The Dene through the Seasons
If you look at the weather summary for the NE for July you will see that rainfall amounts, hours of sunshine and temperatures were all slightly above average for the month. However, if you look just at Holywell Dene it is clear that the above averages are incorrect. The Dene did not get any of the massive storms with large amounts of rain falling in a short time that places nearby got and on two or three occasions we were stuck with cloud caused by easterly winds blowing, whereas a short distance inland the sun was shining all day Consequently, average rainfall and hours of sun for the Dene were below the average for surrounding areas but overall temperatures were about average.
Not surprisingly the poor year for butterflies continued into July. Speckled Wood butterflies were reported throughout the month from numerous locations up to 7 in number. 3 Red Admirals and 2 Painted Lady butterflies were seen on 16th on the old railway line and on the 18th a single Small Tortoiseshell was seen in the middle of the Dene. From the middle of the month Large Whites started to be seen regularly but numbers were way below those expected in a normal year. The two species that appear to have done well and been well reported are Meadow Brown and Ringlet. They both like uncut or ungrazed open grassland and rarely rise very high. Meadow Brown will often be seen flying on cloudy days and even in drizzle. Numbers have varied massively from just a few specimens to around 20 to 40 seen in a relatively small area.
Grey Squirrels. It has been a terrible month for Grey Squirrels with the most reported sightings I can ever remember. Feeding boxes from Holywell Road Bridge (HRB) right through to Old Hartley Car Park (OHCP) have been visited regularly. Unfortunately, the trapper responsible for the Dene has been otherwise engaged most of the month, so trapping activities have been minimal. Just 1 squirrel has been trapped this month at the box closest to the upstream bridge on 21st, a mature male. Sadly, although not certain yet, it is expected that breeding will have taken place in the Dene.
Roe Deer. Except for 3 reports of a single buck being seen in fields to the north of the river in the central part or the Dene, all activity has been on either side of the river along the HRB to oxbow path. In the last report it was stated that it was most unlikely that breeding had taken place in the Dene this year but then on the 10th July a doe was seen with 2 fawns on the north side of the river in the field known as the “horse field”. It would be very unusual for the doe to move her fawns any distance while so young, so it seems there was probably one family breeding in that area this year. This family plus 1 or 2 bucks were seen on and off through the rest of the month all in or close to this area.
Otter Towards the end of last month an Otter was watched a little downstream from the waterfall in full daylight before disappearing behind a log. On the 2nd and 15th of this month similar reports were received which indicated that it might have a created itself a couch (above ground lying up area in vegetation) in that area. Later in the month 2 Otters were seen in the estuary but these are not thought to be connected with the earlier sightings. These 2 animals are likely to be young, probably males, connected to the Otters that can often be seen on the rocks straddling the outside of the harbour..
The month of July has the greatest change between start and finish of any month in respect of birds. The frenetic breeding and songs of the start gradually changes to almost silence and a massive reduction of birds seen at the end, as the great majority of breeding finishes and birds start their out of sight moult. As usual all the common birds of the woodland, together with their offspring have been well reported including Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Dunnock, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Tree Sparrow, Robin, Great Spotted Woodpecker and the larger birds Woodpigeon, Magpie, Rook, Jackdaw and Carrion Crows together with Pheasants that have been seen everywhere this year due to the absence of shooting.
Coal Tits were a rarity at the start of the month but returned to normal numbers by the end, while Long-tailed Tits were reported in 1s or 2s at the start but had returned to small groups of 6/8 by the end. There were only 2 reports of a Willow Tit being seen on 6th and 25th both in the Old Hartley Pond (OHP) area. Goldfinch were a rarity this month with 5 being seen on 3rd near the lay-by but then just 1 or 2 seen on 3 other occasions. A Nuthatch was only reported thrice, twice in the area of OHP and on one of these occasions it did appear to be carrying food so it might have been nesting. A single Stock Dove was seen on 4 occasions but there was no indication of nesting and unusually a Collared Dove was seen twice both times near the car park
A Chiffchaff was seen or heard often as it has been for a few months and a Whitethroat was reported occasionally from various places in the Dene and there was a single report of a Blackcap near the upstream bridge on 17th. Chiffchaffs are one of the earliest migrants to leave and no doubt some had started their journey in the last few days of this month. Swallows, House Martins and Swifts generated a relatively small number of reports with small flocks seen in a variety of locations from the pumping station area through to the estuary. The consensus is that there has been far fewer of these birds than in previous years but there will be a better guide when they start gathering prior to the start of their migration.
