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, 5 March 2018

28/02/18 - Caught in the act

Found throughout the British Isles, the Wood Mouse is our most common and widespread wild rodent, and is usually found on the edges of the reserve. However, it appears that a family at the NNR base have found a way to help them get through the recent cold spells – by making a home in our seed and peanut bin used for topping up the bird feeding station. These four (with a fifth hiding), looked a bit guilty and then perhaps somewhat disappointed, when we released them back on to the reserve – always pleasing to see these little furry friends, and a nice treat for our team of volunteers on what had been a very cold and wet day! Many thanks as always to our team for being such a big help, and for bringing plenty of enthusiasm with them whatever the weather! 

Thursday, 1 March 2018

25/02/18 - Apprentices & awards

Recently our team of staff and volunteers returned for our annual work parties at Grimthorpe Dale – a site on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds. Much of the valley systems in this area are occupied by un-improved chalk grassland, exhibiting a range of community types on the varying slopes and aspects. Common grassland herbs are widespread, with local abundance of characteristic chalk species such as Dropwort, Lady’s Bedstraw, Bloody Crane’s-bill, Rock-Rose, Burnet Saxifrage, Small Scabious, Devil’s-bit Scabious and Thyme. Whereas the springs in the valley bottom give rise to calcareous marsh communities, containing species such as: Narrow-leaved Water Parsnip, Marsh Marigold, Water Cress and Brooklime. Sites like this also provide great places for many butterfly species including the Marbled White for which the Yorkshire Wolds is an important stronghold. On the day our team were busy helping to remove Hawthorn, Gorse and Bramble scrub to allow these delicate wildflower communities to flourish, and to help access for grazing livestock to keep the more dominant vegetation in check. Yet another great effort by our team, helping to make a real improvement to yet another site over the years – many thanks to all involved. 

During the week the team also had the pleasure of being joined once again by Cameron who undertook a short-term apprentice role with us last year. We were delighted when Cameron then secured a job working for an Environmental Consultancy in the Midlands last autumn, but even more pleased that he wanted to use up his end of year leave by coming back to see us and spending a few days volunteering. It was great to have the whole team re-united during the week, helping to undertake the management works at Grimthorpe Dale among a range of tasks in the valley. We’ve had some great placements and apprentices over the years, and it’s always great to hear that many have gone on to work in the environmental sector – gaining jobs with the City of York Council, RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and Natural England – hopefully taking a bit of the LDV and what they learnt here with them. We are pleased to be recruiting again for our next apprentice and look forward to welcoming another LDV team member soon.

Recently we were also delighted to hear that one of the LDV team members, @LucyMurg, who’s photographs will be familiar to our regular followers on Twitter and Facebook, was awarded a ‘highly commended’ in the ‘attention to detail’ category of the Bird Photographer of the Year Awards. This is a great achievement, with being up against thousands of other entries, and follows on from Lucy being shortlisted at the BWPA (British Wildlife Photography Awards) last year. A keen eye for something different produced these wonderful close ups of the Kingfishers plumage, which really showcases the wonder of the natural world, and not something that many people get to see in such detail. Not only is this an achievement at a personal level, but also great to get the LDV ‘on the map’. Monitoring our special wildlife and photographing them as we go about our day to day work is a big part of what we do here, and allows us bring the valley to life on the pages of our Facebook, blog and Twitter accounts. With river levels being high at the moment our local Kingfishers (perhaps including this one) will have been forced to the margins of the site to find calmer, shallower water in which to fish – regular sightings are still being logged along the Pocklington Canal, especially between Church Bridge and Melbourne Arm.  As always when visiting the valley please leave any sightings and counts in the log books provided, thank you. 

Sunday, 25 February 2018

18/02/18 - Wonderful Wigeon

When visiting the valley at the moment, one of the species which is likely to outnumber most other species present, is the whistling Wigeon, pictured below. Wigeon are one of our commonest ducks throughout the winter period in the valley, and can reach in the region of 14-15,000 birds, with numbers usually starting to peak between now and mid-March. It’s thought that this build up in numbers is the result of birds wintering further south and west in the UK, starting to head northwards and staging through the valley, refueling as they do.  Ringing recoveries for Wigeon (and a host of other waterfowl species), show birds ringed in the Trent Valley in Nottinghamshire in February, arrive in the valley in March supporting this theory. Although our peak count may be around 14-15,000 (with the usual wintering population level being around 12,000), it is likely the true number of birds using the valley over the course of a winter may be considerably higher, perhaps tens of thousands. A pair, ringed at North Duffield Carrs on the 19th December last year were both shot, together, on the south coast in Kent several days later, again suggesting a degree of turn-over in the ‘local’ flocks.

