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.

For daily sightings please visit our Twitter account: https://twitter.com/ldv_nnr (@LDV_NNR)

For details of events, volunteer tasks and wildlife images please visit our Facebook account: https://www.facebook.com/Lower-Derwent-Valley-Skipwith-Common-NNR

Friday, 12 July 2019

02/07/18 - Common Tern success

Last week after a busy day working on the reserve, our small team of staff and ever-increasing band of volunteers headed down to the tern rafts at Wheldrake Ings and North Duffield Carrs. Following the rafts being put back into place in April, along with a few repairs and top-up of gravel, both rafts were soon home to a pair. For the third consecutive year, we are delighted to say that we have had successful breeding on the reserve, with two pairs hatching five chicks which are now a good size and ready to fledge – joining the six fledged birds raised from two broods in 2018 and a brood of two from a single pair in 2017, when the ‘Friends Of’ first purchased the rafts thanks to a kind private donation. It’s fantastic to have these birds as an addition to the reserves breeding bird community, and great entertainment for our visitors – best seen from Pool Hide at Wheldrake Ings. The terns are likely to be around until the end of the month, so if you haven’t seen them yet you still have time. 

On the day that we ringed the chicks, we also received some exciting news...

Last year we colour-ringed all six chicks hoping we might get a sighting from somewhere in the UK next year, when the birds first return to the country having spent their first summer and two winters in Africa – although from six chicks the odds were rather low. However, not only did we receive news that one of our birds had been reported, but that it had unusually already made it back to the UK in its first summer. Along with a report of the sighting, we were delighted to receive an image of the bird, taken at Seaforth Nature Reserve in Merseyside. It will be interesting to see if it appears there next year when it will be at breeding age – perhaps it has already found a breeding colony to join after its next trip to Africa. Many thanks to Gavin Thomas for sending in his record and image, and to everyone involved in managing the rafts and raising funds. We’d like to install further rafts next year, if you would like to help please follow the link to our Go Fund Me page, thank you -https://www.gofundme.com/conserving-the-lower-derwent-valley

Monday, 1 July 2019

20/06/19 - National Volunteering Week

Recently as part of #NationalVolunteeringWeek, we were delighted to host three different teams of Aviva staff from the York branch. During the week (4-7th), we were joined by Helen and her team on the Tuesday - after an introduction to the site, followed by a chance to watch a bird ringing demonstration and the opportunity to explore the contents of the moth trap, the team set about the task of continuing with the planting of reed at Bank Island, with the aim of establishing a small reedbed behind the scrape. Everyone got stuck in and soon made light work of planting several hundred reeds. Whilst there we also removed some redundant fencing, helping us achieve our aim of trying to remove perches used by crows, in an attempt to help reduce breeding wader predation. Many thanks to Betty’s 'trees for life' for a kind grant which supplied the reed, and to Helen and her team of staff for trying something new and helping to make a difference, and of course to our regular Tuesday group for their continual effort week in week out. 

We were then joined by Joe and his colleagues, and on another good weather day with warm sunshine making for a pleasant day on the reserve. Meeting at the NNR base at Bank Island, the team were able to join in with checking the moth trap, before watching a bird ringing demonstration take place. Another good catch in the moth trap was had, with the stunning Elephant and Poplar Hawk-moths being the highlight, along with a Buff-Tip which, once seen is rarely forgotten – with it resembling a broken birch twig. The morning was then spent planting the remainder of the reeds at Bank Island. Once the reeds were planted and the scrape filled with water, the team headed to Skipwith Common NNR, to help out Escrick Park Estate by making more progress tidying the leftover brash felled during the winter. Another great day was had by all, many thanks to Joe and his team, and also to our weekly Thursday group for their efforts throughout the day – improving the site for both people and wildlife. 

