The Dene through the Seasons
2 Grey Squirrels seen all month in Dene
Otters seen in the river
Badger killed on Hartley Lane
Little Egret back in estuary
Overwintering Blackcap seen
Redwing and Fieldfare seen after crossing North Sea
October this year was an average month for butterflies, which were seen throughout the month and throughout the Dene, even when the weather turned really cold. It started off with a Red Admiral being seen on the 2nd and finished with one being seen on 29th: in between there were 5 other sightings of 1 or 2 Red Admirals. 1 or 2 Speckled Wood were seen on 4 occasions while a single Large White was seen on just 2 occasions and a Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell only once. The surprise of the month was the pristine Comma butterflies seen: 2 on the 2nd, 4 on the 17th and 3 on the 18th. However the final Comma seen on 22nd was alive but certainly not pristine.
From a person who loves butterflies, the results from the last two nationwide summer butterfly counts have been devastating, with the numbers of some of our commonest butterflies down by over 50% - a real worry.
2 Grey Squirrels were seen in the meadow in the first week of the month and have been regularly seen up to the last day. One report was that this pair was making a winter drey in an old jackdaw’s nest in a tree between the 2 wooden bridges high on the south side of the river. They have been feeding on the plentiful supply of nuts in the Dene and have not visited any of the squirrel feeding boxes that have continued to be checked by the team of volunteers. These animals have been very visible and well reported because they have been feeding in a frequently used area of the Dene. In other less used parts there might have been other Grey Squirrels but none have been seen and reported by humans.
On the 3rd a pair of Otters were seen, reported and photographed a little downstream from the stone bridge. However, this appears to have been a one-off as despite careful checks no spraints have been seen on the usual rocks.
On 7th 2 Roe Deer were spotted in the area of the pipe pond at the head of the estuary. Sex was not positively ascertained and this proved to be the only report of the month.
Early on the morning of 15th a dead Badger was found at the side of Hartley Lane. A careful inspection of the carcase indicated that it was killed by a glancing blow to one side of the head; there was no other visible damage. There were no obvious badger paths in the vegetation adjacent to either side of the road where it was found and these 2 factors indicate that it was possibly walking along Hartley Lane. Where it had come from or where it was going remains a complete mystery.
As the cold weather descended on the area at the end of the month Hedgehogs ceased making their evening foraging for food indicating that the period of hibernation had started. So far none have been seen out hunting in daylight, if one is seen please report it as it is in trouble.
As the unseasonably warm and dry weather changed into the more normal wet and cold towards the end of the month, so more birds started using the feeders and hence reports increased. On the adjacent farmland all has been very quiet with just 1 sighting of 6 Pheasants and 6 Grey Partridge, unfortunately, ready for the shooting season that started this month. As usual a few Grey Herons have been seen flying over and the large flocks of Corvids have reassembled and those, together with the massive flocks of Woodpigeon, have given the field constant movement.
It was also quiet in the air with a Buzzard seen on 10th and 15th and a Sparrowhawk seen on the 9th in the upper estuary with a Kestrel hovering opposite the cottages in the lower part of the estuary on 13th and another near Crow Hall Farm on 22nd.
There was a surprise on the river right at the end of the month when 2 Dippers were seen in the tunnel area. It was clear from their activities that they were not 2 males arguing over territory so a pair so early in the winter is unusual. There had been a few other sightings through the month of a single bird both at the tunnel area and Holywell Bridge. A Kingfisher was reported 5 times at various places from the Estuary as far upstream as the upper bridge. The sighting of a Grey Wagtail followed an almost identical pattern but a Moorhen was only seen once, on Old Hartley Pond soon after it had been cleared by the Working Party.
The second half of the month produced numerous sightings of Mallard with 1 or 2 upstream to up to 8 at the estuary end. One report was of a mother with 3 large ducklings – certainly very late in the year for that. A Little Egret was seen in the estuary on the 26th and again 2 days later, while Redshank numbers varied between 1 and 20. The tiny Wren got a good tally of reports this month, seen throughout the Dene but always a single bird flitting from one point on the river to another and seen for only a few seconds. That just leaves the Grey Heron that, as usual, was around almost daily mostly in the estuary but occasionally feeding a long way upstream. 1 or 2 was the number normally seen with 2 being reported very early one morning before daybreak, flying low over the Dene lit only by the moon – an eerie sight and sound indeed.
Right at the end of the month 1 or 2 Blackbirds were being reported, meaning that the enormous flocks that had spent the last couple of months clearing vast amounts of berries from trees and bushes were breaking up.
Blue, Great and Coal Tit plus Dunnock were all well seen with numbers being average while a Willow Tit was well reported in the second half of the month, one being seen on a feeder near the stepping-stones - a first for this area.
