Sunday, 29 May 2016

29th of May: Blooming marvellous

In the run up to June and with all this warm sun, the flowering plants are beginning to carpet the dunes in colour. With many early plants like the Common Stork's-bill Erodium cicutarium, which has been flowering since April, already coming into seed, we are seeing new plants emerging every day. If you have been out walking the shingle ridge this month you would have seen the monstrous Sea Kale Crambe maritima in full bloom and the first of the Yellow Horned-poppy’s Glaucium flavum, which have thrown out their vibrant yellow flowers from prickly blue-green capsules. On the Point, the Common Cat’s-ear Hypochoeris radicata and Mouse-ear Hawkweed Pilosella officinarum are laying down a carpet of yellow over the dunes and Thrift Armeria maritima has been covering vast stretches of Great Sandy low in a cloud of pink. If you are on the Point next month you will see the Sea-lavender begin to flower, but with four species; Common, Rock, Matted and Lax-flowered on the Point, you will have to look a little closer to tell them apart.

 Sea Kale (Wynona Legg)

Yellow Horned-poppy (Wynona Legg)

With the emerging flowers comes bustling insects ready to take full advantage of their sweet nectar and rich pollen. We are seeing good numbers of common blue butterflies along the shingle ridge and small copper flitting among the sheep sorrel in the dune among other travellers coming in off the sea. An abundance of caterpillars can be seen at this time including the moth of the Garden Tiger Arctia caja, sometimes known as ‘the woolly bear’ due to its dense long hairs...
 
We have our first tern nests of the year confirmed this week. With 29 Common Tern and 7 Little Tern nests it is a good start to the year for them and in the next few weeks we hope to see the numbers of pairs grow. With trail cams recording sections of the shingle beach, we hope to get some footage of settling pairs next to their ceramic decoy neighbours, which have been up since April.
Common Tern (Dan Wynn)

In seal news, we have had our first healthy Common Seal pup, which was found on the Point today with mum keeping a close watch.


Those recent strong winds and turbulent tides have scoured out some of the shingle on a small section of the upper beach, leaving a steep shelf. You can see the layers of deposited sand and shingle which have formed the beach over time and the incredibly long roots of some of the dune plants which have been exposed.
The long roots of Sea Sanwort (Wynona Legg)

Wynona,
Seasonal Assistant Ranger

Sunday, 22 May 2016

22nd of May: Monitoring

A whole range of monitoring goes on at Blakeney. This week on Blakeney Point, we have been monitoring moths, birds, nests and even fish.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Martin Perrow of ECON Ecological Consultancy conducted some fish research with us. Our aim is to look at Little Tern prey availability throughout the breeding season. Seine netting was carried out at low tide, rising tide, high tide and falling tide both in the surf zone near the Watch House and in the harbour by Pinchen's Creek. We found a far greater abundance of favoured Little Tern prey items - Herring, Sand-eel and Sprat - than were present last May. This is good news for the Little Terns, which should start nesting this week.

Some of our fish finds included: Lesser Weaver (dozens in the sea), Brown Shrimp (hundreds in the harbour), Sea Bass, Flounder, Plaice, Brill, Little Cuttlefish, Hermit Crab, Swimming Crab, Edible Crab, Shore Crab (dozens in the harbour), Smelt, Sand Smelt, Common Goby, Sand Goby, Snake Pipefish, ...
Greater Pipefish

Long-spined Sea Scorpion

 Squid

 ... and even a Sea Trout!
(Photographs: Alex Long/ Ajay Tegala)

Migrant birds recorded this week included a male Cuckoo near the Lifeboat House as well as Dotterel, Little Stints, Spotted Flycatchers, Tree Pipits, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Swifts, House Martins, Wheatears and a Common Whitethroat. At dusk on Friday, a Barn Owl was seen over the dunes, although they nest nearby on Blakeney Freshes, it is very rare to see one on the Point itself.

We are currently monitoring a total of 121 nests on the Point as part of the BTO Nest Recording Scheme. These are mostly Oystercatcher and Meadow Pipit nests, but also Redshank, Ringed Plover, Black-headed Gull, Mallard, Linnet and a Reed Bunting. Our findings - number of eggs, number of chicks fledging etc. - feed into the national database monitoring breeding bird productivity. It involves finding nests and visiting them every four days to follow their progress. This week we have seen the first Meadow Pipit chicks.

On the Point, we often find unusual breeding bird behaviour. Whether it be Oystercatchers sharing nests, a Grey Partridge dumping eggs in a Gadwall nest or even Arctic Terns incubating a Little Tern egg. This year, a Black-headed Gull nest we are monitoring on Middle Point was taken over by an Oystercatcher. Our first visit recorded two gull eggs, but the second visit found one gull egg (below right) and one Oystercatcher egg (below left).
(Photograph: Wynona Legg)

We have put a trail camera on the nest to monitor what is happening; to find out if an Oystercatcher is indeed incubating both eggs and whether the Black-headed Gull is still present at all. There is always something new to learn about bird behaviour on Blakeney Point!

