Sunday, 19 October 2014

19th of October: A Mini Rush of Thrushes

The north-easterly winds early in the week blew a number of migrant birds to Blakeney Point. Many of them were thrushes having crossed the North Sea from Scandinavia. Song Thrushes peaked at 125 on the 13th, Blackbirds at 50 on the 15th and Redwings at 90 also on the 15th.

The most impressive arrival was of some 109 Ring Ouzels in two large flocks on the 13th; this is by far the largest number of Ring Ouzels recorded on the Point in a single day. The previous record having been just 30.

Other notable arrivals included 140 Robins and 45 Blackcaps on the 13th plus 140 Goldcrests and 10 Short-eared Owls on the 14th. Among the migrants were a number of special birds, including 2 Long-eared Owls, 2 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Great Grey Shrikes and the first Shore Larks of the autumn.

Purple Sandpiper camouflaged amongst shingle

Long-eared Owl on Far Point

Reports from other parts of Blakeney National Nature Reserve include a Bittern on Blakeney Freshes and Snow Buntings over Granborough Hill at Salthouse. We wait eagerly for the first over-wintering flocks of Snow Buntings to take up their residences on the Point and at Salthouse. In fact, it is a time of year full of anticipation, as we also await the birth of the first Grey Seal pup. Pupping has already started on the Farne Islands and is imminent at nearby Donna Nook in Lincolnshire. On Friday we saw the first signs of a seal investigating the dunes. Our first pups normally appear between the 26th and 30th of October. We will let you know as soon as number one is born.

In preparation, we have put out metal road pins to form fence-lines when pupping gets underway. Please do not interfere with these, as they will all be joined together with string when pupping starts. This is important, as the pups are vulnerable to disturbance and adults can be extremely vicious.

This map shows the restricted zones (click map to enlarge):
Zone A - no access at any time of year to protect hauled-out seals on the tip
Zone B - fenced off 31st October to 1st February to protect seal pups (core area)
Zone C - fenced off 15th November to 1st February to protect seal pups 
The red dotted lines show suggested walking routes during the restricted period. These routes have various viewpoints to get good views of the seals.

We are running seal events on the 28th and 29th of November; see our web-site for full details and booking.

Continuing the seal theme. We have just had news through about a tagged Grey Seal found dead on the Point earlier in the year. It had been rescued as a pup and released by RSPCA East Winch in 1999, making it 15 when it sadly died. This is in fact the oldest recorded of a released from East Winch.

We also had news this week of a ringed female Little Tern we found dead on the beach in the summer. This bird had been ringed at the Humber Estuary, Lincolnshire in 1993, making it an impressive 20 years and 11 months. The average life expectancy is around 12 years and the record is 23 years and 11 months.
We knew the bird was a female because it was egg-bound. The above photograph - although a little gruesome - shows the egg inside the bird.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

12th of October: Good for Gannets

The last week, on Blakeney Point, has been good for...


...and Sunrises:

Birds seen this week include Blackbirds, Redwings, Song Thrushes, Bramblings, Chiffchaffs, Lapland Buntings, Robins, Redstarts, Red-throated Divers, a Greenfinch, a Blackcap and a Long-eared Owl in off the sea.

Oystercatchers at high tide

Turnstones on the shoreline

This week we also spotted a Dune Stinkhorn:
These distinctive mushrooms, that grow in sand dunes, have caps covered in a smelly coating to attracts insects that distribute spores.

- Ajay -with photography by Sarah and Paul

Sunday, 5 October 2014

5th of October: Autumn Skies

Autumn is definitely here. Although it has been a sunny Sunday, there is a cold edge to the evening air. Blakeney harbour is alive with the burbling sounds of Brent Geese, whistling Wigeon and occasional skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying over. Bird highlights of the last few days have included a Tree Sparrow (very rare on the Point),  Rock Pipits, Stonechats, Whinchats and even a Kingfisher. Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and the odd Redwing have passed over. A Honey Buzzard was seen above the dunes this afternoon. One was also seen on the 23rd, being mobbed by a male and female Peregrine.

