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 30 January 2015

27/01/15 - The year of the PAN

Following on from the success of 2013, we decided to carry on ‘panning’ (recording all types of species on the reserve) last year that we came across whilst carrying out the day to day jobs around site, such as tree felling, hedging, coppicing, fencing, strimming, maintaining the paths, repairing hides, litter picking and so on. A target of 1000 was set again, last year saw us reach 1065, but we were aware that this could be harder to achieve this year with fewer staff/volunteers and less time spent in the field due to an increase in workload off site. Below is a monthly guide to how the year unfolded...

January started off wet and windy with south westerly weather systems bringing strong winds and heavy rain to much of the UK, which saw the water levels increase quickly and the site extensively flooded by the second week of the year with ducks a-plenty. The first species to make it on to ‘the PAN’ was a Kestrel hovering at Bank Island on the 6th, followed by a flurry of wildfowl and waders during the WeBS count. By the end of the month 93 birds had been recorded with notable highlights being five Tundra Bean Geese at Bank Island on the 28th and a Long-eared Owl at North Duffield Carrs on the 30th. Glaucous, Iceland and Kumlien’s Gulls were also seen frequenting the Wheldrake Ings roost throughout the month. The mammal list got off to a good start with 10 species recorded, including Fallow Deer, Otter and Common Shrew. The first amphibian made it on to the list towards the end of the month when a Common Toad was found hibernating at the Escrick Duck Decoy on the 23rd. Two moths were also seen at the NNR Base – Winter Moth and Dark Chestnut. The first addition to the ‘other inverts’ list came in the form of a 7-spot Ladybird at Thornton Ellers on the 30th. 11 trees, 13 wildflowers and 5 species of fungi were also added during the month.

 Jelly Ear – Thornton Ellers

Whooper Swans – North Duffield Carrs

Throughout February the extensive flooding continued, which saw a sudden appearance of several hundred Coot, which made it on to the PAN on the 26th. The first returning Oystercatchers appeared on the 27th and Curlew were heard singing and holding territory by the end of the month. A Woodlark heard singing on Skipwith Common on the 22nd was the first returning bird. A flock of thirteen Brambling at Melbourne on the 25th and a pair of Egyptian Geese at Derwent Farm on the 26th were some of the more notable species added, bringing the bird list to 101 by the end of the month. A Red Fox and Mink were seen at Thornton Ellers early in the month and a Stoat at North Duffield Carrs on the 24th was a pleasing addition to the mammal list. The first bee and butterfly for the year were seen - an Early Bumblebee at Bank Island on the 24th and a Small Tortoiseshell at Sutton on the 16th on two of the milder days during the month. A few more moths (4) and fungi (8) were also added, such as Willow Bracket and Yellow-brain on Skipwith Common.

 Badger – Undisclosed site

 Otter – Undisclosed site

March saw the flooding remain and high numbers of wildfowl, including the spring passage of wintering birds and incoming breeding species, a large movement of Whooper Swans also occurred during the month. 11 new bird species for the year were added with particular highlights being a Great White Egret at Wheldrake Ings on the 7th and three Common Cranes over Elvington on the 18th, along with two welcome additions at North Duffield Carrs - a Scaup on the 20th and a Bittern on the 22nd. A Chiffchaff heard singing at Thornton Ellers on the 18th was also a pleasing addition along with the earliest Sedge Warbler on record at Bank Island (26th). The second amphibian made it on to the list when a Common Frog was seen at the NNR Base on the 12th, followed a day later by the first bat when a Soprano Pipistrelle was seen at the office after hours. The first reptile – a Common Lizard was seen on Skipwith Common on the last day of the month, basking in the mild sunshine, on the same date two ‘new’ species of butterfly were seen in Thorganby – a single Peacock and Brimstone. 10 moths, 2 bees, 1 tree and 9 wildflowers were added, including the first leaves of Bluebells, and Colt’s-foot was seen in flower. Several ‘other inverts’ were added during the month including a Green Tiger Beetle on Skipwith Common and a 2-spot Ladybird at Bank Island.

