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 8 November 2019

26/10/19 - Otter update

Following our two recent posts concerning the soft release of two Otters on the reserve, we can now share the news that they have been successfully released back into the wild. After a week exploring the large pen that we had built for them on the reserve, the surrounding fencing was partially removed, giving the two animals free range to come and go. Using a trail camera, we were able to follow their movements, which told us they left the pen during the day, but returned on a night for the first week or so, and could be seen enjoying the supplementary fish provided to ease their transition. 

After those first few days their return visits to the release area became less frequent, but supplementary fish provided at key Otter locations around the wider site were still taken. Eventually they stopped returning to the pen, presumably having dispersed further afield having now fully adjusted to the wild and finding food of their own. A week later we received records of two individuals seen in the river at North Duffield, with another observed from Ellerton Landing. Many thanks to all involved for their efforts in what has been another successful re-introduction back to the wild, and particularly to Jean and Rob, and the team from the RSPCA.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

24/10/19 - Corporate tasks

It's been a busy few months on the NNR with our corporate tasks (regular readers of our page will know that each year we host numerous corporate volunteering groups), with companies and organisations such as Nestle, Aviva, HSBC, Lloyds, Barclays, Amey, HSE and Defra all supporting their staff to take two or three volunteering days a year as part of their staff development. This represents a huge boost to the amount of work we can undertake on the reserve for the benefit of our wildlife and visitors a like – whether that’s scrub clearance, weed control, hide maintenance, footpath and hibernacula construction, planting reeds, fencing or chopping logs to help generate income for our charitable trust - the Friends of the Lower Derwent Valley.  

At the end of the summer we were delighted to welcome our partners from the Environment Agency, who came to the LDV armed with a large team and made a huge impact in helping to clear willow scrub from the Wheldrake reed beds – not only making it better for a host of wildlife and helping to maintain the large wide open views and landscape, but also helping to increase the flood water storage and gradual release capability of the site – which for the flood risk team helped bring some of their work to life as well as highlighting some of the natural environment benefits to be had. 

During lunch we also checked the contents of the moth trap and caught a few birds during a ringing demonstration at the base, including a Goldcrest, Treecreeper and several Blackcaps. Many thanks to everyone involved for their efforts during the task and supporting the work we do. 

Following help from the Environment Agency staff, we were then delighted to welcome two teams from TSYS, who spent the day helping us to process timber for our winter log supply, along with helping to clear scrub on Skipwith Common NNR. Many thanks to Phill and his colleagues for really getting stuck in - looking forward to welcoming you back to the reserve for another day next year.

Natural England and Defra then both brought two teams to the NNR for task days in October - with staff helping towards the scrub clearance habitat management programme on Wheldrake Ings and Skipwith Common NNR. Many thanks to John and his colleagues for their efforts. If you work for a company that offers corporate volunteering and would like to get involved on the NNR then please feel free to get in touch.  

Monday 28 October 2019

16/10/19 - Nightjar/Kestrel release

The fantastic, dedicated and expert work of Jean will be well known to many of our regular readers – with numerous stories posted on here of rescued swans and owls, rehabilitated raptors and hand-rearing nestlings, hedgehogs, orphaned otters and so much more. It’s a privilege for us to work with Jean, and helping to release some of these amazing creatures onto the NNR as part of the final piece of their rehabilitation back into the wild. However, each individual comes with a tale, which often involves miles of travelling, late nights, early mornings, nightly feeds and such amazing dedication by Jean and her support network at Battle Flatts Vets. 

Last month, Jean brought a Kestrel into the valley to be released in safe, prime feeding habitat, and in area which is home to many other Kestrels. This unfortunate individual fell from a nest in an aircraft hangar, and with it being very high up it was unable to go back into the nest, leaving Jean no option but to rear it until it was ready for fledging. Upon release at the NNR base it flew a short distance onto one of our new way marker posts, where it sat, preened and took in its new surroundings. 

Over the following days we were able to watch it hunting, hovering and catching food in the surround fields at Bank Island, occasionally coming back to sit on the post. Many thanks to Jean for her tireless efforts, which results in so many wild animals back out there living a truly wild life. For those that have been in contact recently wanting to support Jean, the link can be found here - https://www.gofundme.com/f/ldjuu8 - for her Go Fund Me page. 