After the rain, yesterday afternoon, sun shone through the clouds and some gorgeous colours filled the skies...

We haven't blogged for a while. So a belated big thank you to all who came along to help with the Great British Beach Clean on Blakeney Point on the 20th of September. We were able to clear litter all of the way from Cley Beach to the end of Far Point, some four miles.
The pile after the first two hours

 Another load

The most frequent litter items were blue plastic drinking straws, small pieces of plastic and over 200 helium balloons. These items can be extremely harmful to sealife when ingested. We urge people not to release helium balloons, as so many end up in the sea. Unfortunately it is impossible to get on top of sea-borne litter, as it is ever washing up on our shores. But thanks to the recent beach clean, the Blakeney Point shoreline is tidy for a while at least.

During the litter-pick, we found three young Wood Mice and their parent in the sand. There are so many beautiful things to discover on the Norfolk Coast, even when its raining...

-Ajay (Coastal Ranger)
with photos by Sarah Johnson and Alex Green

Monday, 15 September 2014

Help us tidy up Blakeney Point for the Great British Beach Clean

The recent high tides have washed up a lot of litter on Blakeney Point. For the Great British Beach Clean, we are carrying out a litter pick on Saturday. Please come along and help.

 (Click above to enlarge)

Sunday, 14 September 2014

14th of September: A rustling in the bushes

Birdwatching on Blakeney Point at this time of year can be an absolute delight. Amongst the brambles and Suaeda bushes, migrant birds can often be found. This week has produced Redstarts, Whinchats, Wheatears, Song Thrushes, Willow and Garden Warblers, Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers. Also, the first Blackcap, Redwing and Brambling of the autumn have been seen this weekend.

Yesterday morning, I investigated a rustling in the brambles. Expecting a Song Thrush, I was slightly surprised to see a Sparrowhawk shoot out. A lucky Linnet also flew out. This morning, there was an even bigger surprise; a Hoopoe. These distinctive birds are a stunning sight and have only been recorded on the Point on little over a dozen occasions.

Two other notable rarities turned up at the Hood on Thursday: a Greenish Warbler and a Red-breasted Flycatcher. The latter was particularly showy...

Red-breasted Flycatcher at the Hood (Richard Porter)

Long-tailed Skua this morning (Richard Porter)

Monday saw the first Pink-footed Geese of the autumn, when 31 flew over. A low tide seal count on the same day recorded 729 Grey and 27 Common (of which 10 were pups). Numbers of ducks are also swelling, with the arrival of Teal and Wigeon. On Thursday 170 Pintail flew west over the Point. Thursday also produced a Jack Snipe and a movement of Brent Geese was noted. Amongst the dunes, three coveys of Grey Partridges can regularly be seen, the largest consisting of seven birds.

This Thursday also brought the biggest tides of the year. The water almost tickled the steps to the Lifeboat House...

It was a still morning. Had the wind been from the north, then it would have pushed the tide higher. In this photo, Graham can be seen walking the tideline left by the December surge, when onshore wind certainly did push the tide much higher...

Great Sandy Low is still holding a lot of water left behind by this week's tides

The Wood Pigeon nest, that appeared in the Tamarisk at the end of August, has sadly been abandoned. This wasn't surprising as it was in quite an exposed location. Wood Pigeons always seem to turn up late in the season on the Point and behave rather oddly - last year a bird sat on a nest for two months without laying an egg!
Abandoned eggs (Sarah Johnson)

The breeding bird season is therefore now officially over. So here is a summary of the birds that bred - or attempted to breed - on Blakeney Point in 2014:

