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The Dene through the Seasons


July 2019

A Holly Blue butterfly seen

Amazing migration of Painted Lady butterflies

5 Grey Squirrels trapped in first 7 days

Moorhen nests successfully near upper bridge

Tawny Owl killed by car on Hartley Lane

Willow Tits return after breeding


The month started with 2 reports arriving of Small Tortoiseshell seen in the Dene but the nationwide slump of this butterfly continues. Speckled Wood were also reported on 2 occasions, once a single and the second time 2 while Meadow Brown butterflies did better, with reports coming in from most areas of the  Dene with numbers between 1 and 10. Green-veined Whites were seen on 5 occasions and, as normal, the Large Whites began to dominate. That took us up to the middle of the month at which point everything went quiet as the weather changed, not to the liking of butterflies.

Then on the 24th July the amazing migration of Painted Lady butterflies started. All along the coast they came in their hundreds if not thousands and quickly dispersed inland. Reports came in of massive flocks of them seen in various areas, flocks so big it was impossible to count them. In amongst them the odd Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Large White and up to 10 Green-veined White were seen and then on 29th  the tiny blue butterfly Holly Blue was seen, the first sighting for a number of years in this area.


Other than the occasional report of Frogs being seen of various sizes there is little to report. One or two people have commented on the occasional dead Smooth Newt being seen, which is strange, but it has been nice to see the occasional family group having fun on the dipping platform of Hartley Pond with their nets and buckets.


There has only been 1 sighting of a Roe Deer this month, a male seen near the waterfall on 3rd, unfortunately, either this animal or another male was found dead on the side of The Avenue on 21st.

The first week of the month was a little hectic in respect of Grey Squirrels. There were a number of sightings generally in the area surrounding the upper bridge, which resulted in 5 greys being trapped between the 1st and 7th in the boxes near Crow Hall Farm and the upper bridge, they were made up of  2 immature females, an immature male and a mature pair. Then all went quiet until a sighting was reported of a grey near the upper bridge on the 28th resulting in additional checking visits being made by the volunteers.

Along the stretch of river between the upper bridge and the tunnel a Bank Vole has been active when no noisy humans or dogs have been about. It has been seen on a number of occasions with the best being on 13th when an adult and 2 juvenile Bank Voles was watched under the empty bird feeders near the upper bridge.

The feeding of the 2 rescued Hedgehogs, released into the Dene in April, came to an end early in July because the warm wet weather was producing plenty of their natural food, as gardeners will confirm! Sadly during July we have had 5 road casualties, 2 along Hartley Lane, 2 near Old Hartley Caravan Park, and 1 on Beresford Road. Whether there is a link between our annual release of rescued Hedgehogs and these casualties no one can tell but it is a concern. The release area is a good distance away from all the casualty sites.


July is never an exciting time for birds in the Dene, plenty of young birds of our residents but few if any visitors and, with plenty of natural food in the fields and hedgerows outside the Dene that is where the birds disappear to. Our summer visitors are still around but seeing them in the dense tree and vegetation growth is difficult. There have been a few reports of Chiffchaff, 4 reports of a Blackcap with 1 carrying food and 3 reports of a Whitethroat, one of which was a party of 2 adults and 3 juveniles. From the middle of the month House Martins started to be seen in the evenings in good numbers feeding above the Dene but the number of Swallows seen appears to be well down from a few years ago. On 11th there were around 30 Swifts flying in the area above Old Hartley Pond but all other reports were of just a few birds.

Our common residents have had a mixed month with some being seen often, either feeding young or in mixed parties of young and old, or not seen at all. Great and Blue Tits and Blackbirds, have always been seen but there have been very few Coal Tits around until the last week when numbers started to increase while the only Long-tailed Tit seen in July was a single bird on 30th. The good news is the return of Willow Tits with 2 being seen on 7th near Hartley Lane Car Park and from then on reports have increased with 1 or 2 birds being seen with some appearing to be juveniles.

Once juvenile Bullfinch appeared on the scene then sightings went through the roof, with family groups up to 7 being regularly reported. Chaffinch, on the other hand have been seen all month but only 1 or 2 birds at a time and the same goes for Goldfinch, with both adult and juvenile birds being seen. Right at the end of the month a juvenile Greenfinch was witnessed and the next day an adult appeared in the same location. Who would have thought that through the whole of July there would be only 1 sighting of a Dunnock and 2 of a single Robin!

