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, 18 June 2018

30/05/18 - York Minster Peregrines

This morning we had the privilege of joining Jean on her visit to York Minster to ring this year’s brood of four healthy Peregrine chicks. Having been checked in by security and the Minsters own Police, and armed with our risk assessments and rings, we climbed the 130 steps up the spiral staircase inside the bell tower before moving over various ledges above the city streets below, where we had an amazing birds eye (Peregrines eye) view over the city. We quickly set about ringing the four chicks (two males and two females), and most importantly added darvics (orange colour-rings with three black letters), whilst the adults flew overhead keeping a beady eye on us. 

Hopefully these colour-rings will allow local birdwatchers and visitors alike to find about more about these amazing birds – how long they live, where they will disperse to and where they may set up a territory of their own. Great scientific data but also great to be able to further engage the Peregrines story with more visitors to York and the Minster. We are extremely lucky here in York to have world class-built heritage, such as the Minster and the Roman Walls, but also the internationally important Lower Derwent Valley which partly falls within the city boundaries at Wheldrake. What other city can boast such a claim, something we are working hard at to make these links and their benefits, more widely acknowledged. Many thanks as always to Jean for all her great work and for the help, interest and enthusiasm from the Minster staff.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

22/05/18 - Invertebrate bonanza

Recently on Skipwith Common NNR, we have been treated to great views of Green Tigers Beetles, a species which inhabits the open heaths on the Common, usually appearing in April/May. They are a shiny little beetle, with iridescent green colouring and yellow spots making them fairly distinctive, however on closer inspection their large eyes and mandibles reveal a fearsome predator. Rather cunningly they make burrows which act as pitfall traps, where they lie in wait as other insects such as spiders and ants drop in. Look out for them on warm, sunny sites often with bare ground and little vegetation, the old walls around the bomb bay loop and the bare peat of the sheep tracks weaving through the heather can be good sites to spot them. 

Along with the Green Tiger Beetles, Skipwith Common has also been a good site for spotting other invertebrates lately. Last week the first Hawthorn Shield Bug of the year was seen, and rather unusually in flight, as it buzzed passed us on our way round the bomb bay loop, before crash landing onto the path. This species is one of the larger shield bugs, and could be confused by the similar Birch Shield Bug, however the latter being much smaller. After over-wintering, the adults emerge and mate in spring, with the larvae later appearing between May – October. As their name may suggest, the larvae feed primarily on hawthorn berries, however they can also be found on oak, hazel and birch trees. Always a pleasure to spot one. 

The first of our larger dragonflies has been on the wing over recent weeks – the Four-spotted Chaser, with a number of individuals reported from Skipwith Common NNR and around the pool at Wheldrake Ings. They are rather ‘bulky’ and medium sized with four dark spots on the wings - giving the species its name. They are often found on most still waters, preferring well vegetated margins where males will perch on vegetation spikes overlooking the water. They can be found throughout the valley, with individuals even seen on our small reserve base pond where they rest on the Yellow Flag Iris. They can also be very numerous on more acidic lakes and waterbodies and can be found around most of the ponds on Skipwith Common NNR, usually between late April to mid-September.  Now is a great time to start getting out and looking for them as they will soon be at their most numerous (June/July), and particularly fresh having just emerged from larvae that has been developing under the water’s surface.

As well as dragonflies last week we noticed a large emergence of butterflies in the fine weather, with a number of species recorded including several firsts for the year - a single Holly Blue, and several Large Whites and Speckled Woods, like the one pictured below, photographed recently on Skipwith Common NNR. This species has expanded its range in the local area dramatically over the last 20 years, having previously been quite a scarce and rather local butterfly in the area. Trends like these are picked up by the Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, of which we undertake a weekly transect around the reserve base and riverside path between Bank Island and Wheldrake. Our team started with the first visits at the beginning of the month and recorded 24 butterflies of six species. 

Lastly, whilst putting up the remainder of the breeding bird signs, we came across the first Red-and-black Froghoppers of the year, brightening up a nettle patch in Ellerton, shortly followed by one in the NNR base garden – pictured below, with their vibrant colours they really are unmistakeable. They can be seen between April and August and are found in a range of habitats including grasslands, meadows, gardens and woodland. The adults (which can fly and also have the ability to jump up to 70cm with powerful back legs – hence the name ‘froghopper’) largely feed by sucking juices from grasses. As always when visiting the NNR please let us know of any wildlife you come across by using the log books provided, thank you. 

Thursday, 31 May 2018

20/05/18 - Corncrakes, Hobbies & Garganey

We were delighted to hear the first returning Corncrake of the year recently at North Duffield Carrs – calling from right in front of the first hide. Given its location in front of the hide we are releasing the news so local people, birdwatchers and visitors alike have the chance to hear these amazing birds at the only, non-introduced, regular English breeding site. We are also delighted as yet another year with returning Corncrakes again supports the fact that they have been breeding successfully in previous years, as a result of the efforts from the team here and our partners (our volunteers in finding and monitoring locations of calling birds, providing early and late season cover for the birds, working with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, landowners and local farmers to delay the hay cuts within the birds territories, and with our friends at Rosewood Farm to introduce Corncrake friendly mowing). It’s great to know our collective efforts are helping bring back this iconic species to the Yorkshire Ings.