Then last week we were delighted to welcome a third group, with Sarah and her team of staff enjoying a day working on the reserve. This is the fourth day in recent months that we have been fortunate to be joined by a new team of Aviva staff, with another two groups to follow in July. With limited resources and a vast site to manage, any help either via corporate groups or individual volunteering is so incredibly valuable, so many thanks to everyone who has helped out so far this year. Sarah and her team were fortunate to be blessed with glorious warm weather, making it a delightful day to be spent working on the NNR. After a bird ringing demonstration and checking the moth trap, the team headed to Skipwith Common NNR to continue making progress building reptile hibernacula and wildlife corridors, using the brash leftover from the winter felling works. Following a spot of lunch back in the NNR base wildlife garden, the team then spent the afternoon working in the garden, and helped us check some of our nest boxes for tits and sparrows. Many thanks as always to everyone for their efforts, and to our regular group of Thursday volunteers for welcoming Aviva and helping us run the task. 

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

10/06/19 - Sand Martin success

Recently, we posted that due to the help and support over the last few years via logs, cards, calendars and donations, the Friends of the Lower Derwent Valley had been able to purchase and install two Sand Martin nesting banks at Wheldrake Ings and Bank Island. Once installation by John and his team from Green Future Building, our hard-working team of volunteers carefully filled all the nesting chambers and tunnels with sand - so that the Sand Martins could then move in and dig it all back out. We’re delighted to say it’s been an instant success, within days several individuals were busy excavating the holes at Bank Island, providing great entertainment for visitors in the adjacent hide to watch. 

At present, up to 24 holes have been excavated, and last week we were thrilled to find the first pairs are already incubating clutches, with others busy lining their nests. Several birds have also started to investigate the Wheldrake bank, hopefully visitors to the pool over the summer will be able to enjoy the comings and goings as the colony increases. 

This really has been a case of ‘build it and they will come’ – and in this case in just a couple of weeks. Many thanks to the Friends for their ongoing support and great work in helping deliver improvements to the reserve and adjacent area, and to everyone who has supported their work and our hard-working volunteers. Following on from the immediate success this year, we are hoping to install two more banks next year, including in front of the Geoff Smith Hide at North Duffield Carrs, however a lot of funds need to be raised beforehand. If you would like to help contribute you can do so via our Go Fund Me page (https://www.gofundme.com/conserving-the-lower-derwent-valley) – thank you.

Monday, 17 June 2019

01/06/19 - Joint working with the EA

Over the course of the last two weeks, our fantastic and enthusiastic team of volunteers have once again been on their travels with us, this time heading up the River Derwent to a site near Yedingham, north-east of Malton. The Environment Agency, working with a sympathetic landowner and the Internal Drainage Board, have been working to ‘naturalise’ the straightened river. The flood banks have been lowered and breached, allowing a small area of previously arable land to become part of the floodplain once again with a series of scrapes, ponds and channels providing a range of habitats. Our task was to provide a range of wetland plants, sourced around the Lower Derwent Valley NNR, to help the colonisation of the site, and to provide another refuge for many of the rare and scarce species present on the reserve. 

The team were kept busy planting a range of species, including Water Dock and Greater Water Parsnip – the latter being confined to just the LDV and Hornsea Mere a few years ago. We have since managed to restore this nationally scarce and declining species to many of its traditional Yorkshire sites, and hopefully this will help secure it at yet another Yorkshire Derwent location. Many thanks to everyone involved - another great job by our fantastic team.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

29/05/19 - York Minster Peregrines

At the end of May several of our team had the privilege of accompanying Jean on her visit to York Minster, to ring and colour-ring the Peregrine chicks. To reach the chicks the team, lead by Minster staff, made their way up the 100+ steps inside of one of the towers, before carefully negotiating the roof top and numerous ledges. Following on from our visit last year where we ringed four large healthy chicks, on this occasion we were delighted to find another brood of four healthy chicks. The four chicks were all in really good condition, and going by the size of the individuals it was thought to be two males and two females, all roughly four weeks old. 

