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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Friday 31 January 2014

27/01/14 - 2013: The Year of Recording

What a year it was! At the start of 2013 we decided to turn our attention, time and effort to recording all species present across the Lower Derwent Valley. The team here is made up of staff and volunteers who have birds as their main strength and who have spent many years studying them and getting to know their habits inside and out, but this year we wanted to test ourselves by trying to record everything! 

The LDV is one of the best areas in the country to see birds, with thousands of wintering ducks, geese and swans returning to the valley each winter and making good use of the (usually) extensively flooded Ings in nationally and internationally important numbers. During the summer months the valley is home to an important population of breeding waders (Snipe, Curlew, Redshank and Lapwing) as well as duck species such as Shoveler - in its key British breeding stronghold. During the summer the site also supports a diverse community of breeding warblers, pipits and buntings, and in some years the sound of Quail, Corncrake and Spotted Crake can be heard in the meadows. However, the valley also supports a significant proportion of remaining MG4 Grassland found in the UK, this grassland community being typical of unimproved floodplain meadows where hay making and aftermath grazing has led to a diverse abundance of wildflowers. Two key species, Meadox Foxtail and Greater Burnet typify this community, and of course in this variety of wildflowers comes a whole world of invertebrates waiting to be explored.........

………and so with such a wonderful and diverse habitat in front of us we took up the challenge of recording as many different species as we could throughout the year whilst we were getting on with the day to day jobs around the valley. Whilst out brush-cutting, chainsawing, hedge trimming, fencing, maintaining the paths, litter picking and so on we would take time to take in what was around us, be it flowers, insects, fungi, trees, fish, butterflies etc.

How many species did we think we would be able to record in a year? Well a target of 1000 was set, bearing in mind how busy work is during the summer months and that time to do it may be at a minimum. Below is just a snippet of how each month un-folded….....

With the January flooding it allowed time to kick start the ‘Pan List’, with the first species on it being a Bewick Swan at Aughton Ings on the 3rd, by the end of the month 90 birds had been recorded with notable highlights being a Little Owl in Elvington, Waxwings in Thorganby, and a Tundra Bean Goose and Scaup at Bank Island. The mammal list got off to a good start, 9 species were recorded, with Stoat, Weasel and Otter being pleasing additions. 18 trees, 27 wildflowers and 4 species of fungi also made the list.

 Whooper Swans - North Duffield - 21/01

 Otter - Wheldrake Ings - 23/01

By the end of February the bird list sat at 102, including three rare gulls – Caspian, Iceland and Glaucous which had frequented the Wheldrake roost throughout the month. White-fronted Goose, Barnacle Goose and Goshawk were also pleasing additions. Mammals increased to a reasonable 15 species including Fallow Deer, Badger, Mink and three of the common small mammalian species. The first reptile got its name on the list, with a Common Lizard seen on Skipwith Common on the 19th- one of the milder days! The moth list got off the ground this month with four species found – March Moth, Dotted Border, Brindled Beauty and Spring Usher.

Badger family - Undisclosed site

Bank Vole - Bank Island - 21/02

March was a fairly quiet month, with just 6 new birds added – however these included a notable species in the form of a Great White Egret which was seen in a ditch in Thorganby on the 15th. A flock of 6 Common Scoter turned up at Bank Island on the 18th which were a surprising and pleasing addition. Hedgehog (scarcely seen in the valley) and Water Shrew were welcome additions to the mammal list. A single moth species - Oak Beauty, two new plants - Sneezewort and Yellow Flag Iris, and the first fish of the year – a single Rudd at Bank Island were the only other additions.

 Pintail pair - North Duffield Carrs - 12/03

 Red Fox - Skipwith Common - 15/03

The list then took off again in April with the arrival of spring migrants which saw the bird list reach 127 with 19 new additions, with two Common Cranes at North Duffield on the 22nd and a Honey Buzzard over Bank Island on the 25th being the stand out species for the month. The first amphibians were seen, a single Common Toad on Skipwith Common and the first Common Frog spawn of the year was recorded on the 15th in the scrape at North Duffield Carrs. Several Smooth Newts found in the small pond on Kind Rudding Lane on the 15th were the first of the newts to grace the list. Many other ‘firsts’ were also had with three butterfly species – Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Brimstone all on the 15th – one of the few warm days! The same date saw the first bees make the grade with Common Carder, Early and Tree Bumblebee being pleasing finds along with a Common Wasp. Four early flower species were added to the ‘pan’ – Wild Onion, Primrose, Cowslip and Wild Daffodil. The moth list gradually increased with another five species seen around the NNR Base at Bank Island, and on the 29th a Pike which had got itself stuck on the clough (presumably after the flooding at North Duffield Carrs) made it on to the fish list. One of the most pleasing and different finds for the month came in the form of a ‘bee mimic’ Eristalis intricarius at Wheldrake Ings on the 26th.

