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 31 August 2018

20/08/18 - Bugs and butterflies

Whilst working on Skipwith Common NNR we were treated to views of a number of our Shield Bug species – Green, Gorse, Birch and Bronze (all in nymph form). The Green nymphs were out in abundance and recorded in double figures, with just single individuals of the other species. When hatched Shield Bugs pass through several moults (five in total), changing colour and shape, resembling more like the adults at each stage until they reach the final breeding stage. When they are in the early stages, known as ‘instars’ identifying them can test even the most knowledgeable observer! Pictured in the photographs below are Green, Bronze and Gorse.

Recently we also had the pleasure of watching a male Brimstone feeding on lavender in the NNR base garden, shown in the series of photographs below. Brimstones are thought to give rise to the word 'butterfly', originating from the yellow ‘butter’ colour of the males. In comparison, the wings of the female are pale green, and can sometimes almost appear white, meaning that they can occasionally be overlooked amongst the larger ‘whites’. Brimstones are one of the earliest species seen on the wing, often coming out during warm sunny days from early March, especially in sites such as Skipwith Common, where the caterpillar’s food plant (the leaves of Buckthorn and Alder Buckthorn can be found). The individual photographed at the base has been ‘nectaring’ on the Lavender, and roosting amongst the foliage of our Plum and Apple tree - the angular shape and the strong veining of their wings closely resembling leaves and giving them great camouflage. 

As well as the Brimstone, we’ve been enjoying the appearance of some new visitors at the NNR base, and are pleased to report that our wildlife garden appears to have attracted a little colony of Brown Argus butterflies. This small butterfly is characteristic and more typical of southern areas, and chalk and limestone grassland. However, it is also found in a variety of other open habitats and is at the northern edge of its range in Yorkshire. For a long time, it was thought to be dependent on just one plant species – Rockrose (especially in calcareous areas), but it is now also known to use a variety of cranes-bill and stork-bill. Over the last two decades Brown Argus have expanded their range by over 40 miles, moving north more quickly than other species in a possible response to climate change. It’s also been present on Skipwith Common NNR again this year, and we’ve heard of a record from Thorganby as well, so a fantastic year in the valley for this species.


Thursday 30 August 2018

15/08/18 - Red Kite release

The wonderful and talented Jean Thorpe has done it again - this time she’s worked her magic on a juvenile Red Kite, which was found downed and hugely underweight - perhaps struggling during its first few days/weeks of independence, to find enough food during the prolonged dry and hot weather. Red Kites are magnificent and graceful birds of prey, and are unmistakable with their reddish-brown body, angled wings and deeply forked tail. They were once confined to fewer than 50 pairs in central Wales, until being re-introduced during the 1990’s to several areas in England and Scotland. Following a release in Yorkshire, at Harewood House, birds have increased in number and range across the county. This year four pairs have been present around the valley during the summer, with at least two pairs producing young.

This individual, having been gently rehydrated and subsequently fed up to gain weight and body condition by Jean, was released at the southern end of the NNR, in an area which has been attracting two or three non-breeding kites recently – indicating a suitable area with good and safe feeding opportunities. Despite the dry conditions, the damper ground of the Ings meadows are still supporting good numbers of accessible frogs and worms as well as the usual prey items Red Kites will take advantage of with their opportunistic nature. It was a real privilege to watch such a beautiful bird take to the air and return to the wild having been on the very edge of starvation – a real success story and another job well done for Jean’s tireless efforts. We’re delighted to be able to work alongside Jean and are so proud of the outstanding work she does.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

05/08/18 - Harvesting/wader scrapes

Over the last couple of months our staff and volunteers have been out and about on the Ings harvesting the meadows, albeit not in the traditional sense. Prior to the local farmers taking the hay crop, our team have been using a seed harvester to gather seeds from the hay meadows across the site. We’ve staggered this harvest to collect a wide range of grass and herb species from the reserve as individual species ripen and are ready to be collected. All of this seed is dried (which has been easy to do this year with the very dry, hot and sunny weather), and is now ready to be used to enhance other meadow restoration sites elsewhere in the local area and occasionally further afield.

It’s great to be able to use our NNR’s in this way – not only does it help create pockets of species rich grassland which can be used as stepping stones through the landscape, but it also provides more sustainable and resilient grassland to withstand seasonal flooding events, and can be used for grazing animals and agricultural production, as well as creating areas for people to enjoy. It’s also a great way to raise a little bit of extra money through donations to help support further conservation efforts in the valley. We’ll be out and about next week across the county helping to spread the same seed at the recipient sites - if you’d like some then please feel free to get in touch.

Recently our great team of staff and volunteers have also been working further afield at Hornsea Mere – a site that we have helped out at over recent years for various tasks, this time the plan was to help control Himalayan Balsam around the edge of the Mere. We’ve also been working hard to control this invasive non-native species throughout the valley, and with great success. Fortunately, the seeds of balsam are only viable for a relatively short period (a couple of years), so if we can prevent (or at least reduce) it seeding for a couple of years, it leads to a marked reduction. However if it is left unchecked, it will completely take over, forming dense carpets and swamping out the rest of the natural vegetation. Hopefully the efforts by our team will help the native flora surrounding the Mere. Many thanks to our team for travelling even further than they normally do, and for their efforts on the day, despite the heat, brambles and nettles!

Visitors to Bank Island of late will have seen the diggers and tractors busy working on the site creating an expanded and improved network of shallow scrapes, pools and areas ready for the creation of new reedbed habitats. These seasonal shallow scrapes are designed to hold water a bit longer in the spring, drawing down as the season progresses to reveal fresh mud and the wealth of insect life that thrives in them. These are then in turn available to our breeding waders and more importantly their chicks (with their short bills that cannot probe deep into the mud), and instead pick up insects on the surface of the damp mud.

Hopefully these new earthworks will prove invaluable in helping our local Lapwing, Snipe and Redshank populations in the valley, with the possibility of also attracting other species of passing waders. A couple of areas of new reedbeds will also hopefully provide suitable conditions for Water Rails, wintering Bitterns, Spotted Crakes and various warblers and buntings. With the work nearly finished for this year we just need a drop of rain sometime to start to filling them up!