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, 20 January 2015

20/01/15 - Recent 'goings on'

A few snippets from recent weeks in the Lower Derwent Valley and other managed NNR's - Skipwith Common & Forge Valley Woods.

Since the start of the New Year the team have been getting stuck into the ongoing woodland management at Forge Valley Woods NNR. The work being carried out is aimed at improving the woodland structure and composition of the trees to a more natural situation, removing introduced softwoods and Beech, and thinning out the highly competitive Sycamores which can cast a dense shade and heavy leaf cover over the ground. Other species such as Hazel and Elm are also to be coppiced to increase the amount of light reaching the woodland floor, which will also help to promote a healthy and diverse ground flora. 

Fal in action - 05/01 - Forge Valley

The first Wild Garlic shoots were seen beginning to emerge, come May the site will be covered in a dense mat with the scent of Garlic hanging in the air – a sight and smell of Spring!

Wild Garlic - 05/01 - Forge Valley

Whilst there a 30ft mist net was put up over the lunch break, resulting in a catch of 65 birds, including 4 Marsh Tit, 7 Nuthatch, a flock of 14 Long-tailed Tits and a female Great Spotted Woodpecker. This is the first woodpecker to be caught here, although five other birds have been caught recently at the nearby Raincliffe Woods feeding station. A Jay was heard calling and came close for peanuts but it managed to avoid our net on this occasion – always nice to see one though. The birdwatcher’s car park is a great spot for photographing birds, and with the well positioned tables the birds frequently come fairly close to parked cars/people, allowing fantastic results. 

 Nuthatch - Forge Valley - 05/01
Great Spotted Woodpecker - Forge Valley - 05/01

Along with Forge Valley, Jays have also been showing well over the last month around the LDV. An increase in sightings of Jays was noted from the autumn, with an influx of birds in October, including an impressive day count of 20 at Wheldrake Ings. Some of these may have been associated with influxes from the continent but also mirrored by local British breeding birds moving around more between woods at this time of year in search of food. Skipwith Common NNR is the most reliable place to see (or at least hear Jays), and the bird feeding stations at Forge Valley and the adjacent Raincliffe Woods are also a good place with birds occasional coming down to food (although they are shyer than most species), offering a rare photographic opportunity.

Whilst the team were working at Thornton Ellers logging up and removing the recently cut willow and alder trees, two mist nets were set during the lunch break. Interestingly not many birds were caught or were present around the feeders - presumably they are still finding enough natural food. However it was about quality not quantity on this occasion, with a Jay finding its way into our net as it hunted for food. Jays, a member of the crow family, are a stunning bird, and one of the most colourful, however they can be tricky to spot, with their screaming call often being the first sign of their presence. Jays are famous for eating acorns however they also feed on caterpillars and beetles, as well as young birds/mammals from the nest. Each year a single bird can bury several thousand acorns which they retrieve during hard times throughout the winter if need be – by burying the acorns Jays play a vital role in the spread of oak woodlands – a fantastic and much needed resource for wildlife. 

 Jay - Thornton Ellers - 15/12

When excited or displaying Jays often raise their crown feathers – pictured here. The most common sight of a Jay is usually the flash of their distinctive white rump as they fly between the trees, a sight we often see whilst working here or on Skipwith Common where three pairs bred this year. Not many Jays have been ringed in the LDV, prior to this one a mere 12 had been ringed, with Skipwith accounting for over half from just a couple of broods in recent years. 


 
Whilst carrying out Avian Flu checks on the site recently we came across this immature/first winter male Whooper Swan on the Top Pond at North Duffield Carrs. It had obviously become separated from the rest of the herd present on the Carrs and either ended up landing on the Top Pond mistakenly to join the family of resident Mute Swans, or had perhaps been forced to crash land on there in the high winds. Either way, the resident Mute Swan cob didn’t take too kindly to his presence and persistently herded him around the pond, unfortunately appearing a bit bruised by this attention he was unable to take off. With this in mind we watched and waited until the Mute Swan hounded him up the swan pipe - quickly firing the door we were able to catch him and get him safely away from the angry Mute. Mute Swans, particularly males, are notorious for being aggressive towards other swans, and occasionally other waterfowl such as geese and even ducks. This is also rather typical of this particular cob, who is known to be very territorial, defending both his territory and mate from intruders and ‘perceived’ threats. 

 Whooper Swan - North Duffield - 06/01

After being fitted with a ring and a yellow darvic we released the lone Whooper on to the Carrs where he joined up with the rest of the herd (presently numbering 112 birds). 


Since the start of the New Year numbers of Fieldfares have been fairly low, along with the similar Redwing, although small groups were seen last week feeding on invertebrates in the ‘tide-line’ on North Duffield Carrs where the floodwater has started to recede. A winter visitor to the UK, Fieldfares are a well-known sight and sound of the autumn, arriving along our eastern coastline from early October before building up in numbers and moving south and west as the winter progresses. In harsh winters as many as a million Fieldfares may have no alternative but to head over the sea to the British Isles in the hope of finding milder conditions and enough available food, before returning eastwards to their breeding grounds during March with a handful of stragglers departing in early May. 

In early autumn Fieldfares can be found spread throughout the Lower Derwent Valley wherever hedges providing berries occur – particularly Bank Island, Wheldrake Ings, North Duffield Carrs and along the Pocklington Canal (around Church Bridge where small numbers regularly roost in the dense Blackthorn scrub). Larger numbers can often occur in mid-winter when the berries have become scarcer or when snow cover and ice force birds off the higher ground and into the lowlands. This will push them on to the Ings where they can make use of feeding on the invertebrates found in the meadows, they can often be seen sharing the same fields with the many Lapwing and Golden Plover that also winter in the valley.

 Fieldfare - 'The Ings' - T.Weston

During the last two weeks Barn Owls have started to show well again around the valley – with daily sightings of up to two birds in front of the hides at North Duffield Carrs and up to three at Bank Island behind the NNR office. Sightings of other singles have also come from several other scattered locations around the valley including Melbourne, Thornton, Storwood and Wheldrake. This follows last year’s record breeding season, and the relatively mild winter conditions experienced so far are no doubt helping the survival of the many young reared throughout the area last year. The birds at Bank Island seem particularly regular in their habits appearing around 3.30pm - 4pm onwards.

 Barn Owl - Bubwith - 11/09 

Good numbers of Ruff are once again present in the Lower Derwent Valley with up to 140 counted in recent weeks. Flocks containing over 100 birds have been showing well from the hides at North Duffield Carrs, along with Lapwing, Golden Plover and Dunlin.

Ruff are medium sized grey/brown wading birds, with the males being almost twice as large as the females, which during the breeding season acquire brightly coloured head tufts and a large collar of feathers around the neck. Ruff are typically a species of lowland wet grassland, thus finding the Lower Derwent Valley NNR to their taste. The LDV is one of the most important sites for the species in the country, with occasional breeding attempts over recent years - some of only a handful that occur in the UK in most years. Large numbers of males attend leks – this is where the males dressed in their splendid colourful head dress, ‘dance’ to attract females. This has been seen on the reserve in particular at North Duffield Carrs - one of the few places in the UK where this can be seen – usually in April and early May.

Fewer than 1000 Ruff winter in the UK each year with the LDV being one of the traditional hotspots, this year’s count of 140 could represent one of the largest UK counts this winter and may contain over 10% of the countries wintering population.

 Ruff  - North Duffield - 06/01


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