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, 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

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

12/07/15 - Snipe delight

Lately the ringing pliers haven't seen much use, usually at this time of year we're busy carrying out nest box checks and ringing young Barn Owls and Kestrel broods. Unfortunately this year is proving to be a rather unsuccessful one, with to date just two broods of Barn Owls and one brood of Kestrels ringed so far. Compared with this time last year, we'd just ringed the 117th Barn Owl chick and 57th young Kestrel - more to come on this below.

Ducks also seem to be having a poor season in the valley, with just three broods of Gadwall and one brood of Shoveler and Tufted Duck seen so far this year. Waders on the other hand seem to have fared better, with a number of young Curlews, Redshank and Lapwing chicks seen in the meadows. Snipe also breed in the meadows but are rarely seen, however last week whilst the team were out hand pulling Marsh Ragwort, this little newly hatched Snipe chick was found. Whilst it isn’t unusual for the teams out in the meadows to come across wader chicks or other breeding birds, nests or young, in recent times Snipe chicks have been quite scarce. Numbers have sadly declined over the last 20 years, much in line with the national population, and probably made worse locally by several summers with unseasonal flooding. However, numbers have increased again this year with up to 40 drumming males or pairs. This little chick was quickly ringed and returned to the meadow – wader chicks are largely independent, leaving the nest and feeding themselves as soon as they hatch. Hopefully this one will go on to fledge successfully and further add to the local breeding population in future years.

Snipe chick - 23/06

No ducklings from the Ings have been ringed so far this year due to it being such a poor year, however a brood were ringed and released on the reserve last month after nesting in one of the local gardens! The owners had watched as the female laid her eggs, incubated them and the ducklings hatch, and had been looking after them for five weeks - doing a great job in providing them with food and access to plenty of water via two of their children’s paddling pools! But due to a change in circumstances and a worry that they might be at risk from predators, they needed to be moved out of the garden, and with no easy access out of the small enclosed courtyard garden they were unable to get out themselves. After a successful round-up of all 10 of them, they were ringed at the office before being released on to Bank Island, where they took to the ditches and joined up with some of the other broods. There is a real mix of ages present at the moment across the site, ranging from the small ‘bumblebees’ as they are affectionately named, to some that are almost already fledged.

Mallard duckling - 18/06

As mentioned above, Barn Owls and Kestrels don't appear to be doing well this year, there are several theories as to why this has happened, our regular followers on here may remember at the beginning of the year (throughout February and into spring), that day time hunting Barn Owls were a daily occurrence on the Ings – something which you wouldn’t expect to see usually. It was believed that the owls were struggling to find enough food through darkness, with them resorting to hunting during the day.

Last year we know the vole cycle crashed during the winter, as they can do periodically, being very cyclical, and although we didn’t have a particularly harsh winter and the birds were able to hunt, it did mean unfortunately that they were struggling to find food, and we sadly picked up half a dozen starving or dead individuals – most birds however did survive the winter but weren’t able to obtain good enough body condition in order to breed. Putting energy into producing eggs, incubating them for four to five weeks, brooding chicks for another three, and feeding them for another six or seven is quite a big energetic expense on the females. Whilst the vole cycle is now likely to be recovering gradually, it is interesting to note that the few pairs we have heard about locally as rearing broods have, all bar one, been supplementary fed – with kind farmers and landowners providing additional small mammals and dead day old chicks.

Barn Owl brood - 2014

Barn Owls often produce second broods so it's not unusual to find chicks in August, but unfortunately it's got to the point now when the birds are running out of time to breed, but this ‘year off’ is likely to have little impact on the local or wider population following last year’s bumper season. 

Kestrels also seem to be struggling to breed, although have fared a little better than the owls as they can more readily switch to taking other prey and especially small birds. Last week a brood of three (first for the year), were ringed near Skipwith, at a reliable site high up in the roof of an old barn (and one that has produced chicks for the last four years at least). This included two females and a male, which can be separated at this relatively young stage by their tail colour – the males having a grey band and the females being all brown. After suspecting that many of our birds have been struggling to find enough food, particularly voles, it was interesting to find a number of small birds on the ground below this nest – including the remains of a Dunnock and Reed Bunting tail feathers.



Kestrel brood - male (l), female (r)