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, 19 April 2017

10/04/17 - Recent work on the NNR

Since the end of last year our team of staff and volunteers have been hard at work on Skipwith Common NNR, helping to improve this internationally important wet and dry lowland heath. Young Silver Birch and Scots Pine have been removed across the site to help maintain the open landscapes of the Common, whilst helping the grazing livestock keep the ever present regenerating scrub in check. The cut brash has been left in small piles to benefit invertebrates, reptiles and ground nesting birds which are found on the site, whilst the larger scrub has been coppiced from small scattered areas to help maintain a diversity of size and structure. We’ve also been busy spraying the invasive and non-native Pirri-pirri Bur which can swamp out the native vegetation, and cause welfare issues for the Hebridean Sheep and dogs. If walking your dog on the Common please try and limit exposure to this species, and help by not further spreading the burs by keeping your dog on a lead and on the way marked paths and roads, thank you.

The team have also been busy elsewhere on the Common, helping to construct new fencing along one side of the newly cleaned out Pillwort pond, which will hopefully help reduce the number of dogs entering the water. With such a sterling effort the team had finished the task by early afternoon, meaning that they could then join up with Reserve Manager Fallon Mahon, who was working nearby with a team of staff from Defra on one of their volunteering days. Whilst we’d been busy fencing, they’d been busy making habitat piles and dead hedging from recently cut birch scrub - so a productive day all round! Many thanks to everyone involved, and for braving the barmy spring weather, working in a mixture of warm sunshine, cold winds, driving rain and snow flurries! 

As well as lending a helping hand in the valley, our band our volunteers are also happy to hit the road. Following on from travelling to Drewton Pits earlier in the year, last month our team joined us for a few days work at 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 out over the last three years 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. As well as getting stuck in with the practical work we were also able to enjoy the fruits of our earlier labours – a lot less Rhododendron and some nice developing patches of heather and other plant communities on what used to be bare ground. Many thanks to everyone for their hard work and helping restore some of these valuable habitats.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

20/03/17 - Aviva return

At the end of last week we hosted another fantastic corporate volunteering event at the NNR base, with a team of twenty staff coming from the York branch of Aviva. With such a sizable team it allowed us to undertake a range of tasks around the reserve – the hides at Bank Island were treated with preserver, the boardwalk around the base was netted to prevent it becoming a hazard in the wet weather and the damaged fencing was repaired and tidied up ahead of the grazing season around Bank Island. 

Other members of the team also helped extract recently felled timber from Skipwith Common NNR, before bringing it back to the base for processing – the off road 4x4 driving being a real highlight for some! Many thanks to all involved for such a productive day and allowing us to strike a few outstanding tasks from the ever growing job list – hopefully we’ll see some of you again later in the year.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

15/03/17 - Lizards, frogs & a furry intruder

Last week the first Common Lizard of the year was seen on Skipwith Common NNR - pictured here taking advantage of the warm sunshine. Lizards are usually found sitting in the small cracks and crevices along the old bomb bay walls, often venturing out to soak up the sunshine, then darting back in if they sense someone/something approaching. Fortunately we were able to get close views of this one, seemingly oblivious to our presence and more intent on enjoying the much needed warm weather.

 Common Lizard - Skipwith Common 

It wasn't just the lizard enjoying the weather yesterday, our team of volunteers were hard at work once again, finishing the roof to the new wood shed and building a new enclosure for an atmospheric monitoring station at North Duffield Carrs – helping to provide valuable data to the Long Term Monitoring Network. Thanks once again to our team for another productive and enjoyable day.

 Jeff & Hilary constructing the new woodshed

Along with the lizard, we also spotted the first frog of the year in the pond at the NNR base – one of the signs that spring is underway. 

 Common Frog - NNR base pond

As temperatures start to rise and day length increases, frogs and toads are now starting to move to their breeding grounds after a winter spent in hibernation. Which means two of our volunteers now have another job on their hands - at this time of year on a warm, damp evening, Nick & Sandra are likely to be found patrolling the main road at Hunmanby Gap, helping frogs, toads and newts make their way across as they try and dodge the traffic. Armed with numerous road signs, high-vis jackets and buckets, last year 376 Common Toads, 16 Common Frogs, 15 Great Crested Newts and 28 Smooth Newts were given a helping hand crossing the road, reducing what could otherwise be a high mortality rate. So a big thank you and well done to you both for your incredible commitment to helping our wildlife.

