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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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.