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 how we manage the NNR for both wildlife and people.

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

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Sunday 16 December 2012

04/12/12 - It's a wash out

In a common theme throughout the year, from April at least, we are once again completely flooded out in the Lower Derwent Valley. Whilst the River Derwent hit the news in late November with the flooding in Malton and Norton, the Lower Derwent Valley once again served its ecosystem services function in acting as a huge water storage area and floodplain, no doubt preventing many other areas from being flooded. This is one, if not ‘the’ biggest flood we’ve seen in recent decades, surpassing the biggest flood on record during 2000. Every last bit of dry land including the floodbanks disappeared, and even Garganey Hide at North Duffield Carrs vanished under the water with only the roof showing - and is now being used by loafing ducks!

27th November - North Duffield floodbank

27th November - Water pouring over the floodbank

30th November - The floodbank is no more

30th November - Garganey Hide submerged

Obviously access to the reserve isn’t possible at this moment in time and even the local roads became submerged in places, making access around the site difficult and rather long.

30th November - Bubwith bridge - no access!

It’s obviously put paid to most of our ringing activities in the valley for a while but it’s also had a big impact on some of our local bird populations as well as other wildlife. The Bittern which had been performing well in front of the Geoff Smith Hide at North Duffield Carrs (more details and photos can be seen on Andy Walkers blog) has been forced to move on, along with the roosting Marsh and Hen Harriers, and the feeding opportunities for the five Barn Owls that had been present recently are rather more limited and they have presumably been forced elsewhere. Wildfowl have been highly dispersed and waders have all but vacated the area.

On getting to Bubwith bridge which had been cut off due to flooding over both sides of the road, we also found that many small mammals had taken refuge on this last remaining bit of dry land - 5 Bank Voles, 2 Wood Mice, Pygmy Shrew and 2 Moles! Whilst it provides some easy feeding for Barn Owls and Kestrels one wonders how many more small mammals have not been so lucky in finding safe areas of dry land and what the impact might be on our resident owl populations next year??

Bank Vole - Bubwith bridge

It does however give us some opportunities whilst flooded out of the valley to get on and get some new boxes up and carry out some maintenance on the existing sites (and checking on who’s at home!). This adult female (initially ringed as a breeding female during the summer) was caught roosting with her partner, but unfortunately he was far too quick for us - nice to know they are still about and doing well.

Barn Owl - adult female

So totals have once again been rather low during the month due to limited opportunities, largely a result of water levels. However, one site did continue to produce the goods with another 4 Jack Snipe and 3 Common Snipe, plus a new bird for the area in the shape of a Short-eared Owl which appeared to have been hunting the above and followed them into the mist nets!

The month’s highlights:

Short-eared Owl - 1
Kestrel - 1
Tawny Owl - 1
Stonechat - 1
Waxwing - 12
Mistle Thrush - 1
Common Snipe - 4 (96 for the year)
Jack Snipe - 4 (16 for the year)

Tuesday 20 November 2012

17/11/12 - Wax'ing lyrical

Once again the historic walled City of York is under a Viking invasion, but no need to fear - it’s not from bearded barbarians with horned helmets this time, but from a delightful winter visitor to these shores whose antics will cheer up any dull autumnal day - the Waxwing.
Waxwings are birds of the high Arctic and boreal forest, the closest breeding populations being found in Scandinavia. Every few years, the birds erupt, possibly driven by good breeding seasons or by the result of poor berry crops (their main food source) and cross the North Sea to spend the winter here. They often congregate in towns and cities, usually choosing very public sites such as super market or council car parks where the planting of ornamental berry bushes such as rowan or cotoneaster provide great feeding opportunities.

The Waxwing - a very welcome Scandinavian visitor

This autumn has seen a large influx of these colourful and characterful little birds in the British Isles with several thousand involved. The largest such flock has involved 1000 around the Isle of Skye, but several flocks of up to 300 birds have been present in Yorkshire and the Humber region as birds move south through the UK having depleted berry crops further north. Licensed bird ringers throughout the UK have been catching, ringing and fitting these birds with colour-rings in order to follow their movement through the country over the winter, particularly in Aberdeen and Orkney. In previous winter influxes, birds ringed in Aberdeen in November have moved south to York in January and further south to Bedford by February and March, before returning north-east again in spring.