In the second week of the month a male Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen but after that, despite many reports, often coming in daily, only juveniles have been seen. Song Thrush have been reasonably well reported this month with adults seen carrying food and then later juveniles appearing on the scene, however sightings dried up in the last 10 days of the month. Tree Sparrows continue to go from strength to strength with many juveniles being seen, with up to groups of 7 being common. They may still be rare in some parts of the country but around the Dene they have ousted the House Sparrow, which in turn has become the rarity.

The Barn Owl, seen in the field to the west of Starlight Castle in June, was seen again twice in the first week in July but not after that.  In the Dene a Tawny Owl with 1 or 2 of its offspring was seen on 4 occasions in the first 10 days, 3 of which were between the 2 bridges with the other near the oxbow lake to the west, but there was no report after these. However, a roosting Tawny Owl was to be seen on the northern side of the river, around 30 metres from the upper bridge, on a number of occasions but both patience and good binoculars were required. Sadly, on 14th a dead adult Tawny Owl was found on Hartley Lane, killed by a car on the stretch of road between the car park and the lay-by.

A Sparrowhawk was seen on only 3 occasions, once near the lay-by on Hartley Lane and twice near Old Hartley Car Park. On 28th a Kestrel was seen above the Silver Hill fields while on 19th a lone Jay was seen in the centre of the Dene.

The river was quiet this month, with Wrens being reported throughout and 1 or 2 Grey Herons seen fishing along the river and on the estuary. A Kingfisher was seen along the Dale Top part of the river on 11th and on 28th near the tunnel, while an adult Grey Wagtail with 1 juvenile was seen near the upper bridge on 13th and 1 adult on 28th. The Moorhen, that nested in the upper bridge area, may well have had 2 broods, with an adult with 5 juveniles seen on 3rd and then on 14th was seen with 4 tiny chicks. Then on 28 an adult bird was seen on Hartley Pond, all on its own.

August 2019

2 Wall butterflies seen, the first for a few years

2 more Grey Squirrels caught

The first Row Deer family of the season seen

4 young Barn Owls fledged

Curlews seen in adjacent fields

Goosander seen in the estuary


As usual August is proving to be the best month for butterflies again. Many repots of Painted Lady butterflies have been received spread throughout the month and from all areas, with numbers up to 4: the same goes for Peacock with numbers up to 8. There were not quite so many reports of Red Admiral butterflies but they increased as the month went on with 2 being the peak number. Large White, as usual, were everywhere with groups of up to 5 fairly common but there was only 1 report of a Small White and 2 of a Green-veined White.

A Comma was seen on 3rd and again on 13th with 2 Wall butterflies seen on the 12th the first for a few years. It was a great surprise that there was only 1 report of a single Speckled Wood, which is way down on recent years. Following on from last month’s sighting, a Holly Blue was seen again on the 2nd and 3rd feeding on the same plant in the same location. You may have already noticed that there was not a single report of a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly – the rapid decline of this butterfly is amazing and very sad.


The wet, warm weather seems to have been ideal for Frogs and Toads, which have been reported by individuals as well as the Working Party. The frenetic vegetation growth has successfully hidden all other amphibians.


Certainly the Hedgehogs living in the Dene cannot complain as their natural food has been in abundance. The numerous people living on the edge of the Dene are in raptures, as their nightly visitors have made a massive impression on the number of slugs and snails in their gardens. The rescued Hedgehogs, which we released into the Dene in April, soon gave up returning for an evening meal, which has dramatically reduced the annual outlay expended on these animals. It is pleasing to report that there has been no further road deaths reported or found this month.

The occasional Grey Squirrel has been seen in the Dene but activity has been minimal compared with frenetic July. On the first day of this month two feeding boxes were reported empty with hairs on the sticky pads, one near Crow Hall Farm and the other along the Holywell Road Bridge path. A check on both boxes the following day produced the same reports and so traps were laid that morning. The evening check of the traps revealed an immature male in the Crow Hall trap and an immature female in the other trap. There was then no further activity in August except for our checkers having to remove slugs and earwigs from some of the squirrel feeding boxes. Our total of Grey Squirrels dispatched since we started in January 2017 stands at 63.

There has been very little Row Deer activity this month. Early on the morning of 6th a young fawn was seen entering a field of corn next to the old railway line, disappearing as it lay down, not to be seen again. Probably this was its designated daytime rest area and it may have been returning after feeding from its mother. Then early on the morning of 27th 2 fawns were seen near oxbow and then early the following morning an adult female Roe Deer and 2 young fawns were seen near Crow Hall, probably the same animals. These early sightings indicate breeding not too distant from the Dene.


