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 27 May 2014

27/05/14 - Royal visitors to the LDV

Back in January 2013, three otter cubs were found over the course of a few days, and were soon in the care of Jean Thorpe MBE (Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation) - one of our long standing volunteers and key member of the LDV NNR Team. It is likely that these cubs had been orphaned with the females possibly run over on local roads as a result of the river levels being high. Otters don’t tend to swim under bridges for some reason – instead preferring to walk along ledges or the river bank. As the river levels come up this often submerges the banks or ledges forcing the otters to walk up and over the bridge, often bringing them into contact with vehicles and occasionally getting hit by them.

As usual, having assessed the situation and weighed up the options, Jean gave them emergency care in the short term before they were taken to The Chestnut Centre in Derbyshire before going on to their bigger centre, The New Forest Wildlife Park for rearing. They do an amazing job with the rehab of wild otters, which is a fairly long process as the cubs take about 18 months to mature before they would leave their mother naturally in the wild. One of the cubs unfortunately did not make it but the two males grew well.

Both these otter cubs had fur covered that was covered in white spots – a less frequently seen form than the more usually plain brown form – historically known as royal otters.

Around the same time another female cub came into care at Jean’s, from Skerne East Yorkshire, found alone on a cold and frosty night. She was soon revived but had an injury to her tail. Mike Jones from Battleflatts Vets, Stamford Bridge examined her and the tip of her tail had withered and she needed an operation to remove the dead tissue. Mike did a wonderful job and her tail healed well, she was then named Stumpy! She too travelled down to the New Forest and was superbly cared for.

Release plans were put in place and the three adults, Hover and Rye (the spotted royal otters) and Stumpy were to be brought back to the area once the time was right. Hover and Rye were to be released in the Lower Derwent Valley NNR as the site falls within the wider catchment in which they were found. The site also offers a safe, undisturbed and prime area of habitat in which they can settle in and find their feet in their early days in the wild. The timing is also important in that the floods around the valley have receded and there is plenty of available food (fish and amphibians) concentrated into the 90 km of ditches around the reserve. 

A small pen, made from electric fencing in an area of dense wetland vegetation and with a small pond, plenty of willow scrub to lay up under and room for their travelling boxes was made. The day of the release came, and what a glorious one it was, a Wheatear bounced along the river bank fence posts as we headed to the site, and the sounds of displaying Lapwing, Curlew and Redshank overhead could be heard with the constant back ground accompaniment of Skylarks. Loafing drake Mallards, Gadwall and Shoveler were present along the riverbank and ditch sides suggesting the females were incubating clutches nearby, and vast numbers of tadpoles and shoals of fish were present in some of the ponds – what better place to start the rest of their free and wild lives. Hover & Rye were clearly ready to be back in this environment and didn’t hang around for long, not needing to take advantage of the free food hand outs over the next few days – a great result.

Stumpy was taken to her release site in East Yorkshire with our partners at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust where she was quietly placed in the pen, she was more reserved than the males and didn't come out into the open instantly like Hover & Rye. Her release went well and she now too has gone out into wonderful otter habitat away from roads and people.

Whilst the release was a truly wonderful experience to be involved with, it was just the final hours of a long 18 month journey which included a whole host of people, starting with the concerned householders of Fryton, Slingsby and Skerne who first found and reported them, Ed Heap, Roger Heap, Jason and Donna and all the staff at the Chestnut Centre and New Forest Wildlife Park for their wonderful care of these orphans, Mike Jones, the vet for his support and care for wild animals, Jon Trail at the YWT and all the staff and volunteers at the Lower Derwent Valley NNR. But most importantly, Jean Thorpe for her excellent care and dedication as always, and for coordinating the whole process.