 Some of the 300+ present in York last week

NNR staff and volunteers from the Lower Derwent Valley travelled a short 5 miles down the road into York last week to try and catch some of the 300 present around the York walls. Having gained permission from our partners in the City of York Council, a couple of nets were set around one of the Rowan trees beneath the city walls, and shortly after 12 stunning Waxwings were caught. This was a great result in its own right but it also gave us a good opportunity to engage with the public about these birds, the work and evidence of bird ringing and the wider work of Natural England and organisations such as the BTO. 

Simply stunning

After we had safely extracted each bird we were quickly surrounded by the local residents who had been watching with bated breath and who too had hoped that we would be able to get a catch. It was brilliant to be able to make someone’s day and to show them in the hand the amazing colours and detail on these Scandinavian beauties.

Out of the twelve birds caught, interestingly only one was a young bird. The majority of catch were stunning adult males, aged and sexed on the differences in plumage. Males have a larger crest, and much more yellow through the primaries which the females lack and more and longer waxy tips on the secondaries, some of these features can be seen on the photographs below.

Adult male Waxwing

Adult female Waxwing

Juvenile male Waxwing

Adult female (left), adult male (right)

Whilst waiting for the Waxwings to come down and feed on the berries, the troublemaker below did his best to chase them off and guard 'his' tree. They are well known for defending their territory but unfortunately for him he stood little chance against such a big flock. He could only look on as the Waxwings helped themselves to his berries, and whilst trying to warn them off he found his way into our net! We are ofcourse talking about the lovely and highly vocal Mistle Thrush. 

Thanks to everyone involved today, and also to the local residents who welcomed our presence outside their homes and offered us hot drinks and a free parking spot! 

Saturday 17 November 2012

10/11/12 - Return to Forge

Last week saw us back at Forge Valley NNR - which is looking lovely at the moment with all the autumnal colours, sure to brighten up any dull day. We had quite a few jobs to fit into our short time here - to begin with we cleared a few crowded areas through coppicing. This is to increase the light reaching the woodland floor with the hope of increasing the diversity of plant life. Surveys were also carried out for Ash die-back and areas were strimmed which we hope will provide good habitat next year for Brown Argus, which tend to favour the calcareous grassland and particularly the larval food plant rockrose. The Duke of Edinburgh guys were also with us for a few days, working hard on a new boardwalk near Green Gate carpark.

Whilst here we took the opportunity to ring during our lunch break, and in just over one hour we managed a catch of 82 birds (66 new). This is the first session to be carried out here since March when we did a couple of demos for the D of E group. It's obviously good to get a sample of woodland birds (which appear to be declining quickly), and it's good to know that there is such a healthy population of Marsh Tits (8 were caught), and for us to have a marked sample to monitor. Out of the catch we also had 6 Nuthatch, 3 new birds and 3 re-traps - one ring we didn't recognise and the other two were from last year. It was interesting to catch so many Nuthatch, and to be able to see the differences in the sexes, which if you've only got one bird to look at isn't that easy if you've not ringed many. The photographs below really show the difference between the sexes, with the male being far more of a rusty colour (top & bottom right), compared with the female (bottom left) which is more of a pale buff colour (on the under tail coverts). 

The birds came thick and fast, and with more time we could have had a far bigger catch but work was calling and so we swopped the ringing pliers for a slightly bigger tool and cracked on. Whilst strimming the grassland we spotted a single Peacock butterfly which must have emerged following the mild weather of the last few days. On Skipwith Common last week we also had two records of Small Tortoiseshells that were still on the wing, good to keep the records going, and on that note can we just say a big thank you to everyone who has contributed to the butterfly data this year in the valley - between the LDV staff, volunteers, local birders and members of the public we have collected a brilliant 1302 records! Which is really good considering the wet weather for prolonged periods of time, and gives us an idea on which areas in the valley are good for certain species and which can be improved. Last year the base garden was transformed into what we hoped would be a good habitat for butterflies and this year it produced 641 records. So a BIG thank you to all involved. Below is a selection of photographs taken around the base garden this summer - roll on next year!

Thursday 8 November 2012

05/11/12 - Spring forward...die-back

Stonechats used to be a scarce bird in the Vale of York and Lower Derwent Valley area, with just a handful of records per year (if that), during the 1980's and 1990's. However there was a noticeable change in status during the last decade and by 2009/2010 Stonechats were a regular wintering bird with upto 10-15 holding winter territories in the area between late October and early March. Birds were also starting to become established as a breeding bird species within the local area.

