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 16 December 2014

15/12/14 - The king of all birds

By a mile, thee most stunning bird - the very beautiful Kingfisher. It’s a real privilege to catch one of these birds and to be able to see all the colours up close – a typical view of a Kingfisher is normally a flash of electric blue as it whizzes past like a torpedo, often gone before you’ve even lifted your binoculars up! With the bright turquoise, iridescent blue and orange colouring Kingfishers are unmistakeable for any other bird, and a much sought after species to see for any nature lover.

Over the course of the last year staff and volunteers have been working hard managing the woodland at Thornton Ellers, and where was once a completely overgrown pool and thus allowing no light to the water’s surface, now sits a much more open site which is proving to be attractive to a whole range of wildlife. The overall biodiversity has been increased with birds, plants, fish and invertebrates now thriving at a site which was once dominated by alder and willow scrub. Since the work has been carried out each time we’ve visited we’ve heard a Kingfisher calling, and after all the hard work managing the site it’s a great feeling to know that wildlife like this species are benefiting.

To our surprise and delight soon after catching the first bird, a second individual was heard calling, and shortly afterwards it soon found its way into the net. It was great for us to see them both in the hand together, to really see the differences between the male and female, and also nice for us to know that we have a (presumed) pair frequenting the site.

Male - back left, female - front right

By looking at the bill on the bird pictured below we know that it is a male due to the all dark colouring, for a female the lower part of the bill (mandible) would have a reddish base, other than that the sexes are generally similar. The youngsters can be separated from the adults by the colour of their feet (very dark) compared with the vibrant orange/red of the adults, a white tip to the beak is another feature of the young. Juveniles also lack the vibrant colours of their parents, appearing much duller in their first year.

Kingfisher - male

As mentioned above, the female has a reddish base to the lower part of the bill (mandible), and is a slightly duller bird, particularly the one pictured here, with the turquoise blue not being quite as bright.

Kingfisher - female

Kingfishers live and breed on clear streams and rivers, often nesting in a riverbank or under tree roots. Unfortunately they can be affected severely by prolonged spring/summer flooding which can wash their burrows out, then in the winter if the weather is particularly cold causing long spells of frozen water they will struggle to feed – resulting in them being pushed to the coast. Fortunately Kingfishers can have two to three broods, and lay between 5-7 eggs, meaning that the population can recover fairly quickly. They've had a hard time of it recently in the LDV as over the last 10-15 years the valley has had its fair share of summer flooding events – readers of the blog will have seen the effects of the 2012 flooding when the valley flooded (or re-flooded) in every month from April onwards. With the two recent very cold winters numbers will have further been reduced, so it's great to see them beginning to make a comeback this year with more records in 2014 than we can remember for quite some time. 

Kingfishers are not a bird we catch a lot of for ringing as usually they are a species which require targeting, often by placing a net over a stream, ditch or pond that is regularly used. They tend not to fly through areas that we would usually set our nets for other birds, such as willow scrub for warblers, although Mike has ringed a few in recent years from around the pool at Wheldrake. A total of 78 have been ringed in the valley following these two, and several have been re-trapped in the same area in following years. There is just one movement away from the valley – a single ringed as a young bird near the Pocklington Canal near Allerthorpe in August 2005 was found dead at Fulford in the spring of 2007 – 18km away, presumably a bird which had dispersed locally to find its own breeding territory. 

The best place to look for Kingfishers in the valley is along the Pocklington Canal, particularly around Melbourne, and also along the River Derwent north to Malton. Wheldrake Ings and North Duffield Carrs have also produced records this year. Two of our other NNR's - Forge Valley Woods and Duncombe Park are both prime locations for this species. However, good and prolonged views of a Kingfisher are often hard to come across, so plenty of patience is needed! If you’re lucky you may come across one perched in riverside branches as it watches its prey before making its move, piercing the surface of the water with its dagger like bill.

Sunday 7 December 2014

05/12/14 - A welcome visitor

Using National Nature Reserves as places of research and monitoring has always been an important part of their role – and it’s always good to use the reserves as demonstration sites and to be able to share experiences from the wealth of knowledge from around the national NNR series. 

Last week Tom Bolderstone, reserve manager from Dersingham Bog NNR in North Norfolk came up to spend a couple of days with the LDV NNR staff and volunteer ringers in a study tour to share and exchange ideas. On arrival Tom met up with reserve staff and had a look round the NNR finding out about our science and research programme, how it's managed and how volunteers play a vital role in delivering that work, especially in the face of reducing budgets and resources. The following day saw Tom join Mike and some of our volunteers to find out how it all works from their perspective, and he even managed a little bit of ringing, catching a Little Grebe on the River Derwent using a floating net – a new species and technique for Tom. 



