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)

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 25 May 2012

22/05/12 - Swiftly does it!

The rather extensive and unseasonal flooding throughout the valley of late has been attracting huge feeding flocks of Swifts over the last 10 days or so. Counts have ranged from 500+ over Bank Island and Wheldrake Ings daily, upto an estimated 6000 over the water on the 15th. 

Strong winds and drizzle have presumably kept most of the insects close to the waters surface, meaning the Swifts have been flying low and skimming the surface of the water - providing ideal conditions for 'flicking'. This involves keeping a mist net parallel to the ground, before bringing it up quickly to 90 degrees to intercept the Swifts on their flight path at the last minute - before these aerial masters have time to manoeuvre out of the way! Other than ringing chicks this is the only way of catching these amazing birds.

Anyway, the good conditions on the 15th produced 5 flicked Swifts in 30 minutes, whilst near perfect conditions on the 21st produced a total of 22 in two short sessions. With better, warmer weather forecast over the coming week this may have been the last chance for a while, as the insects and the Swifts will probably be feeding higher up. 


Obviously the re-trap/recovery rate is rather low for these birds but amazingly we have re-trapped one of our own birds in a subsequent year! SB91509 - ringed at North Duffield Carrs as an adult on 11/05/04, was later re-trapped in the same spot on 13/05/06!! Mike & Craig were out 'flicking' around the Top Pond and it was the first bird they caught! Again, a very similar record to the Whimbrel - at the same spot - on nearly the same day a couple of years later.

We've got an exciting project coming up on Swifts later in the year - hopefully to gain a better understanding of what they use the area for and how important it is to them - and also to engage local communities to help us to look after them. The Lower Derwent Valley provides a great feeding area for Swifts so helping to secure breeding sites in the local villages should really benefit them and ensure the screaming of our Swifts in our local villages remains part of that typical mid-summer scene. 

Watch this space! 

Thursday 17 May 2012

17/05/12 - Have we got NEWS for you!

We've had quite a busy time of late (and there's not even been much ringing involved!). The LDV base has been under the spotlight during the last week as we've had the pleasure of filming two pieces for the BBC about the LDV Whimbrel project and the work of Natural England in the Lower Derwent Valley NNR.

The first one was in relation to the Wildlife Trusts and their centenary - and the recent focus on 'living landscapes' and 'making space for nature' - the Lawton report and the Rural White Paper. Sir John Lawton - chair of the working group, author of the above report and perhaps most importantly a local birder, joined us at the Whimbrel fields to track the Whimbrel and discuss the importance of our work. The footage taken by the BBC was aired on the BBC breakfast news and Radio 4 yesterday (Wednesday 16th May) - click here to watch it on the BBC website.

The BBC interviewing Craig

Just as we'd finished with that piece Craig took a call from the Natural England press office to say that Countryfile were also interested in covering the story - they'd planned on filming in Yorkshire - covering the River Derwent and upper Humber and whilst researching the Derwent they'd come across our ringing blog! Unfortunately this came right at the end of the Whimbrel staging period and because of this there was some nervousness around whether we would be able to find any birds, let alone catch them, but after a quick chat with the producers it was decided that we'd come up with a good storyline whatever the outcome! 

So on Friday afternoon we met up with the Countryfile team at the NNR office at Bank Island, and then went on to spend three enjoyable hours wading through the floods(!), putting up a few nets, ringing a few ducks and radio-tracking the few remaining Whimbrel. The water had come up a great deal since the day before when Dean, the producer, had visited the site - just one day later and the area that had been earmarked for filming was underwater - and so it was a wader job for everyone - there were a few pairs of wet feet(!) but everyone was in good spirits which made it an enjoyable afternoon, and it was especially great for us to be able to share what we've done and been able to achieve.

The Countryfile team wade through the flood

Preparing to film the introduction on Bank Island

Craig showing Ellie how to ring a Mallard

Searching for the radio-tagged Whimbrel at Storwood

Final interview - job done! 

