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.

NB - Whilst the purpose of this blog was initially designed to cover our nationally important wildfowl ringing activities, regular readers may have noticed the increase in posts detailing wildlife found across the valley (ranging from plants, fungi, butterflies, dragonflies & other invertebrates). Ringing posts will hopefully resume over the winter months, and will run alongside wildlife and work posts.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

30/04/15 - Voles, Mice & Owls

Over the last month we have been small mammal trapping around the NNR Base at Bank Island and more lately down on the Ings, using Longworth live traps to monitor the populations on the reserve. Small mammals are important in their own right but they are also a key dietary item for the local owls and other predators. By monitoring their populations it can help us understand the population dynamics of other key species on the reserve. From the trapping we know that there are certainly plenty of Bank Voles and Wood Mice present in the edge habitat around the NNR Base, gardens and boundary which meets the surrounding farmland – however the Wood Mice have largely dominated the catches.

 Bank Vole - 17/03/15

Voles can be easily separated from Wood Mice by their rounder heads, small beady eyes and small ears and shorter tails. The Bank Vole is longer tailed and more ginger/chestnut brown in colouration than their Field Vole cousins (of which we are yet to catch as they prefer the more open tussocky grassland of the reserve itself). Bank Voles are a common and widespread small mammal of the British countryside, and unlike the Field Vole which is largely found in grassland habitats, the Bank Vole tends to be found on the edges of such habitat, frequenting field margins and more particularly hedgerows, woodland and gardens. They eat a variety of food items from seeds, insects and berries, with typical hedgerow species such as hazelnuts and blackberries being a favourite. They will also readily take seed put out at bird feeders – so they are probably benefiting from the bird food provided at the NNR Base feeding station. 

 Bank Vole - 17/03/15

Wood Mice have also been present in the Longworth traps and have made up the majority of the catches. Wood Mice have sandy brown fur, large protruding eyes, large ears and a fairly long tail. The large eyes and ears point to the fact that they are largely nocturnal, and spend a lot of time underground in burrows. The burrows are fairly complicated and may include nest chambers and food stores. Food tends to be made up of woodland seeds and nuts, with a greater percentage of insect prey in the summer months.

Wood Mouse - 17/03/15

Wood Mice are found in a range of habitats, although they tend to favour woodland and are least found in open grassland – they are a key prey item for Tawny Owls (which hunt in woodland, hedgerows and parks/garden environments), and are rarely found in any significant number in the Barn Owls diet. Barn Owls are known to largely prefer Field Voles – we’ve been running the traps this week in areas where we thought we had a good chance of catching them, however none have been caught. With the constant sightings of day hunting owls, the lack of prey caught and five birds recently picked up dead (and found under-weight), perhaps as mentioned previously this points to the suggestion that these birds may be struggling to find food due to the lack of it. 

Wood Mouse - 17/03/15

The sight of day hunting Barn Owls in the valley lately has been a talking point over recent weeks. Volunteers, staff and visitors have had the pleasure of watching two owls hunting at Bank Island recently on a daily basis. It’s great for us to be able to see them – but worrying for the owls that they appear to be struggling to find food. Recent pellet dissection by one of our volunteers from the coast has revealed a lack of Field Vole remains, along with our trapping data this would further point to the conclusion that the population may have suddenly crashed… Hopefully things will soon take a turn for the better for our Barn Owls – this individual – a lovely dark female was captured on camera at Bank Island, seemingly undeterred by our presence, never before have we had such close views of these beautiful creatures. 

Barn Owl - 30/03/15

After watching the owls hunting at Bank Island we also came across this Brown Hare in the long grass. The sightings of Brown Hares on the Ings is something we look forward to each spring, particularly the ‘Mad-March’ hares that are known to start ‘boxing’ during the month. We are yet to witness this wildlife spectacle this year, however we have been fortunate in the past to watch as an unreceptive female tries to fend off an amorous male. It is thought that this mating ritual of sorts is also aimed at testing the strength of the male before the female decides on whether or not to carry on with the courtship. 

Hares are largely nocturnal, feeding at night and spending most of the daytime laid low amongst grass in small depressions, so this time of year is your best chance of seeing one out in the open. The only other sightings are usually if you come across one hiding in the grass whilst out walking – in this case you’ll have to be quick to see it before it bolts off into the distance – being able to run at a speed of 45mph makes them Britain’s fastest land mammal! 

