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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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

16/02/13 - 395 birds, 400+ miles = job done!

Following a kind invite from Kane Brides and our friends at the WWT, last week saw some of the LDV Team travel over to the WWT Martin Mere Wetland Centre for the annual swan and duck catch. It was a brilliant opportunity to meet up with WWT staff and volunteers, and to also check out the swan pipe and the rest of the reserve, along with sharing our waterfowl experiences and checking ageing techniques! It was also great to meet up again with Dave Paynter from WWT Slimbridge, who a couple of years ago showed us round the Duck Decoy and gave a great demonstration of how it works. It was really good to be able to help out with the catch and get our hands on a few ducks, but we were also hoping to find a few old friends! Over the years we've had quite a few birds move from the LDV NNR to Martin Mere, and vice versa, but it wasn't to be this time - just too many birds to sift through! 

Most of the waterfowl ringing in the UK is either undertaken at the WWT centres across the country, through WWT sponsored projects or on a handful of other sites supported by the WWT. At the WWT centres like Slimbridge, Martin Mere, Welney and Caerlaverock, most of the birds are caught during an annual catch using the swan pipes, which are mainly aimed at securing a sample of Whooper or Bewick Swans. The birds are fed here twice daily with large amounts of grain, and in the hope of getting the birds used to entering the mouth of the swan pipe. Feeding the swans is also a great opportunity for reading darvics, from a short stint in one of the hides we managed to spot 21 darvic'd birds, plus two with metal rings.

These type of catches can vary but typically they contribute to the majority of certain waterfowl species ringed each year in the UK. The number of Whooper Swans ringed in the UK varies between 125-200, whilst ringing totals for Pochard and Pintail both vary between 20-200 birds per year, largely dependent on the success of these annual catches, which can typically take between 100-200 birds a catch. During the catch the birds are fed in the entrance of the swan pipe, then once there is a suitable (and safely manageable) number present, the door is dropped and the team rush in to herd the catch up the narrowing pipe and into the collecting pens (plus hand netting the odd duck on route). This contrasts to the 1100 waterfowl a year that can be ringed in the LDV during a good year, although we usually do it in small catches of upto 20-30 birds max. Some species such as Teal and Wigeon are seldom caught in swan pipe catches, and so further make the numbers caught in the LDV more noteworthy.


Whooper Swans have been fitted with darvics in the UK and Iceland since the late 1980's in order to find out more about their movements, ecology and welfare. Marking a sample in the population to continue this work is still important to our understanding and conservation of these birds.

Catching so many swans also provides the opportunity to take samples from a number of birds to test for avian flu or other pathogens, and to take x-rays to look at the frequency of birds carrying lead from illegal hunting. This was the primary purpose of last weeks catch and so a sample of 73 birds was ideal (49 new, 24 re-traps). Out of the 24 re-traps 22 had originally been ringed at Martin Mere, and the other two were controls from Iceland and Welney WWT.

None of the birds which have been ringed/seen in the LDV NNR were caught this time, although over the years we have had 14 Whooper interchanges with Martin Mere, 11 with Caerlaverock and 10 with Welney. One intrepid explorer has even been to all three WWT centres along with the LDV, 'DZI' was ringed as an adult female in Iceland in 1992 and was last seen ten years later in Scotland. Full life history listed below:

02.08.92 - Ringed in Skijalflavatn, N.Iceland
15.10.92 - Sighted at Welney WWT
23.02.92 - Sighted at Welney WWT
17.10.93 - Sighted at Martin Mere WWT
06.11.93 - Sighted at Martin Mere WWT
12.11.92 - Sighted at Welney WWT
20.03.94 - Sighted at Welney WWT
06.03.95 - Sighted at Skitten, Caithness, Scotland
01.04.95 - Sighted at North Killiminster, Wick, Caithness, Scotland
01.11.95 - Sighted at Caerlaverock WWT, Dumfries
06.11.96 - Sighted at LDV NNR
02.01.97 - Sighted at Welney WWT
22.11.97 - Sighted at North Killiminster, Wick, Caithness, Scotland
10.02.02 - Sighted at Loch Eye, Easter Ross, Highland, Scotland

No Bewick Swans were caught on this catch, but in the past there have been three interchanges with Martin Mere, 3 with Slimbridge and a single movement with Caerlaverock. 

The total catch from Martin Mere consisted of 190 birds: 51 Mallard, 26 Shelduck, 19 Pintail, 12 Pochard, 5 Teal, 3 Coot and a single Greylag. Over the past few years we've had 3 Shelduck to Martin Mere and 1 from there that was later caught in our cannon net catch last January. We've also had two of our Mallards go to Caerlaverock, plus two Barnacle Geese that were ringed there later appeared in the LDV. So over the years there's been lots of interchanges between the sites, and hopefully more to come, we may even catch up with some of these birds again! It was nice to get some more experience and handling of ducks that are rarely caught in the LDV such as Pochard - over the years we've only ringed four in the valley, but all have been from the British breeding population and one interesting recovery has been generated (details below).


LDV Pochard recovery - GF75766 (6 Female), ringed in the LDV on the 28.05.97, recovered on 10.11.02 in Dresden, Germany (shot), 1067 Km.

Below is a more typical recovery of a wintering bird which suggests that these wintering populations come from further east.

LDV Pochard recovery - D778538 (4 Female), ringed on Lake Engure, Latvia on 13.06.72, recovered on 05.12.75 in Melbourne, LDV NNR (shot), 1551 Km.

Health and safety is obviously vital when handling all these birds, hence the protective clothing and the chemical footbath and sprays - with such a number of birds involved we certainly don't want to end up spreading anything between the reserves.

Education is always an important part of conservation programmes, especially those run by the WWT at centres like Martin Mere and back in the valley with what we do at the NNR base at Bank Island. A school party visiting the centre on the day of the catch got to enjoy a very special experience of seeing the birds up close and personal - hopefully a real memory for them! 

As we headed back across the Pennines (through quite a snow storm!) the WWT team headed up to Caerlaverock for a catch the next day - in which they processed 205 birds, including 119 Whoopers and 58 Mutes - nice work guys over the course of two days - especially with the weather! Many thanks again to Kane and his team at the WWT for asking us to help out and making us feel so welcome.


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  2. Fascinating reading, especially about the pochard retrievals in the 70s. I visit the LDV regularly so you have a new blog follower. I'll put a link to your site on my blog .. hoping you can reciprocate.


    Tim@Timbobaggins Abroad

    1. Thanks Tim, always nice to get a new follower, great to know you visit the LDV regularly, we'll keep an eye on your blog - cracking Hare photo!

  3. Wow dont think i've ever seen that many swans!!