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.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

15/12/14 - The king of all birds

By a mile, thee most stunning bird - the very beautiful Kingfisher. It’s a real privilege to catch one of these birds and to be able to see all the colours up close – a typical view of a Kingfisher is normally a flash of electric blue as it whizzes past like a torpedo, often gone before you’ve even lifted your binoculars up! With the bright turquoise, iridescent blue and orange colouring Kingfishers are unmistakeable for any other bird, and a much sought after species to see for any nature lover.

Over the course of the last year staff and volunteers have been working hard managing the woodland at Thornton Ellers, and where was once a completely overgrown pool and thus allowing no light to the water’s surface, now sits a much more open site which is proving to be attractive to a whole range of wildlife. The overall biodiversity has been increased with birds, plants, fish and invertebrates now thriving at a site which was once dominated by alder and willow scrub. Since the work has been carried out each time we’ve visited we’ve heard a Kingfisher calling, and after all the hard work managing the site it’s a great feeling to know that wildlife like this species are benefiting.

To our surprise and delight soon after catching the first bird, a second individual was heard calling, and shortly afterwards it soon found its way into the net. It was great for us to see them both in the hand together, to really see the differences between the male and female, and also nice for us to know that we have a (presumed) pair frequenting the site.

Male - back left, female - front right

By looking at the bill on the bird pictured below we know that it is a male due to the all dark colouring, for a female the lower part of the bill (mandible) would have a reddish base, other than that the sexes are generally similar. The youngsters can be separated from the adults by the colour of their feet (very dark) compared with the vibrant orange/red of the adults, a white tip to the beak is another feature of the young. Juveniles also lack the vibrant colours of their parents, appearing much duller in their first year.

Kingfisher - male

As mentioned above, the female has a reddish base to the lower part of the bill (mandible), and is a slightly duller bird, particularly the one pictured here, with the turquoise blue not being quite as bright.

Kingfisher - female

Kingfishers live and breed on clear streams and rivers, often nesting in a riverbank or under tree roots. Unfortunately they can be affected severely by prolonged spring/summer flooding which can wash their burrows out, then in the winter if the weather is particularly cold causing long spells of frozen water they will struggle to feed – resulting in them being pushed to the coast. Fortunately Kingfishers can have two to three broods, and lay between 5-7 eggs, meaning that the population can recover fairly quickly. They've had a hard time of it recently in the LDV as over the last 10-15 years the valley has had its fair share of summer flooding events – readers of the blog will have seen the effects of the 2012 flooding when the valley flooded (or re-flooded) in every month from April onwards. With the two recent very cold winters numbers will have further been reduced, so it's great to see them beginning to make a comeback this year with more records in 2014 than we can remember for quite some time. 

Kingfishers are not a bird we catch a lot of for ringing as usually they are a species which require targeting, often by placing a net over a stream, ditch or pond that is regularly used. They tend not to fly through areas that we would usually set our nets for other birds, such as willow scrub for warblers, although Mike has ringed a few in recent years from around the pool at Wheldrake. A total of 78 have been ringed in the valley following these two, and several have been re-trapped in the same area in following years. There is just one movement away from the valley – a single ringed as a young bird near the Pocklington Canal near Allerthorpe in August 2005 was found dead at Fulford in the spring of 2007 – 18km away, presumably a bird which had dispersed locally to find its own breeding territory. 

The best place to look for Kingfishers in the valley is along the Pocklington Canal, particularly around Melbourne, and also along the River Derwent north to Malton. Wheldrake Ings and North Duffield Carrs have also produced records this year. Two of our other NNR's - Forge Valley Woods and Duncombe Park are both prime locations for this species. However, good and prolonged views of a Kingfisher are often hard to come across, so plenty of patience is needed! If you’re lucky you may come across one perched in riverside branches as it watches its prey before making its move, piercing the surface of the water with its dagger like bill.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

05/12/14 - A welcome visitor

Using National Nature Reserves as places of research and monitoring has always been an important part of their role – and it’s always good to use the reserves as demonstration sites and to be able to share experiences from the wealth of knowledge from around the national NNR series. 