    Shelduck - 68 pairs (up on last year)
    Gadwall - 5 pairs
    Shoveler - 1 pair
    Mallard - 4 pairs
    Red-legged Partridge - 1 pair
    Grey Partridge - 7 pairs
    Pheasant - 1 pair
    Oystercatcher - 85 pairs (down on last year)
    Avocet - 13 pairs (up on last year)
    Lapwing - 1 pair - breeding unconfirmed (bred once, 1961)
    Ringed Plover - 11 pairs
    Redshank - 16 pairs
    Black-headed Gull - 2,419 pairs
    Common Gull - 3 pairs
    Mediterranean Gull - 8 pairs
    Herring Gull - 3 pairs
    Lesser Black-backed Gull - 1 pair
    Little Tern - 110 pairs
    Sandwich Tern - 2,859 pairs (down on last year)
    Common Tern - 87 pairs (up on last year)
    Arctic Tern - 4 pairs
    Wood Pigeon - 1 pair
    Skylark - 39 pairs (up on last year)
    Swallow - 2 pairs (down on last year)
    Meadow Pipit - 102 pairs
    Pied Wagtail - 1 pair
    Wren - 4 pairs (down on last year)
    Dunnock - 11 pairs
    Wheatear - 2 territories held in spring - did not breed (last bred 1936)
    Sedge Warbler - 1 singing male - breeding unconfirmed
    Linnet - 45 pairs (up on last year)
    Reed Bunting - 27 pairs (up on last year)

We have had a pleasing number of sightings of juvenile Sandwich Terns ringed on the Point this summer:

"On the 25th of July, three birds were seen 46km WNW at Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire. On the 31st, two were seen 517km NNW at the Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire, one of which was seen 99km S at Port Seton, East Lothian on the 14th of August and then 178 km N at Findhorn, Moray on the 31st. Another four birds were seen at Findhorn between the 8th and 31st of August. One bird was seen 402km SW at Dawlish Warren, Devon from the 29th of August to 1st of September. Another bird was seen 392km S at Le Harve, France on the 14th of August and one 230km SE at Westkapelle, Netherlands on the 29th."

'KZX' was seen at Le Harve (Ian Ward)

This map shows all ringing recovery locations to date:
We also found out this week that two of the 'Shelducklings' we rescued and sent to the RSPCA in July have been released at King's Lynn Point. Fingers crossed they will return to Blakeney and breed in the future.

In invertebrate news. A fair few Red Admirals are still around. Some have been feeding on Sea Aster...
Watch House (Richard Porter)

In other news, we are delighted to have now had over 100,000 page-views since Eddie and I launched the blog just over two years ago. A big thank you to all who follow our blog and support our nature conservation work.

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)

Sunday, 7 September 2014

7th of September: Misty mornings and migrant birds

There’s been a real touch of autumn in the air this week with some beautiful, cool, misty mornings and shorter evenings, with almost summery days in between.

The change in weather has meant there’s been more activity in the Plantation and we’ve been seeing quite a few migratory birds on the Point in general, including some that we might usually expect later in the season - Robin and Goldcrest (both first seen today).  Birds seen this week include Whinchat, Wheatear, Wryneck, Song Thrush (first of autumn), Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher and Common Redstart.  One of the highlights this week was an Ortolan Bunting, which was spotted near the Hood.  This is a nocturnal migrant that winters in Africa, and is quite shy so we were lucky to get a glimpse.
Ortolan Bunting – not the best photo but gives an idea of the bird and bright eye ring
Pied flycatcher on the toilet block

In terms of botany, there are still some beautiful flowers in bloom at the moment, including the Yellow Horned-poppy that appears to be recovering well on the shingle ridge post-tidal surge, and well-established clumps of Sea Rocket. The Suaeda is still changing colour and around Pinchen’s Creek the dominant hue is increasingly autumnal.

Sea Rocket

Yellow Horned-poppy

Around Pinchen's Creek

In invertebrate news, there have been some large numbers of Red Admirals in off the sea, with very bright, fresh looking wings. This week we also ran another moth trap (after which we admired the stunning moon with Saturn just beside it through the scopes).  We had a more successful night than the last time we ran a trap due to better conditions.  Some of the species in the trap were Flounced Rustic, Coast Dart, Square-spot Rustic, Pale Eggar, Flame Shoulder, White Point and Blood Vein (below).

