Monday, 27 May 2013

27th of May: Here comes the sun

It's not The Beatles but butterflies and flowers that have come out in the sun and warm weather.
Flowers are starting to emerge in greater numbers with Common Bird'-foot-trefoil and Sea Pea appearing on the shingle ridge. Sea Pea was introduced by Ted Ellis in 1954. More Thrift flowers have also started to emerge creating a pink haze along the shingle.

       Thrift (left), Common Bird's-foot-trefoil (right)

We had our first butterfly on our butterfly transect yesterday! With our transect today amassing the most we have had with 10 butterflies, the majority of which were Small Coppers. Although a total of 6 different species have been seen today including the first Orange Tip and Wall.

 Small Copper

We also have our first Black-headed Gull chicks of the year. With some only just breaking through the egg shell to emerge. 

Sitting outside the Lifeboat House in the evening has given us good views of waders at high tide including 150+ Ringed Plovers. These birds are migrants and are only stopping off to feed on their way back to breeding grounds in the tundra. We also were lucky enough to have good views of two Little Stints in summer plumage as well as 2 Curlew Sandpipers.

 Migrant Ringed Plovers

Saturday's low tide seal count on the West Sands recorded 616 Grey Seals and 65 Commons. We continue to have daily Short-eared Owl sightings near the Lifeboat House, over the weekend there was also a Black Redstart. Other notable bird sightings include Spoonbill on Saturday and Sunday and a Honey Buzzard and Hobby today.

 Grey Seal

With the warm and sunny weather over the last two days, me and Ajay decided to go for the first swim in the sea of the year. One word to describe it is refreshing, another and more poignant one is probably freezing! Still it was good fun.

- Matt

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

21st of May: Birds in the house, elephants in the garden

When running a moth trap in the garden, we always look forward to finding the large and colourful hawk moths. Today it was a pleasure to simply come across a fresh Small Elephant Hawk moth in the grass.

After a weekend of great migrant bird sightings, things were a bit quieter today with just a Willow Warbler and a handful of Wheatears. Yesterday the Bluethroat was still around, as well as a Whinchat and a Grasshopper Warbler.

We continue to find new nests everyday, with a total of over 40 Oystercatcher nests (although a number of eggs have been predated by gulls and possibly even a Short-eared Owl). The Pied Wagtail eggs can't be too far away from hatching. The adult bird is sitting tight on the nest - we are delighted that they have nested in a box on the side of the shed:
The Pied Wagtail is just about visible on the nest
(click to enlarge)

Every year we get swallows flying inside the house at some point. One year they nested in the public toilets. We have to put a bead curtain up to stop them flying into the visitor centre. This one seemed quite content perching on a tripod strap in the kitchen.

- Paul and Ajay

Sunday, 19 May 2013

19th of May: Choosing the right pasta

Following last year’s Sandwich Tern nest count, we looked into the perfect pasta with which to mark nests. Penne proved to be the right choice. When in the tern colony counting nests, which we are permitted to do by licence, it is important to be as efficient as possible to reduce the length of time spent in the colony in order to keep disturbance minimal. Putting a piece of penne pasta in each nest enabled us to easily see which had been counted and which hadn’t.

Yesterday we had the task of counting out 4,000 pieces of penne in preparation.

This year the Sandwich Terns had all settled on the tip of Far Point, further along from last year when most were amongst the suaeda. The nest count revealed that there were 59 more nests than 2012: a grand total of 3,794 nests.

It was a privilege to be in the colony and see the terns’ eggs. The photograph below/right shows how close together they nest. The one to the left shows a marked nest, this one is of interest because of the unusually white egg in contrast to the typical mottled one.

Sandwich Terns on Far Point

The nest count was not the only highlight of the weekend. Today the first chicks of the season were seen. It was a pleasure to watch day-old Skylark chicks in their nest. Note their yellow mouths, this colouring directs the parent to the chicks’ mouths when they fly in with food.

Matt was able to see his first (Red-spotted) Bluethroat. A male was found on the Point on Saturday morning. Seeing a Bluethroat on Blakeney Point is always special, they are historically synonymous with Blakeney Point but have become increasingly rare in recent times. Some very nice photos of the Bluethroat on Blakeney Point can be seen on Penny Clarke’s blog. There has been a Short-eared Owl roosting on the Point over the past few days. It has been regularly perching on fence posts near the Lifeboat House enabling fantastic views...

Another find this weekend was a Drinker moth caterpillar, so called because the caterpillar is said to have a liking for drinking drops of dew:

This afternoon we were able to finally get on the water in the boat, following the successful installation of a new outboard motor.

- The Blakeney Point Rangers: Matt, Paul and Ajay
(All wildlife photography by Matt Twydell)

Friday, 17 May 2013

17th of May: Another case of egg dumping

Today we discovered the 32nd Oystercatcher nest of the year on the Point. We were surprised to find another scrape containing more than four eggs. This scrape, on the end of Middle Point, contained no less than six eggs - another case of egg dumping (a female laying her eggs in another bird's nest). This particular nest is on a small area of undisturbed shingle and is one of four nests within less than five square metres - much closer together than the nests near the Lifeboat House.

Six-'egger' on Middle Point

A pair of Oystercatchers outside the Lifeboat House

Today's bird sightings included a Hobby and a Short-eared Owl. The highlight of May so far was undoubtedly yesterday's female Red-breasted Flycatcher. Norfolk's first Red-breasted Flycatcher was recorded on the Point in 1890. They breed in eastern Europe and Russia and winter in Asia.

