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

Friday 21 December 2018

10/12/18 - Cannon netting

With the increase in wintering waterfowl over the last week or so (following a rather dry autumn), we’ve finally been able to get our cannon nets back out, and have ringed a sample of our wintering visitors. Although the river levels have been up and down, giving us a few issues, we’ve managed a handful of successful catches in-between, and have ringed over 300 Teal and 10 Wigeon in the last week. Ringing these birds allows us to track known individuals throughout their annual journeys – identifying where and when they use other sites, and helps us to learn more about how they may be changing their migrations and sites in relation to climate change. Cannon netting is also a great opportunity to help train the next generation of researchers, and so this week we have been delighted to be joined by George Day from the University of York, where he is currently studying for a PhD. George has joined us in previous years for duck catches, and has since taken some of that learning back to his group in Filey, and has started to catch and ring ducks over there – helping to increase the numbers and distribution of ringed ducks in the UK.

One of the most stunning of all the duck species to regularly visit the valley is the aptly named Pintail - easily distinguished by its long and pointed tail feathers. Males have a bluish-grey bill, a chestnut-coloured head and a rather long and graceful white neck and grey body, whilst the females are mottled brown with smaller, pointed tails, but the same slender and elongated appearance. Around 30,000 winter in the UK from further north and east in Europe, largely feeding on plant material during the winter, when up to 700+ can be found throughout the flooded Ings.

We had the unique opportunity to study these stunning birds up close and personal last week, when we caught and ringed a small number amongst the usual sample of Teal and Wigeon. Just this week we also received news from the BTO and WWT, of a Pintail that we ringed in the valley in January 2017 – found at Baie d'Authie, Fort-Mahon-Plage, Somme, in France, about 440Km south of the valley. We previously caught one here in March having been ringed further south a couple of months earlier in Cambridgeshire – suggesting our peak in March may involve birds starting to return north on the first leg of their migration back to the breeding grounds. Up to 150 birds are present between Bank Island and Wheldrake at the moment but do let us know of any counts you make when visiting the reserve, thank you.

Thursday 13 December 2018

28/11/18 - Back into the wild

It's always nice to be able to share a good news story – last week the hard-working Jean Thorpe worked her magic on the young cygnet pictured below, after finding it down on the ground and in distress having broken its wing on one of its first flights. It was unclear how this had happened, possibly the result of a crash landing from hitting overhead wires, but following some expert care from the vets at Battle Flatts at Stamford Bridge and Jean, Jean was able to bring it into the reserve for release on Friday last week. 

Having located a non-territorial, non-breeding herd of other Mute Swans on the River Derwent, the cygnet was released to join them, free to use the river as a safe haven to continue her recovery and regain the power of flight. It was wonderful to see her accepted by the flock that almost appeared to come over and meet her, and welcome her to the group as they swam off down the river. Well done once again to everyone involved in her rescue, care and rehabilitation, but especially to Jean for all her efforts week in week out, and for being so dedicated. 

This week Jean also brought a Little Grebe into the base before it was ringed and released onto the River Derwent at Wheldrake. It had been found downed in a garden, but had largely escaped being stalked and grabbed by a cat, with just a few scratches. Upon release onto the river it swam off quite happily, diving and feeding, before, typically, disappearing into emergent vegetation to hide – fantastic to watch and share with Jean. 

Little Grebes (wonderfully known as ‘Tom Puddings’ in the valley at the turn of the 19th Century), are regular and widespread breeding birds on the spring floods – but often build up in numbers on the River Derwent and Pocklington Canal at this time of year. Up to 17 were counted along the river between Wheldrake and Bubwith bridge last week – a notable count and perhaps higher than average as many ponds and other sites are still suffering from low levels. 

Wednesday 5 December 2018

22/11/18 - Greylag movement

Amongst a recent batch of ringing recoveries received from the BTO, via our partners at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, came quite an extraordinary movement of one of our Greylag Geese - relating to a gosling caught with our team of volunteers in the annual round up on the 30th May 2017, pictured below. It was subsequently found on Sanday, on the Scottish Island of Orkney – c604km to the north-east on 8th September 2018. This is by far the furthest one of ‘our’ 1200 Greylags has been reported – most seem to head south towards the Humber estuary and down into Lincolnshire, whilst some move north-west towards the Harrogate and Ripon area. We’ve had two more into Scotland before, to Dumfries and Galloway and to Loch Eye in the Highlands, but not as far as this individual which also made a significant flight across the North Sea. 

From Greylag Geese ringed elsewhere there is also growing evidence that birds from the valley take part in the developing moult migration to Cumbria and the Lake District by Yorkshire birds, whilst we’ve also had several Icelandic birds and three from Sweden seen in the valley – so whilst they may just appear to be a local Greylag Goose, who knows where they may have come from. We still have so much to find about these birds – please let us know if you come across any of the birds wearing colour-rings in and around the area.   

Monday 3 December 2018

18/11/18 - Autumn on the Common

It's been looking rather autumnal on Skipwith Common over recent weeks, with the amazing seasonal colours of the birch and oak trees lining the tracks through this beautiful NNR. The Common is a great place to visit if you fancy a fairly ‘easy’ walk, whilst keeping an eye out for the wildlife that live there, there’s always plenty to look out for. 

