Welcome to the LDV NNR ringing blog, this blog is designed to share the experiences, findings and tales from a group of dedicated ringers. We specialise in conservation orientated research projects, largely focusing on wildfowl, waders, owls and birds of conservation concern, in and around the Vale of York NNR's.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

24/08/14 - Eyes down, hand lenses at the ready

Earlier in August expert botanist Judith returned once more to the valley, after initially joining us throughout the Long Term Monitoring Network last summer and then later returning for several training days. The aim of the day was for us to build on what we learned last year, refresh our ID skills and to look for new species – it also provided the opportunity for Hannah to join in – our newest member of the team – currently studying at Askham Bryan College and volunteering for us one day a week throughout her course.

Armed with our hand lenses and books we headed down to Thornton Ellers first off where we decided to spend the morning, and searched for the species that we found there last year – and came across new ones along the way. Thornton Ellers is a diverse site - an Alder Carr woodland with a peat based fen and meadow, and adjacent post glacial sand dune - an interesting range of habitats together.

Twenty three new grasses, sedges and rushes for the year were found such as Sharp-flowered Rush, Velvet Bent, Heath Wood-rush, Purple Small-reed and Brown Bent. Many of the commoner and more easily recognisable species were still present although not many in flower, such as Yorkshire Fog, Soft Rush, Sweet Vernal Grass, Tufted Hair Grass and Toad Rush to name but a few.

 Sharp-flowered Rush Juncus acutiflorus
Yorkshire Fog Holcus lanatus

Plenty of wildflower species were scattered throughout the wet meadow however the large patch of Devil’s-bit Scabious had the greatest variety with many species growing amongst it such as Marsh Violet, Fen Bedstraw, Lesser Spearwort and Marsh Cinquefoil.

Devil's-bit Scabious Succisa pratensis

Following the woodland edge and leaving the wet meadow behind we came across species such as Yellow Loosestrife, Greater Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Common Hemp-nettle, Purple Loosestrife, Water Pepper and Marsh Woundwort.

 Water Pepper Persicaria hydropiper
 Common Hemp-nettle Galeopsis tetrahit
 Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria

Along with the wildflowers and grasses there were also plenty of insects to have a good look at, Common Darters and Brown Hawkers buzzed along the hedgerow, Small Skippers, Meadow Browns and Peacocks were making good use of the Devil’s-bit Scabious and Gatekeepers were feeding on the few remaining Bramble flowers.

 Common Darter Sympetrum striolatum
Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris

Many of the Helophilus hoverflies were also feeding on the Scabious, largely Helophilus pendulus, amongst them we also spotted one of the wasp mimics – Chrystotoxum bicinctum. A 22-spot Ladybird and Sloe/Hairy Shield Bug were found on the walk back along with at least 10 Red-breasted Carrion Beetles which were feeding on an old Partridge egg.

 Wasp mimic Chrystotoxum bicinctum
 22-spot Ladybird Psyllobora 22-punctata
 Field Grasshopper Chorthippus brunneus
Sloe/Hairy Shield Bug Dolycoris baccarum

After several hours well spent in the meadow we headed off and stopped by the Pocklington Canal for lunch, and revision on all the grass species we had found throughout the morning!

On the way to the next location we stopped off at Aughton to ring a brood of Barn Owl chicks that we knew should be ready to ring - seven weeks ago when checking for second broods we found six eggs from a pair that had already produced five young. Five chicks were present in the box, all of a ring-able size bar one.

From there we headed to Wheldrake Ings where we spent an hour in the meadow near Swantail Ings, here we came across a number of grasses and wildflowers such as Bladder Sedge, Slender Tufted Sedge, Marsh Speedwell, Water Dock and Trifid Bur-marigold - some which were new for the year and taking us to a day total of 127 species from the two sites.

Trifid Bur-marigold Bidens tripartita

We also came across two ladybirds which were new for the year, the Harlequin Ladybird (form H.spectabilis) and the common 2-spot Ladybird. Many of the Helophilus and Sphaerophoria hoverflies were making the most of the Water Mint, Purple Loosestrife and Trifid Bur-marigold which are all now in flower across the Ings.

 Harlequin Ladybird Harmonia axyridis spectabilis
Hoverfly - Helophilus trivittatus

Overall a very enjoyable day with a great deal learned about a whole range of species. We look forward to Judith's next visit which will cover the plants of Skipwith Common.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Summer - Work on the NNR

A few snippets of how the last two months have been spent in the Lower Derwent Valley. 

Each year from the end of May, throughout June and into July week after week is spent pulling Marsh Ragwort from the meadows around the valley.

