Sunday, 15 February 2015

15th of February: Blakeney in February

February is quite a quiet month wildlife-wise at Blakeney. It is that gap between the breeding seal season and the breeding bird season. The Point looks empty in comparison to a month or so ago. But a few birds are around; a Black Redstart has been seen in the Plantation, a few Blackbirds in the Suaeda, Goldfinches feeding on seeds on the shingle ridge and frequent Marsh Harriers overhead - occasionally a Hen Harrier too. There are also still a small number of Snow Buntings and Shorelarks to be found.

The weather has mostly been mild, with signing Skylarks and some lovely blue skies....

Although there have been bleaker moments, like this afternoon...
...giving the Watch House a slightly mysterious atmosphere. It has been the setting for a horror novel and was also used as a sinister, remote location in the 2005 film 'Brothers of the Head' (see 4:51-5:17).


A look at the tip of Far Point reveals that the spit is still growing. A clear new ridge of shingle has formed since the summer...

Back on the Mainland, Blakeney Freshes has provided some great wildlife sightings in the past week. With regular good views of a Kingfisher, Barn Owl and Bearded Tits, and also a Water Rail swimming across a dyke. It won't be too long before we start surveying pairs of Lapwings and looking for signs of breeding Bitterns.

On the Point, patridges are pairing off. There are four pairs of Grey Partridges, one of which has a single Red-legged Partridge tagging along with them - a curious Anglo-French trio! There is also a male Pheasant holding a territory at the Hood. It feels like spring is just around the corner, it will only be a few weeks before we celebrate the return of the first Sandwich Terns, one of our favourite birds here on the Norfolk Coast...
Sandwich Tern - just a few weeks away

- Ajay, Coastal Ranger

Sunday, 25 January 2015

25th of January: The less glamorous side of seal monitoring

Following a week of television attention, it is now very quiet on the seal front, the breeding season having come to an end. In a very short space of time, Blakeney Point has become almost devoid of pups, with just single figures remaining, all weaned. With the beach and dunes more-or-less desserted, we have been able to carry out some important data collection, without causing disturbance.

For the first time ever, we have collected some DNA samples from dead pups. This involves snipping a small piece of tail flipper off. The samples will be sent of for analysis to see how the Blakeney Point Grey Seal DNA differs from Grey Seal pups in other parts of the UK and also The Netherlands, this will give an idea of how much inter-change there is of adults between breeding sites from season to season.

If you see any dead pups with green dye on them, these have been marked by us to show they have been sampled (to avoid taking a sample from the same pup twice). Although there are a few dozen pup carcasses on the Point, this is perfectly natural - a 5% mortality rate is very low.

This week, we have also been collecting seal scats for anlysis. This is basically seal poo. A student at St. Andrew's in Scotland is studying Grey Seal diet. The fish species eaten by the seal can be revealed by identifying its ear drums. This study is looking at seal diet at different sites in the UK at different times of year, to teach us more about what fish species seals are eating where and when.
Picking up a seal scat

Note how empty the beach is now, but how flat the Marram grass is

A big thank you to our volunteers who spent an afternoon helping to collect scats

At the start of this week, we will be taking down the fencelines. Now that the seals have moved on, there will be access to the beach and dunes once again. However, the very tip of Far Point will remain fenced off to protect the seals that haul out here.

With the breeding seal season over, it won't be too long before the first Sandwich Tern of spring arrives. The first one is usually spotted in Norfolk towards the end of March.

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)
with photography by Richard Porter

Sunday, 18 January 2015

18th of January: On TV this week

The seal pupping season on Blakeney Point is pretty much over, with the birth of pup number 2,426 at the start of the week - more than likely the last one of this winter. As the season reaches its end, the media spotlight is very much on the Grey Seals of Blakeney Point...
One of this winter's pups (Ian Ward)

They will be featured on Winterwatch at 8pm tomorrow on BBC 2 and also on Tuesday night's episode - click here for a sneak preview. To coincide with Winterwatch, the seals are also appearing on Blue Peter at 5.30pm Thursday (22nd) on CBBC. Tune in and look out for Rangers Ajay and George on Winterwatch and Blue Peter respectively.


Ajay with Iolo Williams (BBC)


Ajay and George with Radzi Chinyanganya

Read more about the record-breaking seal pupping season on Blakeney Point on the National Trust East of England blog.

The below graph and table show just how dramatic the pupping increase has been over the last 13 years...
  
YearTotalIncrease
200125
200250100%
20037550%
200410025%
200517575%
200621322%
200727831%
200841349%
200957940%
2010/1174729%
2011/1293325%
2012/13122331%
2013/14156628%
2014/15242655%

Sunday, 11 January 2015

11th of January: Melanistic pup

Things are really quietening down in the rookery on Blakeney Point. Many weaned pups have left, as have most of the cows. There have been, however, a small number of births this week. Since the start of the new year, six pups have been born. This takes the total up to 2,425.

Weaned pups are dispersing

Among the moulted pups on the Point, is this melanistic one...

Approximately one in 300 pups are melanistic. Melanism does not affect their behaviour. On the Isles of Scilly, there is a record of a black pup being abandoned by its mother and attacked by other seals. Thankfully this one on the Point seems to be doing just fine.

In bird news, the group of 8 Shorelarks are still being seen from time to time. Similar numbers of Goldeneye and Red-breasted Mergansers are being seen in Blakeney Harbour. Snow Buntings also continue to be a frequent sight between the Point and Salthouse.
Flock of Snow Buntings

On Friday, George captured this Peregrine on Stiffkey Marshes using his phone through a telescope...

