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.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

27/05/14 - Royal visitors to the LDV

Back in January 2013, three otter cubs were found over the course of a few days, and were soon in the care of Jean Thorpe MBE (Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation) - one of our long standing volunteers and key member of the LDV NNR Team. It is likely that these cubs had been orphaned with the females possibly run over on local roads as a result of the river levels being high. Otters don’t tend to swim under bridges for some reason – instead preferring to walk along ledges or the river bank. As the river levels come up this often submerges the banks or ledges forcing the otters to walk up and over the bridge, often bringing them into contact with vehicles and occasionally getting hit by them.

As usual, having assessed the situation and weighed up the options, Jean gave them emergency care in the short term before they were taken to The Chestnut Centre in Derbyshire before going on to their bigger centre, The New Forest Wildlife Park for rearing. They do an amazing job with the rehab of wild otters, which is a fairly long process as the cubs take about 18 months to mature before they would leave their mother naturally in the wild. One of the cubs unfortunately did not make it but the two males grew well.

Both these otter cubs had fur covered that was covered in white spots – a less frequently seen form than the more usually plain brown form – historically known as royal otters.

Around the same time another female cub came into care at Jean’s, from Skerne East Yorkshire, found alone on a cold and frosty night. She was soon revived but had an injury to her tail. Mike Jones from Battleflatts Vets, Stamford Bridge examined her and the tip of her tail had withered and she needed an operation to remove the dead tissue. Mike did a wonderful job and her tail healed well, she was then named Stumpy! She too travelled down to the New Forest and was superbly cared for.

Release plans were put in place and the three adults, Hover and Rye (the spotted royal otters) and Stumpy were to be brought back to the area once the time was right. Hover and Rye were to be released in the Lower Derwent Valley NNR as the site falls within the wider catchment in which they were found. The site also offers a safe, undisturbed and prime area of habitat in which they can settle in and find their feet in their early days in the wild. The timing is also important in that the floods around the valley have receded and there is plenty of available food (fish and amphibians) concentrated into the 90 km of ditches around the reserve. 

A small pen, made from electric fencing in an area of dense wetland vegetation and with a small pond, plenty of willow scrub to lay up under and room for their travelling boxes was made. The day of the release came, and what a glorious one it was, a Wheatear bounced along the river bank fence posts as we headed to the site, and the sounds of displaying Lapwing, Curlew and Redshank overhead could be heard with the constant back ground accompaniment of Skylarks. Loafing drake Mallards, Gadwall and Shoveler were present along the riverbank and ditch sides suggesting the females were incubating clutches nearby, and vast numbers of tadpoles and shoals of fish were present in some of the ponds – what better place to start the rest of their free and wild lives. Hover & Rye were clearly ready to be back in this environment and didn’t hang around for long, not needing to take advantage of the free food hand outs over the next few days – a great result.

Stumpy was taken to her release site in East Yorkshire with our partners at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust where she was quietly placed in the pen, she was more reserved than the males and didn't come out into the open instantly like Hover & Rye. Her release went well and she now too has gone out into wonderful otter habitat away from roads and people.

Whilst the release was a truly wonderful experience to be involved with, it was just the final hours of a long 18 month journey which included a whole host of people, starting with the concerned householders of Fryton, Slingsby and Skerne who first found and reported them, Ed Heap, Roger Heap, Jason and Donna and all the staff at the Chestnut Centre and New Forest Wildlife Park for their wonderful care of these orphans, Mike Jones, the vet for his support and care for wild animals, Jon Trail at the YWT and all the staff and volunteers at the Lower Derwent Valley NNR. But most importantly, Jean Thorpe for her excellent care and dedication as always, and for coordinating the whole process.