Wednesday, 8 August 2018

7th of August: Goodbye from Ajay

This is my last week as a ranger in the Norfolk Coast team. I have lots of happy memories from my various roles at Blakeney over the last nine years and am grateful for the opportunities I have had and the wonderful people I have worked with.


I started as a full-time volunteer assistant warden in summer 2009 and went on to secure a seasonal role at Morston Information Centre in spring 2010. I was delighted to become a seasonal ranger on Blakeney Point in 2012 (that's when we started this blog) and to then become Blakeney Point Ranger in 2013.


I am proud of how our team of volunteers has grown over the last five years and I have enjoyed working with so many dedicated volunteers. The tern and seal breeding seasons are absolutely fascinating and it has been a privilege to protect and monitor these very special species. Over the last 15 months, it has been a pleasure to broaden my experiences on Blakeney Freshes. I am leaving to take up a ranger position at the National Trust’s Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve.


Here are just a few of my special Blakeney memories:
  - Witnessing an autumn "fall" of thousands of thrushes
  - Counting a record 4,120 Sandwich Tern nests in 2013
  - Counting hundreds of seal pups in the winter months
  - Seeing my first Bittern, after hours of trying 
  - Taking school groups through the harbour at low tide
  - Spending time in boats in Blakeney Harbour
  - Working with dedicated and inspirational volunteers, colleagues and locals
  - Setting up this blog and sharing wildlife news


I wish the Norfolk coast, its wildlife and people all the very best for the future.
 - Ajay

Here are some photograph highlights from the last nine years... 


Morston Information Centre, 2010 (my 21st birthday)

Sandwich Terns on Far Point, 2012

The vibrant Sandwich Tern colony, 2012

An adorable Little Tern chick



One of the thousands of Grey Seal pups I've counted


The 2012 Blakeney team - centenary celebration

The one and only Graham Lubbock!

The 2014-15 Blakeney Point team: Paul, Sarah and I

Eddie, B, Carl and I, 2018: Blakeney past and present


Looking to the future...

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

July Wildlife Round-Up

July has been very warm and dry with a welcome bit of rain at the end. It has also seen Sandwich Tern chicks hatching on the tip of Blakeney Point known as Far Point.

Breeding birds
This year, on Blakeney Freshes, good numbers of young Mallard and Lapwing have been recorded as well as two broods of Little Ringed Plovers. Stiffkey experienced the best Black-headed Gull breeding season in many years, with two dozen young fledging. The establishment of this colony gives us hope that more terns may be attracted to breed there in the future; three Common Tern pairs prospected here this year. On Blakeney Point, thanks to successful large gull deterrence efforts early in the season, Common Terns have experienced very good chick survival with over 100 juveniles fledging from 103 pairs. This is the highest productivity since 2001. Sandwich Terns nesting on Far Point were seen flying in with small fish throughout the month, indicating the presence of chicks. At the very end of the month, larger chicks started to become visible by boat. Unfortunately, like many other sites across the country, Little Terns have struggled this year. Whilst sad for us, they are long-lived birds and we will be doing all we can to help protect them in 2019. Oystercatchers appear to have had a good breeding season, with numerous well-grown young observed across the Point. A brood of Grey Partridges was observed in the sand dunes on the Point on 18th July and a pair with flying young was observed on the Freshes on 30th – always lovely to see.

Migrant birds
Late July saw the first autumn migrants arrive on Blakeney Point, approximately eight weeks after the last spring migrants of early June. These were a Pied Flycatcher and a Garden Warbler on 27th July. We expect to see Willow Warblers and Wheatears appearing on the Point very soon. On several occasions throughout July a lone Roseate Tern was seen on the Point making it possible to see five tern species together on the end of the Point (Sandwich, Common, Little, Arctic and Roseate).

Seals
Low tide seal counts on Stiffkey West Sands were as follows – note the high count of Common Seals on 24th:

Date
Grey Seal
Common Seal
27th June 2018
304
90
2nd July 2018
309
107
18th July 2018
264
233
24th July 2018
289
429


Invertebrates
Our butterfly transect counts have recorded relatively low numbers. Moth trapping, on the other hand, has produced high moth numbers and diversity with highlights including Garden Tiger, Poplar Hawkmoth, Pine Hawkmoth, Privet Hawkmoth (pictured below), Eyed Hawkmoth, Buff Tip and Buff Arches.

Privet Hawkmoth (Carl Brooker)


Reserve management
This year, there has been significantly less Ragwort (plant, toxic to livestock) on Blakeney Freshes than 2017. This is a reflection of our persistent pulling efforts; big thanks to our volunteers who have helped us with Ragwort control. Dry weather impeding grass growth, combined with cattle grazing, has resulted in much of Blakeney Freshes being the ideal height. We will also be mowing throughout August and into autumn to create optimum habitat for our overwintering geese.