Our moth trap caught this splendid Marbled Coronet on Friday. These are a species we regularly catch out here.
(Photograph: Dan Wynn)

In seal news, our latest low tide count recorded 101 Grey and 83 Common Seals hauled out on the West Sands - on Thursday (19th).

Sea Campion - flowering now:
(Photograph: Ajay Tegala)
- Ajay, Coastal Ranger

Sunday, 15 May 2016

It's not all good news at Blakeney

It has been widely reported in the news that the mild winter has caused a national boom in the rat population. Blakeney Point has become increasingly attractive to rats in wintertime due to the number of breeding Grey Seals and associated large gulls. 

Rats can pose a major threat to breeding birds, namely the ground-nesting Black-headed Gull and Sandwich Tern colonies. They caused complete breeding failure in 2000. This year, we have put a great amount of time and effort in to rat control at Blakeney.


Despite our efforts, the ever-thicker, dense and twisted cover of Suaeda (Shrubby Sea-blite), combined with the speed of rat colonisation and reproduction, has made control increasingly challenging.

It is always disappointing when predators impact on breeding birds. Unfortunately, our persistent rat control has not been able to prevent predation and disturbance to the Black-headed Gull colony on Blakeney Point this spring.

This is a conservation issue because the rare Sandwich Terns only start nesting after the Black-headed Gulls have settled, gaining protection against predators from the gulls. Consequently, there are much reduced numbers of Sandwich Terns present.

The north Norfolk Sandwich Tern population has always moved between Blakeney Point and Scolt Head Island (15 miles to the west). This year the majority are nesting at Scolt Head.

15th of May: Oystercatcher trio still together

Year after year, the same Oystercatcher trio have shared a nest near the Lifeboat House. This season they are back again and still together. The trio consists of two females and a male. This year the females have laid three eggs each...

Shared Oystercatcher nest (A. Tegala)

There is now a total of 12 Oystercatcher nests along the Landing Ridge.

Unlike the lucky male Oystercatcher who has two partners, there has been a lonely Red-legged Partridge on the Point for the last two years. For two whole years, it has hung around with Grey Partridges or spent time wondering the dunes alone. But this week, it was spotted with a second Red-legged Partridge! We bet it thought the day would never come!

Another nice discovery was this Dotterel on Thursday:
Dotterel in Great Sandy Low (D. Wynn)

Other migrants this week have included Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Spotted Flycatcher.
Spotted Flycatcher in the Plantation (D. Wynn)

Our latest seal count recorded 10 Grey and 112 Common Seals hauled out on the West Sands. A slightly unexpected mammal sighting was this curious Muntjac caught investigating one of our of our trail cameras...

- Ajay, Coastal Ranger

Sunday, 8 May 2016

8th of May: Sunshine at last

At last, we have had a run of sunny days on the Point. Butterfly sightings have greatly increased because of it, with the first Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Wall of the spring.

Nests have been springing up all over the Point, with the discovery of the first Oystercatcher, Redshank, Meadow Pipit and Linnet nests this week.

There are currently seven Oystercatcher nests along the landing ridge. As usual, we have put string fence-lines around the nests to protect them from trampling. Please help the incubating parents-to-be by not lingering too close to their nests, as this will keep them away from their eggs.

It was great to see lots of people enjoying the Point yesterday evening...
High tide on the landing ridge (H. Mitchell)

The spring tides came in pretty close to this Oystercatcher nests, but thankfully the egg was just high enough up the beach to escape being washed away (by about three inches!)...
Oystercatcher nest on the landing ridge (H. Mitchell)

With winds from the southeast, a nice selection of migrant birds have been spotted over the last few days. These included Whinchats, Spotted Flycatchers, Redstarts, Blackcaps, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and even a Collared Dove. The latter being a Blakeney Point rarity. Even more of a rarity and surprise was Thursday's Dartford Warbler on the Hood. Although these breed nearby on the mainland, there have been less Point sightings than fingers on your hand!
Collared Dove in the Plantation (D. Wynn)

The fair weather has been perfect for our early morning breeding bird surveys. Here is a taste of the sort of numbers we have been recording, with last years figures for comparison...


Species
Territories 2016
Territories 2015
Change 2015-16
Yankee Ridge/ Long Hills
Skylark
5
5
0
Meadow Pipit
22
22
0
Wren
1
2
-1
Linnet
17
16
+1
Reed Bunting
8
12
-4
Near Point
Swallow
1
1
0
Skylark
1
1
0
Meadow Pipit
4
11
-7
Wren
1
0
+1
Linnet
9
9
0
Landing Ridge
Skylark
2
2
0
Meadow Pipit
8
8
0
Linnet
7
8
-1

The spring tides provided a perfect opportunity to monitor Common and Little Tern activity on the very tip of Far Point. It is looking good for both species, with a minimum of 10 Little Tern pairs and 40 Common Tern pairs appearing to be on territory.
Common Tern pair on the tip (W. Legg)

Common and Little Terns together (W. Legg)

There has been a nice show of seals too...

- Ajay, Dan and Wynona,
Blakeney Point Rangers