Monday, 9 April 2018

9th of April: Common re-Tern and first nest on the Point

On Friday - 6th April - Ranger Leighton spotted the first Common Terns of the year, on Blakeney Point. They landed briefly on the beach. This is slightly earlier than usual.

Yesterday evening - 8th of April - Leighton counted 50 Sandwich Terns roosting on the end of Blakeney Point.

Mallard nest on Far Point (Ajay Tegala)

Also yesterday, I stumbled upon the first nest of the spring on Blakeney Point: a Mallard nest on Far Point, which contained nine eggs. Every year since 2013, I have found a Mallard nest in this same location. Elsewhere on the reserve, on Blakeney Freshes, we have Lapwings on nests. We wish them well and look forward to countless more nests springing up over the coming weeks.

- Ajay (Ranger)

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Early Spring Wildlife Update

Following an unseasonal snowy start, March signalled the start of spring with the first Sandwich Tern sightings of the year. The ranger team have been busily preparing for the breeding bird season, which will be getting into full swing as we head further into April. 

Spring was heralded on 16th March when the first Sandwich Terns of the year were spotted flying over Blakeney Point by Jim Temple and Ajay. On 5th March, following the thawing of the snow, some 299 Wigeon were recorded utilising Blakeney Freshes. These have since left the site on migration to their breeding grounds further north. Notable bird sightings on Blakeney Point have included Black Redstart, Chiffchaff, ringtail Hen Harrier, Merlin, Short-eared Owl, Long-tailed Duck on 9th March, first winter Iceland Gull on 16th, five Blue Tits on 27th (very rare on Blakeney Point), Lesser Redpoll on 28th, Brambling on 31st (a spring rarity) and some “firsts of the spring” in April: six Swallows, a Sand Martin and six Wheatears on 3rd plus two Firecrests on 4th. On Friary Hills, a Chiffchaff landed at Carl’s feet on 23rd March and seven Common Buzzards were recorded flying over Blakeney Freshes on 29th. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew over our Blakeney Office at Friary Farm on 4th April.

On 5th March, a minimum 21 Moorhens were counted on Blakeney Freshes, which is the highest number recorded there in some time. Gamebirds have been holding territories for a while; we are pleased to have a pair of Grey Partridges on Blakeney Freshes, plus four on Blakeney Point. Shelduck are back on territory on Blakeney Point; we will be conducting a coordinated census across the reserve at the end of April. On Blakeney Freshes, Marsh Harriers were observed nest building from 6th March, with food passing witnessed on 10th and 30th. There have been regular Bittern sightings near the reedbed from 15th March onwards. We have our fingers crossed for breeding Bitterns on the reserve this year and will be carrying out monitoring work to confirm this.

In the week following the heavy snow, an early butterfly was recorded on Friary Hills: a Small Tortoiseshell on 9th March. The first Bumblebee of the spring on Blakeney Point was observed on 25th March: a probable queen Red-tailed. A Red-tailed Bumblebee was also observed by our Morston Quay Information Centre on 4th April.

A Water Vole was observed on Blakeney Freshes on 9th March. On 22nd March, Ryan spotted a tagged Grey Seal on Blakeney Point. It is believed to have been released by Mablethorpe Seal Sanctuary, in Lincolnshire, having been rescued from nearby Donna Nook.

Reserve management
In early April, we will be putting up fenced enclosures to protect nesting Avocets and Little Terns on Blakeney Point, Stiffkey Meals and Salthouse beach. Ajay and Sabrina have been working with Blakeney Primary School to make Little Tern decoys, which they will be putting on the shingle ridge to attract these rare birds to nest in areas free from the risk of tidal flooding. We are taking advantage of a wet start to April, and are holding water back on the western side of Blakeney Freshes. This will enable us to top up water levels in the reedbed later in the summer to maintain suitable conditions for Bitterns.

Seasonal dog restrictions
We would like to thank all dog walkers in advance for following our usual seasonal dog restrictions on Blakeney Point. These run from 1st April to 15th August to protect rare and vulnerable ground-nesting birds – such as the Little Tern – from disturbance. Your support enables us to give our precious birds a better chance to hatch and raise their young.

Thank you
Finally, a great big thank you to all who helped with our recent spring beach clean; an impressive 98 volunteers attended. We are grateful to North Norfolk District Council for disposing of the litter. Thank you also to our Little Tern volunteers for helping us put up the breeding bird enclosures. Our Little Tern volunteers will be based near the Watch House from mid-May to help visitors enjoy their visit without accidentally disturbing any nesting birds.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

4th of April: Signs of Spring and an Easter Otter

Spring seems to be in full swing on Blakeney Freshes today. A walk around revealed lots of birds showing breeding behavior. From a displaying Redshank to territorial Lapwings and an incubating Mallard to a pair of Marsh Harriers high above the reedbed. Shelduck are pairing up too. "Pinging" Bearded Tits are audible amongst the reeds as are the noisy squarks of Black-headed Gulls in full summer plumage. Avocets have returned for the spring, favouring an island surrounded by water topped up by the weekend's heavy rain. Over the weekend - on Easter Sunday to be precise - one of our trail cameras captured this Otter in one of the southern fields...

- Ajay Tegala, Ranger

Saturday, 3 March 2018

3rd of March: A rare sight

It's not very often we get to see thick snow on Blakeney Point. Heavy snow fell between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. We were first able to get out there, in the tractor, on Thursday afternoon. Here are a few photographs capturing the rare sight, albeit after a bit of melting.