A Linnet was seen on 3 occasions, twice near the lay-by and once near the pumping station and in the same 2 areas a Jay was seen just once in each, which is a dramatic reduction of reports received in recent years. Treecreepers were a rarity with just 2 seen on 10th one near the oxbow and the other near the upstream bridge.
The juvenile Tawny Owls were still being seen in the first half of the month but after that reports were of adult birds regularly roosting in a couple of places in the Dene. At last and first light a Barn Owl was seen over a wide area hunting for food. The fact that it was not seen out in true daylight is good as it indicates that enough food was being gathered during its normal night hunting time.
A Kestrel was often seen out hunting and also sitting on a nest for an inordinate length of time. We still have no idea whether the nesting was successful or not but we have our doubts. Sparrowhawks were more successful with at least two nests producing young, the last of which was still in operation right at the end of the month. Buzzards started appearing again in the middle of the month, being seen both in the woodlands and flying high above the fields covering an immense area mostly on the north side of the river.
Red-legged Partridge generated only 2 reports, one on the 5th when 5 birds were seen and on 7th when there was just a single bird both reports coming from the adjacent fields, while a single Grey Partridge was seen on 17th along the old railway line. Then on 28th and 29th up to 15 Curlew were seen in their favourite field adjacent to Hartley West Farm, no doubt having returned recently from their nesting areas.
Grey Heron are back to singly fishing the whole length of the river including the estuary but right at the end of the month 4 were seen together near the stone bridge. Wrens, as usual, have been seen throughout the waterway in good numbers as have Moorhens but normal as just single birds. Then on 21st 2 adult Moorhens were seen feeding 4 young in a nest near the tunnel. All the drama with Mallards took place in the estuary. It started with a female with 3 chicks being seen on 9th but this quickly reduced to 1 chick and that is how it has continued all month, except that 2 adults appear to be sharing the looking after of the chick. Grey Wagtails, both adults and juveniles were seen all month mainly between the waterfall and the tunnel. Then on 21st 2 adults were seen feeding 4 young in a nest near the tunnel but by the end of the month the nest was empty. Likewise Dippers both adult and fledglings were to be seen regularly between the stepping-stones and the tunnel. Then on 24th a Dipper was seen further west near the Concorde House tunnel and following that sighting an early morning visit on 27th revealed 1 adult and 2 juveniles on the river stretch between the tunnel and Concorde footbridge. This means there were no less than 5 Dipper nests in the Dene this year!.
It is often said that along the NE coastal area autumn arrives in the middle of August: this year without doubt autumn arrived a week earlier than that. According to the records, this August has been the dullest for 60 years with the cloud being brought in from the North Sea by the easterly winds, dramatically reducing sunshine to below average, which in turn has resulted in the month’s average temperature also being below average. Anyone watching the water level in the river this month will have realised it has been extremely dry with the amount of rain again being well below average. So, all in all, a pretty disappointing month for both humans and wildlife.
August has always been thought of as the month for butterflies but from the very limited number of sightings and species seen this year in and near the Dene, if repeated nationwide, is going to mean a very poor year for butterflies. A Large White was the most seen resulting in 14 reports of up to 4 butterflies. In the first half of the month a Red Admiral was reported on 6 occasions of up to 2 butterflies and in the second half of the month there were 6 reports of up to 2 Peacocks. On the 2nd two Meadow Brown and a single Ringlet were seen and on 10th a single Painted Lady was reported followed by a single Speckled Wood on 18th. Up to 4 Green-veined White were seen on 3 occasions and in the second half of the month a single Small Tortoiseshell was seen on 3 occasions and Small White on 5 occasions all in pairs.
