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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Tuesday 29 January 2013

26/01/13 - Who's an old girl then?

Initially for Thursday the met office had given freezing fog which we'd thought would postpone the planned count, however come Wednesday evening it was all change on the forecast and the fog had moved on - meaning that we'd actually be able to see the birds instead of peering into the mist! So the count went ahead - and what a good decision that was! Not only did we come away with a rather good count but we also came across some of our colour ringed birds - one of which is older than some of our staff/volunteers! Details below...

Due to the water levels being lower (and very poor light making scoping difficult) we decided to walk the length of North Duffield Carrs from the hide and on towards Top Pond (where we stood for quite some time in minus temperatures!) counting the thousands of ducks (1486 Teal) & (1672 Wigeon) that were making good use of the whole of the stretch of water - thus making it more time consuming! Numbers of Mallard (502), Pintail (179), Gadwall (38), Tufted Duck (194) and Coot (49) were definitely up, also there were quite a number of Mute Swans (57) mixed in with the Whoopers (85). NB - numbers in brackets just for birds present on NDC. Once arriving back at the carpark we then set off again on foot from Bubwith bridge and did the same walk as a couple of weeks ago - the length of the floodbank all the way to Thorganby - this time the water was much further down the bank allowing us to assess repairs along the way....we might be fencing for quite some time...

The Bewicks (same two as before) were present again at Bubwith bridge, with the darvic'd bird standing out on the ice thus giving nice views (photo below). Along the stretch between Bubwith & Thorganby another 70 Pintail, 3965 Wigeon, 4739 Teal & 1003 Mallard were counted - which is the biggest count of Mallard yet so far this winter (including the birds present on NDC (502) & Wheldrake Ings (1545) making a total of 3050). In comparison to last time geese numbers were quite low with a mere 21 Canada & 391 Greylags. Other birds of note - Scaup (single at Aughton), Egyptian Geese (2 over Ellerton), Goldeneye (13 NDC), Great Crested Grebe (single at NDC), Goosander (4 over Aughton). Numbers of Snipe were also up on last time - 87 were counted along the floodbank - presumably taking advantage of all the fresh mud that has now become available.

Bewick Swans - Bubwith - 24/01/13

On reaching Aughton we came across a group of 60 Shelduck on the bank (making that 85 for the day), so as not to spook the birds we crept down the otherside of the floodbank so that we were out of sight, once opposite we peered over and infront of us were four darvic'd birds - unfortunately we only managed to read one off ('KZ') before shots went off resulting in the whole flock taking off at speed.

Shelduck making a quick getaway

'KZ' was ringed as an adult male at Thorganby Ings on 18th March 2011, and then re-trapped the following year at North Duffield Carrs on 3rd February 2012. Shelduck numbers have really started to increase over the month with upto 100 birds present now, hopefully we'll come across these darvic'd birds again!  

Nearing the end of the floodbank we were already pleased with the count and various sightings - then on the final stretch we came across a pair of Mute Swans - they were swimming quite close in and seemed interested in us, so we paused and watched them for a short time, soon after they started making their way out onto the bank - presumably hungry - this was when we spotted the bright blue darvic - 'C9H', it was instantly recognisable and it brought back a memory that she was ringed atleast 20 years ago!


Once back at the office we looked up the details, she was initially ringed on 1st August 1992 (as an adult so she would have been atleast three years old then), making her now atleast TWENTY THREE years old! She has been a regular breeder in the valley over the years, having bred on the Pocklington Canal and Wheldrake Ings - producing a total of 53 cygnets. Today she was with '432', an adult male ringed on 26/07/03, they've been paired together since 2003, producing atleast 18 cygnets together. We haven't seen the pair of them since 2009 so their whereabouts between now and then have gone unknown, but it was great to see them today, and looking so well!

'432' & 'C9H'

These aren't the first darvic'd Mute Swans we've seen lately, only a few days before we came across '538' and '536', who were ringed together as moulting adults last summer (21st August 2012) on Wheldrake Ings, and are still together now, seen on 21/01/13 on a small pool in East Cottingwith.