Recently whilst we’ve been working on the reserve we’ve come across some weird and wonderful fungi – including the well known Fly Agaric and the aptly named, Orange Peel. Like its name suggests, the orange cups often resemble discarded orange peel strewn on the ground, often on embankments or slightly raised ground, or amongst grass and herbs at the edge of woodland. If you spot one there will probably be more nearby, with it being a species that usually grows in clusters, and although it is widespread in the UK it isn’t a particularly common species – feel free to let us know if you spot any fungi or other wildlife when visiting the Common, either on here or our Twitter account, thank you.

The Common is also a good place to enjoy Jays at this time of year, as they are easier to see now the leaves are thinning and whilst they are busy stock piling acorns for the winter. Winter flocks of tits and Lesser Redpoll can also be seen roaming around the site, usually staying high in the tree tops – listen out for the high pitched and rather nasally calls of these flocks, which may also have something else with them.

Wintering warblers, such as Chiffchaff and Blackcap, sometimes follow the flocks searching for food, with both having been seen recently moving around in tit flocks. In the next few weeks we also expect to see an increase in wintering Woodcock, with these birds coming across from Eastern Europe and Russia, to winter with us on the Common, whilst our scrub clearing team flushed a small Jack Snipe from one of the wet heaths last week. Please keep dogs on leads when visiting the site to reduce disturbance at what is a difficult time of year for many of our wintering wildlife – and to avoid disturbance to the livestock (Hebridean Sheep and Exmoor Ponies) that help graze the reserve.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

10/11/18 - New LDV calendar

Following the results of the British Wildlife Photography Awards being announced and made public last week, we can now reveal that our 2019 Friends of the Lower Derwent Valley calendar is on sale. With a new format and layout, it’s bigger and better than ever before, with 24 large and 40 thumbnail images taken by @LucyMurg, including three images either ‘shortlisted’ or awarded ‘highly commended’ by the judges in the BWPAwards. 

All the photographs have been taken either in the Lower Derwent Valley or nearby Skipwith Common, and reflect what you could find by visiting during each month. Not only is it our best calendar yet but it’s the cheapest too – it’s a bargain at just £6 this year, and makes the ideal Christmas gift for anyone with an interest in birds, wildflowers, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles and the local area. All proceeds to go back into the ‘Friends of the Lower Derwent Valley’ to help support conservation projects in the area, and ensure the amazing variety of wildlife found here and showcased in this calendar, continues to thrive. Feel free to message us on here to arrange collection/postage if you’d like one, and don’t delay, numbers available are limited this year, thank you. 

Wednesday 14 November 2018

08/11/18 - British Wildlife Photography Awards

Many of our regular visitors to our Facebook page and Twitter account may know that the information included within them are brought to life by the photographs taken in and around the valley by @LucyMurg. Lucy’s photographs really showcase the wildlife the valley has to offer, and so we were delighted and very proud to find out that one of Lucy's images was included in this year’s British Wildlife Photography Awards.

Lucy's captivating image of two Grass Snakes coiled together in the bomb bay walls on Skipwith Common NNR, was awarded highly commended by the judges in the Portrait category - to achieve this award, amongst the thousands of entries is no mean feat – so a huge well done to Lucy from all of us here in the LDV. Lucy has been down to London this week to see her image featured in the exhibition at the Mall Galleries in Trafalgar Square, where it will be on show until the 11th, before touring the country with the rest of the award-winning images.

Friday 9 November 2018

01/11/18 - Winter thrushes

Over the last few weeks we’ve seen, and heard, the arrival of the first of our winter thrushes as north-easterly winds coming out of Scandinavia has allowed the first waves of birds to cross the North Sea. Redwings are usually the first thrushes to appear, arriving in small numbers from Scandinavia from early October. Their high-pitched calls can be heard overhead during the hours of darkness as they migrate westwards, whilst tired and hungry flocks can often be seen chattering as they search hedgerows for berry laden bushes on which they feed, such as those around the base at Bank Island. Local bird ringer Mike Jackson has been having some good success at catching and ringing some of these migrating birds as they pass over Wheldrake Ings – with 63 ringed in recent weeks – hopefully leading to some valuable information of the movements of these birds. One of the birds caught was of the darker Icelandic breeding population – more regularly found wintering along the west coast of the UK. After wintering here, they will then return to their breeding grounds from mid-March so there is plenty of time yet to see them - as always when visiting the NNR please leave any records in the log books provided, thank you. 

As well as watching an arrival of Redwings over recent weeks, we’ve also witnessed the first notable arrival of Fieldfares into the valley with these early arrivals favouring the berry laden hedges between our base at Bank Island and the car park at Wheldrake Ings. These winter visitors arrive in the UK from October onwards from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and continental Europe, when food sources such as rowan berries, become exhausted - up to as many as 750,000 individuals can winter throughout the UK. 

Fieldfares are rather nomadic birds, moving through the country exploiting local crops of berries, and using damp grasslands and agricultural land in the search of earthworms and other invertebrates when the berries have been consumed. Birds will often continue to move west and south as the winter progresses and temperatures fall – giving the origin of the name ‘feldware’ in Anglo-Saxon, which means ‘traveller of the fields’. Birds will return to the valley when freezing conditions or snow covers the higher ground of the Wolds, and once again in March as they start to depart and head back to their breeding grounds. They are quite wary birds and often remain high up in trees – only coming down to feed more frequently in harsh weather when they can be forced into gardens to take advantage of fruit and other offerings. We don’t usually catch and ring many Fieldfares during the year as a result - but birds ringed by Chris Wright in his orchard at Thorganby have subsequently been recovered in France and the Czech Republic.