was seen, the only report of the month. Around the middle of the month Large White joined the Small White butterflies that had been around since April, not good for gardeners or for identification. Right at the end of the month in the uncultivated areas between Hartley West Farm and the old railway line 12 Meadow Brown butterflies were counted, the first of the year.
Plenty of Frogs of varying size have been seen as have Common Newts, although it required plenty of patient observation to get a glimpse; a flat rock surface just below the waterline on a sunny day seems a good way to see them if you are lucky. There have also been 3 reports of a single Toad being seen in different wet areas.
There have been no reports of a Row Deer being spotted this month, not even a male, which is unusual. That also goes for a Red Fox, although they are certainly still around in very good numbers. Sadly a Red Fox Cub was run over on Hartley Lane this month.
Feeding of the released Hedgehogs (see May report) ceased much earlier this year due to the damp conditions during the month making their natural food plentiful. It is very worrying that 2 Hedgehogs have been killed on Hartley Lane this month, albeit a long distance from where they were released.
This has been a very bad month for Grey Squirrels with numerous sightings being reported in the first week and then again in the last 2 weeks. All the activity has taken place in the usual 2 areas, immediately to the west and east of the north/south old railway line. During the first 5 days 4 Grey Squirrels were trapped, 3 in the west area and 1 in the east. Then there was a pause in activity until the 21st after which 2 more were trapped in the west and 1 in the east. So overall 7 Grey squirrels were dispatched during June made up of 1 mature male, 1 mature female and 5 immature females and of this last group 3 were caught in the period after 21st. These statistics are remarkable with only 1 male around 6 females but they are also pleasing in that all that potential breeding capacity has been removed. Sightings were still being received on the last day of the month so it appears that activity will continue into July.
Early June was, as usual, very quiet with birds sitting on eggs or feeding the very young hopefully out of sight of their predators. Then as the month wore on, so more and more activity became apparent as newly fledged birds could be seen doing silly things as they grew in size and became more inquisitive.
Along the river things gradually started to return to normal with Grey Herons returning to their evening and morning schedules as they fished all parts of the river and estuary both adults and juveniles. An adult Dipper, probably the male, was seen on many occasions near the tunnel entrance and downstream while the 2 juveniles were seen, sometimes together and other times well apart, feeding themselves. It appears the Grey Wagtail, seen earlier building a nest near the tunnel, failed for some reason as no family group was seen except for 1 juvenile on the 7th near the downstream bridge and 1 on 18th near the tunnel. There were 2 reports of a Kingfisher on the river one on 11th and the other on 18th.
Mallards appear to have had a poor breeding year. There have been no reports of females with their double digit brood of youngsters, so loved by young humans, but only 4 reports of adults with just 2 to 4 young: Red Fox may have had a good year! The grossly under-reported Wren appears to have been seen in about roughly average numbers so far this year. The Moorhen that raised 4 youngsters near the upstream bridge appeared to be remaking the nest but this was washed away by the rising water after the recent heavy rain.
From reports received 2 adult Tawny Owls have been regularly roosting in the centre part of the Dene and the 2 youngsters from last month’s breeding, near the downstream bridge, have been seen by a number of people, either sitting together on a branch or individually on different branches widely separated.
Birds of prey have been very thin on the ground and in the air. There have been no reports of a Sparrowhawk or a Buzzard either nesting or just flying over. However, we did have one of the occasional visits of a pair of Red Kites to this area on 16th seen in their usual area above the fields a little south west of Delaval Hall. On a second occasion in the same area one was heard calling but was not actually seen.
In the woodland it has been difficult seeing the birds so their calls have been important. Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Whitethroat have all been reported, with the latter being seen with 2 youngsters on 16th near Old Hartley Pond. Our other summer visitors seem to have been feast or famine as regards sightings. House Martins have been the most reported up to 25 seen catching insects above the river usually in the evening. Swallows, either on their own or mixed with the martins, have been seen in flocks of around 15 as have Swifts but on less occasions. However, a day never to be forgotten, took place on the afternoon of 13th in the middle of a very wet spell of weather. It had rained all morning but dried up at lunchtime and in the afternoon the fields of Crow Hall Farm became alive with House Martins, Swallows and Swifts all flying around just above head height and sometimes below. Numbers were impossible to count but clearly the mixed flock ran into 100s.
