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 11 December 2020

02/12/20 - Thermal Imaging

Modern and more affordable technology has opened up new and exciting areas for researching our important bird populations over recent years. The use of thermal imaging cameras have helped us gain a further understanding of how birds move around and utilise the reserve after the cover of darkness – unveiling new important feeding and roosting areas, as well as observing new behaviours - all of which are important in helping us manage and conserve the reserve and its special interest.

However, it has also helped in the capture and ringing of several more nocturnal species that have been poorly studied in the past – birds are first located on the Ings with the thermal imager, before a torch is used to dazzle them into a hand net. Recently our team have been out after dark and have caught the first returning Woodcock back on the Ings grasslands, as well as Golden Plover and Jack Snipe in their night time feeding areas. A number of other farmland bird species have also been caught recently, with Fieldfares, Skylarks and Yellowhammers all recorded. The thermal imager is also proving to be a useful tool in monitoring our local mammals populations after dark. Many thanks to our team of volunteers for their efforts lately helping us to collect this valuable data.

Thursday 3 December 2020

25/11/20 - Mallard to Germany

Perhaps often overlooked and under-appreciated due to their relative abundance and widespread distribution, the drake Mallard is nevertheless a rather attractive duck and a child favourite - hand feeding them at a local park probably sparked a life-long interest in many duck enthusiasts.

Recently, we received a ringing recovery of an adult male, ringed at Wheldrake Ings on 28th April 2011, with only its ring and leg found (presumably left behind by a predator), at Adolfskooger-Sielzug, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, in September 2020. Whilst we’ve had 12 international movements from the 5000+ Mallards ringed to date in the Lower Derwent Valley over the last 30 years, this is the first since 2013, and our first to Germany since 2003.

Numbers of Mallards wintering in the UK have fallen sharply over recent decades, in part thought to be linked to climate change, with birds from further east in Europe now wintering in the Low Countries, rather than continuing into the UK in response to milder winters. Our fall in ringing exchanges between the reserve and the rest of Europe no doubt also supports that shift in winter range, but also demonstrates that there may be more than the eye can see in relationship to our ‘local resident’ Mallard.


Tuesday 17 November 2020

10/11/20 - Pink-feet arrival

Over recent days we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of geese using the Lower Derwent Valley, especially at Bank Island where large flocks have been roosting - flying in at dusk and then leaving at first light. This has involved around 3000 of our more familiar Greylag Geese, although given the numbers involved (and previous ringing recoveries), not all of these will be of local origin, with birds from Iceland and Northern Europe known to have wintered on the reserve in previous years. There has also been a large number of Pink-footed Geese recorded in the area. This species often flies in larger, more compact skeins, with their high pitched musical calls being very distinctive as they pass overhead. These smaller geese - visitors from Iceland and Greenland during the winter, are a dark chocolate brown with pink legs and a small pink patch on their bill. Up to 2000 have been seen at North Duffield Carrs recently – thanks local patch birder Duncan Bye for the use of his image taken recently in North Duffield, and thanks also to those who shared videos and images on social media.

Wednesday 11 November 2020

01/11/20 - Norfolk Marsh Harriers

The story of the Marsh Harrier is a real conservation success - once very rare and confined to a handful of pairs in East Anglia, and now, over recent decades, it has spread from its stronghold to other parts of the country where its preferred reedbed habitat can be found. Now resident in the LDV throughout the year, up to 10 birds have been present on the reserve in recent weeks, with individuals roosting at Bank Island, Wheldrake, Aughton and North Duffield Carrs – at least four of these birds have been marked elsewhere, with wing tags allowing their movements to be tracked. At least two of the four have been ringed as chicks in the nest in Norfolk – one from a brood at Holkham NNR on the North Norfolk coast - many thanks to the ringing team for sending us the images below of the birds being ringed.

