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 28 February 2013

27/02/13 - Farewell to a true birding gent

It was with great sadness yesterday that the news broke about the passing of Russell Slack. Russ was a quiet and private man, thus keeping the devastating news of his illness to himself, and only those closest to him. Since the end of last year Russ had been fighting a losing battle against cancer, and it is with great sadness and shock how quickly it all happened and how suddenly he has been taken from his family and friends.

Despite being ill and suffering with treatment, Russ still tried to be part of the birding community in the valley, and asked to be kept up-to-date with bird news. One of the last birds he found on a visit to the valley was a single Waxwing in the Bank Island car park. Russ was a true 'local patch' birder, and most interested and happy when finding his own birds, especially in the Lower Derwent Valley which was a special place to him, and a site in which he introduced many of his birding friends to.

Over the years Russ amassed an impressive valley list, but again it was in finding his own birds which gave him the most enjoyment, and finds such as Great White Egret, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Pectoral & Buff-breasted Sandpipers and Snow Buntings head a long list, whilst Gannet and Bearded Tit frustratingly and seemingly constantly eluded him, but which he took with his own great sense of humour. It was however not just rare and scarce birds that held Russ's attention, but also in recording movements and counting commoner species as well, which Russ avidly recorded and for which we are so much better off.

Well liked and highly respected, Russ became the official 'bird news hub' of the LDV, getting along with everyone as he did so well, and passing on the many records that came his way. Living more locally in Wheldrake village in recent years gave Russ the opportunity to quickly 'get on' to local birds and also see the capture of birds during ringing. This gave him the opportunity which not many have had, to see some of the 'Ings specialities' in the hand, including Garganey, Spotted Crake and Quail to name a few.

Eclipse drake Garganey (& Teal) in the hand
Russell Slack, 30/07/12

An NNR volunteer for over 20 years, Russ was always keen to ensure the LDV and its records got the merit, justification and protection they deserved, and so he worked closely with the YOC, YNU and Natural England. He worked particularly hard alongside us in the LDV, with 'difficult to survey species' such as Black-necked Grebes and Spotted Crakes which can appear in the valley in above 'the norm' or expected numbers. Russ was keen to help in any way he could, and took part in the BBS and farmland bird surveys, along with helping us with WeBS counts and various ringing projects. He was always keen to come out and help drag-net Jack Snipe or mist net Whimbrel, or merely spend hours trying to read off colour-rings.

Russ wasn't just simply into birds as a hobby in which he took enjoyment from, he went the extra mile and was passionate about birds and their conservation in the LDV, which saw him roll up his sleeves and get stuck into practical habitat management with us, that in the long term would benefit the site, the birds and the enjoyment of others.

Russ's relationship with the valley goes back over 30 years, and his friendship with Craig for 23 of those, back in the day when they were both 'young lads' they'd spend many an hour discussing birds and through this friendship Russ helped inspire Craig's enthusiasm for the valley and in monitoring/researching the less understood species. Together they analysed records, looked for trends and patterns, and predicted the occurrence of the less frequently encountered species. Russ then took it one step further and went onto writing about them and soon became the accomplished author of the 'Rare Birds Where and When' and the 'Rare and Scarce Birds in Yorkshire', he also wrote various short papers on the status of seabirds in the York area for the local YOC reports. These fascinating reads were also part of the inspiration for the publication of Craig's book on the birds of the LDV.

The Lower Derwent Valley has sadly lost a true supporter and advocate, and the birders, volunteers, and all the LDV Natural England staff and friends have lost a true ornithological gentleman. Finding the next rare bird or local scarcity or catching the next unusual bird whilst ringing will now be tinged with sadness, but we shall go on and keep Russ's memory with us. It was a true pleasure to know Russ, and our thoughts are now with Linda, and his two young daughters.

Russ and the bird race team of 2012
 Jono Leadley, 08/01/12


  1. We knew Russell whilst I was the warden for the LDV NNR in the early 2000s and can only echo the kind words written by the LDV Team. I will always remember one particular occasion when I had been mowing rough vegetation on Bank Island. It was 5th October 2006 and I had flushed out a Spotted Crake. But I knew there was another still left in a narrow strip of uncut vegetation. I wanted another birder to come and verify the record...couldn't get Craig R but managed Russell who appeared in seemingly seconds from Wheldrake! The final cut was made, the elusive bird scurried out and flew low in front of Russell. I can see him now punching the air with delight, saying "Spotted Crake"... plus a big smile! The record was thus confirmed.
    Our thoughts now go to his wife Linda and two daughters at this very sad time.
    Peter & Janet Roworth.

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  2. Very sad news and a great loss to the birding community as a whole. I too met Russ when I worked for EN in the LDV many years ago. A very knowledgable man.

  3. Gutted, I only spoke to him before Christams discussing Rare Birds Where and When volume 2 and the fact I re painted a different cover for it, had no idea he was that ill, what a brave soul, will always be rememebered.
    Ray Scally

  4. I too am gutted and still in shock. Russ and I spent many an hour discussing rare birds and vagrancy whenever we bumped into each other whilst birding in the Sheffield area; most often at one of the winter gull roosts. I really liked Russ, and I am sure this is a sentiment echoed by all those fortunate to have known him - he was that sort of guy. A tragic loss indeed and,as Ray Scally said, he will always be remembered.

  5. He was indeed a gent and will be missed by many. Best wishes to his family. Nick