The Dene through the Seasons
Grey Squirrel seen in the last week of the month
Two Chiffchaff seen in the Dene
Red Kite seen
Little Egret back in estuary
Willow Tit seen on one of the Dene feeders
As normal for a November it was a quiet month for mammals. The only daylight sighting of a Red Fox was on 13th at 9am when one was watched wondering across an adjacent field near Hartley West Farm (HWF) and entering the Dene.
Roe Deer have been reported on 5 occasions, all but one in the stretch of Dene between the stone bridge on the farm road and the metal bridge at the head of the estuary. 3 were seen on the 11th followed by 2 on the 12th and 16th and finally 6 on the 19th. The other sighting was of 2 near Crowhall Farm on 23rd.
The first 23 days of this month were free from Grey Squirrels but then one was seen on 24th, 25th, 27th and 28th all along the path between the old railway line (ORL) and Holywell Road Bridge (HRB). It is to be hoped that all the sightings are of the same male animal that has just stayed longer than usual but only time will tell. The feeder boxes in that area have had additional checks carried out, including one on the last day of the month, proving that there has been no feeding activity from the boxes in November.
A report has been received from the Chair of the Red Squirrel Group that 2 Red Squirrels have been seen recently on the Delaval Hall Estate, so it is hoped they will continue in our direction and sample the delights of the Dene in due course.
November, being the last month of autumn, usually produces a straggling summer visitor and welcomes winter visitors. Sure enough on 19th 2 Chiffchaff were seen and may well be over-wintering as some have been doing for a few years now. Winter visitors such as Redwing have been missing but at least there was a flock of around 200 Pink-footed Geese seen landing and taking off from a HWF field on the 26th.
Starting with birds of prey, a Sparrowhawk has been reported on 5 occasions, twice in the estuary area while a Kestrel has been seen twice, once in the estuary and the other time above a Crowhall Farm field. A rarer sighting was of a Red Kite seen above the ORL at the Delaval Hall end on the 18th. The surprise of the month was the 6 sightings of a Buzzard, with 3 birds seen sitting in trees in various locations and dates in the centre part of the Dene while the other 3, on different dates, were birds above the adjacent fields being mobbed by other birds.
On the river the bird most often seen was, as usual, the Grey Heron. Most sightings were in the estuary but others came from all areas of the Dene including as far upstream as HRB. Extremely good numbers of Mallard, of both sexes, were seen mainly in the area both up and downstream of the metal bridge, with numbers varying between 15 and 2. Only 2 reports came from river locations further upstream.
At the other extreme, only 1 Dipper was seen all month, on the 28th, this on the river stretch from the ORL to HRB. Grey Wagtail were few and far between, with just 2 sightings in the estuary and 2 more near the upstream wooden bridge. 2 Cormorants were seen on consecutive days, on 24th there was one in the estuary and early the next morning 1 was watched fishing in the deep water two hundred yards downstream from the stone bridge, possibly the same bird. A Moorhen was seen on the 11th in the bushes opposite the seat a little upstream from the metal bridge and then on 25th 2 were in the area of the stone bridge.
In the estuary a few Redshank were to be seen on and off throughout the month but then on 18th there was a flock of 46 being ushered backwards by the very high tide water crossing the grassed area on the east side of the estuary, similar to the common sight of waders on the edge of an incoming tide on a sandy beach.
2 reports were received of a Kingfisher on the 4th, with the first at 10.30 by the metal bridge and then again in early afternoon way upriver near the upstream bridge; probably the same bird. Then there were a further 2 reports of birds seen in the estuary on the 13th and 16th .Finally on the river a Little Egret, (on one occasion 2) has been well seen this month. Mostly on the estuary flats but on a couple of occasions in the river a little upstream from the metal bridge and on 3 occasions flying up or downstream in the centre part of the Dene, with the last sighting on the 30th of a bird fighting the gale and driven snow as it attempted to reach the estuary; it did as it was seen there about an hour later safe and well.
The colder weather towards the end of the month has certainly increased the number of corvids (crudely called black jobs – rooks, jackdaws etc.) and assorted gulls that regularly frequent the surrounding fields at this time of year. It has not been unusual to see flocks of 150 birds from early morning to dusk and those, together with flocks of around 75 Woodpigeon, has made it a lively and noisy place. Around the edges of these fields Magpie are to be found and unfortunately it appears their numbers are increasing annually as small flocks of 5 or 6 are now common. In amongst all this on the 6th there was a group of 8 Pheasant, of both sexes, on HWF although it is thought they might have just been released from captivity as we are in the middle of the Delaval Hall Estate shooting season.