Our resident birds have all been seen often in family groups or seen feeding youngsters quite capable of feeding themselves. Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Tree Sparrows are all in this group, as are Coal Tits, Robins and Dunnock although their numbers have been much smaller. No Willow Tits have been seen and there have only been 3 reports of Long-tailed Tits in their family groups of 5 and 6. It is pleasing to report a good number of Song Thrush have been seen either carrying food or with youngsters.
Bullfinch, males, females and juveniles have been widespread with Chaffinch and Goldfinch less so but still with families. Finally in the finch family it was a pleasing surprise to see a Greenfinch feeding 3 youngsters, a sight once common but not now.
Needless to say the 30 or so nesting Rooks, large flocks of Jackdaw and Woodpigeon, numerous Magpies and the occasional Carrion Crows have maintained the noise level and movement that is usual in the Dene.
The 1st juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker seen this month was reported on 11th and from then on it was all juveniles with the adults almost disappearing from sight. Stock Doves nested early and their young were seen often but there was a report that a pair was investigating the nesting box used earlier by the Tawny Owl for a second brood. Their decision is not yet known‼ Pheasants, mainly identified by their call, were well reported from all parts of the Dene and from the hedgerows in the adjacent fields.
A Pied/White Wagtail was seen with a juvenile near the tunnel on 6th and 2 Treecreepers were seen feeding 4 youngsters between the upstream bridge and the tunnel on the 4th. As far as is known, Jays did not nest in the Dene this year but a bird, thought to be a juvenile, was seen on 17th 18th and 19th along the path from Hartley Lane Car Park to the harbour. Early in the month a Skylark was seen and heard above the fields adjacent to Crow Hall Farm and then after the period of wet weather finished 3 or 4 birds were heard and seen above the fields between Hartley West Farm and the south/north old railway line.
A Holly Blue butterfly seen
Amazing migration of Painted Lady butterflies
5 Grey Squirrels trapped in first 7 days
Moorhen nests successfully near upper bridge
Tawny Owl killed by car on Hartley Lane
Willow Tits return after breeding
The month started with 2 reports arriving of Small Tortoiseshell seen in the Dene but the nationwide slump of this butterfly continues. Speckled Wood were also reported on 2 occasions, once a single and the second time 2 while Meadow Brown butterflies did better, with reports coming in from most areas of the Dene with numbers between 1 and 10. Green-veined Whites were seen on 5 occasions and, as normal, the Large Whites began to dominate. That took us up to the middle of the month at which point everything went quiet as the weather changed, not to the liking of butterflies.
Then on the 24th July the amazing migration of Painted Lady butterflies started. All along the coast they came in their hundreds if not thousands and quickly dispersed inland. Reports came in of massive flocks of them seen in various areas, flocks so big it was impossible to count them. In amongst them the odd Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Large White and up to 10 Green-veined White were seen and then on 29th the tiny blue butterfly Holly Blue was seen, the first sighting for a number of years in this area.
Other than the occasional report of Frogs being seen of various sizes there is little to report. One or two people have commented on the occasional dead Smooth Newt being seen, which is strange, but it has been nice to see the occasional family group having fun on the dipping platform of Hartley Pond with their nets and buckets.
There has only been 1 sighting of a Roe Deer this month, a male seen near the waterfall on 3rd, unfortunately, either this animal or another male was found dead on the side of The Avenue on 21st.
The first week of the month was a little hectic in respect of Grey Squirrels. There were a number of sightings generally in the area surrounding the upper bridge, which resulted in 5 greys being trapped between the 1st and 7th in the boxes near Crow Hall Farm and the upper bridge, they were made up of 2 immature females, an immature male and a mature pair. Then all went quiet until a sighting was reported of a grey near the upper bridge on the 28th resulting in additional checking visits being made by the volunteers.
Along the stretch of river between the upper bridge and the tunnel a Bank Vole has been active when no noisy humans or dogs have been about. It has been seen on a number of occasions with the best being on 13th when an adult and 2 juvenile Bank Voles was watched under the empty bird feeders near the upper bridge.
