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.

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:

Grey Seal
Common Seal
16th May 2018
13th June 2018
27th June 2018
2nd July 2018

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.

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.

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)

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:
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.
Grey Seal
Common Seal
14th April 2018
16th May 2018

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.

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

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

8th of May: Lapwing chicks!

It's been an absolutely cracking bank holiday weekend here on the Norfolk Coast. We seldom see such perfect weather in early May. It felt more like August, especially at Morston Quay with countless happy visitors enjoying the beautiful views and ferry trips in the harbour.

The weather was also appreciated by Lapwings on Blakeney Freshes, which have been hatching their young. The first few days of a chick's life are vital to its survival; warm weather is far better than wet, windy and cold.

Lapwing chick on the Freshes this morning (Ajay Tegala)

Numbers of Redshank and Avocets have increased on the Freshes. Shovelers continue to lay their eggs amongst the grass. One pair of Mute Swans have four eggs, whilst another are still building up their nest. We are also seeing more and more Mallard ducklings and Greylag Goose goslings on the Freshes. It is such a delightful time of year at Blakeney, especially with the vegetation looking so lush and green from the perfect mixture of rain and sunshine.

- Ajay Tegala, Ranger

Monday, 7 May 2018

Little Helping Hands

This spring term, Blakeney Primary School Key Stage 2 have been helping us conserve Little Terns at Blakeney. Sabrina (Membership Manager) has links with the primary school and Ajay has previously made decoys with primary school children in Northumberland. The two of them, along with Lucy (Visitor Welcome Assistant) and Val (Volunteer Ranger), have been helping the children make clay decoys to attract Little Terns to nest in suitable places on the reserve.

Made In Cley gallery very kindly fired the childrens' decoys free of charge, which we are immensely grateful for. The children then did a fantastic job painting their decoys to look like Little Terns.

One of the decoys

Last Thursday, Temple seal trips kindly ferried us all to Blakeney Point so that the children could put their decoys out in time for the first prospecting Little Terns.

Teaching the children about sand dunes

The decoys were put in a fenced enclosure on the main shingle ridge to the east of the Watch House; the Watch House colony as we call it. In the past, Little Terns have nested on areas of beach vulnerable to tidal flooding when spring tides combine with northerly winds. This has happened numerous times and has led to dozens of eggs and chicks failing.

Putting the decoys on the shingle ridge will hopefully attract Little Terns to nest high enough up to avoid being flooded. We have used decoys effectively in the past.

Visiting the colony

Last year, we had a record number of pairs nesting in the Watch House colony and fledging an excellent number of young. We have put the decoys here this year to try to encourage as many birds to nest here again and hopefully have a similarly successful season.

Putting the decoy in place

Little Terns typically follow others when it comes to nesting. Putting the decoys out early in the season will hopefully have the same effect of encouraging other birds to nest.

Whilst on the Point, on 3rd May, the children were lucky enough to spot the first Oystercatcher egg of the season, which was a very exciting moment. That day, six Little Terns were spotted displaying over the Watch House colony. A few days later, this had risen to 14.

We will keep you updated throughout the season. We will also have rangers and volunteers based at the Watch House colony on a daily basis, at our hide on the edge of the colony. Their work involves monitoring and protecting the Little Terns, including greeting walkers that visit the Point. Please follow their advice to avoid accidental disturbance to the colony and please respect the seasonal dog restrictions. This will help the Little Terns to have a better chance at hatching and raising their young.

Text: Ajay Tegala; Photographs: Sabrina Fenn

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

April Wildlife Round-Up

April has been a month of excitement, with the first Little Tern sighting and nesting well underway for wildfowl and wading birds. Breeding bird surveys continue throughout May.

Breeding birds
Breeding bird surveys on Blakeney Freshes throughout April have recorded 25 Lapwing pairs, with numerous nests found. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers were back on territory by 24th. In the latter half of the month, 28 Avocets were recorded utilising the Freshes with four showing nesting behaviour on the Eye field islands by 29th plus one Blakeney Point. Mallard ducklings were observed on the Freshes from 16th onwards and Greylag Goose goslings from 30th. Three Mallard nests were observed on Far Point between in the first half of the month. The first Redshank nest was observed on 24th. A coordinated Shelduck count across the reserve on 29th recorded 56 pairs. The first Common Terns were observed on Blakeney Point on 6th and first Little Tern on 23rd. On 26th, 350 Sandwich Terns were recorded roosting. It is looking like 2018 will be a late nesting season for Norfolk's Sandwich Terns.

Lapwing nest, Blakeney Freshes (Ajay Tegala)

Swan nest, Blakeney Freshes (Ajay Tegala)

Migrant birds
Numerous migrant Wheatears have been observed on Blakeney Freshes, with eight together on 22nd. Blakeney Point migrant highlights included: first Whimbrel on 13th, two Woodcock on 14th, Cetti’s Warbler on 16th (possibly first record on the Point itself), first Common Redstart on 17th, five Common Cranes over on 18th, first Swift on 23rd, Dotterel on 24th, first Common Whitethroat on 27th plus numerous Ring Ouzels, frequent Eider sightings, Velvet Scoter and several Yellow Wagtails.

On 20th April, Naga – the Grey Seal pup we rescued on 15th December with a gash in its head – was released at Horsey Beach after healing under the care of RSPCA East Winch rescue centre. As is often the case in the spring, seal numbers have been low, likely due to better fishing elsewhere in the North Sea. Low tide counts are expected to rise throughout May. Common Seal numbers are already rising with 75 counted on 14th April.

