The Dene through the Seasons
There has been a considerable amount of reporting about the weather in August throughout the country and in this area the figures compared with 1991/2020 averages have been quite startling. The average mean temperature was 1.7° above normal while there was 33% more sun than in the average period. This was another very dry month with only 46% of rain falling compared with the average period rain. August was the third consecutive month when we had less than average rainfall.
Overall, this has not been a good month for butterflies, in fact very similar to last year. It started slowly, had a few reasonable days around the 10th and then reports almost disappeared for the rest of the month. The 2 dominant butterflies have been Large White and Peacocks but at the other end there has not been a single report of a Comma, Wall or Painted Lady butterfly. A Red Admiral was reported twice, a Small Tortoiseshell just once while there were 4 sightings of Meadow Browns in the early part of the month and a few Green-veined White and Speckled Wood appearing towards the end of the month.
Roe Deer. All Roe Deer sightings have come from the west of the old railway line (ORL) and there have been very few since they were forced out of the horse field where building construction is well under way. It is suspected that all the reports have been of just a very few animals as they have all come from the south side of the river with the most common report being of a single Doe with 2 Fawns. Where these 2 fawns were born is not known but there was more than one pregnant Doe seen in the horse field before they were evicted so it is possible that they were the only ones born just a few days before eviction. The Bucks are easier to identify and the 2 regularly seen this month were both originally in the horse field.
Red Squirrel Conservation. We still do not have a trapper dedicated to all our feeding boxes so the amount of checking has continued on a much reduced basis. The 4 boxes in the Avenue are now the responsibility of a trapper whose main work is in the New Hartley/Holywell area but the 4 in the Dene still rely on a very busy person. Unfortunately, this month has seen a good number of squirrels visiting our boxes but despite traps being set on a number of occasions for a good few days not a single grey has been caught. We have also had some, what we think is, animal vandalism. The perspex in the front of the box has been removed and dropped on the floor, then food has been eaten but no hairs left on the sticky pad and the latest problem came when a perspex front was damaged enough for mice to spend all night in the box until it was empty. We will all continue trying!!!
Other Mammal Sightings Close to adjacent places of human residence Hedgehogs continue to be regularly seen leaving and returning to the Dene while Brown Rats and Wood Mice have been seen cleaning up under bird feeders with the latter actually eating on the feeder occasionally. As the mornings have begun to get darker so the number of Stoat sightings has increased. It is occasionally not easy to determine the location of the sighting but there appears to be 3 areas where most sightings have come from, near the oxbow lake, on the south side of the river just downstream of the upstream wooden bridge and on the north side of the river running downstream from the stone bridge carrying the farm road.
Just 2 years ago the start of the August Fauna Report said “in the second half of the month flocks of 50 and 60 Swallows and House Martins were being reported...” In this Report there will be virtually no mention of these iconic birds as they have not been around this year in this area. How things can change in such a short time. August is the month when the number of sightings of the normal common birds can change dramatically from the early days of frenetic nesting to the last few days of reduced sightings due mainly to moulting. This year has been no different with the following birds in this category Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Song Thrush, Dunnock, Robin, Bullfinch and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. This also applies to the common larger birds with Rook numbers well down as were Jackdaws, Magpies and to a lesser extent Woodpigeons, while Carrion Crows have disappeared completely.
There has not been a single report of a Willow Tit this year in contrast to last when they had a very good month. It is pleasing that the occasional Chiffchaff is still being seen or heard with a few reports coming in from adjacent gardens. There has also been the occasional sighting of a pair of Long-tailed Tits throughout the month but the larger groupings often seen at the end of August, has not happened. Goldfinch sightings have been very disappointing with only a pair sighted on 10th and 30th. On the other hand the large numbers of Tree Sparrows seen in the order of 7/8 has gone on all month without changing. Jays have been well reported but in a much more concentrated area than in recent years. A few years ago they were all in the west end of the Dene but then sightings started to come from all areas of the Dene. This year they seem to have reverted to concentrating in the area to the west of the ORL There have only been 3 sightings of a Nuthatch this month on the 13th near the ORL and on 24th and 28th one was seen close to the dried up Old Hartley Pond (OHP) Also close to this pond on 2nd a Collared Dove was seen which is certainly not common these days, while there have been no sightings of a Stock Dove anywhere in the Dene. In the same pond area on the 24th a lone Greenfinch was seen.
In the adjacent fields to the north of the river Pheasants have been seen very regularly while there have been a few reports of up to 4 Red-legged Partridge. By now the returning Curlews should have been seen in those fields but there has been no sighting or hearing these birds to date. The Yellowhammers frequenting the hedgerows around these fields are still being reported occasionally as are a few Reed Buntings especially from the east/west old railway line.