As a final note, we are currently in the process of updating our web-site information about Blakeney Point and more detailed information is being added about plants, birds, seals etc. So please do take a look if you are trying to id something – you may find some helpful information there – and let us know what you think.


Sunday, 31 August 2014

31st of August: The coming of Autumn

The warmth of summer days lingers on, but cooler dawns and dusks remind us that Autumn is just round the corner, other signs of this include the changing vista of the saltmarsh, gone are the bright and vibrant greens, and instead we have deep purples and crimsons of Suaeda and Glasswort.

Although Autumn is on its way, a Wood Pigeon is building a nest in the Tamarisk behind the Lab, a bit optimistic we feel.

The Yukka, or Spanish dagger (so-called due to its sharp blade-like leaves), is once again showing off its fine flower spikes...
 It was planted over a hundred years ago.
This painting was made of it in 1927:

Insects of the week 
Butterflies on the wing lately include Small Copper, Painted Lady, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell. While moths on show include a few Silver Y, and today a superb Red Underwing, which was found nectaring on Sea Aster near the Long Hills. A few Dragonflies can still be seen or heard clattering from bushes as you walk by, like Migrant Hawkers and  Ruddy Darters.
Red Underwing on Sea Aster

Migrant birds of the week
Migrant passerines finding their way onto the Point this week were four Wrynecks on the 26th, the supporting cast included a smattering of Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, as well as Redstarts, Whinchats, Stonechats, Wheatears and Willow Warblers.

 An obliging Dunlin on the saltmarsh

Mammals of the week
Common Shrew feeding near the back steps of the Lifeboat House, Pipistrelle bat in the same area, and - rather unexpectedly - a dead Mink washed up on Far Point, as well as the usual seals and Brown Hares.

Mink - a first for the Point

Brown Hare in the dunes

- Paul (with photographs by Sarah and Ajay)

Sunday, 24 August 2014

24th of August: Into the water

This Wednesday, we were alerted by the ferrymen that a flare had been let off near the wreck marker. Attending the scene immediately, a man on a dory was spotted. The engine had flooded and the boat was on its side, the man clinging to the railings. The large, choppy waves luckily pushed the boat ashore and we were able to help anchor the boat and take the man, Jamie, to the Lifeboat House for a cup of tea. The coastguards were also involved, attending the scene promptly.

With choppy seas continuing for the rest of the week, it became clear that launching the boat at high tide was too risky. Instead, some rollers were borrowed to try and get the boat down to the water at low tide.

At first, it was a struggle to lift the boat onto the rollers. But eventually, with the aid of some blocks, we got the boat moving.
Using the quad to toe it, we slowly moved it towards the water, collecting the rollers from the back and moving them to the front to keep it moving towards the water.
Jamie and Mark (the owner) were then able to walk the boat around to the channel where they were then toed back to Morston.

At the start of the week, the last Common Tern chick of the season fledged. This was the only tern chick left on the Point and we were delighted to see it taking flight.
 Common Terns with chick earlier in the season

The Swallow chicks under the Old Lifeboat House roof were not so lucky. A week after hatching, the parents sadly abandoned, the urge to migrate taking over. The weather was very autumnal this week, perhaps causing the adults to leave. This was their second clutch, so at least they had fledged five chicks earlier on in the summer.

The only active nest currently on the Point is that of a Wood Pigeon, in the garden. Whilst rummaging amongst the brambles to inspect the nest, a number of Large White butterfly larvae were noted. One took a liking to our National Trust clothing and clung on.
This week's moth trap produced several Large Yellow Underwings, Straw Underwings and Archer's Darts.

In migrant bird news, the first Whinchat, Willow Warblers and Garden Warblers of the autumn were seen on the Point this week.

Our latest low tide seal count of the West Sands was conducted on the Friday. There were 24 Common Seals and this season's highest count of Greys so far, an impressive 1,058.

- Ajay and Paul
(photography by Sarah)