Ringed together last summer - 21/08/12

Withstanding the cold weather together - 21/01/13 

Lastly, if you've been to Bank Island recently you may have come across the new feeding station - which recently has been frequented by Marsh & Willow Tits much to our delight! Well we've also been working down at North Duffield, building a new feeding station and screen, it's still under construction but we hope to finish it soon!

Feeding station - Bank Island

Screen under construction - North Duffield Carrs

Thursday 24 January 2013

23/01/13 - Icy blast & an Icelandic visitor

Last week the cold weather that had been predicted hit the country, leaving most places blanketed by a covering of snow. Two inches fell at our reserve base, Bank Island, and temperatures in the valley did not get above freezing for several days. The birds that had been making the most of the large expanse of water in the (still) flooded LDV suddenly became concentrated to the small areas of open water that they had kept free from ice.

Bank Island - 22/01/13

The rest of the water has frozen over and is now resembling a large ice rink, with the majority of the birds staying in the small pools of open water. However some of them have been standing out in the open, braving the icy blast and the Russian chill that would make most huddle together for warmth. This has resulted in the collection of some data - their shiny metal and brightly coloured rings have been standing out well against the snow - last week (18th) Tim Jones had two colour-ringed Mallards standing out on the ice at Bank Island, both birds were ringed as ducklings by us on 15/07/12 (no previous sightings). Yesterday down on Wheldrake we had a number of birds with metal rings (mainly Canada Geese & Mallards) however amongst them one lone bird stood out with its orange and red rings - another Mallard ringed as a duckling on 15/07/12. As we scanned the ice a group of Greylags started to wake up and slowly make their way down the thin strip of vegetation, as we counted them we came across '7HP' - a bird ringed by us on 15/06/11 on Wheldrake - again another first sighting.

Mallard duckling - summer 2012

We were pleased with the data from the local Mallards but then we stepped it up a notch and found some darvic'd Whooper Swans at North Duffield on the 21st. Despite the continued snow fall several of us managed to make our way into work on Monday, once in the valley the roads weren't too bad and so we headed out for the day - on passing North Duffield we came across a large flock of Whoopers feeding on the arable. With them were the two Bewicks that have been around the valley since the start of January (including the darvic'd bird - 702). Careful scanning, lots of patience and a good scope was needed, an hour later and fingers were definitely feeling the cold but we had managed to read off 4 darvics from the Whoopers. The flock was 85 on arrival, with an extra 6 birds dropping in whilst we were there, making it 91 birds (plus another 18 were then counted from the Geoff Smith Hide). 

Whooper Swans - North Duffield - 21/01/13

Details are listed below for the 4 darvic'd Whoopers and the Bewick - many thanks to Kane at the WWT for his prompt reply in sending us the history of these birds - 2 were completely new ones for the valley!

Whooper Swans:

Yellow 'C3S' - initially ringed as an adult in November 2007 at North Duffield Carrs, the following winter it made a single appearance at North Cave Wetlands, then moved north to Scotland before making a quick return (possibly weather related) to the valley for the remainder of the winter. It wintered again in the valley during 09/10 and once again during the winter of 10/11.

Red '499' - initially ringed as an adult female in November 2007 at North Duffield Carrs, since then she's been seen back in the valley during the winter of 08/09 and 09/10.

Yellow 'Z5T' - initially ringed as an adult female in February 2011 at the WWT catch in Caerlaverock, Dumfries. The following winter (11/12) saw her frequent various sites within Ross-shire & Dumfries, she was last seen at Caerlaverock on 29/02/12 before appearing in the valley this week. 

Red 'AUZ' - initially ringed as a male cygnet in August 2011 in Skagafjordur, Iceland, since then he must have been keeping a low profile as there have been no other sightings until Monday when we came across his red ring amongst the flock of birds at Duffield.

