Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Spooky Halloween-themed wildlife

We challenged our twitter followers & colleagues to come up with spooky, Halloween-themed wildlife names. Here is the list so far:

Plants - Ghost Orchid  Devil's-bit Scabious, Fang-toothed Hawkweed, Creeping bent, Witch hazel, Skull-cap, Bloody cranes-bill

Fungi - Ghost Bolete,  Ghost Shield,  Devil's Bolete,  Devil's Fingers, Devil's Tooth, Witches' Butter, Witches' Whiskers Lichen, Witches' Broom, Death cap,

Inverts - Phantom Midge, Devil's Coach-horse  (a rove beetle), Ghost Moth, Deathwatch beetle, Grey dagger moth, Deaths head hawk-moth, Killer shrimp, Gadd fly, Ghost swift moth

Mammal - Vampire bat, Noctule bat 

Amphibians - Common toad, Natterjack toad

Monday, 29 October 2012

Burnham overy windmill weekend: Super nature but nothing supernatural

It's not everyday you wake up in a windmill overlooking two National Nature Reserves & next to a National Trail.

Last weekend I had this very opportunity as I was one of a group of 19 who hired the Tower Windmill in Burnham Overy for 3 nights. 
Being one of the organisers and the closest, I picked up the enormous key and chose one of the two bedrooms in the cottage annex, which is also where the kitchen, pantry, two shower rooms & two toilets are to be found. The ground floor of the windmill is the main living area with two dormitories each with four bunk beds and a fourth library floor. With each rise in storey you got a real sense of the walls leaning in and of course being round.

The kitchen equipment & crockery was put to a real test on the first night as three main courses and side dishes for 19 were cooked, but there was plenty of implements, huge pots & trays helped by two ovens and an army of 10 dishwashers. The second night was simpler by a torchlit stroll to the local pub which served good food at reasonable prices. At no point were we short of anything, least not tea towels and there was space and tables for everyone to be seated together.

We added bunting & flowers to the main room 

The quirky accomodation was only part of our reason for hiring the windmill, another key bit being the opportunity to get outdoors & close to nature on the North Norfolk coast. Our days were filled exploring the area & nature reserves via the numerous paths, bridleways and lanes, on foot, cycle or hopping along the coast on the Coasthopper bus (nearest stop only being half a mile away). We racked up hundreds of miles between us!

My highlights:

  • Standing on the balcony drinking ginger wine (thanks Graham) under an orange sky listening to pink-footed geese flying overhead to their roosts
  • Amazing views of marshes, dunes, creeks & saltmarsh of Holkham & Scolt Head Island National Nature Reserves
  • Fly-by's by barn owls & marsh harriers & the starlings gathering on the sails at dusk
  • The hare that ran through the grounds and across the road missing the zooming car
  • Being in good company

Top tips:

  • Don't read the visitor book on the first night, some groups talk of haunted mirrors & other spooky happenings
  • If you're sleeping in a dorm pack eye mask & ear plugs
  • Book early via 01263 740241 for an extremely good value break for you, your friends & family

Friday, 26 October 2012

Being a Volunteer Energy Manager on the Norfolk Coast

Guest post written by Peter Justice, Volunteer Energy Manager, about how he came to volunteer with us, his role & projects he's worked on.

I was seconded to National Trust from my employer BT in early 2010 and joined the team at Blakeney.

My initial task was to capture all the 50 plus Health & Safety compliances required along the Norfolk Coast and incorporate these into a spreadsheet. These H&S compliances included Fire Risk Assessments, Work Place inspections, Portable Appliance Testing, Boiler Servicing, Chimney Sweeping etc. Once this spreadsheet was completed, at a glance it would tell you inspection due dates, person responsible and confirmed whether compliant. In addition to this task I assisted the wardens at Horsey, Heigham Holmes, Blakeney, Morston, Burnham and Brancaster. Some memorable projects include moving the Horsey Windpump sails to Heigham Holmes for storage, erecting new signage at Brancaster, Morston and Blakeney & counting the grey seal pups on Blakeney Point.