As a result the group thought it would be interesting to undertake a colour-ringing study on these birds as the population grew - where were they coming from, where were they going and how would the population spread etc. However the first harsh winter of recent years (2010/2011) wiped out the birds with just a single record the following year, and again, following another cold winter, no records until 3 turned up on Skipwith Common last week. A couple of spring traps were baited with mealworms and only a few minutes later a superb first winter male became the first to be colour-ringed as part of this project - and only the fourth to be ringed in the area. With colour-rings so easy to see on these long legged and conspicuously perching chats we hope to get some data back. This also just goes to show how effective spring traps can be for certain bird species. 

Working at Thornton Ellers last week gave the opportunity to check on a known owl roost in a natural tree hole during a well earned lunch break - the morning had been spent ploughing through bracken.... The tree hole is a well sought after spot which has supported Barn Owls, Tawny Owls and Jackdaws as both breeding birds or winter roosting individuals. This time the inhabitant was a beautiful adult female Tawny Owl, and surprisingly it was un-ringed. How many individuals have roosted in this hole for the last 10 years or so we wonder?? The tree is an Ash, the species under the spotlight at the moment, and just goes to further reinforce how disasterous the new Ash die-back disease could be for hole nesters like these as well as a range of other wildlife.

Monday 5 November 2012

31/10/12 - Flooded out (still)

It’s been a while since our last blog post but that’s because it’s been a while since we last managed to ring anything and even longer since we last had any dry land on which to ring on!

All’s not been lost though, one determined group member has one site (details confidential) which isn’t completely under water and three short mist netting sessions at dawn have produced a respectable 8 Common Snipe and 10 Jack Snipe, all of which have now been colour-ringed. This is a great result and has kept the focus going on these amazing little birds in what seems to be a rather good autumn for them. We’ve also controlled one of our own Snipe in the last few days which we originally ringed at Bank Island on 9th September, it now appears to be wintering about 7 km away - a nice recovery and only our third piece of information from the 300+ ringed. Hopefully out of the 92 Common Snipe and 12 Jacks colour-ringed so far this year some will get re-sighted on their travels.

We don’t often mention passerine ringing on here as there are lots of other ringing blogs which cover this type of activity. However, Dave has been having some interesting results on Skipwith Common NNR with a total of 37 Lesser Redpoll being ringed there in the last few weeks. We haven’t ringed many Redpoll in the area as they are not a particularly common bird here, especially  in recent years, so the two birds Dave has caught wearing UK and Dutch rings will provide some useful information on movements.

Jean also brought in what must be one of the luckiest Mute Swans ever (depending on which way you look at it). Rather unluckily, this young bird found itself on a railway line and was unluckier still, when despite the prompt reaction of the driver, it was hit by a train, throwing it up into the air and back down to the ground. It was duly recovered but looked somewhat unsurprisingly, rather unwell. A night at Jean's saw it looking slightly better and a thorough inspection and x-rays at the vets showed it to have sustained no obvious injuries, however it was very flat, couldn't raise its head and was bruised. But then just 10 days later, and no doubt spurred on by some other 'swanny' company, it was ringed and released on the NNR with another first winter cygnet, where it appears to be enjoying a more relaxed and uneventful time. Hopefully it will be a little bit more wary of trains from now on! 

Jean has also had a run of very late Barn Owl young - presumably second or replacement clutches from those lost earlier in the season. These birds have been picked up as a last resort when found wandering around on the ground and almost starved, the adults presumably struggling to find food for them or perhaps where one of the adults has been lost. Either way, they fair well with Jean and will be soft-released back at their natal sites.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

08/10/12 - Reaping the rewards

Colour-rings...Whoopers...Tufties...colour-marked waterfowl...c/r Black-tailed Godwits, darvic'd Herons - the results (so far....)

Last week Russ (a regular LDV birder) spotted one of our colour-ringed Tufted Ducks at Castle Howard, this is the second Tufted Duck to be seen recently, giving us two movements from the 16 we ringed this summer - definitely worth all the getting wet and ploughing through weed covered ditches in chest waders. 

- Tufted Duck (FH51227) ringed as a 1 (duckling) on 7th August at Wheldrake Ings (10 days off fledging), re-sighted at Castle Howard on 1st September - a rapid movement.

