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.
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
Only one Grey Squirrel reported
Roe Deer often seen up to five
Little Egret still around
Flocks of Pink-footed Geese have visited
Tawny Owls calling after dark
It has been a cold, windy and wet January and this has affected both mammals and birds although, compared with previous years, flooding has been almost non-existent. Overall it has been a quiet month for wildlife in the Dene with some worrying absentees.
There was only one reported sighting of a Grey Squirrel in January, feeding on the bird feeders near the upstream bridge on the 18th in mid-afternoon. What a difference to twelve months ago when the word crisis was being used and the cull of the greys commenced. The squirrel feeding boxes throughout the Dene have continued to be checked on a weekly basis through January but there have been no grey visitors.
Two other animals have been seen feeding on the crumbs dropped by birds from their feeders. A single report of a Red Fox hoovering under the upper bridge feeders was received in the second week while, on a much wider scale, a Brown Rat has been reported from under three of the bird feeding stations on a number of occasions: a sure sign of difficult natural feeding conditions due to poor weather.
Roe Deer have been seen all month and from all parts of the Dene. Sightings gradually increased towards the end of the month with five (1M & 4F) in the north field adjacent to Hartley West Farm (HWF) on the morning of 27th and then a further two were seen crossing the old railway line in the middle of the afternoon. Previously, a similar combination of five was seen on 13th early in the morning in a field to the west of HWF. In all fifteen sightings were reported during the month of various numbers.
Once again there have been no sightings of an Otter, either the animal or spraints in the Dene. In 2016/17 they were seen occasionally from late summer through to early spring; so far from late summer 2017 to this month not one sighting has been reported. What has changed?
As a general comment, this month has seen a gradual increase in the number of birds about in the Dene and the amount of bird song heard.
On the river a Grey Wagtail has been reported twice once in the estuary and on the 22nd near the downstream bridge, while a Cormorant has been seen three times, on the 9th flying upstream low above the river, on the 25th fishing at the tunnel and on 28th in the estuary. There have only been two reports of Mallard both of groups flying low upstream. Two were seen on the 4th and then seven were seen on 21st. On the negative side there have been no sightings of either a Kingfisher or Dipper, the latter being a great disappointment as they should have paired up by now and be defending their territory. Last year a Kingfisher was seen six times in January!
Redshank appear to have deserted the estuary this month with only a single bird seen on 15th. Moorhen on the other hand suddenly appeared in their favourite area, slightly upstream from the metal bridge, on the 17th and since then no less than nine reports have been received, ranging from three to nine birds. In reverse to this the Little Egret was seen regularly up to 19th but not since. Reports of this bird were mostly of it in the estuary but it was also seen flying up and down the river. On some days there were reports of a bird being seen early in the day, at noon and late in the day: there is no way of telling whether it is the same bird or not. On only one occasion did the report state ‘two birds together in the estuary’
Finally on the river, the Grey Heron was once again the most reported bird, either flying, feeding or as it loves to do, just standing. As the month has gone on, sightings have tended to come more from the estuary and a little upstream from the metal bridge, as the birds have started to congregate in the heronry area.
In the adjacent fields, other than the massive flocks of Gulls, Jackdaws, Rooks and Crows, and the large flocks of Woodpigeon (around 50 being common) things have been relatively quiet. There has been a worrying increase in the number of Magpie being seen with groupings into double figures common. Large flocks of Pink-footed Geese have only spent time feeding in the fields on two occasions with 300 on the 13th and around 350 on 18th. There has only been one report of a Pheasant seen on the ground but plenty of reports have come in of them calling from all parts of the Dene.
A walk through the woodland early in the month would reveal a couple of Blackbirds, usually male, happily feeding side by side. By the end of the month you were likely to see six plus Blackbirds of both sexes arguing, fighting and seeing each other off – that change typifies January.
On or near the 21st there must have been a migratory inflow of Redwing because, in a three day period around that date, reports were received of one and two birds being seen along the path from Hartley Lane car park down to the harbour and in the adjacent gardens. They then disappeared as quickly as they had arrived.
A Buzzard was seen in the Dene on the 6th and after dark Tawny Owls have been heard calling, which gives hope they will nest again this year in one of our boxes, as they did last year. The only report of a Sparrowhawk received was of a sighting on the very last day of the month.
Needless to say Robins have been well reported but on only one occasion, when four were seen together, have the reports indicated more than one or two birds. The reports of two birds have usually also indicated that they were fighting. It is very pleasing to report that Stock Dove once again have been well recorded with a flock of five seen a number of times over the period 20th to 22nd. The bird feeders have been the place to see Nuthatch, with birds reported from three of the feeding stations in the Dene itself, although one sighting was recorded from the Dale Top, Holywell area where there are no feeders. Seen hoovering under the feeders, Dunnock have been well recorded in their usual ones or twos.
Goldfinch have been almost non-existent with only one report of three birds seen on 14th but Starling, rarely reported before, have found the feeders towards the east end of the Dene and are now being seen more regularly - where there is food there are Starlings!! The number of Chaffinch seen continues to be very disappointing. Reports have come in throughout the month from numerous places in the Dene but it is usually of just one bird, a couple of times two. This once common bird appears to be going the way of the Greenfinch, which is hardly seen these days. Bullfinch have been well reported from throughout the Dene and regularly throughout month but a comparison with last year indicates actual numbers well down. Tree Sparrow, after a slow start to the month, has increased sightings from all parts of the Dene with small flocks of around six seen regularly in the last ten days. There have been very few sightings of a Great Spotted Woodpecker but many heard drumming in all parts of the Dene.
The bird that has probably created the most pleasure to watchers this month is the Long-tailed Tit. Never before have there been so many reports, with flocks of a dozen often seen, all trying to get on one feeder at the same time. A Willow Tit was seen on five occasions, with two seen together on 1st ; however, reporting tailed off towards the end of the month. Coal Tit have been well reported between one and four but Blue and Great Tits, although seen daily, their numbers have been disappointing, especially the latter.
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.