The Pocklington Canal is a favoured location for Little Grebes, with three being present over the last few weeks. Over recent years several birds have been caught here, and a total of 43 have been ringed in the valley since ringing began in 1989. However we are yet to receive any information or re-sightings (several caught here have been colour-ringed). Not many Little Grebes are ringed in the UK each year, with just 1674 caught since ringing began over 100 years ago, so any information of their movements would help move forward our understanding of the species.


The evening saw the ‘team’ then undertake a successful Reed Bunting roost catch in a local reedbed, accounting for 50 newly ringed Reed Buntings - a pleasing catch and a good number to add to the sample that Mike ringed towards the end of the summer.

Tom's trip then finished off with a couple of Mute Swans hooked off the Pocklington Canal near Melbourne – another new method and ring size to try out.

It was a pleasure having Tom up here for a couple days and good to find out about some of the amazing work being carried out tagging Nightjars at Dersingham. We wish Tom and his colleagues well with their ringing activities and look forward to hearing about all the soon to be caught Little Grebes in Norfolk.

Friday 28 November 2014

25/11/14 - Redpoll recoveries

Whilst working at Thornton Ellers recently cutting back the bracken, strimming paths and raking the last of the hay from the meadow, we put a single mist up amongst the bracken and brambles with the hope of catching a few Lesser Redpoll.

Redpolls are charming little birds, it’s always a delight to see and hear them with their lively ‘twittering’ calls. With the little patch of red on their forehead, and their rosy pink breast (males in particular) they are stunning and really stand out on a bleak winter day. Winter is the best time of year to see them after the trees have lost their leaves, look out for them hanging upside down on slender twigs in birch and alder trees – nimbly feeding on the seeds. Redpolls are lively and sociable and travel in flocks often with Siskin and Goldfinch in early spring, sometimes flocks will explode ‘en-masse’ for no obvious reason and fly high calling loudly – their call has been known by some to resemble loose chain jingling in a pocket.

During the 1970’s there was a population boom across the country, perhaps relating to the establishment of pioneer and young woodland, and conifer plantations following post war afforestation - mirroring their preference for small seeds, especially birch. However since then their breeding range has decreased dramatically, possibly linked to the maturing of these woodlands beyond the scrubby birch thicket stage, thus resulting in them now being more known as a welcome winter visitor to gardens and woodlands. Unfortunately due to the population decreasing significantly over recent decades, they are now a species of conservation concern and can be found on the IUCN Red List.

Our British redpolls are largely residents but large numbers migrate and birds from further north move southwards for the winter and have been known to reach the Netherlands, France & Italy. Dave has been catching redpolls over the last month on Skipwith Common (another good site to find birds in the autumn/winter), and over the last few years he has caught several birds that had been ringed in the Netherlands, Belgium and elsewhere in the UK (Suffolk, Gibraltar Point & Nottinghamshire). A few local examples are listed below:

AT37328 - Ringed as a first-year male on the 27/03/12 in Spinnekoppenvlak, Kennemerduinen, The Netherlands, re-caught on the 26/10/12 on Skipwith Common NNR (406Km).

12481523 - Ringed as an adult male on the 05/04/12 in Thirimont, Beaumont, Belgium, re-caught on the 04/11/12 at Allerthorpe, Pocklington (533Km).

We've also had one of our birds that was ringed at Thornton Ellers re-caught on another NNR - Humberhead Peatlands near Doncaster. Details below:

Y311936 - Ringed on the 30/10/11 on Skipwith Common NNR, re-caught on the 02/11/12 on Hatfield Moors, Doncaster (40Km).


Thursday 27 November 2014

20/11/14 - Returning wildfowl

Flocks of Teal and Wigeon are starting to build up in the valley now, with approximately 4000+ Teal and 5000+ Wigeon present throughout the valley last week. Numbers on Wheldrake Ings have been in the range of up to 1000 Teal and 500 Wigeon – compared with almost double that at this time last year. During the autumn/winter numbers of Teal can typically peak between 6000 – 10,000 birds – so there’s still a lot more to come. Whilst we haven’t really got going yet the with annual autumn/winter duck ringing, we did however have a small catch of five Teal recently, including this stunning male, and with the recent flooding these might be the last ducks ringed for quite some time......