Carl and Ajay "Ragworting" on the Freshes (Val Mac-Fall)

Looking ahead, a date for your diaries is the Blakeney Point beach clean on Saturday 15th September at 10am from the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley Beach car park. This is part of the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean weekend.

Ajay Tegala,
Ranger

Thursday, 5 July 2018

June Wildlife Round-up

June has seen the first Common Seal pups of the year on Blakneney Point and lots of chicks appearing across the reserve. We will be continuing to carefully follow their progress throughout July.

Breeding birds
 We are delighted to report three Bittern sightings on Blakeney Freshes in the second half of June, seen in the vicinity of the reedbed on 15th, 25th and 28th June. Also in the reedbed, two juvenile Marsh Harriers were noted on 26th. We are very pleased to now have two broods of Little Ringed Plovers: the original pair with three well-grown juveniles plus a second pair with smaller chicks. Flying juvenile Lapwings were observed on the Freshes from 21st. Mallards appear to have had a very good season, with several broods of varying ages across the Freshes. The Black-headed Gull colony on Stiffkey Meals is doing well, with 23 chicks close to fledging. This colony has been slowly building up over the last three years, having previously been absent for some time, and is attracting Common Terns to also prospect there. The 14 pairs of Sand Martins at Gramborough Hill, Salthouse are doing well with five chicks observed poking out of nest holes on 19th. On Blakeney Point, there has been a late arrival of Sandwich Terns, with 165 pairs nesting on the tip of Far Point alongside 185 Black-headed Gull pairs. There are also dozens of Common Tern chicks, from 103 nests – more than twice as many as last year – and four pairs of Arctic Terns on the tip of the Point. Unfortunately, the Little Tern colony near the Watch House has suffered from Kestrel predation, which has been a problem at several colonies around the country this year. We are hoping the addition of diversionary feeding stations will encourage the Kestrels away from the colony. Our focus remains on looking after the remaining nests and chicks as we keep up our daily presence at this colony. Elsewhere on the Point, there are 45 Little Tern pairs breeding on the beach towards the western end.

Black-headed Gull chick, Blakeney Point (Ajay Tegala)

Shelducklings, Blakeney Freshes (Ajay Tegala)

Little Tern with chick, Blakeney Point (Barry Brooks)

Little Tern chick using shelter, Blakeney Point (Ryan Doggart)
 

Migrant birds
The start of June saw a rather sensational end to the spring migration with Moltoni’s Subalpine Warbler on 2nd and 3rd plus Paddyfield Warbler and Short-toed Lark on 5th. Passages of Swifts were observed throughout the month, peaking at 41 on 16th. Curlew arrivals have been noted, with eight recorded on 22nd.

Seals
The first Common Seal pup of the season was seen in the second half of June. As is usual, low tide seal counts show a definite increase in numbers from May:

Date
Grey Seal
Common Seal
16th May 2018
20
46
13th June 2018
50
20
27th June 2018
304
90
2nd July 2018
309
107

Invertebrates
Moths trapped on Friary Hills, for National Moth Weekend, included Small Elephant, Poplar and Pine Hawkmoths and Burnished Brass. A freshly emerged female Emperor dragonfly was observed on Blakeney Freshes on 13th June. On Blakeney Point, Dark Green Fritillary butterflies were recorded from 23rd with eight seen on 28th. The end of the month also saw dozens of day-flying Silver Y and Cinnabar moths.

Plants
In early June, nine Bee Orchid spikes were counted on Young's Land (a field owned by the National Trust located between Blakeney Garage and the coast path).
 
Bee Orchid, Blakeney (Ajay Tegala)


Reserve management
June saw the beginning of our annual Ragwort control. Uprooting this poisonous plant is a legal requirement on areas with grazing livestock, which includes Blakeney Freshes. We will be doing lots more of this throughout July as well as cutting thistles in order to avoid them going to seed, spreading and outcompeting other plants of higher conservation value.

Ajay Tegala,
Ranger

Friday, 22 June 2018

21st of June: Sandwich Solstice

There are currently over 100 Sandwich Terns roosting on the end of Blakeney Point. These are late arrivals having turned up at Blakeney over the last few days. Most probably failed breeders from elsewhere - anywhere in the North Sea population - we are pretty sure some of them are on eggs and hope that more will lay over the next few days. If all goes well, there should be just enough time for them to fledge young before the need to begin their return migration to Africa.

Sandwich Terns roosting on the tip of the Point (Ajay Tegala)

We are leaving them undisturbed, but hope to conduct a nest count once they are settled. We are keeping our fingers crossed for them, and also for the 52-60 pairs of Little Terns on the main shingle ridge; a number of them have chicks now and feeding is looking very good.


