Thursday, 11 April 2013

10th of April: Back to the Point

Over the past week, myself and assistant rangers Paul and Matt have been moving into the Lifeboat House and preparing for the start of the breeding bird season on Blakeney Point. The newly renovated former Lifeboat House now has a few modern luxuries, but is currently lacking an internet connection. So here follows a summary of the season so far...

On Saturday our rescheduled beach clean took place in weather conditions far more pleasant than two weeks ago. Big thanks to those who helped, we were able to cover from Cley Beach all of the way to the Hood.

Some of the most frequent litter items were small pieces of plastic, helium balloons and food/drink packaging. Helium balloons and plastic pose a major threat to marine birds and animals, as they are often mistaken for food, balloons in particular can cause starvation by blocking intestines.
Sadly we found several dead birds, mostly auks, along the beach. There were over 40 Razorbills, 10 Guillemots and 12 Puffins along a three-mile stretch. All along the East Coast of England and Scotland, worryingly large numbers of dead auks have been recorded over the past few weeks. The RSPB have described it as the worst Puffin 'wreck' (death of a large number of seabirds in one incident) in half a century. The large numbers of auks found on the Point coincided with stormy conditions at the start of April, which also washed up dozens of cuttlefish bones. Such bad weather makes it hard for seabirds to feed due to impaired visibility and stormy seas causing fish to go deeper, their energy is further reduced by cold winds.
Martin Woodcock's sketches of a Puffin found dead on the Point

Over the past two weeks, Merlins, Kestrels, Marsh Harriers and a ringtail Hen Harrier have all been seen regularly on the Point. Spring migrants are starting to trickle through, with the first Chiffchaffs (two) seen this morning and the first Wheatear yesterday. A Water Rail was sighted near the Watch House on Sunday the 7th, a bird rarely seen on the Point, and a Jack Snipe was seen in the same area on Tuesday the 9th. We look forward to seeing many more spring migrants in the coming weeks, as well as the arrival of our breeding terns on migration from Africa.

The first Sandwich tern spotted this year was on the 1st April by Stephen Bean. Our first Sandwich Tern roost count of the season, conducted on Sunday evening (7th of April), recorded 83+ terns on the end of the Point. A count in the evening of the 10th comprised 350 birds. This is much lower than typical counts for early April, but - with the weather forecast looking fair - we look forward to watching their numbers build up over the coming days. On the whole, the last five days have been fairly mild and the air filled with the beautiful song of Skylarks, punctuated by Meadow Pipits and the occasional 'kierr-ik' calls of Grey Partridges.

We will be using trail cameras to monitor selected nests, so check our blog throughout the season to see pictures and keep up to date. Whilst testing one of trail cams, I left it switched on by the front door and ended up capturing the Blakeney Point rangers (left to right: Paul; myself; Matt).

- Ajay, Coastal Ranger

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