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, 18 May 2016

12/05/16 - Herons

Following on from our first visit to the heronry in mid-April when a number of active nests were found, the team returned last week with the hope of ringing a sample of young. 13 chicks were ringed, taking the overall total ringed in the valley to 193, including 100 chicks fitted with our yellow and black colour-rings. Many thanks to the team for their help in ringing the young, which contributes to the long term monitoring scheme in the valley for the 35th year, and the BTO’s long running heronry census scheme. Ringing in the heronry over the years has shown that soon after fledging the young tend to disperse north into North Yorkshire, Cleveland and Northumberland, although one bird headed south in the summer of 2014, into Derbyshire. In most years the young leave the heronry and go straight on to Wheldrake Ings to feed before dispersing – so please keep your eyes peeled over the next few weeks and leave any records of colour-ringed birds in the hides, thank you. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

09/05/16 - Many hands

Recently our NNR staff hosted a volunteering day for staff from Aviva – which saw them swap their desks and office for the pleasant surroundings of Skipwith Common NNR. Armed with hammers, mels and spades, the team did a great job in helping to make further progress on the new easy access boardwalk leading off the bomb bay loop. A great day was had by all, and nicely finished off by fantastic views of a basking Adder on the nearby heath, along with a Common Lizard which appeared to be checking on the construction of a new sun bathing spot. Many thanks to everyone for their hard work and effort – if you work with any company which offers staff the opportunity for corporate volunteering days then please feel free to get in touch.


Last week we were also joined by our East Coast volunteer team, once again making the long journey from Hunmanby and Hornsea. With their help we made good progress in managing our wildlife and butterfly/bee garden ready for the season – whilst there a Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and a Large Red Damselfly dropped in. An hour in the afternoon was then spent extracting timber from Skipwith Common, having recently been felled on one of our chainsaw training courses. As well as managing the NNR this timber provides valuable wildlife habitat, whilst also providing the NNR with an income which goes straight back into the reserve - helping to develop conservation projects, research and educational work. Whilst on the Common a sighting of one of last year’s young Grass Snakes was a welcome bonus to the team. Many thanks to Sandra, Nick and Jeff for all their hard work and good humour.

Friday, 6 May 2016

02/05/16 - Owls & local breeding birds

Over the last few weeks we have been starting to see and hear about a lot more Barn Owls around the valley and wider area, which is great news following last year’s dismal breeding season. Hopefully after a year off last summer and a relatively mild winter, these sightings are now a reflection of more positive things to come this year. In comparison to last year when it was suggested that the owls were hunting during the day and struggling to find food, these recent records don’t appear to be in response to a significant food storage. The bird pictured here was photographed hunting successfully by local wildlife photographer Terry Weston, making four successful catches during his observations. Many thanks to Terry for sharing his wonderful photographs.

Whilst out and about Terry also managed to capture the following two images, the first being of one of our breeding pairs of Mute Swans at North Duffield Carrs. The ongoing and extensive floodwater that continues to linger throughout the valley initially delayed the onset of breeding for our resident swans, however the first eggs were spotted at North Duffield Carrs on the 18th April, with the first completed clutch of five having been laid by the 26th. Once all the eggs have been laid the female starts incubating to ensure that they will all hatch at the same time – approximately 35-40 days from the last egg being laid. If all goes to plan and hatching is successful, we’ll hopefully see the appearance of this year’s cygnets towards the end of May. 


The lingering floodwater in the valley may have created an unwelcome impact on both the meadows and breeding wader populations, however some species are clearly benefiting from the ongoing conditions - Coot being one of them. Numbers of Coot usually build up from December through to late March, birds will then move through the site on spring passage from sites further south in the UK. However, with conditions as they are many of the birds have remained - last week our NNR staff counted 635 birds - including 104 incubating nests. With Coots laying a large number of eggs (typically 8-11) it could be a bumper breeding season for them. Many thanks to Terry for another stunning image, taken recently at North Duffield Carrs.

Friday, 29 April 2016

28/04/16 - Herons, Whimbrel & Wheatears

Last week the team visited the local heronry to undertake the first series of nest counts and to check on breeding success. A total of 24 active nests were counted, which is a little down on recent years, although it appears to be a rather late season so there is time yet. Whilst checking the nests we managed to take a few quick photographs from the tree tops – pictured here is a very young heron chick, and a clutch of four eggs. We had been expecting to be able to ring some of the young but it soon became clear that most of the chicks were too small – with some just hatching and several adults still incubating clutches. After a quick check of a sample of nests we departed to allow the adults to get back to incubating and brooding – fingers crossed the cold nights, and snow and hail won’t have caused them too many problems during the last few days – hopefully the weather will take a turn for the better soon...

Along with monitoring the heron population, we're also on the look out for any of our colour-ringed Whimbrel. The first returning birds touched down in the Lower Derwent Valley on Saturday 16th April, with three individuals seen flying over Bank Island late evening. A brief stop at the fields in Storwood on Monday revealed another two birds (neither with colour-rings). Each year we look forward to seeing these remarkable birds passing through the reserve which they use as a spring staging site. 

Over 100 birds have been colour-ringed at the Wheldrake roost since 2004, and since then 75% of these birds have been re-sighted in subsequent years around the valley. Last year new recovery details came in for two birds, with one individual seen on autumn passage on the Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire, for the third year (pictured below), followed by a second individual that had been photographed wintering off the Senegal coast. Please let us know if you come across any colour-ringed birds in and around the valley (or elsewhere), and feel free to get in touch if you think that a group that you’re part of might like to hear a talk on our Whimbrel or any other wildlife from the LDV.

With the (brief spell) of warm sunshine last week it finally felt like spring had arrived, our returning summer migrants – Swallows and House Martins, filled the skies above the local villages whilst Willow Warblers, Whitethroats and Blackcaps sang from the willow scrub around the reserve. At this time of year Wheatears also pass through the area on the way to their breeding sites in Northern England and Scotland, and onwards to Iceland. They often favour the flood banks of the River Derwent, tilled arable fields and muck heaps which provide plenty of flies and grubs for them to refuel with. This male was photographed with plenty of prey buzzing around it, near Thornton Ellers last week.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

26/04/16 - Pilmoor SSSI

Recently our staff and volunteers have once again been helping out managing other sites in Yorkshire, this time returning to Pilmoor near Easingwold in the Vale of York. Pilmoor is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), designated for its extent and quality of fen vegetation. The site also clearly demonstrates the sequence of habitats in relation to wetness, with succession from open water to fen, and wet heath to woodland. Our team have been helping to clear areas of invasive Rhododendron, by chopping down and strimming some of the larger growth, hand pulling some of the seedlings and treating stumps with chemical. Hopefully this will help to maintain and restore some of the wet heath communities. Many thanks to everyone for their hard work!