Latest low tide seal count (Thursday 16th): 108 Common and 533 Grey.

This weekend we will be positioning trail-cams near some of the wader and passerine nests, so check back soon to see what we capture.

- Ajay and Matt

Blakeney Lifeboat House makeover!

The iconic former Lifeboat house on Blakeney Point got a make-over between October 2012 and March 2013 and here is months of work condensed into 1 minute!

The building, which provides accommodation for the Ranger team who look after the wildlife of Blakeney Point (part of Blakeney National Nature Reserve),  is also a visitor centre.

To protect it for future generations to enjoy, the building was entirely re-clad, weather-proofed, a new lookout tower fitted to replace a completely rotten one and  former features were re-instated like the ramp and big doors.

Being located in an very sensitive environment, every nut, bolt, piece of cladding etc had to be taken up a 3.5 mile shingle beach on a single track. It was quite a logistical challenge!

Throughout the duration of the project a trail camera captured the various goings-on and was made into this fab video by George, Academy Ranger, and Jemma Finch from the regional marketing team.

Can you spot George checking the camera and Property Manager John?
And how much snow?! My favourite bit is the new doors being revealed from the tarpaulin and being fitted!

The visitor centre is open every day, most readily accessed from seal trips that depart from NT Morston Quay which often land on the Point.

Countryside Manager

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

14th of May: She's only gone and done it again

Last year we were surprised to find an Oystercatcher scrape with five eggs in it, as the usual clutch size is two to four. This year, in almost exactly the same place (between the Tern Hide and the Lifeboat House), we found another scrape with five eggs in it. Oystercatchers will often return to the same spot to nest year on year, so this was not surprising, however the fact that both years a clutch of five had been laid was unusual. What was even more unusual was that the next day there were six eggs:
...and the following day there were seven eggs:

This is the first known occurance of an Oystercatcher nest with seven eggs in it on Blakeney Point. While we thought it might just be possible that an Oystercatcher may have been able to lay five eggs in five days, seven is surely impossible. This is almost certainly a case of egg dumping, where a second female has laid her eggs in the same scrape. Egg dumping is common in some bird species, such as Grey Partridges. We wait with eager antipation to see if all seven eggs will successfully hatch.

Things have been very quiet on the migrant front in the last couple of weeks. The only recent sighting of note was a Honey Buzzard flying east over on the Point on Saturday morning. Things have been more exciting with our resident species, with new nests being found daily, including our first Redshank, Skylark, Swallow and Pied Wagtail nests of the season and 20th Oystercatcher.

Nests in the grass: Redshank (left); Skylark (right).

We still have good numbers of Sandwich Terns now settled on eggs on the very tip of Far Point - notably further along than last year. Plans are in place for an exciting colour ringing project on the Point later this season, so check back for more information. Little Terns are now present in good numbers and are starting to settle on the beach. Tomorrow we will be fencing off parts of the shingle ridge to protect them, so please keep away from fencelines and observe the dog exclusions to prevent disturbance to them. Look out for Little Terns diving for fish close to the shore.

This past few days have brought the first significant rainfall of the season and south-westerly winds strong enough to blow our weathervane away. We have our fingers crossed that the second half of the month will bring good conditions for the breeding birds and also a few more spring migrants.

- Matt and Ajay

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

7th of May: The nesting has begun

Since our last blog post the weather has continued to be warm and bright. However, nature still seems to be playing catch-up following the harsh winter. A few days later than normal, on the 2nd of May, we started finding nests. The first being a Ringed Plover nest on the shingle ridge.

Oystercatchers also lay their eggs on the shingle. They are camouflaged to reduce the chance of predation. However, this makes them hard to see, and many Oystercatchers nest on the landing ridge where all visitors on seal ferries arrive on the reserve. So we fence them off to prevent them being trampled on. Please do have a look at the eggs, but then move on quickly so that the Oystercatcher can return to incubate them. Also, please keep dogs on leads to prevent disturbance to birds and nests, and stay within the areas where dogs are permitted (certain parts of the Point are dog-free zones to help conserve nesting Little Terns - a rare and vulnerable species of bird protected by law).
Oystercatcher eggs on shingle

Taking advantage of the weather, we have been out conducting Breeding Bird Surveys each morning. This involves mapping territories and recording breeding behaviour to assess the number of breeding passerines on the Point: Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Linnets, Reed Buntings, Dunnocks and Wrens. During Sunday morning's survey, we discovered the first Meadow Pipit nests of the year.

Meadow Pipits lay their eggs in small nests hidden amongst Marram grass.

This morning we found the first Linnet nest of the year, in a Suaeda bush.

Today was a good day for raptors, a Honey Buzzard was seen flying over the Point and also an Osprey. There was also a Short-eared Owl in the dunes.

More butterflies have been added to the year list over the weekend: Painted Lady, Small Copper and Small White. Today the first Cinnibar moth of the year was seen:

A few more flowers are in bloom, including Sea Campion (left) and Heath Dog-violet (right).

Today's low tide seal count recorded 83 Common and 518 Greys. We were recently contacted by the RSPCA to let us know that a Grey seal pup rescued from the Point on Christmas Eve had made a good recovery and been released at Sutton Bridge on the Lincolnshire coast. Its weight had increased by nearly four times in just over four months.