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.

Monday, 21 September 2015

18/09/15 - Down but not out

As the first of the autumns Teal start to return to the valley, and the first evening flights of Mallard and Greylag Geese start to occur, it seems a suitable time to recap on this summer’s duck breeding season. Unfortunately, it’s not been a particularly good summer for ducks, perhaps due to the water coming off the Ings rather quickly during the spring, and the relatively dry conditions that persisted for much of the summer thereafter. The number of duck broods seen was well down on last year, which has been reflected in the numbers caught and ringed – with no Shoveler or Gadwall broods caught this year. The Lower Derwent Valley is one of the few places where British bred ducklings are caught and ringed, so this year’s rather disappointing result will affect the national data totals. That said, with natural variations in weather and seasons, something always tends to fair well on the Ings, and this year it has been the drier hay meadow communities that have flourished, and breeding snipe have done well. Hopefully we’ll go on now to have a good winters duck ringing and will look forward to the appearance of more ducklings in 2016. 

Mallard duckling - Bank Island
 Shoveler ducklings - Wheldrake Ings
 Tufted Duck duckling - North Duffield

We have also just received news from our friends at the WWT (Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust), concerning one of the Gadwall ducklings we ringed on the reserve in 2014. In contrast to this year, 2014 was a bumper season with an impressive 92 pairs of Gadwall present throughout the reserve – over 200 ducklings were reared and an impressive 41 were caught. This represents the best year’s ringing totals we’ve managed and with 2014’s national ringing totals having just been published, the Lower Derwent Valley accounted for 65% of all the Gadwall ringed in the country during the year. This duckling, FH65612 was ringed at Wheldrake Ings on the 1st July 2014, and was reported just two weeks ago on the 1st September 2015 at Ballyronan, Lough Neagh, Ireland. This is our fourth Gadwall duckling moving west into Ireland and our third to Lough Neagh. Thanks to our staff and volunteers for all the extra time and hours they put in to catch ducklings during the summer months – often involving getting wet, muddy and plagued by horseflies!

 Gadwall - North Duffield Carrs

Friday, 18 September 2015

14/09/15 - Scabious wonderland

Once again this summer the team have been busy cutting the meadow at Thornton Ellers, in order to maintain the areas rich and varied flora. Thornton Ellers is an interesting site where post glacial sand dunes meet the peat of the floodplain of Melbourne/Thornton Ings. The site contains a host of species including Common Spotted Orchids, Harebells, Devils-bit Scabious, Common Valerian and Star and Pill Sedge.

Thornton Ellers - Devil's-bit Scabious 'patch'

The meadow is cut using an allen scythe, and raked by hand as to try and not damage the peat by using larger equipment. Similar to last year, we have been using this green hay as a source of seeds, moving the newly cut hay over to Leven Carrs, where hopefully the seeds will help in developing a diverse grassland/fen community on this site. This is in conjunction with a grassland/fen restoration project, which is being undertaken as part of a large habitat creation/arable reversion plan, helping to connect several areas of semi-natural habitats in the Hull Valley. Using wildflowers from our NNR’s, along with our staff and volunteer expertise to make it happen, is a great way we can help other areas benefit wildlife as much as our own.

 Cutting, & later spreading the 'green hay'

Whilst cutting the hay we came across a number of frogs and toads (largely young ones), that have now moved away from the water bodies and ventured into the wet grassland. Toads seem to have been present in good numbers this year at various sites across the valley. Following the spring once toads have emerged from hibernation, they return to the same ponds each year to breed, afterwards they then move away from the water bodies and spend time in wet grassland, woodland and other damp areas, by October they will then start to look for a cosy spot to hibernate in for another winter. 

Common Toad

Following the initial cutting of the meadow throughout July we re-visited the site more recently, to find the Devil’s-bit Scabious now in full bloom. Scabious flowers later than most of the other species, hence why we leave this patch until after it has flowered, allowing us to capture the seeds which can then be transferred to Leven Carrs. With the rest of the meadow now being cut apart from this one area, all the nectar loving species were making the most of the scabious, with a vast number of hoverflies and bees feeding on the flower heads. 12 different species of butterflies were also seen, including counts of 26 Peacock, 17 Small Tortoiseshell, 4 Small Copper, 8 Painted Lady, 11 Red Admiral and 2 Commas, along with a single Common Blue, Wall Brown and Small Skipper, whilst Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and Speckled Woods could be seen flitting between the brambles nearby.