Each chick was BTO ringed and then fitted with a unique colour-ring, which will allow the local birders and visitors to the Minster to follow who’s who, as they fledge in the coming weeks, but also in the longer term as they move out to find breeding sites of their own. The ringing process went very swiftly, with the chicks soon back in the nest again, shortly followed by the adults – they’d been keeping a watchful eye on us from a nearby tower whilst the ringing was being undertaken. Many thanks to Jean for organising the visit which allows us to monitor these beautiful birds, and also to the staff from York Minster for allowing access to the nest and accompanying us up the tower. Fingers crossed all four chicks fledge safely this year – we had a few false starts and crash landings last year.

Monday, 10 June 2019

20/05/19 - Reed planting

During the last two weeks our team of staff and volunteers have been busy planting reeds at Bank Island, with the aim of creating a reed bed in the new scrape. This project has been kindly funded by Betty’s and administered by Two Ridings Community Fund – in total £3900 has been given to the Friends of the Lower Derwent Valley for reed bed and scrape creation work at the site. 

This work, alongside the installation of Sand Martin nesting banks is aiming to increase the biodiversity and conservation significance of the site, as well as increasing visitor and public enjoyment. We are also further indebted to the York Ornithological Club, for a grant for scrape and reed bed creation elsewhere within the Lower Derwent Valley – hopefully increasing populations of key reed bed bird species, as well as plants and invertebrates. With thanks to these kind grants and the hard work of our volunteers and students, we will hopefully be enjoying some really positive changes over the next few years – many thanks as always to everyone involved, and to our team for helping to plant some of the 2500 reeds!

Thursday, 23 May 2019

12/05/19 - Cuckoo arrival

Spring brings with it many wildlife delights and things to look out for, but one of the sounds most looked forward to has to be the call of a Cuckoo, usually first occurring in mid-April. Although numbers of this iconic summer visitor have fallen in many parts of the UK, (thought in part to be linked to the changes of abundance and distribution of their prey), numbers in the Lower Derwent Valley are still doing well. Whilst not as common as they once were, good numbers have arrived back following the first of the year recorded at Melbourne on 10th April. From recent survey work around the Ings and Pocklington Canal, 27 singing males have been located so far. The Pocklington Canal area at Melbourne is a favoured haunt of these birds and a good place to listen out for the distinct ‘cuckoo’ call of the male, and the less frequently heard ‘bubbling’ call of the female. The Bank Island/Wheldrake Ings/Storwood area also has at least three calling males, whilst Skipwith Common is another reliable site. Many thanks to local wildlife photographer Mark Hughes for the image below, taken in Melbourne in the Lower Derwent Valley.

Friday, 10 May 2019

05/05/19 - Groppers & Garganey

It's already looking like it’s going to be a good year for Grasshopper Warblers in the valley, with up to three singing or ‘reeling’ males located so far. Like the name suggests Grasshopper Warblers (also known as Groppers), have a high pitched, insect-like reeling song, similar to that of a grasshopper which is the best clue to their presence. They are rather elusive, often singing from the base of dense cover and can be hard to locate - more often than not a view of this bird is brief, often mouse-like, creeping through low dense foliage in reedbeds and adjacent scrub. Last week several of our team were fortunate to have a better view when one of the birds found its way in to one of our mist-nets. 

This is the 21st individual to have been ringed on the reserve, from our ringing recoveries we were notified that an individual ringed in July 2011 was later recovered heading south on migration at Titchfield Haven, Hampshire 345km and just 20 days later. Arriving here from mid-April Groppers are present until late July and August before wintering in western Africa – British ringed birds having been found wintering in Senegal and the Gambia. Although they can occur almost anywhere, Wheldrake Ings and the Pocklington Canal (particularly around Church Bridge near Melbourne) can often be the best chances of hearing one. When visiting the site please feel free to let us know if you come across any.

