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.

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Thursday 19 July 2012

12/07/12 - A familiar face returns

In 1999 a fresh faced University student (Nick Askew) joined the LDV Team as a volunteer and spent the summer helping out with various farmland bird work around the NNR and then went on to start the LDV Barn Owl project. The fieldwork carried out during the summer of ’99 saw numbers of breeding Barn Owls go up from 20 pairs of which we knew of to a total of 69 pairs within the study area - Nick was soon hooked!

 One of the many boxes Nick put up in the valley

A BSc final year project report on Barn Owls along with a specific ‘C’ permit followed, plus a Phd on the species, which largely focused on the feeding ecology and how to better target agri-environment schemes and conservation measures for the species and how to better estimate population size and carrying capacity across the country. As well as monitoring the 100 or so nest sites or potential sites each year for his project, Nick also filled in nest record cards for BOMP (Barn Owl Monitoring Programme), and he probably ringed in the region of 500 Barn Owls in the area during his studies and beyond, he was also instrumental in the radio-tracking of 30 individuals. The recent publication of the ‘Barn Owl Conservation Handbook’ published by the Barn Owl Trust, contains some of the information published by Nick and his work in the LDV - it really is great to see that the study and Nick’s efforts have put something back into wider conservation.

Barn Owl c/ringed & radio-tagged

After Nick left the valley he became Dr Nick and moved on to work for Birdlife in Cambridgeshire before heading for a sunnier climate to work as ‘their man on the ground’ in Fiji. It was great to see him back in the valley for the day to have a catch up, and he even managed to ring an owl or two!

Nick - ringing a Tawny Owl

Monday 16 July 2012

10/07/12 - Spoonbill?! ;)

Well that’s what local naturalist Sydney Smith called them in the Lower Derwent Valley when he wrote his book ‘Snowden Slights - Wildfowler’. This was at the turn of the last century when they appeared to have little favour with local sportsmen and wildfowlers, adding ‘except as specimens they are not worth powder nor shot’. He was of course referring to Shoveler, back then 29 were shot in the valley between 1872 and 1882. They occurred on the Ings every winter and 5 out of 6 pairs bred on Skipwith Common in 1911.

Numbers have since increased in the LDV NNR and the site now regularly holds up to 4% of the UK and 1% of the European wintering population, and in recent years according to the Rare Breeding Birds Panel (RBBP), the LDV has been the single most important breeding site in the UK. The LDV is also an important site for contributing to the UK ringing totals, especially pulli. 

Over the course of the last three years 31 Shoveler have been ringed (2009 was a bumper year with 21 caught) but this year has been rather frustrating due to the water levels constantly being up and down and generally all over the place, resulting in a poor breeding season and unfavourable conditions for catching. 

However, last week saw a brood (or crèche) of 15 medium sized ducklings spotted behind the office at Bank Island. A quick team change into chest waders (needed to get through the gate into the field), and 20 minutes later we had caught a single Shoveler duckling - a great result in the vast expanse of very flooded and very tall grass. 

Shoveler duckling - c 3 weeks old

Showing Marie & Sam the difference from a Mallard

This is our 126th Shoveler (122 ducklings, 4 adults) to be ringed in the valley, but thanks to the WWT this is the first to be colour-ringed, which we hope will be re-sighted and add to our existing knowledge of Shoveler duckling movements. A number of recoveries from metal ringed birds have already come our way - out of a brood of two ducklings ringed in 2004, both birds made their way to Russia where they were recovered in 2005, and in 1997/98 two ducklings from the valley were recovered in France - see previous post for more details - Shoveler(ly) good.

 Shoveler duckling - yellow c/rings

Tuesday 10 July 2012

June summary

Well, it's been another strange month...just as the birds had started to recover from the April/May flood it came again in June, resulting in most of Bank Island going under and the river spilling over again at North Duffield Carrs, which was still sitting under 3ft of water in some places. The waders have suffered drastically, no Lapwing chicks have been seen yet in the valley and only 4 Curlew chicks. Wheldrake Ings has also suffered, the meadows flooded and the track and carpark have been inaccessible at times. Not only have the wading birds suffered because of the floods, so have some of our smaller birds - Grasshopper Warblers, Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers have been few and far between.

Sedge Warbler - suffering due to the flooding

The ringing that we have been able to do has largely been based around the nest box project. Good numbers of chicks have been ringed (Barn Owls and Kestrels inparticular), however a few broods have been lost due to the flooding, which is unfortunate but still useful data for the nest record scheme. Several areas that are usually not prone to flooding have done so this year, leaving the Barn Owls struggling to hunt because of all the excess water which is covering their hunting grounds. Since starting the nest boxes in May, we've now ringed 86 Barn Owls for the year, the majority of these being chicks. 

Barn Owl chick - 1 of the 46 ringed this month

Kestrels have had a very successful breeding season, with most pairs fledging atleast two to four young. 37 Kestrels have been ringed (all chicks) since the start of the breeding season, and we've done most of them at the right time for sexing which has provided an extra insight into their productivity.

Kestrels - 2 of the 32 chicks ringed in June

Also from the nest boxes/natural nesting sites we've had quite a few Jackdaws (6 ringed this month, 14 for the year), Tawny Owls (4 ringed this month, 15 for the year), and Stock Doves (2 ringed this month, 4 for the year). Early on in June Craig also managed another flick netting session one evening after work, and came away with 16 Swifts, making that 43 for the year now.

