Tuesday, 30 April 2013

30th of April: Gulls on eggs

Yes, as the post title suggests, we have Black-headed Gulls on eggs (and no, it's not rhyming slang for anything else!). We made a brief venture into the gull colony to look for evidence of predation. This was done at low tide to reduce disturbance to birds and was permited by our licence. We found minimal predation, just a couple of eggs that had been predated by larger gulls, and Matt was able to carefully take a couple of photographs...
How many nests can you spot in the picture on the left?

Last night's Sandwich Tern roost count exceeded 4,000. Most of the terns seem to be travelling some distance away from the Point to forage during the day, with only a small number counted during WeBS, then returning in the evening to roost. We will breathe a sigh of relief when they finally settle down and nest.

Whilst out and about we came across a dead Sandwich Tern that had been ringed. Being able to examine the bird closely, the slight pink colour on its breast was visible. We have sent off the ring combination to the BTO and will post the details on the blog when we hear back. If you find any dead birds with rings on, please send in the the combination to the BTO - it is important that ringing recoveries are reported as it helps the understanding of bird populations, which is important for their conservation.

The first Little Terns were seen on the 26th, with display flights witnessed today. Otherwise, things have been very quiet over the last few days with very few notable migrant sightings... yesterday's highlight was a Goldcrest that came in off the sea into a suaeda bush in the afternoon.

Our most recent low tide seal count was conducted on Saturday and recorded 512 Grey Seals and 135 Common.

Today Paul found this Dog-violet flowering in the garden behind the Lifeboat House. Soon the Heath Dog-violets will also be blooming, they are the food-plant of Dark Green Fritillary caterpillars. Paul also spotted the first Green Hairstreak of the year on Friary Hills whilst visiting our Norfolk Coast property office on the mainland.

Out on the dunes Matt and I noticed some interesting sand formations:

Tomorrow the month of May begins, we hope it will bring more sunshine, lots of nests and lots of migrants!

- Ajay

April update from Brancaster Activity Centre

We could have done with the better weather over Easter – we had some really chilly drop in sessions, and for only the second time in about 5 years had a day when we really couldn’t get out on the water in either boat with our groups.  An intrepid bunch of taster session customers went Kayaking with Nige’ in the more sheltered creeks, and after taking some time to get back against the wind, understandably decided against the second session they had booked; whilst the disappointed sailors also, unsurprisingly, decided that kayaking wouldn’t be much fun either.

Those of you who come by the Centre may have noticed the newly painted picnic tables and chairs, the most obvious of many tasks done by our lovely Working Holiday group who stayed over the second week of the Easter Holidays.

Other missions achieved that week included ragwort pulling on Branodunum, boosting the wildflower population of Branodunum, surveying the plants of our dunes, litterpicking the beach (no WWII equipment this time) and of course having lots of fun.

Sand dune plant survey

We’ve had a couple more residential schools, one a longstanding customer from some 12 years or more, and another Special interest week-end – photography this time.

Roman Activity on Branodunum

At the Deepdale festival Nita, Seb and Sarah  introduced about 12 people to orienteering (including a Norfolk Orienteering Club member who was delighted with what we were doing to promote the sport) whilst the rest of the team (with the aid of a couple of deck chairs) manned a stand at the festival.

Our current Full-Time Volunteers are Seb, Beca and Sarah. Seb is currently responsible for updating our Facebook page, and all three are assisting with administration as well as teaching and development.  They are also working with Alex on an exciting event on the beach for the new 50 things launch on 4th May.


Thursday, 25 April 2013

25th of April: Migration

One of the many great things about working on Blakeney Point is witnessing bird migration. While stationed on the beach to talk to visitors, we are able to record birds flying west. Over the past few days there have been movements of Hirundines and today we counted 360 Swallows, 18 Sand Martins and 60 House Martins over the dunes and beach. The first Swifts of the year (six of them) were also seen moving through, as well as several Whimbrel and four Yellow Wagtails. The first Swifts of last year were one day later, and on the 10th of May an estimated 5,000 flew over.

An obliging Swallow in the garden

Today there were 12 Wheatears on the 'headland', yesterday 18 Willow Warblers were recorded as well as two Redstarts and on Monday a male Ring Ouzel was seen (today there were six on nearby Friary Hills). Both Common and Lesser Whitethroat have also made an appearance this week.