So far this spring we have already seen good numbers of Garganey - our only summer migrant duck species, which arrive in the UK from their African wintering grounds from mid-March, remaining until late August-early September. The drakes are stunningly colourful, with a beautiful chestnut brown head with prominent white stripe above the eye and distinctive pale blue forewing in flight, however they are a scarce, unobtrusive and quite secretive species, often only their call giving away their presence, much like an old football rattle and hence the old English name of ‘Cricket Teal’.

With around 100-150 pairs in the UK, the Lower Derwent Valley is something of a stronghold for this species in Northern England. A pair which have been present since 6th April have been showing well, and almost daily at Bank Island, with up to three pairs also present at the nearby Wheldrake Ings. As the vegetation grows and the water draws down birds will become harder to see, occasionally appearing in front of the hides like this drake photographed recently by regular valley birder Duncan Bye.  

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

03/05/19 - Skipwith Common NNR fire damage

Recently, on the evening of Monday 15th April, fire crews from Selby, Acomb, Tadcaster, Huntington and York were called to Skipwith Common NNR at 16:58pm, to tackle a fire which had broken out on the main heathland in front of the bomb bay viewing area. The quick and excellent response from the fire services, aided by staff from Escrick Park Estate and our own team, saved the site from extensive damage. 

The fire was fuelled by the tinder dry grass and heather, and further encouraged by strong and gusting winds. In total approximately 40,000 square metres of the most mature heather on site has been lost, with damage also to fencing, stock handling equipment and the easy access viewing platform over-looking the heath. The morning after the fire our team returned to dampen down smouldering hot spots to prevent further flare ups, and have returned over recent weeks to start replacing fence posts, and area and stock pens to make the heath stock proof. 

We’ve also been busy with our volunteers repairing damage to the post and rail fencing by the viewing area, and the burnt section of the viewing platform. Many thanks to everyone involved for their great efforts in responding directly to the fire itself, but also with the tidy up and repairs - a great team effort. Whilst it was sad to see we had lost some snakes, frogs and a Teal’s nest in the blaze, it should hopefully be a relatively short-term loss.


Wednesday, 1 May 2019

01/05/19 - Sand Martin banks and Tern rafts

With thanks to support via logs, cards and calendar purchases, and kind donations, last week the Friends of the Lower Derwent Valley took delivery and installation of two new Sand Martin nesting banks. Sand Martins are the smallest of our hirundines and agile fliers, feeding mainly over water – look out for the new banks by Pool Hide at Wheldrake Ings, and near the new scrape on Bank Island. 

Wintering largely in the Sahel area of Africa, Sand Martins are one of the first summer migrants to appear from mid-March. They are highly gregarious and breed in colonies where they excavate tunnels in sandy banks, small colonies are present in and around the valley, but hopefully these artificial banks will provide additional nesting locations - they will also be less prone to be flooded out and safe from predators. Many thanks to Green Future Building for the great job building and installing the banks, and thanks to our great team of dedicated volunteers for filling them with sand – making them ready for the birds to ‘move in’.

Last week, as well as preparing the new Sand Martin banks, the team also managed to find time to launch our two tern rafts back onto the water. Following a bit of general maintenance and new gravel, the two rafts were re-floated back into place on the pool at Wheldrake Ings and the top pond at North Duffield Carrs.

Due to a kind private donation three years ago the Friends of the Lower Derwent Valley purchased the two rafts from John and his team at Green Future Building. Both rafts have been used successfully in the last two years – a single pair fledged two young in 2017 with two pairs fledging six young in 2018. Our Common Terns should be arriving back any day now, hopefully visitors to the reserve will be able to enjoy watching them fishing on the river, ponds and pools throughout the area. We may also see the first young fledged in 2017 returning from their African wintering areas where they will have remained during the first year – these birds have been colour-ringed so please keep an eye open for them. If you’d like to support the work of the Friends, then please visit their Go Fund Me page (https://www.gofundme.com/conserving-the-lower-derwent-valley) helping to deliver more positive conservation projects on and around the reserve.