Monday, 10 October 2016

A fond farewell

This week promised much on the migration front as we’ve had some very strong consistent Easterly winds. Whilst we have not had a classic autumn migration we have seen large arrivals of various thrush species, like on the 4th Oct where we counted 104 Song Thrush and 48 Redwing on just the Western tip of the reserve. Other new arrivals for the week include Fieldfare and Ring Ouzel. Warbler migration has more less ended, although we have been seeing Blackcap, Goldcrest and Yellow Browed Warblers in the bushes. Other species seen this week include Short Eared Owl, Robins, Lapland Bunting, Chaffinch and Brambling.
Wildfowl numbers are increasing day by day in the harbour as we are consistently seeing large numbers of Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Pink-Footed Geese, Greylag and Brent Geese. The view across the marsh now is quite spectacular as you can see hundreds of wildfowl feeding on the mudflats.

Looking across the marsh to middle point from the boardwalk (Daniel Wynn
The rangers this week have been busy laying out the fence line in preparation for the coming seal breeding season. Its exciting times now as we see more Grey Seals returning to the Point and interestingly we have had our first Grey Seal pup of 2016!

It’s hard to put an exact date on the birth although it was likely sometime this week. Unfortunately the ‘whitecoat’ (name given to grey seal pups on account of their fluffy white fur) was found dead on Far Point on the 8th October. This isn’t unusual as this birth was very premature.  Likely it was a young and inexperienced mother so unfortunately the pup was simply not strong enough to survive.
Strong winds have prohibited us from using the moth trap this week. Moths being fairly delicate will not fly in strong winds as they have increased risk of exhaustion, death or getting blown off course. Sept and October yield new species in the moth calendar so we will get the trap out this coming week and see what we can find.

The sad news for the week is that we bid a fond farewell to Wynona Legg, one of our Assistant Rangers. She has been a real asset to the team with her strong plant knowledge enhancing our current understanding of plant distribution and germination times across the reserve. She now moves onto work as an Apprentice Tutor for the Field Studies Council. From everyone on the NT North Norfolk team we wish her the best in her future endeavors and thank you for your hard work and dedication this season!
Wynona looking out her window from the Lifeboat House (Daniel Wynn)
To end on a happy note, we have had our first drawing competition entrants for this week and the winner goes to Andy, aged 4 3/4 years old for this lovely picture of rabbits found on Blakeney Point.
Andy's drawing of two rabbits seen on Blakeney Point (Daniel Wynn)

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Buntings and wildfowl mark arrival of Autumn

It’s been a real mixed-weather week on the Point from bright, calm sunny days to afternoons where over 100ml of rain fell. We’ve had fairly strong consistent Westerly winds (average 14mph) which have really whipped the sea up with ‘white horses’ far into the horizon.
The impact of this strong sea on the Point has been felt as we experienced sand being eroded away from Far Point leaving our fence line high and dry and hide undercut. Rangers this week repaired the fence line and removed the hide to prevent further damage over winter.
We have two artificial ponds on the reserve, one in the garden and one in plantation. They provide a much needed source of freshwater in an otherwise saline environment. For breeding birds they provide a consistent water source, for migrants they provide an attractive place to stop and recuperate. This week the ranger team cut back vegetation surrounding the ponds and now regularly replenish them with freshwater. Already large flocks of Meadow Pipits and Linnet have been using them to drink and bathe in.

The garden pond restored and full of water – 28th September (Daniel Wynn)

Mostly westerly winds have slowed passerine migration down but throughout the week we have consistently had Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Song Thrush and Black Redstart. An exciting addition this week has been the return of Lapland Bunting, an irregular autumn migrant, often heard but rarely seen on the ground. The highest count of Bunting so far this week has been 18 on the 2nd October in Great Sandy Low.

                                                                 Lapland Bunting on the shingle ridge – 31st September (Daniel Wynn)

Today (Sunday 2nd October) we had our first spell of strong Northerly winds and boy did it produce. In just 1 hour our rangers recorded 445 Gannet and 234 Guillemot along with Razorbill, Puffin, Manx and Sooty Shearwater, Great and Arctic Skua, Red Throated Diver, Great Northern Diver and Velvet Scoter. Other notables seen near the Cley end of the reserve include Grey Phalarope and Long Tailed Skua. Wildfowl are now more notable in the harbour too as we shift from summer to autumn, including high numbers of Pink Footed Geese, Teal, Wigeon and Pintail.

Pink Footed Geese fly past Blakeney Church – 29th September (Daniel Wynn)
We’ve also seen our first flurry of autumnal thrushes and finches arriving with the northerlies as we recorded Redwing, Blackbird, Chaffinch and Brambling in the bushes.