The feeding of the 2 rescued Hedgehogs, released into the Dene in April, came to an end early in July because the warm wet weather was producing plenty of their natural food, as gardeners will confirm! Sadly during July we have had 5 road casualties, 2 along Hartley Lane, 2 near Old Hartley Caravan Park, and 1 on Beresford Road. Whether there is a link between our annual release of rescued Hedgehogs and these casualties no one can tell but it is a concern. The release area is a good distance away from all the casualty sites.
July is never an exciting time for birds in the Dene, plenty of young birds of our residents but few if any visitors and, with plenty of natural food in the fields and hedgerows outside the Dene that is where the birds disappear to. Our summer visitors are still around but seeing them in the dense tree and vegetation growth is difficult. There have been a few reports of Chiffchaff, 4 reports of a Blackcap with 1 carrying food and 3 reports of a Whitethroat, one of which was a party of 2 adults and 3 juveniles. From the middle of the month House Martins started to be seen in the evenings in good numbers feeding above the Dene but the number of Swallows seen appears to be well down from a few years ago. On 11th there were around 30 Swifts flying in the area above Old Hartley Pond but all other reports were of just a few birds.
Our common residents have had a mixed month with some being seen often, either feeding young or in mixed parties of young and old, or not seen at all. Great and Blue Tits and Blackbirds, have always been seen but there have been very few Coal Tits around until the last week when numbers started to increase while the only Long-tailed Tit seen in July was a single bird on 30th. The good news is the return of Willow Tits with 2 being seen on 7th near Hartley Lane Car Park and from then on reports have increased with 1 or 2 birds being seen with some appearing to be juveniles.
Once juvenile Bullfinch appeared on the scene then sightings went through the roof, with family groups up to 7 being regularly reported. Chaffinch, on the other hand have been seen all month but only 1 or 2 birds at a time and the same goes for Goldfinch, with both adult and juvenile birds being seen. Right at the end of the month a juvenile Greenfinch was witnessed and the next day an adult appeared in the same location. Who would have thought that through the whole of July there would be only 1 sighting of a Dunnock and 2 of a single Robin!
In the second week of the month a male Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen but after that, despite many reports, often coming in daily, only juveniles have been seen. Song Thrush have been reasonably well reported this month with adults seen carrying food and then later juveniles appearing on the scene, however sightings dried up in the last 10 days of the month. Tree Sparrows continue to go from strength to strength with many juveniles being seen, with up to groups of 7 being common. They may still be rare in some parts of the country but around the Dene they have ousted the House Sparrow, which in turn has become the rarity.
The Barn Owl, seen in the field to the west of Starlight Castle in June, was seen again twice in the first week in July but not after that. In the Dene a Tawny Owl with 1 or 2 of its offspring was seen on 4 occasions in the first 10 days, 3 of which were between the 2 bridges with the other near the oxbow lake to the west, but there was no report after these. However, a roosting Tawny Owl was to be seen on the northern side of the river, around 30 metres from the upper bridge, on a number of occasions but both patience and good binoculars were required. Sadly, on 14th a dead adult Tawny Owl was found on Hartley Lane, killed by a car on the stretch of road between the car park and the lay-by.
A Sparrowhawk was seen on only 3 occasions, once near the lay-by on Hartley Lane and twice near Old Hartley Car Park. On 28th a Kestrel was seen above the Silver Hill fields while on 19th a lone Jay was seen in the centre of the Dene.
The river was quiet this month, with Wrens being reported throughout and 1 or 2 Grey Herons seen fishing along the river and on the estuary. A Kingfisher was seen along the Dale Top part of the river on 11th and on 28th near the tunnel, while an adult Grey Wagtail with 1 juvenile was seen near the upper bridge on 13th and 1 adult on 28th. The Moorhen, that nested in the upper bridge area, may well have had 2 broods, with an adult with 5 juveniles seen on 3rd and then on 14th was seen with 4 tiny chicks. Then on 28 an adult bird was seen on Hartley Pond, all on its own.
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.