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, it now also features wildlife and work posts, explaining we how manage the NNR for both wildlife and people.

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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

12/07/15 - Snipe delight

Lately the ringing pliers haven't seen much use, usually at this time of year we're busy carrying out nest box checks and ringing young Barn Owls and Kestrel broods. Unfortunately this year is proving to be a rather unsuccessful one, with to date just two broods of Barn Owls and one brood of Kestrels ringed so far. Compared with this time last year, we'd just ringed the 117th Barn Owl chick and 57th young Kestrel - more to come on this below.

Ducks also seem to be having a poor season in the valley, with just three broods of Gadwall and one brood of Shoveler and Tufted Duck seen so far this year. Waders on the other hand seem to have fared better, with a number of young Curlews, Redshank and Lapwing chicks seen in the meadows. Snipe also breed in the meadows but are rarely seen, however last week whilst the team were out hand pulling Marsh Ragwort, this little newly hatched Snipe chick was found. Whilst it isn’t unusual for the teams out in the meadows to come across wader chicks or other breeding birds, nests or young, in recent times Snipe chicks have been quite scarce. Numbers have sadly declined over the last 20 years, much in line with the national population, and probably made worse locally by several summers with unseasonal flooding. However, numbers have increased again this year with up to 40 drumming males or pairs. This little chick was quickly ringed and returned to the meadow – wader chicks are largely independent, leaving the nest and feeding themselves as soon as they hatch. Hopefully this one will go on to fledge successfully and further add to the local breeding population in future years.

Snipe chick - 23/06

No ducklings from the Ings have been ringed so far this year due to it being such a poor year, however a brood were ringed and released on the reserve last month after nesting in one of the local gardens! The owners had watched as the female laid her eggs, incubated them and the ducklings hatch, and had been looking after them for five weeks - doing a great job in providing them with food and access to plenty of water via two of their children’s paddling pools! But due to a change in circumstances and a worry that they might be at risk from predators, they needed to be moved out of the garden, and with no easy access out of the small enclosed courtyard garden they were unable to get out themselves. After a successful round-up of all 10 of them, they were ringed at the office before being released on to Bank Island, where they took to the ditches and joined up with some of the other broods. There is a real mix of ages present at the moment across the site, ranging from the small ‘bumblebees’ as they are affectionately named, to some that are almost already fledged.

Mallard duckling - 18/06

As mentioned above, Barn Owls and Kestrels don't appear to be doing well this year, there are several theories as to why this has happened, our regular followers on here may remember at the beginning of the year (throughout February and into spring), that day time hunting Barn Owls were a daily occurrence on the Ings – something which you wouldn’t expect to see usually. It was believed that the owls were struggling to find enough food through darkness, with them resorting to hunting during the day.

Last year we know the vole cycle crashed during the winter, as they can do periodically, being very cyclical, and although we didn’t have a particularly harsh winter and the birds were able to hunt, it did mean unfortunately that they were struggling to find food, and we sadly picked up half a dozen starving or dead individuals – most birds however did survive the winter but weren’t able to obtain good enough body condition in order to breed. Putting energy into producing eggs, incubating them for four to five weeks, brooding chicks for another three, and feeding them for another six or seven is quite a big energetic expense on the females. Whilst the vole cycle is now likely to be recovering gradually, it is interesting to note that the few pairs we have heard about locally as rearing broods have, all bar one, been supplementary fed – with kind farmers and landowners providing additional small mammals and dead day old chicks.

Barn Owl brood - 2014

Barn Owls often produce second broods so it's not unusual to find chicks in August, but unfortunately it's got to the point now when the birds are running out of time to breed, but this ‘year off’ is likely to have little impact on the local or wider population following last year’s bumper season. 

Kestrels also seem to be struggling to breed, although have fared a little better than the owls as they can more readily switch to taking other prey and especially small birds. Last week a brood of three (first for the year), were ringed near Skipwith, at a reliable site high up in the roof of an old barn (and one that has produced chicks for the last four years at least). This included two females and a male, which can be separated at this relatively young stage by their tail colour – the males having a grey band and the females being all brown. After suspecting that many of our birds have been struggling to find enough food, particularly voles, it was interesting to find a number of small birds on the ground below this nest – including the remains of a Dunnock and Reed Bunting tail feathers.

Kestrel brood - male (l), female (r)

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