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.

Friday, 29 May 2015

April/May - Work on the NNR's

May has been a really busy month on the NNR's, with a variety of jobs undertaken across three of our sites - the Lower Derwent Valley, Skipwith Common and Forge Valley Woods. Below are a few snippets on some of the more interesting things - carried out in between all the other jobs of: maintaining all the paths to the hides, weed wiping the flood banks, repairing the Wheldrake track after the winter floods, litter picking the car parks, mending the fencing on the Common and spraying in the Duck Decoy at Escrick and Thornton Ellers.

During the spring and summer months BBS (Breeding Bird Surveys) are carried out at a number of sites throughout the valley. The end of April/early May saw the first visits of the season at Bank Island and North Duffield Carrs, with a dawn start and perfect weather conditions - blue skies, sunshine and no wind, we headed off around Bank Island. On arrival we were fortunate to enjoy close views of a Barn Owl as it hunted alongside us, whilst a Kestrel perched nearby sitting just outside the entrance to a nest box, and a Song Thrush sang its heart out from the tree tops.

Due to the rather dry conditions, (as expected following the almost total lack of rainfall since the turn of the year), both surveys were poor for ducks and waders with a total of 11 Curlew, 8 Redshank, 7 Snipe, 13 Lapwing, and only a handful of Mallard, Teal and Gadwall with no Shoveler recorded at all - very different from last year. So it was all about the passerines with the highlight being the number of pairs (suspected) of Reed Buntings at North Duffield (26), the survey also produced our first Yellow Wagtail of the year along with a single Wheatear. A good and enjoyable way to spend a morning, whilst also knowing that this data will feed into the national LTMN, and will help us better understand the trends/impacts of climate and land management on habitats and species.
 
 Song Thrush - NNR Base

 BBS - Bank Island 

After being informed by one of the local birders that the inspection hatch had dropped off one of our nest boxes in Melbourne we called in to fix it – with the back open and a draft blowing through we expected to find it empty, however sitting right at the front of the box in the corner was a female Tawny Owl on two eggs. She was a beautiful bird seeming in very good condition, we ringed her and then quickly fixed the back so it should be a lot less drafty in there now for her and her mate. Once the box had been repaired we placed her back inside and made sure she had settled before departing, hopefully the two of them will go on to raise two healthy chicks.

 
 Tawny Owl - Melbourne 

In between all the other jobs, the team have also been working in the NNR Base Garden with plenty of weeding, digging and planting to be done. The office garden was originally planted four years ago with the idea of making it a demonstration bee and butterfly garden, which includes nectar providing plants throughout the year such as Cowslips, Purple Loosestrife, Scabious, Foxgloves, Lavender, Buddleia and Water Mint. This proved to be a brilliant idea with the last three years producing incredibly high counts of butterflies, in particular whites on the Lavender, along with Small Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals, Commas and Peacocks on the Buddelia. A number of bee species also took a liking to the Lavender whilst hoverflies and moths also found the garden to their taste – including a visiting Hummingbird Hawk Moth. If you fancy seeing it for yourselves then why not come down in June and July to enjoy an evening in the garden watching the wildlife, perhaps bring a picnic tea to enjoy on the benches! We’ve also seen a Smooth Newt in the garden pond recently so you never know what else you might come across!

 NNR Base Garden 

At the beginning of the month on Bank Holiday Monday Jean had arranged for the two Otters from the Wildlife Park in the New Forest to be re-released here in the valley at North Duffield Carrs. Their story goes back to December 2013 when one of them, Mistle, was found on a drive way at Hutton Rudby near Stokesley. She was thin, calling and had sore pads and was taken to the local vets, weighing in at just over a kilo. The next few days were spent at Jean’s before she was taken to the Chestnut Centre in the High Peaks, Derbyshire who then took her down to The Wildlife Park in the New Forest. The park is run by the Heaps, who are well known for rearing wild Otters and returning them to the wild. Mistle was reared with another orphan female, Flick, from Lancaster.