My background in Communications, electrical and plumbing proved very useful during my secondment when I was able to install a movement detection system in the toilets on Blakeney Point, repair frozen pipes in the lifeboat house, provide heating timers in the Blakeney office and install additional LAN ports to enable additional computer connections for seasonal staff.

Another task I owned while seconded to the Trust was capturing all energy use and updating the Monitoring and Management database on a monthly basis. When my secondment ended in 2011, I continued with this Energy Manager role as a volunteer.

Peter about to read the meters

Today I continue to provide monthly meter reading and deliver data, monitoring energy use along the Norfolk Coast. Energy is a priority in the regional business plan and the Trust has legal obligations under the Governments CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme.

As Energy Manager I am responsible for providing monthly readings for Electricity, Water, Renewable Energy, LPG and Fuel use. This data is then input onto the MMS database where I am able to monitor cumulative energy consumption and update on the NT KPI energy targets. 

Should I find areas where energy could be saved or identify energy that is being wasted, I  inform my Property Manager John Sizer. Recent examples are recommendations around replacing old uneconomical style storage heaters at Burnham Cottages and the Windmill and water leaks at Morston.

The Tower Windmill at Overy has been fitted out with new heaters  

My employers BT are very supportive of my volunteering and award up to three days special leave per year to carry out this role. My day job is working in BT Property where I manage a team of building auditors. My role has certain synergies with my NT secondment in areas around Health & Safety, Compliance and Energy Use. I am proud of BT’s corporate responsibility and sustainability. This year to date BT has donated over 49,000 days to allow BT employees to volunteer in the community.

Peter Justice
Energy Manager

Thanks Peter for all the hard work & excellent problem-solving and it's great that you can transfer your expertise & skills from your day job with BT to helping us on the Norfolk Coast, although being a Spurs and not Norwich City fan, there's still work to do!

John Sizer, Property Manager

Monday, 22 October 2012

22nd of October: The bamboozled Ouzel

It wont be many days before the Libeboat house will be given over to contractors, who will be refurbishing the building over the winter months and the last two wardens left on the Point will be forced to move back to the mainland. In todays foggy conditions we were able to witness and record a huge fall of grounded migrants. Having crossed the North Sea they hit fog over our coast and made the first landfall they could. Most were thrushes (up to 35,000) with hundreds of Robins and Bramblings. The main highlights were: Peregrine and Merlin (which were clearly enjoying the tired food source as we found at least four freshly plucked Robins and two Blackbirds), 1 Long-eared Owl, 1 Short-eared Owl, 3 Grey Wagtail, up to 4,000 Fieldfare, 3,000 Blackbird, 30 Ring Ouzel, 1,500 Song Thrush, c. 25,000 Redwing, 280 Robin, 5 Black Restart, 2 Common Redstart, 80 Goldcrests, 25 Chiffchaff, 1 Blackcap, 400 Brambling, 15 Chaffinch, 2 Siskin, 1 redpoll, 2 Yellowhammer and 2 Snow Bunting. At one point two women from a seal ferry pointed out a bird that had trapped itself in the visitors centre. Surprisingly the bird allowed itself to be picked up first time without a fuss. It was a handsome Ring Ouzel (probably a first year bird) and the two women were delighted to to see such a fascinating bird on migration so close up.

The bamboozled Ring Ouzel, caught in visitors centre (Jamie Boulter)

Thrushes flocking in the fog (try repeating that in quick succession) (Jamie Boulter)

Finches flying in (Jamie Boulter)

The first Grey Seal pups will be born in the next week or so and we are now looking forward to a successful winter season.

And well done Amanda.

- Ed

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Amanda's home cooking recognised by BBC Radio 4 Food & Farming Awards

Amanda Newton, head cook at Brancaster Millenium Activity centre made it into the top 10 shortlist of the 2012 BBC Radio 4 Food & Farming awards in the category Best Public Caterer (Best dinner lady/man).


We all are thrilled that Amanda's mantra of good home-cooking using local seasonal produce was recognised by the judges.

Speaking to Amanda earlier this week she said she was 'Very pleased to be nominated and to make it into the top 10. Being able to provide a good hearty healthy food sets the children up for a day full of fun activities!'.

