Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A Resident Otter!

In 2012, Brancaster Millenium Activity Centre hosted their first family working holiday. The group helped out with various tasks around the property, one of which was to build and install an otter holt in an area where otters were occasionally seen in the past.

Once the holt was built and secured in place by the side of the river, we placed one of our trail cameras close to one of the entrance tunnels to see if otters, or any wildlife at all, were checking it out.

Initially, the camera picked up small garden birds, a stoat and some strange lights (probably water on the lens) but after almost a year, the camera managed to pick up what we were hoping for...

At the moment, it doesn't look like the otter is using it's new des res but it has obviously checked it out, so who knows what the future holds? Watch this space!

A big thank you to the family groups who helped with the construction of the otter holt!

George (Academy Ranger)

Sunday, 28 July 2013

28th of July: Another great year for Sandwich Terns

This year, the Sandwich Terns on Blakeney Point have fledged between 1,700 and 2,000 young (slightly lower than some previous years on the Point, but still a fantastic result). Sandwich Terns are doing very well on Blakeney Point thanks to a good food supply and suitable habitat, plus low levels of disturbance and predation - the latter two being thanks to our management work. Other sites in Europe have much lower fledging success due to, for example; predation by Mediterranean Gulls. It is most satisfying to know that the Sandwich Terns on Blakeney Point have had another successful year, especially as around 5% of the World population breed here.
Juvenile Sandwich Tern on the Point
(photograph courtesey of Richard Porter)

There are still a large number of juvenile and adult terns on Blakeney Point including young Little Terns that are yet to fledge. So please continue to respect the dog restrictions and keep away from fenced off nesting areas to prevent disturbance.

For information on our Sandwich colour-ringing project in partnership with the BTO, follow this link. Keep an eye out for colour rings.

Visitors on a recent guided walk were lucky enough to witness Six-spot Burnet moths emerging from their pupae.
Pupae beside caterpillar

Moth emerging/ Moths mating

Six-spot Burnet moths can be seen feeding on the various plants found on the reserve including thistles. These attract a host of nectar-seeking species such as these wonderful iridescent green Forester moths...

...and this Essex Skipper, so-named because it was discovered in Essex in 1889. Now widespread across the country, it differs from the Small Skipper in that the tips of the antennae are black.

Sand Digger Wasps can often be seen amongst the dunes on Blakeney Point. These parasitic wasps have an interesting life cycle. They first paralyse their prey and then drag it into a cavity they have dug in the sand. They then lay their eggs within the prey item and seal them in. When the eggs hatch, there is a ready source of food straight away - in this case a paralysed caterpillar. Once this is devoured they emerge out of the sand.
Sand Digger Wasp parasitising caterpillar
(insect photography by Matt)

Recent bird sightings on the Point included Hobby and Peregrine, up to 11 Arctic Skuas (18th), the occasional Yellow Wagtail, three Curlew Sandpipers (26th) and a Cuckoo that stayed for over a week feeding on the abundance of White Satin moth larvae in the Plantation. Over a thousand Curlew and 76 Whimbrel were recorded during Friday's Wetland Bird Survey.

Over the past few days we have, with help from Richard Porter, recorded some high counts of butterflies on the Point. On Friday 125 Small Coppers and over 100 Graylings were counted.

Today's low tide seal count was rather impressive, totaling over a thousand seals: 887 Grey and 208 Common. We recorded seals on today's National Whale and Dolphin Watch at Cley Beach, but sadly no Harbour Porpoises this time. It is always worth looking as they can sometimes be seen off the Norfolk Coast.

The Cat's-ears, which are abundant amongst the sand dunes, have now all gone to seed. While they were still in flower we captured this footage showing the flowers opening in the morning and closing in the afternoon.

To finish with, here is some time-lapse footage of the tide coming in and going out of Blakeney Harbour, captured from the top of the Lifeboat House.

- This week's Sunday evening blog post was written by Ajay and Matt.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Are you ready for our Norfolk Coast 50 things family adventure?

Members of the Norfolk Coast team with the new 50 things leaflet

This summer we are challenging families to have a go at a series of exciting and fun activities along the north Norfolk coast during this year’s summer holidays.

