The Dene through the Seasons
Most summer visitors have departed
Just one sighting of a Little Egret in the estuary
Tree Sparrows most reported bird of the month
First flock of geese seen feeding on an adjacent field
Stoat sightings unusually high
No grey squirrels seen in the Dene
An average month for butterflies in the Dene with all the expected species being seen, albeit with numbers of some species considerably down on earlier years. A Red Admiral was seen on 7 occasions but each time only a single butterfly was seen. 2 Small Tortoiseshell were seen on the 2nd but that was the only report. Nationally these 2 species were down 73% and 32% respectively on 2017 numbers, with the latter continuing a massive decline of 75% since 1970.
Peacocks were seen throughout the month, although again numbers were down while Painted Lady reports were slightly above average with 6 sightings of a single butterfly. The butterfly charge was led by Speckled Wood with many reports with up to 6 seen at one time and Large White that were around in good numbers seen on almost a daily basis, bad for farmers and gardeners, with just a few Small White identified.
There was only 1 sighting of Row Deer this month with 2 disturbed near the stepping-stones early on the morning of 28th.
There were no reports of Grey Squirrels in the Dene during the month and none of the squirrel feeding boxes was visited. No reports of an Otter or its spraint being seen was received and there were no sightings of a Red Fox out in daylight, although it is obvious that they are still about..
Hedgehog reports from gardens adjacent to the Dene, especially at the east end, have continued at a very much higher rate than previous years, all reported sightings being after last light, which is what is wanted. Fit Hedgehogs usually hibernate towards the end of October so any animal seen in daylight after that is probably in trouble and should be reported.
The sudden increase in sightings of Stoats this year has continued and there have been 3 reports of rabbit chasing and 2 of a pair having a game of chase over and under a fallen tree in widely separated areas of the Dene.
September is normally a quiet month for birds and this year is no exception. Youngsters have moved on to different territories while most of the summer visitors have left and it is still only the start of the influx of winter visitors. Weather can make a great difference and this year’s September weather has been kind to birds, animals and humans.
The last House Martins reported were 5 seen feeding above the Dene on the 14th while 4 Swallows were seen in the estuary area on the 17th and 21st, however these might have been birds already on passage along the coast that called in for a quick feed. Whitethroats were not heard or seen but the occasional Chiffchaff was heard but they might be birds now choosing to over-winter in this country while others may have already departed.
The common woodland birds were all seen in various numbers with the Blackbird at the bottom of the list with very few reports throughout the month. The high numbers, occasionally up to 10, of Blue and Great Tits in the first half of the month gradually reduced to normal numbers by the month’s end, whereas Coal Tits, although single birds were seen throughout the month, the number of sightings increased as the month progressed. A flock of 6 Long-tailed Tits was seen on 9th but then nothing until the last week when a number of reports arrived of flocks of around 8. The first sighting of a Willow Tit was on the 9th but from then on sightings increased, finishing with 2 birds being seen on the last day: in all there were 9 sightings during the month.
1 to 3 Bullfinches were seen often in the second half of the month while 1 or 2 Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Dunnock were around throughout the month. There was only 1 sighting of a Greenfinch, along the path leading to the estuary on the 28th. Possibly the most reported bird this month was the Tree Sparrow seen no less than 17 times with numbers varying between 1 and 7. Unbelievably, there were only 2 reports of a single Robin seen on the 15th and 23rd – so where have they all gone? Great Spotted Woodpeckers continued their disappearing act this month with just 1 juvenile being spotted on the 12th in the trees between the 2 bridges.
Unusually, a Collared Dove was seen near the meadow on 14th and 16th, probably the same bird and in the same area a juvenile Reed Bunting was seen on 16th and 21st. A Nuthatch was seen/heard in its usual area between the 2 bridges on 3 occasions and a Jay was seen twice, on the 20th in the tunnel area and then close to Old Hartley pond on 25th. Jays are now more common in the Dene than they were just a few years ago.
A Buzzard was reported flying happily above the northern adjacent fields on 3 occasions in the first half of the month, without being mobbed by Corvids – are the local birds getting used to Buzzards? On the 7th a Kestrel was seen hovering near Crow Hall Farm and a Sparrowhawk was seen in different areas of the Dene on 16th, 18th and 30th
A Dipper was seen on 22nd at the entrance to the tunnel and 2 days earlier a good distance downstream. A Grey Wagtail was in the estuary on the 30th and 3 female Mallard near the new pipe bridge on the 30th. There was only 1 sighting of a Little Egret near the pipe bridge on 22nd but in the second half of the month the Redshanks returned, culminating with 25 being counted on 30th. A Kingfisher was seen twice in the estuary once on 22nd and then 3 days later, on both occasions flying upstream. Wrens have been seen in numerous areas of the river and almost every day at least 1 Grey Heron has been seen, either standing or flying, along the length of the Dene.
The Corvids, mentioned above, have been seen almost every day but mostly in small groups, with far fewer large flocks. The very large numbers of Magpies seen over the summer appear to have dispersed, although the same could not be said of the Woodpigeon with flocks of up to 50 being regularly seen.
With the shooting season drawing nigh the adjacent fields on the north side of the river have proved interesting. 1 or 2 Pheasants have been seen often, together with up to 15 Red-legged Partridge and a lesser number of Grey Partridge.
Finally on 22nd and 23rd, in the same northern field, there was a flock of around 250 Greylag Geese with 10 to 15 Canada Geese to keep them company.
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.
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.
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.