The Dene through the Seasons
Butterflies sightings have been better this July
2 Grey Squirrels have been caught this month
A Stoat with 2 young was seen
Young Swifts have started to leave
Common Sandpipers have been seen in the estuary
A Nuthatch with 4 young has been seen
July has been a better month overall for butterflies with the best place to see them being the estuary. As regards quantity, by far the greatest numbers seen have been Large White and Speckled Wood, which have been seen in good numbers throughout the Dene. Red Admiral have been reported 7 times but never more than 3 together while Peacock have only generated 1 report of a single butterfly all month. Once again what used to be a very common butterfly, the Small Tortoiseshell, has generated just 2 reports, which is very disappointing and worrying. A few Small Whites have been identified.
On the 10 July 11 Meadow Brown were reported from the estuary with another 5 on the 8th while from the Crow Hall farm area there was a report of 2 on the 5th. Of the more unusual butterflies, reports all came from the estuary with 2 Large Skipper seen on 4th and a Small Skipper and 3 Ringlet seen on the 17th.
A very quiet month with just 1 report of a Red Fox seen out in daylight on the first day of the month and on the 5th a Stoat was seen with 2 youngsters on the south riverside path a little downstream from the stepping-stones.
The 3 released Hedgehogs appear to be doing well, although the very dry and warm weather has continued to make finding their natural food difficult. Consequently, the feed of mealworms, normally put out for them for a few weeks after release, has continued through July and been completely consumed each night.
The Grey Squirrel activity in the Holywell Bridge area of the Dene, reported at the end of June, continued for a day or so into July but then a mature male was trapped on the 4th and things went relatively quiet until the middle of the month when activity switched to the area between Hartley Lane car park and the downstream wooden bridge. The occasional box was found empty but then a report was received that a Grey Squirrel was feeding in a garden of a house adjacent to the Dene. Traps were set and on the very last day of the month an immature male was caught. However, a further sighting a few hours after the trapping, confirmed we were dealing with more than one squirrel. Watch this space!
This July has been a particularly quiet month perhaps because of the totally abnormal weather of high temperatures and lack of any meaningful rain. It became almost the norm in the second half of the month to walk through the Dene and hear no birdsong and only see the occasional bird.
Despite that, there have been all the normally resident birds around but to be found mainly on the periphery of the woodland or along the hedgerows of the adjoining fields. Plenty of young Blackbirds, Blue and Great Tits, Dunnock in unusually good numbers and a surprising number of House Sparrows have all been seen. Coal Tits have continued to be few and far between with only the occasional 1 or 2 seen and there has been a distinct lack of Robins. Long-tailed Tits have increased in the second half of the month with numbers from single birds to flocks up to 7 seen along the hedgerows, while a single Willow Tit has been seen on just 3 occasions. Small groups of 2 or 3 Tree Sparrows have been seen occasionally but nowhere near the usual numbers or sightings.
With the finches the greatest change during the month has been with Bullfinch numbers and sightings. By the last week family groups of 4 to 7 were being seen in all parts of the Dene made up mainly of youngsters. Only 1 sighting of 5 Goldfinches was reported from the Dene but there were many groups of varying sizes along the hedgerows. 1 or 2 Chaffinches were reported from throughout the Dene all through the month but not a single Greenfinch.
Another bird well seen in the hedgerows was the Reed Bunting either pairs or single birds, whereas a Nuthatch probably nested somewhere in the area around Old Hartley pond as one of the parents was seen feeding 4 youngsters in the area. The sightings of Great Spotted Woodpeckers increased substantially during the month with, by the end of the month, sightings being inevitably of young birds, this from all parts of the Dene. There was a single report of a Collared Dove being seen on 20th near the stepping-stones.
Needless to say Woodpigeons were everywhere throughout the month and it is pleasing to report that 1 or 2 Stock Dove were seen no less than 19 times. Carrion Crows, usually a pair, were seen daily as were the Magpies with numbers up to 5. Jackdaws were around but not in great numbers and at last the Rooks were silent. There was a single report of 2 Jays back in their usual location of the Holywell end of the Dene. A Sparrowhawk was only reported twice, on the 20th in the estuary and on the 30th at the east end of the Dene. A single Buzzard was watched twice circling above the Dene and it was noticeable that on both occasions they were not being mobbed by other birds.
With young Swifts already departing to their winter quarters it must be said that July has been a great disappointment for seeing our summer visitors. There were only 2 reports of Swifts, 10 passing over the Dene and another group of 25 seen over the estuary. The large flocks of House Martins and Swallows feeding above the Dene, especially in the evening, has not happened this year while in other places, normally guaranteed to have low flying Swallows, have had none or just 1 or 2. Hopefully it is all to do with the weather causing a lack of the flying insects they feed on; perhaps August will bring a change before they leave our shores.