Other wildlife
The week commencing 16th April provided lots of butterfly interest on Friary Hills, with Brimstone, Holly Blue and Orange Tip recorded along with several Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and whites. Lizards were also observed basking. The end of April saw the first Bluebells blooming in Bullfer Grove, our woodland off the A148 east of Bale Garage; well worth a visit in early May. 

Monday, 9 April 2018

9th of April: Common re-Tern and first nest on the Point

On Friday - 6th April - Ranger Leighton spotted the first Common Terns of the year, on Blakeney Point. They landed briefly on the beach. This is slightly earlier than usual.

Yesterday evening - 8th of April - Leighton counted 50 Sandwich Terns roosting on the end of Blakeney Point.

Mallard nest on Far Point (Ajay Tegala)

Also yesterday, I stumbled upon the first nest of the spring on Blakeney Point: a Mallard nest on Far Point, which contained nine eggs. Every year since 2013, I have found a Mallard nest in this same location. Elsewhere on the reserve, on Blakeney Freshes, we have Lapwings on nests. We wish them well and look forward to countless more nests springing up over the coming weeks.

- Ajay (Ranger)

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Early Spring Wildlife Update

Following an unseasonal snowy start, March signalled the start of spring with the first Sandwich Tern sightings of the year. The ranger team have been busily preparing for the breeding bird season, which will be getting into full swing as we head further into April. 

Spring was heralded on 16th March when the first Sandwich Terns of the year were spotted flying over Blakeney Point by Jim Temple and Ajay. On 5th March, following the thawing of the snow, some 299 Wigeon were recorded utilising Blakeney Freshes. These have since left the site on migration to their breeding grounds further north. Notable bird sightings on Blakeney Point have included Black Redstart, Chiffchaff, ringtail Hen Harrier, Merlin, Short-eared Owl, Long-tailed Duck on 9th March, first winter Iceland Gull on 16th, five Blue Tits on 27th (very rare on Blakeney Point), Lesser Redpoll on 28th, Brambling on 31st (a spring rarity) and some “firsts of the spring” in April: six Swallows, a Sand Martin and six Wheatears on 3rd plus two Firecrests on 4th. On Friary Hills, a Chiffchaff landed at Carl’s feet on 23rd March and seven Common Buzzards were recorded flying over Blakeney Freshes on 29th. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew over our Blakeney Office at Friary Farm on 4th April.

On 5th March, a minimum 21 Moorhens were counted on Blakeney Freshes, which is the highest number recorded there in some time. Gamebirds have been holding territories for a while; we are pleased to have a pair of Grey Partridges on Blakeney Freshes, plus four on Blakeney Point. Shelduck are back on territory on Blakeney Point; we will be conducting a coordinated census across the reserve at the end of April. On Blakeney Freshes, Marsh Harriers were observed nest building from 6th March, with food passing witnessed on 10th and 30th. There have been regular Bittern sightings near the reedbed from 15th March onwards. We have our fingers crossed for breeding Bitterns on the reserve this year and will be carrying out monitoring work to confirm this.

In the week following the heavy snow, an early butterfly was recorded on Friary Hills: a Small Tortoiseshell on 9th March. The first Bumblebee of the spring on Blakeney Point was observed on 25th March: a probable queen Red-tailed. A Red-tailed Bumblebee was also observed by our Morston Quay Information Centre on 4th April.

A Water Vole was observed on Blakeney Freshes on 9th March. On 22nd March, Ryan spotted a tagged Grey Seal on Blakeney Point. It is believed to have been released by Mablethorpe Seal Sanctuary, in Lincolnshire, having been rescued from nearby Donna Nook.

Reserve management
In early April, we will be putting up fenced enclosures to protect nesting Avocets and Little Terns on Blakeney Point, Stiffkey Meals and Salthouse beach. Ajay and Sabrina have been working with Blakeney Primary School to make Little Tern decoys, which they will be putting on the shingle ridge to attract these rare birds to nest in areas free from the risk of tidal flooding. We are taking advantage of a wet start to April, and are holding water back on the western side of Blakeney Freshes. This will enable us to top up water levels in the reedbed later in the summer to maintain suitable conditions for Bitterns.

Seasonal dog restrictions
We would like to thank all dog walkers in advance for following our usual seasonal dog restrictions on Blakeney Point. These run from 1st April to 15th August to protect rare and vulnerable ground-nesting birds – such as the Little Tern – from disturbance. Your support enables us to give our precious birds a better chance to hatch and raise their young.

Thank you
Finally, a great big thank you to all who helped with our recent spring beach clean; an impressive 98 volunteers attended. We are grateful to North Norfolk District Council for disposing of the litter. Thank you also to our Little Tern volunteers for helping us put up the breeding bird enclosures. Our Little Tern volunteers will be based near the Watch House from mid-May to help visitors enjoy their visit without accidentally disturbing any nesting birds.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

4th of April: Signs of Spring and an Easter Otter

Spring seems to be in full swing on Blakeney Freshes today. A walk around revealed lots of birds showing breeding behavior. From a displaying Redshank to territorial Lapwings and an incubating Mallard to a pair of Marsh Harriers high above the reedbed. Shelduck are pairing up too. "Pinging" Bearded Tits are audible amongst the reeds as are the noisy squarks of Black-headed Gulls in full summer plumage. Avocets have returned for the spring, favouring an island surrounded by water topped up by the weekend's heavy rain. Over the weekend - on Easter Sunday to be precise - one of our trail cameras captured this Otter in one of the southern fields...

- Ajay Tegala, Ranger