Male Teal - Wheldrake Ings - 03/11/14

Teal, the males in particular, are a rather striking bird with their chestnut/orange head, bright green eye-patch, speckled breast and a black-edged yellow tail. Teal are the smallest duck in Britain and also the most widespread. They spend the winter in the valley are likely to come from their breeding grounds in Eastern Europe right across into Eastern Russia, migrating back to the UK during the autumn before returning again in mid-March/April. Teal, more than most ducks, show low site fidelity, moving west during the winter to avoid cold weather and freezing conditions.

Since waterfowl ringing started in the valley in 1990, 2150 Teal have been ringed here although large numbers (c300 per year) have been ringed over the last three years. Ringing wildfowl in the valley has generated valuable information about where our birds go and come from. Just from ringing Teal, 23 international recoveries have been produced from 10 countries, involving - Denmark (5), Russia (4), N.Ireland (3), Portugal (2), France (2), Ireland (2), Finland (2) and singles from Sweden, Norway, and Germany

Several recoveries are listed here, with the first one showing the breeding grounds of a bird which then went on to winter in the valley:

M491478 - Ringed as a 6F on the 31/07/05 in Kandalakshskiy NR, Telachiy Island, U.S.S.R, was then shot on the 25/01/06 near Pocklington, East Yorkshire (2306Km).

The two recoveries below highlight a rather rapid westerly movement during the cold weather:

EX75554 - Ringed as a 3F on the 09/09/12 at Bank Island, was then shot on the 30/11/12 at Lytham Moss, Lancashire (136 Km)

EX35485 - Ringed as a 6M on the 01/12/12 at Bank Island, was then shot on the 16/12/12 at Scarisbrick, Lancashire (136Km).

Finally, the last recovery shows that at least some birds use the valley in subsequent years:

EK82986 - Ringed as a 3M on the 24/10/97 in the LDV, was then re-caught in the valley on the 20/10/99.

In a recent batch of ringing recoveries from the BTO we also found out that one of our Mallards had gone to the Netherlands - this bird had been ringed on the 10th February 2006 as a first winter male (having been ‘hatched’ in 2005). It was subsequently caught by Dutch ringers at Bakhuizen, Gaasterlan-Sleat, Friesland, Netherlands on the 25th August 2014. This is our third Mallard recovery to the Netherlands from the LDV, with other birds moving between the reserve here and sites in France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. Most of the ducks that we get to hear about have usually been shot and the ring numbers reported – so it’s nice to hear that this one is still alive and well, and perhaps on its way back to spend the winter with us again. So contrary to popular belief not all the Mallards you see on the reserve and surrounding area are local birds!

Male Mallard - Bank Island - 08/01/14

Last month several family parties of Whooper Swans passed through the LDV, whilst birds also returned to the wintering site at North Duffield Carrs where each year we have a 'resident herd'. So far two birds have been seen with darvic rings, both from last year’s cannon net catch at North Duffield Carrs, when a total of 13 birds were caught. 

Whooper Swan - North Duffield Carrs - 28/11/13

G5H & G5K were both ringed as adults last year, so it was pleasing to see that this year G5K was paired up and had returned with two cygnets. The peak count in the valley this autumn so far has been 23 birds of which 12 have been cygnets – although this is obviously a small sample size, early indications are of a successful breeding season and young birds usually comprise a maximum of 20% of the herd. This is only just the start of the Whooper season, so there will hopefully be more returning birds to come, and possibly Icelandic ringed birds along with birds ringed from the WWT centres or elsewhere across the country. 

Over the years we’ve had 23 different birds that were all initially ringed in Iceland appear in the valley, and two years ago in 2012 one of our birds was seen in Norway – a bird that was originally ringed at Duffield in 2008. Most of the Whooper Swans wintering in the UK are either ringed in Iceland or at a handful of WWT reserves, the Lower Derwent Valley NNR is the only other regular site where birds are caught and ringed annually, to date we have ringed 58 on the reserve – which is particularly valuable as it gives a wider picture to what these majestic birds are doing away from the WWT centres where they are attracted in large numbers with supplementary food.

Sunday 2 November 2014

29/10/14 - Beards & Buntings

As with each autumn, we eagerly anticipate the return of 'our' Wigeon and Teal, however this year numbers seem to be slow to build up with only up to 1500 Teal and 900 Wigeon recorded so far. This is especially low when compared with this time last year when we'd already had records of over 600 Teal at Wheldrake Ings, 500 on Skipwith Common, 1550 at Thorganby and 2000 at Bank Island by the end of October. 135 Teal were also ringed as part of our ongoing ringing and research programme during October 2013 with just 24 ringed this October. Numbers of Wigeon were also high last year, with c3500 at Bank Island by the 31st. 

