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, 28 April 2017

17/04/17 - Heat wave

With the recent spell of warm weather there has been a distinctive Mediterranean feel around the valley during the temperatures of 20 degrees last weekend. The much needed spell of warm weather brought out a range of butterflies and reptiles, whilst the bird life has been a little on the exotic side - recent sightings include three Common Cranes and two Great White Egrets, as well as up to sixteen Little Egrets, two Avocets, an adult Little Gull, a singing Cetti’s Warbler, the first returning Whimbrel and 34 Black-tailed Godwits. Our resident breeding Mute Swans have also starting laying clutches around the valley and we’ve just seen the first brood of eight Mallard ducklings at North Duffield Carrs.

Barn Owls are one of the favourite visitors to the Lower Derwent Valley, with the local birders fortunate to enjoy regular sightings, particularly during the summer months. We haven’t seen that many so far this year which is probably a good sign – hopefully meaning they have been finding enough food to survive the winter, which will help get them into good breeding condition for the forthcoming season. With the days now drawing out, we are likely to see more birds appearing on the wing at dusk in order to start hunting – Bank Island and North Duffield Carrs are often the best sites to view them, whilst the Pocklington Canal area is another good location. Later in the year we’ll be checking the progress of our local population, hopefully it’ll be a good season for them – the last couple being rather poor and linked to a dip in the vole cycle on which they depend. However, we have recently heard about one of the few young birds we ringed in the summer of 2015, from a nest box on North Duffield Carrs. This individual had wandered all the way down into Norfolk where it was found in November 2016, unfortunately having been hit by a car – hopefully we’ll receive more controls from the birds ringed that year – and with a happier outcome.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

15/04/17 - Snakes in the grass

Last week ahead of the busy Easter weekend our fantastic team of volunteers, working alongside the staff team, have been undertaking a range of tasks around the reserve to get it into tip top condition. Last week the team were busy cutting our network of footpaths around the reserve with the allen scythe, before trimming up the paths with strimmers. The hides were also cleaned and tidied, the notice boards updated and the car parks litter picked. This week our volunteers have been busy once again, helping us in the reserve bee and butterfly garden, by weeding, pruning and planting up with additional nectar rich species. In the morning we also managed to spend a few hours helping out our YWT partners, by tidying up some of the post and wire fencing through the reed bed near Swantail Hide – making it better for visitors to access but also to help protect the reed bed itself. At the end of another productive day a quick look was then had in the meadow to admire the newly emerged Snake’s-head Fritillaries. Many thanks to everyone involved in helping making the valley such a great place to visit.

As well as spotting the Common Frogs, spawn and Smooth Newts present in the base pond, we also came across this Common Toad, tucked away under one of our logs piles. At this time of year, some of our toads may still be travelling to ponds in order to spawn, as they often mate a couple of weeks later than frogs. Their spawn can be easily identified as toad spawn, as it appears laid down in long double strings rather than a mass like that of the Common Frog. After spawning the toads will then disperse away from the ponds and seek out dark, damp and sheltered spots to spend the summer, whilst feeding on a range of insects and slugs. Toads and frogs can do a great job of helping gardeners keep on top of troublesome slug populations – providing a small pond, compost heap and log pile is a great way to encourage them.

Not only have our team being doing a great job at Bank Island, they've also been hard at work carrying out a spring clean at our visitor facilities at North Duffield Carrs, ahead of what will hopefully be another active spring season and a popular visitor time. As well as litter picking the car parks, painting the hides, strimming and spraying the paths, the team also helped repair the boardwalk, replacing a small section which had collapsed due to the constant wetting and drying out over the last few years. Hopefully all this hard work will add to our visitor’s enjoyment when visiting the reserve over the next few months, many thanks as always to our team for another productive day.

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!