The cold weather and strong winds have really impacted moth numbers but we tried moth trapping anyway on a slightly calmer night. On the 30th September we only had 4 species in the trap but 2 of which were new for the year, including Lunar Underwing and Feathered Ranunculus.
                                                      Feathered Ranunculus – 30th September (Wynona Legg)

Butterfly numbers across the reserve remain low but we still regularly see Red Admiral, Brown Argus and Small Tortoiseshell. Small Coppers appear to be having a 3rd brood this year, which seems to be more successful than the previous 2 attempts. You can now regularly see them in the dunes near the gap.
Our latest seal count on 30th September recorded 541 Common and 128 Grey Seals. The Grey Seal numbers may seem low but in reality they reflect a natural cycle whereby prior to breeding season, the seals disappear out to sea and then return a few weeks later. In the coming few weeks as we move closer toward breeding season for Grey Seals, their numbers will start increasing dramatically.
As usual if you have any great experiences or any unusual wildlife sightings on the Point or anywhere on the North Norfolk Coast on National Trust land, please do tell us. We would love to hear from you.
Until next time!

Blakeney Point Ranger Team

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

25th of September: A focus on fungi

The majority of plants at Blakeney have long since swapped their colourful blooms for crispy seeds but by no means is there little to look at under your feet. There are many species of fungi which are specialist to this unique dune habitat and now is a great time to see them.

The colourful little chap that you may see on the dunes along the boardwalk path is the Dune Waxcap Hygrocybe conicoides. These crimson orange mushrooms have a frilly bonnet like cap and a waxy appearance. As its name suggests, the dune waxcap is mainly found on coastal sand dune systems and they are common to find here in Britain. Waxcaps are sensitive to fertilisers in the soil and so are known to indicate natural grasslands. They are also known to have a mutualistic relationship with mosses.
 Dune Waxcap

Another striking species you may come across whilst wandering about in the dunes is the Dune Stinkhorn Phallus hadriani. This majestic mushroom gets its name from the rather strong odour emitted by the cap which attracts insects. The slimy liquid which covers the cap is called gleba or spore slime. Insects attracted by the smell, get this slimy liquid on their feet and help to disperse the spores to new areas within the dunes.
Dune Stinkhorn

It’s not all about fungi though; we have had some handsome moths in our moth trap this week. This Black Rustic Aporophyla nigra kindly stayed still for a photograph alongside a lovely Large Yellow Underwing Noctua pronuba.  Black Rustic is common in the south and adults fly in September and October.
Black Rustic (left) and Large Yellow Underwing (right)

In bird related news, the Black Redstart male is still hanging around the lifeboat house so you may just catch a glimpse of that flickering red tail and coal black face if you are out for a walk. Other sightings this week have included Red-breasted Flycatcher, garden warbler, whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, redwing and song thrush amongst the usual visitors. Osprey sightings have kept us all on our toes this week too with some really close up views of these incredible birds moving along the coast and even perching on the telegraph pole!

It’s a good time to see wildfowl on the point as these next few months we will see arrivals of many species who will spend the winter here. Its lovely to see Brent Geese on the marshes again which have begun their return to our coast from their breeding grounds on arctic tundra as far as Northern Russia. Pink-footed Geese, Wigeon and Pintail are just some of the other wildfowl you may see if you make a visit to the point at high tide. 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

18th of September: Cleaned Beach

Yesterday (Saturday 17th September), we took part in the Marine Conservation Society's Great British Beach Clean on Blakeney Point for the third year running.

Despite the grey and windy weather, 17 kind volunteers - and one dog - showed up to help us fill 24 bags of beach litter and clear up 24 plastic containers.

Thanks to their efforts, the Point is looking much better. Thank you also to our neighbours, Norfolk Wildlife Trust at Cley Marshes for helping support the event and allowing us to pile the rubbish on their land temporarily, until North Norfolk District Council kindly dispose of it.

Some of our wonderful beach clean volunteers

The beach litter from our previous two beach cleans (September 2015 and March 2016) is currently on display at the Beach Watch Exhibition at Wiveton Hall - well worth a visit!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

11th of September: Sedge Warblers and sea-watching

We were blessed with good weather this week, perfect for a morning wetland bird survey count on the 5th. The highlight was a lovely group of five Pintails feeding on the edges of the flooded marsh. It’s “bottoms up” for the Pintail as they feed by ‘up-ending’, with only their rumps and frantic webbed feet visible above water as they search with their bills for the seeds and roots of aquatic plants. Large flocks of Ringed Plover and Dunlin have been scattering the shingle beach each morning with the tides. Most are juveniles which are distinguishable by the faded mask and bib and yellower leg colour.