Green Tiger Beetle – Skipwith Common

Common Frog – Skipwith Common

Throughout April the water level receded dramatically, the wintering waterfowl headed off for their breeding grounds and the start of the northward bound wader passage was had, which saw Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank, Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover added to the list. Other highlights included Garganey on the 5th at North Duffield Carrs, and a Bar-tailed Godwit and Arctic Tern at Wheldrake Ings on the 26th. Many species of spring migrants returned such as Whimbrel, Cuckoo, Grasshopper Warbler, Yellow Wagtail and the three hirundines. A total of 19 new bird species brought the list to a total of 131. The remaining two reptile species were seen on the Common during the month, with a Grass Snake on the 8th and an Adder on the 10th. 7 species of Hymenoptera were seen including a Hornet on Skipwith on the 10th and a Tawny Mining Bee, Red-tailed Bumblebee and Tree Bumblebee at the NNR Base on the 5th. The butterfly list got off the ground further with 7 species added starting with a Comma on the 1st and a notable record of a single Holly Blue at the NNR Base on the 13th. 3 moths and 13 ‘other inverts’ such as: Common Yellow Dung Fly, Bee Fly, White-lipped Snail and a Green Dock Beetle were noted. 37 wildflowers made it on for April, with Cuckoo Flower, Common Vetch, Red Campion and Marsh Marigold all flowering.

Adder – Skipwith Common

Grey Heron chick – Thorganby

May was a mixture of a wet and warm month, with the last of the lingering winter visitors departing and further migrants returning. A total of 6 new bird species were added to the list, making it 137 for the year. Highlights included the first Wheatear at North Duffield on the 14th, followed by a pair of Common Terns at Bank Island the next day. A Tree Pipit was heard singing on the Common on the 19th and a single Little Owl was seen at Thornton Ellers on the 28th – not a common species in the valley anymore. One new mammal was added when a single Badger was seen early on the morning of the 20th (un-disclosed site). Two butterflies - Small Copper and Wall Brown were new for the year, seen on the 13th at the NNR Base and North Duffield Ings respectively. The first dragonflies appeared early in the month, starting with a Large Red Damselfly on the 6th at the NNR Base, shortly followed by Common Blue on the 13th and Azure, Banded Demoiselle and Four-spotted Chaser on the 19th. However the highlight came on the last day of the month when a Hairy Dragonfly was seen flying alongside the riverside track at Bank Island – a first for the Ings. Throughout the month 42 new species of moths were caught at the NNR Base and a Red Mason Bee was added to the Hymenoptera list on the 13th, taking us to 11 species for the year. Whilst on our travels throughout the valley and meadows we came across: 6 new trees, 2 grasses and 40 wildflowers, with Adders Tongue Fern and Green-winged Orchid at Newton Mask on the 6th being noteworthy records.

Adders Tongue Fern – Newton Mask

Roe Deer – North Duffield Carrs

June saw the temperatures soar and the month largely dominated by work in the meadows which resulted in 5 grasses and 34 new wildflowers found, including: Welted Thistle, Southern Marsh Orchid, Greater Burnet, Fine-leaved Water-dropwort and Buck’s-horn Plantain – a new species for the valley. The bird list saw four additions, and notable ones at that – an Osprey and Purple Heron over Bank Island on the 4th and 13th respectively, a Hobby at Melbourne on the 16th and three Little Egrets at Breighton on the 23rd. The third amphibian for the year came in the form of a single Smooth Newt found at the NNR Base on the 16th. The month started off fairly quiet for butterflies until the 18th when a Large White was seen at Bank Island, the last week of the month then saw an emergence of Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Large Skippers. A single Marbled White at the NNR Base on the 26th was a notable record. Two new damselflies were seen at the NNR Base also on the 26th Blue-tailed and Emerald. Over the course of the month 22 new moth species were trapped, with particular highlights being a Cream-bordered Green Pea and three species of Clearwings that were caught in pheromone traps on Skipwith Common. A total of 22 ‘other’ inverts were added to the PAN, including a variety of flies, hoverflies, plant bugs and leaf hoppers.