There were many reports of groups of Long-tailed Tits varying from a pair to 10 and of single Great Spotted Woodpeckers being seen from the upper bridge to the estuary. Tree Sparrows once again proved to be very active in various parts of the Dene, with almost daily reports coming in of groups up to 8 completely taking over seed feeders when they found them full. Finch reports were disappointing with only a few sightings of Bullfinch, Chaffinch and Goldfinch and only 1 of a Greenfinch being seen in the estuary. Robin reports were also disappointing but increased as the month went on, so it appears they are coming back to the Dene. There were an increasing number of reports of 1 or 2 Nuthatch being seen on the feeders as the month went on and one report of a Treecreeper on the 15th and a Collared Dove on the 21st while an over-wintering Blackcap being seen on 29th and 31st.
The increasing number of Jays seen in the Dene continues. Of the 7 reports this month 1 came from the Holywell area, 2 from the meadow and 4 from along the Hartley Lane to Seaton Sluice path.
Finally, on the 30th, early morning dog walkers along the Hartley Lane to Seaton Sluice path witnessed a frenzied flock of Redwing and Fieldfare, numbers impossible to estimate let alone count, that never stopped moving while the few observers watched in amazement. They had obviously just landed after successfully crossing the North Sea during the night but a check a couple of hours later revealed not a single bird to be seen.
Two Stoats seen
Two Grey Squirrels around all month
Tree Sparrows taking over from House Sparrows
Jays continue their consolidation in the Dene
A pair of Dippers seen
Cormorants are back in the estuary
Even for a November, Roe Deer were thin on the ground this month with only 4 reports. There appears to have been a single female, reported on 2nd and again on 10th and 18th from the centre part of the Dene, and then nothing until 27th when 2 females were seen crossing a field near Hartley West Farm.
A Red Fox was twice reported just before last light on the edge of the Dene, close to the path from Hartley Lane Car Park to Seaton Sluice, probably preparing for an expedition into the gardens not too far away. At the other end of the day two early morning walkers saw a Stoat in the area of the upstream wooden bridge on 16th and the other on the 26th.
2 Grey Squirrels continued to be seen regularly in the Dene throughout the month with the favourite area being the meadow but on one occasion an animal was seen near Holywell Bridge. There was plenty of natural food, especially nuts, available for the animals and consequently they ignored the peanuts in the feeding boxes so all the regular checking reports arrived showing there had been no visits. Then on the 28th 2 boxes were found empty and others soon followed – natural food had obviously run out. Watch this space!!
By the third week of the month reports arrived from people living close to the Dene saying their nightly visit of a Hedgehog to their garden and the food put out, had ceased, indicating natural hibernation for the winter. So far there has been no report of a Hedgehog out in daylight, a very bad sign and something that should be reported without delay.
As the warm weather of early November turned colder and windier, the bird food containers were filled again and the leaves parted from the trees, so it was possible to watch the birds returning as the trees and bushes, earlier covered with colourful berries, lost their colour as the birds finished off their abundant natural food. Suddenly almost every report mentioned good numbers of arguing Blackbirds back in all parts of the Dene – the normal sign that winter is upon us.
Coal Tits, that had been few and far between, went back to normal numbers but the same could not be said for Blue and Great Tits, whose numbers appear to be down on previous years, perhaps another poor breeding season. After many reports of Long-tailed Tits seen in October the early part of November produced no reports but they were back with the colder weather with small flocks up to 7. The rare Willow Tit did us proud with no less than 13 reports of 1 or 2 birds all from the east end of the Dene. The feeder near the seat a little upstream of the pipe bridge is a good place to see one.
The finches all started quietly but numbers increased significantly in the second half of the month. Bullfinches up to 4 birds together, Chaffinch up to 3 birds and Goldfinch up to 7 appeared in all parts of the Dene, whereas Dunnock continued being seen in normal numbers throughout the month with just 1 or occasionally 2 birds.
Tree Sparrows, a rare listed bird in many parts of the country, were certainly not rare in the Dene and surrounding area. Seen almost daily in small flocks up to 7/8 they appear to have taken over from House Sparrows in this area. Inquisitive Robins as usual were around throughout the Dene, normally a single bird but if a pair, an argument was usually forthcoming. Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been well reported, especially when partaking of the feeder food. On the 16th one was heard ‘drumming’ and again on a few occasions after that, all being in the general area between the 2 wooden bridges. Nuthatch have been very well reported especially while enjoying the various feeder’s offerings but it is interesting that there has never been a report of one to the west of the old railway line. The greatly under-reported Wren got just 3 mentions this month of 1 or two birds.