 Common Lizard - Skipwith Common - 15/04

Wheatear - North Duffield Carrs - 26/04

By May the 'pan' started to hot up with a number of our summer visitors arriving – Woodlark, Garganey, Common Tern and Hobby, increasing the bird list to 136 species, this also included a Spotted Crake at Wheldrake Ings on the 6th and a Purple Heron over Bank Island on the 23rd. The first day of the month saw warm sunshine bring out two reptile species on to the Common with a single Grass Snake and Adder found across the heath. At this stage in the year many of our flower species are usually out soaking up the sun, and so during our travels around the valley we managed to record 38 new species bringing us to 73 for the year, along with 3 trees and 4 grasses. Red-tailed Bumblebee and a Hornet were new Hymenoptera for the month and the butterfly list increased to 10, starting with Orange Tip on the 2nd and finishing with a Speckled Wood on the 31st. The first dragonflies for the year were recorded at North Duffield – with Common Blue, Azure, Blue-tailed and Banded Demoiselle all seen over the course of the last three days of the month. Other monthly additions were two new moths – Angle Shades and White Ermine were found at Bank Island, a Green Tiger Beetle was seen running across the heath on the Common and four species of fish – Minnow, Gudgeon, Carp and Common Eel were added.

Adder - Skipwith Common - 01/05

Orange Tip - Pocklington Canal - 08/05

June was a poor month weather wise but we still managed to record a good number of species, particularly on the flower front with the list up to 127 by month end, with Mousetail, Broad-leaved Helleborine and Musk Thistle being notable finds. We managed to separate some of the grass species that had previously been unfamiliar and added 21 new species and 1 tree - a single Aspen was found growing in the orchid field in East Cottingwith. The moth trapping got off to a good start at Bank Island and Wheldrake Ings, with 24 new species. 6 new butterfly species were recorded, including Purple Hairstreak which was a pleasing find, a species which often remains high in the oak tree tops on the Common. Other invertebrates were tackled with a spot of pond dipping at Bank Island which saw a number of freshwater species added along with a Wasp Beetle Clytus arietis found in the meadow at Bank Island on the 25th. The bird list remained fairly similar with just three species added – Garden Warbler, Avocet and Mandarin. The first bats also made it on to the list with Noctule, Daubenton’s, Soprano and Common Pipistrelle over Wheldrake on the 26th.

 Meadow Foxtail - Bank Island - 26/06

 Tufted Vetch - Bank Island - 26/06

 Musk Thistle - Thornton Ellers - 26/06

July had to be one of the best recording months with the moth list reaching 159 and the flower total resting at a very impressive 238 by the 31st. Adders-tongue Fern, Green-winged Orchid, Sand Leek, Bog Pimpernel, Meadow Thistle and Welted Thistle were species of note out of the 111 new found throughout the month! 10 new grasses and a single tree (Wild Cherry) were also added. Only a handful of new bird species were seen – with the first Kingfisher, Tree Pipit, Linnet and Ringed Plover taking us to 143 for the year. Great Crested Newts were the last of the reptiles for the year to make it on to the 'pan', with several individuals found in the small pond off Kind Rudding Lane, Skipwith on the 3rd. By the end of the month we’d discovered our 10th bee species, with White-tailed, Buff-tailed and Garden Bumblebee found in the NNR Base Garden. Looking for other invertebrate species such as beetles, bugs, flies etc proved a challenge on the I.D front, we did however manage a total of 67 by month end including a number of hoverflies, leafhoppers, froghoppers, ladybirds, grasshoppers and longhorn beetles. On the 9th a trip down the Pocklington Canal found three new fish species – Dace, Roach and Brown Trout followed by Perch at Wheldrake Ings on the 13th bringing us to 10 species for the year.