Bewick Swan:

Yellow '702' - initially ringed as a female cygnet in November 2007 in the Netherlands, a month later and she had made her way to the UK and was residing at Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire. The following winter (08/09) she made her first apperance in the LDV, spending most of January with us. The winter of 09/10 her whereabouts went unknown, but pleasingly during the winter of 11/12 she was sighted in Denmark, and was last seen there until we came across her on the 3rd January in a field near Aughton.

It's always fascinating to get the life stories of individual birds and wonder what made the Bewicks return to Denmark for a winter and then come back to us again. It's nice that colour-rings don't tell us everything and that we still get to wonder!

Whooper & Bewick Swans - North Duffield - 21/01/13

The number of Whooper Swans in the resident herd appears to remain remarkably consistent from one winter to the next (although numbers have increased from 60-70 during the 1980's to 100-120 since the late 2000's), it is clear from colour-ringing (both in the valley and marked birds from elsewhere), that site fidelity is very low - i.e most birds have not wintered in the valley before. It appears that most birds only return to the valley for two or three winters at the most. Without colour-ringing one may assume that the same birds returned year after year - with recruitment and losses in the population keeping the numbers stable. This is clearly not the case!

Furthermore, with colour-ringing, we also know that whilst numbers in the herd remain fairly stable throughout the winter, there is actually regular comings and goings and an interchange of birds - some moving through in autumn, a more stable mid-winter herd and then some returning birds in spring. Using this colour-ringing data, along with the number of first winters in the herd and numbers of passage flocks (particularly in spring) we now know that despite the herd averaging 100-120 during the winter period, as many as 300-500 different Whoopers may use or pass through the Lower Derwent Valley during the same period - making it much more important for the UK wintering population than originally thought.

Whooper catch - 2008

Along with the sightings of colour-ringed birds the cold weather has also seen an influx of Skylarks and Corn Buntings to the LDV. From the start of the year Skylarks had been virtually absent in the valley, however snow fall from the 18th brought an expected influx of birds into the valley from higher ground on the Wolds. A huge influx on the 20th saw an impressive 670 at Bubwith, 144 near Ellerton, 200 at East Cottingwith and 150-200 at Loftsome Bridge. 168 were present on the arable fields in North Duffield on the 21st, plus 320 at Sutton-on-Derwent, and then 230 at Thornton on the 22nd, meaning that in the region of 1500-2000 birds had been moving through the valley, and possibly a great deal more. 

Not only have we seen an arrival of Skylarks but we've also noticed an increase in their close relative - the Corn Bunting. Some encouraging counts for this red listed species have been had lately - 50 were present in the usual winter roost at Church Bridge, Melbourne on the 3rd, whilst feeding flocks of 120 at South Duffield and 20 at North Duffield on the 5th were welcome finds. 30 were also present at East Cottingwith on the 9th and then the heavy snow fall that hit Yorkshire brought a substantial influx into the valley with 30 at Bubwith on the 20th and 210 at Sutton on the 21st.

The last week or so has also seen an influx of thrushes, with a number of Fieldfares & Redwings reported, again presumably looking for easier feeding in the 'lowlands'. One or two incoming Woodcock, five new Water Rail and several thousand Woodpigeons were also presumably cold weather movers.

Fieldfare - Bank Island - 22/01/13

Despite the harsh weather and freezing temperatures there are many birds to be seen throughout the Lower Derwent Valley - if you're out and about do send in your records or post them on our facebook site - just search for Lower Derwent Valley/Skipwith Common NNR - give us a 'like' and you'll receive regular updates from the valley. Also, many thanks to Andy Walker, Tim Jones, Andrew Kisby & Chris Harris for their contributions so far this month.

Robin - North Duffield Carrs - 21/01/13

Friday 18 January 2013

12/01/13 - A boat would be useful!

It feels like it's been a long time coming but the water is finally starting to recede, the paths, fences and even hides that have been submerged are now starting to reappear. After the worst flood since 2000 we're now bracing ourselves for the repair job that will soon be to follow. Many fences and gates have either lost panels, been pushed over by the sheer force of the water or in some cases the whole gate has been lifted off its hinges and is now residing in another part of the valley....

