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The Dene through the Seasons


October 2021

The weather in the UK during October varied dramatically depending on the area you were living in. For example some western areas had twice the average amount of rainfall while here in the NE our rainfall was a good bit below average. October in the NE was 1.6˚ warmer than average with both cloud cover and hours of sunshine close to average. A physical example in the Dene of these results is the oxbow lake which, on the last day of the month, was totally dry.


As in previous years, sightings of butterflies came to an end early in October. On the first day of the month 3 Speckled Wood and a late Large White were seen followed by a further 2 Large White seen on 8th and then finally on 10th a Peacock and a Speckled Wood brought butterfly recording to an end for 2021.


As usual October has been a good month for seeing Frogs and Toads of various sizes and in various places. This has resulted in a good number of reports coming from many wet parts of the Dene as well as sightings in puddles on paths and unfortunately a number of reports of frogs on farm roads.


Grey Squirrels. There has continued to be many reports of Grey Squirrel sightings mainly from the west end of the Dene straddling the old railway line (ORL), the meadow and Old Hartley Car Park (OHCP) area and along the Avenue. Due to the continued unavailability of trappers only the 7 boxes between OHCP and the harbour and the 5 boxes along the Avenue have continued to be checked on the usual weekly basis. Grey Squirrels continued from last month to feed on the boxes along the Avenue but then in the middle of the month a trainee trapper under instruction, got experience by trapping 2 of the boxes and had success by catching 3 greys in 2 days, a mature female and 2 mature males. Since then the boxes have not been visited by squirrels. We have not been told what has happened to this trapper.

The box nearest OHCP has been visited continuously throughout the month and the next box towards the harbour just once. Another trainee trapper did set traps at the OHCP box at the end of the month but had no success. Unfortunately this trapping coincided with this feeding box being destroyed by a human who also paint sprayed the area causing the box to be moved to a new site a short distance away.   

Roe Deer.  October was another month when virtually all the Roe Deer sightings came from west of the ORL. The 2 adult females with 2 and 3 does, reported in previous months, continue to be seen in this area on both sides of the river together with at least 2 bucks. To the south of this area there were a few other sightings but it is thought that these Roe Deer were based in the Golf Club area near Brierdene Farm and were simply investigating new areas. Sightings of these animals spread to the fields south of OHCP and the fields between the lighthouse and the Whitley Bay caravan park.

Other Mammals

There was a further sighting of a Badger to the east of Holywell Road Bridge (HRB) and a Stoat was reported from the south side of the river near the upstream bridge and 3 sightings of one in the field on the north side of the river opposite Old Hartley Pond (OHP) It is interesting that sightings of a Stoat in this particular area have been reported over the last few years. With the darker mornings and evenings it is no surprise that Red Fox have been seen on the paths mainly by early or late dog walkers. The bridleway from Holywell going east and the path between OHCP to the harbour appear to be the best paths to come across them. Hedgehogs have continued to be well reported from all areas but now the time for hibernation is drawing close. Any small Hedgehog seen out in daylight from now on has little chance of surviving the winter and should be brought inside and reported to a rescue centre or FoHD website.


October is normally thought of as an uneventful and quiet month as regards birds and this year has been no exception. Some of the normally common woodland birds have, this month, become almost rarities. Blackbirds lead this group with few being seen but others in the group include Blue and Great Tits, Dunnock and Robins. Great Spotted Woodpeckers have virtually disappeared with just 1 report all month and the same goes for Goldfinch. Bullfinches were also in that group for the first half of the month but then there was a small increase in sightings in the second half.

 On the other hand Coal Tits for some reason were reported more often than normal throughout the month. There were only 2 reports of 2 Long-tailed Tits  up until 29th but then on 30th 8 were seen together, which is probably the start of the larger groups that will assemble throughout the winter. There were some more normal sightings with a single Willow Tit seen on 5 occasions and Chaffinch and Tree Sparrow reported close to normality in sightings and numbers.

As usual things were completely different with the larger common birds. Woodpigeon were everywhere with woodland flocks up to around 20 but out in the fields flocks were in the hundreds. Jackdaws were similar but with somewhat lower numbers while Magpie numbers were normally lower than 10. There were a few sightings of 1 or 2 Carrion Crows in the woodland but many more in the open fields while numbers and noise levels of Rooks rose and fell by the day.