 Round-leaved Sundew - Skipwith Common - 03/07

 Early Bumblebee - Bank Island - 24/07

 Longhorn Beetle Leptura quadrifasciata - Skipwith - 31/07

August saw the birds take a back seat again with just three new species added – Common Sandpiper, Lesser Whitethroat and Yellow-legged Gull. A number of Whiskered Bats over Wheldrake Ings on the 27th saw the mammal list hit 22 species and a single (and last for the year) butterfly species made the list when a Common Blue was seen flying across the meadow at Bank Island on the 9th. Two dragonfly species were also ‘firsts’ for the year – Black Darter and Migrant Hawker, and the moth list hit 212 with majority trapped around the NNR Base. The hunt for new wildflower species continued with yet 17 more species found, bringing the total up to a staggering 255, with particular highlights being: Marsh Gentian, Scarlet Pimpernel, Nodding Bur-marigold, Red Bartsia and Bristly Oxtongue. Toad Rush and Deer Grass were pleasing to find one morning whilst out walking the Common and Horse Chestnut was the only new tree for the month. A number of new hoverflies, sawflies, wasp mimics and bee mimics were new species for the list and new to most of the team!

 Emerald Damselfly - Skipwith Common - 01/08

 Wasp mimic Sericomyia silentis - Wheldrake Ings - 23/08

 Painted Lady - Wheldrake Ings - 23/08

September saw the last of the flower species for the year recorded (19 new) with the list sitting pretty at 274. 11 new tree species were added bringing it to 36 for the year, with Turkey Oak being a particular good find including a number of the rather tricky to I.D Salix variety across Wheldrake Ings. September was also a highlight on the grass front with 38 species found making it 77 for the year – with this being a tricky species category a total of this size was particularly pleasing! The last mammal species were added with a Mole spotted crossing the road in Thorganby early on the morning of the 10th and a Brown Long-eared Bat at Bank Island on the 23rd. The last new dragonfly species to be added for the year was a Southern Hawker first seen over North Duffield Carrs on the 2nd. With the start of the autumn months our attention turned to fungi with the species list soon up to 19 by month end, with Fly Agaric kicking off the month on the 2nd, along with pleasing finds such as Egghead Mottlegill and Spiny Puffball. The ‘other inverts’ list continued to increase gradually, with several Ichneumon Wasps found on Skipwith Common on the 2nd, followed by leafhoppers, grasshoppers, ladybirds, shield bugs and ground beetles found in the meadow at Thornton Ellers on the 5th. The 110th and last addition for the month to the inverts list came in the form of a Devil’s Coach-horse seen on the decking outside the office on the 23rd.

 Marsh Gentian - Skipwith Common - 01/09

22-spot Ladybird - Thornton Ellers - 03/09

Black Darter - North Duffield Carrs - 12/09

With the onset of migration in October hopes were high for new species, it didn’t disappoint with 6 species found including a reserve first in the form a Yellow-browed Warbler on the 5th, the same day that a Cetti’s Warbler was added to the list. The other new species are all worthy of a mention with an Osprey on the 10th, Merlin on the 13th, Great Skua on the 15th and a Montagu’s Harrier following the river at Wheldrake on the 16th. Moth trapping continued at Bank Island with 7 species added bringing the list to 247, with species such as Blair’s Shoulder-knot, Dark Chestnut, Dowdy Plume and Pale Mottled Willow. The fungi list reached 35 with species such as Honey Fungus, Orange Bonnet, Purple Swamp Brittlegill and Woolly Milkcap.

 Candlesnuff Fungus - Skipwith Common - 29/10

 Yellowbrain - Skipwith Common - 29/10

November was predictably quiet, with just a single new bird species - a Ring Ouzel over Bank Island on the 20th. A Green Shield Bug – surprisingly absent from this until now, was finally found on Skipwith Common on the 1st whilst out felling. The fungi list continued to increase, with a pleasing 38 new species found throughout the month with highlights being Purple Jellydisc, Aniseed Funnel, Orange Peel, Jelly Rot, Shaggy Parasol and Yellow Stagshorn.

