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.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

25/04/15 - Scoters & Owls

Things have been rather quiet on the ringing front throughout the last few months, however Jean has been fairly busy, with a number of raptors and the start of spring seeing the first ducklings. To add to the variety two Common Scoters have also passed through her care.

At this time of year Common Scoter’s have been known to turn up inland, often occurring from mid-March to mid-April, with a peak of records during the first week of the month. In April 2012 Jean received a phone call after one was reported in a garden in Hull, two years on almost to the date and the same thing happened this year with a bird found in a garden in Easingwold on the 7th. These birds appear to be undertaking a cross country migration, but from and where to is not well understood. The cross country movements can result in birds being found exhausted or picked up, otherwise unharmed, in unusual surroundings such as gardens. Much like the last one there appeared to be nothing wrong with this bird and so Jean returned it promptly to the East Coast so that it could feed up on its natural diet of marine molluscs. It was ringed and released near Scarborough Harbour where it ‘sprinted’ across the water before settling a few metres away. After a quick preen it started diving quite happily - nice for Jean to see this bird back where it should be and in good health after a weekend of bad news stories – more to follow on this below.

Only a week after the first Common Scoter turned up inland, a second individual was found in a garden in Hareham - presumably blown off course again or downed with exhaustion from battling against the strong winds. Compared with the first bird that was a female, this bird was a stunning male with a jet black head and the characteristic yellow pattern on the bill. After a once over and a short ‘rest’ at Jean’s it was returned to the East Coast and released on Scarborough beach by Jean and her Granddaughter. 

Over the Easter weekend along with the Common Scoter, Jean also received a phone call regarding an injured Tawny Owl. A kind family in Thorpe Bassett contacted Jean upon finding it injured and unable to stand in their garden. The bird was a breeding female and had a large pronounced brood patch (this is a large bare patch where the bird sits on its eggs keeping them warm to incubate them). Jean examined the bird and could see its legs were injured but could find no wounds. The bird was fed and housed in a warm box and left in a quiet shed overnight, the next day Jean took the bird for examination to Battle Flatts Vets where it was x-rayed and all was revealed - it had been shot with an air rifle, with the pellet breaking both its legs. 

The fractures were already healing suggesting that its injuries were around 10 to 14 days old, it is thought that this bird had managed to get back to her nest and continue brooding her eggs, her legs had then started to heal in this sitting position. Her mate must have continued to feed her - the bond between a mated pair of Tawnies is very strong and constant. Sadly she would never be able to hunt with this inability to catch food and she was put to sleep that morning. The callous shooter not only illegally cut short her life but also that of her coming brood. An appalling crime. Hopefully whoever did this will soon be caught and prosecuted.

Tawny Owls are early nesters, with many pairs around the valley (sadly like this one was), now incubating clutches. Many are very site faithful like the stunning individual pictured below that we re-caught at a regular site in 2013, having been ringed in the exact same place some 15 years earlier.

Following on from the Tawny Owl that was shot by an air rifle, another sad story came at the same time when this little Mallard duckling was left with no mother or siblings….all but one were killed on Huntington Road in York when a car failed to see them. The driver carried on but a kind lady who saw it all happen stopped and moved the bodies to one side, whilst doing so she spotted the single duckling scampering away. The duckling is now with Jean and is doing well, and will be released back into the wild when ready and old enough to fend for itself. 

And finally - a story with a happy ending - last week Jean received a phone call regarding a Barn Owl that had been found stuck in the front of a grill on a large heavy goods vehicle, amazingly the bird was pulled out alive with no injuries, just (as you would expect) a bit stunned and ‘ruffled’. The driver had seen the owl coming towards his lorry but he thought he had managed to miss it, so to his amazement when he arrived in Goole (having set off in Melbourne), there it was. 

On arrival at Jean’s the bird (adult female) was found to be fairly light (266g), which is similar to other weights recently (257g, 233g), with the average weight of a female usually being around 350-450g, again adding more information to the question of whether they are struggling to find enough food. After a week to come round and feed up she was released back at her ‘home’ in Melbourne on Monday. She was definitely ready to go and glided across the fields quickly disappearing out of sight. There is a possibility that we may come across her again later in the year whilst carrying out our nest box checks – last year we ringed several broods from the Barn Owl pairs that nest in and around Melbourne.

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