So for another chance of seeing the great work that is being and has been done by Natural England in partnership with other organisations, the ringing scheme, local bird watchers and volunteers in the Lower Derwent Valley NNR, tune into Countryfile on Sunday 27th May!

Whilst waiting for the Countryfile team to arrive at the office we checked a few of the nest boxes around the base, a good number of  Tree Sparrows were sitting on eggs plus a single Blue Tit. We also checked the holes in the Ash tree that the Jackdaws have been nesting in for the last 10 years - in previous years Barn Owls, Tawny Owls & Little Owls have also nested in the holes! This year it seems to be home to just the Jackdaws, we found two active nests, one with two chicks in and the other had three eggs. The chicks were big enough to ring which was pleasing!

Searching for nests

Jackdaw eggs

Lucy - ringing a chick

Jackdaw chick - 7 days old

We plan to have another go next week to see if we can access the higher holes, and maybe even catch the adults - if we're quick enough!

Tuesday 15 May 2012

10/05/12 - We think it's all over...it is now!

During the last week as a result of lots of hard work and help from local birders, we've had another fantastic number of colour-ringed Whimbrel spotted around their favoured fields in the Storwood area and elsewhere on the reserve. A total of 13 'new' birds for this year have been seen during the last seven days, including 11 birds still present that have been seen previously this year - some numerous times, inparticular Yellow/Yellow-Orange! This bird has been with us since April 20th, the average stay for a Whimbrel in the valley is just 8 days, however this one remained in the area for 14 days (we think) as it was last seen on May 3rd.

Whimbrel at Storwood - phone scoped

What has also been noticeable towards the end of the roost period is that some of the new arrivals have been the birds that were caught in the last catches of 2010 and so it fits with them arriving back now in subsequent years. Indeed it appears that 'early' birds arrive back early each year and those caught or present later in the spring also come back later each year (see previous post on just how arrival dates are so specific).

We've now also had two birds sighted that were originally ringed seven years ago during 2005, when the project was only in its second year. How far it's come since then, with over 100 birds now colour-ringed, and with 30 of those sighted during the last three weeks. It's been a great effort this year which has furthered our understanding of staging Whimbrel in the UK.

Below are the histories of the 'new' birds sighted between 30th April - 6th May:

Whimbrel: White/White-Red

2008 - Ringed on 25th April.
2009 - Re-sighted by PR on 24th April & CR on 29th April.
2010 - Re-sighted by PR on 22nd April.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 30th April.

Whimbrel: Yellow/Yellow-Pink

2010 - Ringed on 19th April, re-sighted on 24th April.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 30th April & by LM on 1st May.

Whimbrel: White/White-Yellow

2009 - Ringed on 29th April.
2010 - Re-sighted by PR between 22nd & 30th April.
2011 - Re-sighted by PR between 24th & 29th April.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 30th April & by LM on 1st May.

Whimbrel: Blue/Blue-Blue

2010 - Ringed on 2nd May.
2011 - Re-sighted by PR between 25th & 27th April.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 30th April & by LM on 1st May.

Whimbrel: White/Pink-Pink

2010 - Ringed on 26th April.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 30th April & by LM on 1st & 2nd May.

Whimbrel: Yellow/Yellow-White

2007 - Ringed on 22nd April, re-sighted on 9th May.
2008 - Re-sighted by CR on 25th April  & by PR on 1st May.
2011 - Re-sighted & re-caught on 26th April.
2012 - Re-sighted by LM on 1st May.

Whimbrel: White/Lime-Pink

2010 - Ringed on 26th April.
2012 - Re-sighted by LM on 1st May.

Whimbrel: Orange/Orange-White

2007 - Ringed on 27th April.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 2nd May & by CR on 6th May.

Whimbrel: Red/Red-Orange

2006 - Ringed on 28th April, re-sighted on 4th May.
2007 - Re-sighted by PR on 26th April.
2011 - Re-sighted by CR & DT on 20th April & by PR on 25th April.
2012 - Re-sighted by RS on 2nd May.

Whimbrel: White/Blue-Pink

2010 - Ringed on 26th April, re-sighted on 2nd May.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 5th & 6th May.