 Brown Hare - 30/03/15

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

25/04/15 - Scoters & Owls

Things have been rather quiet on the ringing front throughout the last few months, however Jean has been fairly busy, with a number of raptors and the start of spring seeing the first ducklings. To add to the variety two Common Scoters have also passed through her care.

At this time of year Common Scoter’s have been known to turn up inland, often occurring from mid-March to mid-April, with a peak of records during the first week of the month. In April 2012 Jean received a phone call after one was reported in a garden in Hull, two years on almost to the date and the same thing happened this year with a bird found in a garden in Easingwold on the 7th. These birds appear to be undertaking a cross country migration, but from and where to is not well understood. The cross country movements can result in birds being found exhausted or picked up, otherwise unharmed, in unusual surroundings such as gardens. Much like the last one there appeared to be nothing wrong with this bird and so Jean returned it promptly to the East Coast so that it could feed up on its natural diet of marine molluscs. It was ringed and released near Scarborough Harbour where it ‘sprinted’ across the water before settling a few metres away. After a quick preen it started diving quite happily - nice for Jean to see this bird back where it should be and in good health after a weekend of bad news stories – more to follow on this below.



Only a week after the first Common Scoter turned up inland, a second individual was found in a garden in Hareham - presumably blown off course again or downed with exhaustion from battling against the strong winds. Compared with the first bird that was a female, this bird was a stunning male with a jet black head and the characteristic yellow pattern on the bill. After a once over and a short ‘rest’ at Jean’s it was returned to the East Coast and released on Scarborough beach by Jean and her Granddaughter. 




Over the Easter weekend along with the Common Scoter, Jean also received a phone call regarding an injured Tawny Owl. A kind family in Thorpe Bassett contacted Jean upon finding it injured and unable to stand in their garden. The bird was a breeding female and had a large pronounced brood patch (this is a large bare patch where the bird sits on its eggs keeping them warm to incubate them). Jean examined the bird and could see its legs were injured but could find no wounds. The bird was fed and housed in a warm box and left in a quiet shed overnight, the next day Jean took the bird for examination to Battle Flatts Vets where it was x-rayed and all was revealed - it had been shot with an air rifle, with the pellet breaking both its legs. 


The fractures were already healing suggesting that its injuries were around 10 to 14 days old, it is thought that this bird had managed to get back to her nest and continue brooding her eggs, her legs had then started to heal in this sitting position. Her mate must have continued to feed her - the bond between a mated pair of Tawnies is very strong and constant. Sadly she would never be able to hunt with this inability to catch food and she was put to sleep that morning. The callous shooter not only illegally cut short her life but also that of her coming brood. An appalling crime. Hopefully whoever did this will soon be caught and prosecuted.
 
 

Tawny Owls are early nesters, with many pairs around the valley (sadly like this one was), now incubating clutches. Many are very site faithful like the stunning individual pictured below that we re-caught at a regular site in 2013, having been ringed in the exact same place some 15 years earlier.


Following on from the Tawny Owl that was shot by an air rifle, another sad story came at the same time when this little Mallard duckling was left with no mother or siblings….all but one were killed on Huntington Road in York when a car failed to see them. The driver carried on but a kind lady who saw it all happen stopped and moved the bodies to one side, whilst doing so she spotted the single duckling scampering away. The duckling is now with Jean and is doing well, and will be released back into the wild when ready and old enough to fend for itself. 


And finally - a story with a happy ending - last week Jean received a phone call regarding a Barn Owl that had been found stuck in the front of a grill on a large heavy goods vehicle, amazingly the bird was pulled out alive with no injuries, just (as you would expect) a bit stunned and ‘ruffled’. The driver had seen the owl coming towards his lorry but he thought he had managed to miss it, so to his amazement when he arrived in Goole (having set off in Melbourne), there it was. 

On arrival at Jean’s the bird (adult female) was found to be fairly light (266g), which is similar to other weights recently (257g, 233g), with the average weight of a female usually being around 350-450g, again adding more information to the question of whether they are struggling to find enough food. After a week to come round and feed up she was released back at her ‘home’ in Melbourne on Monday. She was definitely ready to go and glided across the fields quickly disappearing out of sight. There is a possibility that we may come across her again later in the year whilst carrying out our nest box checks – last year we ringed several broods from the Barn Owl pairs that nest in and around Melbourne.




