The Dene through the Seasons
April was a month of short warm and cold periods but it was very dry with the amount of rainfall being less than half the 1991/2020 average. This means that overall rainfall in the first 4 months of 2022 was well below average and could create a problem in the summer. Mean temperatures were very close to average for the month while the amount of sunshine was about 25% above average although it was closer to average near the coast.
More butterflies were seen this April compared with last year, however there were good and bad days depending on the warmth and sunshine. A single Small Tortoiseshell was seen along the old railway line (ORL) on 10th followed by 2 Red Admiral and 2 Small White on subsequent days, the first near Holywell Road Bridge (HRB) and the second near Old Hartley Pond (OHP) Then on 23rd and 24th a Speckled Wood of tiny dimensions was seen and on 24th the first Orange Tip was seen near the car park together with a Small White and Peacock. The last 2 days of the month generated reports from various locations of 3 Orange Tip, 2 Speckled Wood, 2 Peacocks and a Small White.
Red Squirrel Conservation The 9 squirrel feeding boxes located in the Dene and along The Avenue continued to be checked on a weekly basis throughout April, but not once was one visited by a Grey Squirrel. One of the boxes along The Avenue was visited regularly by a Jay, which conveniently left one of its small feathers, so that box has been left empty of food for the time being. The only sightings of a Grey Squirrel have been close to but not in our areas. The first was seen in the grounds of Delaval Hall on 19th and the second was seen crossing the Seaton Sluice football pitch and entering the adjacent stables on 28th.
Roe Deer There have been numerous reports of Roe Deer this month but all have come from the surrounding areas of the horse field which is on the north side of the Dene immediately east of Holywell Village. The concentration in this area has made it difficult to determine actual numbers but it can be said that there are at least 3 males, 2 or 3 females who look distinctly pregnant and possibly 3 or 4 of last year’s female youngsters in the area: these youngsters will have disappeared before the females give birth. Roe Deer normally give birth between mid-May and mid-June so next month’s report might be more interesting.
Other Mammal Sightings In the last week of the month there have been 2 reports of a Red Fox and its cubs out of their dens playing along a nearby hedge, one was in an adjacent field to the north of the river and the other to the south of the river. The bird feeders have generated not only bird reports this month but also other mammals visiting. Brown Rats have been seen hoovering up the food droppings beneath the food feeders while Wood Mice have been seen on a number of occasions eating from the actual feeders.
There have been 3 reports of a Stoat this month, 2 coming from near the stone bridge over the farm road and the third from close to HRB.
As regards birds April is the month when bird song diminishes and nesting activity becomes frenetic. None of the usual birds were missing in the woodland but very often it was males that were seen and reported while the females got on with nesting. Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Robins, Tree Sparrows and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were all well reported from all parts of the Dene. Pairs of Long-tailed Tits were reported 7 times from throughout the Dene but Coal Tits were very scarce this year with only 3 reports being received. A Willow Tit was seen only twice with 2 birds being seen near OHP on 17th and 1 in the same place on 26th.
Needless to say all the common larger birds were around for the whole month. Rooks were well on with their nesting and let us know with their usual chorus of noise. At least 3 pairs of Carrion Crows are nesting high in trees in the Dene while some of the large flocks of Woodpigeons have already nested with the youngsters out on their own feeding. There have been several comments made about the number of ever increasing Jackdaws about and they appear to be learning how to get food from the bird feeders, hence emptying them far too quickly. Magpies are still about in their usual numbers but spend a lot of their time out in the adjacent fields.
Stock Doves have done well and there have been many more reports of these birds than in previous years with some obviously nest building. A good number of Song Thrush have returned to nest but numbers are still way down from a few years ago. Treecreepers have had a good month with 1 or 2 birds being seen right through from HRB to OHP with some obviously nesting. Jays are being seen and heard throughout the Dene and are clearly nesting while Blackcaps have been very similar. In the second half of the month Goldfinch reports took off with all coming from the central part of the Dene with 5 being seen at OHP on 28th. Chiffchaff were still about all month and in all areas, often just a single bird but occasionally a small flock of 3 or 4 birds were seen.
