Sunday, 11 May 2014

Sense and Sense-ability at Hawthorn Dene

10th May.  I wish I had £1 for every time I have heard someone say ‘I wish I could identify bird song’.  We live in a world where the visual takes predominance so much over our other senses, that very often they simply aren’t used to the full.  I think everyone would benefit greatly if the emphasise was changed and I think this is something that the educational system should make a priority in doing.  When it comes to being out with nature I believe all the senses can and ought to be put to use and it’s for this reason Sam and I always encourage this on the walks we lead.  Yesterdays poorly supported walk at Hawthorn Dene was no exception.  There is at least benefit from having low participation in that those who do attend can certainly sharpen up their listening skills.  Some people are far better than others in picking up this skill and perhaps it is of benefit if you begin to practice at a young age, but unless individuals have a hearing disability and I appreciate some do and that ageing is also a factor, then I believe if efforts are made, that folk can learn how to identify at least commonly heard bird songs and other sounds in nature.

The weather forecast for the day was varied depending on where you looked for it, but the best one I could find was for heavy showers and sunny intervals.  The worst prediction was simply for heavy rain.  Sam and I headed south fully expecting a soaking, as did the other participants.  Our soaking did not materialise and we enjoyed the walk under sun and partially blue skies for much of the time, with only the odd passing quick shower when clouds built up.

Wood Violet ???
Hawthorn Dene is a wonderful area of ancient semi natural broad-leaved woodland and limestone hay meadows.  Such areas that mindless bureaucrats seem to think can easily be replaced in alternative areas by planting a few trees.  Don’t you have to wonder just what type of person gets into these official decision making positions when they hold such ridiculous ideas?   The path through the dene leads eventually to the North Sea and an interesting, if not beautiful bay.  Botanical interest began with the first of many Early Purple Orchids seen today.  The olfactory sense was alerted by the smell of the carpets of Wild Garlic all along the route (not a scent I enjoy so mercifully the scent was weak today).  Carpets of Bluebells added to the colour.  Violets (Wood I think) where everywhere and Wood Horsetails were of interest.  We hadn’t timed the walk for the butterflies for which this area is well known, but we did find Small White, Green Veined White, Orange Tip, Peacock and many Speckled Wood Butterflies.  All were very active especially the Orange Tip species, so images were out of the question.

Wood Horsetails  (Fascinating plants)
Before we set off on the walk we had already amassed a good list of birds collected as we stood at the starting point.  This list included Kestrel, Yellowhammers lit by the sun, Song Thrush seen close by as another sang from high in the tree canopy, Mistle Thrush, Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, tits and finches.  Skylark was heard.

 Participants soon realised why we emphasised the listening skills today, as birds were never going to be easily seen today such is the nature of this thickly wooded area.  By the time we reached the meadowland near to the sea where we stopped for lunch in the sun we perhaps hadn’t seen lots of bird species, but we had seen much of interest and certainly heard lots of bird song and calls.  Blackcap and Chiffchaff had been numerous and we did see the odd one.  We did wonder about Garden Warbler, but it got no further than wondering!  Nuthatch had been heard and Treecreeper seen before it disappeared we think into a nesting site.  The high pitched calls of Goldcrest had been picked up but the birds themselves remained dark outlines in the thick greenery.  Sam and I caught sight of a Sparrowhawk flying over the tree tops.  Great Spotted Woodpeckers were heard calling and drumming.

As we had our lunch we heard Green Woodpecker and watched and listened to a Common Whitethroat.  We then crossed the railway line and I was mindful that the senses were required here too, as the curve on the line meant that the speedy trains approached around the bend very quickly.  Care must be taken here!  We enjoyed a watch of the sea during which we saw Red-throated Diver, Fulmar, Gannet, Black Headed Gull, Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Razorbill, Sandwich Tern and a Wheatear as it flew along by the cliff edge.  We decided to give the walk down the very steep and rather tricky steps to the bay a miss (it was the thoughts of the upward climb that put me off).

Our return walk was a much easier, but pleasant stroll, than the undulating outward walk which followed the undulating pathway along the ravine.  We found more Common Whitethroats and the only Willow Warblers of the day in this area.

We all finished the walk with muddy boots, but dry.  I’d worn my new boots and I’m pleased to say they fit wonderfully.  My thanks go to those who came along and hopefully enjoyed what is such an interesting area.  Special thanks to Sam who shared the lead.


  1. Yeah a great day and I'd definitely want to return.

    I've no idea how accessible it is on public transport, but I'd recommend it highly to anyone who has the means to get there!

    1. I think the Durham Wildlife Trust information gives details of public transport available Mark. It can be done, although if anything like public transport in Northumberland you best take sandwiches and a good book on the bus!!!

    2. Thanks Brian, I'll check it out. Sounds like it may be wise to start off very early and have brunch on the coach, lol.

  2. Cracking area Brian although you have to keep half an eye on the path. I always end up on Blast Beach when i go down there. A very strange but fascinating place indeed.
    We are heading into that time where bird song i.d. and patience are neccessary as the foliage thickens. I started by getting a c.d. (remember those?) and trying to learn everything. I quickly forgot everything then started to learn all the everyday birds which quickly started to stick. That way,when you start hearing things "out of the ordinary" you might have something exciting..........or a GREAT TIT !!!! Slowly you pick up on other stuff. I must admit that some species song just will not stick with me and i do have to have a refresher course every spring.

    1. I often have to refresh my mind too John. I learned the commoner songs by just simply listening where ever I was or what ever I was doing. I find it difficult learning from CDs, but do use them to refresh the mind before certain trips just so that I am less likely to miss something.
      I'd been recommending Hawthorn Dene for a group trip for years so decided to introduce it with one of our walks. Sadly the interest wasn't there, but we who were there had a great day in great habitat. I'm more and more inclined to give up on the disinterested and concentrate on those who really do have an interest, or at least want to learn. Cheers.