Sunday, 21 December 2014

21st December: 3,000 miles away

At this time of year, the wildlife stars of Blakeney Point are undoubtedly the seals...


... but we haven't forgotten about the Sandwich Terns that breed here in the summer. One of the juveniles that was colour-ringed here by the BTO this summer, has been seen at Tanji on the coast of The Gambia, West Africa - around 3,000 miles from Norfolk.

Newly-ringed chick

This colour-ringing project, started in 2013, has given of us an insight into the post-breeding movements of the Sandwich Terns that breed on Blakeney Point. With birds seen in Scotland, Ireland, France, Holland, Germany and Denmark soon after leaving Norfolk.

While Blakeney Point is experiencing cold British winter weather and hosting thousands of breeding seals, the Sandwich Terns that bred here in the summer are far away in West Africa amongst Caspian Terns, Royal Terns and Grey-headed Gulls...

Tanji beach, The Gambia

It's not just Sandwich Terns that are being tracked. This Grey Seal cow is sporting a telemetry tag, fitted in The Netherlands this spring. She is one of four tagged seals from The Netherlands that have turned up at Blakeney since October. This shows just how far seals travel throughout the year. Most of the Grey Seals that breed on Blakeney Point only spend a small part of the year here.

The pupping has peaked and there are now numerous weaned pups spreading out along the Point. This one has made it onto the boardwalk.

We ask walkers on Blakeney Point to be aware that weaned pups will be scattered about the reserve. They have shed their white fur and been left by their mothers. This is natural. Please  do not approach weaned pups as going too close will cause distress. And ensure dogs are kept on leads at all times for the safety of both seals and dogs.


Pup moulting its white fur

With many pups weaned or almost weaned, lots of mating is going on in the rookery

With so many seals present, there is many a fight between bulls - some of them have clearly had a rough time

Many cows are noticeably thin having spent three weeks feeding their pups

While the pups have become very round

and have an easy life resting and living off fat reserves


There are a few black pups amongst the rookery

The beach, notably less crowded than last week

The total pup count now stands at 2,382. This puts us significantly ahead of Donna Nook, Lincolnshire (1,798) and The Farne Islands, Northumberland (1,651).

- Ajay (with photographs by Sarah and Paul)

Sunday, 14 December 2014

14th December: Pup progress

Today's seal pup count stands at an amazing 2,303 pups so far this year - still an increase on the last count although the pupping rate is beginning to slow now as we'd expect.  At the moment there are approximately 20 pups per night being born and this will decrease further as the season progresses.

Pups of all ages, colours and sizes can now be seen on the reserve.

 





Although we've roped off the main breeding areas (as explained in previous blogs), some seals just don't obey the rules and pup outside the fenceline.  As this family who've taken up residence next to the boardwalk demonstrate, even when you're walking outside the fencelines you need to keep an eye out for seals.




In bird news wintering flocks of fifty plus snow buntings  and groups of up to thirteen shore larks have been a real joy to see though you need to be lucky as they're highly mobile along the shingle ridge.  Marsh and hen harriers continue to grace the dunes and salt marsh daily whilst merlins are also regular visitors - sometimes their presence is betrayed by a pile of plucked feathers.

 Snow buntings


Sarah and Paul



Sunday, 7 December 2014

7th December: Egyptian on the Point and record breaking pups


It's been a busy week on the Point with pup numbers breaking through the 2000 barrier, reaching a total of 2126 pups born on Blakeney Point so far this season.  This makes the Point the biggest seal colony in  England, overtaking Donna Nook in Lincolnshire who's count yesterday was 1760.  

This weekend Winterwatch were out to gather more footage for their new season starting in January.  Read more about the techniques they were using at  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-30310463 .

Winterwatch filming the seals

Many of the cows have now left the rookery leaving behind many fat weaners (weaned pups).



3 fat weaners

These will stay in the rookery until they get so hungry that they must head to the deep blue sea to fend for themselves.  The mothers/cows will play no part in teaching the pups to feed - instinct must guide the pups.

Meanwhile the bulls are attempting to mate with cows but not all the females are receptive to their brand of romance, especially when they still have pups to suckle.  This bull below had no luck on Saturday when he was seen off by the cow.


Cow fending off bull's advances

Other bulls contentedly snooze away and bide their time.

Dreaming bull

We also had an Egyptian visitor to the Point this week in the form of a goose.  This introduced species is rare on the Point despite being resident nearby.

Egyptian Goose on beach


With the cold clear weather on Saturday we had a beautiful sunset

Blakeney Harbour at sunset

followed by what may look like the setting sun, but is in fact the rising moon.