In the woodland the bird feeders, now in position in various locations in the Dene, have increased viewing opportunities but even so numbers of birds using them are not back to normal winter figures indicating there is still natural food about. Great, Blue and Coal Tit have all been seen and reported but except for the occasional larger group of up to 6 Great Tits numbers have been around 1 to 3. Long-tailed Tit have only been reported on 5 occasions with groupings of between 1 and 7 so the very large groups are still missing. Once again the Willow Tit has been the real surprise, seen on no less than 15 occasions, all single birds except a pair on just 1 occasion, they have started making use of the bird feeders, especially the one near the metal bridge, which makes identification easier.
Bullfinch have almost disappeared this month with only 3 sightings of 2 birds, while Chaffinch have been seen more often but only individual birds. Goldfinch have been few and far between but when seen have normally been in flocks of 8 to10. Blackbirds are always around but there again numbers have been low with sightings normally of just 1 to 3 birds. Dunnock have been even worse with just 4 sightings of a single bird while Robin have been seen more often but not in their winter numbers, with only singles or pairs seen. A Song Thrush was reported on 21th and Tree Sparrow have been seen on and off throughout the month, normally only a single bird but in the last week groupings had increased to 4 or 5
Amazingly there have been only 2 reports of a Great Spotted Woodpecker, in the first and last week of the month. Wrens at this time of the year tend to be away from the river and have been seen in the adjacent woodland on a number of occasions especially during the second half of the month. On 21st one was seen within a foot or so of a feeder on which tits were feeding-the Wren just watched! 2 Jay were seen on the 6th along the ORL followed by 3 other single bird sightings but spread through the central part of the Dene. The return of the feeders has attracted Nuthatch with 2 sightings both near the feeder near the upstream bridge, one on 12th and the other on 26th and to finish on an encouraging note the number of sightings of Stock Dove has been larger than expected with numbers a real surprise. They were seen on 11 occasions with usually 2 birds together but on 22nd no less than 7 birds were in a small flock.
An extremely quiet month for wildlife
Butterflies seen up to the end of the month
The summer visitors have left
The first winter visitors have arrived
A Grey Squirrel was seen on 4 occasions
Little Egret have been in the estuary
The rare Willow Tit is still being seen
The mild October resulted in butterflies being seen right up to the end of the month, albeit all the reports being of just 2 species. The winner, by a very large margin, was the Red Admiral reported on 10 occasions with numbers between 1 and 4; the last report being of 4 seen on the 29th in the estuary area. The only other butterfly reported was a Speckled Wood seen on just 2 occasions with 3 being seen on the 3rd and 1 on 21st both sightings again coming from the estuary. In 2016 the last report of a butterfly was on 13th when a Comma and Red Admiral were seen.
The Grey Squirrel feeding boxes have continued to be checked by our team of volunteers on a weekly basis throughout October but none have been visited by a Grey Squirrel. That being said there have been weekly sightings of a single animal in various locations in the Dene. The first was seen near the stepping-stones on the morning of the 6th followed by one in the Holywell Bridge area on 13th and then one was seen crossing Hartley Lane near the lay-by on 16th and finally one was seen again in the Holywell Bridge area on the 25th. Once again the indications are that all four were just passing through and didn’t hang around.
This month we had to wait until early morning on 29th before a Roe Deer was seen, a single female followed the next day by 2 being seen in mid-afternoon. Both sightings were in the fields connecting Hartley West Farm and the Pipe Pond.
Hopefully it is due to the warm weather in October and hence the abundance of natural food away from the Dene that the number of reported bird sightings received has been at an all-time low. As usual in October we bid farewell to the summer visitors and say hello to those arriving for the winter. The last Chiffchaff sighting was on the very first day of the month (last year it was the 30th) but we did beat last year with a flock of around 150 Pink-footed Geese landing in the field adjacent to Crow Hall Farm right at the end of the month. In addition, on the 3rd a flock of Barnacle Geese numbering around 100 flew over the Dene on their way to the south.