Whimbrel: Blue/White-Pink

2010 - Ringed on 2nd May.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 5th May.

Whimbrel: Lime/White-Lime

2005 - Ringed on 25th April, re-sighted on 7th May.
2006 - Re-sighted on 2nd May.
2007 - Re-sighted on 6th May.
2009 - Re-sighted on 25th April.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 6th May.

Whimbrel: White/White-White

2007 - Ringed on 23rd April, re-sighted on 6th May.
2010 - Re-sighted on 26th April.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 6th May.

Thanks to everyone who has worked alongside us to make this project happen this year and over the course of the last 8 years - those that have helped catch and ring the birds, those that have monitored the roost site to obtain counts and identify where to put the nets, those that have read colour-rings and tracked birds in the field and all our partners who have had a role in making it happen in one way or another alongside Natural England - Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Carstairs Countryside Trust, BTO and the RSPB. Only the last handful of birds remain now and many of the birds listed here will already be in Iceland or northern Scandinavia. We're already looking forward to them coming back next year - but hopefully we'll get some re-sightings away from the valley this year aswell.

Monday 14 May 2012

09/05/12 - Trap happy

During the last couple of weeks several Wheatears and Yellow Wagtails have been reported around the Ellerton/Storwood area - a favoured location of passage birds moving through the valley. However, having been so busy we've not had time to act this, but on Wednesday afternoon whilst out Whimbrel'ing we finally managed to call in at Ellerton where the birds have been regularly seen on the local muck heaps. On arrival a female Wheatear and a stunningly bright male Yellow Wagtail were present. Soon after the traps were set two male Wheatears were also spotted - these two birds were much more interested in the mealworms and only a short time later the first bird went in, a stunning male!

Greenland Wheatear - first year male

We aged this bird as a first summer due to the buff edged juvenile coverts (amongst other features). It was also completely full of fat, (fat score 4), indicating that this bird is likely to be on the move soon to its more northerly breeding grounds. Wheatears usually appear in the valley between mid March and late May in spring, and with birds from early May onwards often presumed to be of the race leucorhoa, the so called 'Greenland Wheatear', breeding in Iceland and Greenland. They tend to be slighter larger and brighter in the field and also tend to have a more elongated, upright stance than European breeders. This bird was definitely a leucorhoa race  with a wing length of 108mm, (the range for Greenland is 99 - 110mm) and for the nominate race it's between 93 and 102mm. 

Whilst waiting for the other Wheatear to (hopefully!) go in the trap we noticed a pair of Lapwing in the field opposite, the adult female appeared to be behaving in a manner which suggested she had young chicks nearby. The scope had already been set up looking over the field for Yellow Wagtails, another look through it resulted in spotting two young Lapwing chicks on the dirt track that went down the middle of the field, result! A quick sprint from the van ensued, and after a search through the crop we spotted the two young chicks that had sat down on the ground, almost perfectly camouflaged with their pebbley coat.

Lapwing chicks - hiding!

These chicks were believed to be 5-7 days old, and so too small for colour-rings. We hope to come back next week though to colour-ring them - if we can find them!

To finish the day off nicely we went on to catch a second Wheatear, another young male, also full to the brim with fat (fat score 5) so even more so than the last one, he'll definitely be on the move soon! Another Greenland race bird, and with a wing length of 110mm and with all that fat, he's almost certainly off to the far north of the range.

Greenland Wheatear - first year male

Friday 11 May 2012

April - summary

Well, it's been a poor month for waterfowl - partly expected though as the wintering birds have declined and the breeding birds are nesting, but the ringing totals have also been driven largely by the floods during the second half of the month.

We only managed 31 waterfowl for the month, but an impressive 740 for the year! 19 new waders were also caught, and they were all colour-ringed excluding the Oystercatcher. We also re-trapped 2 additional Redshank and added colour-rings, and managed to read off 5 colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits, and controlled one of them (details still to come). Since the Whimbrel arrived, between April 20th and the last day of the month we've re-sighted 17 birds from previous years and caught two which now have colour-rings - hopefully they'll return and be sighted next year!