Teal - October 2013 

With the lack of ducks on site Mike has still been putting his time and effort into catching passerines, and following a good sample of warblers caught this autumn (130 Reed Warbler, 210 Sedge Warbler, 25 Garden Warbler and 110 Blackcap), lately he has now been catching Reed Buntings, with a massive total of over 300 caught.

Sedge Warbler - August 2014

Reed Buntings have been present in good numbers recently at Wheldrake Ings, however they can be found throughout the valley occurring in most fields with suitable habitat, although sites like Wheldrake Ings, North Duffield Carrs and the Pocklington Canal attract the largest concentrations. Although they can be more widespread and found in different habitats during the winter, they often form large winter roosts next to water and two such roosts can be found in the Lower Derwent Valley – in the reedbed upstream of Church Bridge at Melbourne where up to 100-150 birds can be present in the winter, and at Wheldrake Ings where up to 200/300 have been counted in recent years.

Reed Bunting - September 2014 

Breeding birds from northern Britain move south in autumn/winter when birds also move from higher altitudes to the relatively warmer lowlands. We also get continental birds arriving into Britain in the autumn as they move westwards to escape colder eastern winters – but perhaps for such a common bird we don’t really know that much about the movements of this species. Over the last couple of years we’ve noticed a large movement of birds through the Lower Derwent Valley in September, and last month a large influx took place into the valley (around 20th September) when over 250 were counted throughout the site - presumably many more were present but remained uncounted. At the same time, regular ringing surveys also revealed large numbers of birds as being present at a site in the LDV and at Skipwith Common with 200 birds ringed during the last week of the month between those two sites – with 20-30 birds caught each day and no ringed birds re-trapped, suggesting a regular and continued passage through the site. Hopefully some of those will be controlled elsewhere in the winter and help establish where these birds were coming from and going to.

Last week in the early hours of Wednesday morning along with a sample of buntings a nice surprise was found in one of the mist net rides, in the form of a Cetti's Warbler - amazingly coming out the same net that produced a Barred Warbler earlier in the autumn. This represents the 12th record of the species in the valley with Wheldrake Ings accounting for 9 of them, and the 5th to be ringed on the site. Winter records (late October to March/April) seem to be the norm and the species has now been annual in the valley during the last four years. 

Cetti's Warbler - October 2014 

Cetti’s Warblers are best described as a skulking bird that inhabits dense/overgrown vegetation near water, and can often prove very difficult to see. They usually make their presence known with loud bursts of song and explosive metallic clanging notes, the first glimpse will probably be of a dark, rather stocky warbler diving for cover, with short wings and a full rounded tail. Cetti’s are one of the UK's most recent colonists, first breeding in the country in 1973 and since having increased to around 2000 singing males/pairs but largely confined south of a line between the Wash and the Severn estuaries. Only a handful of birds are recorded in Yorkshire each year although they are increasing and have bred in the county in recent years – so one to look for (or at least listen out for!).

Another 'mega' bird for the Ings recently have been up to 12 Bearded Tits, which have been showing well in the reedbed by Swantail Hide. Several weekends ago this fine male (one of a pair) was photographed there by Duncan - through the fog!
Bearded Tit - October 2014

In the UK Bearded Tits (also known as ‘Bearded Reedlings’) are confined to large extensive reed beds in the breeding season, mainly on the east and south coasts but with outlying populations in Lancashire and along the River Tay in Scotland. The species is resident throughout the year but they do disperse during the autumn, sometimes undertaking regular ‘eruptions’  - these are marked by flocks of birds rising out of their breeding reed beds and taking high towering flights with lots of excited calling – small groups then peel off and disperse. It is these birds that turn up at this time of year away from their usual haunts making it a good time to look out for them in suitable habitat in our area – areas with reed beds such as Wheldrake Ings, along the Pocklington Canal and Skipwith Common are worth checking. Although they are often difficult to see as they feed in and amongst the reeds, they are sociable and noisy birds, their ‘pinging’ calls often being the first indication of their presence, usually between late September and late November.

Looking somewhat similar in shape and size to a Long-tailed Tit, both sexes are fawn brown in colour with only the males having a grey head and black ‘moustache’. Although it is tempting to assume that these birds have come from the nearest breeding populations on the Humber, ringing recoveries and re-sightings of colour-ringed birds seen in the valley in the past indicates a wide-ranging origin to these birds, including Suffolk and Lancashire.

Monday 13 October 2014

September round-up

The September sightings are now uploaded, click here for a full breakdown of species, including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, dragonflies, moths, insects, plants and fungi. Or read on for a snippet of how the month unfolded.