The male Black Redstart is still enjoying the Point and has graced us with some fine views all week. Other sightings have included Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Common and Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, Yellow Wagtail and plenty of Wheatears and Whinchats.
Sedge Warbler in the Garden (D. Wynn)

With the winds picking up and sightings of shearwater moving along the coasts, the rangers have had some opportunities to put scope to sea and spend some time looking for these passage seabirds. We got a bit of a surprise when we were visited by this adult winter Guillemot who came incredibly close to the shore to feed. The Grey Seals found it fascinating too and at one point the Guillemot appeared to be accompanied by a five- strong grey seal entourage!

With the help of the tractor, the mobile hide has now been moved up the ridge and placed in the dunes. The hide is open and offers some shelter if you find yourself caught in the rain after a walk up the ridge.

Join us for a beach clean and help clean up our coastline!
Remember that on Saturday 17th September from 10am until 1pm we will be holding our end of season beach clean as part of Marine Conservation Society's Big British Beach Clean. If you have some time to spare and you would like to help, please join us for as little or as long as you would like, don your gloves and pickers and help make Blakeney’s coastline litter free for people and for our important wildlife. On our last beach clean, with the help of kind folk like you, we amassed an impressive pile, so thank you for your continued support. For more details about the event, please ring the Norfolk Coast National Trust office on 01263 741694.

A message from Belgium!
This message in a bottle was found on the beach by the rangers during the wetland bird survey this week and appears to have come all the way from a beach in Belgium! The message written in French by a Belgian family is dated the 31st July 2016 and was found here at Blakeney on the 5th September 2016 having taken 37 days to travel across the North sea from the Belgian coastal town of Blakenberge to the tideline of Blakeney Point!
A quote in the message reads “if you reach for the moon you'll land among the stars”.

Us rangers don’t usually condone littering but we must admit, we thought this was a pretty exciting discovery!

Sunday, 4 September 2016

4th of September: September Wildlife

This week our Little Tern volunteers have relocated to the top of the Point to become our ‘Seal Volunteers’. They are on hand to provide information about the seals and other wildlife across the reserve. They will be minding the gap near Far Point so please do ask them any questions you may have. They will also have a scope if you want a closer look!
Seal in the water off Far Point (Daniel Wynn)

Speaking of seals, we’re seeing larger numbers hauling out at low tide. This increase is expected as we move more toward the Grey Seal breeding season (Nov-Jan). The highest count this week was on the 2nd September with 361 Greys and 452 Commons.
Seals hauling out at low tide on the West Sands (Daniel Wynn)

The weather this week has been mostly hot and sunny with only the scattered shower on the Point. The butterflies are making the most of this late sunshine with Small Whites, Small Coppers, Small Tortoiseshells and Grayling’s still showing across the reserve. A count on the 1st September revealed 5 Grayling, 2 Small Coppers, 1 Small Tortoiseshell, and 2 Small Whites. The shingle ridge on the way up from Cley is a good place to see the butterflies.
Looking back along the shingle ridge to the Watchhouse from the Hood (Daniel Wynn)

There have been some large numbers of waders across the reserve with a mixed flock of over 80 Dunlin, 150 Ringed Plover and 30 Sanderling seen on the 3rd September. The evening roost count is now perpetually punctuated with the loud honking noise of Greylag Geese on the mainland.
Sanderling taking flight off the beach (Wynona Legg)

Migrants are still around on the reserve with regular sightings of Wheatear, Whinchat, Willow Warblers, Pied Flycatchers and Black Redstart. We also had a few Whitethroats appear later in the week. We had an estimated 8 Wheatear on the reserve on the 1st September.
Wheatear near the strandline at Far Point (Daniel Wynn)

Our resident Black Redstart is still hanging around the Lifeboat House. This makes it a total stay of 12 nights so far. He must like it around here but who can blame him! However he is notoriously camera shy and will be off around the corner as soon as he catches a sight of you. A really stunning bird though, worth a look if you’re up this way.  
Black Redstart perched on the steps to the toilets (Daniel Wynn)

Sunday, 28 August 2016

28th of August: Grey Hair turning straw-coloured

This week has seen a mixture of beautiful sunshine and heavy rain showers across the Norfolk Coast. The sunnier moments have been good for insect life. Across the Blakeney National Nature Reserve, numerous fresh-looking Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Painted Lady butterflies have been seen recently.
Fresh Painted Lady (Mary Goddard)

At Gramborough Hill, Salthouse, a Wasp Spider was seen earlier in the month. First recorded in Britain in 1922, in southern England, the Wasp Spider has seen a substantial increase since 1990, spinning its orb web preferentially in coastal chalk and rough grasslands. At Salthouse, it was seen preying on Gatekeeper butterflies.
Wasp Spider at Salthouse (Mary Goddard)

On Blakeney Point this evening, a hatch of flying ants drew in every Black-headed Gull in the area to come and feed. This short video from exactly a year ago shows gulls flocking to the dunes during a 'hatch'...
 "Aerial picnic" (Ajay Tegala)

The Grey Hair-grass on the Point has now turned straw-coloured. This nationally scarce grass is native only to Norfolk, Suffolk and the Channel Islands. It is abundant on Blakeney Point and is one of the features that earns the Point special conservation designations.
Grey Hair-grass blowing in the breeze (Ajay Tegala)

The week has not been without its migrant birds. Willow Warblers peaked at 19 on Monday 22nd, on the same day six Spotted Flycatchers were recorded. Wednesday 24th produced six Wheatears, a Short-eared Owl and a Black Redstart that has stayed near the Lifeboat House ever since. Other migrants this week included Pied Flycatchers, Whinchats and this afternoon an Ortolan Bunting was reported near the boardwalk.