Similar in size to a Common Buzzard, Marsh Harriers are longer winged and often fly with their wings held in a shallow ‘V’. Females and juvenile birds are a dark chocolate brown with a cream coloured head and shoulders, whilst the males are a mix of ginger brown and grey. Please do let us know if you see any and if you manage to record any of the wing tagged individuals, thank you. Thanks also to Matt Gowney and Joel Ireland for the use of their images, taken recently at Wheldrake Ings.

Friday 30 October 2020

20/10/20 - Jack Snipe

Recently we have seen a small arrival of one of our favourite wading birds – the Jack Snipe. Jack Snipe are about half the size of a Common Snipe, and arrive into the UK from early October (from their Eastern European breeding grounds), and stay as late as the end of March-early April. Numbers arriving and recorded in the valley can vary depending upon water levels and survey input. Being quite small, and cryptically plumaged, Jack Snipe can be hard to spot hiding in the sward, and unlike other wading species which are easily flushed and take flight, Jack Snipe choose to rely on their camouflage and sit tight - characteristically flushing at the last minute from right underneath your feet, and even then, only flying a short distance away. 

Up to 14 have been seen and subsequently caught and ringed at Bank Island recently, with thanks to our team of volunteers and a thermal camera used to locate the birds. Once a bird has been located a large net is dragged over the ground, with the birds jumping up when the net passes over the top of them. With such a difficult bird to survey by other methods, this technique helps generate accurate counts and information of a species which is still quite poorly understood.

Monday 19 October 2020

15/10/20 - New Aviva 'easy-access' path

Earlier this week we were pleased to welcome a small team of staff from Aviva, York, as our first corporate volunteer group of the year. Complete with additional risk assessments and following Covid guidelines, the team split into small groups and worked hard helping us complete our ‘access for all’ path to the hides at Bank Island. 

We were delighted that Aviva staff could be here to help us complete the path, with the project being part funded through the Aviva Community Fund. If the current situation with the virus and initial lock down has shown us anything, it’s how much we value and need access to green space and the natural environment – so it’s great to finally be able to say that our new ‘easy-access’ path is now open, and that more people will now be able to access, enjoy and appreciate the reserve and its wildlife as a result of this work. 

Additional and enlarged wader scrapes have also been created as part of the improvements, with willows also cleared along the river bank to improve the view from the hide - new ramps to the hide are also to follow. Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to the path either practically or through donations.

Wednesday 30 September 2020

28/09/20 - Belarus Great White Egret

Last year we posted on here about the increasing number of Great White Egrets visiting the LDV, with up to five frequenting the site between September and late November. 

We are pleased to report that we have already had a few sightings this autumn, with three birds recorded at Bank Island recently - one of which was wearing a white colour-ring. After tracking down the ringer, we found out that this individual had been ringed as a nestling in May in Belarus, at Rechitsa, Byaroza District – 1741 km away. Many thanks to the Belarus Ringing Center for providing us with the information and photographs of the chicks in the nest.

Whilst 120 Great White Egrets have been seen in the UK having originated in France, this is only the second from Belarus to be reported Britain. Great White Egrets are much larger than Little Egrets (around twice the size), and stand as tall as a Grey Heron, with a long, slender snake-like neck and large yellow bill outside of the breeding season - at the moment we still have one or two individuals wandering around the site, so please do let us know if you come across one, thank you. 

Friday 11 September 2020

10/09/20 - White-tailed Eagle update

Amazingly, following the news we posted earlier in the week about one of the Isle of Wight re-introduced White-tailed Eagles, we have just heard that another individual passed through the Lower Derwent Valley a little over a week ago.