 Home made signs
 Toad on the move
 Sandra checking drains

Aside from our amphibian and reptiles, we recently had a close encounter with one of our mammalian species - whilst re-filling our metal food bins with grain for our duck ringing and bird feeding stations, we came upon two Wood Mice that had climbed up the side and dropped in, then realising they couldn’t get back out, had preceded to make a nest among the wheat and barley. Nestled together it seemed a shame to disturb them, so we spent a few minutes enjoying observing them before setting them free.

 Wood Mouse - NNR base

Wood Mice are common on the reserve and are quite distinctive, with their sandy brown fur, large protruding eyes, large ears and a fairly long tail they are easily separated from our vole species. 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 Mice are found in a range of habitats, although they do tend to favour woodland and are least found in open grassland, which fits with them being a key prey item for Tawny Owls (hunters of woodland, hedgerows and parks/gardens). Hopefully this little guy is somewhere else safe now, but no doubt it won’t be the last we see of him now that he knows where a good food supply is!

Monday, 6 March 2017

01/03/17 - Bags of Help

There are few sights and sounds that typify late summer than the presence of flocks of screaming Swifts, as they twist and turn in their aerial pursuits of each other around our towns and villages. Sadly though this is becoming an increasingly less frequent event - numbers have declined by over 42% since 1995, with a big factor in this decline thought to be a lack of viable nest sites as old buildings containing nests are demolished or ‘improved’, and new buildings with their modern materials and standards not providing the same opportunities for these amazing little birds. 

New boxes going up around the villages

Around the Lower Derwent Valley NNR the LDV team have been busy working with local communities to raise awareness of the plight of Swifts, by working with local groups and schools in order to tell their story – from the amazing migration and remarkable lifestyle – to helping create nest boxes for local homes, and making flags to welcome the return of the Swifts back to our local area in the next few months. 

Wheldrake school children getting involved

Many people have been kind enough to donate their time and skills, even timber, but the Friends of the LDV have been successful in moving this onto the next level, and in getting this project into the Tesco stores ‘Bags of Help’ scheme, where monies collected from the 5p levy on carrier bags are made available for local projects and good causes, by customers voting in their stores for the one they would like funds to go to. We are pleased to say the Swift project will be part of a vote during March and April so would like to ask anyone who shops in the following areas to please consider using Tesco and voting for our project so we can continue to make sure that our local school children can continue to live in villages that still have skies full of screaming Swifts and be able to enjoy their aerial acrobatics.

Bags of help

All the following stores listed below are taking part in the scheme - please spread the word to families, friends and work colleagues and get voting!

Goole (Tesco Superstore) Boothferry Road DN14 6BB

Harrogate (Tesco Express) Cambridge Road HG1 1AA

Harrogate (Tesco Express) Knaresborough Road HG2 7HY

Knaresborough (Tesco Express) High Street HG5 0EN

Selby (Tesco Superstore) Portholme Road YO8 4QQ

Selby Brayton (Tesco Express) Doncaster Road YO8 9EG

Thirsk (Tesco Superstore) Station Road YO7 1PZ

York Acomb Wood (Tesco Express) Acomb Wood Drive YO24 3XN

York Askham Bar (Tesco Extra) Tadcaster Road YO24 1LW

York Clifton Moor (Tesco Extra) Stirling Road YO30 4XZ

York Goodramgate (Tesco Express) YO1 7LS

York Huntington (Tesco Express) Huntington Road YO31 9HP

York Low Ousegate (Tesco Express) YO1 9QX

York Piccadilly (Tesco Express) YO1 9TU

York Strensall (Tesco Express) The Village YO32 5XR

To check the location of any of the above stores, please go to the Tesco website: http://tesco.com/store-locater/uk/

Friday, 24 February 2017

18/02/17 - Lending a hand

It's been another busy time in the valley recently for our staff and volunteers, with a wide range of tasks undertaken last week. On Thursday and Friday the team were out with Reserve Manager Fallon Mahon, managing chalk grasslands on the Yorkshire Wolds at Grimthorpe Dale, thus helping the local farmer to deliver the requirements of his Agri-Environment Scheme, and bringing further environmental benefits to the site. The task involved clearing back dense and encroaching Bramble and Hawthorn to allow the chalk grassland flowers and associated butterflies and other invertebrates to flourish – always difficult work and more so on the steep sided valleys across the Wolds – so well done to the team for their efforts. 

Earlier in the week we were out locating and collecting tree stumps following a request from an infant school near Thirsk, for them to be used as seats as part of their story telling time – nice to know they are going to good use. With the reserve still flooded and access restricted, the extended team have also been busy helping to collect more of this winter’s felled timber before processing it into next year’s log supplies - hopefully ensuring a steady supply of extra budget next year to help get all the necessary work done on the reserve. Many thanks as always to our great team for such a sterling effort this week.  