September saw the continued build-up of wintering waterfowl, with Teal being present in good numbers throughout the month, reaching 1000+ by the end of the month. By which time 200 Wigeon had also returned to Skipwith Common NNR. Both Greylag and Canada Geese numbers also started to increase with the concentration of local breeding birds. A skein of returning Pink-footed Geese flew south over Bank Island on the 21st, no doubt enroute to the north Norfolk coast. Otherwise it was fairly quiet for wildfowl during the month, presumably reflecting the relatively dry conditions throughout most of the valley.

Wader passage was at best steady early in the month but was largely over by the 20th with just a late juvenile Greenshank and lone Green Sandpipers thereafter. Wetter conditions along the Pocklington Canal corridor of Melbourne and Thornton Ings provided attractive for Common Snipe with 150+ there on the 1st, whilst Wheldrake Ings also held 50+ on the 3rd and 4th and more interesting, Skipwith had 25 on the 3rd.

Green Sandpiper - Wheldrake Ings - D.Bye 

Several Marsh Harriers were involved in a series of records throughout the site, including a wing-tagged bird from Norfolk - giving an indication of where some of our late summer birds are coming from. A single Red Kite was seen well at Thornton on the 11th and a male Hen Harrier flew south through the valley on the 21st. Three Peregrine were logged during the month and several Hobbies showed well at times, particularly at Wheldrake Ings. Barn Owls continued to fair well with second broods, with another six chicks ringed on the 11th. 

Red Kite - Thornton Ellers - 11/09
Barn Owl - Bubwith - 11/09

Kingfishers have obviously had a successful breeding season with a good number of records received during the month, perhaps relating to 13 individuals, with up to three showing well at both Melbourne Arm and Wheldrake Ings. Jays were also obvious during the month as they started to roam from wood to wood in search of food, and perhaps as birds from other areas also started to move through the area. Other migrants passing through the valley during the month included a Tree Pipit over Wheldrake Ings on the 21st, whilst three late Whinchats were still at North Duffield Carrs on the 20th

Kingfisher - Wheldrake Ings - D.Bye

Good numbers of warblers were present throughout the month with several late Reed Warblers presents towards month end, 11 Chiffchaff caught and ringed at Wheldrake Ings on the 25th (MFJ) were probably just a fraction of the total present on site that day. The highlight of the month was undoubtedly the appearance of a flock of 14 erupting Bearded Tits at Wheldrake Ings on the 27th – the first in the LDV for three years and the joint largest flock on record.

Reptiles and amphibians were recorded during the month, largely from Skipwith Common and Thornton Ellers. All three reptile species were seen throughout September, with Common Lizards showing on a number of days and two sightings of Adders and Grass Snakes, on the 25th one individual showed particularly well, pictured below.

Grass Snake - Skipwith Common - 25/09 

Butterflies and dragonflies continued to be recorded throughout the month, with the majority of records coming from Skipwith Common, Thornton Ellers and the NNR Base Garden. Speckled Woods were the most recorded species throughout (72 sightings logged), whilst Peacocks, Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells were recorded in pleasing numbers. The three species of whites (Small, Large & Green-veined) were on the wing still, with just three records of Comma’s and a single Brimstone and Small Copper.

 Comma - Thornton Ellers - 11/09
 Brimstone - Thornton Ellers - 11/09

Skipwith Common, Thornton Ellers and Wheldrake Ings produced the majority of the dragonfly records, with the three species of darter recorded throughout the month, and in good numbers – particularly Ruddy and Common. Southern Hawkers, Migrant Hawkers and Brown Hawkers were recorded throughout, where as Emerald Damselflies were only present on a handful of dates and in low numbers – with the end of the season fast approaching for this species.

 Emerald Damselfly - Skipwith Common - 02/09
Ruddy Darter - Skipwith Common - 02/09

Whilst out working on site time was also taken to have a good look for other invertebrates, with a pleasing number of new species found, in particular eight new spiders such as the Four-spot Orb Weaver, Furrow Spider, Walnut Orb Weaver, Marbled Orb Weaver and the Invisible Spider.

 Four-spot Orb Weaver - Skipwith Common - 25/09
 Furrow Spider - Skipwith Common - 02/09
Marbled Orb Weaver - Skipwith Common - 02/09

A number new beetles were also added to the 2014 'pan' and Shield Bugs continued to be found in good numbers across the site, with Skipwith Common being a particular hot-spot. The first adult Green Shield Bug was found, after weeks of seeing numerous nymphs.