- Tufted Duck (FH51210) - ringed as a 1 (brood of 3) on 4th August at Wheldrake Ings (just days off fledging), re-sighted at Castle Howard on 6th October - photographed below.

It's great to get some data from our birds as they move around, rather than just when they're shot - and we may yet get some multiple sightings of these birds, hopefully from other sites too. It's also good to know that the rings have been seen when the birds have been in the water and rolling when preening - here's hoping for some Shoveler and Gadwall sightings too - there are 23 Shoveler and 16 Gadwall out there with colour-rings, who's going to see the first one.....? If you do see any of our colour-ringed ducks then look for a single colour-ring on each leg, please note down which colours are on which leg to allow us to identify the bird as to where and when it was ringed. Keep checking those legs!

The first Whooper Swans have also been reported back in the valley, several were seen at North Duffield Carrs on Saturday (5th) and 11 were at Bank Island on Monday (8th). This year we've had data back on five Whooper Swans ringed in the LDV, 3 birds were seen in Ross-shire, Scotland during March - two from last years catch (G5A & G5C seen on 17/18th March) and one bird from the 2008 catch (K3K). We also had another two recoveries from Iceland and the first ever LDV Whooper to Norway (K3H). Unfortunately due to the flood water and grass not being cut this year, it's going to be difficult to read any darvics from the returning birds - and perhaps difficult to make a catch too.... But if you do see any of our ringed Whoopers then see if you can make out a ring - it should be on the left leg, and will be yellow with 3 numbers/letters in black writing.

Even though we can't actually get out there at the moment and catch any birds it is good to see some valuable data coming in and knowing that we made the most of the birds we have ringed over the summer. 

So a big thank you to the whole team for their efforts this summer!

Also, whilst we're on the topic of colour-ringing...we've finally managed to get data back on two of the colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits present in the valley during March & April. One of them (the bird caught during the Whimbrel catch), was initially ringed in Suffolk in 2008 and has been seen many times since, whilst the other was first ringed in 2001 as an adult in Iceland and since then it's been seen in Spain, France, Ireland, the Netherlands & finally in England on the LDV NNR. Below are their full life histories.

Black-tailed Godwit - Orange/Lime/Orange, Lime/Orange/Black:

2008 - Ringed as a juvenile female on 27th October, on the Orwell Estuary, Suffolk
2008 - Sighted on the 21st November, in Orwell Country Park, Suffolk
2008 - Sighted on the 4th & 6th December, on the Stour Estuary, Essex
2009 - Sighted on the 28th March on Hazlewood Marshes NR, Alde Estuary, Suffolk
2009 - Sighted on the 8th July on Boyton RSPB reserve, River Ore, Suffolk
2009 - Sighted on the 24th October on the Thames Estuary, Kent
2010 - Sighted on the 6th April, on the Stour Estuary, Suffolk
2011 - Sighted on the 12th February on Trimley Marshes SWT reserve, Suffolk
2011 - Sighted on the 15th October on the Orwell Estuary, Suffolk
2012 - Caught on the 27th April in the LDV during the Whimbrel catch
2012 - Sighted again on the 28th & 29th April in the LDV

This bird has racked up quite a history in just five years, its journey has mainly involved the south, with it sighted on various sites within Suffolk, Essex and Kent. This is the first time it's made its way to Yorkshire though (well that we know of). It's really great being able to piece together a birds journey like this and to see how and where it has spent its life.

Black-tailed Godwit - 27/04/12

Black-tailed Godwit - Red/Yellow, Lime/Lime

2001 - Ringed as an adult on 28th April in SW Iceland
2002 - Sighted on 3rd May in SW Iceland
2003 - Sighted between 25th-29th April in SW Iceland
2004 - Sighted on 4th February in W France
2004 - Sighted on 21st & 23rd April in SW Iceland
2004 - Sighted on 18th July in SW Iceland
2005 - Sighted on 23rd June on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, SE England
2006 - Sighted on 8th October on Fobbing Marsh, Essex, E England
2007 - Sighted on 18th January in Spain
2007 - Sighted between 25th-28th April in SW Iceland
2007 - Sighted on 7th & 10th September in S Spain
2008 - Sighted on 26th & 27th April in SW Iceland
2009 - Sighted on 3rd May on Belfast Harbour, N.Ireland
2010 - Sighted on 25th October in C.Ireland
2011 - Sighted on 24th March in Holland, W Netherlands
2012 - Sighted on 22nd March in the LDV

This bird has been seen every year since it was first caught 12 years ago!  