2012 colour-ringed Whimbrel

A few noteworthy additions for the month - 1 Tawny Owl, 1 Little Owl and 2 Skylark. So only 54 birds birds ringed but some really good data generated this month, especially all the re-sightings of colour-ringed birds - and that's why we do it - to get the data which we can then direct back at reserve management and conservation programmes. Thanks to all the local birders who've also put the time and effort in this month looking for Whimbrel and sending us their colour-ring sightings.

c/r Whimbrel (from above), photographed in the field
Tim Jones

Below is a summary of April and the year totals so far, here's hoping May is just as good for quality if not quantity! 

                                  April                        Year 

Grey Heron 10
Mute Swan 0
Greylag Goose 0
Brent Goose 0
Shelduck 1
Wigeon 2
Teal 2
Mallard 9
Pintail 0
Gadwall 4
Moorhen 3
Coot 0
Little Grebe 0


Whimbrel 2
Snipe 14
Ruff 0
Redshank 1
Lapwing 1
Oystercatcher 1


Red Kite 0
Tawny Owl 1
Little Owl 1


Skylark 2


Tuesday 8 May 2012

01/05/12 - New month & we're off!

Well, May has arrived but looking at the floods throughout the valley today, the scene is more typical of mid January. Obviously we won't be doing much duck or wader ringing for a while and it's likely to be a poor breeding season with virtually all the nests wiped out during the last 10 days. Hopefully we'll get a second flush of breeding attempts and we'll still be able to get our usual and valuable sample of local ducklings ringed. Below is a photograph taken from the air of Wheldrake Ings, showing the extent of the flooding.....

Wheldrake Ings - The Big Flood - April 2012

Today, the BTCV were working on Skipwith Common NNR stock fencing a few areas of reedbed to prevent grazing by Exmoor Ponies, Longhorn Cattle & Hebridean Sheep. They did a sterling job last time they were working with us on Skipwith & last month they also helped to make 59 Tree Sparrow boxes which are now up around the valley - & being used! It'll soon be time to check them!

Longhorn - Skipwith Common

In the meantime, we erected two wader nets (slightly larger mesh) in an area of short scrub nearby, that has been frequented by a Cuckoo over the last week. Less than an hour later and BINGO - one male Cuckoo was swinging in the net!

Male Cuckoo

What a truly amazing and beautiful bird, a real treat to see up close and even better it was enjoyed by all the volunteers who were out today. This is the third Cuckoo to have been ringed in as many years in the Lower Derwent Valley/Skipwith Common NNR's. You can follow the amazing migrations of the five BTO ringed and satellite tagged Cuckoo's here. Only between 40-50 Cuckoo's are ringed each year in the UK, and so each one caught is valuable.

The BTCV guys enjoying the close view!

A quick trip to view the floods after work at Wheldrake Ings YWT resulted in a surprise catch in the carpark - we say 'carpark' but it's actually part of the river at the moment, with about 3ft of water flowing through it...Anyway....a quick change into waders resulted in an adult male Wigeon hand-caught amongst the vegetation! There didn't appear to be anything wrong with it and it flew strongly on release - perhaps it was just taken by surprise to see a Landrover driving through the water towards it!

View from the bridge looking on to Wheldrake Ings

And finally......working late at the office tonight provided the opportunity to erect a single wader net across the office wildlife garden, to try and intercept one of the local Tawny Owls that has taken to screaming from the office roof each night during the last few weeks! And sure enough, after an hour or so....one found its way in, a nice adult male.

Adult male Tawny Owl

All in all, a rather nice start to the month!

Saturday 5 May 2012

30/04/12 - Into the tree tops...