The path which leads the way to the two hides at North Duffield Carrs has collapsed in places due to the force of the water, which has resulted in the decision to put in a completely new one. This will hopefully begin as soon as the water retreats far enough to allow us to start work, which will lead to a temporary closure to Garganey Hide but the Geoff Smith Hide will remain open throughout. As it stands Garganey Hide is still half under water, and once the water is back down the whole hide will need repairing, disinfecting etc before it's safe/fit for use.

Some parts of the Lower Derwent Valley have been under water for what seems like the majority of 2012 - the first flood came in April and never completely disappeared. Wheldrake Ings has suffered from mid April onwards, since then we have managed to get on for short periods of time, until the big flood in November came. No access has been possible since, until last week when we ventured down there. Tower Hide was accessible in wellies (if you're prepared to walk through rather deep water). It was a glorious day, albeit cold, with temperatures not getting above freezing throughout the day.

We managed to count all areas of Wheldrake that could be seen from Tower Hide, large numbers of Wigeon (2271) were whistling beneath us, far outnumbering the rest of the birds put together - small numbers of Teal (900) and Mallard (100) were mixed in. Looking across onto Swantail we managed to pick out the first two Shoveler for the WeBS count (both drakes), swimming amongst 104 Pintail. The main highlight was another female Scaup (second for the count), plus the first Great Crested Grebe for the year, gliding effortlessly over the calm water. A large number of Tufted Ducks had gathered at the back of Swantail (188), with 34 Pochard and a single drake Goldeneye. Only 4 Mute Swans were present, with two leaving whilst we were there, seen below.

We made our way through the water to the wind pump, flushing 4 Snipe along the way, once there we hit a brick wall (or more like water wall) and thus had to turn round and head back - the water had foiled our plan to count the back of Wheldrake - it was far too high to wade through, also meaning Pool Hide and Swantail Hide are still out of bounds. Whilst down by the side of the river we had a quick look for otter prints - finding several fresh prints - great to know these animals are still present despite the recent high water. We trudged back up the path and came across the first two Coot for the WeBS count - followed shortly after by another three. Plenty of thrushes, mainly Blackbirds and a few Redwing flitted in and out of the trees either side of the path - feeding on the few remaining berries. 

We were lucky that time and weather allowed us to do a full WeBS count for the valley, apart from the Pocklington Canal which hopefully will feature on the next one. We made our way from Bubwith Ings and walked the length of the floodbank to Thorganby, normally we'd have driven it as, a) it's quicker and b) the birds do not seem as bothered by a vehicle as they are by people on foot.

Bubwith Ings saw plenty of geese (60 Greylag and 120 Canada), 26 Mute Swans, 490 Wigeon, 214 Teal, 36 Pochard, a small group of 3 Pintail, 2 Tufted Ducks and the first 2 Goosander (a pair) for the year. 2 Roe Deer were also amongst the trees - one can only imagine if they are baffled by the unusual amount of water infront of them! We carried on down the floodbank, constantly stepping over the flood debris, plenty of litter, bottles and drift wood had been washed up. 

As we approached Aughton Ings we spotted a group of 5 Whooper Swans, 2 adults and 3 juvs making their way down to Ellerton, where we could see a large group had already gathered. A few gun shots went off and suddenly the sky filled with waders, 1400 Golden Plover, 100 Dunlin and 30 Ruff circled above us. More geese were counted (184 Greylag and 36 Canada), plus a high count of Wigeon (1800) and Teal (1100). A single Mistle Thrush flew overhead - not a regular sight in the valley.

Upon arriving at Ellerton more Whooper Swans had dropped in, with 104 counted, and 22 Mutes. Loud honking above us drew our eyes to the sky with a skien of Greylag coming in to join the others already present (718 in total), with just a small number of Canda mixed in (10). Here we came across the first Shelduck for the count, with 44 birds on the floodbank - quite a high number for the time of year, numbers don't usually start to build on the Ings until late January/early February. A single Redshank called as it headed down the river, where we then came across 2 Moorhen (surprisingly the first ones) and 2 Grey Herons and a single Cormorant were sitting high in the trees. The ducks were making the most of the flooded fields at Ellerton, with 2100 Wigeon, 2292 Teal, 50 Mallard, 22 Pintail and 2 Tufted Ducks counted. 900 Lapwing wheeled above us, with a single Golden Plover following soon after.

