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, 6 September 2019

28/08/19 - Bridges & Owls

After several weeks of tackling the invasive Himalayan Balsam and undertaking scrub control, our fantastic team of volunteers turned their hands to some bridge repairs this week. One of the culverts that allows access into the refuge area at Wheldrake Ings was starting to crumble, with it being necessary to rebuild it to ensure safe access for reserve vehicles and tractors to carry out management works.

The team did a great job of mixing sand and cement and filling bags at the NNR base, before moving them down onto site and carefully building them up in alternative layers. By the end of the day the team had ensured that anything crossing over into this part of the reserve would have a safe passage from now on, which is likely to be soon as we begin the rotational clearance of some of the extensive ditching network on site. The timing of our task this was also quite fortunate – instead of buying in sand, we were able to reuse sand from the artificial ‘beach’ at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trusts ‘wild zone’ at Countryfile live weekend at Castle Howard – thanks to Anna and the team for a great bit of recycling! Thanks also to our team for their efforts on Tuesday, as well as repairing the culvert, we were also busy maintaining the footpaths and coppicing willows.

Recently whilst working on the NNR, our volunteers have also been fortunate to see some of the rehabilitated and hand-reared wildlife that Jean has been bringing in to release onto the reserve - in most cases all wildlife is returned to where it has come from, but if for any reason that is not possible, the next best thing is to release it into the best suitable habitat.

Two Tufted Duck ducklings reared by Jean, alongside a few Mallards, were released back onto the pool at Wheldrake, whilst we’ve also been privileged to see and release two juvenile Little Owls back into the valley. 

The Thorganby area seems to be somewhat of a stronghold for these birds locally, with several pairs also present in the wider parish. Jean’s birds were released nearby into suitable habitat, and hopefully where they stand a good chance of finding their own territory and a mate in coming years. These birds were all ringed by Jean, which, if re-caught, will allow us to monitor their success and add to our knowledge of the local populations. Many thanks to Jean and her team of helpers at Battle Flatts Vets for all they do.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

20/08/19 - Seed harvesting

Whilst the local farmers have been busy cutting hay, our team have been hard at work harvesting some of our valuable MG4 grassland seed, which will go towards helping to recreate similar hay meadows elsewhere. In previous years this seed has been supplied to the RSPB, Environment Agency, Albanwise and Leven Carrs, as well as several other private landowners and farmers.

After several years of this project it's great to hear some positive feedback recently from our work – some of the first sites that were seeded are already showing an establishment and an increase in herb and grass diversity, including some which were arable fields just a few years ago. This year some of our seed will be transported to the Dearne Valley and the Garganey Trust’s great work at Broomhill Flash, where they are hoping to create nearly 15 ha of hay meadows on the site. Many thanks to our great team of staff and volunteers who have helped harvest over 12 ha of seed over the last few weeks.


Monday, 19 August 2019

15/08/19 - Garganey

The Lower Derwent valley has long been known as an important site for breeding Garganey – a migratory duck which comes to the UK for the summer to breed, before returning to its wintering grounds in Africa. Not only is the LDV important for numbers of this rare breeding duck, but also in some years it can often provide birders one of the best chances to have a close encounter with this beautiful species. This year has been good on both counts – with up to seven drakes and four females showing well throughout the spring and summer, with almost daily sightings coming from Bank Island, Wheldrake and North Duffield Carrs early in the season. We know that four pairs have been successful in rearing 21 young this year – and we’ve even managed to catch and colour-ring one of those, a young male. 

This is actually the first Garganey to be ringed in the UK since 2012 (when we last ringed one here), so we’re hoping that an eagle-eyed birder may spot it on passage somewhere. If you haven’t seen a Garganey yet this year you haven’t got long left – they often leave in August, however at the moment one is still present on the pool at Wheldrake.

Monday, 12 August 2019

02/08/19 - Hawk Eye

Each year whilst carrying out our bird ringing and monitoring of small bird populations around the NNR, we are usually lucky enough to catch one or two Sparrowhawks. It’s always a privilege to see these magnificent aerial hunters up close, as well as an opportunity to study their movements and collect data. Recently whilst catching Reed Buntings coming out of their overnight roost we found one in our net, keeping the buntings company - it’s likely we were there for the same reason... 

The Sparrowhawk was a second-year male – moulting from its juvenile brown plumage and acquiring its fresh new grey adult feathers - good to know it survived that all important first hard winter. We have had a few recoveries of local Sparrowhawks, including one ringed in October 1977 in Dumfries and Galloway - found in Wheldrake in February the following year – a distance of 203km. It’s certainly been a good breeding season for many of our small passerine birds, so it’s safe to say that our Sparrowhawks will no doubt be enjoying a good year too with plenty of prey available.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

25/07/19 - Marvellous moths

The moth trap has been a joy to check recently, despite the very early starts due to the overly warm weather. Large numbers of moths have been recorded, counted and released, including a record catch of 814 individuals. Several notable species and ‘firsts’ for the year are now also appearing, however, the undoubted star of the show was an incredibly impressive and beautiful Privet Hawk-moth. This species is the UK's largest resident Hawk-moth, and is unmistakeable with its pink and black striped abdomen and hindwings. Adults feed on nectar from highly-scented flowers such as those found in the NNR base garden, and fly at night, hence finding its way into our (perfectly harmless) trap. The Privet Hawk-moths equally impressive bright green caterpillar has white and purple stripes and a black curved tail, and feeds on Wild and Garden Privet as its name would suggest (along with Lilac, Ash, Honeysuckle and Snowberry) before overwintering as pupa, sometimes 30cm or more underground. This is the first individual to be recorded from the reserve, and away from the far south-east of the county remains a scarce moth in Yorkshire. 

Several days after trapping the Privet Hawk-moth (above), we were then delighted to find a Pine Hawk-moth in the trap early one morning (pictured below) - a new species for the reserve this year, and one which isn't always annual.

As well as many species appearing in good numbers over recent weeks, we have also recorded several scarcer species for the reserve. During recent years we have recorded just singles of the rather stunning Oak Eggar moth, which is attracted to our light trap at Bank Island. However, this year we have already recorded six of these large and impressive moths. The Oak Eggar, surprisingly given its name, does not feed on Oak, but instead actually got its name from the fact that its cocoon is acorn-like in appearance. The food plants of the caterpillar are mainly Heather and Bilberry but also include Bramble, Willow and Hawthorn – the latter three of which are found around the NNR base at Bank Island.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

18/07/19 - Little Egrets

Over the last few weeks we have taken a number of successful cannon net catches as part of a new project to colour-ring a sample of our Little Egrets. Over several catches we have managed to ring and colour-ring 9 Little Egrets, as well as an adult and immature Grey Heron, 10 Mallard, 2 Teal, a single Wigeon and 2 Green Sandpiper. We were especially pleased to get the three Little Egrets colour-ringed - the first to be marked in the valley, in order to help us understand the movements and use of the site by a species which has expanded quickly over the last few years. 

After our first catch, the following day we were amazed to receive our first re-sighting – H6 was photographed by Pete Short at Blacktoft Sands RSPB reserve, further showing the links between the two reserves. When visiting the site please do let us know of any colour-ringed birds you see, or if you see any of our blue colour-ringed birds elsewhere – either by messaging us on here, via our Twitter account or by using the log books provided in the hides.

Friday, 12 July 2019

02/07/19 - 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.