Jackdaw - 1 of the 6 ringed in June

Following a request we also did some additional wader chicks during a trip to some higher/drier ground, adjacent to one of our other NNR's. A total of 6 Lapwing chicks, 6 Golden Plover chicks and a single Curlew chick were ringed. It was great to catch and ring a few Golden Plover as not many are done nationally, so that's 6 good additions to the UK total.

Lapwing - brood of three

Young Golden Plover 

Curlew chick

Below are the ringing totals for the month and for the year so far:

                                           June             Year

Grey Heron 0
Mute Swan 0
Greylag Goose 3
Brent Goose 0
Shelduck 0
Wigeon 0
Teal 0
Mallard 25
Pintail 0
Gadwall 0
Moorhen 0
Coot 0
Little Grebe 0


Whimbrel 0
Snipe 0
Jack Snipe 0
Ruff 0
Redshank 0
Lapwing 0
Oystercatcher 0


Red Kite 0
Tawny Owl 4
Little Owl 1
Barn Owl 46
Kestrel 32


Jackdaw  6


Swift 16
Cuckoo 0
Stock Dove 2


Friday 6 July 2012

30/06/12 - New recruit

During the last week of June we fitted in one more day doing the nest boxes, and took the opportunity to take Mike out, who has joined us for the summer on a placement through his University course. He's studying Environmental Management at the University of Sheffield and has just finished the second year of his degree. Mike's got a keen interest in birds and is considering training to ring in the future. So last week we took him round the valley and checked a few of the nest boxes left on the list, and were reasonably successful with our finds.

Some of the Barn Owls in the valley have suffered due to the flooding, but the pair at North Duffield Ings have managed well as their area hasn't been affected by the floods, in the box there we found 6 spare field voles and a young Skylark lined up ready for the chicks.

We also caught probably the best example we've ever seen of a female Barn Owl - she was covered with the black spots on the inside of the wing that we have mentioned in a previous post of one of the things to look for to help separate males and females. From another box we also caught the male from a pair that were roosting, not a single spot on the wing, great examples to show Mike.

Mike - enjoying his first ringing experience

Female - heavily spotted

Male - completely white wing, not a single spot

From North Duffield Ings we headed over the road to North Duffield Carrs and returned to the box at Top Pond where we found two reasonably sized Stock Dove chicks ready to ring. Around the Top Pond we also saw the first Meadow Browns and Ringlets for the year - on that note can we just thank everyone who is contributing to the LDV butterfly work at the moment, it's been a poor year so far for butterflies because of the weather but as the sun has recently started to appear so have the records! Thank you!

Craig shows Mike the Stock Doves

The last box of the day was a nice one to finish with and a new species for Mike to see in the hand - a brood of three Kestrels. They were all a fairly decent size which allowed them to be aged (two females and a male). We sexed these chicks by looking at the colour of the tail feathers, the males are a greyish colour, with the females a chestnut brown.

Fal - getting a dab hand at this now

Male & female chicks

Male tail (left), female tail (right)

Monday 2 July 2012

22/06/12 - Catching up

We've been super busy lately so these posts are abit out of date now but here's a quick catch up from early June - several weeks ago Jean Thorpe (Ryedale Rehabilitation) brought in a Little Owl chick & 3 Mallard ducklings which she had been caring for. The Mallard ducklings were to be ringed and released on the reserve, but the Little Owl shall be with Jean for a while longer yet until it is not so little...

Little Owl chick

The Mallards were the first of our ducklings to be fitted with colour rings. This is part of a new colour-ringing project in the LDV, with four species of ducklings to be c/r (Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck & Shoveler). This project has come about after our friends at the WWT (Wildfowl & Wetland Trust) made contact with us to ask if we would be willing to colour-ring the ducklings of the above species to help with their work. We are one of the few people that catch ducklings, and so by adding colour-rings to the metal BTO ring it is hoped that many sightings will come from this. Each bird will have a single ring fitted to both legs, allowing easy identification.

Jean ringing her ducks

Mallards showing dark green & yellow c/r

Jean says goodbye

Jean then joined us for an afternoon of checking a few more Barn Owl boxes, we weren't aware of anymore Kestrel broods so were pleasantly surprised when we came across a brood of four fiesty chicks in a box tucked away amongst hay bales!

A tricky one to access...

Four fiesty Kestrel chicks

We had a couple of disappointments after the Kestrels (why is it always the boxes that involve the longest walk through the tallest nettles!?) but the last box of the day was a good one to finish on with a brood of 4 quite big Barn Owl chicks. They could all be sexed, either due to their colour, the presence of black spots or the markings around their face (females are darker).

Female on the left, male on the right

The photograph below is a really good example of the difference between the sexes, even at such a young age the difference between females and males is clear. The female (left) is darker grey on the wing, the male (right) is much paler.

Female (left), male (right)

On the inside wing of the female we could already see the black spots - another characteristic to look for.

Female - showing the dark spots on the underwing

From the brood of the 4 Barn Owl chicks there was just one male amongst three females, these chicks are the most 'well on' that we've come across and were thought to be approximately 4 weeks old. Although they tend to be abit fiesty and their claws are abit sharper it's much better ringing them at this age/size so that we can record the sex of each chick.

The majority of the boxes have been covered now, with the sites left to the last the ones thought most likely to be un-used due to previous years, and so for our last day of box checking we were pleasantly surprised to find 3 more broods of Kestrels - all of different ages which was interesting to see. The other boxes checked were either empty, taken over by Pigeons or the boxes no longer exist - a job for the autumn!
 Kestrel chicks - c 10 days old

Kestrel chick - c 2-3 weeks old

Kestrel chicks - c 4-5 weeks old