Friday, 24 April 2015

22/04/15 - Skipwith delights

Skipwith Common has been the place to be recently, with Woodlarks singing, Green Woodpeckers ‘yaffling’, Great Spotted Woodpeckers ‘drumming’ and Tawny Owls ‘too-wit too-woo’ing. Adders, Grass Snakes and Common Lizards have also been seen basking in the sunshine on the warm sunny days. Below are a few photographs and information on some of the wildlife that we've been fortunate to come across. 

Early on a morning one of the team has spent the odd hour on the Common to try and ascertain a count of reptiles - this is done early before they disappear off into the undergrowth once they've warmed up enough. We haven't seen any Adders during the last few weeks but we did come across this male sunning itself on the heath at the end of March, along with two others. At this time of year, similar to Grass Snakes, Adders need to soak up the sun’s rays after a winter spent in hibernation. Following the long winter and months without feeding Adders need to warm up their bodies to build up their energy and strength, and to allow their muscles to work properly. Once ready they will go in search of a mate, however before mating male Adders shed their old skin, then once in pristine condition they will do battle with other males for the female’s attention, wrestling in what is known as the ‘dance of the Adders’.

Adder - 30/03

Adders are Britain’s only poisonous snake, and have a sinister reputation due to their ability to subdue their prey using venom, however they are not a threat to people unless disturbed – upon seeing one make sure you observe from a distance - never approach or pick one up! Adders can often be quite difficult to spot amongst the bracken, but if you are fortunate enough to see one please note down any records, along with other wildlife seen on the Common in the boxes provided. 

Grass Snake - 02/04

Common Lizards have been seen more frequently, often on a daily basis. Despite the rather cold day’s last week, full of rain, sleet and strong winds, on the warm days either side we still came across several lizards basking on the boardwalk adjacent to the Bomb Bay loop. We were fortunate to have prolonged views of one individual as it flattened its body against the wood to maximise the amount of heat it could soak up from the sun’s rays. At this time of year lizards are emerging after a winter spent in hibernation, the walls around the Bomb Bay loop and the boardwalk are the best place to look for them on a warm sunny day. Along with several adults, we also came across one of last year’s young (pictured here), we knew this by size, with it only being c7cm, compared with adults which reach c15cm (nose to tail).

Common Lizard - Juvenile - 30/03

Common Lizard - Adult - 02/04

Along with looking for reptiles on the heath we've also been keeping a close eye on the ground too - whilst scouring the heath we spotted this Minotaur Beetle – an impressive ‘beast’ despite its size! Minotaur Beetles are a type of large dung beetle, favouring sandy grassland and heaths. They feed on rabbit droppings and sheep, deer, cattle and horse dung – plenty of which can be found on the Common! Their nests are made up of a series of tunnels, after laying their eggs in the chambers they will then drag dung back to their nest using their strong legs. This individual we spotted will have over-wintered in one of the many burrows, more than likely with its mate, where it will have remained throughout the winter, surfacing on only the really mild days.

 Minotaur Beetle - 17/03

There's plenty of Gorse on the Common which is really bringing colour to the site at the moment, and whilst watching the first few bees of the year looking for nectar on the flowers at the end of March we also came across a number of Gorse Shield Bugs. At this time of year adults emerge during the warm days in spring and can often be found sunning themselves in clusters on Gorse flowers. We came across several ‘groups’, packed tightly amongst the Gorse spikes and piled high on top of each other. Gorse Shield Bugs have two colour forms, at the end of the last year we found and photographed the new generation which started appearing after the summer during August, they were fairly distinctive with their purple/red markings. The individuals which are emerging now are predominately green, at first glance they could be confused with the Green Shield Bug – but the habitat (usually Gorse and Broom), and the red antennae gives them away. 

Gorse Shield Bug - 25/03
 
Lately we've posted about Roe Deer that are seen regularly on a daily basis around the valley, however recently we were fortunate to see this group of Fallow Deer – with at least 26 individuals present. This is the first time we’ve come across so many for quite some time. Fallow Deer are known to be present in the area, largely between Crockey Hill and Wheldrake, along with a number of individuals occasionally seen on the Common. Fallow Deer tend to remain far more elusive than Roe Deer, and can be told apart quite easily due to their tan/fawn colour and white spotting. They also have a white rump patch characterised with the black horse-shoe and fairly long tail. During the winter they lose their summer ‘coat’ and become a lot darker, with the white spots fading. The young when born (June/July) will resemble their parents, being a rich chestnut colour and heavily spotted.

 
 Fallow Deer - 30/03