Grey Squirrels. Towards the end of July’s report on Grey Squirrels it was clear that matters were going downhill and in this month things have only got worse. Reports of Grey Squirrel sightings have been coming in all month almost exclusively between Holywell and the Old Hartley car park. Despite this not a single grey has been caught, which is not surprising as not a single trap has been set because we have not had an operating trapper.
Week after week the box checkers were continuing the weekly check and finding more and more boxes had been visited by greys. Of the 13 boxes located between Holywell Road Bridge and Old Hartley car park 12 had been visited by greys on 3 consecutive weeks and after discussions it was decided we were making the matter worse as we were simply putting food out for the greys to consume. Therefore from 12 August we have not been visiting 12 of these boxes or refilling them.
The 6 boxes located between the car park and the harbour and the 5 along the Avenue have continued to be weekly checked to ensure that we know whether the greys have spread further. There has been an occasional visit by a grey to an Avenue box but not with any worrying pattern. Regrettably, until we get an operating trapper things will not get better.
Roe Deer. There have been a few reports of Roe Deer sightings this month but all from the same area along either side of the river between Holywell Road Bridge and the Old Railway Line. The doe with 2 fawns, mentioned last month, have been seen a number of times and there has possibly been a second doe around but not with fawns. 2 or 3 bucks have regularly been seen in the same area and in the fields to the south of the river there have been a few variable sightings although it is suspected that some if not all of these animals have been visitors from the Golf Club area.
Other Mammals. Towards the end of the month, as the evenings got darker, there have been 3 reports of a Red Fox being seen along the car park to harbour path and at the other end of the Dene, 2 early morning walkers have seen a Badger in the area of the steps to the east of the Holywell Road Bridge. More widely spread in the Dene, in the first half of the month, there were 5 reports of a Stoat seen out hunting, 2 of which had been successful with a rabbit in its mouth.
By the end of August Swifts and many of the Swallows and House Martins will have left on their migration. In past years there have been many reports of these birds gathering in large flocks or seen lined up on telephone cables but this year there has been nothing like that, not a single report. There has also been a deficit of our other summer migrants with only the occasional Chiffchaff being reported this month, the last occasion on 25th.
August is also the main month for birds disappearing to moult. Birds, like Blue Tits that only have one brood each year tend to moult early while birds like Blackbirds with multiple broods tend to be much later consequently the numbers of our common birds seen can vary dramatically between early and late in the month. Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Tree Sparrow and Robin have all been well reported with varying numbers but Dunnock, normally one of this group, has only been reported twice this month. Coal Tits were hardly seen in the first half of the month but had returned with usual numbers in the second half. Long-tailed Tits were seen all month but either in just 1 or 2 birds or in flocks between 6 and 9. Willow Tits have had a tremendous month with no less than 13 sightings of 1 or 2 birds. As always their territory appears very limited: mainly along the Old Hartley Car Park to the harbour path. Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been reported on many occasions from throughout the Dene, mainly single birds and towards the end of the month often with a comment that the juveniles are losing their red patches. Goldfinches, numbering 2 or 3 birds, were reported in the first half of the month but then there was a gap until 30th when a pair was seen. Needless to say all the larger common birds were seen in what appears to be ever increasing numbers including Woodpigeon, Magpie, Rook and Jackdaw with the occasional pairs of Carrion Crows.
The surprise report of the month was of 2 young Spotted Flycatchers seen on 18th close to the upstream bridge: sadly they didn’t hang around long enough for others to have a look. A single Greenfinch was seen on 30th near the dipping pond while Treecreepers, that had been absent in the first half of the month, started to return on 18th but only of single birds. Stock Dove numbering just 2 were seen on 2nd and 4th and then not again while there were only 2 reports of a Nuthatch seen on consecutive days, 25th and 26th on the feeder near the upstream bridge.