Red Admiral

Whilst counting the butterflies amongst the bramble and gorse we also encountered a number of Shield Bug nymphs, with both Common Green and Gorse found – the latter in double figures, along with several adults. 

Common Green Shield Bug Nymph

Back in the meadow this caterpillar – a Broom moth, was found feeding on an unopened scabious head. Broom moth caterpillars are one of the more brightly coloured ones, with the striking yellow lines on this individual catching our eye.

Broom Moth Caterpillar

The hedgerows near the meadow are also usually a good spot to look for hawking dragonflies, on several occasions we've been fortunate to see both Migrant and Southern Hawkers. Common Darters and Ruddy Darters are also present but are more likely to feature in and around the meadow and along the woodland edge.

Migrant Hawker

With a vast array of wildlife just in this small space, it really shows the value of wildflowers such as scabious, which provide nectar for so many of our butterflies, bees and hoverflies. Since first managing the meadow here from the early 1990’s we have seen the patch of scabious increase from just a handful of plants, to an area now covering half a hectare, and with our management of the site the area now has a lot less Juncus (Soft Rush) and Gylceria (Reed sweet-grass), which are not as beneficial to wildlife as they can often form dense monocultures and swamp out other more delicate species. The Juncus may be of no use to our nectar loving creatures however it is used by spiders, and with the seasons changing and the autumn upon us, we are starting to see an emergence of our eight-legged friends – feared by some but enjoyed by others! 

Four-spotted Orb Weaver

Monday, 7 September 2015

05/09/15 - Passerine the time

Over recent weeks NNR volunteer Mike has been carrying out his annual monitoring of breeding and passage warblers at Wheldrake Ings. This ‘constant effort type’ ringing project has been running for five years now and is providing some valuable data on species trends and annual productivity, as well as the importance and management of Wheldrake Ings for warblers.

Results from this year so far suggest it’s been a particularly good season for Blackcaps with over 230 ringed – in contrast to a previous best yearly total of 130.  On the other hand it hasn’t been such a good year for Sedge and Reed Warblers with lower numbers caught and ringed, with a greater percentage of adults being caught - suggesting that lower breeding productivity of these two species is the main driver for that change. It’s also been a later season than normal with many young locally bred birds still being recorded and with Willow Warbler numbers peaking late August (as opposed to the first two weeks in August) – with 304 new birds already caught and ringed.

Sedge Warbler

Mike’s ringing has proved to be a valuable method of assessing some of the population trends and factors affecting the warbler populations on the Ings, as well as our resident passerine birds (Wrens have had a bumper year with good productivity late in the summer) – all of this compliments our Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data from earlier in the year. With 1200 warblers newly ringed this year so far it’s also likely to yield some interesting movements over the next few years as well. The early morning sessions have also produced one or two nice surprises with two Redstarts being trapped, two Kingfishers and the first ever record of Aquatic Warbler for the area – well done and thanks to Mike for his ongoing efforts.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

20/07/15 - 'Corn blimey'

Lately we've posted a few snippets on here about the LDV’s wildflower meadows, the work we do in them and how important they are. Well last week they produced a real treat, whilst out pulling ragwort our team heard the rather repetitive and rasping call of a male Corncrake coming from a nearby grassy tussock. The LDV NNR is probably one of the most reliable places in England to connect with calling Corncrakes (outside of the English re-introduction project on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire), with calling birds generally occurring most years and a bumper 10 singing males in 2009.

