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 resume over the winter months, and will run alongside wildlife and work posts.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

End of summer - Work on the NNR

A few snippets on how August panned out working in the Lower Derwent Valley and on Skipwith Common NNR....

At the beginning of August Judith returned to the LDV once again so that we could re-cap on what was learned during last year’s Long Term Monitoring Network days – particularly the tricky grasses! The morning was spent at Thornton Ellers where we found 31 species of grasses/sedges/rushes and 66 species of wildflower, all from the meadow and along the hedgerow. Full write up of the day can be read here.  

Plant I.D at Thornton Ellers

The big butterfly count ran until the 10th August (run by Butterfly Conservation), which involves recording all species seen during a fifteen minute walk or from a fixed point. We chose to start our walk from the NNR Base Garden and continued along the lane which leads down to Wheldrake Ings. We recorded 77 butterflies of 12 species, with the most recorded being Small Tortoiseshell (28), Peacock (15) and Small White (11). Highlights also included several Comma’s, Gatekeepers and Small & Large Skippers.

Small Copper - NNR Base

Throughout August our volunteers and the Friends of Skipwith Common (FOSC) have been helping John the Shepherd round up the 300 ewes and their lambs on the Common – firstly for shearing and then for a general health check, ear tagging and worming. Hard work in the hot weather but essential for the welfare of the stock and the subsequent management of the site. The main management objective for the Common is to restore and maintain open heathland with a programme of scrub clearance and felling of invasive birch trees. Trying to employ more traditional and ancient methods, the estate own and manage a herd of the primitive and hardy rare breed Hebridean sheep, Longhorn cattle and Exmoor ponies. These animals graze and browse the scrub and coarser grasses and vegetation, keeping them in check and providing suitable conditions for many of the rare and specialist wildflowers and other wildlife that depends on the heathland.

Sheep shearing on the Common

During August the butterfly transect continued weekly around the NNR Base Garden and Bank Island, where good numbers of Commas in particular were recorded. The scalloped and ragged edges to the wings of the Comma make it one of the more distinctive butterflies, when its wings are closed be careful not to mistake it for a dead leaf – all part of its disguise from predators! The bright orange and black of the upperwings give it a striking appearance, however the marbled brown colouring of the underwings help it to camouflage, also, look out for the white comma-shaped mark which gives the butterfly its name.

 Comma - NNR Base

Along with cutting back the vegetation around the pools to make them more appealing to passage waders, we’ve also been dropping the water levels on the pools to provide nice muddy margins for feeding areas for birds on passage such as Green Sandpipers, and to create good conditions for the first returning dabbling ducks such as Teal. This also allows the chance to see more secretive species such as Water Rails and Spotted Crakes as they venture out into the open. It also provides exposed mud and bare ground adjacent to the water for various invertebrates.

Green Sandpiper - Wheldrake Ings

During the last two weeks of August several days were spent working on Skipwith Common spraying off the Pirri-pirri Bur. This plant is native to New Zealand, the story goes that it arrived on the boots and socks of the New Zealand Airmen based at the Second World War airfield on the Common - RAF Riccall. It certainly seems to thrive around the old run ways, bomb bays and the other old parts of the airfield. Whilst it hasn’t yet spread out onto the open heath and started to affect the national and internationally important features of the site (the lowland wet and dry heaths which are protected under various designations), it is spreading and beginning to swamp out other important vegetation such as the Broad-leaved Helleborines, Twayblades and Common Spotted Orchids. The sticky seeds are covered with small barbed hooks, which attach themselves to boots, clothes and the livestock on the Common such as the sheep and deer, which is how it is then spread around the site. We’ve been spraying the burs to prevent it spreading any further, and to stop it out competing the other vegetation as it forms its dense mat.

 Hannah busy spraying the Pirri-pirri
Pirri-pirri Bur - Skipwith Common

Several warm and sunny mornings were spent at Thornton Ellers which produced good counts of dragonflies, particularly along the hedgerow and amongst the bracken. We’re used to seeing them zip around high above our heads, particularly the hawkers, however this time we were fortunate to have really close views of Southern, Migrant & Brown Hawkers as they perched on the vegetation. Southern Hawkers can usually be noticed by their larger size and their inquisitive nature - often checking out the observer! Usually found near to woodland where they can be observed hawking for insects through woodland rides and hedgerows. Migrant Hawkers are one of the smaller hawkers, appearing a lot later on the wing, from the end of July until October, or even November in mild years.

 Migrant Hawker - Thornton Ellers
Southern Hawker - Thornton Ellers

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