Banded Demoiselle – Bank Island
Crested Dogs-tail – Escrick 

July was a very busy month with a wide variety of new species added. As the bird interest settled down (just three new species), the invertebrate activity picked up the pace, with the moth trap continuing to produce the goods with a total of 112 new species caught throughout the month. Oak Eggar, True-lover’s Knot and Orange Footman at Bank Island, and a Four-spotted Footman from Skipwith Common were notable highlights. Whilst checking the trap on the morning of the 8th a German Wasp was also found, taking us to 12 species of bees/wasps for the year. The start of the month saw Painted Lady, Small Skipper and Gatekeeper make it on to the year list followed by Small Heath and Common Blue during the last week – a species not frequently recorded on the Ings. As expected the remainder of the dragonfly species (bar one) appeared on the wing with nine species seen, starting with the first being a Common Darter at the NNR Base on the 3rd and finishing with a Southern Hawker at Thornton Ellers on the 21st. The birds may have been on the quiet side, but notable species were added – a Curlew Sandpiper at Bank Island on the 3rd, followed by a Sandwich Tern on the 9th and a Garden Warbler at Wheldrake on the 31st. July was another pleasing month on the wildflower front, with 46 new species found across the Ings and on Skipwith Common, along with 8 grasses, including Carnation Sedge and Toad Rush at Thornton Ellers on the 7th. The first fish finally made it on to the PAN, when a group of Roach were spotted in the Pocklington Canal on the 28th. A variety of ‘other inverts’ were added throughout the month, with a pleasing number of new hoverflies, digger wasps, longhorn beetles and grasshoppers found. Notable species included a Four-banded Longhorn Beetle on the 21st, followed by a Wasp mimic Sericomyia silentis and a Ruby-tailed Wasp on the 23rd and a Bronze Shieldbug on the 28th – all found on Skipwith Common.

Black Darter – Skipwith Common

Four-banded Longhorn Beetle – Skipwith Common

August saw things pick up on the bird front, with a number of exciting additions – all coming from Wheldrake Ings, a Spotted Crake on the 6th, Barred Warbler on the 24th and a Turtle Dove on the 31st. Along with these three ‘rarities’ also came four other new species for the year – Lesser Whitethroat (one that we’d kept missing), and three typical autumn species - Spotted Flycatcher, Wood Sandpiper and Whinchat, bringing the bird list to a total of 151. August also saw the last butterfly and dragonfly species for the year make it on to the PAN, on the same date (14th), a Clouded Yellow was seen at Thorganby (notable record) and a Migrant Hawker at the NNR Base – a typically later species. A concerted effort was made on the wildflower front, with a pleasing 60 new species found including Enchanter’s-nightshade, Fen Bedstraw, Hairy Tare and Marsh Gentian. Just as satisfying was another 30 new grass species identified and added, along with 6 new trees. New moth species became much less frequent with just 5 caught in the trap at the NNR Base, including Sallow Kitten and Oak Hook-tip. However the ‘other invert’ category continued to pick up the pace with 32 new species added, including a pleasing five new species of shield bug, five new ladybirds and a variety of digger wasps, sawflies, hoverflies and a Devil’s Coach-horse at the NNR Base on the 28th. Last but not least 2 more species of fungi were seen on the Common and 3 new fish species were recorded – Dace and Pike in the Pocklington Canal on the 5th and a Carp at Wheldrake Ings on the 21st.