After the extended nesting period reported for the Kestrel near the waterfall last month, it was still sitting on the nest on 2nd but by 5th it appeared to have abandoned the nest. Sadly, it is not thought that there were ever young in the nest. The Sparrowhawks were more successful in their nesting but then totally disappeared with not a single report of a bird anywhere in the Dene all month. A Buzzard was seen in various parts of the Dene woodland extending from the car park to just east of Holywell road bridge while to the north 2 birds were seen flying just to the south of the obelisk on a number of occasions, however these are thought to be connected to the nesting birds from the New Hartley area, possibly this year’s juveniles. There were numerous reports of a Tawny Owl roosting in a tree on the northern hillside close to the upstream bridge.
Pheasants and Red-legged Partridge have been well reported in the adjacent fields especially the Pheasants that have extended into all parts of the woodland. In the fields north of Hartley West Farm Curlew have been seen on many days from a handful of birds up to 120 seen on 7th. The last sighting was on 23rd when there were 50 birds.
On the water Dippers both adults and Juveniles have created many reports from near the Concorde House area in Holywell right down to the waterfall, being the result of the unprecedented 5 successful nests this year. Grey Wagtails both adults and juveniles have been reported all month between the waterfall and tunnel, with the last report coming in on 26th. Mallard with a few juveniles in tow were seen in the first few days of the month with the last sighting being on 9th however on the 11th in a field adjacent to the northern section of the old railway line no less than 30 were seen. Grey Herons have been seen virtually daily fishing along the river in all areas accompanying the Wrens that frequent the same areas. A Moorhen was reported from the dipping pond on 15th and the next day one was seen on the pipe pond while a Kingfisher was seen flying up the estuary on 5th and again on 30th. A Common Sandpiper was in the estuary on 4th and on the southern adjacent fields 50 Greylag Geese were counted on 11th and on a number of occasions flocks of up to 50 Lapwing have been seen.
The September weather covering the Dene area was extremely good and was above average in a number of aspects. The amount of sunshine we had was only a little above average but only marginally down on the mean figure for August, which is most unusual. This meant that the average temperature was above the expected norm, making this September the warmest for many years and again close to August’s figure. Rainfall was way below average showing that we had about half of the amount expected in September in a normal year, while the number of gale force winds in September was again much lower than expected.
The poor year for butterflies in this area reported in August has been confirmed nationwide. A poor August almost certainly means a poor September and that is exactly what has happened. In the first week a single Red Admiral was reported twice, 2 Small Tortoiseshell and a single Peacock once and they were not seen again. From then on between 1 and 3 Large White and Speckled Wood butterflies were reported on and off all month depending on weather conditions on the day. This result was actually very similar to 2020.
Grey Squirrels. There have been more reports of Grey Squirrels in the Dene in September than butterflies!! Following on from August when we stopped filling and checking feeding boxes because there was no one to set traps, this plan continued right through September. 12 of the 13 boxes between Holywell Road Bridge (HRB) and Old Hartley Car Park (OHCP) were not checked and the 13th, closest to the car park, was checked on a weekly basis and was found empty at each check.
The other 6 boxes from the OHCP to the harbour continued to be checked but were not visited by a Grey Squirrel. Things were different along the Avenue with all being quiet on the first week’s check but then Squirrel activity started again finishing up with 4 of the 5 boxes being visited on the last 2 weeks of checking.
No sighting of a Grey Squirrel came from the Avenue area during the month but sightings of 1 or 2 animals on 2 or 3 occasions each week came from all parts of the stretch between HRB and OHCP.
If anyone reading this report would like to help with trapping please contact FoHD
Roe Deer September has been very similar to August as regards reported sightings of Roe Deer with all reports coming from the area between HRB and the Old Railway Line (ORL) both to the north and south of the river. It appears that there are 2 families in the area the first doe with a single fawn and the second with twins as well as at least 2 bucks. It should not be long now before reports start coming from other areas of the Dene as families that bred away from the Dene, return.
