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The Dene through the Seasons


July 2017

Butterflies have been in short supply but there have been some interesting sightings

Some of our summer visitors have already left for their winter quarters

An amusing month watching juvenile birds before they dispersed

A Little Egret has been back in the estuary

Grey Squirrels have been keeping the volunteers busy

The released Hedgehogs appear to e doing well.


The estuary has been the place to see butterflies this month with other parts of the Dene almost devoid of these lovely creatures. Even those who know very little about butterflies have joined the chorus of those saying “where have all the Small Tortoiseshell gone?” After last year’s dramatic decline nationwide this year appears to have been even worse, with only two reports of one in the Dene and three seen in the estuary on the 16th and to think a couple of years ago this was our most common butterfly.

The most exciting time was during the first few days of the month when there was a count of fifteen Ringlet in the estuary and two reports of a Small Skipper with a lovely photograph. Smaller numbers of Ringlet were seen during the rest of the month together with Meadow Brown butterflies and a lone Orange Tip on the 16th, which is very late for this species.

Speckled Wood, with counts up to eight, and one to three Red Admiral were seen throughout the month in all parts of the Dene as was a single Green-veined White reported on five occasions. The most common sighting was of Small and Large White butterflies with counts of the latter up to ten, the larger counts being from the estuary area.


The two Hedgehogs released into the Dene in the spring appear to be doing well and occasionally return to the release point for a nibble at the food still put out for them but the small amount consumed shows they are not hungry. For the first time for many months a Stoat was reported on the 19th from the path near Hartley West Farm and on the 30th two Roe Deer were spotted in the same area early in the morning. However, as soon as they saw humans they were away at speed so no details of their sex was possible.

The Grey Squirrel activity reported in late June continued into July with a male being trapped on 2nd and a female two days later. Then there was a long quiet period up to 23rd when a male was trapped followed five days later by another. The tally to date is twenty five trappings with virtually all activity in the area between Holywell Road Bridge and just to the east of Crowhall Farm, although there was one report of a grey in a garden in central Seaton Sluice, which appeared to be just passing through.


As regards birds, July is always a month of two halves, starting with birds like Blackbirds having second or third broods, the recently fledged birds acting in their own funny ways, like landing on a flimsy branches and falling off, and then as the month reaches its end quiet descends as birds disappear to have their annual moult and youngsters disperse.

By the end of the month some of our summer visitors have already left for their winter quarters, this includes Swift, Whitethroat and Cuckoo while others, like Curlew, are returning from their breeding areas and often stopping off for a quick feed adjacent to the Dene.

The adjacent fields have been relatively quiet except for the usual assortment of Gulls, the flocks of Woodpigeon, Jackdaws, a few Rooks and Carrion Crows and a dramatic increase in the Magpie numbers. As already mentioned, towards the end of the month small flocks of up to twenty five Curlew have been seen in amongst the cows feeding on the grazing. On the 16th there were nine Grey Heron sitting in one field for a number of hours, obviously parents and young from the nearby heronry and on the 7th there were two Buzzard riding the currents above the field giving a wonderful view for a number of people. The only report of a Pheasant this month was of one in the estuary on 22nd and none from their usual haunts.

After the excitement of the two successful Dipper breeding attempts, reported last month, it was back to normal in July with single birds being seen occasionally in both nesting areas. Grey Wagtail, which may have nested somewhere in the Dene, appeared on the 11th as a family group of four. Other occasional sightings of one or two birds continued through the month in various river stretches including the estuary.

There was only one sighting of a Kingfisher, near the stone bridge on 14th, but many more reports of a Grey Heron fishing various locations along the river.

It was pleasing to see a Little Egret back in the estuary from the 10th onwards but a surprise to see a lone first year Cormorant in the estuary between the 22nd and 24th when it should have been out to sea with a party of the birds. Then on the very last day of the month a Redshank was seen in the estuary, no doubt the first of many in the coming months. It should be noted that not a single report was received of a Moorhen or Mallard in July but there were many reports of Wren in all parts of the Dene either single birds or family groups.