Migrant Hawker – Thornton Ellers
Red Admiral – Thornton Ellers

September saw the year start to quieten off, however new species from the majority of categories continued to be added to the PAN. Two notable birds were found during the month – a Hen Harrier over Wheldrake Ings on the 21st, shortly followed by a group of Bearded Tits there on the 25th – both pleasing additions and species not common in the valley. The mammal list gained 7 new species, including Bank Vole, Field Vole and Pygmy Shrew, along with four bat species – all detected on Wheldrake Ings. The last amphibian for the year came in the form of a hibernating Great Crested Newt found on Skipwith Common on the 25th. A pleasing total of flora was also added, including 5 trees, 11 wildflowers and 23 grasses – largely coming from Skipwith Common, particular highlights were Bulbous Rush, Common Yellow-sedge, False-fox Sedge and Pill Sedge. The moth list continued to see a few new additions, with a total of 11 species added, including a Humming-bird Hawk-moth in the NNR Base Garden on the 5th and a Grey Dagger caterpillar on Skipwith Common on the 11th. The first fungi of the autumn were seen on the Common, with species such as Fly Agaric, Ochre Brittlegill, Shaggy Inkcap and Tawny Grisette. The ‘other inverts’ category continued to increase with 16 new additions, including 7 spiders such as the Marbled Orb Weaver, Four-spot Orb Weaver and Furrow Spider. A single Bream was added to the fish list on the 2nd when one individual was seen struggling on Wheldrake Ings, having become stuck in the low ditch water.
Bronze Shieldbug – Skipwith Common

Grass Snake – Skipwith Common

October saw a month with very few days spent out on site due to work commitments elsewhere and staff on leave resulting in lower coverage than normal. However, several new species were added, with a number of migrant birds making it on to the list, in particular a Yellow-browed Warbler on Skipwith Common on the 30th was a welcome addition. Three other species were also pleasing finds – a Ring Ouzel at the NNR Base on the 9th, Cetti’s Warbler at Wheldrake on the 22nd and a Twite calling over Bank Island on the 25th. The last mammal for the year, a Water Shrew was added on the 25th from Skipwith Common, bringing the mammal list to a close with 25 species. The only other new additions for the month were six species of fungi, including Green Elf Cup and Orange Peel both found on Skipwith Common on the 27th.

Lesser Redpoll – Thornton Ellers
Harlequin Ladybird – Thornton Ellers 

By November the majority of bird species are likely to have already made the ‘PAN’ however we managed to pick up a few others that we’d missed earlier in the year - a Stonechat at North Duffield Carrs on the 4th, followed by a flock of Lesser Redpolls the next day at Thornton Ellers on the 5th and a Merlin hunting near Skipwith on the 26th. The only other new species for month came in the form of fungi, with 6 new species found on Skipwith Common, such as Common Inkcap, Small Stagshorn and Witches Broom.

Kingfisher – Thornton Ellers
Common Inkcap – Skipwith Common

As expected December was the quietest month for new additions to the PAN, with two Bewick’s Swans at Ellerton on the 9th being the only new species across all the categories throughout the month, leaving the bird total resting at an impressive 161 for the year (compared with 124 last year).

Jay – Thornton Ellers

Little Grebe – Pocklington Canal

As the final month came to a close the totals were added, and whilst we’d pleasingly added on a high number of completely new species that we didn’t find in the previous year we were actually missing some of last years, although that was partly due to it being a poor year for some species, particularly fungi, with us being down 36 species. The bird category was up from 124 last year to 161 this year and the ‘other inverts’ category had the most new species, including a pleasing total of six species of shieldbug. New butterfly and dragonfly species were also added – with Clouded Yellow and Hairy Dragonfly being additions to last year. The totals are listed below with last years in brackets:

Mammals: 25 (24)
Birds: 161 (124)
Reptiles: 7 (7)
Trees: 33 (36)
Wildflowers: 252 (274)
Grasses: 69 (77)
Bees: 12 (10)
Butterflies: 23 (23)
Dragonflies: 18 (17)
Moths: 212 (248)
Inverts, terrestrial: 115 (112)
Inverts, freshwater: 17
Fungi: 37 (73)
Fish: 5 (11)

Here’s hoping that 2015 will be another good year with many more new species found across the site! Many thanks to our staff and volunteers for really getting behind the PAN and in doing so increasing their own knowledge of the wildlife across the site - and also for the stunning photographs - all taken in the valley during 2014.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

20/01/15 - Recent 'goings on'

A few snippets from recent weeks in the Lower Derwent Valley and other managed NNR's - Skipwith Common & Forge Valley Woods.