 The shingle ridge

Yankee Ridge 

Yankee Ridge - looking towards the Lifeboat House 

Snow drift in the dunes

The main dunes

 Snowy steps

Snow-capped solar panels and Lifeboat House roof 

The huts 

Far Point 

Middle Point 

Snow and sand drift 

Snow on the ramp 

The UCL Lab

Saltmarsh by the Long Hills

Photographs by Ajay Tegala (Ranger)

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

28th of February: The Beast from the East

Cor blast! It's a bit bleak in Blakeney this week...

TUE 27th: Icicles on the Lifeboat House (Ajay Tegala)

TUE 27th: Snow on the shingle ridge (Ajay Tegala)

WED 28th (07:45): Friary Hills and Blakeney Freshes now white (Ajay Tegala)

WED 28th (10:30): Blakeney Quay (Ajay Tegala)

WED 28th (14:00): Blakeney Freshes (Barrie Slegg)

Friday, 23 February 2018

23rd of February: Blakeney Freshes Cam

We wanted to share with you some of the wildlife captured by one of our trail cameras located on the Friary Hills edge of the Blakeney freshwater grazing marshes...

Muntjac - plenty of these around, plus an occasional Chinese Water Deer

Moorhen - soon to be nesting on the Freshes

Pheasant - plenty of these around, including this particularly bold male

And... best 'til last... a BADGER! - these are not a common sight on the Freshes, so we were delighted to find our trail camera had captured evidence of one on site.

In other news, we have just heard back from RSPCA East Winch regarding a year-old Grey Seal cow we spotted on Blakeney Point recently. She had an orange flipper tag, indicating she had been released by the RSPCA:
 Tail flipper showing orange tag (Ajay Tegala)

In from Cley (15.2kg) on the 9th of February 2017 and released at Sutton Bridge(45kg) on 15th September 2017.”

We were pleased to report that, although she was very sick when she arrived at East Winch with lungworm and pneumonia, she is currently very much alive and well. Another wildlife success story thanks to the great work of the RSPCA.

Finally, on the theme of seals, we were happy to see pup number 2,700 on Valentines Day; aged five weeks and still on the Point....
Pup #2700 aged five weeks (Ajay Tegala)

- Ajay, Ranger

Thursday, 1 February 2018

1st of February: a Seal on the Old Season

Today, whilst carrying out a wetland bird count on Blakeney Point, we checked up on the last Grey Seal pup of the season (number 2700). The pup is today 22 days old and we are pleased to report that it has been successfully weaned...

The last weaned pup (Ajay Tegala)

It will now probably be almost nine months before we next blog about Grey Seal pups!

This week the rangers have been busy managing the reedbed on Blakeney Freshes as well as tidying up the car park and boat park at Morston Quay.

Friday, 26 January 2018

26th of January: Sweet Sixteen

We are very happy to report that Grey Seal pup number 2,700 of the winter is doing well. It was born on 10th January, meaning it is now 16 days old; just 3-5 days away from being weaned.

Adorable footage of the pup - taken on the day it was born - appeared in this recent BBC online video.

Despite being the last cow to pup on Blakeney Point, the mother has stayed with her pup, which looks healthy.

Pup #2700 at 16 days old (Ajay Tegala)

We were also pleased to notice, today, that the cow is accompanied by a bull, which means she should be able to mate ready for next season. A happy end to a brilliant breeding season!

Friday, 19 January 2018

19th of January: Oh buoy

Following the dispersal of most of the Grey Seals on Blakeney Point, this week we were finally able to help Blakeney Harbour Association retrieve the navigation buoy that washed up towards the end of last year during stormy weather.

One of the few remaining weaned seal pups

Buoy on the beach

Weighing 1.5 tonnes, this was no mean feat. The front loader on the National Trust tractor did the lifting and we were able to return it to Morston in our largest trailer.

Securing the buoy in the trailer

Trinity House will return the buoy to its location at the entrance to Blakeney Harbour from the North Sea (and strengthen its mooring), where it directs vessels around the Hjodis wreck. The sands have moved dramatically around the wreck over the past two years.

Photos by Ajay Tegala

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

10th of January: Final count

We are delighted to announce that our final Grey Seal pup count for Blakeney Point in the 2017/18 season is 2,700 pups. This is a 12% increase on last season, and the largest increase in three years.

(click graph to enlarge)

This makes it another record year for pup births, with 243 pups more than the previous record season (in 2014/15). As usual, mortality was low, with just 2.5% of pups not making it to the weaning stage.

Snoozing pup (Ian Ward)

Considering this was the greatest number of pups to ever be born on Blakeney Point in a season, we were pleased to only have to rescue one pup. In December, we rescued a newly weaned juvenile that had a nasty head wound. It has been doing well under the RSPCA's care at East Winch, where it has been named Naga.

Big Bull (Ian Ward)

Cow in profile (Ian Ward)

The protective fences will remain up until 25th January to protect the later-born pups that are still reliant on their mother's milk to grow healthy and strong like the 2,000+ that have already been successfully weaned and dispersed into the North Sea. We ask that you please continue to respect these access restrictions. There are currently 199 pups and 59 adults on site.

View from end of boardwalk in December (Ian Ward)

Seal pup distribution 2017/18 (click to enlarge)

As we reach the end of the Grey Seal pupping season, our work focus turns to practical habitat management work elsewhere on the reserve. This includes ditch clearance and reed cutting on the freshwater grazing marshes. We are also commencing our preparation work for the breeding bird season, which will soon be approaching.

Ajay Tegala,