The Otter cubs then spent the next 18 months at the centre by which time they were ready to be released back into the wild, hence their return to North Yorkshire. Otters need specialist care if they unfortunately become orphaned – they usually spend the first 18 months of their lives with their mothers before they are experienced enough to become independent and disperse on their own. This specialist care, keeping the kits wild and unaccustomed to humans, will hopefully stand them in good stead to now survive on their own in the wild, and replicates the time that they would have spent with the females.
 

Otter release - North Duffield Carrs 

Last year several of the team worked at a SSSI Site – Drewton Lane Pits, near South Cave, helping the owners and other local NE staff manage the site. With the aim being to try and keep the area in favourable condition for the nationally important Great Crested Newt population, and outstanding assemblage of breeding amphibians. Staff and volunteers returned to survey the pond with Dorothy Driver from ARC (Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust), and counted over 100 newts and recorded plenty of toad-poles. Newt eggs were also found which shows for the first time that successful breeding has taken place as part of the annual condition monitoring work. Brilliant for the team to see that all their hard work clearing willow scrub from the side of the ponds and working to maintain some open areas of grassland has worked. It’s important to keep the site in good condition for the newts, as well as the frogs and toads which also breed in the small ponds on site and use the adjacent grassland and scrub habitats as essential feeding and hibernating areas.
 
 
'Newting' at Drewton Lane Pits SSSI   

Several years ago the team built two tern rafts, one at Bank Island and the other at Wheldrake Ings, both were frequented by Common Terns, with the hope that some birds would stay and breed. Over recent years pairs of Common Terns have bred around the valley on ponds and lakes, and some are known to nest nearby at Allerthorpe Water Park. At this time of year terns pass through the valley, with the first of the year seen on the 25th April.

Following the autumn floods and stormy weather last winter, both tern rafts were left upside down and all the small pebbles/gravel was washed off which is what attracts the terns to the rafts, so the team set about repairing the one at Bank Island. The terns have used the rafts for fishing from, as well as resting and loafing on with recently fledged broods, but have yet to nest on them. Along with terns the rafts have also been used by Oystercatchers and Coots, and a range of loafing ducks.

  Raft repairs - Bank Island 

Since mid-March we have been running the moth trap at a number of sites across the valley, the weather has occasionally halted things slightly, however most weeks have been good with a number of new species caught. One of the highlights last month was this Small Magpie, attracted to the UV light at Bank Island. This species is common throughout the UK, flying from early May to late September in a range of habitats – including waste ground, hedgerows and gardens, in fact pretty much wherever plants such as nettles, woundworts or mints grow (food plants for the larvae). This moth readily comes to light so it may well be worth looking in your garden to see if you can spot one.
Other species encountered in good numbers throughout April include: Common, Small and Twin-spotted Quaker, Clouded Drab and Hebrew Character. Several Water Carpet, Herald and Early Grey were also caught.
 

Small Magpie - NNR Base 

The NNR team joined forces with other Natural England staff from the ‘Vales Team’ last week in order to carry out some integrated site assessment at Forge Valley Woods NNR. These surveys are to assess the condition of the site to see whether they meet the UK governments Bio 2020 targets, whilst also assessing the NNR to see if it is heading towards favourable condition and whether our management (guided by our management plans), is working. These surveys take into account the composition and structure of the woodland, the amount of dead wood and the flora and fauna of the site. 

Whilst on site the team came across species such as Pendulous Sedge, Greater Horsetail, Opposite-leaved and Alternate-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Green Hellebore, Herb Paris, Toothwort, Early Purple Orchid, Goldilocks Buttercup, Sanicle, Lady’s Mantle, Wood Anemone, Wood Sorrell, Spurge Laurel, Bugle - and plenty of Dog’s Mercury and Wild Garlic! Jays and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were heard calling in the wood and a pair of Grey Wagtails were seen on the river. Brimstone and Orange Tip butterflies brought flashes of colour to the car park whilst the team enjoyed a picnic lunch. A 14-spot Ladybird was also found along the woodland trail, a species which we have also been finding recently on Skipwith Common. 
 
