Saturday, 30 June 2012

30th of June: Alpine Swift

The middle of summer is always a quiet time of year for bird migration, and so we weren't expecting to see any unusual birds on our morning walk around the Point. You can imagine our surprise then when an Alpine Swift suddenly zoomed over the dunes in front of us, powered low over our heads and towards the mainland! As the name suggests, Alpine Swifts breed mainly in mountainous areas of Europe, but their long migration from southern Africa makes them prone to overshooting, and they are a regular vagrant to the UK. This is only the 2nd Alpine Swift to be recorded on Blakeney Point, the first bird was seen over The Hood in June 1962.
Alpine Swift (Joe Cockram)

Today has also been a good day for chicks. Two Reed Buntings fledged from a nest at the Long Hills. The last remaining Oystercatcher egg on the landing ridge hatched. Also, this Redshank chick hatched around midday, the chicks were audible inside the other three eggs, so they should hatch very soon.
Redshank chick beside three hatching eggs (Ajay Tegala)

Today's low tide seal count was the highest of the season so far with 875 Grey and 218 Common on the West Sands. Whilst counting the seals on the beach, two fledged Shelduck were seen and an Arctic Skua was pilfering fish from Sandwich Terns. There was also a Common Whitethroat in the plantation in the morning.

- Joe

Friday, 29 June 2012

It's a hard life for a sandwich tern

My name is Niki Lowndes and I'm you're Blakeney guest blogger for the day. I have been living in the lifeboat house with the Blakeney wardens for the past month whilst carrying out my research project for my Master’s degree in Conservation at UCL. My project looks at the feeding ecology of sandwich terns and is specifically focused on their interactions with the black-headed gulls they nest with. I have been observing the birds at a distance using a scope to ensure my observations do not disturb the nesting birds. This is particularly important because sandwich terns are considered to be of amber conservation status and of European concern due to recent breeding range declines (1969-2007). The Blakeney population is particularly important as it’s the UKs largest Sandwich tern colony, with 3,735 nests being counted this year. 
Sandwich tern colony at far point (Niki Lowndes)

I have been observing sandwich terns flying into to colony and recording data on chick provisioning, including prey type, prey size, whether the feeding attempt was successful and if not why not. In brief my observations showed that the terns were feeding chicks primarily sand eels and clupeids with the odd squid, crustacean and invertebrate being brought back. 

 Sandwich tern feeding chick a sand eel (Niki Lowndes)

Sandwich terns nest with black-headed gulls because they provide protection from other predators, including common gulls, herring gulls and birds of prey, which would take tern chicks. However, with these benefits come consequences and the black-headed gulls will steal fish from the terns, this is known as kleptoparasitism. I also observed black-headed gulls eating tern chicks whole when they were young and small enough, this was pretty horrible to watch on account of the chicks being so cute!

Sandwich tern chick spreading its wings (Niki Lowndes)

The gulls were persistent and would follow a tern with a fish in aerial pursuit preventing the tern landing as many as 15 times. Sometimes they would mob the terns in large numbers, I observed as many as ten gulls mobbing one tern and pushing it to the ground to obtain a fish. As well as aerial theft from the adult tern, I observed the gulls stealing food directly from the chick’s mouth; sometimes the chick would hold onto the fish and be dragged into the air and dropped from height. The likelihood of kleptoparasitism increased with the size of the fish and bringing back clupeids was the most risky because they are highly reflective and therefore draw more attention from the gulls.

Black-headed gulls fighting over a stolen sand eel, with a hungry tern chick waiting for a dinner which won't come (Niki Lowndes)

It isn't all bad news and the terns will sometimes out fly the gulls. They do also fight back and will protect feeding chicks using their wings to shield the chicks from the gulls. I also observed a rather altruistic oystercatcher who was nesting nearby attack a black-headed gull which was attacking a tern chick.

Sandwich tern protecting chick from black-headed gull (Niki Lowndes)

This year as well as having to deal with black-headed gull piracy, the sandwich terns have had to deal with particularly poor summer weather, with high winds and cold rains being frequent. Despite all these trials and tribulations the good news is that yesterday we observed the first fledged sandwich tern chicks.

