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 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.