Sunday, 24 November 2013

24th of November: Catching up

The breeding Grey Seal colony (rookery) on Blakeney Point appeared in autumn 2001. The occasional pup had been recorded previously, for example on the landing ridge in the 1990s. But it was in 2001 that the rookery first developed, with 25 pups born. This doubled the following winter and had doubled again to 100 two years later. Numbers have continued to increase every year.

This autumn, for the first time counts seemed to be lagging behind the previous year. Counts last week were typically about 50 less than the same date last year. This may be because the pupping season started a few days later than normal.

2012 pup count
2013 pup count
27th Oct
29th Oct
30th Oct
7th Nov
13th Nov
14th Nov
19th Nov

However, numbers have started to accelerate over the past few days, with 105 pups born between Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon. We seem to have finally caught up with last year's figures and may well be about to overtake them. Only time will tell.

2012 pup count
2013 pup count
20th Nov

21st Nov

22nd Nov

23rd Nov

24th Nov

28th Nov
Watch this space

We are now reaching the point where the first born pups of the season have shed their white fur, and some cows are starting to look noticeably thin. Having been fed on their mother's rich milk for three weeks, the older pups are being left to their own devices. The time has come for them to go into the sea and find food for themselves.
A plump pup that will soon be swimming

National Trust volunteer and student, Olivia Berry, recently spent an hour taking photographs from the edge of the rookery. She was careful not to cause any disturbance and captured some great pictures.

With such large numbers of seals at the western end of the Point, it is important not to walk amongst them. Nobody wants to be bitten by a seal or cause a pup to get crushed by an adult. Great views from a safe distance are possible from the end of the boardwalk, old Tern Hide and "Sea Hide". Please refer to signage and do not cross the fenceline.
It is not only seals that have caused excitement this week. At about 3.30pm on Monday (the 18th), Paul saw a Yellow-breasted Bunting in the garden. This is a great record for Blakeney Point. These buntings are summer visitors to Europe, spending winter in southeast Asia, they are a real rarity in Britain (the only other British record this year was on the Farne Islands, in early September, they currently have 1,336 Grey Seal pups). Unfortunately, its stay was brief and hopeful birdwatchers walking up early the next morning were sadly unlucky.

Flocks of Snow Buntings are seen every day on the Point at the moment, a peak of 85 were recorded earlier this week.
Snow Buntings at sunset

A female Blackcap was seen on Monday and two Chiffchaffs in the Plantation on Friday. Six Twite were reported on Friday.

On Thursday a group of noisy Herring Gulls were seen above the beach marauding a lone Starling. One made a grab for it and caught it, then a squabble broke out. The poor Starling was dropped into the water and then caught again. Other interesting Herring Gull behaviour has been witnessed amongst the rookery. There are a couple of juveniles with injured wings that spend their time walking around feeding on seal after-birth, one of them has been present for well over a week now, clearly finding plenty to eat without the aid of flight to find food. It is not just gulls that have been seen feeding on after-birth, on Friday a Sanderling was seen happily feeding a few inches from a newborn pup...
(Photograph by Graham Lubbock)

During this afternoon's count, two pups were both seen trying to suckle from the same cow at the same time...

- Ajay Tegala, Coastal Ranger

Sunday, 17 November 2013

17th of November: 'shrooms in the dunes

On Wednesday Tony Leech, Norfolk's fungi county recorder, spent a few hours on the Point with us. We recorded a variety of different species of varying size, shape and colour...

Dune Waxcap - there are a number of these on the Point, including some near the boardwalk. The bright red cap stands out amongst surrounding vegetation.
 We found a small number of Dune Stinkhorns - the caps are initially covered with a smelly coating that attracts insects, which distribute its spores. Dune Stinkhorn is however not as stinky as other stinkhorns.

Amongst the sand there were a number of Agaricus devoniensis, the 'sand dune mushroom'.

One of the most abundant species we encountered was the False Chanterelle.

Whilst looking at fungi, we stumbled across a very late Red Admiral butterfly near the Plantation, and also a Goldcrest.
Goldcrest in the pine

On Monday there was a big arrival of thrushes. It was wonderful to witness migration in action. Throughout the day a total of 2740 Blackbirds flew in off the sea, most of them didn't land but continued flying onto the mainland, by midday Blakeney's bushes were buzzing with Blackbirds. Some 520 Fieldfares, 226 Song Thrushes and 380 Redwings were also recorded on the Point as well as 500 Starlings and 262 Lapwings. Monday also saw the arrival of three Goldeneyes, the first record for this winter.