August is never a good month for bird activity and this year was no exception. In fact towards the end of the month it was possible to walk through the Dene and not see a single bird, except of course the Woodpigeons, Jackdaws, Magpies and the occasional Carrion Crow. High in the trees where they nested, a small group of Rooks could still be seen. Even all these birds tended to move out into the adjoining fields as the end of the month approached, where they will create large flocks during the coming autumn and winter.

In the first half of the month there were many of the common species to be seen made up of adults and their fledglings. Blue Tits up to 7, Great Tits up to 6, Coal Tits up to 3 and even Willow Tits were seen up to 3 on 7 occasions. All that changed for the second half of the month as the adults disappeared to moult and the young birds dispersed. Blackbirds on the other hand were few and far between all month with normally only 1 or 2 being seen. 1 to 2 Chaffinch were seen regularly all month although the number of reports was low whereas Bullfinch numbers in the first half of the month were in the 4s and 5s later dropping to 1s and 2s. There was just 1 report of a single Goldfinch seen on the 10th, 2 reports of a single Dunnock seen on 11th and 28th and amazingly only 2 reports of a young Robin seen on 11th and 13th.

Tree Sparrows joined the usual pattern for August with numbers being into double figures in the first half but dropping to 3s and 4s later. It is surprising that just a few years ago a Tree Sparrow was a rarity in the Dene, often seen in amongst a flock of House Sparrows but now the situation has been totally reversed.

It is very easy to distinguish adult and juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers because the changes to their plumage are easy to see and record. In the early days of the month we had regular sightings of 1 or 2 birds, both adult and young. However, as the month wore on the adults disappeared leaving the young to continue the steady monthly reporting of these birds. Then in the last few days’ birds half way through their plumage change from young to old were seen.

 Chiffchaff, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps were occasionally seen up to 2 but this is probably massive under reporting as it is just pure luck to see and identify these birds at a moment when they are fully in view. A few Swallows were seen, with their favourite place appearing to be the field adjacent to the cattle grid entrance to Crow Hall Farm; given the right weather conditions that is a good place to look. In the last couple of weeks of the month House Martins began to appear in small flocks in the evening above the Dene feeding on the flying insects and, although counting is almost impossible, flock size was the order of 25 birds. These may well increase considerably in the next week or so as the birds stock up before their long migration. Swifts left in July so there were no reports.

The 2 young Tawny Owls born in the Dene have dispersed although there is still an adult that is using the Dene as a daytime roost. There was wonderful news of the Barn Owls that nested on the edge of the Dene: their 4 youngsters all fledged safely and are now away. This fact and the very few sightings of the adults hunting in daylight (reported in previous Fauna Reports) indicates a very good year for small mammals, which are a main part of their diet.

As usual 1 or 2 Grey Herons have been seen all month throughout the Dene and estuary and the occasional Wren has been reported usually in the vicinity of the river. On the 25th a Goosander was seen by 2 of our members on the estuary, confirmed by a photograph, the only unusual bird seen this month.

In the second half of the month Curlew were seen and heard early morning on a number of days in the adjacent fields north of the river, with 53 counted on 19th and in the same fields 1 or 2 Pheasants have been seen regularly throughout August.

September 2019

Red Squirrel – road death on the Avenue

Mature Grey Squirrel caught

Swallows and House Martins depart

Willow Tit - good sightings

Goosander continues to visit the estuary

First Pink-footed Geese seen


Although nothing out of the ordinary was reported this month, there were a good number of butterflies still to be seen during the first 3 weeks but then the weather changed and sightings came to an end. The Large White was the most often seen in 1s and 2s but this was closely followed by Red Admirals in groupings up to 3. The third species reported was Speckled Wood, seen on 4 occasions with groups of 2, 3, and 4.   


Mention must be made of the numerous reports of both Frogs and Toads seen, both by the working party and individuals, from all the damp and pond areas of the Dene. Usually the report has been of singles but the overall number has been far greater than previous years, so it seems these amphibians have had a really good year.


Hedgehogs only come out to feed at night so reporting normally only comes from houses with gardens adjacent to the Dene. If the number of reports from this source is to be trusted then Hedgehogs have had a wonderful year. I am pleased to say there have been no reports of road deaths this month. As we approach October it should be remembered that this is the usual month for Hedgehog hibernation and so if a Hedgehog is seen out in daylight it is probably in trouble, could be under-weight for hibernation, and its presence should be reported.

There has only been 1 report of Roe Deer this month. Early on the morning of 14th a pair of females was seen in a field adjacent to Hartley West Farm, from their sizes probably a mother and daughter.

A single Red Fox has been seen on 3 occasions this month from widely differing locations and all at around dusk. One was seen near the oxbow lake on the 6th, the second sighting was on 12th near the pipe pond and the third was on the 20th half way between the pipe pond and Hartley Lane Car Park.