 Bronze Shield Bug - Skipwith Common - 02/09
 Green Shield Bug - Skipwith Common - 25/09

A new species of Ladybird was found on Skipwith Common - the Orange Ladybird, and another Harlequin Ladybird (form succinea) was seen at Thornton Ellers in the scabious meadow.

 Harlequin Ladybird H.succinea - Thornton Ellers - 11/09
 Orange Ladybird - H.sedecimguttata - Skipwith - 25/09

Two other new species of insect were found, both on the Common - Marsh Damselbug and a Staphylinid Beetle Platydracus latebricola.

 Marsh Damselbug Nabis limbatus - Skipwith Common - 11/09
 Platydracus latebricola - Skipwith Common - 02/09

Fungi continued to appear on the Common throughout September, with species such as Fly Agaric, Common Puffball, Spiny Puffball, Ochre Brittlegill and Tawny Grisette.

Tawny Grissette - Skipwith Common - 02/09

Follow the link here to read the individual species breakdowns, and many thanks to those who contributed records throughout the month.

Monday 6 October 2014

Autumn - Work on the NNR

September began with another day spent with Judith, looking for new plants, grasses, sedges, rushes and mosses, this time on Skipwith Common NNR. We identified over thirty new species for the year, including Marsh Arrowgrass, Lesser Marshwort, Marsh St.John’s-wort, Bulbous Rush, Pill Sedge, Common Yellow Sedge, Jointed Rush and Purple Moor-grass, along with several new ones that we didn’t find last year. In addition to looking for new plants we were also keeping an eye out for invertebrates and found a number of new species of spider out on the heath. Caterpillars, shield bugs, leaf hoppers, reptiles, amphibians and dragonflies added to the variety of the day and the first fungi of the season were spotted – Fly Agaric, Tawny Grissette, Ochre Brittlegill and Spiny Puffball. A full write-up of the day can be read here.

 Discovering the world of moss
 Common Frog - Skipwith Common
 Tawny Grissette - Skipwith Common

Throughout August and September some of the team took an interest in Shield Bugs, and managed to find seven different species across the valley. Shield Bugs are attractive insects with their bright colouring, and are easily characterised by their flattened oval-shaped shell, and a triangular plate which sits between the wing cases - this is called the scutellum, meaning ‘small-shield’, which gives Shield Bugs their name. They are also known as Stink Bugs due to their ability to produce a pungent smelling liquid from special glands near their legs, when threatened. The majority of species (46 in total) feed on plant sap, however some are predatory, such as the Bronze and Red-legged Shield Bugs which feed on caterpillars and other insects. Along with finding many adults a number of nymphs were also found. When hatched Shield Bugs pass through several moults (five in total), changing colour and shape and resembling more like the adults at each stage until they reach the final breeding stage. When they are in the early stages, known as ‘instars’ identifying them can test even the most knowledgeable observer!

Bronze Shield Bug adult - Skipwith Common
Bronze Shield Bug nymph - Skipwith Common

At the beginning of September on Skipwith Common the Marsh Gentians started to flower, found near the bomb bay loop (opposite the WWII memorial). Marsh Gentians are only found on this one particular area of the Common, probably occurring because of the lime enrichment of the soil from the concrete nearby from the RAF base. The only other colony in the Vale of York is on Strensall Common SSSI. The area they occur on at Skipwith is managed to maintain their numbers by close mowing and disturbance of the soil in late autumn and early winter, reducing the competition by other species and leaving bare and open areas for them to thrive. This management seems to be working with a general increase over recent years from 60 or so flowering plants to around 150+.

Marsh Gentian - Skipwith Common

Throughout September several Marsh Harriers (two females and a second year male) showed well around the Lower Derwent Valley, particularly at North Duffield Carrs. Seeing Marsh Harriers in the valley now-a-days is not unusual, although roll back the years to the 1970’s and only a handful of pairs were present in the country, all of which were restricted to Norfolk and Suffolk, however by 2010 numbers had increased to around 400 pairs. Numbers visiting the Lower Derwent Valley NNR have increased in line with the national trend, and with a population of breeding birds based around the Humber birds are now almost resident in the valley. Birds have bred or have attempted breeding sporadically in recent years but are yet to really colonise the valley as an annual breeding species – however birds can be seen almost throughout the year across the valley, although Wheldrake Ings and North Duffield Carrs are the favoured locations.