Friday, 17 February 2017

13/02/17 - Green Wood

Since the turn of the year whilst out on Skipwith Common NNR, the scrub clearance team have been hearing and occasionally seeing Green Woodpeckers around the reserve. The scrub clearance, aimed at reducing the dominance of Silver Birch and Scots Pine regrowth across the open wet and dry heaths, will be helping this species as well as several others found on the NNR, which prefer the open areas of vegetation.

Green Woodpeckers, such as this one superbly photographed by local birder and wildlife photographer Terry Weston, can occasionally be seen on the ground as they search for ants nests on which to predate - although more often than not views are limited to just a flash of colour as they are seen flying away with their distinctive undulating flight. They can also be readily identified by their characteristic ‘yaffling’ call which carries far over the Common – it's always a pleasure to hear one. Whilst visiting the reserve please let us know of any sightings/records you come across by using the logbooks provided, thank you. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

10/02/17 - Hard at it

Last week our hardy volunteers got wrapped up and braved the rain and cold weather to help us repair and erect new gates and fencing, with the hope of trying to control unauthorised visitor access to sensitive parts of the site. Whilst we are keen to encourage visitors to enjoy the amazing wildlife spectacle the valley has to offer, this has to be done from a distance to avoid disturbance, so please do use the viewing points and hides provided around the reserve. This will help to minimise undue disturbance to wintering birds at the present time, and also to breeding birds and grazing livestock later in the season. The new gates and fences will also hopefully keep those livestock securely on the reserve, and help local farmers work with us to graze the site and provide the vital conditions for all our wildlife to thrive. Many thanks to the team for a great day, and for getting stuck in despite the wet and cold conditions, and thanks must also go to the local Clifton Moor branch of Jewson’s, who kindly donated some of the timber used to support the work of the Friends of the Lower Derwent Valley.

Friday, 10 February 2017

07/02/17 - Drake delight

Following on from our recent waterfowl catches which have included a number of Pintail, our success with this species continued into last week, with a catch of nine birds at dawn on Monday morning - including six males. Over the last 20 years we’ve only managed to catch and ring a total of 29 of this handsome duck, but since the turn of the year we’ve ringed 30, bringing the overall total suddenly to 59. On Monday morning we were fortunate to have clear blue skies and sunshine which really showed off the drake’s amazing plumage, so many beautiful colours which can be seen in the feather detail photographs below. We’re not sure why this month has suddenly been so successful for Pintail, after so many years of catching just one or two on average – but we’re certainly not complaining! Hopefully there may be yet more to come, with recoveries also. Following a count across the site last week along with records over recent days, numbers have shown to be steadily increasing and are now in the region of 250 birds. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

03/02/17 - New year, new tasks

This month our eager team of volunteers (or at least those who weren’t suffering with the dreaded lurgy), came in for the first tasks of the year, with plenty of variety to be had. Firstly our team were busy taking out the damaged fence line at Bank Island, and then helping to put the new one in place, which involved digging in the straining posts and then using the post knocker to secure the wooden stakes in-between. Mesh was then added followed by a top line of barbed wire – all being well this should keep the cows in place come spring. 

The following week the stormy weather that whipped up the North Sea causing flooding along the East Coast also blew down our bird feeding station at Bank Island – snapping the two main posts clean off at the base resulting in the frame and feeders ending up in the pond. Since our feeding station was built in 2012, the site has been a hive of activity and is now reliable for Marsh Tit, Tree Sparrows, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Bullfinch. With the colder weather approaching again at the weekend we’d hoped to get it up and running again soon, and so our team kept busy the following week digging in two new uprights and attaching the top beam, before adding the lower beam and feeders. The height of the hedge was also lowered within the vicinity of the feeding station to provide better viewing and photographic opportunities from the car park. After lunch the team then helped make a start on next season’s logs with some chopping, splitting and stacking – thanks to everyone who has placed and received their orders and have helped the Friends of the Lower Derwent Valley raise money to further our work in the area at the same time. We still have some seasoned logs in stock so let us know if you need an order – we are looking to clear out our wood shed soon in order to refill with next winter’s supply.