The latest bird, a young female (G324) released in 2019, came round the south-west side of the City of York around 1pm on the 3rd September - skirting around Copmanthorpe before heading over Skipwith Common and to the south of Bubwith, before turning and heading south, possibly following the River Derwent towards Howden - passing over the River Ouse near Goole around 2pm. Prior to this she had been in Scotland for quite some time, and then chose to visit us on her way back to the release site on the Isle of Wight, where the project team managed to capture the image below. You can follow the fortunes and travels of these birds and the project at https://www.roydennis.org/category/sea-eagle/isle-of-wight-sea-eagles/

It’s amazing to know that three individual White-tailed Eagles have now visited or passed over the site this year – hopefully a trend that will be set to continue with more wandering young eagles around over the coming years. It is possible that the River Derwent helps to guide birds leaving the North York Moors - taking them through the Vale of York towards the Ouse/Trent confluence, and then down the Trent Valley into Lincolnshire and further south. Please do let us know if you spotted G324 on her travels through the area last week.

Wednesday 9 September 2020

02/09/20 - White-tailed Eagle

We've just found out, rather belatedly, that a White-tailed Eagle passed through the Lower Derwent Valley NNR during the summer. With its presence going undetected, we would have been none the wiser had it not been for the satellite tracker that it was wearing - this individual was one of the birds re-introduced last summer on the Isle of Wight. After roaming around the local area over there last autumn, this bird, along with another individual, headed north and spent several weeks around the North York Moors, before heading south down the River Derwent, reaching Ellerton by 4pm on the 19th July. It appeared to have roosted locally, before heading off south the following morning at 10am, passing to the east of Doncaster an hour later. By 1pm it had flown 60 miles and was skirting around the east side of Newark-upon-Trent in Nottinghamshire, before roosting at Belvoir Castle in north-east Leicestershire that evening. It then continued southwards and is now currently in Norfolk. This follows two sightings in late March of an un-tagged, presumed continental bird which was seen by a handful of observers in the LDV. Thanks to Clive Featherstone for the use of his image (WTE and Common Buzzard) – taken in Doncaster in March.

During lockdown Jean Thorpe of Ryedale Rehabilitation was been busy continuing her great work as usual – caring for raptors as well as all sorts of injured or orphaned wildlife, and victims of wildlife crime - successfully releasing many back into the wild. As well as the usual crèche of Mallard ducklings that have been released onto the reserves ditch network, we were lucky enough to enjoy releasing a Long-eared Owl earlier in the summer, and on another occasion, a Spotted Flycatcher into a local brood to be reared by ‘foster parents’. Jean also brought in a recently fledged Buzzard to release over the Ings meadow, where there are plenty of young Buzzards and Kestrels exploiting the easy hunting on the Ings with the hay cut exposing plenty of earthworks and frogs as well as small mammals. To help Jean with her work, LDV NNR volunteer, Friends of the LDV trustee and member of the Calderdale Raptor Group, Nick Carter, presented Jean (albeit distantly) with a cheque from the raptor group to support her amazing work - well done Jean and many thanks for all that you do. 

Thursday 27 August 2020

18/08/20 - Kestrels/Buzzard expansion

Whilst our Barn Owls appear to have had a year off from breeding - linked to a fall in small mammal populations, Kestrels on the other hand appear to have done quite well. Brood sizes have been around average in the nests that we have monitored this year, and as usual, good numbers (mainly newly fledged young), have been present throughout the site - feeding amongst the hay cutting operations and using hay bales as vantage points from which to look out for small mammals, frogs, beetles and worms. This individual was photographed whilst it hunted successfully at North Duffield Carrs – one of six present in the same field. It’s a great time of year to watch birds of prey from the hides, with plenty of Buzzards and Marsh Harriers around, with Hobbies also appearing later in the evening as the Swallows gather to feed and roost on the Ings.

It’s hard to believe that even 20 years ago a sighting of a Buzzard on the Ings would have been largely unheard of and a notable record – such is the rapid range expansion and population increase that this species has undergone. A total of 12 individuals were present on or viewable from the Carrs on this day. As always when visiting the reserve please share your records with us by using the hide log books or via our social media pages, thank you.