Over the last few weeks we’ve also been treated to spectacular views of Hobbies, (on Wheldrake Ings), with up to eight individuals present in the air over and perhaps as many as 13 in the wider LDV area. These birds really are aerial masters, expertly catching dragonflies (and even mayflies and other insects) in their talons before passing them to their beaks to eat on the wing as they continue to feed over the pool. Pool and Swantail Hide are the best places to view them at present, particularly during the afternoon, with birds often coming lower and closer towards dusk as their insect prey descends. Hobbies are the only falcon in Britain that spend the winter months in North Africa, coming to the UK from mid-April and staying until late September and early October, so enjoy them whilst you can! Many thanks to local birder David Gilfillan for the use of his superb photograph taken recently from Swantail Hide, Wheldrake.

In the LDV this spring we have also seen good numbers of Garganey (our only summer migrant duck species) - birds arrive in this country from their African wintering grounds from mid-March, remaining until late August-early September. The drakes are stunningly colourful, with a beautiful chestnut brown head with prominent white stripe above the eye, and distinctive pale blue forewing in flight. However they are a scarce, un-obtrusive and quite secretive species, often only their call giving away their presence, much like an old football rattle and hence its old English name of ‘Cricket Teal’. With only around 100-150 pairs in the UK, the Lower Derwent Valley is something of a stronghold for the species in Northern England – and this year probably offers one of the best chances to encounter the species. With up to 13 birds around the valley, including nine drakes, it’s a great time to search them out before the grass grows further and they seemingly ‘disappear’. The pool at Wheldrake Ings, the hides at North Duffield Carrs (especially the appropriately named ‘Garganey Hide’ are the best places to look for them. Many thanks to local birder Duncan Bye for the use of his photograph, taken recently from Wheldrake Ings.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

15/05/18 - Egret abundance

Over the last month we have seen an increasing number of Grey Herons around the reserve as birds in the local heronry are busy feeding hungry broods. We’ve been avoiding any disturbance to the heronry in March and April, following the cold weather in March whilst the adults were incubating (herons can be sensitive to any disturbance at this critical time), but during late April and early May we have been visiting the heronry to survey the number of active nests, as we have done for the BTO’s heronry census for nearly 40 years. This national survey has been running for 90 years and has built up a wealth of data and knowledge on the population trends of our UK Grey Heron population. On our first visit the numbers of herons appear down with just 19 nests so far – whether this is the effect of the cold spell in early March which may have taken its toll, or merely delayed breeding, or the effects of the extensive late spring flooding reducing feeding opportunities, we’ll have to wait and see.

However, this year it isn’t only the herons that we’ve been keeping an eye on, several (and an increasing number) of pairs of Little Egrets are also present – a species which has been abundant in the valley recently, with a high count of 42 of late. Little Egrets are an increasingly familiar sight in the Lower Derwent Valley these days and are now often more regularly encountered than our resident Grey Herons, especially at Bank Island where birds can currently be seen on a daily basis. In particular over the last month they have been recorded far more than herons, with good concentrations at Bank Island, Wheldrake and North Duffield Carrs, with some notable counts also coming from Sutton Ings and the Low Grounds as well as along the Pocklington Canal.

The first recorded sighting in the valley came in 2001 with the first record of breeding occurring several years later in 2009. Last year numbers increased to at least eight pairs, however this year’s figures look set to be a huge increase on that – more details to follow later in the season. Recently another colour-ringed individual was seen at Bank Island (awaiting details), so please remember to look out for any birds with rings on as this helps us to build up a picture of where ‘our’ local birds are coming from and going to.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

10/05/18 - 'Terning' up

Last week during the volunteer work party, as well as repairing the paths and hides at North Duffield Carrs, our team also helped us to get one of the tern rafts back out on site. Hopefully as the water continues to recede and the site dries out, we’ll be able to get the other one out next week too. A pair of Common Terns have been seen this week around Bank Island and Wheldrake Ings, so fingers crossed they’ll stay to breed once again. Last year thanks to the generosity of a private donation, the Friends of the Lower Derwent Valley funded the purchase and installation of the two nesting rafts last spring. The day after installation the newly arrived terns spotted our new raft and stayed over the summer months raising two chicks to fledging – first confirmed breeding success on the reserve. This was great news for the terns themselves, but also for many of our other breeding waterfowl as the terns defended their territory from any predators passing through the patch. It also meant the many visitors to the site were entertained by the antics of the fishing adults and the young learning to fly on the pool at Wheldrake. Fingers crossed for another successful year.

A week on from getting the first raft out, the water levels had receded enough on Wheldrake, allowing us to access the pool, however with plenty of mud in the way it was quite an exercise carrying the raft in from a long way back due, but as we finally made it onto the pool we were met by the excited calling of a pair of Common Terns – no doubt pleased to see their new home being floated into position! We are also pleased to be able to update you that the tern raft we put out at North Duffield Carrs last week has attracted three pairs of Common Terns – just rewards for everyone’s efforts. Many thanks as always to our team for all the extra help and pairs of hands!