Last week Tom Bolderstone, reserve manager from Dersingham Bog NNR in North Norfolk came up to spend a couple of days with the LDV NNR staff and volunteer ringers in a study tour to share and exchange ideas. On arrival Tom met up with reserve staff and had a look round the NNR finding out about our science and research programme, how it's managed and how volunteers play a vital role in delivering that work, especially in the face of reducing budgets and resources. The following day saw Tom join Mike and some of our volunteers to find out how it all works from their perspective, and he even managed a little bit of ringing, catching a Little Grebe on the River Derwent using a floating net – a new species and technique for Tom. 



The Pocklington Canal is a favoured location for Little Grebes, with three being present over the last few weeks. Over recent years several birds have been caught here, and a total of 43 have been ringed in the valley since ringing began in 1989. However we are yet to receive any information or re-sightings (several caught here have been colour-ringed). Not many Little Grebes are ringed in the UK each year, with just 1674 caught since ringing began over 100 years ago, so any information of their movements would help move forward our understanding of the species.


The evening saw the ‘team’ then undertake a successful Reed Bunting roost catch in a local reedbed, accounting for 50 newly ringed Reed Buntings - a pleasing catch and a good number to add to the sample that Mike ringed towards the end of the summer.

Tom's trip then finished off with a couple of Mute Swans hooked off the Pocklington Canal near Melbourne – another new method and ring size to try out.

It was a pleasure having Tom up here for a couple days and good to find out about some of the amazing work being carried out tagging Nightjars at Dersingham. We wish Tom and his colleagues well with their ringing activities and look forward to hearing about all the soon to be caught Little Grebes in Norfolk.

Friday, 28 November 2014

25/11/14 - Redpoll recoveries

Whilst working at Thornton Ellers recently cutting back the bracken, strimming paths and raking the last of the hay from the meadow, we put a single mist up amongst the bracken and brambles with the hope of catching a few Lesser Redpoll.

Redpolls are charming little birds, it’s always a delight to see and hear them with their lively ‘twittering’ calls. With the little patch of red on their forehead, and their rosy pink breast (males in particular) they are stunning and really stand out on a bleak winter day. Winter is the best time of year to see them after the trees have lost their leaves, look out for them hanging upside down on slender twigs in birch and alder trees – nimbly feeding on the seeds. Redpolls are lively and sociable and travel in flocks often with Siskin and Goldfinch in early spring, sometimes flocks will explode ‘en-masse’ for no obvious reason and fly high calling loudly – their call has been known by some to resemble loose chain jingling in a pocket.

During the 1970’s there was a population boom across the country, perhaps relating to the establishment of pioneer and young woodland, and conifer plantations following post war afforestation - mirroring their preference for small seeds, especially birch. However since then their breeding range has decreased dramatically, possibly linked to the maturing of these woodlands beyond the scrubby birch thicket stage, thus resulting in them now being more known as a welcome winter visitor to gardens and woodlands. Unfortunately due to the population decreasing significantly over recent decades, they are now a species of conservation concern and can be found on the IUCN Red List.

Our British redpolls are largely residents but large numbers migrate and birds from further north move southwards for the winter and have been known to reach the Netherlands, France & Italy. Dave has been catching redpolls over the last month on Skipwith Common (another good site to find birds in the autumn/winter), and over the last few years he has caught several birds that had been ringed in the Netherlands, Belgium and elsewhere in the UK (Suffolk, Gibraltar Point & Nottinghamshire). A few local examples are listed below:

AT37328 - Ringed as a first-year male on the 27/03/12 in Spinnekoppenvlak, Kennemerduinen, The Netherlands, re-caught on the 26/10/12 on Skipwith Common NNR (406Km).

12481523 - Ringed as an adult male on the 05/04/12 in Thirimont, Beaumont, Belgium, re-caught on the 04/11/12 at Allerthorpe, Pocklington (533Km).

We've also had one of our birds that was ringed at Thornton Ellers re-caught on another NNR - Humberhead Peatlands near Doncaster. Details below:

Y311936 - Ringed on the 30/10/11 on Skipwith Common NNR, re-caught on the 02/11/12 on Hatfield Moors, Doncaster (40Km).