The disappointment of the non-breeding Dippers this year has been matched by the very few reports of sightings. In fact, in July there was only 1 report and that was of a bird seen flying upstream in the estuary. A Grey Wagtail was seen only 3 times, once in the Dene and twice in the estuary, while a Moorhen was only seen once, with 2 birds near the Pipe Pond. A Kingfisher was seen twice once on the 14th in the Holywell section of the river and on the second occasion in the estuary on the 25th.
A particularly interesting sighting this month was of Common Sandpipers in the estuary, with 1 being seen on 17th, 3 on the 20th and 2 on 23rd. In the same area a single Redshank was seen on 8th but there was only 1 Mallard family seen, with mum and 9 youngsters, this time upstream near the stone bridge.
To finish, we will deal with the two most reported but at the same time probably most under- reported birds. A Grey Heron was reported 23 times, on some occasions from the Dene but most often from the estuary. The second was a Pheasant either seen or heard 15 times in various parts of the Dene. Although it was known for certain that Pheasants were nesting not a single youngster was seen. As regards the Grey Heron there was a great noisy gathering in the heronry earlier in the year but we have not witnessed this month the usual family gatherings in the adjacent fields, when double digit numbers would sit for hours doing absolutely nothing.
Butterflies – another poor month
Roe deer – unusual sighting of 2
Grey squirrels – 2 more caught but others still around
Birds – many young birds in all parts of the Dene
Linnets – seen in estuary
Swallows and Swifts – a very poor month
Another poor month for butterflies, although I suspect this is due to the poor weather along the coastal strip bordering the North Sea, compared with the rest of the country, which appears to be having a much better year for butterflies. We have been saved by the Speckled Wood, which has become common and plentiful in the second half of the month, having been seen in all parts of the Dene. In the early part of the month a few Orange Tip were still being seen but after that there has been just 1 report of a Small Tortoiseshell, 1 of a Peacock and 3 of a Red Admiral. Very few Small and Large White have been seen, the latter pleasing gardeners and allotment holders.
Nationwide the butterfly situation is not good. Since 1976, when record keeping started, 2016 was the fourth worst on record and last year, 2017, was the seventh worst. Overall, since 1976, 34 species of butterfly have decreased in abundance in the UK, 22 of those species showing significant declines: a very sad situation.
Except for an occasional male Roe Deer, a sighting of deer in the Dene in June is very unusual. However, on 14th 2 Roe Deer were seen in the field on the opposite side of the river to the Holywell Bridge /old railway line path. Unfortunately, they moved to cover so quickly their sex could not be determined.
After the recent cull of Red Fox in the Dene and surrounding area, which resulted in very few daylight sightings in the last few years, numbers appear to be increasing again as there has been a number of reports of animals out and about in the early morning and evening in both east and west parts of the Dene. One, seen near Hartley West Farm, has a significantly longer tail than normal and so is easily identified.
As regards Grey Squirrels in the Dene, activity has continued this month although not with the intensity of last month. In the first two weeks feeding boxes in the area between Crowhall Farm and Holywell Bridge were occasionally visited and food eaten. Traps were put in place on occasions but without success but then on the night of the 14th a mature female was caught. Not surprisingly, boxes continued to be visited and food eaten because a mature female at this time of the year almost always has an associated male.
After a few days, activity appeared to be directed closer to Crowhall Farm so a trap was put in place, initially without success, but on the 20th, the day before the trap was to be lifted, the expected male was caught. While this was going on, the surprise of the month happened to one of the boxes along the Hartley Lane car park /estuary path, it was found with the peanuts gone and tell-tale hairs on the sticky tab, the first time one of these boxes has ever been visited. Subsequent box checking indicated that this Grey Squirrel had moved through the Dene in a westerly direction towards Holywell having fed from two other boxes on the way. It could well have been the same animal that was seen early one morning near the stepping-stones.
The 3 Hedgehogs, released into the Dene earlier this year and reported in detail last month, are still being given a light mealworm feed each evening due to the exceptionally dry weather throughout the month being not conducive to providing their natural snail, slug and worm diet. Once the rain returns the light supper meal will be withdrawn.
June, as usual, was a month of two halves; building nests, laying eggs and hatching young creates quietness but then the young take to the skies and activity and noise level increase dramatically. These are the residential birds that nest in or near the Dene with little expectation of unusual or rare visitors.