We don’t know whether this bird has just turned up and is trying to attract a mate, or whether this is an attempt at a second brood. We’ve worked with the RSPB on Corncrakes in the valley over recent years, with the best techniques on how to catch them, so several of the team were able to lead on this and caught this individual at ease. It was un-ringed so we know it’s not a released bird from the Nene project although it could be one of last year’s ‘wild bred’ young. It did however show a partial brood patch so it may well be breeding and a female bird has since been seen, hopefully they will go on to breed if they haven’t already done so. Upon release the male started calling straight away, again from his ‘patch’ and has continued to do so since. With only a handful of English breeding pairs of this globally threatened species we have arranged for this particular meadow to be left for a later hay cut, in order to allow it the best chance to rear a brood. 

 Male Corncrake - LDV - July 2015

Thursday, 16 July 2015

16/07/15 - Summer work on the NNR

The summer months on the Ings are our busiest time, with most days spent hand pulling Marsh Ragwort from the valleys meadows. Whilst busy with the ragwort we've also been: strimming all the paths to allow visitors access to the hides, cutting the meadow at Thornton Ellers, surveying and assessing the condition of the Ings, running events, repairing paths, extending boardwalks, helping Escrick Park Estate with the sheep round-ups, controlling birch scrub and so on - so it's been all hands to the pumps in the LDV. Below are a few snippets on how the last six weeks have been.

  East Cottingwith - June 2015

As mentioned earlier at this time of year the LDV team are busy hand pulling Marsh Ragwort from the meadows. Ragwort is a natural component of the meadows, but is toxic to livestock when dried in the hay. Although it is not as toxic as Common Ragwort, which is more commonly seen throughout the countryside including road verges and waste ground, and which flowers later. Unfortunately there aren’t many ways in which we can tackle this problem – hand pulling being our only option to remove it completely from the meadows, thus making the land viable for the local farmers to make a hay cut, whilst ensuring the traditional management of the Ings continues as it has done so for over a thousand years.

Hand pulling Marsh Ragwort

Whilst pulling ragwort can be hard and rather repetitive work, particularly in extreme weather – heavy downpours and a heat wave lately, it is also unfortunately a nightmare for hay fever suffers – which the team is largely made up of! However the meadows are a lovely place to be, amongst the wildflowers, breeding birds and insects – apart from the Horse Flies of course which can leave a rather nasty bite – so many thanks to our team for getting stuck in and doing such a great job! 

Black-horned Cleg 

Following on from our surveys at Forge Valley Woods in June, we’ve been out in the meadows during the last few weeks carrying out similar surveys to assess their condition. It’s certainly been a good year for the meadows following a couple of more ‘traditional’ summers, along with all the hard work managing the site over the last few years, and the relatively dry winter and spring we’ve just had.

The meadows are full of herbs such as – Meadow Buttercup, Pepper Saxifrage and Yellow Rattle, along with these common species there’s also been plenty of Marsh Orchids at East Cottingwith. Some of the rarer species have also fared well with good numbers of Narrow-leaved Water-Dropwort, whilst other local species in the meadows include Common Bistort, Quaking Grass and Marsh Valerian. Whilst the flower rich communities have expanded, the species poor areas - sedges and rushes - have retreated, and the meadows have been judged to be in favourable condition – another great result.

Orchid Field - East Cottingwith

Whilst out in the meadows we’ve also been recording breeding birds, butterflies, dragonflies and other invertebrates, Banded Demoiselle’s have been showing particularly well lately whilst counts of Meadow Browns have been in the hundreds!

Meadow Brown pair 

At the end of June some of the team were out on Skipwith Common surveying plants, and learning tips on how to identify some of the tricky grasses with help from expert botanist Judith. Once again we were blessed with good weather, with temperatures soaring high at 28 degrees. On arrival the Common hummed with activity, with young Great Spotted Woodpeckers heard calling and juvenile Woodlarks feeding on the heath, whilst a flock of Siskins called from the tree tops.