Despite nesting in the Dene Sparrowhawks have as usual in August disappeared with only 1 bird seen near the oxbow on 10th while no Buzzard was seen in the first half of the month but during the second half one was seen on 17th to the east of Holywell Road Bridge and on 28th 2 were reported flying above the obelisk. A Kestrel has been seen occasionally in the rough area between the lay-by and Crow Hall Farm while all the young Tawny Owls appear to have left the Dene and now we have only the two roosting birds, one near oxbow and the other near the downstream wooden bridge.
On the river a Dipper has been seen occasionally all month with the majority of reports coming from near the tunnel but1was seen under the Holywell Road Bridge (HRB) and another near the Concorde Bridge. A Grey Wagtail was reported 3 times, once from downstream of the HRB and twice in the estuary while a Moorhen was reported just once in the field to the north of the river immediately east of the Stone Bridge. With the water level in the river so low this summer it is not surprising that Kingfishers have not been a common sight, however, one was seen near the downstream bridge on 5th and another up river near the HRB on 28th.Wrens as usual have been seen flying across the river in all parts of the Dene with an occasional one starting to sing.
At the beginning of the month there were regular sightings of Mallards with varying numbers of juveniles seen in a few locations on the river, although the majority of sightings were either in the estuary or a little way upstream. Usually the number of juveniles sadly reduced night after night as foxes had their fill but there was one family that only went from 8 youngsters down to 5 and by the end of the month the youngsters were the same size as the mother; so congratulations to mother. From the middle of the month an occasional Redshank was seen in the estuary with numbers between 1 and 4. Grey Herons were seen and reported almost daily throughout the month both in the estuary and in varying locations along the river where the water was deep enough for fishing. Then each day as last light drew near there appeared to be an exodus of Grey Herons from the river in the direction of St Mary’s island.
After the wide variations in our weather in the previous couple of months, September proved to be much closer to the 1991 – 2020 averages for this area. The highest and lowest temperatures recorded were very close to normal and hence the average temperature for the month was very close to the 1991-2020 average. The hours of sunshine enjoyed in September was just a touch below average while rainfall in the Dene was again close to average but in other local nearby areas well above average rainfall was recorded due to local storms.
September was another poor month for butterflies, which was not surprising after a poor August. In the first 10 days a Red Admiral, a Small Tortoiseshell and 2 Peacocks were reported, which gave us hope but sadly after that only Large White and Speckled Wood were seen with the former being in the great majority.
Red Squirrel Conservation
In this month there have been numerous reports of Grey Squirrels being seen in nearly all areas of the Dene. However, with plenty of natural food about they have not been particularly interested in the food in the squirrel boxes or traps. Starting in The Avenue in the first week 2 boxes were visited by Greys and then in subsequent weeks 1 of those boxes continued to be visited and was eventually trapped on 28th. The next day an immature male was in the trap. In the Dene all was quiet until the 13th when a Grey visited the feeding box closest to the car park but then it did not return to that box until 27th. At the box closest to Crow Hall Farm a Grey started visiting on 22nd and continued to do so until the end of the month. Hopefully we will be able to borrow a trapper early in October.
Sightings in September were few and far between and all coming from the immediate area downstream from Holywell Road Bridge (HRB). 2 different Bucks and 1 family group of a Doe and 2 Fawns were seen but the real interest was the fact that 3 of the sightings came from animals back in the horse field. It is thought that the Fawns of this family group were the only ones born in the horse field before the event happened that caused all the Deer to move out, so it is pleasing to see them having the courage to move back. In previous years it has not been until November that Roe Deer that have bred away from the Dene return.
Other Mammal Sightings
As the mornings and nights get darker it was no surprise to start getting reports of Red Fox out and about around the old railway line (ORL) and the estuary path. No doubt they were also elsewhere but the 2 reported areas are where the early/late dog walkers exercise, hence the reports. Hedgehogs are still being reported from the Dene and adjacent gardens but it is to be hoped that there will be no late breeding this month resulting in youngsters out in daylight hunting for food in October and November. A Stoat was seen early in the morning of 6th close to the old bridge over the ORL while at the other end of the Dene 2 were seen on different dates in the cow field immediately downstream from the stone bridge. This would normally have been thought of as the same animal except that 1 of the sightings was of an animal with a small white patch.
