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.

For daily sightings please visit our Twitter account: https://twitter.com/ldv_nnr (@LDV_NNR)

For details of events, volunteer tasks and wildlife images please visit our Facebook account: https://www.facebook.com/Lower-Derwent-Valley-Skipwith-Common-NNR

Wednesday 25 February 2015

24/02/15 - A helping hand for the owls

Last week in conjunction with National Nest Box Week the LDV Team were busy on site erecting owl boxes on the Escrick Park Estate which surrounds Skipwith Common NNR. The estate have various agri-environment schemes across the 8000ha estate and work closely with us on a range of environmental improvements. 

Over the years Natural England staff and volunteers from the LDV along with the help of various groups – TCV, York University Conservation Volunteers, Ad Astra and other community groups have made and erected over 150 Barn Owl boxes, 40 Kestrel boxes and 25 Little Owl boxes around the wider area. In addition 70 Tree Sparrow boxes and 15 Swift boxes have also been placed on local farms and villages. We’ve also donated a number of boxes to ‘kick start’ other projects elsewhere in Yorkshire such as in the Harrogate and Wolds area.

Whilst putting up new boxes around the valley we were also carrying out repairs to some of the existing ones. From three of the five boxes that needed repairing we came across four birds roosting, and no doubt keeping out the strong winds! A pair were found in one box together and a lone male and female in two other boxes. Given the number of chicks ringed in the last year’s bumper breeding season throughout the LDV (c170), it was surprising to find that two of the birds were un-ringed - it may well be that these are young birds from last year from further afield. One of the birds also had a ring on from elsewhere (a control), it’s unusual for us to control a bird so this may give us a clue to where some of the birds have dispersed from. 

1085 Barn Owls had been ringed up to the end of 2014 in a study starting in 1999 – 90% of which have come from boxes provided throughout the area and showing just how important the provision of artificial nest sites can be – especially as old trees fall down and grain stores/farm outbuildings are made pest/vermin proof or converted for other uses. Hopefully the additional boxes will soon become home to breeding owls this year and in subsequent years.

Making, erecting and repairing these boxes takes time but the results are very worthwhile - annual monitoring produces a wealth of useful data, both in terms of our local area but also for the national nest record scheme. Large numbers of birds have been ringed as a result of being able to access these sites, again adding to our knowledge of local bird populations but also allowing us to help train the next generation of nest recorders and ringers. It’s also a great way to engage with the landowners and the wider community around the reserve.

So a big thank you to all who have helped with this work, from making boxes and inspecting them during the breeding season, to ringing broods and also to those who let us have access onto their land to undertake this work.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

22/02/15 - A few beans

Whilst out on site last Tuesday we were fortunate to find and photograph this flock of four Tundra Bean Geese along with two Pink-feet mixed in with the local (or perhaps not so local) Greylags at Bank Island.


There are two races of Bean Geese which visit the UK – the Taiga Bean Goose which breeds on forest bogs in the sub-arctic region and the Tundra Bean Goose which breeds on wet tundra in remote sites in north-western Siberia. The majority of these birds winter in southern Sweden and continental Europe. A total of 400 Taiga Bean Geese winter at two sites in the UK – the Yare Valley in Norfolk and the Avon Valley in Scotland, whilst fewer than 300 Tundra Beans can be found spread across the country.

Bean Geese are similar to the much commoner Pink-footed Goose – differing by having orange, not pink legs and orange patches on the bill, and a darker, almost browny-grey upperwing rather than the light grey upperwing seen on Pink-footed Geese. The Lower Derwent Valley is one of the most favoured sites in the county turning up a small number of birds most years.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

16/02/15 - A foreigner at Duffield

On Tuesday evening last week a great whoosh net catch of 45 birds was had at North Duffield Carrs, which included the first Dutch ringed Teal we have controlled here. It may take a few weeks to get the information of when and where this bird was originally ringed but it will be the first Teal interchange between the Netherlands and the LDV. Another bird re-trapped during a whoosh net catch at Duffield last week had originally been ringed at Skipwith Common NNR in September 2010, indicating that some Teal return to the area in subsequent winters.


The LDV NNR is one of only a handful of key waterfowl ringing stations in the UK and is supported by our friends at the WWT. As well as ringing nationally significant numbers of ducklings during the summer months, important numbers of certain wintering species such as Wigeon and Teal can also be caught on the reserve. In some years we can catch up to 50% of the annual British Teal total and 30% of the Wigeon caught in the UK.

Following a rather poor year in 2014 for catching wintering ducks, this year has so far proved particularly successful for catching Teal in our whoosh nets. 220 Teal have been ringed so far in 2015 with three catches accounting for an impressive 140 birds. This has taken the number ringed in the valley to a total of 2330 since waterfowl ringing started in the late 1980’s. This has in turn resulted in 62 movements away from the local area including 29 recoveries overseas to 10 countries, with seven to Russia, six to Finland and four to Denmark. Four birds (two to each) have also been recorded in Portugal and France. We’ll post the details of the Dutch Teal on here when we hear back from the BTO.