There was the occasional report of a Nuthatch throughout the month but interestingly reports came from various locations spread between the Oxbow in the west and OHCP in the east. A single Greenfinch was seen near OHP on 3rd while a Mistle Thrush was seen on 20th near the Pipe Pond. A Jay was more common with 5 reports, 4 in the ORL area and 1 at the Pipe Pond. There was a single report of a Tree Creeper near the feeders at the upstream bridge on 10th and 5 reports of a Chiffchaff all from the first half of the month from locations between the ORL and the Pipe pond while a single Blackcap was seen near the Stone Bridge on 21st. By the end of October one would have been expecting a good number of Redwing arrivals but it seems there is plenty of food in Norway and there has not been the friendly easterly wind the birds need to cross the North Sea, consequently only single birds were seen on 18th and 20th ,  4 on 28th and 5 on 30th.  Early on the morning of 14th a Barn Owl was seen near the lay-by and there have been a good few reports of a Buzzard both on the ground and in the air. Locations have varied between OHCP, the Stone Bridge, HRB and in the air between the river and the obelisk. A single Kestrel has been reported on 6 occasions, 4 times near the lay-by, once on the ORL and once by the Pipe Pond.

The only report of Curlew this month was of 6 near the pumping station on 6th while 4 Grey Partridge were seen in the field next to the stone bridge on 2nd. Between the Dene and the obelisk on the 8th were counted around 50 Red-legged Partridge; however these must have been released birds ready for the shooting season. Walking through the Dene in October this year it would have been difficult not to see or hear Pheasants from all areas, usually single birds but occasionally up to 5. Above the Dene the occasional small flock of geese would fly over but there were no reports of the massive Pink-footed Geese flocks arriving.

Very few Grey Herons were reported on the river fishing this month but there were plenty of reports of birds flying overhead between the heronry and the coast. A single Moorhen was seen on 14th near HRB while in the estuary Little Egrets were seen, 2 on 8th and single birds on 6th, 20th and 28th. Wrens were well reported along all stretches of the river while 1 or 2 Dippers were seen all month mainly near the tunnel but occasionally further downstream, while 1 or 2 Grey Wagtails were often seen but from a much wider area, stretching from the estuary to oxbow.  

November 2021

There is little doubt that the weather in November 2021will be remembered by Storm Arwen, which battered this area with winds around 90mph on 26th /27th resulting in chaotic scenes in Holywell Dene. However, it should not be forgotten that the month’s weather came in two distinct halves, up to 18th the month was warm sunny and free of strong winds. On that date the temperature dropped and from then on all aspects of the weather went downhill. Overall the mean temperature for the month in this area was just slightly above average, sunshine was considerably above average while rainfall was some 60% below average. These comparisons are based on the years 1981 to 2010.


Probably due to the very mild weather Frogs and Toads were still being seen in the first 2 weeks and even after Storm Arwen the occasional frog was seen in the mass of roots of fallen trees, albeit not particularly active.


Roe Deer. It was on the 10th that the first family of Roe Deer appeared close to Hartley West Farm and joined those at the west end of the Dene that had been in that area all the year. The west end deer were well reported on both sides of the river throughout the month although it was virtually impossible to make a distinction between them and those that were meandering north from the golf course area. The new ones seen to the east appear to consist of 2 families one with 1 youngster and the other with 2. These youngsters would have been born away from the Dene and then migrated with their mothers to spend the winter in the Dene. Their early morning favourite areas appear to be in the meadow area on either side of the river and between the stepping stones and downstream bridge.

Grey Squirrels.

We still do not have a dedicated trapper and so very little is being done to catch those greys being regularly seen in many areas of the Dene. We did have 1 success when a mature male was trapped at the box closest to Old Hartley Car Park (OHCP) on the 14th this resulted from the new system we are now operating. FoHD is now only responsible for boxes to the east of the old railway line (ORL) and those in the Avenue area. We have selected 4 strategically located boxes in the Dene and the 5 boxes in the Avenue which are the only ones now being checked on a weekly basis. If one of these boxes is regularly visited by a grey then a trapper from another area is asked to trap that box when he is available. Normally this only covers a weekend but that it better than nothing and it was on this basis that the mature male was caught.

Other Mammals

There have been 2 other mammals reported this month; Red Fox have continued to be seen always at first and last light from all parts of the Dene continuing the pattern explained in last month’s Report but there has been a considerable increase in Stoat reporting this month with 3 areas indicated, the first to the east of Holywell Road Bridge (HRB), on the south side of the river near the upstream bridge and in particular the area on the north side of the river downstream of the Stone Bridge.


November followed October as a quiet and uneventful month to start with but gradually the missing common birds started to return and by the end of the month they were almost back to normal. That does not include the larger common birds which are around in normal numbers throughout the year. Flocks of up to 20 Woodpigeon were always around and it was possible to hear, if not see, something like 25 Rooks. Up to around 5 Magpies were common with a considerably larger number of Jackdaws around on many occasions running into 100 out on the adjoining fields. In amongst all these birds the occasional pair of Carrion Crows was to be seen.

