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, regular readers may have noticed the increase in posts detailing wildlife found across the valley (ranging from plants, fungi, butterflies, dragonflies & other invertebrates). Ringing posts will hopefully resume over the winter months, and will run alongside wildlife and work posts.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

12/02/18 - Plenty to see!

Currently among the huge numbers of wintering geese in the Lower Derwent Valley, there is a flock of eight Barnacle Geese, which can be seen (most of the time) in the Bank Island area with occasional visits to Wheldrake Ings. This rather attractive and dainty little species is more usually found in large numbers around the Solway in Dumfries and Galloway, where 33,000 spend the winter escaping the harsh conditions back on their breeding grounds in Svalbard. 58,000 birds from the Greenland wintering population winter largely in Ireland and the Western Isles of Scotland, whilst around 900 pairs (3000 individuals) have formed a feral population from collection escapes and introductions in the UK. Whilst we don’t know the origin of the birds with us at the moment, birds shot in the valley during the winter of 1990/91 had been ringed in Svalbard earlier in the breeding season, indicating not all of the records in the valley relate to wandering individuals of the free flying flock of 30 or so birds at the University. Regardless of where they’re from, with their black head and neck, creamy white face and blue-grey barring on their back, they are nice for us to enjoy!

It's not just the Barnacle Geese that our visitors have been enjoying lately, the pool at Wheldrake Ings and flooded fields at North Duffield Carrs have really been a sight to enjoy, with thousands of wintering ducks, geese and swans creating a real spectacle. Marsh Harriers regularly hunt over the floodwater, thus causing mayhem among the wildfowl beneath them, with large flocks of ducks twisting and turning over the water, pictured below.

The pool at Wheldrake Ings has also been worth a visit lately, with up to 19 Goldeneye present. The drakes are looking particularly handsome at the moment, and have been seen displaying to the females. When visiting the hides, please be aware that the path has been left incredibly wet and muddy following the river bursting its banks and flooding the path and over into the Ings. All hides are now accessible once again, but please take care on the slippery surfaces and wellies are essential.

Whilst the weather has been decidedly cold lately, there have been a few signs of spring, with the first Lapwing displaying and Curlew singing. Lapwing are a familiar species to many of us, a bird of farmland, wet grassland and estuaries. The name Lapwing comes from their waving and tumbling flight, although they are also affectionately known by the country name of ‘Pewit’, originating from the sounds of their display calls. Lapwings have suffered a dramatic decline with an 80% drop in the population since the 1960’s, which halved between 1987 and 1998. In the Lower Derwent Valley we are fortunate enough to have both good wintering and breeding numbers, helped by our management works – recently several of our team counted an impressive 10,000+ at Wheldrake Ings, where the flocks had concentrated due to the extensive flooding elsewhere in the valley. This year we’ll be hoping for another successful breeding season to help boost the local population, hopefully with a good number of chicks enjoying the new wader scrapes and grips, and the open more landscape as a result of our willow control programme.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

01/02/18 - January WeBS

Last month our team braved the freezing cold conditions to spend the day counting waterfowl around the valley as part of our January WeBS count, along with making additional age and sex counts for some species as the part of the #ducksexratio. Notable counts were 102 Whooper Swans (30 juveniles), 1086 Greylags, 467 Canadas and 114 Shelduck. The largest number of species present were 12,050 Wigeon with a continuing increase in our Teal numbers, which hit an exceptional 11,220. Other notable totals included 410 Pintail, 190 Shoveler, 160 Gadwall, 136 Tufted Duck and 91 Pochard. Wader numbers on the other hand were fairly low, no doubt suppressed by the extensive flooding limiting feeding opportunities - c200 Dunlin, 71 Ruff, 51 Redshank and 31 Curlew were noted amongst the 3500 Lapwing present. Over the coming weeks we should see a rapid arrival and increase in the numbers of Coot (just 22 on the count) and also the arrival of our first returning Oystercatchers.  

Friday, 26 January 2018

22/01/17 - Drewton Lane Pits

This week our team of staff and volunteers returned once again to Drewton Lane Pits SSSI for the annual visit to this important site, situated near South Cave. With the site designated for its amphibian interest, we’ve been working with the Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Trust, and the site advisor and owners to help improve the habitat and management of the site over the last five years. Everyone, as always, got stuck into the list of jobs which included the removal of regenerating birch and willow around the ponds, and trimming back overhanging branches to reduce shading and leaf fall. 

The team also helped rake out some of the more silted up ponds, and spent time constructing hibernacula for the newts, frogs and toads, along with making egg mops ready for this seasons monitoring work. Many thanks to the whole team for their great efforts, this year and the previous – it's great to now see the improvements to the site with our involvement over the last five years. 

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

17/01/18 - Winter wildfowl

With extensive flooding around the reserve at the moment it has been difficult to access the whole site in order to undertake our monthly monitoring counts. However, the team made it onto Wheldrake Ings earlier in the week due to a temporary fall in water levels – waders are no longer needed but wellies are essential. Large flocks of ducks were present including c4000 Wigeon, 4950 Teal, an impressive 370 Pintail, 170 Shoveler, 143 Gadwall, 126 Tufted Duck and 67 Pochard.  

As well as carrying out an age assessment of our wintering swans, we’ve also been recording the sex of our wintering ducks as part of a new project looking at wintering areas, with many duck populations undergoing rapid changes in distribution and/or numbers. The sex ratio counts also revealed the following (male) totals – Pochard as expected showed the greatest variation with 86% males, with the other diving duck species, Tufted Duck, having 69% males. Other sample counts included Pintail (65%), Shoveler (61%), Gadwall (59%) and Wigeon/Teal showing 52% and 55% bias respectively. Thanks to our team for doing their bit and adding data from the valley to the international waterbird census.

Friday, 19 January 2018

11/01/18 - Lone Bewick's

Within our herd of 163 wintering Whooper Swans there has once again been an old friend – a single returning Bewick’s Swan - best looked for with the herd from the hides at North Duffield Carrs. During the 1970’s and 80’s numbers of wintering Bewick’s Swans regularly numbered between 100-250 (occasionally 300+), spending the winter in our relatively mild conditions compared to those on the breeding grounds on the Russian tundra. However, since the 1990’s numbers have fallen sharply with only a mere handful of birds recorded most winters over the last decade or so – the reasons however are likely to lie outside of the valley. The population of Bewick’s Swans have experienced a large decline across their range, with birds now wintering in the Low Countries in Europe, possibly in response to climate change - there is no longer the need to fly all the way from Russia to the LDV if you can spend the winter feeding on enough food in, for example, the Netherlands. However, maintaining good conditions for them is always important should a cold snap on the continent force herds back across the North Sea.

Family party - December 2014