Following on from the Kestrel release, we were also fortunate to see a young Nightjar which had been in Jean's care - seemingly only just fledged it was picked up exhausted and in unsuitable habitat by a concerned dog walker, presumably having run into difficulties when starting to disperse on its first migration to its wintering grounds in Africa. Weighing just 50 grams when it arrived, over the course of a few weeks with Jean’s expert care by slowly re-warming, re-hydrating and gentle feeding, it soon put on weight reaching over 70 grams and was ready to be off.  

At this time of year birds are heading off on their autumn migrations so it was released in prime habitat on Skipwith Common NNR – where it flew well landing in the undergrowth in the shade of a Silver Birch tree. 

After a couple of minutes, it flew again, a short distance, flicking itself over a fence and onto one of the main heaths before landing and scampering into the cover of heather. Hopefully thanks to Jean’s helping hand, this bird will be able to feed up further on the local moth population before making its way south, perhaps returning to Yorkshire in future years. 

Thursday 24 October 2019

10/10/19 - Otter release

This time last year Jean ended up with a little female Otter kit in her care, expertly looking after it and bringing it back from the edge of starvation having been left orphaned. When rivers start to rise, Otters seem reluctant to swim underneath bridges, preferring to walk along the bank or edges of the structure, often leaving the river to cross over the bridge where they can then become victims of road traffic accidents. The young Otters, left tired and hungry can sometimes be found as they start calling for their missing Mother, with their high-pitched whistles. The Derwent catchment is a great area for Otters, and there have been several sightings from Wheldrake to Bubwith Bridge this winter, although their presence is more often given away by tracks in the riverside mud or by their sweet-smelling spraints. Fortunately for this little one, it has now been wild-reared by the RSPCA at one of their special Otter sites, and last week was returned home to Yorkshire.

On a rather wet Saturday morning our great team met up with Jean and her family, and the RSPCA team, to construct a large pen on the reserve where the pair of Otters have spent the last week getting used to the sites and smells of the reserve, and enjoying their daily dinner of fresh trout. The pen is on a quiet part of the reserve next to a network of ditches, and is surrounded by tall grasses and tangled willow scrub, and has a pond for the Otters to play in. We are now in the process of slowly removing the fence so the Otters are free to come and go as they like, slowly re-introducing them back into the wild in Yorkshire. 

Another great job by all involved, with huge thanks to Jean, and Rob from the RSPCA for their fantastic work.

Friday 11 October 2019

30/09/19 - Spotted Crakes

At the end of September, Wheldrake Ings was treated to a couple of unusual visitors when two Spotted Crakes were found by the LDV Senior Reserve Manager whilst working late one evening, fortunately it wasn’t a case of one day wonder, both birds took up residence on the scrape in front of the new hide at Swantail, and at times, showed well for visiting birdwatchers. Spotted Crakes tend to skulk in thick cover much like their close relatives, the Water Rail, but these birds did at times come out to the edges of the vegetation and showed in the open. 

Crakes walk with their body close to the ground and tail flicking, feeding on insects, snails, worms and also small fish and plants. They also swim with a jerky action like that of the Moorhen and if surprised in the open, they run for cover or jump up and flutter away with legs dangling, which one photographer even managed to capture. These individuals are likely to be on passage from their breeding grounds, with another eight recorded at sites in the UK during the week. The Lower Derwent Valley is one of a handful of UK breeding sites for these birds, supporting up to 5 singing males of the 30 or so recorded annually in the country, although these are usually only detected by the repetitive nocturnal calling and rarely seen, making this sighting a real treat for the local birders. 

Tuesday 8 October 2019

28/09/19 - Harrier release

Recently, we were fortunate to be present when Jean brought an immature Marsh Harrier in to be released  on the NNR after weeks of successful rehabilitation. Not only did it go off superbly, but it has since settled in the valley with the other Marsh Harriers present. However, what is even more remarkable is the story around this bird – found shot in North Yorkshire, with its main wing bone shattered in two places and the shot still lodged in the break. Unfortunately, North Yorkshire has a terrible record of bird of prey persecution, but thanks to the expertise of Mark Naguib at Battle Flatts Vets, followed by four weeks of expert care with Jean, this bird remarkably healed and regained the power of flight. It obviously couldn’t be released back to where it was found (to risk a similar fate), and so the decision was made to release it in the LDV where it would be safe from persecution and in prime feeding territory to help with its ongoing recovery. 