Throughout the course of the week, Grey Seal pup numbers more than trebled:

Number of pups
Monday 11th of November
Tuesday 12th of November
Wednesday 13th of November
Thursday 14th of November
Friday 15th of November
Saturday 16th of November
Sunday 17th of November

The seals have spread much further east and so have our access restrictions. Please respect all signage and fencelines. The best place for walkers to see seals is the end of the boardwalk, but please do not cross the fenceline to prevent disturbing the seals and putting yourself at risk.
Thank you,
Ajay and Paul

Sunday, 10 November 2013

10th of November: Seal Diary

This November, Seasonal Ranger Paul Nichols is staying on as a volunteer and continuing to live in the Lifeboat House. As well as keeping the visitor facilities open and leading guided walks, he is out and about observing wildlife and carefully monitoring the breeding Grey Seal colony (rookery) on a day-to-day basis. Not everyone would want to be on such a remote part of the coast in November, but Paul is in his element. He has been keeping notes on the seals, birds and other wildlife.

Paul writing in the wildlife diary (EDP, 2011)

Saturday 2nd of November
Two pups on Far Point this morning, witnessed a stillbirth at 11am - very sad
30 Fieldfares flew over
10 Goldfinches on the shingle ridge feeding on Curled Dock seeds
Found remains of Woodcock that had just been killed by a Marsh Harrier
Black Redstart in the garden 

Sunday 3rd of November 
Now three pups on the beach, a few adults moving into the dunes
A few Pink-footed Geese flew over
Black Redstart still in garden
26 Snow Buntings on beach west of Sea Hide
Monday 4th of November 
8 pups this morning and at least a dozen adults now in the dunes
Harvest mouse nest found on tideline
40 Redwings came in this afternoon and a Chiffchaff appeared on Middle Point
Put phase one fencing up as far as the gap (see below)
Big old tide this evening, almost up to the Lifeboat House steps 

New-born pup

Tuesday 5th of November 
One more pup born overnight, total of 9
Lots of thrushes today: 700 Blackbirds, 1200 Redwings, 400 Fieldfares, 200 Song Thrushes
Also 1500 Starlings
Fantastic array of fungi on the Point at the moment, many different species
Cow and pup 

Wednesday 6th of November 
13 pups and lots more adults in dunes
Grey Seal seen taking Wigeon off the sea!
Report of a first winter Glaucous Gull
Flock of 48 Snow Buntings - magical sight
Bull, cow and newborn pup 

Thursday 7th of November 
Strong winds last night
Big increase to 29 pups today
Raptors: 2 Marsh Harriers, male Peregrine, female Merlin, male Sparrowhawk

Pup suckling

Friday 8th of November 
Now 41 pups, spreading further east along beach
Smart-looking male Stonechat in the garden
WeBS count included 389 Brent Geese and 750 Wigeon

Brent Geese in Stanley's Cockle Bight 

Saturday 9th of November 
68 pups: 17 on saltmarsh, 46 on beach, 5 in the dunes
Slightly scraggy Short-eared Owl in the main dunes
8 Rock Pipits on edge of water in New Glaux Low
Great to see Aylmerton on the Point and crossing the Glaven with a school group
Wonderful light in the late afternoon 

Seals spreading east along the beach

Sunday 10th of November 
95 pups this afternoon, including one east of the gap fenceline
Watched Peregrine take a Redshank on saltmarsh opposite Lifeboat House
Flock of 50+ Snow Buntings on Far Point
Also 6 Lapland Buntings and 2 Shorelarks
Watched the Blakeney firework display from the Lifeboat House steps
Flock of Snow Buntings

Graph showing pup counts to date

As mentioned above, the first phase of fencing has been put up, restricting access to the beach and dunes west of the gap, like during the breeding bird season. This fencing is in place to protect the seals, please do not cross the fencelines for your own safety. As more seals are moving onto the beach east of the gap towards the Sea Hide, we will be extending the fenceline over the next week. The best way to see the seals is by the ferries that go from Morston Quay. There are also a few spaces on our guided seal pup tour on the 7th of December, for booking and information click here.
In other news, we have just contributed a post to the River Glaven Conservation Group blog.

Also, did you know we have just opened a new National Trust holiday cottage in Blakeney? For booking and information click here.