 Wild Garlic - Forge Valley 

 
14-spot Ladybird - Forge Valley

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

30/04/15 - Voles, Mice & Owls

Over the last month we have been small mammal trapping around the NNR Base at Bank Island and more lately down on the Ings, using Longworth live traps to monitor the populations on the reserve. Small mammals are important in their own right but they are also a key dietary item for the local owls and other predators. By monitoring their populations it can help us understand the population dynamics of other key species on the reserve. From the trapping we know that there are certainly plenty of Bank Voles and Wood Mice present in the edge habitat around the NNR Base, gardens and boundary which meets the surrounding farmland – however the Wood Mice have largely dominated the catches.

 Bank Vole - 17/03/15

Voles can be easily separated from Wood Mice by their rounder heads, small beady eyes and small ears and shorter tails. The Bank Vole is longer tailed and more ginger/chestnut brown in colouration than their Field Vole cousins (of which we are yet to catch as they prefer the more open tussocky grassland of the reserve itself). Bank Voles are a common and widespread small mammal of the British countryside, and unlike the Field Vole which is largely found in grassland habitats, the Bank Vole tends to be found on the edges of such habitat, frequenting field margins and more particularly hedgerows, woodland and gardens. They eat a variety of food items from seeds, insects and berries, with typical hedgerow species such as hazelnuts and blackberries being a favourite. They will also readily take seed put out at bird feeders – so they are probably benefiting from the bird food provided at the NNR Base feeding station. 

 Bank Vole - 17/03/15

Wood Mice have also been present in the Longworth traps and have made up the majority of the catches. Wood Mice have sandy brown fur, large protruding eyes, large ears and a fairly long tail. The large eyes and ears point to the fact that they are largely nocturnal, and spend a lot of time underground in burrows. The burrows are fairly complicated and may include nest chambers and food stores. Food tends to be made up of woodland seeds and nuts, with a greater percentage of insect prey in the summer months.

Wood Mouse - 17/03/15

Wood Mice are found in a range of habitats, although they tend to favour woodland and are least found in open grassland – they are a key prey item for Tawny Owls (which hunt in woodland, hedgerows and parks/garden environments), and are rarely found in any significant number in the Barn Owls diet. Barn Owls are known to largely prefer Field Voles – we’ve been running the traps this week in areas where we thought we had a good chance of catching them, however none have been caught. With the constant sightings of day hunting owls, the lack of prey caught and five birds recently picked up dead (and found under-weight), perhaps as mentioned previously this points to the suggestion that these birds may be struggling to find food due to the lack of it. 

Wood Mouse - 17/03/15

The sight of day hunting Barn Owls in the valley lately has been a talking point over recent weeks. Volunteers, staff and visitors have had the pleasure of watching two owls hunting at Bank Island recently on a daily basis. It’s great for us to be able to see them – but worrying for the owls that they appear to be struggling to find food. Recent pellet dissection by one of our volunteers from the coast has revealed a lack of Field Vole remains, along with our trapping data this would further point to the conclusion that the population may have suddenly crashed… Hopefully things will soon take a turn for the better for our Barn Owls – this individual – a lovely dark female was captured on camera at Bank Island, seemingly undeterred by our presence, never before have we had such close views of these beautiful creatures. 

Barn Owl - 30/03/15

After watching the owls hunting at Bank Island we also came across this Brown Hare in the long grass. The sightings of Brown Hares on the Ings is something we look forward to each spring, particularly the ‘Mad-March’ hares that are known to start ‘boxing’ during the month. We are yet to witness this wildlife spectacle this year, however we have been fortunate in the past to watch as an unreceptive female tries to fend off an amorous male. It is thought that this mating ritual of sorts is also aimed at testing the strength of the male before the female decides on whether or not to carry on with the courtship. 

Hares are largely nocturnal, feeding at night and spending most of the daytime laid low amongst grass in small depressions, so this time of year is your best chance of seeing one out in the open. The only other sightings are usually if you come across one hiding in the grass whilst out walking – in this case you’ll have to be quick to see it before it bolts off into the distance – being able to run at a speed of 45mph makes them Britain’s fastest land mammal! 

 Brown Hare - 30/03/15