Another interesting recent sighting was this lamprey. It had washed up on the beach and was being fed on by gulls.

Although the weather has been warm, few plants are in flower on the Point. One exception is this Field Pansy, Paul found a number in bloom in the dunes.

All photos were taken by Matt - click to enlarge

Sunday, 21 April 2013

21st of April: Blakeney Point back online

Three weeks into the season and we finally have an internet connection in the Lifeboat House again.

Lots has happened since our last post. We are now properly settled in and Paul has found space in the cupboards for all of his tins.

Sandwich Tern numbers have continued to build, with tonight's roost count totaling 3,470. Previous roost counts were 1,060 on the 13th, 1,530 on the 15th and 2,880 on the 17th of April. The first Common and Arctic Terns of the year were seen on Sunday the 14th.

Saturday the 13th saw the first Sand Martins, Swallows and House Martins of the year. That same day we also saw the first butterfly of the year, a Comma. The following day a Peacock and three Small Tortoiseshells were seen, including this one inside the Lifeboat House.

Richard Porter saw a Stone Curlew on the 12th and seven Cranes flying over on the 20th. About an hour later, I saw the same seven Cranes fly over Burnham Deepdale where I was representing the National Trust at the Deepdale outdoor festival along with staff from BrancasterYellow Wagtails were recorded on the 14th and 15th and a Hooded Crow on the 13th. Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers have been seen most days, as have Wheatears. This morning there was a Blue Tit in the garden, although common on the mainland, Blue Tits are a rarity on Blakeney Point.

Today's seal count was 466 Grey and 156 Common. The ferry trips from Morston are by far the best way to see Blakeney Point's seals. They are also viewable on foot, from a distance, at low tide. Because of internationally important ground-nesting birds (such as the vulnerable Ringed Plover and Little Tern), dogs are not permitted in certain areas on the Point in order to prevent disturbance during the breeding season (1st of April to mid August). Dogs are permitted on the first half-mile of the Point from Cley and between the boat landing point and Lifeboat House.

- Ajay

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

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Lumpsucker, lava and a low-tide seal count

The last week has seen the completion of the Blakeney Point lifeboat house refurbishment works and on Friday evening the ranger team comprising Ajay, Paul & Matt moved out there for the season. Here are some of the team in front of the new doors. 

From left: Rangers Paul, Chris & Ajay, Visitor Services manager Iain and myself, 
with John Sizer behind the camera

Paul, Ajay and Matt were left with piles of boxes to unpack and prepare the visitor centre for opening as well as carrying out a beach clean that was deferrd due to the appalling weather of late. 

Monday saw the first low-tide seal count of the season and 862 greys and 250 common were observed hauled-out. 

Yesterday some of the ranger team were at the Little Tern Working group talking about sharing thoughts about little tern and ringed plover conservation in Norfolk. It was good to meet with other site staff from RSPB, Norfolk Wildlife Trust and Natural England and Tim Venes from Norfolk Coast AONB ahead of the breeding season and there were lots of positive ideas and actions coming from it. 

Whilst we were in the meeting, Will Soar and Dave Andrews had an interesting visit to Blakeney Point and discovered two items on the shoreline that are not regulary seen.

The first was a lumpsucker, a deep water species of fish that I haven't come across before. 

 Photo taken by Will Soar, thanks for sharing!

You can see how it got its name: The modified pelvic fins allow it to attach to substrate deep down on the sea bed and with its small fins, it probably won't be winning any swimming competitions any time soon.

The other find was a lump of lava (scoria). I have never come across this before either despite lots of beachcombing over the years. 

Photo by Will Soar

We would be interested to know if you have ever found either of these. Please let us know at norfolkcoast@nationaltrust.org.uk

Victoria, Countryside Manager

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

It's the tern of new arrivals

On Friday the three rangers moved into the Lifeboat House on Blakeney Point. There is currently no internet connection out there so blogging has not been possible. However, you can follow this link to find out what ranger Paul Nichols had to say about the start of the season.

This photo was taken on Friday when Victoria and Iain were raking over the vehicle tracks left on the shingle by the works vehicles involved in renovating the Lifeboat House. The jobs we do here on the Norfolk Coast are certainly varied!