We set about our task for the day and spent the morning searching the heath for different species of grasses, sedges and rushes, with a few mosses and lichens thrown in along the way. We managed to find – and remember – a number of species from last year which was pleasing, whilst also finding new species for the site, such as Slender Rush and Bristle Club Rush. New mosses were also found, however with the Common being particularly dry at the moment, many of the species are suffering. 
Moss hunting with Judith 

Whilst looking for plants we were also keeping an eye out for invertebrates, with many Large Skippers and Meadow Browns seen, along with the first Ringlet and Red Admiral of the year. Several Longhorn Beetles were also found on the newly opened bramble flowers. No Adders were seen - they’d probably already moved off due to the temperatures being so high, however we did literally stumble upon this one the previous day, coiled up out in the open – something we don’t often see. Many thanks to Judith for her novel teaching techniques and useful ways of helping us to identify some of the many grasses that the Common has to offer! 

Four-banded Longhorn Beetle - Skipwith - 30/06
Adder - Skipwith - 29/06

Recently we ran a successful Barn Owl event at the NNR Base, in conjunction with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. Despite the heavy rain early on, plenty of visitors and locals arrived at the base and took part in various activities - quizzes, arts and crafts, pellet dissection, bird ringing, moth trapping and pond dipping. Jean also brought in a Barn Owl for the children to get a close view of, along with an orphaned Little Owl chick which was on its way back in to the wild. Once the rain cleared more people came out to play, along with one of the local Barn Owls which hunted over Bank Island throughout the afternoon. 

So despite the wet start a successful day, and great for us to see the next generation getting enthused about ‘our’ owls, and the other amazing wildlife around the Lower Derwent Valley – thanks also to Jean, our partners at the YWT and our own staff and volunteers who helped out and made the day a success.

Pictured below is the Little Owl Jean brought in, sadly it was found sitting next to its dead mother at the side of a road in Malton, presumably the unfortunate victim of a collision as she perhaps hunted for road causalities herself – the edges of roads often provide a good supply of dead insects such as bees, beetles or other larger insects as they deflect off car windscreens.

Fortunately for this little chap he was picked up by a kind passer-by and spent a couple days at Jean’s recovering and feeding up. On the day of release back into the wild, Jean brought him to the base with her in the morning to show some of the children for our ‘owl weekend’ and then took him to a site in Thixendale to be re-homed – where he was safely put into another nest of a Little Owl family (where the chicks were at the same stage). The nest is monitored by cameras, and so we already know that the adults have taken to their newest addition and have started to feed it along with their brood. This is a great result and another job well done, thanks for sharing it with us Jean and also for allowing some of the children to experience one close up before you returned it to the wild.

Little Owl  

Last month several of the team were busy working with the local primary school at North Duffield, showing them the delights of freshwater life! 31 pupils braved the blustery weather for a morning of pond dipping in the scrape by the Geoff Smith Hide. On their arrival they were greeted with hundreds and hundreds of tadpoles, as if that wasn’t enough excitement, our intrepid explorers went on to find a rather impressive Water Scorpion - an interesting creature which uses its spindly ‘tail’ as a snorkel. More discoveries soon followed, with ramshorn snails, spiders, pond skaters, diving beetles and mayfly nymphs all found. Many thanks to Phil & James for showing the children the different creatures, and thanks to all the pupils for really getting stuck in and enjoying getting closer to nature!

Pond dipping at North Duffield Carrs

Lately we’ve also been continuing our work alongside Ad Astra at the NNR base, helping to engage and train a new generation of naturalists. The young 'lads' have been working with Phil (our NNR apprentice), and have got stuck into checking the moth trap, bird monitoring and recording the invertebrate life in our garden pond along with a bit of pond dipping. This is part of a larger project to record the diversity of our wildlife garden and to help build and install a ‘bug hotel’. The group are also working with Phil to help interpret our work in the garden for the enjoyment and education of other visitors to the base.

The bug 'hotel' contains plenty of dead wood of various sizes, for use by some of the invertebrates that use the garden, such as the Long-horned Beetles we’ve mentioned lately. Sections have also been packed with hollow stems and wood with drilled holes to provide suitable locations for Mining Bees and other hole-loving insects.

One of the highlights for the guys was finding Smooth Newts and a number of adult Great Diving Beetles, pictured below. Many thanks to everyone for their enthusiasm and for doing such a good job!
Great Diving Beetle