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

Thursday 31 March 2016

30/03/16 - Bad Friday

On Good Friday, Jean had a Red Kite brought to her by a farmer, who had found it down on farmland in Low Marishes, Malton, having been shot in the throat….

Jean immediately headed off to see Mark at Battle Flatts Vets where the bird was x-rayed, and it was confirmed that she, an adult female, had been shot and had slight wounds to both wings and blood in her mouth. The x-ray showed the pellet clearly visible in the crop. 

Over the last few days with Jean the kite has been feeding which has managed to dislodge the shotgun pellet, and following a second x-ray this afternoon after Jean had suspected another problem, it revealed a small injury to one of her wing bones, but hopefully some rest, TLC and Jean’s expert care will soon see her back in the wild. 

If anyone knows anything about this crime then please contact Jean on 01653 695124 or Malton Wildlife Crime Officer - PC Jez Walmsley.

Saturday 19 March 2016

18/03/16 - New venture

Following on from the success of the 2016 LDV calendar, the Friends of the Lower Derwent Valley NNR have once again been busy in their support of Natural England’s work in the area, and have produced a range of greetings cards for sale. These beautiful high quality cards, featuring some of the LDV’s and Skipwith Common’s iconic species have been left blank inside for your own message, so are ideal for any occasion - birthdays, Easter etc, or if you just fancy sending a letter or message to someone special. 

There are 20 designs available featuring some of our favourites from the calendar, and there should be something for everyone including birds, mammals, reptiles, fungi, butterflies and bees. They represent great value at a mere £1.50 each or four for £5.00 – much cheaper than most other greeting cards!

By making a purchase you’ll be helping to support the work on and around the reserve, as proceeds from the sale of these cards will go towards supporting conservation work carried out throughout the area. The cards are available from our NNR Base at Bank Island, Wheldrake or if you don’t live nearby then please get in touch with us on here and we’ll post an order out to you. We’ve been overwhelmed by the popularity and demand so far so make sure you don’t miss out and get yours soon. Also keep your eyes open at various other outlets across the county – they could be coming to a coffee shop near you soon! 

Many thanks to the staff at DCS print for producing these super cards and for the speed in getting the delivery to us on time.  

Thursday 17 March 2016

16/03/16 - Reptile emergence

This week has seen the emergence of our first reptile species of the year on Skipwith Common - due to the persistent rainfall earlier in the year we had been concerned about the flooding on the heath, which has left the ground saturated, so we headed down on Monday to attempt to pump some of the water off. Whilst setting the pump a quick walk around the heath resulted in finding a male and female Adder, pictured below – it was fantastic to see them and to know they haven’t been affected by the flooding. 

At this time of year, similar to Grass Snakes, Adders need to soak up the sun’s rays after a winter spent in hibernation. Following the long winter and months without feeding Adders need to warm up their bodies to build up their energy and strength, and to allow their muscles to work properly. Adders are Britain’s only poisonous snake, and have a sinister reputation due to their ability to subdue their prey using venom, however they are not a threat to people unless disturbed – upon seeing one make sure you observe from a distance, and please leave any records in the log books provided. 

As well as Adders, the first Grass Snakes and Common Lizards were also spotted around the bomb bay loop. Depending on the weather and temperatures, Grass Snakes usually emerge from hibernation in March/April, and will spend the first few days near the hibernaculum. After a winter spent hibernating they will then move away from the hibernaculum in search of food to help build up their energy and body fat. Like Adders, Grass Snakes obtain their body warmth from the environment in order to raise their body temperature. In comparison to Adders who don’t often seem to be disturbed by human presence, Grass Snakes are the opposite, being quite shy and wary, often slithering off quite quickly if they sense someone approaching. The individual pictured below was tucked in behind the old walls, however they can often be seen near the large patch of rose which can be found on the left hand side after passing through the kissing gate - as always please respect our wildlife and watch at a distance.

The warm sunshine also brought out four Common Lizards, this individual was literally 'hanging out' from a crack in the top of the wall to make sure its whole body was exposed to the sun. At this time of year after emerging from hibernation lizards can often be found basking in the sunshine with their bodies flattened like this to maximise the amount of heat they can soak up from the sun, the old walls around the bomb bay loop and boardwalk are an ideal place to look for them.   

Sunday 13 March 2016

10/03/16 - Winter wildfowl

Towards the end of last month we noticed the usual late winter/early spring build-up of Gadwall into the valley, following the rather low numbers present in the height of the floods. Gadwall are attractive ducks although they can be easily overlooked among larger flocks of Mallard, but seen well and at close range, the finely patterned plumage is quite beautiful. Gadwall feed mainly by dabbling on aquatic vegetation in their favoured haunts of open wetlands such as marshes, wet grasslands and gravel pits which have dense fringing vegetation in which they can seek shelter and refuge. They are often found in close proximity to Coots, which are able to drive more easily and access plant material from greater depths – whilst ripping up submerged vegetation they often stir up the bottom and release bits of vegetation that Gadwall can take advantage of – whilst doing so they have also been observed stealing food from Coots – known as kleptoparasitism. Coot numbers in the valley are also now starting to build up with spring passage and the return of local breeding birds, which may have also attracted the Gadwall back onto the site.