Looking down to Thorganby we could see that a group of gulls had gathered - the first we had really come across apart from a number of Black-heads. They were mainly large gulls with 24 Herring, 6 Greater-black Backed and a single Common Gull. As we arrived at the spot we came across masses of rubbish presumably brought over by the gulls from the local tip - with a variety of bones and plastic strewn on the grass, amongst many feathers and splash. Scoping further down the bank brought us to a group of Redshank (11), upon trying to get nearer to them to check for colour-rings we flushed a Snipe and 2 Curlew called overhead. A good count of Shelduck was had (63) - with hopefully some of our darvic'd birds present. Plus 2210 Wigeon, 956 Teal, 181 Mallard (surprisingly the most that we'd come across), 8 Mutes, 1 Greylag, 5 Canada, 2 Cormorants and 1 Heron (latter two on the river).

East Cottingwith brought us the first count of Goldeneye (17), a species which tends to favour these particular fields during the winter floods. 29 Mutes, 1 Shelduck, 10 Mallard, 40 Teal and 257 Wigeon were also present.

Due to such a large expanse of water still covering areas throughout the valley it wasn't possible to count all the birds and so the totals above may not give a true picture of the number of birds actually present. On a whole we thought numbers of Mallard and Moorhen seemed unusually low - presumably because the birds have been pushed out to the edges. No Gadwall were seen throughout the day (a reflection of the extensive flooding), and only 5 Coot and 2 Shoveler were counted throughout the whole of the site. At this time of year Shoveler numbers should be between 200-300.

Other birds of note were a few raptors - a Buzzard feeding on a carass at Ellerton, Marsh Harrier and Peregrine over the back of Wheldrake, and a Sparrowhawk flew across the floodbank at Thorganby. Surprisingly throughout the day we had no sightings of a Barn Owl or Kestrel, however we know from other reports that upto 7 Barn Owls have been seen around North Duffield - good to know they've not been severely affected by the flooding.

Also worth reporting were a large number of Pied Wagtails - atleast 50 birds were counted throughout the length of the floodbank - feeding furiously on the insects at the waters edge.

Thursday 3 January 2013

2012 Summary - An unforgettable year!

January/February – the drier winter conditions continued, and combined with some fairly harsh weather it produced two of our best ever winter months for wildfowl ringing. February was the best month ever on record for catching ducks in the LDV with a grand total of 408 ringed during the month, Teal featuring highly with an impressive 166 new birds. These were certainly a reward for the team working in some fairly harsh icy conditions which allowed us to walk, not wade, across the Top Pond at North Duffield Carrs. The rest of the month saw some sampling at various winter feeding stations and a good sample of 20 Corn Buntings were ringed from a regular winter roost site. Brent Goose was a new species to be ringed in the valley which gave itself up in the whoosh net at North Duffield Carrs. 

March/April – wildfowl ringing continued apace with 100 Shelduck caught and handled during the month, including 77 new birds but perhaps more pleasingly, various old friends from earlier years. All were fitted with our black and white darvics so hopefully there will be re-sightings to come. A rehabilitated Red Kite ringed and released at Thornton Ellers in March was another new species to be ringed in the LDV. It was an amazing sight to watch it soar away, especially as it was probably only hours away from death by illegal poisoning when found. A total of 10 Grey Heron youngsters were ringed in the colony near Wheldrake and were the first to be fitted with colour-rings in the hope of increasing our knowledge of their movements around the area. Finally, the second half of April saw the return of the spring passage roost of Whimbrel and yet more old friends – some being incredibly site and date specific in their habits.