A Willow Warbler was seen near the pumping station on 14th and 27th while 2 Linnets were seen near the stepping-stones on 23rd and a single bird near oxbow on the same date. 2 female and 1 male Wheatear were seen in the field N/E of the tunnel on 14th and further north along the E/W obelisk path Reed Buntings were a fairly common sight while the N/S path in the same area produced a number of Yellowhammers on a good few occasions. Amazingly, there was only 1 sighting all month of a Nuthatch and that was near the downstream bridge on 27th while on the same day close to Hartley West Farm there was the lone sighting of a Greenfinch. On the 23rd the only sighting all month of a Goldcrest took place near the upstream bridge. Last year the first Swallow was seen in the estuary on the 15th April, this year none have been seen except for 1 seen along The Avenue on the 25th. Pheasants have been seen and heard from all parts of the Dene and adjacent fields and by the middle of the month almost all sightings were of males as females settled in the undergrowth on their nests.
There were very few sightings this month of a Sparrowhawk with 1 being seen near the lay-by on 13th and then on the 16th and 30th 1 was seen near the HRB. It was similar with a Kestrel with 1 seen on 20th near the upstream bridge and then on 26th and 27th 1 was in the area of the waterfall not far from its failed nesting site last year. There were many more reports of a Buzzard being seen with all of them being in the area of the pumping station, horse field and Crowhall Farm spread throughout the month while 2 birds were twice seen enjoying the wind currents high above Hartley West Farm. Tawny Owls have provided the mystery of the month with many reports of up to 5 birds roosting in the Dene at oxbow and the upstream and downstream bridges. The mystery is why there appears to have been no nesting attempt; hopefully our watchers have just failed to see it.
Wrens, although less full of song as the month went on, continued to be seen flitting from bank to bank throughout the length of the river all month. Dippers are nesting in the tunnel and under the HRB but although the occasional sighting of Dippers has come from the stepping-stone area there is no indication of nesting in that area as they did last year. A pair of Grey Wagtails has been watched all month in the tunnel area on nesting activities and then, very conveniently, on 30th the youngsters joined their parents on the river.
Sadly, the number of Moorhens seen this month has been well down on previous years and there has been no indication of nesting activities However, the heronry has been as active as ever and 2 of the Grey Herons have be seen with a youngster in the nest, that is until the developing leaves on the trees and bushes obliterated the view. Other Grey Heron sightings have come from numerous locations of a bird fishing often early in the morning. Early in the month seeing a pair of Mallards was commonplace on all parts of the river but as time went on the pairs became males only as the females got down to nesting but so far no juveniles have been seen. A Little Egret was seen in the estuary on 4th and 2 days later 2 Little Egrets were seen flying upstream following the course of the river. Redshanks continued to be seen in the estuary but numbers tailed off after the 15 counted on the 1st of the month. On 20th 2 Shelduck were seen on an adjacent field to the north of the river and on the same day 2 Gadwall were on the river near the upstream bridge.
Using the climate averages based on the period 1991 to 2020 the results for this May show it was a remarkably average month. Maximum and minimum temperatures and the mean temperature for the month all were within 1 degree of the averages. We got 87% of the average sunshine and 98% of rainfall and the NE was not listed for any short period extremes of temperature, rainfall or winds.
There were a fair number of butterflies seen during the month with the most reports being of Orange Tip butterflies, sometimes of numbers close to double figures. At the start of the month a Peacock was seen at the stepping-stones followed by a Speckled Wood and Comma. Speckled Wood continued to be reported through the month from various locations and then on 18th a Red Admiral was seen at the upstream bridge and near Holywell Road Bridge (HRB) Both Large and Small White butterflies were well reported from the middle of the month onwards and right at the end of the month at the top end of the estuary a single Green-veined White was seen.
Roe Deer. All of the reports of Roe Deer seen this month came from the usual area west of the Old Railway Line (ORL) and in particular from the horse field immediately to the east of Holywell village. There were 2 or 3 females that looked decidedly pregnant and interestingly the females born to them last year have now disappeared, a sure sign that their mothers are about to give birth again, the usual month being June. There were also 2 or 3 males still in the area but their usefulness ceased a good few months ago.