As well as Gadwall, Pintail are arguably one of the most attractive ducks to visit the winter floods in the valley, coming from their summer breeding grounds in Western Europe and the Russian tundra. They are slightly larger than the Mallard, and are much longer necked and quite small headed, they also have a long, distinctive tapering tail from which they get their name. With the advantage of a longer neck, they are able to exploit areas of slightly deeper water as they reach down to dabble for plant material, often in small groups or mixed in with larger flocks of other species. With a British breeding population of fewer than 30 pairs, up to 30,000 birds arrive in the UK each winter from late September, departing again from Late February and into March.

Numbers in the valley often peak from now into early March, as our resident wintering birds are joined by birds returning from wintering sites further south on the first leg of their return journey, which can see numbers increase from the usual 2-300 to up to 600, so it’s a good time of year to get out and look for them. We have just one ringing recovery of a Pintail, a bird which was ringed on the 28th December 2004 near Ely, Cambridgeshire was re-caught at Thorganby Ings on the 18th February 2005, which reinforces this theory. 

Lets not forget about the commoner species as well...with the LDV in the top three sites in the UK for its wintering Mallard population, it’s been rather worrying lately that we haven’t seen many so far this winter. However, on a trip to Wheldrake Ings recently we were faced with the sudden appearance of large numbers loafing on the recently formed ice, and huddled into the few remaining areas of open water. Around 1500 were present with a further 300 at Bank Island – we can only presume that birds had been widely scattered throughout the wider area during the extensive flooding, and now that much of the other flood water has receded birds have once again concentrated back into the valley. 

The freezing conditions which formed ice on many of the smaller and shallower areas of water may have also concentrated the birds into more open areas of deeper water. Either way it was pleasing to see so many back in the valley, and the males were looking particularly splendid in the early spring sunshine. Mallard are one of the earlier nesters - some females will be starting to lay their clutches, with the first broods appearing on the Ings in late March and early April. However, with the extensive and ongoing flooding in the valley at the moment suitable nesting sites will unfortunately be limited.

Wednesday 9 March 2016

07/03/16 - Making progress

Over the last two weeks we’ve been able to make a start on the flood repairs at North Duffield now that the water has started to recede, and with extra (and much needed) help from Nick, Sandra & Jackie from the Filey Conservation Volunteers, on our first visit we were able to make good progress cleaning the hide, re-attaching the windows that had been forced out by the pressure of the water, removing the old noticeboards and fitting new ones. We also started to wheelbarrow some of the gravel from the car park down to the sections of the path that were ripped apart during the flooding, the wooden boards and stakes had been forced out of the ground and the substrate washed away leaving large holes in the path. 

Whilst busy working on the damaged path, we came across this Common Toad whilst moving some of the soil and vegetation. Following its rude awakening from hibernation, it settled on the heap of soil, looking rather sleepy having just been disturbed. To make sure it didn’t come into contact again with one of our spades we tucked it into the long grass on the other side of the fence. During the spring toads emerge from hibernation and return to the same ponds to breed. Following the breeding season they will then move away from the water bodies and will spend their 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. Frogs and toads although similar can be separated quite easily, in comparison to the smooth skin of the Common Frog, toads have a warty skin and tend to walk rather than hop, and have a much broader ‘snout’. Frogs are a much more common sight in the valleys meadows, particularly at Thornton Ellers where we seem to come across a lot during the late summer months.

Following on from our initial visit, Nick, Sandra & Jackie were back for more of the same last week with a sterling effort on Tuesday and Wednesday helping us repair the damaged path. Many trips were had with the wheelbarrows moving the gravel from the car park to the path, along with raking away the flood debris before laying new textile membrane and filling the gaps in with the new substrate. New fencing posts were also hammered in to reinforce the wooden boards which make up the edge of the path – these will hopefully prevent the path from giving way next year if we experience another bad flood. The new windows are to be fitted in the hide next week once the glass arrives and the rest of the path will take another week(s) to finish off – it is however usable now. 

The flood water remains high, resting just below the base of the hide – but there is plenty to see with a flock of 41 Curlew noted (along with several territorial birds singing overhead). Up to 100 Tufted Ducks have moved onto this part of the reserve in recent days and small numbers of Coot are now back on territory. As the water continues to fall increasing numbers of Wigeon and Teal should start to return to this part of the reserve, but if the high levels persist then it could be good for Black-necked Grebes towards the end of next month. Many thanks to the team for their efforts this week – and in all types of weather – from warm sunshine to chilly northerly winds and heavy snow!