Other sightings from the surrounding fields have been minimal. A single male Pheasant has been seen on and off throughout the month and 2 Grey Partridge were noted feeding near Hartley West Farm on the 12th. On 26th a Kestrel was watched quartering the ground above a field next to the cattle grid entrance to Crow Hall Farm.
What has started to build up this month are the sizeable flocks of Woodpigeon, Magpie, Jackdaw and assorted gulls that frequent these fields throughout winter with the occasional pair of Carrion Crow thrown in for good measure; flocks of over 100 birds has already been seen.
On the water, starting at the estuary end, a Grey Wagtail was seen on 21st and a Pied Wagtail, 2 Curlew and a Kingfisher all seen on 3rd. A Cormorant was reported diving in the estuary on the 20th and the only report of Mallard this month was of 7 in the estuary area on 21st. A small number of Redshank have been around on and off all month with 5 being the maximum while a Little Egret was spotted on 12th and has been irregularly sighted since then right through to the end of the month with, on 3 occasions, 2 being seen together.
Grey Heron has been one of our most sighted birds this month with 1 or 2 regularly seen in the estuary and single birds in all other areas of the river. Further upstream from the estuary a Dipper has been seen on 3 occasions, twice near the tunnel entrance and once under the Holywell Bridge while a Kingfisher was seen on the 2nd in the bridge area below Concorde House and then on 22nd much further downstream near the Stone Bridge.
Moving to the woodland one can only say it has been uncommonly still and quiet. The only exception has been the Rooks gathering high in their designated trees and making an incredible noise. No one reports these birds but on a number of occasions, walking on the south side of the river, counts of in excess of 100 birds have been made.
At the other extreme, a Jay was reported twice, once in the Dene and the other time along the old railway line. A Nuthatch was reported on the 3rd and a slight surprise was a Collared Dove seen along the path between the car park and the metal bridge. There was only one report of a Tree Sparrow, 3 being seen near Hartley West Farm on the 1st while a single Dunnock was seen on 10th and 11th. Amazingly, the usually well reported Bullfinch was only seen twice, once in the Dene in the first week and then nothing until 2 were seen along the old railway line just 2 days before the end of the month.
A Robin was seen in the estuary on the 3rd and then 1 was seen near the stepping-stones on the 11th while Chaffinch were seen 1 on the 11th and 2 on the 12th. A single Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen on 4 occasions, 3 of which were confirmed as females. While other birds had disappeared the rare Willow Tit stayed around all month being seen on 4 occasions between the car park and the metal bridge, with 2 being seen on 11th and 12th and 1 on 26th and 30th.
I and sometimes 2 Blackbirds were seen throughout the month but nowhere near their usual numbers and the same can be said for Blue Tit, Great Tit and Coal Tit, regularly seen but usually in very small numbers.
Finally 5 Long-tailed Tits were seen in the estuary on the 3rd and 6 on the 29th between the 2 wooden bridges and so one of the shortest Fauna Reports on record ends with the hope that some of the missing wildlife returns now the days are getting colder and that reports and sightings get back to more usual levels.
Brown Rats seen at bird feeding stations
Grey Squirrel seen in first week but not since
Roe Deer seen in small numbers all month
Cormorants seen as far upstream as Holywell Bridge
Little Egret seen occasionally all month
Stock Dove sightings highest ever
Pink-footed Geese flocks seen feeding in adjacent fields
The very cold second half of the month is probably the reason for two unusual reports both saying that a Brown Rat was seen hoovering up the debris under two of the bird feeder stations in the Dene.
During the first week of December six Grey Squirrels were reported, all in the west of the Dene between Crow Hall Farm and Holywell Road Bridge (HRB) with no less than three being seen on 8th. No doubt some of these reports would have been of the same animal but we know for certain that there were at least three about. Since that date there have been no further reports this month. During that early period of sightings relevant feeding boxes were given extra checks and the food in all the boxes was changed to keep them inviting to squirrels but not one throughout the whole Dene was visited by feeding squirrels.
Roe Deer have been seen in small numbers throughout the month starting with two being seen close to Hartley West Farm (HWF) on the 2nd, then on 11th and again on the 12th three were seen in the field opposite the oxbow lake and then one was seen on 14th again near HWF. Final sightings were on 22nd with two being seen and on 31st four were seen, both sightings on the field between HWF and the estuary, a favourite place for seeing deer.