Amanda has worked for the Trust as Head Cook for 12 years and always has a beaming smile whenever I see her.

Amanda ready to please hungry schoolchildren

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Boy, there's a lot of bees!

Today's post has been kindly written for us by Richard Rolfe of Morston

Beyond the three bridges that run alongside Morston creek, there is a stretch of higher ground known locally as the Pilot’s Path. Composed of impacted sand, shells and small shingle, it is above the range of even the highest tides.

This year, for the first time, the National Trust put up a sign - ‘Buzz on the marsh’ - to provide information about the mining bees and this seems to have attracted a lot of attention from visitors - just as the bee orchids outside Blakeney did.

There are several species of mining bee in the UK, but those at Morston are Colletes halophilus. It is a nationally scarce bee, found in fewer than 25 sites around the south and east coasts of England from the Solent around to the Humber. It flies from late August through to October, and is associated with high quality saltmarsh habitats, as it provisions its nest cells with the pollen it collects from Sea Aster. The female bees will drink nectar from a range of flowering plants to keep them fueled on their search for sea aster.

I was made aware of these mining bees in the summer of 2011, in an unusual way. I’d taken my then-5-year old grandson Monty to Stiffkey on the Coasthopper bus and was walking back to Morston with him. As we neared Morston, Monty said, “Granpa, can we go and see the mining bees?”

“Mining bees, what are they, Monty? I’ve never heard of them.”

“They’re on the marsh, I’ll show you.” So we went out over the bridges and found the bees where he’d said. Despite living in Morston for over 20 years, I never knew they were there - probably through being too focused on the bird life.

During the summer of 2012, I looked continually for the mining bees. In July, I emailed Victoria at the Trust, partly to compliment her on the signage for the bee orchids, but also to see if she knew where the mining bees might be.
Victoria provided a crucial piece of information - the mining bees are associated with flowering sea aster. This meant I’d started looking several weeks too soon.

But eventually, I walked out onto the Pilot’s Path, and there they were. I arranged to meet Victoria and we took photos for ID purposes, as there are several mining bee species in the UK. 

Victoria photographing the bees nests

They seem to be most prolific on calm, sunny evenings, when thousands can be seen at three main colonies. They are harmless to people and appear to be resilient to walkers and their dogs - their burrows, or ‘mines’ are all along the path - and the sites they’ve chosen are above the September high tides.

Monty (below) was delighted to be reconnected with ‘his’ mining bees and will be looking out for them again next year.

Monty pleased with the buzz on the marsh

Thursday, 11 October 2012

11th of October: Joey's last day

Great Grey Shrike in dead Elder (Richard Porter)

Today was Joes last day on the Point and he wanted to see it out with a few birds. Joe has worked very hard for the reserve over the last six months and thoroughly deserved a good last day. The wind went south east last night and thus we did have a good day for migration on the point. The first we knew of this was when Joe and Paul saw a Short-eared Owl coming in off the sea at Coast Guards. Later Andy Stoddart (a regular Blakeney Point birdwatcher) rang us to say that there was a Great Grey Shrike on the Yankee (a shipwrecked boat on what is now known as Yankee Ridge). The same bird was later seen on the weather vane at the Lifeboat House (which was pointing east) and in the dead Elders and the Birch. It also rather enjoyed chasing around the now large flock of Linnets (as seen in the picture below) that regularly use the garden pond. Another Short-eared Owl was seen on Far Point as well as a Pied Flycatcher, a Willow Warbler and a Peregrine. Other migrants passing over included 6 Crossbills, 12 Bramblings, 70 Redwings, a Woodlark and a Grey Wagtail. Meadow Pipits, Linnets and Skylarks were seen in high numbers.  A Great Grey Shrike, a male Hen Harrier and a Merlin were taking advantage of these freshly arrived migrants as food.