Marsh Harrier - T.Weston

Although there are species of fungi that remain throughout the year, autumn is the best known season for looking for fungi and indeed more species are out from now on until the end of the year. Whilst we’ve been carrying out practical management works on the site over the last few weeks, we have noticed the appearance of a number of new species, especially on Skipwith Common which is a fungi hotspot in the local area. Species such as Common Earthball, Common Puffball, Spiny Puffball, Tawny Grissette, and Ochre Brittlegill are just a few of the species that we have found lately

We also came across a small group of Fly Agaric which were just starting to emerge, Fly Agaric is probably the best known mushroom species due to its distinctive look and bright red colours, making it instantly recognisable. Fly Agaric appear initially like this one pictured here, before growing in size and height – with some individuals reaching 30cm tall! At it goes on to mature, the scarlet ‘cap’ opens and becomes flattened. This species is rumoured to get its name from medieval times when it was used as a fly killer – the cap would be broken up and mixed into saucers of milk – both attracting and killing flies.

Fly Agaric - Skipwith Common
Each year we manage a small (3ha) fen meadow next to the Alder Carr Woodland at Thornton Ellers – a quiet and undisturbed part of the NNR. Lying on the junction between underlying sand and peat, the site is very diverse but equally very sensitive, needing an alternative method to cut and bale it rather than using today’s heavy agricultural equipment. So it’s up to ourselves to cut the field by allen scythe, rowing up by hand and using our mini-baler to produce manageable bales to remove. Cutting the fen meadow keeps the more dominant species like Glyceria, Phalaris and Soft Rush in check, allowing a wide range of fenland specialities such as Fen Bedstraw, Marsh Cinquefoil, Greater Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Devil’s-bit Scabious to flourish. We always cut the area of Devil’s-bit Scabious last, after it has finished flowering as it provides a great nectar source for so many invertebrates. 

This year we are baling the hay ‘green’ – meaning we won’t let it dry out before we bale it, which will reduce the number of seeds that get shaken out of the crop. This is due to the bales going to a large wet grassland/fenland creation project this year in the Hull Valley, at Leven Carrs just south of Tophill Low. This project has been funded by Natural England’s Agri-environment Scheme (HLS), with the aim of improving this area which can be found beside the Leven Canal. It’s nice to think our NNR meadow will help turn another part of Yorkshire into another fantastic habitat for wildlife.

Devil's-bit Scabious in full bloom
John loading up the hay bales

It certainly won’t win any prizes (!) but here’s a photograph of the Humming-bird Hawk-moth that was found in the NNR Base Garden at the beginning of September, feeding on the lavender. This is the second reserve record following one in 2012 – which is particularly pleasing as the garden was designed as a nectar rich demonstration butterfly and bee garden. The individual in 2012 was present for several days and was enjoyed by a number of visitors to the reserve, sadly this one didn’t linger for very long, remaining just for the initial day it was found. 

Humming-bird Hawk-moths are day flying moths, regularly migrating from southern Europe where they can be extremely numerous. Often seen visiting wild and garden flowers such as Red Valerian, Honeysuckle, Buddleia, Jasmine and Lavender. They tend to hover in front of each flower (often beating their wings so quickly that they are near on invisible), they then use their long tongue to reach deep into the flower to access the nectar. Humming-bird Hawk-moths occur in the UK in variable numbers each year with around 50-100 reported in a normal year but large influxes in some years can bring vast numbers, such as the 6000 recorded in 2006.

Humming-bird Hawk-moth - NNR Base

By mid-September it was time to check on a few of our second broods of Barn Owls. At one site we found six chicks which had been a clutch of eight eggs on the 23/06, so it was pleasing to see that six of them had made it and were a good healthy size, four were not far off from fledging, with the other two a bit further behind. At the other box we’d planned to check we found four very small young which weren’t big enough to ring so we’ll return at a later date to hopefully ring these, and lastly a box which had a clutch of six eggs at the end of June were sadly no more as the tree had come down, presumably in the very windy weather we experienced a few weeks ago – so we’ll now go about moving the box to another tree ready for next season. These chicks and hopefully the four to come in a few weeks will be the last for the year – unless we can squeeze in any more time to check for other second broods – we know from the data we’ve already collected that it’s been a fantastic year for Barn Owls, and one that has definitely made up for the last two poor seasons which were blighted by the weather.

 Soon to be fledging Barn Owl chick
 Beki - one happy volunteer!

Towards the middle of September we'd just about finished cutting and baling all the hay from the meadow at Thornton Ellers - once dropping the hay off at Leven Carrs we spread it out to allow it to drop its seeds on the prepared seed bed pictured here. One day whilst working at the Ellers raking the last of the hay we were lucky enough to get amazing views of a Red Kite, which treated us to a low fly past before soaring over our heads, a quick fumble around for the camera and we managed to get this shot which doesn’t do justice to how close the bird was to us – a definite right place right time moment.