As usual in December Grey Heron have been seen in all areas along the river sometimes feeding and other times just standing. Quite a shy bird it is up and away as soon as a human or dog comes near but often is then seen again a little further up or down river. Cormorant are less shy and usually just get on with their fishing regardless of people nearby. They have been well reported all month with one seen way upstream under HRB and, on two occasions, another sitting on what is known as the dipper rock at the east end of the tunnel. Other sightings have been further downstream including the estuary.
Dipper sightings have been very disappointing with just one report of two birds under HRB on the 10th. Little better have been reports of Grey Wagtail with just a pair seen in the estuary and a single bird seen near Old Hartley pond on the 11th. Moorhen have been seen in two areas, firstly near the pipe pond where three were seen on one occasion and singles on four other occasions and secondly in the field on the north side of the river opposite Old Hartley Pond where single birds have been seen on five occasions.
After last month’s rush of large groups of Mallard, December has been much quieter with only two reports, with a pair in the estuary on 17th and seven birds a short way upstream from the metal bridge on the 17th. The Little Egret has been seen on six occasions usually in the estuary but on two occasions flying above the Dene either to or from the estuary.
On the 11th there was an unusual report of three Snipe in the estuary while Redshank sightings have been well down with only three reports with six on the 11th, eleven on the 15th and twelve on the 16th.
In the woodland there have been four reports of Great Spotted Woodpecker with the one on the 16th actually drumming at first light – the first drumming of the season. No reports of flying Buzzard have been received this month but one was seen resting in a tree in the Dene on the 18th. A Jay was seen on 11th in its usual area close to the bridge over the old railway line (ORL) while a Kestrel was seen near Crow Hall Farm on the 5th and a Nuthatch was heard near the stone bridge on 11th. The final single report came from the estuary where a Goldcrest was seen on 16th.
The common finch numbers have been well down this month. Chaffinch have been seen all month but numbers have been just one or two while there have been only four Bullfinch sightings of one to three birds. Goldfinch have been seen occasionally in the Dene and in the estuary area with numbers between one and two although five were seen in the Dene on 19th. There has not been a single report of a Greenfinch.
Where there are human influences Robins will be around and that goes for this month. At least one has been seen near all the feeding stations, often more than one but then the altercations start and it has not been unusual to see three or more chasing each other around the feeders. While all this was going on, the ground beneath the feeders was regularly visited by Dunnock, feeding on the fallen seed, never more than two, more usually a single bird. Tree Sparrows have made a good showing all month always in the more central parts of the Dene. Numbers started in the twos to threes but by the end of the month numbers had increased to around seven. The odd single Wren has been seen regularly throughout the Dene with a number of reports saying they were near the feeders but never actually feeding.
A Sparrowhawk was only reported twice this month on both occasions in the estuary with two there on the 24th. I would have expected to say roughly the same thing about Stock Dove sightings but they have been the surprise of the month, with no less than nine reports of groups of up to ten birds – unprecedented in these reports. Perhaps more people are beginning to distinguish them from Woodpigeon!
Blue and Great Tits have been well reported but indications suggest numbers have been a little down on normal. However, Coal Tits have been above normal and Long-tailed Tits, now they are in their winter flocks, have been well reported with numbers into double figures. One or two Willow Tits were regularly seen in the first half of the month but then there was a lull until 29th when one was seen.
Blackbird numbers seen, in the region of three to five, is about the norm for this time of the year with males outnumbering females by about four to one in all parts of the Dene. Finally in the woodland, Pheasant have been regularly heard but rarely seen, mostly in the centre parts of the Dene; but there has been no sighting of a bird in the adjacent open fields.
Those same fields have been the place to see large flocks of birds this month. On occasions flocks of six to seven hundred Rooks, Jackdaws, Magpie, Woodpigeon and Crows have taken off from these fields making blue skies look speckled black. Most of the rooks go back to their nesting trees in the Dene and it is as they arrive that the noise of their calling is at its worst. On other occasions the cloud has been smaller and whiter with flocks of around 200 assorted Gulls taking off and usually flying towards the sea.
Other small flocks of Curlew (6) and Lapwing (25) have been seen, while there has been three incursions of Pink-footed Geese with an estimated 800 circling above the fields but not landing on the 7th and two feeding sessions of around 300 birds on the 15th and 27th with their iconic sound heard on eventual take-off
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.