Thursday 20 August 2020

12/08/20 - Autumn passage

With autumn passage now underway throughout the Lower Derwent Valley, mid-August is prime time to encounter small groups of Whinchats, Wheatears and Yellow Wagtails as they appear on and around the reserve. In the case of Whinchats and Wheatears, these individuals will be birds that have bred further north in the English Uplands - now heading south to their wintering grounds in Africa. North Duffield Carrs and Swantail Ings at Wheldrake are the favoured locations, with smaller numbers appearing elsewhere around the reserve. 

Yellow Wagtails appear to have had a good breeding season around the reserve this year, with up to 40 roosting in the reed bed at Wheldrake Ings, along with smaller numbers present around the site during the day. All the above species will be around until mid-September, before we eagerly await their return again in late March and early April next year. When visiting the reserve please do let us know what you see by using the log books provided, or via social media.

Over all it’s been a mixed year for our summer migrants, with Sedge Warblers in particular seeming to not have fared well, despite the large numbers of singing adults earlier in the spring. We certainly haven’t seen or ringed many young as of yet, but it does show the value of our long-term monitoring programmes in tracking the annual fortunes of our breeding birds. On the other hand, Whitethroats seem to have fared better, with numerous family parties observed throughout the site during the summer, like this recently fledged juvenile photographed by Duncan Bye at Bank Island. We are now also seeing passage Whitethroats moving through the site – birds which have bred further north starting their southerly migrations onwards to the African wintering grounds.

Friday 14 August 2020

07/08/20 - Work on the NNR resumes

It has been a strange time on the reserve during lockdown restrictions, however we are now slowly re-starting our volunteering opportunities – all carefully risk assessed and modified to take into account social distancing measures. Over the last few weeks the Friends have also been helping out with the volunteers, either working alone or in small groups to deliver some of our ongoing work for a range of partners. This work has included seed harvesting, bracken spraying, Himalayan Balsam pulling and strimming, as well as helping out the local community by cutting and raking the churchyard in Ellerton and the Orchard in Thorganby for Carstairs Countryside Trust. Many thanks to everyone for their help and understanding during these difficult times, and for their support in working in these new and different ways.

Seed harvesting

Himalayan Balsam pulling

Cutting the churchyard in Ellerton

Raking and cutting the Orchard in Thorganby

Tuesday 23 June 2020

14/06/20 - Quail influx

The Ings meadows in the Lower Derwent Valley are important for many bird species, such as Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings, as well as our breeding waders - Lapwing, Curlew, Redshank and Snipe, as well as our small Corncrake population. However, each year the Ings flower-rich meadows are also a summer time home to a small but variable number of Quail, rarely seen, and often given away by their distinctive ‘wet my lips’ call coming from areas of dense grass and herbs.

Quail are a migratory species of gamebird, travelling as far south as Africa for the winter, then returning to the UK to breed from late spring. Three individuals were heard during the last week of May whilst a further influx of birds have seen numbers increase to 15 calling birds since the beginning of June. Others may continue to arrive throughout June and late July - these later birds may have attempted breeding in southern Europe, before having a second attempt here. Most years around 100-300 calling males are recorded throughout the UK, although national influxes can result in much larger numbers in the country, and such influxes are often mirrored in the Lower Derwent Valley - this year would appear to represent an influx year nationally, so we are expecting more across the site in the coming weeks. A staggering 91 singing males were present in the LDV back in 1997, followed by 70 in 2000, more typically 5 – 15 males are located each year. When visiting the site please let us know if you are fortunate to come across any singing birds, thank you.

Friday 12 June 2020

08/06/20 - York Minster Peregrines

Since 2018 we’ve been fortunate to accompany Jean on her visit to York Minster to ring the Peregrine brood that nest on there each year, with four chicks ringed in both 18/19. Due to Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing requirements, we weren’t expecting to be able to visit the site this spring, however, last week Jean received a phone call to say that one of the chicks had fledged prematurely. After being found down on the ground, the young male was swiftly recovered by Minster staff and checked over by Jean, and after being deemed fit and ready to return to the nest, Jean fitted a metal and colour-ring, and sent it on its way back up the tower to its calling parents.