Blakeney Point on the Summer Solstice (Ajay Tegala)


Ajay Tegala,

Ranger

Monday, 4 June 2018

May Wildlife Round-Up

May has been a joyous month with the discovery of numerous nests and chicks across the reserve

Breeding birds
May has been fantastic for hatching wader chicks on Blakeney Freshes: Lapwing chicks were present by 6th, Redshank by 17th, Avocet by 27th and the Little Ringed Plovers by the coast path hatched on 28th. It has been a good season for Lapwings, with several well-grown chick sightings. Mallard ducklings abound. From 14th May, a Bittern has been heard booming intermittently, which we are very excited about. Around 700 Black-headed Gulls were present on the saltmarsh at Stiffkey in early May, with numbers reducing to nearer 300 by 23rd when 41 nests were recorded on the Meals along with a pair of Common Terns. On our new land at Salthouse – east of Beach Road and north of the A149 – we have four pairs of Black-headed Gulls, six pairs of Avocets and a pair of Lapwings. On Blakeney Point, the first Oystercatcher egg was spotted on 3rd May, the same day that Blakeney Primary School visited to put out their Little Tern decoys. A week later, numbers in excess of 100 Little Terns were counted above the Watch House colony. The first Oystercatcher chick was seen on 3rd June. Numerous Meadow Pipit chicks have been observed in the dunes throughout May and Linnet chicks are about to fledge.

Little Tern presenting a fish to its partner (Greg Cooper)
.
Migrant birds
Numerous migrant Wheatears have been observed on Blakeney Freshes. By 16th May, Swifts, Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins were present together feeding on and above the Freshes. Blakeney Point May migrant highlights included Glaucous Gull (2nd), Osprey (4th, 12th), Short-toed Lark (5th–6th, 26th), Hobby (11th, 12th), Red-throated Pipit (12th), Red-breasted Flycatcher (15th), Icterine Warbler (two on 26th, one singing), Nightjar (26th), singing Black Redstart (26th), male Pied Flycatcher (30th) and Marsh Warbler (30th–31st). The most notable migrant of the year, so far, was a Moltoni’s Subalpine Warbler on 2nd–3rd June, which attracted around 600 visitors. This was the second record for the Point, the previous being 11th May 2015.

Footage of the 2015 Moltoni's Subalpine Warbler on Blakeney Point:
Seals
Low tide seal counts have remained low this month. We are now entering the Common Seal breeding season; pups are born on tidal sandbars in the Wash and start to show up at Blakeney later in the summer.
Date
Grey Seal
Common Seal
14th April 2018
28
75
16th May 2018
20
46

Other wildlife
A Green Hairstreak, Britain’s only green-coloured butterfly, landed on the wall of our office on 6th May; nearby Friary Hills is a good place to see them. Common Blues began appearing later in the month. Cinnabar moth sightings were made on Blakeney Freshes on 22nd and at Morston Quay on 29th. A Water Vole was observed on the Freshes on 16th; it is always a delight to see these most appealing small mammals.

Ajay Tegala,
Ranger

Thursday, 17 May 2018

17th of May: Taking Stock

This week brought much excitement when Point-based rangers Leighton, Luke and Ryan informed me that a Stock Dove was nesting on the Lifeboat House. Up until 2012, a pair of Stock Doves nested in the roof of the building every year. The winter restoration of the Lifeboat House, in 2012/13, made it watertight, which was much appreciated by the rangers living inside, but meant that the Stock Doves no longer had access to their favoured nesting place. A pair were seen in the area in spring 2013, but did not go on to breed. With permission from the National Trust's regional curator, I put up a nest box on the building, which was painted blue to match the Lifeboat House cladding. Sadly, this was never used.


Stock Dove inside the Lifeboat House, 2012 (Joe Cockram)

In 2011, volunteer Bee B├╝che put up nest boxes designed for Swifts on the look-out tower, hoping to attract them by playing recordings of their calls. Swift calls were played in the tower for three consecutive springs but did not manage to attract Swifts, which have never bred on the Point. In 2015, a pair of Starlings nested in one of the boxes, the first breeding record since the 1980s. This gave me the idea to remove a side panel from one of the Swift boxes so that it might be attractive to Stock Doves. Three years later, and six years since last breeding, it is a delight to have them back!


The nest contains two eggs...


In other news, on Blakeney Freshes we were delighted to hear a Bittern booming in the reedbed this week. The Freshes are looking fantastic at the moment, with good numbers of Lapwing and Redshank chicks...
Redshank chick on Blakeney Freshes (Ajay Tegala)



Lapwing on Blakeney Freshes (Ian Chilton)


Black-headed Gulls have started laying on the Freshes this week, having made nests out of reeds...


And finally, back to the Point, we are thrilled to have Little Terns present at the Watch House colony in double figures, with birds landing near the decoys put out by Blakeney Primary School. If you are walking up the Point, look out for our friendly Little Tern volunteers and please follow their advice to help protect these precious seabirds.

-Ajay Tegala, Ranger