In July 2016 there were a number of reports of small groups of Swift feeding above the river before departing for their winter quarters, this year not a single bird was seen. House Martin were well reported all month with feeding flocks of up to twenty five above the river often in the evening and in the estuary there were a number of reports of mixed flocks of House Martin, Swallow and Sand Martin feeding just above the water, which was quite a memorable sight for those lucky enough to witness it.

In the woodland there has been nothing memorable this month. In the first half Great Tit were seen in far greater numbers than Blue Tit but it was all back to normal by the end. Coal Tit have been few and far between and it is always pleasing to see the Long-tailed Tit return with groups of up to six by month end. On the 15th a Willow Tit was seen followed by occasional sightings after that date, all of single birds.

Once again Bullfinch and Great Spotted Woodpecker generated the highest number of reports and, as they are easy to identify, their young were often mentioned. Chaffinch were also well reported but only in ones or twos while Goldfinch were seen less often but, especially in the estuary, their numbers were up to seven. On the 2nd a Greenfinch was seen in the estuary while a Goldcrest was seen on three occasions in the main part of the Dene. Only two Dunnock were seen both in the middle of the month while a single Tree Sparrow was seen on 5th and two on 31st. Surprisingly there were only three reports of a Robin received with one of those being a juvenile. In the first week of the month one or two Stock Dove were reported but nothing after that, while the only sighting of a Nuthatch was on the 8th.

One or two Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Whitethroat were reported up to the middle of the month but nothing after that, although it is likely the first two are still around. On the old railway line a single Yellow Hammer was seen on the 10th and a day later a Reed Bunting and in the same area on the 8th two Jay were seen.

As always Blackbird were everywhere in good numbers but hardly ever reported while Song Thrush were well reported throughout the Dene with a family group of four in the estuary on 30th. In the second half of the month there were three reports of a Sparrowhawk while a Kestrel was well reported, probably part of the family that nested near Crowhall Farm, which was mentioned in last month’s bulletin.

August 2017

Small Copper butterfly seen

Field Voles rescued

Red Squirrel seen in Holywell Village

Departure of summer visitors well under way – no Swifts seen this month.

Red Kite seen

Kingfisher seen twice


Not a bad month for butterflies especially in the estuary. Although numbers have been nothing like 3 or 4 years ago compared with last year it has been brilliant. Red Admiral up to 3 have been reported all month while Peacock up to 5, were not seen in the first week but regularly thereafter. Speckled Wood up to 4, have been seen irregularly throughout the month while 1 Comma was seen on the 10th and 1 or 2 Green-veined White were seen on 3 occasions. Large White up to 8, was the commonest butterfly seen, with a Small White identified on 5 occasions. 1or 2 Meadow Brown were occasionally seen and a single Painted Lady was seen on the 6th and 20th.

The real worry is the butterfly that just 2 years ago was the commonest one in the Dene, the Small Tortoiseshell, which was sighted just once in the month on the 14th. The most exciting sighting in the estuary this month was a Small Copper on the 26th, thought to be the first seen in the Dene.

Amphibians and Small Mammals

Once again the wildlife all around us but rarely seen, was brought to the eyes of the Working Party when they cut the main meadow with strimmers. Those volunteers not using a machine not only have to rake up the cut vegetation but keep a careful eye on any bewildered wild life, stepping in to take them to safety. This year there was a considerable successful rescue operation for young Frogs and surprisingly numerous Field Voles.


The 2 rescued Hedgehogs released into the Dene last spring finally, this month, stopped coming to the release point for an evening meal and so it can be accepted that they are somewhere in the Dene and finding enough natural food, which is excellent news and hopefully can be repeated next year.

It was a very quiet month regarding Grey Squirrels with no reported sightings and only on the very last day of the month did a volunteer checker find a feeding box empty. It was refilled but the outcome will have to wait until the September Report. Although the location is out of the Dene area, it is interesting that a Red Squirrel was seen in the northern outskirts of Holywell Village on the 15th; good news indeed.