Of the smaller common birds perhaps Blackbirds took the longest to get back to normality but eventually they joined Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinch, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Tree Sparrows to be seen in normal numbers. The few Robins about has been commented on and seem to be less than normal while only relatively few Bullfinch and Dunnocks have generated reports. On the other hand the number of Coal Tits seen has been extraordinary with groups up to 6 reported. Long-tailed Tits have been few and far between with only 7 sightings of 1 to 3 birds while Willow Tits have had a good month with 6 reports of 1 to 2 birds all coming from the OHCP to harbour path. Nuthatch sightings have been very disappointing with the few reports all coming from the upstream bridge area, while Stock Doves were not seen until 16th with just 2 sightings after that, all of 2 birds. There were almost daily reports of 1 or more Pheasants seen or heard from virtually every part of the Dene, they really are in abundance now.

Of the less common birds a single Goldcrest was seen near the upstream bridge on 11th and 3 days later 1 was seen near the head of the estuary. The only other sighting was 2 birds at the oxbow. There were just 2 reports of a Jay, the first at the pumping station on 11th and then on 17th a single bird was at the oxbow. A single Greenfinch was seen near the Old Hartley Dipping Pond (OHDP) on 12th and in the woodland area to the east of the HRB on the 18th the first Woodcock of the winter was seen. A single Brambling was seen on the 23rd immediately to the north of the bridge over the ORL close to a flock of 6 Redwings. There were other Redwing sightings with 5 at the Pipe Pond on 5th, 8 on the 11th and 10 on the 14th and that leaves the single bird seen at the lay-by on 16th. Finally in this section a Chiffchaff was heard on 29th near the downstream bridge.

On 4th a Buzzard was seen near the bridge over the ORL and on 7th one was near the lay-by. A roosting Tawny Owl was seen in the western part of the Dene on 10th, 11th and 15th while a Kestrel was seen on 7th near the lay-by and on 17th near the pumping station.

On the adjacent fields a small flock of Curlews were seen with 30 birds on 7th and 13 on 22nd and frequently throughout the month both large and small flocks of Pink-footed Geese were both heard and seen in various areas; numbers varied from 250 to a 1000+ and unlike previous years they didn’t appear to have favourite fields from which to feed.

On the river 1 or 2 Dippers were seen almost daily, mainly in the area immediately to the east of the tunnel but sightings came from other areas right down to the estuary. This has been an amazing month for Little Egrets. Reports have come in throughout the month of 1 or 2 birds in the estuary, flying up and down the river often battling very strong winds and on the ground in many areas even close to the tunnel entrance.

Grey Wagtails have also been well reported from the tunnel area down to the estuary, most reports of 2 birds. Similarly, a Grey Heron has generated many reports from the whole length of the Dene usually fishing in the low level water; however, since the storm and the rising water in the river, all reports have come from the estuary. As is normal Wrens have been seen throughout the length of the river but very few have been reported.

1 or 2 Moorhens have been reported throughout the month from the stepping-stones, OHDP, the tunnel area, the downstream bridge and the stone bridge. Not one report has come from their old haunt at the head of the estuary. The only report of a Kingfisher was 1 at the stepping-stones on 10th while a pair of Mallards was seen twice, once near the upstream bridge on 16th and the other pair at the downstream bridge on 29th. Finally, after Storm Arwen had passed there were up to 40 Redshank in the estuary together with a Cormorant, and a second injured one in an adjacent garden.

December 2021

The weather in this area in December went from an unsettled cool start, through a milder settled spell in the middle but then became unsettled and cooler again over the Christmas period finishing up with the last three days of the month being particularly warm. The average temperature over the month was close to average as was rainfall but sunshine was well down resulting in the month being the dullest since 1956.


Roe Deer It was a good month for sighting Roe Deer at the west end of the Dene based around the area to the immediate east of Holywell often called the horse field. Single males and the usual family groups of 2 or 3 females were to be seen often spreading out in all directions and, in the fields to the south side of the river probably linking up with Deer from the Brierdene/Golf Club area. However what was missing this month was the usual number of Roe Deer returning to the central and east end of the Dene that had bred away from the Dene area. Only 2 family groups one of 2 and the other of 3 were reported a number of times in the meadow area and in Hartley West Farm fields extending down to the estuary. This is well down on numbers expected to be seen in December based on past year’s sightings.

Red Squirrel Conservation In last month’s Fauna Report I explained that we had selected 4 strategically located feeding boxes in the Dene and that they, plus the Avenue boxes, were the only ones to continue to be checked on a weekly basis. If those boxes were visited by Grey Squirrels then it was hoped that a trapper from the Cramlington Red Squirrel Group would trap in their spare time.

The first box to be trapped in this way was box 71 which is close to Old Hartley Car Park (OHCP).  On the afternoon of Friday 17th December 2 traps were set and these were left until lifted on the afternoon of Sunday 19th December. During that weekend 5 Grey Squirrels were caught, 3 adult females, 1 adult male and 1 juvenile male.