Jays have continued their consolidation throughout the Dene being seen from the Concorde House area right down to the estuary. Up to 3 being seen together has been the maximum with a pair being the norm. Walkers have occasionally reported a pair being seen near the old railway line and then later on the same walk a pair on the path to Seaton Sluice. A summer visitor that is obviously staying for the winter has been seen a number of times, the male Blackcap has been reported on 3 occasions and a female once, all in the second half of the month while a lone Stock Dove was seen on the very last day of the month.
Massive flocks of varying numbers of Rooks, Jackdaws, Carrion Crows and Magpies have once again taken over the surrounding fields with counts of well over 100 birds being the norm one day and not a bird to be seen the next. However the flocks of 30 to 60 Woodpigeon are seen daily and are not something easily missed. 5 Curlew were seen in a field on 24th and before that on the 4th there were 4 Grey Partridge in the same field. There were many reports of Pheasant being seen or heard throughout the Dene, adjacent fields and estuary, with all sightings being of just 1 or 2 birds and all but two of the reports were of males.
A Sparrowhawk has been seen in each week of the month both in the Dene and on 13th and 27th in the estuary. A Kestrel was seen on 3 occasions, on the 9th it was above the estuary, on the 13th above a field adjacent to Crow Hall Farm and on the 27th above the meadow. A Tawny Owl was heard calling on the 15th near Holywell Bridge and on 27th in the area of the meadow. A Buzzard was missing for the whole month until appearing in the centre part of the Dene on the 25th and then again on 27th.
On the river a Dipper has been seen regularly, often near the tunnel entrance but once as far downstream as the stepping-stones. The surprise was on the 18th slightly downstream from the tunnel when 2 were sitting side by side on a small rock. The fact that no territorial fight was in progress showing it must have been a male/female pair, something you do not normally see until around the turn of the year. There were only 2 sightings of a Grey Wagtail both in the estuary, with the same number of sightings of a Little Egret on the 18th in the estuary and on 25th a little further upstream. There were 4 reports of a Kingfisher being seen, all between 6th and 16th, with 2 sightings in the estuary and the other 2 much further upstream.
Moorhens appeared on the scene, just upstream of the pipe bridge, from the 25th with up to 3 being seen. Mallard were reported on 4 occasions with 4 being seen on the river a little upstream of the pipe bridge on 2 occasions, 1 on the river in the estuary further downstream while 11 were seen on 4th enjoying the pleasures of the new Millfied Reed Bed. Redshank have been seen almost daily in the estuary with a flock up to 14 birds seen on the 11th and on the very last day of the month 2 Cormorants were the first seen this winter, the date being about 1 week later than last year. Finally, Grey Herons have been everywhere, from fishing in the tunnel entrance to the estuary and then on 25th were seen sitting in the trees of the heronry – somewhat earlier than expected but it might mean spring is just around the corner!!
Otter seen just south of Holywell Village
2 Grey Squirrels trapped
Great Spotted Woodpeckers abound
Collard Doves seen in the Dene
The Pink-footed Geese are back
Wonderful view of a pair of Buzzards
Pair of Dippers takes up residence
Continuing this year’s winter trend, there have been only a few reports of Roe Deer. In the first week there were 2 reports of 2 females in the fields near Hartley West Farm (HWF) followed in the next week by 1 near Crow Hall Farm (CHF), probably a male. Then on 21st there was a report of 3 females crossing a field near HWF and that was it for the month.
On the 14th there was a report of an Otter seen in rather a strange location, between the Concorde House footbridge and the small tunnel. It was watched for about 15 minutes before disappearing into the tunnel.
At the end of the November Fauna Report we were left rather in limbo when 2 Grey Squirrel feeding boxes were found empty on the 28th. A check of boxes 2 days later, on 1st December, found an incredible 7 boxes had been visited by Greys and so at 8am on the 2nd traps were placed beneath the 2 boxes nearest to CHF. They were checked again, in according with the rules, at 5pm the same day and a mature male was in found in one and an immature female in the other.
As it was felt certain that, based on the number of boxes visited, there must be other Greys in the Dene we waited to see which boxes were next entered, with checks being undertaken on a daily basis. Nothing happened and throughout the rest of the month not a single box was visited. However, 3 Grey Squirrel sightings were reported, 2 on the south side in the area of the stepping-stones and the last on the 21st near the upstream wooden bridge.