Sunday 4 May 2014

01/05/14 - Whimbrel'ing on Wheldrake

On Tuesday staff and volunteers from the LDV Team spent the night on Wheldrake Ings catching Whimbrel – and with 109 birds coming into roost the previous night things were looking good. The nets were positioned in three different areas which we believed the birds may pass through on route in to the roost. At 2010hrs the first birds, a group of four, flew into Swantail Ings and by 2050hrs a total of 58 were present. A final flock of 51 (which had roosted and come in as a single flock the previous night) flew in around 2100hrs, another hour’s wait for complete darkness then we could start doing the rounds. Over the course of the evening and into the early hours many miles (or what felt like!) were walked in chest waders, through deep water, thick mud and long vegetation but it was all worth it for a catch of 8 Whimbrel, 1 Lapwing and 1 Mallard.

One of the newly c/r Whimbrel for 2014
Out of the 8 Whimbrel 6 were new with 2 from previous years – one from 2009 and one from 2010. With the difficulty of reading colour-rings in the field this year it was most pleasing to catch these two birds. Full details are listed below:

EL49894: Yellow//Green Yellow 

2009 - Ringed on 29th April at the Wheldrake roost

2010 - Re-caught at the Wheldrake roost on 26th April
2012 - Sighted on 4th May at Nosterfield Gravel Pits, North Yorkshire
2013 - Re-sighted on 22nd April at the favoured feeding fields in Storwood
2014 - Re-caught at the Wheldrake roost on the 29th April


2010 - Ringed on 2nd May at the Wheldrake roost
2014 - Re-caught at the Wheldrake roost on 29th April

Since the initial ringing date the oldest bird here (EL49894) ringed in 2009 has travelled at least 80,000 Km on its many journeys between the Lower Derwent Valley to Iceland (to the breeding grounds between May to August) and then on to the West African wintering grounds from September to March before returning once again in the spring to the Wheldrake roost.

As mentioned previously we’ve struggled so far this year to read colour-rings from birds in the field during the day, which over the years is how we’ve managed to build up such a great set of data – with to date over 195 sightings of 53 colour-ringed Whimbrel (out of 106 which is the total number of birds colour-ringed since the start of the project in 2004).

Interestingly this year we also haven’t seen the birds as frequently in their favoured feeding fields – which is presumably down to the fact that the fields are so dry (and with a good growing season, the vegetation is too long to favour them) so they seem to be struggling to feed and find available earthworms and leather jackets (cranefly larve) - their favoured food. In fact the only feeding birds found this year have been unusually found on newly ploughed fields which have presumably offered them an easy, but temporary feeding opportunity. This was then confirmed at the roost as out of the 8 birds that were caught the weights ranged from 385 being the lightest with 425 being the heaviest. The average weight/what we would expect at this time of year and at this stage in the valley is around 450 to 500 grams so about 100 grams down on what might be expected. Whilst that doesn’t sound like much it is about 15-20% of their body weight. These individual birds are likely to only be here for another 8 days or so, and during this time they feed up on their main prey items of worms and cranefly larve, almost doubling their body weight before setting off on their 24 hour non-stop journey to Iceland, and with such a long journey before them it’s so important that they manage to feed up during their short stay in the valley.

During the evening of the roost we were treated to views of Greenshank and Little Ringed Plover, along with listening to Snipe drumming. Whilst walking the fields we also came across three clutches of Lapwing eggs (all of 4 eggs) and a Coot incubating 13 eggs. A late passage Jack Snipe was seen twice, a Roe Deer was heard barking on several occasions and a male Barn Owl was quartering over the site during the evening.

Thursday 1 May 2014

29/04/14 - A good haul

Following on from our post a couple of weeks ago regarding the local heronry we returned last week to ring the chicks, knowing that they should be the right size by now – and before they become too big. We were successful with 29 chicks ringed from 10 nests with young – many others nests still had eggs. The broods varied in number (from two to five, with three being the average) and in size – with the biggest and smallest photographed below. Each chick was fitted with one of our yellow darvics with two black numbers. Once the chicks fledge they tend to appear on Wheldrake with it being the nearest water body, before leaving the area and heading north, and hopefully with 29 newly darvic'd birds soon to be out there we've a good chance of getting a return back. For more information on our herons, and where they go and what we've found out so far see last weeks post here.

Many thanks to the tree climbers at Lewis Trees for their once again excellent service with scaling the trees quickly and safely and in their safe handling of the birds.