 Yellow Stagshorn - 01/11 - Skipwith Common

 Orange Peel Fungus - Skipwith Common - 06/11

December was, as you would suspect, the quietest month for new species, with one new bird, a Nuthatch heard calling on Skipwith Common on the 4th, a Winter Moth at Bank Island on the 3rd and two new species of fungi also found on the same date – Green Elf Cup and Beefsteak Fungus.

 Green Elf Cup 'staining' - Skipwith Common - 03/12

 Purple Jellydisc - Skipwith Common - 03/12

So, what a year it has been and what a wealth of information we have learnt about a whole range of species groups we had previously not made time to explore. Obviously there were some omissions, largely on the bird front, with no Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Black-necked Grebe, Grasshopper Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart, Wood Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl and Firecrest – just to name a few of the species recorded by others this year in the valley that we missed!

Before this year how many of us knew just how many hoverflies there were, let alone identify them, now we can separate our Scaeva from Sphaerophoria and the tricky Eristalis that we look forward to finding again this year. The wealth of flowers in the valley surprised us all – especially how many we were able to identify, but thanks must go to Judith – for helping with much of the grass I.D! Hopefully this year we will be able to remember some of what she taught us! Moth trapping didn’t really get going until half way through the year and so this year we aim to start earlier to pick up some of the early flyers. Butterflies and dragonflies were species easily recorded by all – with the only omission being that of Red-eyed Damselfly which has previously been recorded on the Pocklington Canal – one to aim for in 2014. The ‘other inverts’ category is 'the big one' and one to aim at breaking into with hundreds more species to add to the list.

Listed below are the final totals for each category with the entirety of them making a total of 1065 species – a target that we aim to not only reach again but also break throughout 2014…..

Mammals – 24
Birds – 154
Reptiles/Amphibians – 7
Trees – 36
Wildflowers – 274
Grasses – 77
Bees/Wasps – 10
Butterflies – 23
Dragonflies – 17
Moths – 248
Other Inverts – 112
Fungi – 73
Fish – 10

Many thanks to our staff and volunteers for really getting behind the 'pan' - and for all the hours spent pouring over I.D guides!

Monday 20 January 2014

20/01/14 - Whooping for the best

Some of our NNR staff, volunteers and local vets have been going the extra mile recently to try and save a special winter visitor that travels over 1000 miles to get here.

Christmas and New Year can be a busy period for NNR staff, with it being a popular time for visitors to come to enjoy our National Nature Reserves. Grazing animals also need checking, and some of our surveys and monitoring are undertaken throughout the festive season. As part of this staff from the NNR were out during the afternoon on New Years Eve, checking stock on the nearby Skipwith Common NNR and chatting to some of the numerous visitors in the reserve’s hides. Just as light was fading a final check with the binoculars across the Ings was had, and there sitting on its own was a lonely Whooper Swan, looking rather unwell.

The bird was approached and although it made an attempt to fly off it only managed to get about 100 metres before crash landing again. It was clearly very ill and soon allowed itself to be picked up. Our NNR staff undertake regular Avian Flu monitoring on behalf of Defra, recording sick, dying or dead birds which are then sent for testing. However, the diamond shaped eye, the lack of energy and any other obvious wounds suggested this bird was suffering from lead poisoning. The swan was taken straight to Jean Thorpe (Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation), Jean acted swiftly and worked alongside the vet, Mark Naguib from Battle Flatts Vets at Stamford Bridge. The bird was x-rayed which confirmed it had lead poisoning, having 12 lead shots in its gizzard - the gizzard is a muscular pouch behind the stomach which is used for grinding food, the birds digest small stones and grit to allow this process to happen, which is unfortunately how lead shot is picked up.

First day at Jean's looking unwell

X-ray showing the lead shot

The bird was treated by flushing out the gizzard whilst the swan was under anesthetic. Whilst the shot did move, it didn’t move completely out of the gizzard so the bird was tubed with fibrogel in the hope that this would help the bird push the shot through the gut. It was also placed on medication to help reverse the effects of the lead poisoning.