 Fal unloading the hay at Leven Carrs
Red Kite - Thornton Ellers

Over the course of a few weeks in September we added several new ladybirds to the 2014 species list, which is pleasing as up until only a few weeks ago the only species we’d come across was the common Seven-spot Ladybird! However since then we found the Two-spot Ladybird and Harlequin Ladybird (form spectabilis) on Wheldrake Ings. The Kidney Spot Ladybird was later found on Skipwith Common, which appears to be a good site for the species. On the Common we also found the Cream Spot Ladybird and at Thornton Ellers the yellow 22-spot Ladybird & Harlequin Ladybird (form succinea) was found in the meadow whilst searching for new plants and grasses.

 Harlequin Ladybird H.succinea - Thornton Ellers
 Cream-spot Ladybird - Skipwith Common
Harlequin Ladybird H.spectabilis - Wheldrake Ings

At this time of year (following the end of the breeding season and the meadows being cut, and prior to the site wetting up again), we use local contractors to carry out weed cutting, ditching clearance and scrape maintenance. For the next 4-8 weeks work will be carried out across the Ings to ensure the 90km of ditches across the site are managed on rotation to aid drainage and water control and to maintain open water bodies for breeding and wintering birds, but also to maintain suitable conditions for a range of wetland plants and invertebrates. So far works have included Bank Island and North Duffield Carrs with further work planned for North Duffield Ings, Aughton and Wheldrake Ings and then Melbourne Ings during the rest of September and early October.

 Adrian busy on Wheldrake Ings

During the last week of September whilst out collecting records on the Common we were very fortunate to come across this stunning Grass Snake which was warming itself up in the late September sunshine. Grass Snakes rely on ambient heat, by basking in the sunshine it allows them to reach high enough temperatures to allow them to function efficiently and digest their prey (mainly amphibians). We are soon approaching the time of year that Grass Snakes will start to go into hibernation, which usually goes from October until March/April. Usually when the ground becomes frosty and temperatures start to drop they will seek cover somewhere dry, often in leaf litter or under logs and habitat piles. However in really mild years it has been known for Grass Snakes to be recorded all year round.

Grass Snake - Skipwith Common

Also whilst working on the Common lately we’ve been taking a good look at some of the spiders which can be found amongst the Juncus (often in the wetter areas). On a morning their webs stand out laden with dew making quite a sight - even to those less enamoured by our eight-legged friends! Species such as the Four-spot Orb Weaver, Marbled Orb Weaver, Walnut Orb Weaver, Furrow Spider, Lesser Garden Spider and the Common Garden Spider have been found recently. One of the most pleasing finds was the Marbled Orb Weaver, a species which is more known to be recorded in the south. As their name suggests they have a marbled pattern on their abdomen, their Latin name ‘marmoreus’ means marble-like.

The Four-spot Orb Weaver is a species which varies in colour, from dark brown, to orange/red to yellowy/green. The female of the species builds an elaborate web with a retreat off to the side, here she’ll wait for prey and take cover from bad weather. Interestingly, the females can change colour to match their surroundings, a process which takes three days!

 Four-spot Orb Weaver - Skipwith Common
 Furrow Spider - Skipwith Common

At the end of September some of the team were working at Forge Valley Woods NNR near Scarborough – one of the best examples of valley side mixed deciduous woodland in North Yorkshire. We were joined there by two VIP guests from Natural England who came to find out more about the site and what we do on this great NNR. We arrived early in order to catch and ring a sample of the woodland birds around the birdwatchers car park. Members of the public keep these feeders fed up during the year, providing a fantastic opportunity for visitors to get close views of a number of woodland species. It's also a popular place for photographers with the birds coming so close and being unconcerned by the constant arrival of cars and people. The site is busy with birds coming and going to the feeders and is a great place to enjoy species like Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker, with Jays occasionally building up enough confidence to come down to the tables for the peanuts. Val and Anne got to see some of the birds in the hand and found out about why we ring them - to monitor populations and to study their movements, and the use of the surrounding woodland network. 

Whilst the guests explored the site, members of the team got on with the day job of strimming the grassland glades on the shallow soils around the quarries. These areas support localised species such as Salad Burnet, Quaking Grass and Rock Rose, cutting them back every year helps prevent more vigorous species from taking over and swamping them out. These sites are also important for invertebrates and hold a small population of the Brown Argus butterfly.

 Nuthatch pair - Forge Valley
James busy strimming the grasslands