Despite the freezing fog that blanketed the valley last week the team were out and about again covering a range of tasks, starting with trying to keep warm sawing, splitting and stacking more of next season’s batch of logs. After delivering more of our ready to burn seasoned timber to local residents, the team headed along the floodbank of the River Derwent erecting signs. These signs are to remind people that the majority of the Ings themselves have no public rights of way and that walking in these areas, especially with dogs, can cause considerable disturbance to the vast flocks of wintering waterfowl. Which, particularly in the present conditions, need to spend as much undisturbed time feeding up as possible. However whilst protecting the wildlife from disturbance we are obviously also keen that local people and visitors can enjoy the area, which can be done from the hides provided. Several of the team were also hard at work on Skipwith Common NNR, controlling birch and pine scrub, so a productive day all round.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

28/01/17 - A busy year

2016: What a year - starting with one of the biggest January floods and finishing with one of the driest Decembers on record. By the middle of February the water was (very slowly), starting to recede, allowing us, and our new team of eager volunteers to start work on repairing the path and hide at North Duffield Carrs. The work at NDC kept the team busy throughout March and into April, when we then switched to weed wiping the floodbanks, transforming the base wildlife garden and giving a helping hand at Pillmoor and Plumpton Rocks. The first breeding bird surveys and butterfly transects began, and moth trapping resumed at the NNR base. DEFRA and Ad Astra also lent a hand on Skipwith Common, helping to make wildlife corridors from recently cut birch scrub. The first order of the LDV blank greetings cards arrived and the first talk of the year took place to the River Waveney Trust in Suffolk. 

Flooded out at NDC
Flood repairs underway
Nick & Sandra preparing the garden
Fence repairs on the Common
Successful day working with DEFRA
Ad Astra youth group get stuck in
New LDV greetings cards
Moth trapping resumes

During May a start was made on the resurrection of the Escrick Duck Decoy and the last of the flood repair jobs were carried out, along with the construction of several wood sheds at the NNR base to store our newly cut timber. A start was also made building many Swift boxes in conjunction with a new project involving the local communities and schools, and a helping hand was given by insurance company Aviva. Several visits were made to the local heronry with a pleasing number of chicks reared, and the successful transportation of geese from York University was undertaken. For the majority of June and July, pulling ragwort across the Ings meadows took priority, along with fitting in the start of our nest box checks and our annual goose round-up. Several (incredibly hot) days were also spent at Wheldrake clearing scrub from around the pool, and carrying out repairs to the swan pipe in preparation for the autumn. In July several of our staff and volunteers attended the ‘Graftas’ award ceremony at the London Wetlands Centre – after being nominated for and winning ‘volunteer group of the year’.

 Progress in the duck decoy
 New wood shed under construction
 Corporate work day with Aviva
 Successful Swift visit to Wheldrake school
 Heron chick
 Geese release
 Hand pulling Marsh Ragwort
Aviva return

August and September were largely spent at Thornton Ellers, making green hay and transporting it to sites in the surrounding area such as Leven Carrs and Skerne YWT reserve, with a number of days also spent at Wheldrake Ings removing and burning willows, and strimming the island vegetation at NDC. Our tractor also came out of hibernation, with flailing undertaken at Bank Island, Wheldrake, NDC and along the river bank. Jean came in to help out on what was a very popular and successful open day, and released yet another raptor back into the wild - a Common Buzzard, pictured here at the NNR Base. and A helping hand was also given at Hornsea Mere, helping to clear scrub from the island. The annual cygnet ringing took place at NDC, along with the last Barn Owls broods of the year ringed. We also had the good fortunate of several corporate work days with Aviva, Nestle and Amey.

 Spreading the green hay
 Tending to the path at NDC
 Habitat management
 Flailing at Wheldrake
 Release of a Common Buzzard
 Open Day success
 Road trip to Hornsea Mere
Corporate work day with Amey

In October the flailing was finished before the site began to ‘wet up’, and our attentions were switched back to the duck decoy, along with many a day spent clearing scrub at North Duffield Carrs. The yearly task of spraying pirri-pirri on Skipwith Common also began, along with the design and arrival of the new 2017 LDV calendar. The autumn was also spent visiting bird, gardening and walking clubs across the county with talks given by our Senior Reserve Manager. During November days were spent on Skipwith Common NNR clearing out the Pillwort ponds and removing birch scrub from the heath, a job which carried on throughout most of December – just as the valley started to flood. A day was spent at Jean's dismantling her old aviaries, the hide at the duck decoy was finished and the last gull catch of 2016 was had. That’s the year in a (very small) nutshell! Much more went on but it just wouldn’t be possible to list it all on here! Many thanks to all those involved in the valley during 2016, everything we achieved wouldn’t have been possible without all the extra help that our dedicated volunteers give us each week. Here’s to 2017!

 Sandra loading up the mule
 Cameron spraying on Skipwith
 Finishing touches to the decoy hide
 Dismantling Jean's aviaries
 Opening up the Pillwort ponds
 Gull catch at Rufforth Tip
 Splitting timber - for sale
 Nick removing birch on the Common