Friday 13 February 2015

11/02/15 - The return of old 'friends'

Last month whilst undertaking the January WeBS count we mentioned that we’d come across five of our darvic’d Shelduck from previous years. These birds were stood with 130 others on the ice, thus providing a great opportunity to scan all their legs for rings. 

We’ve since gone back through the data and have some very pleasing records from these birds – ‘BV’ & ‘BC’ were both ringed in February 2000, and were already at least two years old then making them now at least 17! We last saw ‘BV’ at North Duffield in 2005 and ‘BC’ in 2006 and 2008. How fantastic that they have both returned this year! ‘KV’ & ‘SH’ were also seen with them, these two birds were initially ringed in March 2006 and have since been seen on the reserve in 2007, 2011 & 2012. The last of the five birds ‘UH’, was ringed just a few years ago in 2011 and this is the first known appearance back in the valley. Five other metal ringed only birds were also present – again showing the value of colour-ringing.


The Shelduck colour-ringing project was started in 2000 by Natural England, the Huddleston and Jackson Ringing Partnership and the WWT. This was partly in response to falling numbers ringed nationally and also in an attempt to find out about the large inland breeding ‘colony’ that the valley supports. Over 474 have been ringed on the reserve, of which 350 have had darvic’s fitted – a single black plastic ring on the left leg with two white engraved letters on, which can be read with a telescope at up to 100m - this has increased the number of sightings we’ve had back from our ringed Shelduck. Please keep an eye out for any ringed birds and note any sightings in the hide log book.


It’s not just Shelduck that we’ve been fortunate enough to spot recently with rings on, last month we also managed to pick out five darvic’d Whooper Swans at North Duffield during the WeBS. It was pleasing to come across ‘C3S’, a bird that was ringed in 2007 at North Duffield which since then has wintered each year in the valley, and ‘Z5T’ – initially ringed at Caerlaverock WWT in 2010 and was last seen in the valley last winter. Also present were ‘G5F’, ‘G5J’ & ‘G5Z’ – all ringed in 2013, earlier in the winter ‘G5K’ arrived at Duffield and we heard from our friends at the WWT that ‘G5X’ was with them at Martin Mere. Out of the 12 birds that were ringed during the 2013 catch we have now had data back on 6 of them - makes it all worthwhile!

Staff, volunteers and local birdwatchers have been reading colour-rings from Whooper and Bewick's Swans seen in the valley since the mid 1980's, which has helped increase our knowledge about how the birds use the valley and has also contributed to the national project run by the WWT. For the last ten years, since 2004, we have been working alongside our partners at the WWT to catch and colour-ring Whoopers in the valley as part of this wider research. This has involved several whoosh net and more recently, cannon net catches - the latter being the first time this method had been used to catch Whooper Swans in the UK. Unfortunately this year, largely due to the weather and the birds frequenting an inaccessible area we were unable to get a catch, but hopefully we’ll have better luck at the end of the year when the birds return once more for the winter.


Wednesday 11 February 2015

10/02/15 - World Wetlands Day

Last week to mark World Wetlands Day (2nd February), Natural England and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust joined forces to put on a series of events for visitors to the reserve. The LDV staff arranged a bird ringing demo – which was unfortunately marred by the rather windy conditions, however the small catch delighted everyone, especially the young children who helped to release the birds after they’d been ringed. A guided walk around Wheldrake Ings was then had with the highlights being a Barn Owl hunting and Peregrine bathing in front of the hide. It was brilliant to see so many visitors attend the day, over 80 members of the public visited the NNR Base, including a number of families that took part in the arts, crafts and quiz. 

World Wetlands Day marks the date of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands, on the 2nd February 1971. It was celebrated for the first time in 1997 and made an encouraging start, each year since then government agencies, non-governmental organisations and conservation bodies have helped raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands. Wetlands are important for a number of reasons, firstly they support a wealth of habitats and wildlife - from plants, fish, invertebrates, birds and so on. They are also important for social and economic reasons, supporting fisheries and other businesses, providing drinking water supplies and providing areas of flood water storage. Many wetlands have been lost through pollution, development or drainage for agriculture so it's important that we understand and value our remaining source of wetland habitats. 

Towards the end of last year the LDV staff and volunteers teamed up with Ad Astra – a company that provides alternative education for young people who may be dis-engaged with more mainstream education - by using the NNR's, wider countryside and outdoor activities they aim to provide a lifeline and real life changing opportunities for these young people. In conjunction with World Wetlands Day the group came to the NNR Base last week for the day to help with the construction of nest boxes for Tree Sparrows. Here at Bank Island we have a healthy population of Tree Sparrows with approximately 100 wintering and 15-20 pairs breeding. These boxes will now be put up around the reserve to benefit the population and the data will then be added to national monitoring schemes (such as the nest record scheme) and will also help trainees to experience ringing nestlings. The boys are now looking forward to the summer and seeing who has nested in their boxes! 