One of the usual questions for this time of the year has been heard often this September both from Dene visitors and adjacent garden owners and that is “where have all the birds gone” Often they are referring to the Blackbird which is recognised by all and is usually everywhere in the Dene and gardens. This month one has often walked through the Dene and not seen or heard a single Blackbird. The number of other common birds has also been down but they haven’t had the same impact, they include Blue and Great Tits, Coal Tits, Chaffinches, Dunnock and Robins. Of the larger common birds Woodpigeons and Jackdaws have dominated, with reports of flocks of the former of over 500 birds, and Magpies in their usual numbers.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been well reported even though most have been silent while Long-tailed Tits have been seen occasionally all month but usually of only 1 or 2 birds which is their usual summer number but on 14th near the downstream bridge a flock of 9 was seen. Amazingly there has been only 1 report of a male Bullfinch seen near the stepping stones on 22nd. A few Song Thrushes were still being seen in the early days of the month but they seemed to disappear after the 15th. A Chiffchaff has been heard on 3 occasions all from along the ORL while the only report of spring visitors leaving was a small flock of 5 Swallows that flew south across the field west of Hartley West Farm on the 8th. A single Nuthatch has been reported on 4 occasions in the second half of the month from the ORL, HRB and twice from the area of the downstream bridge. The only bird that appears to have had a more normal month is the Tree Sparrow which seems to be taking over the east end of the Dene especially from the downstream bridge to the estuary with flocks of up to double figure numbers seen quite often. 1 or 2 Jays have been seen this month but in their case all at the east end of the Dene from the horse field area, cycle tracks and ORL
A Buzzard was seen in the field south of the lay-by on 14th, near oxbow on 4th and flying over the Dene near the pumping station on the 8th. Further to the north in the area of the obelisk 2 birds were twice seen gliding in the wind. A Sparrowhawk was seen in the area of OHP on 17th and again on 18th near oxbow while a young Kestrel was near HRB on 10th and near the lay-by on 18th. We weren’t without Tawny Owls this month with one roosting near oxbow and another near the downstream bridge and from that area on 22nd one could be heard calling.
Pheasants, both male and female, have been seen in all parts of the Dene and especially in the fields north of the river not in large numbers but small groups up to 3. A pair of Grey Partridge was seen on 4 occasions in the field immediately east of Crow Hall Farm. In a central field north of the old east/west early railway line small groups of up to 6 Red-legged Partridges have been around occasionally all month.
A single Dipper was seen often throughout the month, always between the tunnel and upstream bridge and on 22nd was joined by a Cormorant near the bridge. The only other Cormorant sighting this month was 1 just downstream of the stone bridge on 25th. A single Grey Heron fishing in the river was a common site especially early in the morning while the only sighting of a Moorhen was on 13th walking across the OHP which had no water in it! As the month drew to a close the first Kingfisher of the winter was seen near the pipe bridge on 20th and a second was seen near the stone bridge on 29th. A single female Mallard was on the estuary on 14th and on the 21st 5 fully grown juveniles were seen in the estuary, which could have been the adult Mallard’s family. The only sighting of a Little Egret this month was in the estuary on 20th while single Redshanks started appearing in the second half of the month. Needless to say Wrens were seen mainly going to and fro across all stretches of the river throughout the month but Grey Wagtails were only seen in the second half of the month with 2 in the estuary on 14th, another 2 near the downstream bridge on 22nd and a single bird near the upstream bridge on 25th.
On the 20th flying over the Dene was a small flock of Pink-footed Geese, hopefully the foretaste of the iconic 1000 bird flocks we get in this area later in the winter. Finally on a very sad note, what we didn’t get for a first time this September was the flocks of Curlew in the adjacent fields of the Dene having a feed and rest on their way back from their breeding areas. They and their memorable calls have been sorely missed.
Taking the country as a whole this October was the 7th warmest since 1884. There were variations in some parts of the country but in the NE the mean temperature compared with the 1991 to 2020 average was 1.8° warmer. The mount of sunshine during the month in the NE was 30% higher than average while rainfall was 16% lower and as early risers will know there were very few if any frosts.
Despite the fine weather butterflies were few and far between in October. 2 Speckled Woods and 3 Large Whites were seen in the first week with a single Speckled Wood and 3 Large Whites reported in the second with the final butterfly seen in October being a Red Admiral on 13th.
Red Squirrel Conservation There has been plenty of sightings of Grey Squirrels in the Dene throughout October with some of our feeding boxes visited quite often. At the start of the month traps were in place at box S3 near Crow Hall Farm and 71 near the car park and these caught no less than 4 greys in the first 2 days of the month, The ones trapped in S3 were a mature male and female together with an immature male while at 71 it was a immature male that was caught. After that activity the traps had to be lifted and have not been returned despite visits continuing with a further 2 visits by greys to S3, 3 visits to 71 and 3 visits to 69 (near the upstream bridge) that box up to now has rarely had any activity. Finally there has just been a single visit to one of the boxes in the Avenue, probably a grey passing through. Hopefully a trapper will become available in November so that we can continue keeping the greys under control.