The Trust’s Norfolk Coast team has put together a list of the top five things to do at each of the special places it cares for along the coast, from Brancaster Beach and Brancaster Staithe in the west to Friary Hills and Blakeney Point in the east.

Brancaster Beach

Activities include Fly a Kite at Brancaster Beach, Make a Mud Pie at Stiffkey Marshes, Track Wild Animals at Morston Quay and Hunt for Fossils and Bones at Blakeney Point.

Alex Green, a National Trust learning officer at the Brancaster Millennium Activity Centre (BMAC), which specialises in outdoor activities for kids, said: “We care for some of the most special places on the north Norfolk coastline and they are very popular with families, both those living here and those enjoying a holiday. To help kick-start some family adventures we have created a fun and informative little guide to enable them to get more out of their time together on the coast and visit other places they maybe didn’t know about.”

The activities are drawn from the Trust’s hugely popular 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾.
And it’s good news for anyone on a budget - many of the activities are free or low cost.
 “Our guide is full of activity ideas as well as hints and tips of what to wear or what to look out for, plus it has a handy map showing all the locations along the way,” added Miss Green.
“So whatever you want to do, the guide will help you make the most out of your trip to the seaside.”

Holding a scary beast!

Those wanting an even greater challenge can also try things like kayaking, raft building or a muddy harbour ramble exploring Brancaster’s creeks and wildlife. There will be a charge of between £5 and £10 for these additional activities.

For more information, families can visit the website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/brancaster

Raft building at Brancaster Staithe

We’re on Facebook on NorfolkCoastNT and Twitter @NorfolkCoastNT and we’d love it if you shared your adventures with us using #NorfolkCoast50.

Copies of the leaflet can be picked up at any National Trust property in Norfolk, as well as Tourist Information Centres along the coast.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

25th of July: Pirates and butchers

The recent sunny and warm weather has been ideal for the butterflies and bees. We had our highest count of the season on our butterfly transect this week with 57 butterflies of seven different species, including this Grayling, which can be amazingly camouflaged against the backdrop of lichen and sand...

While on patrol, we stumbled upon some bees that had been impaled on bramble.
These were part of a larder created by a migrating Red-backed Shrike back in May, who had over shot its breeding ground on the Continent. Shrikes – or 'butcher birds' as they are also known – impale their prey on bushes to store for later, this one obviously forgot about these bees:

The other bees have been doing well on the Point with plenty of nectar sources available. Common Sea-lavender is currently in flower, creating a purple haze on the saltmarsh. Three species of Sea-lavender can be seen in flower on Blakeney Point at the moment; Common, Matted and Rock.
Common Sea-lavender is abundant on the saltmarsh

Matted Sea-lavender has paler flowers

The Little Terns have started to fledge. Some of the birds that had their nests washed out in June have laid again; we captured this footage of them incubating their camouflaged eggs on the shingle this week (permitted under license).

Little Terns are one of four species of tern that breed on the Point. They are under threat nationwide due to human disturbance and loss of suitable habitat. So please stay away from the fenced off breeding areas and keep dogs in the permitted areas .

The terns dive offshore for sand eels and other small fish. At the moment they are having to dodge Arctic Skuas, sometimes known as avian pirates of the sea. These will be immature birds or failed breeders. It is amazing to watch Skuas chase terns for the fish they have caught, they fly synchronised with the terns copying their every twist, turn and dive through the air in the hope of stealing a fish.

- Above text and photos by Matt Twydell

In other news, we have just heard that two Grey Seal pups rescued from the Point over the winter have been released at Sutton Brige, Lincolnshire after having been taken care of by the RSPCA at East Winch.

To finish with, here is a photo, taken by our very own Graham Lubbock, showing two juvenile Oystercatchers born on the landing ridge in June, with a parent in the foreground.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

18th of July: Nature can be cruel

Regular viewers of our blog will be aware of the Ringed Plover we have nesting near the lifeboat house underneath the information sign. Only a few days away from hatching, tragedy has struck in the form of a hungry Common Gull. By far the biggest egg thieves we have on the Point, this year the ranger team has witnessed them taking a wide range of eggs from the larger eggs of Mallard and Oystercatcher to the much smaller ones of Meadow Pipit and Skylark. Video footage of the theft taking place can be seen below.