On Monday the weather came good at last and so it allowed us to visit the heronry to see how the chicks were getting on....after all the heavy rain and rather low temperatures during the last couple of weeks we weren’t too sure how the chicks would have survived and whether the adults would have been able to keep them warm enough. On arrival it all seemed very quiet, whereas the last time we were there 13th April -  we could actually hear the young birds from the path, however as we entered the woodland their noisy call greeted us and so we quickly got to work! Neil & Eve from Lewis Tree Surgery kindly offered their services and came to our assistance, sending two climbers, Jamie Ulliott & Colin Kirby who did a brilliant job and climbed 14 trees, lowering the young up and down safely in the short time we’d given ourselves in there (to try and minimise disturbance and allow the adults back on the nests). 

The guys in action

Once the birds were safely lowered down we did the rest and cracked on with ringing them before they were safely put back in the nest by the guys who patiently waited in the tree tops whilst we were busy on the ground!


Due to the delay in us getting back to the heronry because of the bad weather, four nests contained two young each which were too big to risk disturbing, but we were able to ring 10 chicks, and five of those had darvics (colour-rings fitted). Grey Herons are the latest bird to be added to the Lower Derwent Valley colour-ringing scheme, and hopefully one which will bring many sightings, either from around the valley or further afield! The rings are yellow with black numbers ranging from 01-99.

One of the chicks fitted with a darvic

Despite the extremely wet and windy weather and extensive flooding, the birds seemed to have survived it well, with only two small dead young present, and the condition of the remaining chicks looked good. Hopefully if the weather allows then we'll be back at the heronry next week with another visit to ring the young that were too small to be ringed today.

We’re extremely grateful to Jamie & Colin for a great job carried out with good humour - given the smell and stabbing beaks! It’s something a bit different for them anyway! 

 Job done!

For more information on the services offered by Lewis Tree Surgery click here and visit their website or e-mail them at hale@lewistree.freeserve.co.uk. 

Thursday 3 May 2012

29/04/12 - The valley goes under....

Over the weekend the rain continued to fall, with Sunday being particularly heavy, resulting in the river finally going over the floodbanks at North Duffield...... 

North Duffield Carrs goes under...

Despite the weather Craig spent the weekend scoping Whimbrel and tracking the radio-tagged bird from Friday night. Spells of light rain on Saturday allowed reasonable scoping views and resulted in 6 ‘new’ sightings of Whimbrel, plus 2 already seen this year (L/L-Y, L/R-P). Sunday’s poor conditions made viewing the birds difficult but Craig did manage to read off another new combination for this year. Details of the new birds for 2012 are listed below, we’re now upto 17 colour-ringed Whimbrel sightings since their arrival two weeks ago – this is the most returning birds we’ve recorded in one year since the project began back in 2004! 

Craig managed to track the radio tagged Whimbrel pretty much none stop over the weekend bar losing it for a few hours on Sunday. It took him to a new roost site, presumably chosen due to the fact that the birds had been flooded off their original roost site (Wheldrake) followed shortly after by the second site they had moved to (Thorganby) which went under on Friday night. It has also led us to two new fields that we haven’t seen used in the past (but they may have been, we just haven’t known about it!) as well as several other fields used over the years.

New colour-ringed Whimbrel sightings for 2012:

Whimbrel: White/Yellow-Pink

2010 - Ringed on 26th April.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 27th April.

Whimbrel: White/Yellow-Red

2008 - Ringed on 25th April.
2009 - Re-sighted by DT & PR on 20th & 25th April.
2011 - Re-sighted by PR on 20th & 25th April.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 28th April.

Whimbrel: Orange/Orange-Red

2008 - Ringed on 25th April.
2009 - Re-sighted by PR on 24th April.
2011 - Re-sighted by PR on 25th April.
2012 - Re-sighted on 28th April.

Whimbrel: Yellow/Orange-Lime

2005 - Ringed on 2nd May, re-sighted on the 10th.
2006 - Re-sighted by CR & DT on 2nd May.
2007 - Re-sighted by CR & DT on 30th April & 5th May.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 28th April.

Whimbrel: Red/Yellow-Yellow

2008 - Ringed on 25th April.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 28th April.

Whimbrel: Yellow/Red-Red

2008 - Ringed on 25th April.
2009 - Re-sighted by PR on 29th April.
2011 - Re-sighted by PR on 21st April.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 28th April.