Roe Deer Once again all reports of Roe Deer sightings came from east of the old railway line (ORL) and it became clear that their temporary exclusion from the horse field had come to an end as a good number of reports were of deer in that field. Sightings were of 2 Bucks which could be easily identified as different animals and 2 Does each with 2 and possibly 3 Fawns occasionally seen at the same time. Next month in November is the usual time when the deer that have bred away from the Dene return with their youngsters and hence reports start coming from other areas of the Dene.
Other Mammal Sightings We have had reports of a Badger and Stoats seen in the dene. As normal at this time of the year single Red Fox have been seen, usually early in the morning, from a number of places spread through the Dene. Certainly in the first half of the month there were a number of Hedgehogs active in the Dene and in the gardens of adjacent houses but hopefully by the end of the month hibernation will have been calling to them. Any still out in November looking for food could well be in trouble.
October is normally a quiet month for birds in the Dene but this year it has been exceptionally quiet with some common birds hardly seen. Blackbirds, Bullfinch, Chaffinch and Dunnock are in this category, as an example, only a single sighting of a female Bullfinch on 18th has been received. Other common birds seen more often but with lower than normal sightings are Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and Tree Sparrows with the latter being seen only 4 times of just 2 birds instead of the usual double figure flocks. Robins started the month with very few sightings but then this increased as time went on with more sightings and numbers up to 6 which could have been due to migrating birds. In the first week of the month a Song Thrush was reported on 3 occasions from the central part of the Dene but they then disappeared. There was only 1 sighting of Long-tailed Tits with 2 near the downstream bridge on 27th while a lone Willow Tit was seen on 13th in the usual area along the path from the car park to the estuary, while a Nuthatch was seen on 3 occasions spread through the month once near the downstream bridge and twice in the area of the upstream bridge. Right at the end of the month 2 Goldcrests were seen on the ORL just north of the bridge together with a Mistle Thrush and the bird of the month, a Waxwing, which is a rarity for the Dene.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers are virtually silent at this time of the year and hence are much more difficult to locate. There has been an occasional report of one all month coming from various locations throughout the Dene. Jays were quite well reported in October but as last month all sightings came from the west end of the Dene between oxbow and the ORL. At the east end it has been an interesting month for migrating Redwings with the first birds having crossed the North Sea seen on 8th but numbers quickly increased and the birds travelled in land and by the 16th they were being seen in the oxbow area
Larger common birds were somewhat different with regular double digit flocks of Woodpigeon and Jackdaws seen daily and small groups of Magpies again seen daily from all areas of the Dene. The Rook nests sometimes had varying numbers of noisy birds in them while on other days they were deserted and silence prevailed. In the adjacent fields both Woodpigeon and Jackdaw numbers took off with flocks running into the hundreds.
A Sparrowhawk was seen on 3 occasions the first close to Holywell Road Bridge and the second 2 in the area of Old Hartley pond. A pair of Buzzards was seen gliding in the wind above the obelisk on 3 occasions while a resting Buzzard was seen at the end of the month in the oxbow area and in the first week of the month across the road from the car park. The only report of an owl this month was a Barn Owl a little south of Crow Hall Farm on 4th at first light.
Pheasants have been reported from various areas on the edge of the woodland usually in the adjacent fields while there have been numerous reports of Red-legged Partridge concentrated in the fields on the east side of the ORL 2 fields to the north of the river, with numbers up to 20. Grey Partridge have been seen roughly in the same area and close to Crow Hall Farm but numbers have been around 2 to 8.
On the river a single Dipper has been seen in the tunnel area occasionally throughout the month and similarly a Grey Heron has been seen fishing on all stretches of the river usually in the early morning. 1 or 2 Grey Wagtails have been reported 5 times from the estuary except once when a single bird was seen near the upstream bridge. A Cormorant has been seen twice firstly on 4th flying downstream low over the water and on 8th fishing in the estuary while a Kingfisher has been seen on 3 occasions on 16th near the upstream bridge on 23rd near oxbow and on 24th at the stone bridge on the farm road. A Little Egret was seen on 5 occasions in the second half of the month, once near the upstream bridge and on the other 4 occasions in the estuary. A Moorhen was seen at oxbow on 13th and on the same day 1was seen at the upstream bridge while on numerous occasions 1 was seen in the reeds at the Old Hartley Pond both while the pond had water in it and when it had dried up.
As always Wrens have been seen in all parts of the river and in the estuary up to 6 Redshank have been regularly seen and on 1 occasion there were 4 Oystercatchers that had joined them. Mallards have been seen in various numbers mainly in the estuary but sometimes 2 males have been seen further upstream. In the estuary it has been common to see a mother still with her fully grown family up to 6 and this was finally explained when just after first light one morning a family of Mallard was seen being hand fed by a man with a large dog. The dog was not bothered by the ducks or vice versa, it was an amazing site!!.
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.