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)

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Monday 21 September 2015

18/09/15 - Down but not out

As the first of the autumns Teal start to return to the valley, and the first evening flights of Mallard and Greylag Geese start to occur, it seems a suitable time to recap on this summer’s duck breeding season. Unfortunately, it’s not been a particularly good summer for ducks, perhaps due to the water coming off the Ings rather quickly during the spring, and the relatively dry conditions that persisted for much of the summer thereafter. The number of duck broods seen was well down on last year, which has been reflected in the numbers caught and ringed – with no Shoveler or Gadwall broods caught this year. The Lower Derwent Valley is one of the few places where British bred ducklings are caught and ringed, so this year’s rather disappointing result will affect the national data totals. That said, with natural variations in weather and seasons, something always tends to fair well on the Ings, and this year it has been the drier hay meadow communities that have flourished, and breeding snipe have done well. Hopefully we’ll go on now to have a good winters duck ringing and will look forward to the appearance of more ducklings in 2016. 

Mallard duckling - Bank Island
 Shoveler ducklings - Wheldrake Ings
 Tufted Duck duckling - North Duffield

We have also just received news from our friends at the WWT (Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust), concerning one of the Gadwall ducklings we ringed on the reserve in 2014. In contrast to this year, 2014 was a bumper season with an impressive 92 pairs of Gadwall present throughout the reserve – over 200 ducklings were reared and an impressive 41 were caught. This represents the best year’s ringing totals we’ve managed and with 2014’s national ringing totals having just been published, the Lower Derwent Valley accounted for 65% of all the Gadwall ringed in the country during the year. This duckling, FH65612 was ringed at Wheldrake Ings on the 1st July 2014, and was reported just two weeks ago on the 1st September 2015 at Ballyronan, Lough Neagh, Ireland. This is our fourth Gadwall duckling moving west into Ireland and our third to Lough Neagh. Thanks to our staff and volunteers for all the extra time and hours they put in to catch ducklings during the summer months – often involving getting wet, muddy and plagued by horseflies!

 Gadwall - North Duffield Carrs

Friday 18 September 2015

14/09/15 - Scabious wonderland

Once again this summer the team have been busy cutting the meadow at Thornton Ellers, in order to maintain the areas rich and varied flora. Thornton Ellers is an interesting site where post glacial sand dunes meet the peat of the floodplain of Melbourne/Thornton Ings. The site contains a host of species including Common Spotted Orchids, Harebells, Devils-bit Scabious, Common Valerian and Star and Pill Sedge.

Thornton Ellers - Devil's-bit Scabious 'patch'

The meadow is cut using an allen scythe, and raked by hand as to try and not damage the peat by using larger equipment. Similar to last year, we have been using this green hay as a source of seeds, moving the newly cut hay over to Leven Carrs, where hopefully the seeds will help in developing a diverse grassland/fen community on this site. This is in conjunction with a grassland/fen restoration project, which is being undertaken as part of a large habitat creation/arable reversion plan, helping to connect several areas of semi-natural habitats in the Hull Valley. Using wildflowers from our NNR’s, along with our staff and volunteer expertise to make it happen, is a great way we can help other areas benefit wildlife as much as our own.

 Cutting, & later spreading the 'green hay'

Whilst cutting the hay we came across a number of frogs and toads (largely young ones), that have now moved away from the water bodies and ventured into the wet grassland. Toads seem to have been present in good numbers this year at various sites across the valley. Following the spring once toads have emerged from hibernation, they return to the same ponds each year to breed, afterwards they then move away from the water bodies and spend time in wet grassland, woodland and other damp areas, by October they will then start to look for a cosy spot to hibernate in for another winter. 

Common Toad

Following the initial cutting of the meadow throughout July we re-visited the site more recently, to find the Devil’s-bit Scabious now in full bloom. Scabious flowers later than most of the other species, hence why we leave this patch until after it has flowered, allowing us to capture the seeds which can then be transferred to Leven Carrs. With the rest of the meadow now being cut apart from this one area, all the nectar loving species were making the most of the scabious, with a vast number of hoverflies and bees feeding on the flower heads. 12 different species of butterflies were also seen, including counts of 26 Peacock, 17 Small Tortoiseshell, 4 Small Copper, 8 Painted Lady, 11 Red Admiral and 2 Commas, along with a single Common Blue, Wall Brown and Small Skipper, whilst Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and Speckled Woods could be seen flitting between the brambles nearby.

Red Admiral

Whilst counting the butterflies amongst the bramble and gorse we also encountered a number of Shield Bug nymphs, with both Common Green and Gorse found – the latter in double figures, along with several adults. 

Common Green Shield Bug Nymph

Back in the meadow this caterpillar – a Broom moth, was found feeding on an unopened scabious head. Broom moth caterpillars are one of the more brightly coloured ones, with the striking yellow lines on this individual catching our eye.

Broom Moth Caterpillar

The hedgerows near the meadow are also usually a good spot to look for hawking dragonflies, on several occasions we've been fortunate to see both Migrant and Southern Hawkers. Common Darters and Ruddy Darters are also present but are more likely to feature in and around the meadow and along the woodland edge.

Migrant Hawker

With a vast array of wildlife just in this small space, it really shows the value of wildflowers such as scabious, which provide nectar for so many of our butterflies, bees and hoverflies. Since first managing the meadow here from the early 1990’s we have seen the patch of scabious increase from just a handful of plants, to an area now covering half a hectare, and with our management of the site the area now has a lot less Juncus (Soft Rush) and Gylceria (Reed sweet-grass), which are not as beneficial to wildlife as they can often form dense monocultures and swamp out other more delicate species. The Juncus may be of no use to our nectar loving creatures however it is used by spiders, and with the seasons changing and the autumn upon us, we are starting to see an emergence of our eight-legged friends – feared by some but enjoyed by others! 

Four-spotted Orb Weaver

Monday 7 September 2015

05/09/15 - Passerine the time

Over recent weeks NNR volunteer Mike has been carrying out his annual monitoring of breeding and passage warblers at Wheldrake Ings. This ‘constant effort type’ ringing project has been running for five years now and is providing some valuable data on species trends and annual productivity, as well as the importance and management of Wheldrake Ings for warblers.

Results from this year so far suggest it’s been a particularly good season for Blackcaps with over 230 ringed – in contrast to a previous best yearly total of 130.  On the other hand it hasn’t been such a good year for Sedge and Reed Warblers with lower numbers caught and ringed, with a greater percentage of adults being caught - suggesting that lower breeding productivity of these two species is the main driver for that change. It’s also been a later season than normal with many young locally bred birds still being recorded and with Willow Warbler numbers peaking late August (as opposed to the first two weeks in August) – with 304 new birds already caught and ringed.

Sedge Warbler

Mike’s ringing has proved to be a valuable method of assessing some of the population trends and factors affecting the warbler populations on the Ings, as well as our resident passerine birds (Wrens have had a bumper year with good productivity late in the summer) – all of this compliments our Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data from earlier in the year. With 1200 warblers newly ringed this year so far it’s also likely to yield some interesting movements over the next few years as well. The early morning sessions have also produced one or two nice surprises with two Redstarts being trapped, two Kingfishers and the first ever record of Aquatic Warbler for the area – well done and thanks to Mike for his ongoing efforts.