Sunday, 20 October 2013

Hawthorn Dene, Durham.

19th Oct.  Today was to be used to explore the area of Hawthorn Dene (Durham) with a view to leading an RSPB walk in the area in 2014.  Sam, Marie and I set off to an area that none of us had visited previously in the hope that rainfall would be limited to light showers.  Although rather misty at times the rain did keep off for the duration of the walk.

Hawthorn Dene and surrounding limestone meadowland is managed by Durham Wildlife Trust.  The deep ravine of the dene cuts through magnesian limestone and much of the area is ancient semi natural woodland.  The limestone meadowland is managed so as to help growth of the array of plants that grow in the area which in summer is very attractive to butterflies.  In a directional sense I found the circular walk from Hawthorn Village straightforward, but as far as negotiating it was concerned it wasn’t quite so easy with the constant up and down walks on what was a very muddy path in places.  It was certainly worth the effort though, and the changing level of the path gave some very different views of the dene which was very atmospheric in the thin mist and dampness of the day.  As you leave the dene you cross an un-gated railway line where care is needed.  Then you reach the cliff looking over the beach and sea.  A rather steep and difficult (especially when wet as they were today) set of steps that leads down to the bay.  A rather long drop if you slipped.  Whilst the view was OK, it in no way matches walking from the woodland at Howick in Northumberland and meeting the shoreline and sea, so I didn’t have a  Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’ moment.  We didn’t take all of the steps down to the beach, but had lunch nearby.  It was from the cliff that I spotted a flock of Common Scoter flying northwards and Sam got his eye on a Velvet Scoter at the tail end of the flock.  A lifer for Sam and very well spotted.  A year tick for me.  There was little bird life around the small bay area apart from two Oystercatchers, corvids, gulls and pigeons.  A single Cormorant also flew north.  We bumped into a birder who had just come up the steps.  It seems he had found little around the beach area, but he did mention that two Yellow Browed Warblers had been found nearby.  Is this to be a record year for Yellow Browed Warblers in the UK I wonder?  I also understand that the colliery shale that is washed up onto the beach and comes from various localities along the coast contains an interesting array of plant life.  Much of the area we visited has SSSI status.

The return walk was on the whole level, much quicker and through mainly a plantation of trees, which never the less gave a very nice view down through the tall avenue of trees.  We found a couple of Kestrels in this area and on arriving back at the car we found a sizable flock, or should I say charm of Goldfinches.  We did check out some of the naming used for groups/flocks of birds, a few I knew and many I did not.  I was most surprised by a siege of Bitterns.

An easy return.
At the beginning of the walk we had soon had sightings of Jays.  We heard Jays calling throughout the walk in various areas.  We’d also soon found a mixed flock of tits, heard a Blackcap singing and had not so good views of a warbler which was either Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler high in the trees.  Song Thrush was also seen here.  Even though we are into autumn and leaves are falling, bird watching was not easy in the dense woodland.  We did hear Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits, but never did see them.  We did see three or four Grey Squirrels.  We hadn’t expected vast numbers of species of bird at this time of year, but I think it could be very different in spring and early summer and Sam and I are planning our future walk for May 2014.  Anyway there had been enough woodland species to keep us happy and we had a very good few hours in an area new to us.  I think much more photography will be in order next time around.

Two things that I had especially enjoyed seeing were the numerous clusters of fungi and the Wood Horsetails Equisetum sylvaticum..

Equisetum is a living fossil as it is the only genus of the class Equisetopsida, which for over one hundred million years was much more diverse and dominated the understory of late Paleozoic forests.  Some reached up to thirty metres in height.  The name ‘horsetail, arose because the branches species resemble a horses tail.  The scientific name Equisetum derives from the Latin equus, meaning horse, and seta, meaning bristle


  1. It will make for a very good walk. Hopefully it would be well supported by those in the group!

  2. We can live in hope Mark. Just have to hope we don't loose any members down those steep steps to the beach!

  3. Yes the steps may be a test for some. Hopefully all who come along are semi-fit, lol.