Marsh Ragwort is a plant of wet grassland, often occurring in un-improved wet hay meadows, along with more improved wet grassland. Marsh Ragwort is toxic to livestock due to the compounds it contains. However, grazing animals usually tend to avoid it but cattle have been known to graze the flowers, and sheep will eat the leaves when they first appear in a rosette form. The majority of the meadows in the valley are cut and baled for hay and so the Ragwort needs to be removed before the farmers can cut the meadows, it is thought that once dried and mixed in with the other plants it becomes more difficult for the animals to avoid.

So each year we have to ‘pull’ all the land owned by NE which is c500ha and requires a lot of time and effort! So many thanks to the staff and volunteers who have tirelessly worked over the last few weeks filling countless numbers of bin bags and skips!

Spraying and the complete removal is believed to be the only way forward by some. However Marsh Ragwort is a native and natural component of species-rich wet hay meadows, and unfortunately (at the moment) there isn’t a spray or other method of control that would selectively take out the Ragwort without it affecting the rest of the wildflowers. 

Since the ragwort 'season' finished we've moved on to sorting out all the paths around Bank Island and North Duffield Carrs, along with trimming back the vegetation from around the pools in anticipation of the waders and ducks returning as autumn approaches. By clearing the vegetation it make the pools more open and therefore more attractive for passage waders dropping in on autumn migration. It also stops species like willow from becoming established and shading out flowering plants such as Water Mint, Corn Mint and Purple Loosestrife which provide valuable nectar sources to many invertebrates.

Whilst busy strimming we've been seeing plenty of Emerald Damselflies and Ruddy Darters resting on the Soft Rush, whilst the Brown Hawkers and Emperor Dragonflies have been out hunting across the water. 

Along with the usual team we've also had extra help during the last four weeks, with two students on placement, first off was fifteen your old school boy Adam who spent an enjoyable two weeks here on his work experience placement. His time was spent between a variety of tasks such as helping us pull Marsh Ragwort from the meadows and Himalayan Balsam at Thornton Ellers, a sheep round-up on Skipwith Common, checking the Barn Owl nest boxes and then on his last day helping us catch and ring the broods of Mute Swans at North Duffield, Wheldrake Ings and the Pocklington Canal – made easier by his superb canoeing skills! Sam then joined us for the last two weeks, and was a big help with strimming the paths and clearing large areas of Himalayan Balsam. It's been a real pleasure having them both on board for the last few weeks, we now wish them well in their final year at school and hope to see them both again in the valley soon!

Since ringing the last of the first broods of Barn Owl chicks in June, things have largely been quiet on the ringing front, mainly due to the amount of work and lack of time to do it in. However after a morning pulling several members of the ragwort team were rewarded with close views of this male Sparrowhawk which had flown into one of our duck traps that had been left un-set, meaning it could fly in and out as it pleased, but we were swift enough to close the door on arrival. Not many Sparrowhawks are ringed in the Lower Derwent Valley each year so it was pleasing to see this small male at close range. With their bright yellow/orange eye, piercing looking bill, long legs and needle-sharp talons they look like they mean business! Sparrowhawk’s are adept hunters of passerines and with their relatively short rounded wings and long tail they are adapted for nimble manoeuvring through woodlands and trees, where they will prey on flocks of mixed tits and finches. 

Sparrowhawks breed in woodlands but are a regular visitor to towns and cities and often appear in gardens – where they will hunt their prey by skimming hedges, rooftops and gliding low over the ground before swooping through with lightning speed and ambushing an unsuspecting individual. Sparrowhawks usually tend to stay out of sight until they are ready to strike, one of the first signs that one may be in the vicinity is that of the alarm calls of small birds – who are alerting others nearby to the danger.

As with most birds of prey the females are a lot bigger, so we were able to sex this bird by looking at the size. The grey/blue colouring on the back is typical of an adult of at least two years, although it could be an older bird – especially with such a bright eye. This year’s Sparrowhawks are just beginning to fledge – they breed later than most other birds to coincide the hatching of their eggs with the fledging of small passerines – meaning an abundant food supply!

After a day pulling Ragwort, some of the team decided to stay late into the evening and ring in the reed bed on Wheldrake. A total of 61 birds were caught, including Sedge and Reed Warblers, Reed Buntings and 40 Swallows that had come into roost. However a highlight came in the form of this beauty – a juvenile Water Rail. 

Water Rails have had a good breeding season on Wheldrake Ings with five calling males regularly heard (they are seldom seen so recording the singing males is the best way of estimating the population). We know at least one pair bred raising two young as the chicks have been seen in front of Swantail Hide. Interestingly an adult female was also caught and ringed when pushing our corale trap for ducklings last month - she had a brood patch and had presumably also bred. These are first two Water Rails to be ringed in the valley for a few years, bringing the number ringed on site to 49.