Our wonderful band of volunteers who check the Squirrel feeding boxes on a weekly basis have continued their good work throughout the month. On 19th the box near the upstream wooden bridge was found visited by a grey and the next day that box and the one near Crow Hall Farm were found visited and a Grey Squirrel was seen near the Oxbow Lake. On the 21st traps were set and the following morning a mature male Grey Squirrel had been caught. After that all went quiet again right through to the end of the month.

The worst news of the month was that on 27th a dead Red Squirrel was found on the side of the Avenue road having been hit by a car.


September has never been the most exciting month for seeing birds in the Dene and this month lived up to that reputation. The estuary has been perhaps the most interesting area with not only the NCC carrying out very necessary path repairs on the west side but birds illustrating that September is the month for migration in and out.

The last sightings of Swallows and House Martins were in the middle of the month with Swallows lining up on wires (so easily counted) with 20 seen in the estuary area on the 6th and 25 on the 8th. The final report was on 13th with 17 on their favourite wire just west of Hartley West Farm. House Martins tend to gather in evening flying groups and these were seen between Hartley Lane Car Park and the estuary  with 20 on 3rd, 15 on the 8th and finally on the 13th a massive group of in excess of 50 birds.

The Goosander, seen in the estuary for the first time at the end of last month, did not desert us. There was 1 seen on 4th and 2 the next day and then a long gap until 27th when 1 came back and on the penultimate day of the month we were back to 2. The one on the 27th was interesting because it was seen at the top end of the estuary and when disturbed flew upstream and landed on the area of the river below the heronry well out of sight of walkers on the path. It was a similar story with the Little Egret which returned to the estuary and was seen on 3rd, 4th, 17th, and 28th, each time a single bird. There was only 1 sighting of Mallard this month with 2 being on the river near the pipe pond on 3rd  The first Redshank of the autumn was seen in the estuary on the 18th but then was seen regularly with varying numbers from 1 to 7.

Grey Herons were regularly seen in the estuary and on all other stretches of the river, normally a single bird but on 19th 6 were seen sitting in the trees of the heronry – got their dates wrong? A Kingfisher was seen along the meadow stretch of the river on 3rd and then 1 was reported from the estuary on the morning of 19th and later the same day 1 was reported in the area of the upstream bridge: probably the same bird. A Dipper was reported from the tunnel area on 2nd and 4th and a Grey Wagtail downstream from the tunnel on 13th and 27th. Wrens were seen as usual throughout the waterway but are very rarely reported.

Moving upward and away from the water, 3 reports of Buzzards seen overhead were received and in the last 10 days of the month there were a number of reports of 2 Sparrowhawks seen at the east end of the Dene. Some of the reports commented that they did not seem to be hunting but were just having a game of chase through the trees. Interestingly there were similar reports this time last year; one wonders if they are young birds? A roosting Tawny Owl was identified on 3 occasions in the centre part of the Dene on each occasion the reporter was drawn to the owl by agitated birds nearby. No Pink-footed Geese were seen in the adjacent fields but on 27th a flock of around 50 birds flew low over the Dene and 3 days later a similar number were seen landing on Holywell Pond.

The woodlands have been very quiet with very few Blackbirds being seen and numbers of Blue and Great Tits on the low side. A single Coal Tit was only reported on 6 occasions and was actually beaten by Willow Tit reports which numbered 8, again all single birds. Long-tailed Tits followed their usual pattern with 2 being seen on 1st and then from the 15th flocks were seen regularly of 8 and 9 birds. The number of Dunnock sightings increased as the month went on but the monthly total was only 7, each of a single bird. Bullfinch and Chaffinch were well reported throughout the month but always between 1 and 3 birds except for the report on the last day of 6 Bullfinch seen along the old railway line. A single Goldfinch was seen on just 3 occasions. It is hard to believe but there was only 1 report all month of a single Great Spotted Woodpecker.

A Nuthatch was seen on 8th and 14th and a Greenfinch just once on 15th while a single Robin was only reported on 5 occasions. A Pheasant was seen or heard just 4 times, whereas 1 or 2 Jays were reported on 7 occasions but interestingly all the reports came from the centre to east of the Dene, whereas a few years ago all reports came from the west end. The winning bird this month was the Tree Sparrow, concentrated at the east end of the Dene and seen many times with numbers between 3 and 11.

The large flocks of Corvids have returned to the adjacent fields and they, together with the flocks of well over a hundred Woodpigeon, make an impressive sight as they take off and land among the cows that totally ignore them.

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.