Over the last few weeks we’ve been able to watch it hunting and flying around the reserve, and going into roost with two or three other birds during the evenings – providing pleasure to a number of local and visiting birdwatchers, who have been able to watch and photograph this bird, which weeks earlier would have been condemned to a slow and painful death if it hadn’t been found in time. A huge well done to Mark and Jean for their amazing work and tireless efforts.

Tuesday 24 September 2019

12/09/19 - Aviva

At the beginning of the month we were pleased to welcome two teams of Aviva staff to the LDV as part of their volunteering allowance. Joining up with our regular volunteer team, the extra pairs of hands added up to an impressive 46-person work days, which has certainly made a difference to the site. The work has largely been scrub management on Wheldrake Ings – with the new Swantail Hide now having improved views over the refuge area to the south, and over the reedbed area ahead of the winter roosts. As well as maintaining the open landscape and views, it helps keep the willows on site a nice low size for breeding warblers, without swamping and drying out the reedbed too much, whilst also keeping the ditches open and allowing access for maintenance. 

Many thanks to everyone for their efforts – it really does make such a huge difference to what we can achieve for both the local wildlife and visitors to the reserve. If you’d like to come and with a volunteer group then please feel free to get in touch.

Friday 6 September 2019

28/08/19 - Bridges & Owls

After several weeks of tackling the invasive Himalayan Balsam and undertaking scrub control, our fantastic team of volunteers turned their hands to some bridge repairs this week. One of the culverts that allows access into the refuge area at Wheldrake Ings was starting to crumble, with it being necessary to rebuild it to ensure safe access for reserve vehicles and tractors to carry out management works.

The team did a great job of mixing sand and cement and filling bags at the NNR base, before moving them down onto site and carefully building them up in alternative layers. By the end of the day the team had ensured that anything crossing over into this part of the reserve would have a safe passage from now on, which is likely to be soon as we begin the rotational clearance of some of the extensive ditching network on site. The timing of our task this was also quite fortunate – instead of buying in sand, we were able to reuse sand from the artificial ‘beach’ at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trusts ‘wild zone’ at Countryfile live weekend at Castle Howard – thanks to Anna and the team for a great bit of recycling! Thanks also to our team for their efforts on Tuesday, as well as repairing the culvert, we were also busy maintaining the footpaths and coppicing willows.

Recently whilst working on the NNR, our volunteers have also been fortunate to see some of the rehabilitated and hand-reared wildlife that Jean has been bringing in to release onto the reserve - in most cases all wildlife is returned to where it has come from, but if for any reason that is not possible, the next best thing is to release it into the best suitable habitat.

Two Tufted Duck ducklings reared by Jean, alongside a few Mallards, were released back onto the pool at Wheldrake, whilst we’ve also been privileged to see and release two juvenile Little Owls back into the valley. 

The Thorganby area seems to be somewhat of a stronghold for these birds locally, with several pairs also present in the wider parish. Jean’s birds were released nearby into suitable habitat, and hopefully where they stand a good chance of finding their own territory and a mate in coming years. These birds were all ringed by Jean, which, if re-caught, will allow us to monitor their success and add to our knowledge of the local populations. Many thanks to Jean and her team of helpers at Battle Flatts Vets for all they do.

Thursday 22 August 2019

20/08/19 - Seed harvesting

Whilst the local farmers have been busy cutting hay, our team have been hard at work harvesting some of our valuable MG4 grassland seed, which will go towards helping to recreate similar hay meadows elsewhere. In previous years this seed has been supplied to the RSPB, Environment Agency, Albanwise and Leven Carrs, as well as several other private landowners and farmers.

After several years of this project it's great to hear some positive feedback recently from our work – some of the first sites that were seeded are already showing an establishment and an increase in herb and grass diversity, including some which were arable fields just a few years ago. This year some of our seed will be transported to the Dearne Valley and the Garganey Trust’s great work at Broomhill Flash, where they are hoping to create nearly 15 ha of hay meadows on the site. Many thanks to our great team of staff and volunteers who have helped harvest over 12 ha of seed over the last few weeks.