Red Squirrel Conservation. The 9 strategically located feeding boxes continued to be checked on a weekly basis. There were no reports of Grey Squirrels seen in our area until the middle of the month when a pair was seen in a tree along The Avenue. Sure enough the check on 13th showed that 2 boxes had been visited with squirrel hairs left on the tabs. The subsequent checks showed repeated visits and finally a trapper was allocated and traps laid on the morning of 28th and by that evening a mature female had been caught. The traps were left in place until the end of the month when they had to be lifted...
Other Mammal Sightings Other than Rabbits being seen in daylight in the adjacent fields the very long days meant there were no reports of other mammals except for Hedgehogs visiting adjacent gardens where food had been put out specially. No doubt these animals are crossing nearby roads but no Hedgehog remains have been found to date.
Only time will tell but the good weather in May will have helped the birds in their frenetic nesting activities and hopefully a good availability of food will mean overall a good nesting year. Unfortunately, what could be seen in the early days of May often had disappeared by the end of the month due to the expanding leaf cover and one is left not knowing the outcome. In the woodland all the usual common birds have been seen, some with fledglings, some building nests while others were seen carrying food to a nest, this list includes Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Dunnock, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Robins and Tree Sparrows. As is usual in May reports of Coal Tits have been few and far between with this year just 2 being received one on the 18th near oxbow and the other near Old Hartley Pond (OHP) on the 21st. Similarly, there were only 3 reports of Long-tailed Tits with 1 seen at OHP on 4th, 2 at oxbow on 19th and interestingly 3 fledglings at OHP on 23rd. Willow Tits did slightly better with 4 reports all from the OHP area, the first on 7th of a single bird and then on 22nd a single bird carrying food, then 2 on 23rd and finally 1 on 24th.
The 3 reports of Goldfinch all came from the OHP/meadow area and consisted of 1 and 3 birds. There were a similar number of Stock Dove reports all coming from between the downstream wooden bridge and OHP with pairs of birds being seen on 18th, 19th and 29th. Whitethroats were seen on a good number of occasions, spread through most parts of the Dene and always of 1 or 2 birds, with the bird being seen near the upstream bridge on 23rd being a juvenile. Blackcaps were similar although their numbers were between 1 and 3 birds and none were identified as juvenile. Single calling Chiffchaffs from all parts of the Dene were reported almost daily at the start of the month tailing off towards the middle and end of the month. Unusually, Jay reports were confined to the first half of the month with single birds being seen between the stepping-stones through to Holywell pumping station. After that it is thought they were nesting behind a wall of leaves.
Early on the morning of 5th at least 2 people heard a Cuckoo calling in the Dene because they sent in reports! Nationally, BTO have reported that our main summer visitors Swallows, House Martins and Swifts all arrived later than normal and in much reduced numbers. This has played out in the Dene area with only 7 reports of Swallows of between 2 and 7 birds, and only single reports of 3 House Martins and 2 Swifts and all reports coming from the east end of the Dene. Treecreepers have been reported occasionally in various parts of the Dene of 1 or 2 birds and it appears that they have nested near the tunnel as one bird was seen carrying food.
There have been plenty of reports of a Barn Owl out hunting in daylight, often carrying food, from the pumping station area right through to OHP on both sides of the river. A Kestrel is having more success this year with its nest near the waterfall than last as there are young in the nest. However this is one of the nests disappearing behind leaves so it is not known whether the young have fledged. A Sparrowhawk has been reported just once in May on the 18th when one was seen near OHP. There have been many reports of Tawny Owls roosting in 3 locations in the Dene near oxbow and near the upstream and downstream wooden bridges. It is thought they must be nesting in the Dene but no young have yet been seen. The answer should become apparent in June. Numerous Pheasants must be nesting in the Dene because there have been many reports of males hanging around in and defending an area but no families have been reported to date.
Along the river numerous Wrens have been seen flying into the adjacent vegetation and no doubt they are nesting as usual but no specific nesting location sites have been reported. As usual at this time of the year there has been much interest in Mallard families and their ever decreasing number of offspring due mainly to the fox population. Nests have been in unknown places throughout the Dene and the fledglings for safety reasons will be on the river soon after the eggs have hatched. The best report this year has been of a mother already on the river encouraging her 14 fledglings to scramble down the river bank onto the water.12 summoned up the courage quite quickly and joined her on the water but it took a long time for the last 2 to join them.