Black Redstart on solar panel (Tom Whiley)

Finally, we would like to remind you that, although most of the Point is currently accessible at this time of year, there are three sanctuary areas to protect migrant birds and resting seals. Please help by not entering these fenced areas and keeping dogs under close control. We appreciate your cooperation in helping to protect this special wildlife haven.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

21st of August: First Autumn arrivals

This week on Blakeney Point, we have taken down the breeding bird fencing on the western end of the Point. Access is now permissible along much of Far Point. There is no access to the very end of the Point to protect the seals and new-born pups that haul out there. If you walk along the beach at low tide, you may meet either one of the rangers or our lovely volunteers located near the gap in the dunes to provide information on the seals and help you to have a closer look through our telescope.

The gap in the dunes towards the end of Blakeney Point (Daniel Wynn)

We are still seeing tern species on the reserve. On the 20th of August we recorded 50 Sandwich Terns feeding near the Watch House, 13 Common and 3 Arctic in the roost on the beach at low tide. A few juvenile Oystercatchers can still be seen on the marshes near the Lifeboat House aswell.  

Our moth trap this week held some new finds...
 Chinese character moth, 17th August (Wynona Legg)

The Chinese character moth combines its wing pattern and resting posture to resemble a bird dropping, thus avoiding predation from birds. August is the start of their second breeding season and can be more readily observed in moth traps when adults are attracted to the light.

A Goldspot moth, 17th August (Wynona Legg)

Goldspots are fairly common across all the counties although they can more often be seen in damp places such as woodland, fens and bogs. They are fairly unmistakable with a distinctive metallic shine and bright golden spots on the forewing.

This week has brought some of the first Autumn migrants to arrive, coinciding with a warm spell of weather and mild easterly winds. A Wryneck was spotted on the 17th of August in the Plantation. We have seen high numbers of Pied Flycatchers, with a record 44 on the on the 19th. Other regular migrants include Willow Warblers, Garden Warbler, Reed Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Wheatears and Whinchats.

The most notable migrants so far were two Greenish Warblers on the 18th of August. An individual was recorded in the Plantation in the morning, with a second observed later in the Shrubby Sea-blite on Far Point. 
 Greenish Warbler in the Plantation (Daniel Wynn)

Sunday, 14 August 2016

14th of August: Skuas, Sea Pea and Sea-lavender

It is that time of year again. The birds have raised their broods and many have already begun the long journey to find somewhere a little warmer than the Norfolk Coast for a well-deserved winter rest. They will be back next year, but now that they no longer need that extra protection, the rangers have begun work to wind up all those miles of twine and gather all those fence posts to be tucked away until next spring. Good news for beach goers who will have just a little more room for a sit down after that arduous ridge walk!

With the fences down, there is a chance to get a closer look at the Sea Pea, which is still in flower on the ridge. Sea Pea is low growing, forming dense mats of green blue foliage The flowers are a varying shades of purple, pink and blue and then come the bright green seed pods which hang like umbrellas. This plant is nationally rare. It was planted on Blakeney Point by the renowned Norfolk Naturalist Ted Ellis. Please tread carefully if you do stop to have a look, this plant is fragile.
 Above: Sea Pea flower; Below: Sea Pea seed pod

There have been a number of Arctic Skua sightings this week, with the winds whipping up the sea. You will see them flying fast and low over the sea, hassling terns and gulls to drop their catch. A stocky, dark bird with long, pointed wings bent back like an arrowhead in flight, skuas have a characteristic “banking” flight, appearing to jerk left and right with rapid twists and turns.
Arctic Skua (Tom Whiley)

We have heard a migrant Willow Warbler calling in the Plantation this week and were payed a visit by a lovely Wren picking around in the brambles for insects as well as. Wheatear movements continue to drop us the odd individual with those unmistakable flashes of bright white rump and speedy, dipping flight over the marsh edges. Sightings of Hobby hunting on the saltmarsh have been pretty good too, with the flash of their rust-red trousers as they swoop low overhead.

The sea-lavender is still looking incredible on the marshes so if you’re thinking of paying us a visit, what better reason is there than this…….?
Common Sea-lavender in bloom