Mark with the Whooper during treatment at Battle Flatts

Although the medication clearly helped the swan feel much better and start eating on its own again, only four shots had been excreted by the following week when it was x-rayed again. A second attempt at flushing out the gizzard moved further shots, and tests revealed its kidney function to be normal, allaying fears that the lead poising and/or the treatment may have caused long term damage. Another week in Jean's care and the final shots had been passed and the bird was ready to return to the rest of the wintering herd on the NNR. Before its release the swan was colour-ringed as part of ongoing studies carried out each winter on the NNR, which look into the wintering swan population and will allow this individual to be monitored.

All better now - Jean brings the Whooper in for release

Adding the darvic - G5S

Just about ready to go

A further three swans were picked up dead in the local area a week after this individual had been found. One of these was in good enough condition to be x-rayed and revealed a staggering 40+ shots within its gizzard, presumably killing it fairly quickly and meaning somewhere on or close to the NNR was a significant source of lead shot that the swans were picking up.

X-ray showing multiple lead shots

As a result of further investigations the source was finally identified and we are now working with a local landowner adjacent to the NNR to address the problem.

This is a great example of lots of people with different skills all working together to produce a successful outcome for our local wildlife. The dedication, skill and efforts by Jean, Mark and our NNR staff have resulted in not only a single Whooper Swan being returned to the wild again after facing almost certain death, but also a potential deadly threat to our internationally important waterfowl populations being identified and addressed. In this case the threat to our SPA (Special Protection Area) was actually outside the SPA and NNR boundary, but with Natural England's good relationship with the adjacent landowners we are hopeful to be able to rectify the problem and ensure that many more wintering Whooper Swans can continue to use the LDV NNR in safety. Long may they be enjoyed by the thousands of visitors who come to see them every winter, and we’ll be looking forward to hopefully hearing about this one on its travels back to Iceland this summer and possibly next winter should it choose to spend it with us.

Sailing away back into the wild, in full health - well done Jean & Mark for your caring nature and for the time, effort, dedication, expense and expertise given

Friday 17 January 2014

15/01/14 - Big! Bright! Boring? Think again!

A small whoosh-net catch at Bank Island last week produced six Mallard, two Teal and a Moorhen. Two of the Mallard were notable in being very large and extremely bright and well marked individuals – with wing lengths of 279 and 280mm. These are at the larger end of the wing lengths recorded with Mallards (typically in the range 255-270) and so it was wondered if these might be non-British birds.... Previously we have caught a few similar sized birds to these each winter, typically in March, when the exceptionally bright and large birds have usually had wing lengths exceeding 290mm. The rather large birds caught this week coincided with a large arrival of wintering waterfowl which has seen numbers of Wigeon and Teal jump by several thousand.

Male Mallard - Bank Island - 08/01/14

The issue of what represents a ‘wild’ and winter migrant Mallard is an interesting one. Following a run of milder winters over the last decade or two, our last recovery of a Mallard ringed in the Lower Derwent Valley NNR and recovered abroad was in 2007 (with a previous nine prior to that time). It would appear that the number of Mallards moving into the UK and the LDV from further north and east have decreased in recent times, which is in common with other species ‘short-stopping’ in Europe. It was therefore interesting to hear about a bird we ringed in the cold weather period in the winter of 2012 that had been recovered in the Netherlands during 2013. Wintering birds ringed in the valley have now been recovered in the Netherlands, France and Denmark whilst ducklings ringed here have been recovered in both Germany and France. Young birds ringed in the breeding season in Norway, Finland and Sweden have all been found here whilst an unusual record concerns an adult male that was ringed at Wheldrake in moult during June 1997 and was shot in the subsequent winter in Denmark. So clearly even the humble Mallard which often gets overlooked may be more worthy of our attention...

The flood water which has started to appear gradually on Bank Island and Wheldrake Ings over the course of the last week has brought in thousands of wintering ducks, a count across Wheldrake last week produced 6300 Wigeon, 3150 Teal, 324 Mallard, 87 Pintail, 5 Pochard, 13 Tufted Duck, 9 Shelduck, 9 Shoveler, 6 Gadwall and 1 Goldeneye. Total counts for the valley included 8200 Wigeon and 6000 Teal, the Wigeon count in particular being lower than expected in comparison with recent winters when a peak of 14-15,000 birds have been recorded. 

The lack of standing deep water has suppressed the numbers of diving duck, a mere 13 Tufted Duck are present at the moment compared to the record breaking 700+ recorded at this time last year in the extensive floods. However, with more rain forecast, further flooding is likely and surely some colder weather is due to arrive from the east at some point, and so there is time yet to see numbers increase.