Another wildlife sighting this week was an Ocean Sunfish, that washed up near the Lifeboat House.

A number of others have washed up along the Norfolk Coast recently. These large fish are occasionally seen in Norfolk, with a handful of records from the past few years. Fishermen reported at least a dozen out to see in the summer. Presumably some of these stayed into the winter but could not cope with the cold conditions.

- Ajay

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

30th of December: Seals from the sky

Thanks to Ian Ward, we can share with you a photograph of seals on Blakeney Point viewed from the sky!
(click image to enlarge)
 
He also took these splendid shots of the Point

Our latest pup count takes the total up to 2,417, with 20 born in the last week

Around the coast at Horsey, they have had 752 pups and nearby Donna Nook, in Lincolnshire, reached a total of 1,798.

In recent Blakeney Point bird news: Snow Buntings are seen most days, with a flock of around 40 seen today. Shore Larks are a lot more illusive, but a flock of eight were seen breifly yesterday.

 - Ajay (with thanks to Ian Ward and Alex Green for photographs)

Sunday, 21 December 2014

21st of December: 3,000 miles away

At this time of year, the wildlife stars of Blakeney Point are undoubtedly the seals...


... but we haven't forgotten about the Sandwich Terns that breed here in the summer. One of the juveniles that was colour-ringed here by the BTO this summer, has been seen at Tanji on the coast of The Gambia, West Africa - around 3,000 miles from Norfolk.

Newly-ringed chick

This colour-ringing project, started in 2013, has given of us an insight into the post-breeding movements of the Sandwich Terns that breed on Blakeney Point. With birds seen in Scotland, Ireland, France, Holland, Germany and Denmark soon after leaving Norfolk.

While Blakeney Point is experiencing cold British winter weather and hosting thousands of breeding seals, the Sandwich Terns that bred here in the summer are far away in West Africa amongst Caspian Terns, Royal Terns and Grey-headed Gulls...

Tanji beach, The Gambia

It's not just Sandwich Terns that are being tracked. This Grey Seal cow is sporting a telemetry tag, fitted in The Netherlands this spring. She is one of four tagged seals from The Netherlands that have turned up at Blakeney since October. This shows just how far seals travel throughout the year. Most of the Grey Seals that breed on Blakeney Point only spend a small part of the year here.

The pupping has peaked and there are now numerous weaned pups spreading out along the Point. This one has made it onto the boardwalk.

We ask walkers on Blakeney Point to be aware that weaned pups will be scattered about the reserve. They have shed their white fur and been left by their mothers. This is natural. Please  do not approach weaned pups as going too close will cause distress. And ensure dogs are kept on leads at all times for the safety of both seals and dogs.


Pup moulting its white fur

With many pups weaned or almost weaned, lots of mating is going on in the rookery

With so many seals present, there is many a fight between bulls - some of them have clearly had a rough time

Many cows are noticeably thin having spent three weeks feeding their pups

While the pups have become very round

and have an easy life resting and living off fat reserves


There are a few black pups amongst the rookery

The beach, notably less crowded than last week

The total pup count now stands at 2,382. This puts us significantly ahead of Donna Nook, Lincolnshire (1,798) and The Farne Islands, Northumberland (1,651).

- Ajay (with photographs by Sarah and Paul)

Sunday, 14 December 2014

14th of December: Pup progress

Today's seal pup count stands at an amazing 2,303 pups so far this year - still an increase on the last count although the pupping rate is beginning to slow now as we'd expect.  At the moment there are approximately 20 pups per night being born and this will decrease further as the season progresses.

Pups of all ages, colours and sizes can now be seen on the reserve.

 





Although we've roped off the main breeding areas (as explained in previous blogs), some seals just don't obey the rules and pup outside the fenceline.  As this family who've taken up residence next to the boardwalk demonstrate, even when you're walking outside the fencelines you need to keep an eye out for seals.




In bird news wintering flocks of fifty plus snow buntings  and groups of up to thirteen shore larks have been a real joy to see though you need to be lucky as they're highly mobile along the shingle ridge.  Marsh and hen harriers continue to grace the dunes and salt marsh daily whilst merlins are also regular visitors - sometimes their presence is betrayed by a pile of plucked feathers.

 Snow buntings


Sarah and Paul



Sunday, 7 December 2014

7th of December: Egyptian on the Point and record breaking pups


It's been a busy week on the Point with pup numbers breaking through the 2000 barrier, reaching a total of 2126 pups born on Blakeney Point so far this season.  This makes the Point the biggest seal colony in  England, overtaking Donna Nook in Lincolnshire who's count yesterday was 1760.  

This weekend Winterwatch were out to gather more footage for their new season starting in January.  Read more about the techniques they were using at  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-30310463 .


Winterwatch filming the seals

Many of the cows have now left the rookery leaving behind many fat weaners (weaned pups).




3 fat weaners

These will stay in the rookery until they get so hungry that they must head to the deep blue sea to fend for themselves.  The mothers/cows will play no part in teaching the pups to feed - instinct must guide the pups.

Meanwhile the bulls are attempting to mate with cows but not all the females are receptive to their brand of romance, especially when they still have pups to suckle.  This bull below had no luck on Saturday when he was seen off by the cow.



Cow fending off bull's advances

Other bulls contentedly snooze away and bide their time.


Dreaming bull

We also had an Egyptian visitor to the Point this week in the form of a goose.  This introduced species is rare on the Point despite being resident nearby.


Egyptian Goose on beach


With the cold clear weather on Saturday we had a beautiful sunset


Blakeney Harbour at sunset

followed by what may look like the setting sun, but is in fact the rising moon.


Full moon rising

Paul and Sarah