In other news, the little tern colony is having less success and due to the aforementioned poor weather and a heron getting into the colony on Tuesday, only a few chicks have hatched so far. Many birds are, however, still incubating eggs so hopefully these will hatch soon and we'll keep you updated with their progress. 

Thursday, 28 June 2012

28th of June: Chick and Nest News

The first two Arctic Tern chicks are looking healthy and fluffy.
Photo: Joe Cockram

There have also been a number of Black-headed Gulls out and about.
Photo: Joe Cockram

A number of Curlews have been passing though, plus a few Lapwings.
Curlews (Joe Cockram)

Many Meadow Pipit chicks have been seen to date, and two Skylark chicks were seen today. This photograph shows an adult Meadow Pipit on a post with a juvenile on the right.
Photo: Joe Cockram

Following on from our previous posts about the Gadwall/ Grey Patridge nest, the depressing conclusion was that the partridge chicks failed to successfully hatch. Despite starting to hatch, with the lack of devoted parents, they were fighting against the odds. Insufficient incubation and cold rain sadly prevented the eggs from hatching, bringing a natural conclusion to our wildlife drama.
Photo: Edward Stubbings

- Ajay

Monday, 25 June 2012

Swallowtails at Horsey

Yesterday at least a dozen Swallowtail butterflies were seen at Horsey. Two to three were seen in the nature garden, by the car park, on Sweet William flowers.
Photo: Stephen Prowse

Swallowtails have declined in the UK since the late nineteenth century due largely to drainage of wetland areas limiting their foodplant, Milk Parsley. They are now restricted to the Norfolk Broads.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

20th of June: Arctic Tern Chick

Like most years, there are about six nesting pairs of Arctic Terns on the point this year. They have the longest migration of any bird on earth, wintering off South Africa and Antarctica and breeding in northern Europe and the Arctic. Today the first Arctic Tern chick of the season hatched:
Newly hatched Arctic Tern chick (Paul Nichols)

The seven Gadwall chicks have now left the nest, leaving eleven Grey Partridge eggs. They are no longer being incubated by the Gadwall... or a partridge. Although the eggs are getting cold, the warm weather seems to have been enough to enable a couple of them to start hatching! It will be interesting to see what becomes of any partridge chicks that successfully hatch.
Grey Partridge eggs starting to hatch (Ajay Tegala)

The Ringed Plover chicks near the Lifeboat House are both alive and well, constantly scurrying around the mud looking for the tiniest of morsels.
Photo: Joe Cockram

- Joe

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

19th of June: June Migration

A warm south-easterly wind produced the first notable migrants of the week. A male Stonechat, briefly, and this superb male Red-backed Shrike were seen this morning.
Above and below: Red-backed Shrike (Joe Cockram)

This afternoon a Common Whitethroat and an un-streaked Acrocephalus warbler (probably a Reed Warbler) were added to the migrant list.

The Gadwall/ Grey Partridge nest, mentioned yesterday, was observed this morning. Three Gadwall chicks had just hatched. This evening, this had increased to seven incredibly cute chicks. We now await the fate of the eleven partridge eggs remaining in the nest.
Gadwall chicks (Joe Cockram)

- Joe

Monday, 18 June 2012

18th of June: Egg dumping

Today we went to the end of the Point at low tide to count terns. We were looking for Common and Little Terns in particular, in areas where nests had been counted from a boat over a week ago. We found eleven Common Tern nests and only one Little Tern nest. A week ago there had been twelve Common Tern nests and fifteen Little, so it wasn't good news. There were also two Common Tern nests on Middle Point as well as four Arctic Tern nests.  

We also found this nest. It looks to us like eleven Grey Partridge eggs and seven Gadwall eggs... in the same nest! A female Gadwall was incubating the eggs and there are at least two pairs of Grey Partridges in the area. Sometimes two female Grey Partridges will lay eggs in the same nest and it looks like on this occasion the female Grey Partridge misidentified the nest it was laying in. The Gadwall eggs were hatching when we found them so it will be interesting to see what, if anything, will incubate the partridge eggs once they've hatched......  
-Edward Stubbings

Sunday, 17 June 2012

17th of June: Further Progress

 The breeding birds continue to crack on with things despite some appalling weather:

The first Black-headed Gull fledglings are starting to appear.

This brood of Mallard ducklings was being led from the nest site in the dunes to the saltmarsh.