The noise and activity in the heronry has decreased significantly as the month has gone on and in the last few days of the month there have been a couple of sightings of juveniles out on the adjacent fields. Meanwhile the adult male Grey Herons have returned to their river fishing and have been seen in all areas of the river and estuary especially first thing in the morning. It is not clear this year how many successful Dipper nests there have been. There was nesting activity under HRB and a juvenile has been seen in the area. The most reported sightings/activity has been as usual near the tunnel and there was definitely a nesting attempt but what was not seen this year was the male and juveniles out together. There was a juvenile seen in the area but nothing to say it came from the tunnel nest. Then near the stepping-stones adult birds were seen earlier in the year and a juvenile was seen 2 or 3 times close by so probably there was a successful nesting. A pair of Grey Wagtails has twice nested in the tunnel area successfully and downstream in an area close to the stepping-stones a family was seen indicating a nest in that area to a second pair. Finally on the river between oxbow and HRB on 24th 2 Canada Geese and a juvenile were seen.
As far as I can remember this is a first report of a juvenile goose seen on the river.
The weather during much of June was mostly quiet and uneventful though with a warmer spell in mid-month. It became showery towards the end of the month. Using June average figures for 1991 to 2020 in the NE this June was within a degree of average temperature but with 18% more sunshine than average. It will come as no surprise to learn that the NE this June had only 64% of the average rainfall for 1991/2020.
At the start of June there were quite a few reports of butterflies with up to 5 Orange Tips being seen together with a fewer number of both Small and Large White and 14 Specked Wood butterflies counted throughout the Dene on 1st. There was then a lull in reports but on 13th 15 Speckled Woods were counted in the Dene together with a single Red Admiral. This combination continued until 22nd when they were joined by 4 Meadow Browns seen in scrubland and in the last couple of days 3 Red Admirals, 3 Meadow Browns and 6 Speckled Woods were all reported.
Red Squirrel Conservation
In May sightings of Grey Squirrels were few and far between and this continued during the first half of June but then the number of reports increased from various parts of the Dene. The 9 strategically located feeding boxes continued to be checked by volunteers on a weekly basis and the first to be visited by a grey on 4th June was, not surprisingly, the Avenue box that had trapped the mature female on 28th May. A trap was set and had been down for 6 days with nothing happening when on 10th June a mature male was caught. Then 2 weeks later on 23rd and 24th the box closest to Crow Hall Farm was visited by a grey and a trap set on 25th and a mature female caught on 26th. Like the Avenue box is there a mature male still in the area of Crow Hall farm?.
In the May Fauna Report all the Roe Deer reports came from the horse field immediately to the east of Holywell Village and consisted of 2 or 3 pregnant females and a number of males. By the end of the first week of June it became clear that something had happened in that field that had resulted in all the deer disappearing. It could have been something to do with the building work going on in that area but whatever it was there were no reports of deer in that area for the rest of June. On the 15th there was a report of a male and female to the south of the lay-by but these are likely to have come from the golf club area. On the northern side of the river there was just 1 report on 6th of a male Roe Deer on the far side of the field to the NE of the bridge over the old railway line (ORL). What a terrible disappointment this has been when compared with the last 2 years.
Other Mammal Sightings
A good number of Hedgehogs have been seen and reported in the area and it is pleasing to note that the number of road casualties is well down on last year. On the first day of the month an Otter was seen early in the morning near the downstream bridge and on 9th 2 were seen playing a little upstream from the downstream bridge. A large Stoat was seen a short distance upstream from the oxbow lake on 3rd and then a Stoat carrying food was seen on 11th on the northern bank of the river, opposite Old Hartley Pond (OHP) Finally, a Badger was seen late on the evening 20 June near the river between oxbow lake and Holywell Road Bridge (HRB).
The frenetic part of the annual bird breeding cycle comes to an end as June departs with youngsters dispersing and adults commencing their feather moult. Of course there are still birds having a late brood and other late breeders where young are still in the nest but to most life is getting back to normal and even some birds have started to sing again like the Chiffchaff. Other birds who have mostly been breeding away from the Dene are gradually returning.