Monday 19 August 2019

15/08/19 - Garganey

The Lower Derwent valley has long been known as an important site for breeding Garganey – a migratory duck which comes to the UK for the summer to breed, before returning to its wintering grounds in Africa. Not only is the LDV important for numbers of this rare breeding duck, but also in some years it can often provide birders one of the best chances to have a close encounter with this beautiful species. This year has been good on both counts – with up to seven drakes and four females showing well throughout the spring and summer, with almost daily sightings coming from Bank Island, Wheldrake and North Duffield Carrs early in the season. We know that four pairs have been successful in rearing 21 young this year – and we’ve even managed to catch and colour-ring one of those, a young male. 

This is actually the first Garganey to be ringed in the UK since 2012 (when we last ringed one here), so we’re hoping that an eagle-eyed birder may spot it on passage somewhere. If you haven’t seen a Garganey yet this year you haven’t got long left – they often leave in August, however at the moment one is still present on the pool at Wheldrake.

Monday 12 August 2019

02/08/19 - Hawk Eye

Each year whilst carrying out our bird ringing and monitoring of small bird populations around the NNR, we are usually lucky enough to catch one or two Sparrowhawks. It’s always a privilege to see these magnificent aerial hunters up close, as well as an opportunity to study their movements and collect data. Recently whilst catching Reed Buntings coming out of their overnight roost we found one in our net, keeping the buntings company - it’s likely we were there for the same reason... 

The Sparrowhawk was a second-year male – moulting from its juvenile brown plumage and acquiring its fresh new grey adult feathers - good to know it survived that all important first hard winter. We have had a few recoveries of local Sparrowhawks, including one ringed in October 1977 in Dumfries and Galloway - found in Wheldrake in February the following year – a distance of 203km. It’s certainly been a good breeding season for many of our small passerine birds, so it’s safe to say that our Sparrowhawks will no doubt be enjoying a good year too with plenty of prey available.

Wednesday 31 July 2019

25/07/19 - Marvellous moths

The moth trap has been a joy to check recently, despite the very early starts due to the overly warm weather. Large numbers of moths have been recorded, counted and released, including a record catch of 814 individuals. Several notable species and ‘firsts’ for the year are now also appearing, however, the undoubted star of the show was an incredibly impressive and beautiful Privet Hawk-moth. This species is the UK's largest resident Hawk-moth, and is unmistakeable with its pink and black striped abdomen and hindwings. Adults feed on nectar from highly-scented flowers such as those found in the NNR base garden, and fly at night, hence finding its way into our (perfectly harmless) trap. The Privet Hawk-moths equally impressive bright green caterpillar has white and purple stripes and a black curved tail, and feeds on Wild and Garden Privet as its name would suggest (along with Lilac, Ash, Honeysuckle and Snowberry) before overwintering as pupa, sometimes 30cm or more underground. This is the first individual to be recorded from the reserve, and away from the far south-east of the county remains a scarce moth in Yorkshire. 

Several days after trapping the Privet Hawk-moth (above), we were then delighted to find a Pine Hawk-moth in the trap early one morning (pictured below) - a new species for the reserve this year, and one which isn't always annual.

As well as many species appearing in good numbers over recent weeks, we have also recorded several scarcer species for the reserve. During recent years we have recorded just singles of the rather stunning Oak Eggar moth, which is attracted to our light trap at Bank Island. However, this year we have already recorded six of these large and impressive moths. The Oak Eggar, surprisingly given its name, does not feed on Oak, but instead actually got its name from the fact that its cocoon is acorn-like in appearance. The food plants of the caterpillar are mainly Heather and Bilberry but also include Bramble, Willow and Hawthorn – the latter three of which are found around the NNR base at Bank Island.

Sunday 28 July 2019

18/07/19 - Little Egrets

Over the last few weeks we have taken a number of successful cannon net catches as part of a new project to colour-ring a sample of our Little Egrets. Over several catches we have managed to ring and colour-ring 9 Little Egrets, as well as an adult and immature Grey Heron, 10 Mallard, 2 Teal, a single Wigeon and 2 Green Sandpiper. We were especially pleased to get the three Little Egrets colour-ringed - the first to be marked in the valley, in order to help us understand the movements and use of the site by a species which has expanded quickly over the last few years. 

After our first catch, the following day we were amazed to receive our first re-sighting – H6 was photographed by Pete Short at Blacktoft Sands RSPB reserve, further showing the links between the two reserves. When visiting the site please do let us know of any colour-ringed birds you see, or if you see any of our blue colour-ringed birds elsewhere – either by messaging us on here, via our Twitter account or by using the log books provided in the hides.