Friday 6 February 2015

05/02/15 - A very worthwhile cause

Last year one of our long term volunteers, Jean Thorpe, was awarded an MBE (full story here) for her voluntary services to wildlife rehabilitation and wildlife crime. Jean is an Accredited Raptor Rescue Rehabilitator and works tirelessly looking after and rehabilitating sick and injured wildlife and getting them back into the wild. Living and working in North Yorkshire – sadly the UK’s worst known raptor persecution blackspot, Jean unfortunately gets informed of birds that have been shot, poisoned or trapped and left to die a slow and agonising death. Birds of prey such as Buzzards, Goshawks, Sparrowhawks and Red Kites seem particularly targeted.

 One of last years Buzzards - now back in the wild

Last week Jean was informed of a Kestrel that had been shot in the leg near Melbourne – possibly one of ‘our’ birds that the team here have worked hard to help by building and putting up countless boxes. After posting about it on Twitter, Jean found a reply from Raptor Persecution asking for details of her funding page – there was no such thing – however, following their suggestion Jean has now set up a ‘gofundme’ account to help her with her work, the money raised will be used to build a new aviary for the birds whilst they are in her care. 

 Last weeks Melbourne Kestrel - hopefully he'll pull through

Last year throughout 2014 Jean cared for 99 injured raptors, including 43 Tawny Owls, 19 Barn Owls, 8 Little Owls, 11 Buzzards, 9 Sparrowhawks, 7 Kestrels, 1 Peregrine and 1 Red Kite – 53 of these birds were released back into the wild – an amazing achievement and something to be proud of. Jean works solely on donations or by trying to fund food and treatment herself, to support Jean and the work that she does click here - http://www.gofundme.com/ldjuu8. Jean’s target was a modest £500 – an amazing £1,230 has already been donated in just two days – how fantastic for Jean to know her work is appreciated and that others care. We’re proud to have you as part of the LDV Team Jean, thank you for all that you do and just for being you!

 Peregrine ready for release

Tuesday 3 February 2015

02/02/15 - January WeBS

Several weeks ago the team carried out the January WeBS count (Wetland Bird Survey) across the valley. WeBS is the monitoring scheme for non-breeding waterbirds in the UK, which aims to provide the principal data for the conservation of their populations and wetland habitats. It was previously known as the National Wildfowl Count, before changing to the Wildfowl and Wader Count and now the Wetland Bird Survey – which includes gulls, terns, kingfishers, herons and cormorants etc. Continuing a tradition begun in 1947, around 3,000 volunteer counters undertake monthly counts at around 2000 wetlands of all habitat types throughout the year, but mainly during the winter period of September to March. This allows bird populations to be monitored on a national and international level, but also picks up more local trends at the site level or changes with regards to climate change.


For example, the survey has become extremely well placed to contribute valuable information on the potential spread and context of Avian Influenza arriving or spreading in the UK. It has also shown that the international population of Bewick’s Swans has decreased, but that further decreases in the UK (and the LDV) can be contributed to the birds ‘short-stopping’ in the low countries in Europe. 

The LDV has seen WeBS counts or predecessors undertaken since the 1970’s so there is a run of 40+ years of data on wetland bird populations across the site – changes have included the incredible rise in numbers of Greylag Geese from only a handful in the 1970’s to over 2500+ in recent years, and the crash in the population of Bewick’s Swans has dropped from 300+ in the 1970’s to a mere one or two returning in recent winters.

Following the freezing conditions and minus temperatures on the morning of the count the majority of the site was found to be frozen, thus concentrating all the remaining birds on to the few open pools of water. Wheldrake Ings and North Duffield Carrs held the majority of the birds, with a few extras seen on the river. 

North Duffield held an impressive number of wildfowl, with c2500 Teal, c3000 Wigeon, c300 Mallard, 134 Shelduck, 10 Pintail, 7 Mute Swans and 65 Whooper Swans. Wheldrake Ings, largely around Swantail Hide, also held good numbers of birds, however they were all packed in tightly in one area thus making counting difficult, resulting in the counts presumably not representing the full amount present. At least 5500 Wigeon and 2250 Teal were counted, along with 97 Pintail, 15 Shelduck, 2 Shoveler, 27 Gadwall, 1134 Mallard, 11 Coot, 360 Greylag Geese, 100 Canada Geese, 51 Mute Swans and 3 Whooper Swans. 

In contrast to the wildfowl, the freezing conditions caused a mass clear-out of wintering waders, with just 3 Dunlin, 5 Common Snipe and a single Redshank remaining from the previous week’s high numbers. The rest, we presume, may have moved down to the upper Humber on to softer areas in which to probe for food - where they are likely to stay until the site here begins to thaw.

A variety of raptors were also a pleasing addition to the days sightings, with a Peregrine no doubt being the highlight as it soared over the water at Duffield, immediately flushing all the ducks in to the air creating quite a spectacle. Four Buzzards at Wheldrake along with a single Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Red Kite were also seen. 

A few mammals also made it on to the day list including a Red Fox crossing the ice at Wheldrake and two female Roe Deer by the hide.