Full moon rising

Paul and Sarah




Sunday, 30 November 2014

30th of November: Pups galore

A lot has happened in one month on the end of Blakeney Point. Four weeks after the first pup was born, the last mile of beach and dunes are covered in hundreds of Grey Seals and their pups. Pups born in the first week of the month are now weaned. Having been fed on their mother's milk for three weeks, they have been left to fend for themselves, with hungry cows taking to the sea to feed (they last fed prior to giving birth and have become very thin from feeding their pups). Many weaned pups are very plump and are contently resting on the Point, but a few hungrier ones have taken to the sea on their first foraging trips.

This weaned pup has almost moulted its white fur

With weaned pups starting to leave the Point, our counting methodology changes. A total count will only show the number present, which is now less than the total number born. So, as of today, we are counting new-born pups and adding them on to yesterday's total of 1,420.

Plenty of pups are still being born

Today's count of new-born pups totalled 88, which puts the total for the year so far at a whopping 1,508 - and it's not even December yet. We are 381 pups ahead of the same date last year. This means we have now caught up with the Farne Islands, who had 1,507 yesterday, but started pupping five weeks before us and are coming to the end. We are just behind Donna Nook, who had 1,541 yesterday, they started pupping a week before us and are starting to see a decrease in the number of cows. So it looks like we may well reach our prediction of being the largest Grey Seal rookery on the English coast. There will be lots more births at Blakeney throughout December, so watch this space!



They're so cute!

In other wildlife news, some notably late migrant birds were seen on the Point today: a Black Redstart in off the sea and also two Chiffchaffs.

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)
Photography by Andrew Capell

Sunday, 23 November 2014

23rd November: Seal pup update


The rookery continues to expand - on Saturday 22nd November the pup count stood at 877 pups.  This is 280 pups more than we had at the same stage last year so that's positive news.  Whilst carrying out the count this weekend we have had the privilege to see pups close up and even one being born - a rare event to witness as most are born at night.



 We saw this cow give birth to her pup

Pups spend a lot of their time sleeping and feeding, but as they get more active they begin to explore their new world.

 Snoozing pup

 Suckling pup
 

Pup in a sandpit

There are still plenty of heavily pregnant females hauled out waiting to give birth.  This close-up of one of them shows its whiskers (known as vibrissae) and its eyebrows.  These are both highly sensitive and used for hunting under water - seals can even sense the movements of fish in front of them through these vibrissae.


Pregnant cow in dunes


We also took this short video clip showing a mother and pup interacting.  You can hear the almost baby-like cries of the pup as it seeks to feed.



 
Sarah and Paul














Sunday, 16 November 2014

16th November: Pups and pods



Pup numbers are up again – from 265 on 13th November to 436 on 15th November.  The seals have spread east of the Gap now, with pups being born outside of the original fenced-off area and prospecting bulls and females moving east of the Gap as the rookery gets busier.  

 The rookery on Saturday 15th November


For this reason we have expanded the fencing to include Zone C as marked on the map below (shown in our blog 26th October).  As mentioned before the red dotted lines show suggested walking routes during the restricted period. These routes have various viewpoints to get good views of the seals.  Please obey all onsite signage and please stay out of fenced off areas. 


Zone A - no access at any time of year to protect hauled-out seals on the tip
Zone B - fenced off 1st November to 1st February to protect seal pups (core area)
Zone C - fenced off 15th November to 1st February to protect seal pups 


We’re getting a range of pup ages now.  Pups are generally born at night, but we came across this family actually on the Gap path.  The afterbirth you can see behind the pup shows that it must have been born recently. 

Bull, mother and pup on the Gap path

As the pups get older they lose the yellow-tinge to their coats which were stained whilst in the womb, revealing a pure white coat. 

Pup - approx. 5-6 days old

This pup below is playing with a washed up piece of driftwood.  As pups get older their co-ordination improves. 

Pup with driftwood

Whilst the focus is often (naturally!) on the very cute pups, it is still wonderful just to watch the adult seals close up.

Bull - this bull had a harem of 4 females

Female and pup - part of the harem


We are running seal events on the 28th and 29th of November and there are currently only 9 places left; see our web-site for full details and booking.

Things have been quieter on the bird front recently, but there was much excitement caused by a pod of Long-finned Pilot Whales last Sunday evening - a first for Norfolk.  Here's a video of them taken by one of our rangers George:







Spectacular sunset on the Point on Saturday

Sarah and Paul