Sunday, 24 April 2016

24th of April: Gulls on eggs

Greetings from a rather cold Blakeney Point! Despite the cold northerly winds, the first Black-headed Gull eggs were laid yesterday. This is three days later than last year (when first eggs were laid on the 20th of April).
First gull egg of 2016 (Dan Wynn)
Spring comes to the Plantation (Harry Mitchell)

Black-headed Gulls aren't the only birds nesting on the Point. We have found two duck nests this week and the first wader nest was found today. Two of our faithful Oystercatchers are back on their usual territories - we know they are the same birds returning because they have metal rings on their legs.

 Mallard nest (Ajay Tegala)

'Fatima' is in her 20s and nests in or around Great Sandy Low every year.
She is now on her usual breeding territory for 2016. 
Note the metal ring on her leg (Josh Barber, 2015) 

 This week's low tide seal count recorded 117 Grey and 14 Common hauled out on the West Sands. On Thursday, we noticed a female Common Seal with a very small pup. This is quite early and it is thought, sadly, that the pup was stillborn. The usual pupping time for Common Seals is June-July, but there are records of early stillbirths (8th of May 1991 on Far Point, for example).
Common Seal and pup (Wynona Legg)
Common Seal and pup (Dan Wynn)

It has been a very quiet week on the migration front. Literally the only bird of note was a Firecrest, by no means a common migrant on Blakeney Point, this delightful bird was found by our friend Pete Dolton.

Firecrest in the Plantation (Dan Wynn)

Last night's roost count recorded an estimated 2,000 Sandwich Terns on Far Point, a fantastic sight and sound.
We expect to see the first Common, Arctic and Little Terns any day now.

Roosting Sandwich Terns (Tom Green) 

We leave you with news that signs of pirates have been found on the Point...

- Ajay, Dan and Wynona, Blakeney Point rangers

Sunday, 17 April 2016

17th of April: Minding the Gap

The weather has been very up and down over the last week. But roosting Sandwich Tern numbers keep going up. Numbers have more than doubled; last night's count recorded approximately 1,400 birds on the end of Blakeney Point.

If you are walking up the Point at low tide, you will meet one of the rangers by the 'Gap' in the dunes towards the western end of the beach. Access is limited here, so please speak to us for advice and we will be happy to point out wildlife of interest with our telescope. Today there were 179 Sanderlings on the shoreline, and a couple of dozen Swallows passed westwards.
 Wynona 'minding the gap' this weekend

This week's wildlife sightings have included a couple of Lesser-spotted Dogfish washed up near the Watch House, a Greater Pipefish washed up on the beach and also this beautiful Common Sunstar.

Migrant birds have included a Black Redstart, numerous Chiffchaffs and Wheatears, a couple of Willow Warblers, a male Blackcap, Goldfinch, Brambling plus a few Robins and Song Thrushes. Two Red Kites were seen together flying over the dunes this afternoon.

Bird of the week: Northern Wheatear
Numerous migrant Wheatears are present on the Norfolk Coast at the moment. Numbers reached double-figures on the Point this week. These birds will have migrated from Africa and Europe on their way to their breeding grounds. British-breeding Wheatears most commonly favour western and northern Britain. The nearest breeding birds are at Orford Ness in Suffolk. Pairs have held territories in the dunes on Blakeney Point in 1999, 2003, 2013 and 2014, last having bred 80 years ago in 1936 - one or three pairs used to breed on Yankee Ridge in the early 20th century.
Migrant Wheatear on the Point (Joe Cockram, 2012)

As well as rabbit holes, they will also breed in rock piles, so we have made a few rock piles on Yankee Ridge, including one on the Yankee itself, in a hope that they may choose to breed again after an 80-year absence...

Please note that the Yankee wreck has deteriorated considerably and is unsafe. It has been fenced off, please respect the fence-line as the boat has lots of jagged edges and is structurally unsound.

Hare amongst Suaeda (Dan Wynn)

- Ajay

Sunday, 10 April 2016

10th of April: Moving In

It's been a busy week on Blakeney Point. Before we could move in, 2.4 tonnes of batteries had to be replaced to power the Lifeboat House. The old batteries had stopped holding charge following a downward spiral since the December 2013 tidal surge. Replacements had to be shipped from abroad and arrived in the country this week. Just in time for the start of the season.
 Unloading the new batteries

On Friday, myself and Seasonal Assistant Rangers Dan Wynn and Wynona Legg moved in for the start of the 2016 breeding bird season. A Sandwich Tern roost count that evening recorded 600+ birds on Far Point - another 750-800 were counted further west on the North Norfolk Coast at the same time.
Blakeney Point 2016 Team: Wynona, Ajay, Dan