Later in the week its siblings, two young females, repeated the same ‘false start’ and were quickly gathered up. Jean was on hand once again to help, checking both birds over, before ringing and returning them to the top of the Minster - many thanks to Jean and Steve, and everyone at the Minster for their help in ensuring the birds safe return, and for sharing their photographs with us.

Wednesday 3 June 2020

01/06/20 - Surveys

Although the lockdown has been lifted slightly, Natural England NNR staff are yet to return to normal working practices in the Lower Derwent Valley, whilst our regular volunteering activities and monitoring/surveys continue to be suspended. However, some of our volunteers have been busy carrying out individual surveys of the Pocklington Canal since the restrictions were lifted slightly. A complete breeding bird survey was first carried out along the Pocklington Canal in 1990, with a repeat survey undertaken last year - this year’s data will also add to our ability to compare the changes in bird numbers in the area over that 30-year period. Some species like Little Egrets and Cetti’s Warblers have appeared as new recent colonists, whilst others, such as Turtle Doves, have unfortunately all but disappeared now. The area still remains a stronghold for Cuckoos and Willow Tits, with good populations of both Reed and Sedge Warblers also present. Many thanks to our team for their solo efforts in helping us to continue gathering data during this time.

Monday 11 May 2020

08/05/20 - Funding success

We are delighted to report that we have not only reached our fund-raising target in the Aviva Community Fund, but actually surpassed it, securing £2829 for our planned access improvements at Bank Island. This will allow us (with further funding), to regrade the slope behind the NNR base, remove existing gates, create hard surfaced paths and raise low points prone to extended flooding, as well as creating wheelchair access to the hides at this popular site. This follows the hard work of the Friends (with support from York Birding), in creating additional scrapes, new reed beds and the popular Sand Martin bank over recent years. Hopefully we’ll be able to undertake this work at the end of the summer and into early autumn ready for next winter – updates to follow. Many thanks to everyone who donated to the fund and supported our campaign. If Covid-19 has shown us anything, it’s how much we need to access green space and the natural environment - everyone who has contributed to the fund has helped make that possible for even more people.

Wednesday 6 May 2020

01/05/20 - Terns & Hobbies return

We are delighted to report that the first pair of Common Terns arrived back in the Lower Derwent Valley last week, and since then a total of three pairs have been present around the site. Fortunately, our tern rafts were out and ready for their return, and the first pair have already shown interest in one of them, giving early encouraging signs that they will be used again this summer.

The Friends of the Lower Derwent Valley purchased the rafts thanks to a generous private donation in 2017, and in that year a single pair fledged two young. In total up to the end of 2019, a total of 13 chicks had fledged from the two rafts and the Friends, thanks to your donations and support, were able to purchase a further two rafts for this breeding season. Although we might not be able to get out and enjoy them at the moment, the terns should be with us into mid-July so there is plenty of time yet. For those that may have missed it at the time, earlier this year we were delighted to hear that one of the chicks colour-ringed on the reserve last summer was seen on its wintering grounds in The Gambia at Kartong Bird Observatory in November.

Over the last few days we have also been hearing about returning Hobbies in the Lower Derwent Valley - a nice treat for some whilst out getting their daily exercise. Hobbies are the only falcon in Britain that spend the winter months in North Africa, coming to the UK from mid-April and staying until late September/early October. Late April and early May can be a good time to see Hobbies before they become more secretive and start breeding, and they can often be spotted when hawking insects and chasing hirundines. These birds really are aerial masters with their swift shaped wings, and can expertly catch flying insects in their talons before passing them to their beaks to eat on the wing.

A close up view of a Hobby is usually rather rare, and so we were very privileged when Jean brought in a rehabilitated bird to release on the reserve in May 2017 – when visiting the reserve as part of your daily exercise/local walk please let us know if you manage to spot one – all sightings welcome.