Sunday, 13 April 2014

Holywell to Seaton Sluice

12th April.  I think the highlight of my walk today was watching for thirty minutes the antics of three Blackcaps, of which two were male and the other a sought after female.  They were in a small area of Holywell Dene which I know is a regular nesting area for Blackcap.  The birds seemed in a frenzy of activity, the males disputing territorial rights and the female joining in their to and fro flights around the small area.  It could have been a scene from the Big Market on a Saturday night had it not been that these songsters knew how to sing.   The males were singing loudly and almost continuously each time they perched in the bushes, each male seeming to try to out sing the other bird.  During my watch I couldn’t quite make my mind up if it was the male or female of this species that looks most attractive.  I found three more pairs of Blackcap in the dene today with song coming from all of the males.  Their behaviour reflected growing action from birds in general in the dene.  On entering the dene I had found a Dipper almost right away and watched it as a Song Thrush belted out its song above my head with backing vocals from numbers of Blackbirds and Chiffchaffs.  I feel it a shame that part of the dene’s undergrowth has been wrecked over time by it being used as a cycle track.  A great Spotted Woodpecker was heard drumming and a Grey Wagtail showing really well on the burn.  The only visitors to the almost empty feeding stations were tits which included several Coal Tits.

My walk had begun in Holywell Village where I had looked for Swallows.  It wasn’t until I had almost left the village that I found a lone Swallow (my first of the year) settled on an overhead cable.  Another lone Swallow was seen later near to the pond.  The pond itself held several calling Little Grebes, with four of them right outside of the members hide when I arrived.  I soon picked up the calls of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler in North Wood and spotted a Willow Warbler at the east of the pond when I later walked that way.  This was another first for the year.  Other species on the pond included Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Shelduck (two flying over the pond), Mallard, Gadwall, at least five Shoveller, Teal, Tufted Duck, and Moorhen.   A Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen flying into North Wood and watched briefly as it made its way up a tree.  I chatted with Northumbrian Birder before making off towards the avenue.  Two Lapwings flew overhead and Skylarks sang.  I walked little northwards before turning and heading for the dene.  Numbers of Linnet were around the gorse area with small numbers of Meadow Pipit and Goldfinch.

An uncoiled fern looking rather animal like when seen close up

Bluebell just beginning to open

The delicate Wood Sorrel one of my favourite plants

My progress through the dene was slow because as well as making long stops to watch the Dipper and Blackcaps  I took special note of the botanical interest in the area today.  The grey morning didn’t make for seeing the plants in good light.

Red Campion

Lesser Celandine seen at its most attractive

 By the time I was insight of Seaton Sluice the rain was falling and the mist was thickening over the sea.  I had hope for possibly Wheatear and Sandwich Tern at Seaton Sluice but found neither, although I didn’t hang around too long.  Teal were seen flying over the sea and Eider Ducks were on the water as usual.  Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Redshank and five Purple Sandpipers were on the rocks below.  I left damp, but had enjoyed a good and interesting walk.

Wood Anemone slowly opening

Common Scurrvy Grass.  There's an abundance of this plant as you pass the burn nearing Seaton Sluice.  The rather succulent leaves contain vitamin C and were once used by seamen to ward off the scurrvy.


  1. Hi Brian , I should have also walked the Dene as not much on the pond , nice write up !

    1. Cheers Brian. IMO there has been a definite decline in birds on Holywell Pond since I started watching it some years ago. I wonder if there are any figures to back that up. I always like the atmosphere down there though and I've had quite a few pleasant surprises over the years. Brian.