 Bank Island - 08/01/14

 Wigeon & Canada Geese - Swantail Hide - 08/01/14

 Waterfowl viewed from Swantail Hide - 08/01/14

Wednesday 15 January 2014

12/01/14 - Owls about that then!

Last week whilst working at Thornton Ellers we decided to check the Ash tree which over the years has been a regular roost/nesting site for Tawny Owls. Plenty of stealth is required to reach the bottom of the tree without the birds realising – snap a twig underfoot and you’ve got no chance! Once there the hand net is put up against the tree hole and with any luck the owl flies in – it worked on this occasion – thankfully – as the bird we found in the net wasn’t the two from the previous goes but one which was initially ringed back in 2000! It was ringed then as a ‘5’ on the 11/03/00 meaning it was a chick the year before, so we now know that it has reached the age of at least 15! 

Adult male - 10/01/14

This is the oldest Tawny Owl we have on the valley records – you wouldn’t have thought it though looking at him with pristine feathers and alert eyes watching our every move. Tawny Owls are sedentary birds, seldom moving far. From the seven recoveries we have from birds ringed in the valley, four have now been re-trapped or found dead within 100 metres of the original ringing location. One bird moved the 4KM from Sutton-Upon-Derwent to the Wheldrake area whilst the two longest recorded movements are of 12 & 14 KM. Last January (10/01/13) we ringed a new male in the same Ash tree, which we wondered if it might be the mate of the female ringed in the same tree hole in October of the same winter (30/10/12).

Adult male - 10/01/13

Adult female - 30/10/12

At present the local Tawny Owls are becoming increasingly vocal, which reflects the fact that they are traditionally early nesters, one individual has been heard recently around the NNR Base. In previous years birds have been found at this time of year already incubating clutches or even with young chicks. Tawny Owls like a lot of owl species had a very poor year in 2013, so it’ll be interesting to see how this year unfolds…..hopefully for the better.

Thursday 9 January 2014

09/01/14 - MBE mi'lady

As the New Year's Honours list was announced last week with it came the wonderful news that Jean Thorpe – a wildlife rescuer and the founder of Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation had been awarded the honour of an MBE – click here to read the BBC News article. Jean has been involved with Natural England/English Nature in the Lower Derwent Valley since 1993, often bringing in wildlife to release and ring after she has nursed them back to health. Jean has dedicated her life to this cause, and works tirelessly for wildlife and wildlife issues – often at her own expense, and holidays/days off are something of a mystery to Jean, with her always being available any time of day or night to attend incidents and injured wildlife. The photograph below was taken in the summer, each year the Mute Swans that breed near the River Derwent attempt to cross the very busy road once the cygnets are old enough - an accident waiting to happen - and so Jean managed to round up the two adults and nine cygnets - quickly transporting the eleven swans in her car to the river!

 11 swans in a car.....just a normal day for Jean!

Jean, working under Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation has helped, nurse and return hundreds of animals back into the wild which would otherwise have been sentenced to certain death. One such example of a bird which looked like it was unfortunately going to meet this fate is a Barn Owl which had been shot with an air rifle near the Lower Derwent Valley. The bird had a broken wing and therefore would have been unable to hunt. Although it was thought that the bird wouldn’t make a full recovery, Jean gave it a chance along with the local vet and nursed it back to flying fitness. Members of the LDV Team attended the release and ringed the bird – to see it flying strong and knowing it would be able to hunt in the evening was a fantastic feeling enjoyed by all.

Four years later this bird was re-caught as a breeding female in a box 7 miles away. From the ringing data we know that this bird has now reared 35 young since its release – none of which would have been there without Jean’s help and as such, there would be fewer people enjoying sightings of Barn Owls in this and other areas of the country.

Jean with a breeding adult Barn Owl

This story is similar for so many more species – Red Kites, Peregrines and Mute Swans to name a few, which have often been shot, poisoned or have flown into overheard wires, but thanks to Jean are now back in the wild and in some cases that we know of, like the above, are breeding. Jean has become something of a raptor rehabilitation expert and has a real knack with Sparrowhawks in particular. 