Since the start of the New Year the team have been getting stuck into the ongoing woodland management at Forge Valley Woods NNR. The work being carried out is aimed at improving the woodland structure and composition of the trees to a more natural situation, removing introduced softwoods and Beech, and thinning out the highly competitive Sycamores which can cast a dense shade and heavy leaf cover over the ground. Other species such as Hazel and Elm are also to be coppiced to increase the amount of light reaching the woodland floor, which will also help to promote a healthy and diverse ground flora. 

Fal in action - 05/01 - Forge Valley

The first Wild Garlic shoots were seen beginning to emerge, come May the site will be covered in a dense mat with the scent of Garlic hanging in the air – a sight and smell of Spring!

Wild Garlic - 05/01 - Forge Valley

Whilst there a 30ft mist net was put up over the lunch break, resulting in a catch of 65 birds, including 4 Marsh Tit, 7 Nuthatch, a flock of 14 Long-tailed Tits and a female Great Spotted Woodpecker. This is the first woodpecker to be caught here, although five other birds have been caught recently at the nearby Raincliffe Woods feeding station. A Jay was heard calling and came close for peanuts but it managed to avoid our net on this occasion – always nice to see one though. The birdwatcher’s car park is a great spot for photographing birds, and with the well positioned tables the birds frequently come fairly close to parked cars/people, allowing fantastic results. 

 Nuthatch - Forge Valley - 05/01
Great Spotted Woodpecker - Forge Valley - 05/01

Along with Forge Valley, Jays have also been showing well over the last month around the LDV. An increase in sightings of Jays was noted from the autumn, with an influx of birds in October, including an impressive day count of 20 at Wheldrake Ings. Some of these may have been associated with influxes from the continent but also mirrored by local British breeding birds moving around more between woods at this time of year in search of food. Skipwith Common NNR is the most reliable place to see (or at least hear Jays), and the bird feeding stations at Forge Valley and the adjacent Raincliffe Woods are also a good place with birds occasional coming down to food (although they are shyer than most species), offering a rare photographic opportunity.

Whilst the team were working at Thornton Ellers logging up and removing the recently cut willow and alder trees, two mist nets were set during the lunch break. Interestingly not many birds were caught or were present around the feeders - presumably they are still finding enough natural food. However it was about quality not quantity on this occasion, with a Jay finding its way into our net as it hunted for food. Jays, a member of the crow family, are a stunning bird, and one of the most colourful, however they can be tricky to spot, with their screaming call often being the first sign of their presence. Jays are famous for eating acorns however they also feed on caterpillars and beetles, as well as young birds/mammals from the nest. Each year a single bird can bury several thousand acorns which they retrieve during hard times throughout the winter if need be – by burying the acorns Jays play a vital role in the spread of oak woodlands – a fantastic and much needed resource for wildlife. 

 Jay - Thornton Ellers - 15/12

When excited or displaying Jays often raise their crown feathers – pictured here. The most common sight of a Jay is usually the flash of their distinctive white rump as they fly between the trees, a sight we often see whilst working here or on Skipwith Common where three pairs bred this year. Not many Jays have been ringed in the LDV, prior to this one a mere 12 had been ringed, with Skipwith accounting for over half from just a couple of broods in recent years. 