A Great Grey Shrike chasing Linnets

A Short-eared Owl in off the sea

Woodlark, very rare for the Point

A beautiful male Hen Harrier

All other pictures by Joe Cockram/ Text by Eddie Stubbings

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

9th of October: End of season for Ajay

It was exactly six months ago that my seasonal contract as a ranger on Blakeney Point began. Today is my last day. This October weather brings back memories of what it was like when we first moved into the Lifeboat House back in April.
Paul and I feeling a bit cold in April

The season began with us eagerly awaiting the birds to start laying their eggs. The unfavourable weather conditions delayed this somewhat. But by the start of May we had found the first passerine (Linnet, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting), wader (Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Redshank) and duck (Mallard, Gadwall) nests of the season. Although the weather was mostly far-from-warm well into June.

One of the definite highlights for me was the Sandwich Tern nest count. I described the experience in our 26th of May blog entry.
A quick snap-shot taken during the nest count

Between early May and mid June, we took it in turns to get up at dawn to patrol the reserve. This was done because eggs are potentially vulnerable to theft by egg collectors. Thankfully, egg theft has decreased and Blakeney has not been targeted for a number of years, but it still happens therefore we patrol the reserve between dawn and dusk when the birds are on eggs. The responsibility to protect the breeding birds provides the motivation to get up at dawn and also the opportunity to watch the sun rise from the beach.
Sunrise photographed around 4am on a morning patrol

There were several surprises throughout the season. The amount, and variety, of media attention that the Point received in its centenary year certainly exceeded expectations, with numerous journalists and film crews visiting the reserve. Another visitor was this racing pigeon that decided to roost on my window ledge overnight for several weeks.

Throughout the season, we got some great views of a variety of rare migrant birds. These included two Barred Warblers, a Greenish Warbler, a Yellow-browed Warbler, an Icterine Warbler, a Dotterel and two Red-breasted Flycatchers (I was on a day off when they saw the Pallid Harrier). A bird that sticks in my memory is my first Bluethroat, which showed very well on the 6th of May. Joe got some great photos that can be seen here.

As well as a large amount of work to protect and monitor the breeding birds, we had a number of close encounters with seals, as documented in previous posts. During one Saturday in August, we found two ill Common Seal pups on the beach close to several visitors. An off-duty RSPCA officer happened to be sunbathing nearby and arranged for one of his colleagues to collect them at Cley beach and take them to the animal hospital at East Winch. Here is a photo of the two pups on their journey to Cley.

As the Grey Seal pups are born on the Point this winter, Eddie will keep the blog updated with their progress. Since the establishment of the Grey Seal rookery on the Point in 2001, numbers have increased each year with 933 born last winter (205 more than the previous year). Therefore we are confident that over 1,000 will be born here this winter.

It has been a pleasure to work on Blakeney Point during this landmark year: to have contributed to a successful breeding season for the Sandwich Terns (2,200 fledged chicks), to have helped set up this blog and it be so well-received, and to have had such a wonderful time working within a great team of people. As a recent countryside management graduate looking to develop my career in nature conservation, this seasonal contract has been a valuable stepping stone. I am now starting a six-month contract on Lindisfarne NNR with Natural England.

-Ajay Tegala

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Getting closer to nature...Bee orchids

Back in June George our Academy ranger, Stuart our regional wildlife adviser and myself surveyed plants on a meadow we own in Blakeney village and were amazed by a large patch of bee orchids. Our guess was there were more than 1000 flowering spikes. We were so impressed that we got the rest of the team down to see them.

As the orchids were close to the National Trail we decided to cut a path to them and sign it to let passers-by know there was a bee orchid bonanza nearby. We also included a message about taking nothing but photographs and watching where you step.

George and seasonal ranger Chris did some sampling and extrapolations highlighted there were more than 4000 spikes!

Once the bee orchids had set seed we cut the area with our tractor with the aim to rake the vegetation off to prevent nutrients from entering the soil favouring weeds.

In September we hosted a large group of volunteers from Norwich & Norfolk University Hospital and Serco Consulting, organised by Garry Shaves from Coaching and Management Solutions. Here they all are raking the material off, with twenty three pairs of hands making light work. Thanks to everyone for helping us.
All photos taken by warden Graham Lubbock 

This year many people have reported seeing more bee orchids than usual, who knows if they will be there in such numbers next year?

Countryside Manager