Birds seen with or feeding young or young visiting the Dene this month include Blackbird, Blue and Great Tit, Dunnock, House and Tree Sparrow, Robin and Starling. A family of 6 Long-tailed Tit was seen on 10th while a Willow Tit was seen on 19th, 20th and twice on the 23rd. Coal Tit have been few and far between with single birds seen on 3 occasions and once 2 birds, one of which looked very immature. Most reports of Song Thrush have come from the estuary and, unlike past years, there has been no confirmation of them nesting in the Dene. Treecreepers have occasionally been seen with a rare sighting on 17th of one feeding its young. On the 9th and 10th Linnets were seen in the estuary with 2 on the latter date.
Bullfinch have been seen more often as the month has progressed but no young have yet been reported. Chaffinch have been seen regularly through the month but only as single birds while Goldfinch have been similar, except that on 10th 5 were seen and on the 29th 6, on both occasions in the estuary area. A Greenfinch has been seen on 3 occasions in the estuary as single birds but once a pair, and on one occasion a single bird was seen in the centre part of the Dene.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been very well reported this month desperately getting food for its offspring. Finally, on 22nd a young woodpecker was seen in the open being fed by its father. Stock Dove have also been well reported in good numbers, which indicates successful breeding.
There has only been one report of a Sparrowhawk this month on 18th in the centre part of the Dene, which indicates that they are no longer nesting in the Dene as they were a few years ago. In the first half of the month there were reports of Jays being seen in the Holywell area of the Dene and near the old railway line, both being their normal areas. Then on 23rd 2 birds arrived along the path linking Hartley Lane Car Park with the estuary and were still being seen and heard on the last day of the month; a surprising change of location for Jays. Throughout the Dene Pheasants have generated many reports mostly heard rather than seen, although towards the end of the month some young did put in an appearance.
Now that the summer visitors are not singing as much and the trees have leaves, it is very difficult to identify them and hence they are likely to be under-reported. However, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap have all been reported occasionally, spread throughout the Dene.
It has been a very disappointing month for our other summer visitors. There has only been 4 reports of Swallows being seen, 2 from the estuary area and the others from the fields near Crowhall Farm, with numbers very low between 1 and 4. Swift sightings are even worse with just 2 reports, both from the estuary: on the 14th 6 were seen and three days later there were 2. House Martin have been a little better, seen feeding mainly in the evening above the river on 8 occasions with numbers up to 15. These results are in line with National Reports, which have indicated late arrival and low numbers compared with past years.
It has been a very disappointing year for Dippers with only 3 reports from the tunnel area this month the last being on the 15th, while a Grey Wagtail was only reported once on the 10th from the same tunnel area. From the estuary came a report of 2 Moorhen seen on the 9th and a single Pied/White Wagtail seen on 17th.
As usual Grey Herons and Wrens have been well reported from all areas while there have been numerous reports of Mallard with young, although, as always, it has been impossible to determine duplication from new birds, as numbers of young can vary dramatically with overnight losses to a Fox. Highlights were a Mallard family with 10 young on 4th, another with 7 young on the 9th and, later in the month, a family with 7 well grown youngsters seen often from the 18th onwards. Well done to that Mum!
Water vole seen?
Better month for butterflies
Good month for Dragonflies and Damselflies
Kingfisher seen 5 times in the month
Common Sandpiper seen in estuary
As usual, August will no doubt prove to be the best month for butterflies and it started well with a Comma seen on the very first day. Unfortunately, one was only seen twice more in the month all in the first week. Peacock and Red Admiral were the most seen regularly throughout the month with numbers of Peacock up to 5 and Red Admiral up to 3. Small Tortoiseshell, once the most seen butterfly, was only reported on 4 occasions, all in the second half of the month, with 3 together on one sighting. Speckled Wood were reported 4 times, 1 or 2 in number as was Painted Lady with 1 report in each week of the month.
Unlike last year, Large White have been seen almost daily in good numbers up to 12, while on just 2 occasions a Small White was positively identified.
Amphibians and Small Mammals
Despite the dry weather various sizes of Frogs and Toads have been in abundance in most parts of the Dene this month together with lesser numbers of Field Voles and Wood Mice. In the Holywell Bridge area there was a report of a Water Vole but it is still being verified: it would be great news if they were returning to the river after the years of absence. Also this month there have been a number of Stoats seen, which again is good news.
Dragonflies and Damselflies
Word must be included of the quite unprecedented number of reports of people seeing Dragonflies and Damselflies around the ponds and parts of the river this month. Unfortunately identification of species needs detailed knowledge and this has not been forthcoming but it was pleasing to receive reports of these creatures being seen in the recently created reed scrapes in the estuary.
