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, 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

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

09/07/14 - Barn Owl Bonanza!

Prior to 2013/14 the previous two winters were very cold, with deep snow and freezing temperatures down to -10 for days on end, with some days not getting above freezing. This took its toll on the resident Barn Owl population with unfortunately c20-30 birds reported dead in barns and boxes around the valley.

 North Duffield Carrs floods and freezes - 21/01/13

During the early months of 2013 birds were seen throughout the valley but sightings dried up in late March/April. Initially we thought this may have been with the onset of breeding, but the prolonged cold weather and temperatures below average lingered from early March into June which seemed to prevent females getting into breeding condition.

One of only a few Barn Owls seen during 2013 - 05/02

We did manage find some adults present in the boxes and other breeding sites, but they appeared to just be using them as day time roosting sites with no evidence of breeding. Subsequently, without broods to feed the adults were seen less, not being forced to hunt during the day time. Due to the lack of breeding and newly fledged young (which would normally be seen by the end of summer as they disperse around the area), numbers of sightings plummeted and comments of the population crash were aired. The YWT even launched a campaign to save the Yorkshire Barn Owl.

However, after a year off and following a relatively mild winter and early spring, coinciding with a peak in the vole cycle, 2014 has proved to be a bumper year.

Family of four Barn Owl chicks - 19/06/14

As of last week 157 Barn Owl chicks have been ringed this year, with another 16 known to have fledged – and 4 pairs are already sitting on 21 eggs of second clutches with many more likely to do so. Brood sizes have been good and ranged between 4-6 chicks, and have been early – some of the eggs must have been laid in early March, and with birds fledging from mid-June they have a long time to gain experience hunting before the colder weather of late autumn/winter returns. Plenty of spare food (often three or four field voles) are being found in most of the boxes as well, again showing that it’s been a bumper year for them as well. At the end of the season we’ll post full details of how many chicks have been ringed and how many adults were caught from previous years.

So great news all round and we look forward to plenty of young owls on the wing as they start to disperse around the area.

Barn Owl chick not far off from fledging - 19/06

If you’re hoping to see Barn Owls hunting around the valley then Bank Island, North Duffield Carrs and the Pocklington Canal corridor (especially around Melbourne) are the best areas to try and observe hunting birds, especially on nice evenings towards dusk.

Listed below are the ringing totals for the recent previous years and the all time total number ringed in the valley.

                            2011     2012     2013     2014     Total

Barn Owl                38        107          4          157     1085

Thanks go to all the people who have helped us check boxes this year in the valley and those who have helped us make and put up boxes in previous years - and those who've done it without us and then informed us of successful pairs breeding on their land and allowing us to come and ring them. All these people, sadly some who are now absent friends still help to produce Barn Owl chicks and contribute to the good population that we now have in Yorkshire.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

27/05/14 - Royal visitors to the LDV

Back in January 2013, three otter cubs were found over the course of a few days, and were soon in the care of Jean Thorpe MBE (Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation) - one of our long standing volunteers and key member of the LDV NNR Team. It is likely that these cubs had been orphaned with the females possibly run over on local roads as a result of the river levels being high. Otters don’t tend to swim under bridges for some reason – instead preferring to walk along ledges or the river bank. As the river levels come up this often submerges the banks or ledges forcing the otters to walk up and over the bridge, often bringing them into contact with vehicles and occasionally getting hit by them.

As usual, having assessed the situation and weighed up the options, Jean gave them emergency care in the short term before they were taken to The Chestnut Centre in Derbyshire before going on to their bigger centre, The New Forest Wildlife Park for rearing. They do an amazing job with the rehab of wild otters, which is a fairly long process as the cubs take about 18 months to mature before they would leave their mother naturally in the wild. One of the cubs unfortunately did not make it but the two males grew well.

Both these otter cubs had fur covered that was covered in white spots – a less frequently seen form than the more usually plain brown form – historically known as royal otters.

Around the same time another female cub came into care at Jean’s, from Skerne East Yorkshire, found alone on a cold and frosty night. She was soon revived but had an injury to her tail. Mike Jones from Battleflatts Vets, Stamford Bridge examined her and the tip of her tail had withered and she needed an operation to remove the dead tissue. Mike did a wonderful job and her tail healed well, she was then named Stumpy! She too travelled down to the New Forest and was superbly cared for.

Release plans were put in place and the three adults, Hover and Rye (the spotted royal otters) and Stumpy were to be brought back to the area once the time was right. Hover and Rye were to be released in the Lower Derwent Valley NNR as the site falls within the wider catchment in which they were found. The site also offers a safe, undisturbed and prime area of habitat in which they can settle in and find their feet in their early days in the wild. The timing is also important in that the floods around the valley have receded and there is plenty of available food (fish and amphibians) concentrated into the 90 km of ditches around the reserve. 

A small pen, made from electric fencing in an area of dense wetland vegetation and with a small pond, plenty of willow scrub to lay up under and room for their travelling boxes was made. The day of the release came, and what a glorious one it was, a Wheatear bounced along the river bank fence posts as we headed to the site, and the sounds of displaying Lapwing, Curlew and Redshank overhead could be heard with the constant back ground accompaniment of Skylarks. Loafing drake Mallards, Gadwall and Shoveler were present along the riverbank and ditch sides suggesting the females were incubating clutches nearby, and vast numbers of tadpoles and shoals of fish were present in some of the ponds – what better place to start the rest of their free and wild lives. Hover & Rye were clearly ready to be back in this environment and didn’t hang around for long, not needing to take advantage of the free food hand outs over the next few days – a great result.

Stumpy was taken to her release site in East Yorkshire with our partners at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust where she was quietly placed in the pen, she was more reserved than the males and didn't come out into the open instantly like Hover & Rye. Her release went well and she now too has gone out into wonderful otter habitat away from roads and people.

Whilst the release was a truly wonderful experience to be involved with, it was just the final hours of a long 18 month journey which included a whole host of people, starting with the concerned householders of Fryton, Slingsby and Skerne who first found and reported them, Ed Heap, Roger Heap, Jason and Donna and all the staff at the Chestnut Centre and New Forest Wildlife Park for their wonderful care of these orphans, Mike Jones, the vet for his support and care for wild animals, Jon Trail at the YWT and all the staff and volunteers at the Lower Derwent Valley NNR. But most importantly, Jean Thorpe for her excellent care and dedication as always, and for coordinating the whole process.