All the common woodland birds have been seen around all month including Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Tree Sparrow, Bullfinch and Robins both adults and juveniles together with our larger residents Woodpigeon, Magpies, Rooks Carrion Crows and Jackdaws. Comment has been made concerning the massive increase in the number of young Jackdaws about this year with flocks in excess of 25 being the norm at the end of this month. With the reduction in the number of Estate Shoots taking place locally over the last few years due to Corvid, the number of Pheasants breeding in the Dene has increased dramatically and this year has been no exception.
In the early part of June Coal Tits seem to disappear from the Dene but then return with their offspring whereas there hasn’t been a single report of a Long-tailed Tit seen in the Dene this month. There have been one or two reports of a Nuthatch being seen but none indicating nesting, which is disappointing. A single report of a Willow Tit seen near OHP on 5th was received and at the same location 1 or 2 Goldfinch were seen on 6th, 9th and 21st and then on 13th 2 were seen at the lay-by and 4 much further west in the woodland east of HRB. A pair of Stock Doves was seen at the pumping station on 15th and 2 days later a pair was in the OHP area. During the nesting season Song Thrush become abundant with both adults and youngsters being reported but once the season is over the vast majority appear to leave for pastures new. As always one of the best reported birds was the Great Spotted Woodpecker especially once the juveniles are out being fed by an adult that appears to be smaller than the red headed juvenile. Sadly on the 1st of this month a dead juvenile was seen in the river near the stepping-stones and there is nothing to explain why it was there. Compared with previous years being out of its nest so early seems to have been the problem. The first live juvenile being fed by a parent was reported on 12th
There were many reports of Treecreepers being seen in various locations in the Dene with some juveniles among them while 1 or 2 Linnets were seen on 3 occasions all at the west end of the Dene. In the same area a Whitethroat was seen twice on 3rd and 15th and a Blackcap was seen on 19th at the downstream bridge and on 22nd near the upstream bridge. There was a single report of a Greenfinch near the pumping station on 6th, and in the same location on 13th a Pied Wagtail was seen. Jays appear to have concentrated in the west part of the Dene this year and that is where they have had their nests with the first juvenile being seen on 5th.
Determining where and how many Tawny Owls were nesting this year was not as easy as last year. It is known that 1 nested near the downstream bridge and 1 near the oxbow lake this year and each had 2 or possibly more offspring. In addition Tawny Owls have been roosting in the Dene this month and it is thought that up to 3 have been roosting at any one time. A Little Owl was seen on the roof of one of the barns at Hartley West Farm on 2nd and there have been many sighting reports of a Barn Owl successfully out hunting in the fields adjacent to the ORL and it is known the result of this has been a successful breeding year.
A Buzzard was seen in the woodland near HRB on 13th and 2 others have been seen flying over the field to the south of the obelisk, although these could have come from the Avenue fields. After last year’s Kestrel disaster when it appeared that not one of the eggs hatched, it tried again this year in the same position near the waterfall and had great success with 6 juveniles finally leaving the nest on the last day of the month. The only Sparrowhawk nest known about this year in the Dene was upstream from oxbow and on the last day of the month there were at least 3 chicks in the nest being well fed by the parents.
When walking along the river now one of the striking things you notice is the fact that the Wrens are back in full song after the silence during the breeding season. Another interesting thing is that Mallards are still having large families of 10 or 12 at the end of June as they have been having all month. Within a day or so these large broods are usually reduced dramatically so that at the other extreme you have a mother with just 3 juveniles that are now her size. The Grey Herons have gradually been developing through the month and leaving the heronry and now you will see the young birds on the river on their own fishing for breakfast. Sadly, the number of Moorhens seen on the river appears to be diminishing month by month and in June there was only 1 report of a bird in the Crow Hall Farm area.
Grey Wagtails have had a wonderful breeding season with a brood of 3 in the downstream bridge area and already 2 successful broods from the nest near the tunnel and at the end of June an adult had started repairing the nest again possibly ready for a third brood. Again unlike last year it has been difficult determining where the Dippers have nested and the size of their families. There is no doubt that they nested under HRB and it appears they had 2 young. They nested in the tunnel but seem to have had only1youngster and it doesn’t appear they nested further downstream near the stepping-stones as they did last year. Finally on 16th 2 Red-legged Partridge were seen in the field close to Crow Hall Farm.
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.