May/June – flooding from late April was to set the scene for the remainder of the year, but the Whimbrel monitoring continued into early May as usual with great results and a record number of returning individuals. The work was also featured on the BBC News and Countryfile, raising the profile of our work and that of the BTO ringing scheme. Large numbers of Swifts feeding over the Ings were to be a feature of the summer months, but provided a few hours of ‘flicking’ entertainment in May when a sample of 48 were ringed. Two Cuckoos caught and ringed on Skipwith Common reflected the number of birds at the stronghold site and one was well appreciated by a group of local BTCV volunteers working on the site. With extensive flooding in the LDV options were limited and with a complete failure of breeding waders, increased effort into checking the long running Barn Owl and Kestrel nest box scheme was fruitful and yet another great way to engage with the local farming community. One of the highlights of the year came this month when a Black-necked Grebe, colour ringed as a chick in 2004 was seen back at its natal site attempting to breed. 

July/August – July continued to be a month of ringing Barn Owls and Kestrels and engaging with interested landowners and individuals, but July and August will long be remembered for ducks, ducks and more ducks. After what looked like a poor start to the season through the variable water levels, it ended up being one of the best waterfowl breeding seasons we’ve had, with the ditches full of Shoveler, Gadwall and Tufted Duck broods. This resulted in record numbers being caught and ringed, and even more significantly, colour-ringed to try and make the most out of these valuable additions to the national ringing totals. It certainly proved worthwhile with several re-sightings adding much to our knowledge of their movements since. An adult drake Garganey was a nice bonus for hours of hard, wet slog. August was spectacular for wader ringing in the valley, especially given the conditions and large numbers of Snipe present. Many early mornings, late nights and all nighters resulted in 30+ Snipe and 8 Ruff being colour-ringed, alongside other notable captures including 5 Green Sandpiper, 4 Common Sandpiper, 2 Greenshank and yet another new addition for the valleys ringing totals in the form of a Spotted Redshank. We also had the first moulting Mute Swan round-up for the reserve which proved very successful. 

September/October – water levels continued to plague activities but we did ring and release our second rehabilitated large raptor of the year – a female Marsh Harrier. The first Jack Snipe of the productive autumn appeared in late September with another run of Snipe and more followed during October. The month ended with a large adult female Tawny Owl caught roosting at Thornton Ellers.

November/December – a rather poor end to the year with the LDV almost completely submerged under the biggest flood since 2000. A trip into York city centre to ring, but perhaps more importantly to engage with the public, some Waxwings gave a colourful and more exotic diversion. A single Stonechat caught on Skipwith Common was the first to be colour-ringed in the area, and an unexpected Chiffchaff at Bank Island was the sole bird to be ringed in December. 

The full totals for 2012 will be posted on here over the next week or so but in the meantime we would like to say a big thank you to all those who have been involved in any way with our activities in the LDV. The effort, dedication, support and help, in getting permissions, finding birds, ringing, reading colour-rings and generally helping keep the enthusiasm and humour going has all been invaluable. There are too many to mention individually but the LDV Team would particularly like to thank -

Mark Fletcher & Robin Ward, for their time and expertise in cannon netting, plus visiting ringers - Dan Lombard, Chris Brown & Eric Wood.

Peter Reid, for supplying superb whoosh nets and wheatear.biz for other excellent equipment and back up support. 

Jean Thorpe, for doing an amazing job in caring for and rehabilitating injured birds and other wildlife to try and ensure their return to the wild.

Sam Brown, Marie Allen, Adam I'Anson, Sam Walker, James Roberts, John Cahill & Mike Butler for helping out in the summer and spending many an hour in ditches, sometimes without waders, helping to catch ducklings, herd swans or push the coral. It wouldn’t have been possible without you all.

All the landowners, particularly CCT, YWT and Escrick Park Estate for permission to ring on their land. 

Russ, Andy, Tim & Chris for the regular bird info and for helping out with checking for colour-ringed birds.

Lastly a big thank you to you - our readers and followers! Here's hoping for a bird filled 2013 for us all!