The next most numerous species currently present, is the delightful Teal, a close second behind Wigeon, and numbering 11,000+ over recent weeks. Teal numbers build from 500 in late September to 10,000+ peak count by January/February, then gradually falling to 300 by late April, and 60-100 pairs then remain to summer around the valley. The large flocks also tend to (annually) attract a Green-winged Teal, coming from the other side of the Atlantic, however they do take a bit of searching for among the masses!

Whilst admiring the large flocks of Wigeon and Teal, it's also worth looking out for our Shelduck, with birds present in the region of 114. When observing the flocks, please also keep an eye out for any colour-ringed birds. There may be 'old' birds present wearing our black and white darvics, however there may also be newly ringed birds among the flock, wearing new red and yellow darvics (with white letters), as part of a new joint project with the WWT. When visiting the reserve please leave any records and counts in the hide log books provided, or submit them directly to us via our Twitter and Facebook page, thank you. 

Thursday, 22 February 2018

12/02/18 - Plenty to see!

Currently among the huge numbers of wintering geese in the Lower Derwent Valley, there is a flock of eight Barnacle Geese, which can be seen (most of the time) in the Bank Island area with occasional visits to Wheldrake Ings. This rather attractive and dainty little species is more usually found in large numbers around the Solway in Dumfries and Galloway, where 33,000 spend the winter escaping the harsh conditions back on their breeding grounds in Svalbard. 58,000 birds from the Greenland wintering population winter largely in Ireland and the Western Isles of Scotland, whilst around 900 pairs (3000 individuals) have formed a feral population from collection escapes and introductions in the UK. Whilst we don’t know the origin of the birds with us at the moment, birds shot in the valley during the winter of 1990/91 had been ringed in Svalbard earlier in the breeding season, indicating not all of the records in the valley relate to wandering individuals of the free flying flock of 30 or so birds at the University. Regardless of where they’re from, with their black head and neck, creamy white face and blue-grey barring on their back, they are nice for us to enjoy!

It's not just the Barnacle Geese that our visitors have been enjoying lately, the pool at Wheldrake Ings and flooded fields at North Duffield Carrs have really been a sight to enjoy, with thousands of wintering ducks, geese and swans creating a real spectacle. Marsh Harriers regularly hunt over the floodwater, thus causing mayhem among the wildfowl beneath them, with large flocks of ducks twisting and turning over the water, pictured below.

The pool at Wheldrake Ings has also been worth a visit lately, with up to 19 Goldeneye present. The drakes are looking particularly handsome at the moment, and have been seen displaying to the females. When visiting the hides, please be aware that the path has been left incredibly wet and muddy following the river bursting its banks and flooding the path and over into the Ings. All hides are now accessible once again, but please take care on the slippery surfaces and wellies are essential.

Whilst the weather has been decidedly cold lately, there have been a few signs of spring, with the first Lapwing displaying and Curlew singing. Lapwing are a familiar species to many of us, a bird of farmland, wet grassland and estuaries. The name Lapwing comes from their waving and tumbling flight, although they are also affectionately known by the country name of ‘Pewit’, originating from the sounds of their display calls. Lapwings have suffered a dramatic decline with an 80% drop in the population since the 1960’s, which halved between 1987 and 1998. In the Lower Derwent Valley we are fortunate enough to have both good wintering and breeding numbers, helped by our management works – recently several of our team counted an impressive 10,000+ at Wheldrake Ings, where the flocks had concentrated due to the extensive flooding elsewhere in the valley. This year we’ll be hoping for another successful breeding season to help boost the local population, hopefully with a good number of chicks enjoying the new wader scrapes and grips, and the open more landscape as a result of our willow control programme.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

01/02/18 - January WeBS

Last month our team braved the freezing cold conditions to spend the day counting waterfowl around the valley as part of our January WeBS count, along with making additional age and sex counts for some species as the part of the #ducksexratio. Notable counts were 102 Whooper Swans (30 juveniles), 1086 Greylags, 467 Canadas and 114 Shelduck. The largest number of species present were 12,050 Wigeon with a continuing increase in our Teal numbers, which hit an exceptional 11,220. Other notable totals included 410 Pintail, 190 Shoveler, 160 Gadwall, 136 Tufted Duck and 91 Pochard. Wader numbers on the other hand were fairly low, no doubt suppressed by the extensive flooding limiting feeding opportunities - c200 Dunlin, 71 Ruff, 51 Redshank and 31 Curlew were noted amongst the 3500 Lapwing present. Over the coming weeks we should see a rapid arrival and increase in the numbers of Coot (just 22 on the count) and also the arrival of our first returning Oystercatchers.