Arctic Tern still on eggs.

One of the Ringed Plover chicks from before, both seem to be doing well and are able to feed themselves at just 4 days old!

-Joe Cockram

Thursday, 14 June 2012

14th of June: Chicks!

The last few days has seen a mass hatching in the wader nests on Blakeney Point. It is very difficult for the wardens to keep tabs on wader chicks as they generally leave the nest within a few hours and start to feed for themselves under the watchful eye of their parents.

All that remains of a successful Redshank nest in the dunes. The young birds are escorted out onto the saltmarsh by the parents as soon as they are able to walk. 

The Ringed Plover nest outside the Lifeboat House that featured in the post Trials and Tribulations of a Ringed Plover has finally hatched, much to the relief of the wardens, as it was a few days overdue, raising fears that the eggs were infertile. Checking the nest first thing in the morning revealed the eggs to be slightly cracked and squeaking, a few hours later one chick was out, and by lunchtime, both chicks had hatched. Later that afternoon, both chicks were spotted running around and feeding on the nearby tidal mud, looking very lively considering their young age. We shall keep a close eye on them and report on their progress.

Many Oystercatchers have hatched out now, this one was trying out his legs for the first time as he took a wander out of the nest scrape this afternoon.

-Joe Cockram

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

We're otterly pleased to have captured this!

From time to time we hear reports of otters being spotted on Blakeney Freshes, part of Blakeney National Nature Reserve, or we see signs that they have been using the grazing marshes and associated ditch network, but without knowing how frequent they are.

So we set ourselves a challenge! Chris, who is our seasonal ranger for Blakeney NNR and owns a remote trail camera, set it up in a good location and left it for a week or so. When he retrieved it the first time, the camera captured multiple images of reeds blowing in the wind so we repositioned it and left it for another week, and in addition to swans and reed warblers look what we captured on it!

We really didn't expect to get such good footage after only two weeks and in daylight and it has set a standard now! What is really nice with this clip is that the otter has checked out the camera and blocked the sensor turning it to night vision mode! We realise the date is wrong but the time is right.

Have you seen otters in the Blakeney area? Let us know and we will collate the sightings.

I am off now to do other work but couldn't wait to share this with you.

Victoria Francis
Countryside Manager

Thursday, 7 June 2012

7th of June: Time and Tide... and Pigeon in the Privie

On Monday the first of a set of spring tides coincided with northerly winds and caused at least three Ringed Plover nests to be washed out as well as some Common and Little Terns. The struggles for life continue and the birds have now got to deal with rain and strong winds. However, during the few sunny spells that we have had laterly, we have seen many Oystercatcher eggs hatch and lots of Meadow Pipit fledglings.
Oystercatcher egg starting to hatch (Ajay Tegala)

A freshly hatched Oystercatcher chick (Ajay Tegala)

Meadow Pipit chicks in nest (Ajay Tegala)

Meadow Pipit fledgling (Joe Cockram)

We continue to see a trickle of last minute migrants including Yellow Wagtails, a Reed Warbler, a Blackcap, Spotted Flycatchers and a few Wheatears. Summering birds include a displaying Little Ringed Plover and this flock of Spoonbills.
Spoonbills in flight (Joe Cockram)

Ajay also found this Pigeon in the bathroom sitting next to his favorite bath toy. It has spent the last three nights roosting on his bedroom window sill. The mind boggles!
Pigeon in the privie (Joe Cockram)

- Eddie

Sunday, 3 June 2012

3rd of June: The Trials and Tribulations of a Ringed Plover

Although our birds are all well under way with their breeding this year, others are still busy with their journey to colder climes further North. These Ringed Plover took a break from their migration yesterday evening and roosted up near the Lifeboat House at high tide.

Unfortunately they had chosen to rest right next to one of our nesting pairs of Ringed Plover, who weren't at all impressed with their new neighbours. The female soon ran down and did her best to chase them away, obviously not happy with sharing her territory. The birds breeding in the UK are of the nominate race hiaticula, and as can be seen here are noticeably larger and paler than these tundrae birds of Northen Europe.

She puffed up and ran at and flew around the new arrivals, harassing them until they moved away.

Satisfied that she had her personal space back, she returned to her nest, which has been caged by the wardens to prevent the eggs being taken by predators.
Joe Cockram