No Roe Deer was seen until mid-morning on 27th when 2 were glimpsed leaving a Hartley West Farm field and disappearing into the trees of the Dene.


By the end of August the departure of our summer visitors was well under way. There were no sightings of Swift during the month and very few Whitethroat were seen although 2 were reported from near the old railway line on the 30th.  A few Swallow were still being seen in the early part of the month but none in the second half while the occasional Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were still being seen right up to the end of the month. House Martin were still around in big number groups with in excess of 40 lined up on a power cable in the Dene on the 20th and 7 days later an even bigger number, thought to be around 65, were having an early morning feed at tree top height above the Dene. Sand Martin are not normally seen in the Dene but they were present in the early part of the month, in small numbers around 6, in the estuary in amongst mixed flocks of Swallow and House Martin, where they were to be seen feeding only a few feet above the river – a memorable sight.

While some birds are leaving others are returning from their nesting areas. On the adjacent fields Curlew have been seen this month with numbers varying from 1 to 45 while in the estuary the handful of Redshank we expect to see in the winter duly returned and took up residence. The Little Egret, that returned last month, has been well seen this month although it has had the odd day away from the estuary in other parts of the nearby countryside.

Sadly no Mallard has been seen this month and only 1 Moorhen and there have only been 2 reports of a Grey Wagtail, the first on the 6th at Holywell Road Bridge and the second in the estuary on 27th but there was a Pied Wagtail in the estuary seen on the 4th.

After the excitement of the nesting Dippers, single birds have occasionally been seen in both nesting areas, probably the male from each pair just keeping an eye on its territory. There has been no shortage of Grey Heron with 1 or 2 birds being seen almost on a daily basis in some part of the Dene either wading or flying and even the Kingfisher has not kept away with a sighting at the stone bridge on 15th and in the estuary on 27th. Along the whole river the Wrens, now almost silent, have been flitting from bank to bank and into the brambles and being so small are easily missed.

3 raptors have been seen this month, a Red Kite above the fields to the north of the Dene was seen on 24th and a Sparrowhawk was reported on 16th, once at breakfast and again at lunch time, so it is assumed it was the same bird. The Kestrel has been the opposite, being reported almost on a daily basis. This is no doubt due to it nesting in the Dene and the bird seen could have either been one of the adults or one of the juveniles.  

As usual there has been a general scarcity of birds in the woodlands this month, although that doesn’t apply to Blackbird as there were still very young birds about right up to the end of the month. Once again there were numerous reports of Song Thrust so their recovery seems to be ongoing. Blue and Great Tit numbers appear to have improved after last year’s disastrous nesting but even so they do not seem to be back to the earlier year’s numbers. As usual for this time of the year the Coal Tit has been few and far between but no doubt numbers will improve in the next month or so. The rare Willow Tit was seen on the 11th and again the following day and hopefully sightings will become more frequent as the year goes on. Sightings of Long-tailed Tit have become more interesting as they have reverted from breeding pairs to much larger groups with flocks of up to 10 having been well reported since the first large group was seen on 11th.

A Greenfinch was seen on 14th, quite a rarity these days and there was a single sighting of a Jay near the upstream wooden bridge, the usual area where it is occasionally seen. A Chaffinch has been seen regularly up to 3 in number as well as Dunnock up to 2 and a lone Goldfinch seen in the estuary on the 4th. Tree Sparrow were seen on 4 occasions with 4 being seen together on 25th and 26th. Surprisingly, there have only been 4 sightings of the children’s favourite the Robin, surely a case of gross underreporting.

Finally, the 2 most reported birds have been the Great Spotted Woodpecker and Bullfinch although the latter has never been more than 2 together. The former’s reports have come from all parts of the Dene and have been of male, female or juvenile, although reports started to tail off in the last 10 days of the month.

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.

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.