Although there have been no sightings of Hedgehogs in the Dene itself, there has been a dramatic increase in people living in houses adjacent to the Dene, reporting these animals in their gardens after dark. It is obviously not known whether the release of Hedgehogs into the Dene by FoHD in the last two years has been the cause or is a factor, but it could be.
The first Roe Deer family of 3 returning to the area after breeding was seen on 16th and there have been 2 further repots since. Sadly a dead Young Deer was discovered in one of the woods on the north side of the Dene towards the end of the month: the cause of death is not known.
An immature female Grey Squirrel was caught on 2nd at the east end of the Dene, near Hartley Lane car park, but after that, although there were 2 or 3 reports of Grey Squirrels being seen at both ends of the Dene, there was no further activity at the feeding boxes.
Reports of birds seen in the Dene usually drop dramatically during August. It’s the time when many birds will replace their feathers and become much less manoeuvrable on the wing: as a result, birds become more secretive. Add to that the fact that this year there is an abundance of natural food, including a good berry crop ripe for the taking, and you have the reason why there have been so few birds to be seen in the Dene itself.
Perhaps the best example is the Blackbird, adults and juveniles in abundance for the first 2 weeks but then by the end of the month it was rare to see just one. Blue and Great Tits went through the process slightly earlier and by the end of the month numbers reported were often close to double figures. Coal Tit have been a rarity all month with only 8 sightings whereas Long-tailed Tits were not reported once in the first 2 weeks and then returned in flocks into double figures with 11 reports in the second half of the month. On a much smaller scale Willow Tit followed the same pattern, not being seen in the first half and then a single bird being seen on 6 occasions in the second half.
Dunnock have been seen occasionally all month between 1 and 3 birds, while Tree Sparrow and Goldfinch disappeared all month until single birds returned in the last week. Amazingly not a single Robin was reported all month! More Bullfinch were seen in the early part of the month with no less than 7 reported on the 5th but then tailed off to 1 or 2 birds in the second half. Chaffinch were seen occasionally all month but only 1 or 2 birds, while unusually a single Greenfinch was seen on the 29th and 30th in the same area, so probably the same bird. Single Great Spotted Woodpeckers, usually juveniles, were reported from all parts of the Dene on 19 occasions, easily the most reported bird this month. There were 2 reports of a Jay being seen, the first on the 7th near Hartley Lane Car Park and then 2 birds were seen on 13th in the Dale Top area in Holywell. Close to the old railway line on the north side of the Dene a Wheatear was seen on 27th
Our summer visitors were not well reported with only 2 sightings of 1 and 2 Chiffchaff seen on the edge of bushes and only the odd sighting of Swallow in small numbers, although 12 were seen gather on a telephone wire on the last day of the month. Small gatherings of House Martin were seen on 5 occasions feeding above the river in the early evening, nothing like the gatherings seen in previous years. There was no report of a Swift being seen.
There was a report of a Sparrowhawk feeding 2 juveniles on the 5th and a further sighting of a single bird on the 25th while on the day before a Kestrel was seen hovering near Crow Hall Farm. 2 Buzzards were seen and photographed resting in trees in the Dene, the first on the 7th and the second on the 24th both picked out by the agitation of the other birds. Single birds were also seen occasionally all month flying above the Dene and adjacent fields, mainly on the north side of the river, sometimes being attacked by other birds but more often being left alone – are they getting used to having Buzzards about?
There was only a single report of a Pheasant being seen or heard all month, while in a field near Hartley West Farm there was a flock of 30 Curlew on the 31st. On the 24th a flock of around 100 Greylag Geese was seen and heard flying over the same field.
As usual Grey Heron were seen all month in all areas of the Dene, mostly single birds but occasionally a pair. Between 1 and 3 Redshank were well reported all month in the estuary with a Common Sandpiper seen on 27th. There were 5 reports of a Kingfisher being seen on various dates, 4 from the estuary and one from near the upstream wooden bridge but only 1 report of a Dipper seen near the stepping-stones. There were 2 sightings of Grey Wagtails, a single bird on 5th near the upstream bridge and 2 birds further downstream on 14th. Unusually, Wrens were well reported this month with sightings of between 1 and 4 birds and a family of an adult female and 3 juvenile Mallard was seen in the estuary on 14th. Then on 16th around 30 Mallard were seen congregated on the small field pond a little north of the Dene to the west of the old railway line.
Needless to say, large flocks of Woodpigeon have been seen every day together with numerous Magpies usually in groups up to 5. Pairs of Carrion Crow have been seen daily throughout the Dene together with a lesser number of Jackdaws. Rooks have turned silent but no doubt are still around high in ‘their’ trees.
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.