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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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


  1. Fantastic work jean & mark thank you for your dedication to our local (and international) wildlife. I just hope the landowner takes heed of the advice, too many shoots around this area.

    1. A great team effort not only to save the swan but identify the source and hopefully prebvent a re-occurrence. Well done to all involved!