December has turned out to be rather a pattern-less month with numbers of birds being seen varying in line with daytime temperatures. Starting with Blackbirds, virtually every report received contained a reference to them, with numbers up to 11 and usually the word ‘arguing’ was somewhere to be found. Blue Tits up to 7, Great Tits up to 7 and Coal Tits up to 4 have all been well reported with 7 reports of the rare Willow Tit being seen with 2 of those reports from areas further away from the usual sighting area, which is from the Hartley Lane Car Park to the harbour – a good sign for this rapidly declining bird nationally. Long-tailed Tit sightings have been very disappointing with only 2 reports of 5 and 4 birds.
Reports of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, either seen or heard drumming, have gone through the roof in the second 2 weeks of the month, with a number of reports of 2 birds drumming one on either side of the river. One wonders if the Dene is approaching saturation point for this bird.
Bullfinch reports, of 1 to 3 birds, have been about average for December and have come from all areas of the Dene. The same can be said about Chaffinch but numbers appear to be decreasing with most reports of only 1 or 2 birds. Goldfinch has been rare this month with just 1 report of 3 birds at the end of the month.
Dunnock, mostly seen hoovering under seed feeders, have been well reported and, where there are humans, a Robin will not be too far away and this has resulted in many reports, although only of 1 or 2 birds.
The number of Nuthatch sightings, from ever increasing areas of the Dene, has been exceptionally good with at least 50% of the reports of 2 birds. Tree Sparrow sightings go from strength to strength with many of the reports around the 10 figure. Most still come from the east end of the Dene but they appear to be expanding as I or 2 reports have come from the old railway line area. In the Dene at least they appear to have taken over from the House Sparrow, which is now very rarely seen. Stock Dove sightings have been very satisfactory this month, with 1 or 2 birds seen in various places including the estuary, with reports increasing rapidly towards the end of the month.
Jays continue to be seen or heard regularly from throughout the Dene, although reports dried up in the last 10 days of the month. On the 2nd 2 reports arrived from different people reporting sightings of 2 birds at the same time, the first from the Hartley Lane Car Park and the other from the Old Railway Line. There were 2 single reports this month, the first was of a Goldcrest seen in the estuary on 24th and the other was of 2 Collard Doves seen near Old Hartley Pond on 9th.
Finally under woodland birds, mention must be made of the Corvids, Jackdaws, Rooks, Carrion Crows, Magpies and Woodpigeon that have all been around in good numbers often making up flocks of 100s of birds flying to or from the woodland or feeding on the adjacent grazing fields, and making a considerable noise!
On and above the adjacent fields, the bird that has been seen the most is the Pheasant, mostly male but occasionally a pair: often seen walking for incredible distances, when flying would be so much quicker. Birds have been seen in the open fields but often heard in the bushy field edges. Early on the morning of the 27th 2 Red-legged Partridge were disturbed on the edge of a field and had their normal short low flight, just far enough to get out of harm’s way. Then on 27th came the first large Pink-footed Goose flock of the winter, although they didn’t stay long. 3 days later a similar flock of about 450 birds stayed a little longer. I think they are looking for a field that grew potatoes, recently harvested, which is their favourite
The 9th was a fine day with the sun shining in a beautiful clear blue sky and at 11.15 eyes were turned upwards to watch 2 Buzzards circling and drifting in the light winds at no great height so that one got a wonderful view of their plumage. Amazingly they were completely alone without a Corvid in sight. On the very same day but at around 21.30, a Tawny Owl was loudly calling from a tree on the very outskirts of the Dene and consequently heard by pedestrians walking on the south side of Seaton Sluice. Only 1 Sparrowhawk was reported all month, this on 24th in the estuary and on the same day 2 Kestrels were seen, again in the estuary, obviously on a visit from the dunes, their more usual hunting ground.
On the river the good news is that on 14th a pair of Dippers was seen sitting on the same rock near the tunnel entrance and have been seen a number of times since. Single birds have also been reported from the same area as well as from under the Holywell Road Bridge. On the other hand a Grey Wagtail has only been seen twice, on 20th in the estuary and on the 30th on the river in the Dene itself. A Kingfisher was seen on 4th near the Stone Bridge, while Moorhens, up to 5, have been seen on the edge of the vegetation a little upstream from the Pipe Pond Bridge. In the estuary a Little Egret was seen on 2nd and 22nd and Redshanks, between 1 and 20, have been regularly reported throughout the month. Wrens, towards the end of the month have been heard singing, resulting in a few more reports for this tiny grossly under-reported bird.
There have only been 2 reports of Mallard, 6 in the estuary on the 30th and 4 in the Dene on the 2nd, while a Cormorant has visited the Dene on 3 occasions, 2nd, 11th and 18th. Finally, Grey Herons have, as usual, been seen almost daily throughout the Dene and estuary, with numbers between 1 and 3.
And so to 2019 – to our readers “All the very best for the New Year”
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.