In happier news the colour-ringed Ringed Plover seen near the Cley end of the reserve has been incubating a recently found clutch of 4 eggs. The hot weather has seen an increase of butterfly sightings with the year's first Graylings being sighted along with Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, second generation Small Coppers, Small Whites and Small Tortoiseshells all being seen in good numbers.

- Paul

Monday, 15 July 2013

Sandwich sightings needed

This summer, Sandwich Terns on Blakeney Point, Norfolk, have been fitted with coloured lettered rings to enable scientists at the British Trust for Ornithology to further understand their movements.

In partnership with the National Trust, over fifty Sandwich Tern chicks have been fitted with unique numbered and lettered rings at Britain’s largest colony on Blakeney Point, Norfolk, with the aim of understanding, when and where young and adult birds go once they leave.

Do they disperse a short way along the coast just after breeding? Do they move out of Norfolk altogether and move south, or is north the initial direction they take? With the help of members of the public and birdwatchers that visit the coast over the next few weeks, the answers to these questions, and many more, will be uncovered by scientists working on the project.

All that is needed is for keen-eyed beach-goers, who see any Sandwich Terns, to check their legs for rings with binoculars or a telescope. If any are seen they can be reported to the British Trust for Ornithology at colour.ringing@bto.org.

The Sandwich Tern is one of five terns that come to Britain to breed during the summer months. It is the largest of the five and is the only one that has a black bill with a pale tip. After breeding, Sandwich Terns leave the colony around mid-July, before leaving Britain for West Africa during late September and early October.

In addition to the movements in the UK, marking these birds with unique colour rings may also allow sightings to be gathered during their migration and in wintering areas. Do these birds stop off at certain places in Europe and North Africa, and where in West Africa do they spend the winter months?

Volunteer, Jez Blackburn, project organiser, and an employee at the BTO, said, “There is great value in colour ringing these birds as the data they will provide will form part of a long term monitoring project at Blakeney. Sightings during the few months between leaving the colony and moving out of Britain will provide information about adult and juvenile dispersal. In subsequent years we will be interested in the return of these birds to their natal colony Blakeney (or their move to new colonies), and the routes they take to get back. The National Trust Rangers will also be able to observe them as breeding adults, giving an indication of their survival”.

He added, “Part of this project also involves research work in The Gambia each winter, where the Kartong Bird Observatory will be specifically looking for these birds, and have the very real and exciting possibility of seeing one of our very own chicks that was reared at Blakeney”.


National Trust Coastal Ranger, Ajay Tegala, said, “We are thrilled to be working in partnership with the BTO on this project. The National Trust Rangers spend a lot of time monitoring the terns on Blakeney Point during the breeding season, but there is still a lot to learn about their post-breeding movements. With the help of people looking out for the rings, we look forward to learning more about the journeys made by these most elegant of seabirds." Visitors are able to see the Sandwich Terns on Blakeney Point, in July and early August, from the seal boat trips that go from Morston Quay.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

14th of July: How to catch a shark

Last Sunday evening we shared a selection of moth photographs with you. This weekend we also ran a Robinson moth trap overnight, and amongst our findings was this Shark...
 ... so called because of the protuberance from its head, which resembles a shark's fin.

... and this rather beautiful Buff Arches:

As well as a shark, we also had a couple of tigers...
Ruby Tiger

We also had seven White Satin moths. Their caterpillars are abundant on the White Poplars in the Plantation.

A pipistrelle bat was seen feeding on moths last night.

There are no longer any Oystercatcher eggs along the landing ridge. However, there are still some small chicks in the area, so please move on if you hear an adult alarm calling and keep dogs on leads at all times. Earlier in the week we captured this footage of a young Oystercatcher chick.

On Friday the first juvenile Little Tern was seen in flight. The Ringed Plover eggs near the Lifeboat House are still being incubated, it is around ten days before they are due to hatch.

Sheep's-bit, a plant most common near the sea, is in flower on the sand dunes.

If you would like to learn more about the flora and fauna of Blakeney Point, then book a place on our upcoming guided walk this Friday - tickets available here.

- Ajay (with photos by Paul and Matt)

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

9th of June: Leaving the nest

Yesterday the first fledged Sandwich Tern chick was seen outside the colony. Lots of adults are showing signs of moult on their heads with white flecks appearing on the front of their black caps. This initial stage of moulting into winter plumage - white foreheads - seems to be triggered by the incubation process.