Today, the first Small Copper butterfly of the year was seen in the dunes. The week's migrant birds have included Wheatear, numerous Chiffchaffs, a Goldcrest and small numbers of Swallows flying west. This weekend, six raptor species were seen on the Point: Kestrel, Peregrine, Merlin, Red Kite, male Hen Harrier and Marsh Harriers.
Male Marsh Harrier (D. Wynn)

Dozens of both Shelduck and Brent Geese are present almost side-by-side in the harbour; a cross-over of summer-breeding and over-wintering wildfowl. Shelduck will soon be laying their eggs down burrows in the dunes, while Brent Geese will be migrating to the Arctic Circle to breed.
Shelduck and Brent in the harbour (D. Wynn)

Our latest low tide seal count recorded 177 Grey and 16 Common.

It's been a weekend of spring tides, but thankfully none of our breeding bird enclosures have been washed away. We look forward to finding the first nests over the coming few days.
- Ajay Tegala, Coastal Ranger

Sunday, 3 April 2016

3rd of April: Tern cries high in the sky

This weekend has seen an increase in arriving Sandwich Terns returning from their wintering grounds in west and southern Africa. A minimum of 130 were present above and around Far Point today; their distinctive "keerick" calls audible high in the sky. It is a true joy to see and hear these most elegant of seabirds. They have been visible from the seal trips...
Sandwich Terns on the shoreline (Sabrina Fenn)

Please help protect the terns and other breeding birds by giving them plenty of space and obeying all signs; keeping away from fenced nesting areas. The best way to see the seals and terns is from the seal ferries that go daily from Morston Quay: Bean's Boat Trips and Temple's Seal Trips.

From the 1st of April to 15th of August there are the usual seasonal dog restrictions on Blakeney Point. Dogs, on leads, are welcome around the Lifeboat House and along the first kilometre of the shingle ridge from Cley, but all other areas are sanctuary areas for ground-nesting birds.

Please also note that there is no landing on the tip of Far Point at any time of the year (to protect the terns and gull colony as well as the seals).
Far Point this weekend (H. Mitchell)

We appreciate your cooperation and respect, helping us to look after the wonderful but fragile breeding bird populations on Blakeney National Nature Reserve.

This week's migrant bird sightings have included Short-eared Owl, the first Wheatears (four) and Swallow of the spring on Thursday 30th March and five Chiffchaffs on Saturday 2nd April. We will be keeping you up to date with migrant and breeding bird news across the reserve throughout the spring and summer.

- Ajay, Coastal Ranger

Friday, 1 April 2016

Blakeney Freshes - Eggs, Otters and returning migrants

This week has seen the first signs that the breeding season has started on Blakeney Freshes, with the first Lapwing nest found with a full clutch of 4 eggs. Reshank and Mute Swans have also been spotted nest building.
Lapwing nest - G. Baldock
A good number of Avocet have also returned onto the Freshes and are pairing up. A pair of Little Ringed Plover have returned to the exact same spot as last year and have been seen displaying. Last year, they successfully raised and fledged all 4 chicks, so let's hope they have another good year.

Once again, we have some trail cameras on site. Currently we have 'Otter Cam' and 'Post Cam' up and running. Otter Cam has been regularly picking up passing Otters, including one having a good munch on an Eel.

The same camera also picked up a Lesser Whitethroat, a Weasel and a Water Rail.

Other recent sightings include an Osprey, which flew west along the coast, a Spoonbill, feeding on the Freshes and the return of Swallows and House Martins. There are still 2 Lapland Buntings, which have been on sight since Christmas and are still very popular with birders and photographers. They can be seen from the sea wall, near the kissing gate.

George Baldock - Ranger

Monday, 28 March 2016

28th of March: Spring Cleaning

Just like late March last year, it's been a windy few days! Despite the wind, National Trust volunteer Tom Whiley took the first Sandwich Tern photograph of the year on Blakeney Point:
Sandwich Tern, 26th of March (Tom Whiley)

Tom was helping with our big spring beach clean at the time, along with 47 others. This is our best-attended beach clean to date. A great big thank you to everyone who soldiered on despite the wind and covered 3.5 miles, filling an impressive 68 bin bags.

 Starting out from Cley beach

The final heap - 3.5 miles in 3 hours

The beach now looks a great deal tidier, nicely ahead of the breeding bird season. Two pairs of Ringed Plovers were seen displaying on the shingle during the beach clean. Along with Oystercatchers, Avocets and Little Terns, they lay their camouflaged eggs amongst the shingle, with first eggs (Ringed Plover) laid in April. Numbers of Shelduck have also increased in recent days on both Blakeney Point and Fresh-marsh, ahead of the breeding season. Many Shelduck on the reserve breed in the safety of old rabbit holes in the dunes. 