There have been many reports of Hedgehogs both large and small being seen in almost all parts of the Dene and adjacent gardens this month. Hopefully, sense will prevail this year and that they have not bred in September or will breed later because it is very unlikely they will reach hibernating weight.
There have been 2 more sightings of a Badger some 200/300 metres east of HRB similar to last month. I wonder where their sett is?
Red Fox have generated a number of early morning and evening reports all from the east end of the Dene, especially from along the harbour path, while there have been 2 reports of a Stoat, one from the south side of the river close to the upstream wooden bridge and the other immediately to the east of the stone bridge over the farm road.
As usual in September one is left wondering where all the birds have gone. Numerous comments were received saying I have just walked through the Dene and saw and heard nothing except Woodpigeons.!!
The common birds that were reported regularly throughout the month were Blue Tit, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Coal Tit, Robin and Tree Sparrow. Blackbirds were virtually not seen in the first part of the month but started to reappear towards the end but even then with only single birds. Dunnock started to be seen again from 14th but Bullfinch disappeared completely until the last few days. Long-tailed Tits were seen regularly in the first half of the month with numbers up to 5 but then they mostly disappeared with only a couple of sightings of single birds in the last 10 days. Along the Harbour path starting at OHCP, 1 or 2 Willow Tits were seen on 7 occasions through the month and the same path produced the only report of the month of 2 Goldfinch on 2nd. The only report of a Nuthatch was of a single bird near the upstream bridge seen on 29th
A bird that didn’t disappear was the Great Spotted Woodpecker which was reported throughout the month and from all areas of the Dene: always single birds but some males, some females and some juveniles. A Jay was near the OHCP on 8th and 10th with another bird seen near the oxbow on 16th Also on the 8th in the area of OHCP a Reed Bunting and Chiffchaff were reported while on the 15th the only Treecreeper reported this month was seen near Crow Hall Farm. A Song Thrush was only reported on 3 occasions from between the 2 bridges but from both sides of the river. The great majority of our summer visitors have now left but there was 1 report of 3 Swallows flying south on the 8th following the old railway line.
Needless to say all the larger common birds were always to be seen in the Dene and adjacent fields, Woodpigeon, Magpie, Jackdaw, a few noisy Rooks and the occasional pair of Carrion Crows.
Birds of prey were few and far between in September but a Buzzard was seen on the ground on 8th on an adjacent field on the north side of the river close to the old railway line and then on 10th one was seen in the woodland near oxbow. In the air there were 2 reports of a Buzzard flying above the fields in the area between the river and the obelisk on 16th and 21st. The only report of a Kestrel was on 2nd when a bird was seen near Oxbow while a Sparrowhawk was seen near the pumping station on the 4th.
Pheasants were either seen or heard very often in many parts of the Dene, usually a single bird but occasionally a pair, while flocks of Curlew of up to 21 birds were seen in the adjacent fields south of oxbow between 12th and 16th. There were a number of reports of up to 5 Red-legged Partridge seen in the fields just south of the obelisk while on 5th 1 was seen near the upstream bridge, a most odd location.
On the river Dippers were seen all month with a juvenile still being seen during the first week. Sightings were spread throughout the Dene but the majority were near the tunnel. Grey Herons were often seen fishing in the river in all parts of the Dene and estuary, usually a single bird but occasionally 2. Similarly, glimpses of a Wren being seen along the river were common but there was only 1 report of a Kingfisher being seen between the upstream bridge and tunnel on 15th. In the middle of the month adults and juvenile Grey Wagtails were still being seen on the river between the upstream bridge and tunnel but they then disappeared. A Moorhen was seen on 5th and 7th in the oxbow area and on 2nd near the stone bridge. Finally on 2nd a flock of around 50 Lapwings was watched in the field opposite the lay-by on the south side of the road.
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.