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The Dene through the Seasons


November 2017

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.

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.

September 2017

Butterflies had an average month

Badger seen on the Hartley West Farm road

Most summer visitors have left

First winter visitors arrived

Peregrine seen

Willow Tit reporting best ever

Kingfisher sightings higher than normal


This has not been a bad month for butterflies but there have been no pleasant surprises unlike the previous two months. Red Admiral and Speckled Wood have dominated with 25 of the former being seen in the early morning of the 11th sunbathing on a small area of sunlight shining on a tree. The latter have regularly been reported from all areas of the Dene with numbers up to 4 as have Large White with gatherings of 2 or 3. The only other butterfly reported was a single Small Tortoiseshell, seen on just 5 occasions. It is interesting that the well reported Peacock in August was not seen once this month.


There have been only 2 reports of Roe Deer in the Dene, both of 3 females once on the 14th and again on the 16th in the same area relatively close to Hartley West Farm.

A surprising report was received of a Badger walking on the side of the road up towards Hartley West Farm seen in the headlights of a car on the 3rd. This might perhaps link to damage seen to one of the trees in the meadow which was typical of a Badger attack. However, the results of enquiries made to local people show that no one is aware of a sett in that area.

In the August Fauna Report it was reported that a Grey Squirrel feeding box was found empty on the last day of the month. The box was refilled and checked again on the 1st of this month with a similar result so a trap was set and a female was found in the trap of the morning of the 3rd. Despite weekly checking continuing on all boxes for the rest of the month, no further activity was found. However, a Grey Squirrel was seen on the morning of the 8th on the south side of the river near the stepping stones and another one seen in roughly the same area on the 22nd and finally 2 were seen in the Pumping Station area towards the end of the month but all must have been just passing through as they didn’t feed from the boxes.


As normal, September has been one of the quieter months for birds in the Dene. By the end of the month almost all of our summer visitors had departed. The last Swallows were reported from the estuary with 16 there on the 10th while the last House Martins, in a feeding flock of 45, were seen above the adjoining

fields on the 7th. Both of these dates are around 2 weeks earlier than last year but September 2016 was a very warm month. The only other summer visitor reported this month was a Chiffchaff on the 10th and again on 17th although it should be remembered that some of these birds are now over-wintering in UK.

In the skies this month 2 Buzzards were seen on the 6th above the fields next to Hartley West Farm, while one of the surprises of the month was the sighting of a Peregrine, flying on its back ready to repulse a nearby Crow, details are known from a magnificent photograph that was taken of the event.

In the woodland Blackbirds have continued to be seen in groups up to 7 all month, as have Chaffinch but in smaller groupings of up to 3. Bullfinch have followed this trend mainly in singles or pairs and that goes for Dunnock although with a lesser number of sightings.  The first Goldfinch was not seen until the 10th when there were 5 near the stone bridge but after that they were seen regularly but only in ones and twos. Robins have been seen very regularly normally either singles or in pairs except on the 10th when 6 were together.

Surprisingly, there have only been 3 sightings of a Great Spotted Woodpecker all in the middle of the month but from widely spread locations. The first Tree Sparrow was not seen until the 19th but after that sightings and numbers increased with 5 being seen together on the 28th and, in Hartley Lane Car Park on the same date, 25 House Sparrows were counted.

There were single sightings/reports of a Nuthatch on 10th at the downstream wooden bridge, a single Song Thrush on the 3rd and a Jay on the 21st. Double reports were made up of a single Goldfinch seen near the downstream bridge on the 21st and 3 birds seen near the stone bridge on the 30th and, rather unusually, a Collard Dove was seen in the Dene on the 2nd and then again on the 30th.

One must not forget the Woodpigeon, Magpie, Jackdaw and Carrion Crow that frequent the Dene as well as the adjoining fields. There have been large flocks of the former with 75 counted on the 6th and numbers around 40 to 50 being the daily norm. Magpie appear to have had a good breeding year as their numbers are definitely up with the last week of the month seeing groups of 5 to 7. Not to be outdone Jackdaws were around all month with numbers into the 20s and Rooks were as noisy as usual with 35 being counted in just one tree on the 28th. Carrion Crow, in smaller numbers, were seen all month throughout the Dene normally in pairs but always ready to see off any intruder.

That just leaves the smaller birds that are always around in the woodland. Much to everyone’s pleasure one of them generated a welcome surprise, the rare and red-listed  Willow Tit was seen almost daily throughout the whole month and not always as a single bird but occasionally 2 were seen together and on the 28th an unprecedented 3 birds were seen in the same bush, something never recorded before in these monthly notes.

Great Tits were the most common of the tits seen this month with Blue Tits catching up towards the end of the month. Coal Tits were scarce in the first part of the month but increased later with 4 being seen on four occasions in the last week. On the other hand Long-tailed Tits appear to have been the opposite, with groups of around 6 being seen in various parts of the Dene, including the estuary, in the first half of the month tailing off to single birds in the second half.

As usual, the bird most reported, on or above the river, was a Grey Heron either single birds or pairs, with occasionally 2 or 3 sightings in a single day. An early Cormorant was seen in the estuary on the 17th and throughout the month small numbers of Redshank were reported from the same area as well as the occasional Curlew.

A single Dipper was sighted occasionally throughout the month but from widely spaced locations including the Concorde Bridge in the west, the stone bridge in the centre and the estuary in the east. The same can be said for Kingfisher sightings, although the majority were in the eastern half of the Dene including the estuary. The number of Kingfisher reports this month was far higher this September than previous years, which is a very encouraging sign. A pair of Grey Wagtails was seen twice in the month on consecutive days, albeit in widely differing areas. Silent Wrens continued to be seen flitting around near the river in all parts of the Dene but were rarely reported.

The only Mallard seen this month was on the 30th when 10 were seen flying low leaving the estuary and following the river upstream and the first winter visitor seen was 110 Greylag Geese on the 17th in a field immediately to the west of the old railway line and in a field to the east 2 Pheasant were seen on the 18th.

October 2017

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.