Recent bird sightings have included regular Short-eared Owls, Peregrine and female Merlin plus migrant Blackbirds, Redwing, Robin, Chaffinch, Spoonbill and a Black Redstart that sheltered from the elements in the Lifeboat House visitor centre overnight having flown in from Mainland Europe. On Stiffkey Meals last week, four Ringed Plover pairs were recorded along with the ringtail Hen Harrier, which has been seen regularly across the reserve this year.
Black Redstart at Blakeney (Joe Cockram, 2012)

It is not just the beach that we have been cleaning, but the Lifeboat House too. The visitor centre and toilets are now open for the 2016 season, and the Rangers will be moving in next week. This will be my fifth season working on Blakeney Point. I am being joined by seasonal assistants Daniel and Wynona; both have previously been seabird rangers for the National Trust up on the Northumberland Coast at the Farne Islands and Long Nanny.

- Ajay, Coastal Ranger

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

2nd of March: From Norfolk to Namibia

News has reached us that a Sandwich Tern ringed as a chick on Blakeney Point in summer 2014 was seen in Namibia, southern Africa this February (the 17th, to be precise). That's an impressive 8,575 km south.
Sandwich Tern at Blakeney last year (Ian Ward)

We look forward to the return of these elegant seabirds. Over the coming few weeks, we should start to see the first returning birds on the north Norfolk coast.

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)

Saturday, 16 January 2016

16th of January: Seal season summary and storm news

The Grey Seal pupping season on Blakeney Point is about to reach its end. The last pup of the winter was born on New Year's Day and is now almost weaned. This takes our 2015/16 total to 2,343 pups, of which just two were taken to the RSPCA rescue centre at East Winch. In addition to the 2,343, around 45 dead pups were observed in the colony, putting mortality at less than 3%.

This winter was the first time since the colony formed, around 15 years ago, that the number of pups born did not increase.

Our counts show that 73 less pups were born this year than in 2014/15, a small (and insignificant) decrease of 3%. However, looking at the graph plotting pup counts back to 2000 (shown above) we can see that this year's count is on the curve with last year's result being a possible anomaly. What will happen and what numbers we will see during the the 2016/17 breeding season remains to be seen and we look forward to finding out.

What we do know is that, although the core area of the beach remains the prime pupping area, seals pupped further east and a bit further south this winter. This suggests that there are a number of future spreading options.

This winter, we had the first pup born on Yankee Ridge...

the first pups born on the Long Hills...

and the first pup born in New Glaux Low (in the main dunes)

We would like to thank visitors for their cooperation and respect for the seals. Next week, we will be taking the fences down, giving wider access to the beach and dunes (until the first of April when fencing is put up to protect vulnerable ground-nesting birds).

On Thursday night (14th of January), gale-force north-westerly winds caused an 80cm surge. This caused seawater to come over these shingle ridge at Salthouse, causing flooding on both the Salthouse and Cley Beach Roads.
Gramborough Hill viewed from Salthouse

There was no damage to any buildings, but the profile of Blakeney Point changed. Far Point was hit quite hard, causing erosion to the dunes and shingle over-topping on the tip. Any visitors who frequent the seal ferry trips, will notice a definite change to the end of the Point next time they go out. But this is what Blakeney Point does: changes with the tides and the weather, which is what makes the place so exciting. It is always changing.
 Erosion to the seaward edge of Far Point

End of the Point from above (Ian Ward)

We were pleased to note that our resident group of partridges (17 Grey and 1 Red-legged) were not negatively affected by the storm. They were happily feeding on the shingle the following day.

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)

Monday, 21 December 2015

21st of December: Winter Solstice

Today, on the Winter Solstice, we would like to thank everyone who has helped us look after wildlife on the Norfolk Coast this year by following our guidelines. The seal pups have had a peaceful season, with the least disturbance ever, and so far just a single pup in need of rescue. We would like to say a big thank you to our wonderful volunteers, who have worked hard to protect the seals and provide a cheerful welcome to all visitors.
Our volunteer seal ranger team

For people contemplating walking up the Point over the festive period, we would like to remind you that boat trips are running, providing the opportunity of up-close seal views without causing disturbance. Please remember that it is an arduous eight-mile walk to see the seals, and they are already quickly dispersing.
Seal pup (Ian Ward - NT volunteer)

Today's pup count brings the total up to 2,314, which is about the same as this time last year. We expect a couple of dozen more births over the next two weeks and will let you know the grand total in mid January.
Cow and pup (Tom Whiley - NT volunteer)

Finally, we are pleased to be able to share this video with you, with exclusive footage of the seals filmed earlier this month...

Wishing you happy holidays from the Norfolk Coast team