Also, (it's abit late coming out but we'll share it with you anyway) in May and June we had the first and second sightings of two of our darvic'd Grey Herons that were ringed this year. On 30th April we visited the local heronry on what turned out to be the only visit due to the shocking weather, and ringed 10 chicks (5 were big enough for darvics). On Wednesday 30th May the first one was sighted behind the office at Bank Island - two herons were seen flying in from the Thorganby direction, a young bird with an adult, the young bird had the yellow and black darvic '03'. Eight days later (7th June) '02' was seen flying in from Thorganby and landed at Bank Island. It's great to know that they survived the bad weather and a nice start to the history of our herons, hopefully there'll be lots more sightings to come.

What is also interesting is the fact that during August over 40 Herons, including many young, built up on Bank Island, and of these were none of our birds from the heronry....where had our birds gone and where had all these birds come from?? Sometimes not getting data is as interesting as getting data!

Friday 5 October 2012

30/09/12 - Game over

Last week saw the first Jack Snipe for the autumn find its way into our nets - the first of many we had hoped...however the heavy rain that fell between the 24th - 26th put paid to that idea, with Bank Island now once again resembling a large lake, thus no Snipe - but out there (somewhere......) there's over 80 colour-ringed individuals.......

September summary.....the month got off to quite a slow start with only a handful of birds caught in the first week, but then the weekend of the 8th/9th saw a massive catch of Moorhens - 22 in just two days - the months total now stands at 41 (81 for the year). One of the Moorhens caught this month had the white feathers again that we have mentioned in a previous post, this is the third individual to be caught with this colour aberration.

The following week Jean released her Marsh Harrier on to North Duffield Carrs, which hopefully went on to join the other roosting birds. More Teal, 2 Little Grebes, a Tufted Duck and Pochard were then caught, plus several dawn catches resulted in another good number of Snipe ringed and colour-ringed. This brings us to 32 for the month and 84 for the year.

This time last year we were already up and running with the whoosh nets, however until the flood water starts to recede and the tracks become passable again it may be awhile until our next post...

Below are the totals for September and the year so far:

                                            September       Year

Grey Heron 0
Mute Swan 0
Greylag Goose 0
Brent Goose 0
Shelduck 0
Wigeon 0
Teal 32
Mallard 4
Pochard 1
Garganey 0
Shoveler 0
Tufted Duck 1
Pintail 0
Gadwall 0
Moorhen 41
Coot 0
Little Grebe 2


Whimbrel 0
Snipe 32
Jack Snipe 1
Ruff 0
Redshank 0
Lapwing 1
Oystercatcher 0
Ringed Plover 0
Dunlin 1
Spotted Redshank 0
Greenshank 0
Green Sandpiper 1
Common Sandpiper 0


Marsh Harrier 1
Red Kite 0
Tawny Owl 1
Little Owl 0
Barn Owl 2
Kestrel 1
Sparrowhawk 1

Monday 24 September 2012

22/09/12 - Jack...frost

Last night saw the first frost of the autumn, on the equinox in the Lower Derwent Valley NNR and the same night saw the first Jack Snipe of the autumn appear and find its way into our mist nets.

Large numbers pass through the Lower Derwent Valley/Skipwith Common NNR's each year, mainly in October and November with a smaller return passage in March and April. Last nights bird seemed a little early but on checking the records it is probably about on time. Small, but sometimes significant numbers can occur in late September, with 24 caught in five mist netting sessions at Bank Island between late September and early October in 2002, when as many as 50-60 birds may have been present. However, most birds do occur from mid October to late November depending on water levels and ground conditions, the 14 caught drag netting over a 6 day period in November 2010 being typical of this.

This is the second bird to be caught here this year, following one caught on Skipwith Common earlier in the year. Hopefully we'll be in for another bumper year to add to our total of 83 ringed in the valley as the conditions look perfect for them and there is currently large numbers of Snipe still coming through. We have in the past held public Jack Snipe events if birds are reliable (similar to the public Storm Petrel ringing sessions on the coast) and these have always proved popular, so we would be looking to hold these again if it's a good autumn - more details to come later.

As well as the Jack Snipe, another 2 Common Snipe were caught and ringed along with 2 Teal.