Other species she has nursed back to health and released on the NNR include a recent Marsh Harrier and Red Kite. The Red Kite was found poisoned and half dead in the pouring rain, it was thought to be hours from death and given that hypothermia kills most poisoned birds before organ failure or starvation, it would likely to have been dead in the morning had it not been at Jean's under a heat lamp, the prognosis wasn't good but with Jean's track record hope remained. Amazingly the Kite started to fair well, and put on 150 grams during its two week stay with Jean. It soon let her know it was ready to go! Rest of the story can be read here. The Marsh Harrier was found in a farmer's field, unable to take off fully from the ground, Jean was soon on the scene and after a check over she noticed feather damage on both wings, suspected to have been caused by hitting overhead wires. Whilst clearly not causing any major damage it had been left bruised and unable to hunt, as a result of this she was massively underweight for a bird her age, sex and size, on arrival Jean weighed her at 400 grams - massively under the actual average weight for an adult female - over 700 grams - more on this story can be read here.

Marsh Harrier that had hit overhead power lines 

Jean not only works with birds, but has also cared for many species of animals, and has been involved with the rescue of several young orphaned otters from the Derwent catchment, as well as further afield in Yorkshire. Jean's rescues are followed by a period of critical and expert care before she drives them hundreds of miles to Somerset where they spend a length of time being cared for in specialised surroundings. After the year and a half long process a return trip by Jean brings them back to the local river catchments before a careful and delicate soft release programme which sees the whole process reach a successful conclusion. This was the case of two young otter cubs that were inadvertently disturbed in their holt at Wheldrake Ings by contractors working on the riverside trees. These two were successfully released by Jean at North Duffield Carrs following the year and a half long process in Somerset. The fact that these Otters have had a chance to join the local populations and breed to further boost the population is a real benefit to the population, but once again touches the lives of those people who have been fortunate to see Otters in the local area.

Otter cub recovering at Jean's

Jean also gives up her time campaigning – making sure as many people who need to know, know. This includes the local police, EA, RSPB, RSPCA, NE, YWT etc etc – not only does she let people know but she is tireless in pursuit of action through the constant chasing of people and organisations to do something. Regular articles in the press, radio and TV have probably done un-measurable good in the widest sense, in alerting the general public to issues, raising awareness and putting off those who may undertake such crimes, to increasing interest in the general public and an interest in wildlife in the young. Jean also acts as an expert witness for a range of organisations attending scenes, collecting evidence and standing up in court, all helping to lead to successful prosecutions. Sadly often the crime against wildlife may not be possible to solve or lead to convictions which is frustrating especially for Jean, but at least for the birds and animals that Jean saves from poisoning, badger baiting etc the actions of such are reversed.

 Badger - saved by Jean after being brought in with fight wounds

The fact that Jean is well respected by both conservationists/naturalists and also amongst the game keeping/farming fraternity, as well as having many informants who feel able to trust and confide in her, is a testament to her character and determination. This ability to talk the talk, tell it how it is and to show that actions do speak louder than words is one such reason why Jean is able to do so much good work.

Jean's enthusiasm and passion for wildlife, natural history and ringing is infectious and she always finds time to encourage, help and share her knowledge with others - particularly all the volunteers who pass through the valley and who have the pleasure of working alongside Jean - and getting to see up close some of the stunning creatures that find their way into her care.

Helping one of our volunteers ring a Barn Owl

Lastly...it'd be fair to say it's been quite a good month for Jean as this isn't the only thing she's been awarded recently - after training with the LDV Team for a number of years Jean has now successfully qualified for her C-Permit for bird ringing from the BTO. Once again it's well deserved and a reward for all those early mornings passerine ringing in the reedbed with Mike, the hard work splodging around ditches catching ducks and the late night's wader netting on the Ings. Being able to ring all the rehabilitated birds as part of a special BTO project will be a real bonus in ringing some less well studied species and in understanding how successful rehabilitation can be.

Delight with a Whooper Swan at last year's catch  

If ever such an award was well deserved, it is by Jean, for such commitment, determination, and sheer hard work and at the same time, gentle, caring and infectious enthusiasm which drives others. It really is a pleasure for the team in the Lower Derwent Valley to have Jean on board.

Congratulations Jean from everyone in the LDV!