Whimbrel: Yellow/Red-Pink

2010 - Ringed on 26th April.
2012 - Re-sighted by CR on 29th April.

From the 100 birds colour-ringed since 2004, we have now had a re-sighting rate back at the roost in a subsequent year of over 50% - a fantastic result with probably in the order of 200 individual re-sightings.  Interestingly, we’ve just had the one re-sighting away from the valley - a bird seen on the Ythan Estuary two autumn’s running.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

27/04/12 - ‘E’...what a night!

After another week of Whimbrel scoping we went out again on Friday to look for any new arrivals, throughout the day over 40 Whimbrel were seen, including 3 colour-ringed birds - Y/Y-O & R/R-R which have been seen a few times over the last two weeks, but the third was another ‘new’ one for the year - W/Y-P (originally ringed in 2010 - no sighting of it since until today!).

The Whimbrel were flitting between Storwood & Thorganby again (due to the flooding), they were joined at Thorganby by 90 Black-tailed Godwits – four of which had colour-rings which we managed to read off, hopefully we’ll hear back shortly where they were originally ringed, we’ll post the details on here when we find out. There was also a supporting cast of 6 Dunlin, 2 Ruff, 2 Greenshank, 1 Common Sandpiper, 2 Green Sandpipers, Black Tern & 3 drake Garganey! Not a bad selection!

We started to set the nets up around 4pm which took 2 hours (there was only two of us!) to set two lines - totalling over 1000 foot of net! Whilst we were setting the nets most of the Whimbrel and all the Black-tailed Godwits were still present in the field. By 7pm, 45 Whimbrel were back in the ‘catching area’ and things were looking good with birds behind, infront and even underneath the nets. Numbers increased towards dusk with 78 counted before the light was too poor to keep a track of the comings and goings. It was however a rather light night and it seemed to take ages to get dark enough to consider going round the nets, which we finally did around 9.30pm.

It seemed rather quiet as we walked the edge of the Ings and it was clear that the water levels had risen....whilst it wasn’t a concern catching wise, we were worried that it may have further unsettled the birds that had been unable to settle into a regular routine over the last 10 days due to the flooding. However, whilst it appeared that the rising water levels had indeed moved the birds on, two Whimbrel were caught which allowed us to fulfil our aims of fitting one with a radio tag in order to locate more of the daytime feeding sites away from the protected reserve and to try and follow the roost site/roosting behaviour during the floods. 

 2012 colour-ringed Whimbrel: R/B-Y/O

2012 colour-ringed Whimbrel: R/Y-G/O

We also caught a nice summer plumage Black-tailed Godwit which was actually one of the colour-ringed birds that we'd seen during the day, what a bonus! & to top off a night of 'E' rings we also caught a Little Owl in a nearby hedge whilst we were waiting for darkness to fall - a female with a brood patch, the male was nearby too so hopefully there will be some even littler Little Owls to ring soon!

Black-tailed Godwit with colour-rings (control)

Little Owl 

The radio tracking of Whimbrel has been very useful in allowing us to locate and map the feeding fields outside the designated site. As we said in an earlier post, these are largely extensively managed pastures, usually cattle grazed, on a specific soil type. The map below shows an example of the data collected over the last eight years.

Whimbrel map

This data has allowed these fields to be targeted with agri-environment schemes to ensure suitable management for the continued appearance and use by the Whimbrel - a great example of science delivering direct nature conservation action on the ground. It also gives a real life example to concepts such as 'living landscapes', 'making space for nature' and 'nature improvement areas' - landscape scale conservation. We filmed some of the catch and tagging of the Whimbrel as requested by the BBC, which should hopefully appear on the news sometime this week....Wednesday or Thursday possibly!

Having a tagged bird amongst the staging birds also means that we are often lead to the fields used by the other feeding Whimbrel - thus allowing more targeted effort in reading colour-rings and getting re-sightings and length of stay data.

Craig & Mike fitting the radio tag

Hopefully this bird will come up trumps and give us an insight into where the rest of the birds have been feeding this year!