Then on Boxing Day morning 2 more boxes were trapped, box S3 near the upstream wooden bridge and box 69 near the downstream bridge. Each box had 2 traps set. These traps had to be lifted on 29th December but during this period they caught 6 Grey Squirrels, 1 adult female, 1 adult male, 2 juvenile females and 2 juvenile males. Since these traps were lifted boxes 71, 69 and S3 were not visited during the last 2 days of December.

Other Mammal Sightings

There have been a good number of reports of Red Foxes seen either early morning or after dusk. Sightings have all been of a single fox walking along a major path covering the area from Holywell through to the estuary. Stoat reporting has continued with 2 sightings in the oxbow area, 1 near Holywell Road Bridge (HRB) and 2 from the field on the north side of the river opposite Old Hartley Pond (OHP).


All the usual common woodland birds were seen throughout the month with numbers appearing to depend on the weather conditions. Blackbirds, Blue and Great Tits, Coal Tits, Chaffinch, Tree Sparrows, Robins and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were all well reported throughout the month. Willow Tits were scarce with 2 seen on 4th and then single birds seen on 20th, 21st and 25th, all reports coming from the OHP to estuary path. Bullfinch were well reported in the first week but then seemed to disappear. Dunnock were scarce with only 4 reports received spread over the whole month and Long-tailed Tits were seen mainly in the first half of the month but the strange thing with the reports was their numbers which were of 1 or 2 birds when usually at this time of the year they are in small flocks of 6 to 10.

The larger woodland birds are never missing from all parts of the Dene with Woodpigeon in their usual woodland flocks of around 15 but in the adjacent fields numbers are in hundreds. Rooks around 20 to 30 have been noisily defending their nests on the south side of the river to the west of OHCP while Magpies in groups up to 7 birds have been seen everywhere as have Jackdaws with varying sized woodland flocks up to 12 but in the adjoining fields numbers are close to 3 figures. Finally Carrion Crows, normally in pairs, have been seen throughout the area.

A single Stock Dove was seen near oxbow but the main sightings have all come from the area around OHP, all reports being of 2 birds. The few Nuthatch sightings have all come from the upstream bridge area through to the old railway line (ORL) with each sighting of a single bird. There have been 3 reports of a single Woodcock being seen all to the west of ORL on 11th, 14th and 18th but Jays have been reported from all parts of the Dene stretching from HRB to the OHCP to estuary path with all reports being of 1 bird. There have been 4 reports of Treecreepers with 2 seen between the 2 bridges on 9th and near the waterfall on 23rd and a single bird at the downstream bridge on 15th and 18th. Yellowhammers have been reported from along the ORL and a hedgerow along a north/south path to the east with up to 4 birds being seen while in the fields in between produced a sighting of 7 Fieldfare seen from the northern bridleway early on the morning of 18th. There have been no sightings of migratory Redwing flocks arriving but 1 or 2 birds have been seen regularly through the month and throughout the Dene.

A Tawny Owl has been roosting in the centre part of the Dene all month while a Sparrowhawk has only been seen twice all month on both occasions along the OHCP to estuary path whereas a Kestrel has been seen much more often with sightings near the pumping station, hovering above Hartley Lane, close to Crow Hall Farm and in the estuary area. A Buzzard was seen sitting on the hedge on the south side of Hartley Lane opposite OHCP on 5th and on 13th there was one sitting in the hedge along the ORL and on 20th one was flying above the fields between the Dene and the obelisk.

Flocks of varying size between 1000 and 200 Pink-footed Geese have been around all month trying out various fields to the north and south of the Dene while on Boxing Day 4 Grey Partridge were in the field adjacent to Crow Hall Farm. Pheasants have been everywhere all month both seen and heard but as the shooting season has started no doubt their numbers will decrease.

Along the whole of the river Wrens have been seen while Dippers have been seen mainly in the area of the tunnel but also as far west as oxbow and to the east down to the downstream bridge with 1 report of one in the estuary. Only 2 pairs of Mallard have been reported 1 near the stone bridge and the other in the estuary. A Moorhen has been regularly seen on the OHP and on 1 occasion 2 were seen near the pipe bridge. Up to 10 Redshanks have been seen in the estuary while a Little Egret has been seen regularly in the estuary, with 1 or 2 seen much further upstream almost to the tunnel and on one occasion 1 was seen sitting in the heronry. On 17th a Little Grebe was on the river a little to the west of the stone bridge. Grey Herons have been seen almost daily somewhere along the river fishing and occasionally up to 3 have been in the heronry no doubt waiting for spring. Finally a Cormorant has been seen on and off in the estuary all month but has surprised some observers by appearing on the river next to the meadow, near the waterfall and on one occasion fishing at the entrance to the tunnel.

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

We really do look forward to hearing from you.