Mute Swans appear to have had a better year than those of late, with seven pairs nesting across the Lower Derwent Valley. However, brood sizes have been mixed ranging from two broods of two and the largest of nine. This year three broods have been caught in the LDV, with broods of two on Wheldrake and North Duffield and a brood of five on the Pocklington Canal. Several new adults have also been caught with each one fitted (and the cygnets) with one of our red and white darvics. 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

June - ducklings, owls, breeding waders, rare insects...

June is typically dominated by breeding species and activity – and this June was no exception. As the weeks progressed it became clear that it was going to be a successful month for many species. Good numbers of breeding ducks had been present earlier in the season, especially Gadwall, and as the water levels receded many broods began to appear out of the swamp areas and back into the ditch network and onto the pool at Wheldrake where many broods were seen including a total of 121 ducklings. A Mandarin provided a more exotic appearance and continued the run of increasing records over recent years. Maybe they will eventually colonise the valley as Egyptian Geese have started to do, a pair appeared off site with a brood of six during the month. Grey Herons also appear to have had a successful breeding season, and as young birds fledged and left the heronry they concentrated onto the remaining few wetter areas, with up to 36 counted between Wheldrake Ings and Bank Island on the 25th

Recently fledged Grey Heron - '41' - T.Weston

Two adults and a juvenile Little Egret were present in the valley towards the end of month, raising the possibility of local breeding following up to six birds present during May. The highlight of the month was a Purple Heron which flew over the reserve base at Bank Island on the 13th, unfortunately it couldn’t be relocated over the following days. A Common Crane (or two) put in yet another appearance early in the month at the southern end of the valley and also on Skipwith Common - probably the same wandering individuals which have been appearing since late March.

Little Egret - 23/06 - Breighton 

Numbers of breeding waders have shown a small increase on recent years and breeding success appears to have been high this year with several broods of Curlew seen during the month. An intriguing flock of 75+ Common Snipe have also been seen at Wheldrake late in the month, which seems a little early for passage birds but would represent an interesting record if they relate to local breeding birds. Wader passage started with a trickle during the month with the first returning Green Sandpiper of the autumn at Bank Island on the 15th, followed by 15 Dunlin on the 25th, a Black-tailed Godwit and a Little Ringed Plover on the 28th.

Curlew - Aughton - T.Weston

On the raptor front, yet another Osprey moved northwards through the valley early in the month, first appearing on the 31st May and lingering in the Wheldrake Ings/Bank Island area until the 4th June. The run of Red Kite sightings through the area continued during and several pairs of Buzzards had large young towards the end of the month. Three pairs of Peregrines bred in the wider valley area and two or three pairs of Hobbies were present, with Wheldrake Ings and the Pocklington Canal the best areas to look for them. Barn Owls continued their record breaking breeding season with 136 chicks ringed by the end of the month by which time several of the earlier broods had fledged and some females were already incubating second broods. The good run of Cuckoo records continued, with up to five males present around Church Bridge near Melbourne where at least one juvenile was present late in the month when several adults were also, and rather unusually, still calling in what appears to have been a rather protracted season.

Barn Owl chick - 19/06 - North Duffield 

On the insect front, it was a rather disappointing month for many species following the good showing earlier in the year. There was however a good number of Red Admirals, often the most common butterfly during the month, until the last week when a large appearance of Ringlets, Meadow Browns and Large Skippers took place. One of the highlights of the month included a Marbled White which flew through the reserve base garden on the 26th, following last year’s record numbers.  On the last day of May we recorded the first (although expected) Hairy Dragonfly in the valley and a further handful of records continued into June suggesting this species has or is about to colonise the valley. Although the weather wasn’t always favourable to running the moth trap, several trapping days were logged with a good number of new species caught for the year, including a notable one – Cream-bordered Green Pea, maintaining a population at one of its key Yorkshire locations in the LDV.

 Large Skipper - 26/06 - Bank Island

A Hummingbird Hawk-moth seen visiting a garden in East Cottingwith on the 15th was a notable record and the first for the year. A special effort was made to record clearwing moths around the LDV and Skipwith Common NNR which proved successful with several new locations and good numbers of Red-tipped Clearwings discovered, along with the continued presence of Large Red-belted and Yellow-legged on Skipwith Common. 

 Red-tipped Clearwing - 26/06 - NNR Base

Many new plant and grass species for the year were recorded throughout June such as: Amphibious Bistort, Bittersweet, Bog Pimpernel, Common Meadow-rue, Common Valerian, Crested Dog’s-tail, Cut-leaved Crane’s-bill, Fine-leaved Water-dropwort, Hedge Woundwort, Marsh Stitchwort, Marsh Woundwort, Self-heal, Timothy and Welted Thistle.

Self-heal - 16/06 - Wheldrake

 Crested Dog's-tail - 16/06 - Wheldrake