Whilst carrying out Avian Flu checks on the site recently we came across this immature/first winter male Whooper Swan on the Top Pond at North Duffield Carrs. It had obviously become separated from the rest of the herd present on the Carrs and either ended up landing on the Top Pond mistakenly to join the family of resident Mute Swans, or had perhaps been forced to crash land on there in the high winds. Either way, the resident Mute Swan cob didn’t take too kindly to his presence and persistently herded him around the pond, unfortunately appearing a bit bruised by this attention he was unable to take off. With this in mind we watched and waited until the Mute Swan hounded him up the swan pipe - quickly firing the door we were able to catch him and get him safely away from the angry Mute. Mute Swans, particularly males, are notorious for being aggressive towards other swans, and occasionally other waterfowl such as geese and even ducks. This is also rather typical of this particular cob, who is known to be very territorial, defending both his territory and mate from intruders and ‘perceived’ threats. 

 Whooper Swan - North Duffield - 06/01

After being fitted with a ring and a yellow darvic we released the lone Whooper on to the Carrs where he joined up with the rest of the herd (presently numbering 112 birds). 

Since the start of the New Year numbers of Fieldfares have been fairly low, along with the similar Redwing, although small groups were seen last week feeding on invertebrates in the ‘tide-line’ on North Duffield Carrs where the floodwater has started to recede. A winter visitor to the UK, Fieldfares are a well-known sight and sound of the autumn, arriving along our eastern coastline from early October before building up in numbers and moving south and west as the winter progresses. In harsh winters as many as a million Fieldfares may have no alternative but to head over the sea to the British Isles in the hope of finding milder conditions and enough available food, before returning eastwards to their breeding grounds during March with a handful of stragglers departing in early May. 

In early autumn Fieldfares can be found spread throughout the Lower Derwent Valley wherever hedges providing berries occur – particularly Bank Island, Wheldrake Ings, North Duffield Carrs and along the Pocklington Canal (around Church Bridge where small numbers regularly roost in the dense Blackthorn scrub). Larger numbers can often occur in mid-winter when the berries have become scarcer or when snow cover and ice force birds off the higher ground and into the lowlands. This will push them on to the Ings where they can make use of feeding on the invertebrates found in the meadows, they can often be seen sharing the same fields with the many Lapwing and Golden Plover that also winter in the valley.

 Fieldfare - 'The Ings' - T.Weston

During the last two weeks Barn Owls have started to show well again around the valley – with daily sightings of up to two birds in front of the hides at North Duffield Carrs and up to three at Bank Island behind the NNR office. Sightings of other singles have also come from several other scattered locations around the valley including Melbourne, Thornton, Storwood and Wheldrake. This follows last year’s record breeding season, and the relatively mild winter conditions experienced so far are no doubt helping the survival of the many young reared throughout the area last year. The birds at Bank Island seem particularly regular in their habits appearing around 3.30pm - 4pm onwards.

 Barn Owl - Bubwith - 11/09 

Good numbers of Ruff are once again present in the Lower Derwent Valley with up to 140 counted in recent weeks. Flocks containing over 100 birds have been showing well from the hides at North Duffield Carrs, along with Lapwing, Golden Plover and Dunlin.

Ruff are medium sized grey/brown wading birds, with the males being almost twice as large as the females, which during the breeding season acquire brightly coloured head tufts and a large collar of feathers around the neck. Ruff are typically a species of lowland wet grassland, thus finding the Lower Derwent Valley NNR to their taste. The LDV is one of the most important sites for the species in the country, with occasional breeding attempts over recent years - some of only a handful that occur in the UK in most years. Large numbers of males attend leks – this is where the males dressed in their splendid colourful head dress, ‘dance’ to attract females. This has been seen on the reserve in particular at North Duffield Carrs - one of the few places in the UK where this can be seen – usually in April and early May.

Fewer than 1000 Ruff winter in the UK each year with the LDV being one of the traditional hotspots, this year’s count of 140 could represent one of the largest UK counts this winter and may contain over 10% of the countries wintering population.

 Ruff  - North Duffield - 06/01