This wonderful painting by James McCallum shows adults moulting on their heads and a juvenile taking its first flight. Click on the image to enlarge it:
James was a warden on Blakeney Point in 1994, 1999 and 2003 and makes regular visits every year. His excellent book 'The Long, Wild Shore - Bird and Seal Seasons on Blakeney Point' (2012) is a must-have for everyone who loves Blakeney Point. 

Other fledging successes include the Swallows that nested in the tern hide, which have now left the nest and are able to fly. This one was sat on the floor in the hide this morning.

Since May we have been following the progress of a trio of Oystercatchers, where two females both laid their eggs in one scrape and shared incubation. The first clutch, of seven eggs (four laid by one female and three by the other), was predated. Another five eggs were laid (three by one female and two by the other) of which only one was predated. The four eggs started hatching yesterday. Today, two chicks had hatched and were walking around. Note how well camouflaged they are against the shingle:

Having a trail camera on this nest captured some interesting happenings that we would otherwise have been oblivious to. On no less than three occasions, conflict between Oystercatchers and Grey Partridges was recorded. It seems the partridges were walking too close to the Oystercatchers' nest:

Sea Holly is coming into flower. This plant was initially uncommon on the Point, but has spread considerably over the past decade.

Lots of Sea Bindweed flowers are out too. Sea Bindweed has spread extensively across the sand dunes following the disappearance of rabbits.

- Photos: Ajay and Matt (Sea Holly)

Sunday, 7 July 2013

7th of July: Moths, moths and more moths

The vast majority of people believe moths to be the dull night flying relatives of butterflies. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Just take a look at these brightly-coloured moths we caught last night using a Robinson moth trap.

A particular favourite is the Elephant Hawkmoth, pictured below beside a Small Elephant Hawkmoth to emphasise the size difference. They are so-called because their caterpillar resembles the trunk of an elephant - in colour, not size!

In our previous blog post we mentioned Cinnabar moth caterpillars. Last night we caught 13 Cinnabar moths. These moths are distinctively coloured and are day flyers.

Pale lemon coloured and equisitely shaped is the Swallow-tailed moth. Named after the bird because of its forked tail.

Amongst the moths trapped was this Drinker. We often find their caterpillars feeding on Marram grass amongst the sand dunes.

Often moth's names relate to their wing markings, such as the Angle Shades:

For any moth enthusiasts, our other records included 14 Lime-speck Pugs, 7 Common Footman, 25 Tawny Shears, 4 Dark Arches, 8 White Colons, 4 Broad-barred Whites and 3 Bright-line Brown-eyes.

It has been a wonderful, sunny weekend here on Blakeney Point. Such conditions are good news for young chicks and ideal for hatching, unlike cold, wet and windy weather, which can be detrimental to their survival. Unfortunately the sunny weather led to increased human disturbance, for example people getting too close to seals on the West Sands and dog walkers not obeying seasonal dog restrictions. The dog restrictions have been put in place to protect vulnerable ground-nesting birds, please observe these restrictions.

Thanks to the blue skies, there were countless photo opportunities. We took full advantage with the National Trust video camera and hope to share the results with you in the not-too-distant future.

- Ajay and Paul

Saturday, 6 July 2013

6th of July: Sunny spectacles

Plant discoveries on the Point today included two species of orchid. Although we have what looks like ideal habitat for orchids, they are very rare. Only four species have been seen and these are by no means annual.
Pyramidal Orchid

Common Spotted-orchid

Also in evidence now are Cinnabar moth caterpillars, these are coloured black and yellow to warn potential predators that they are poisonous. They get their toxicity from feeding on Ragwort.
Cinnabar moth caterpillars feeding on Ragwort

Another notable sighting today was this Hornet Clearwing Moth. The same size as a true hornet, but if you look closely the wings are transparent. These moths spend up to three years inside the trunk of Poplar trees, before emerging as adults on sunny days in July.

Dark Green Fritillaries are now taking to the wing on the Point. They are Norfolk's only resident fritillary and look spectacular as they gracefuly glide around the dunes.
Dark green fritillaries

Our Ringed Plover which is nesting near the lifeboat house is doing well. It is allowing 100's of visitors a day to get close up views of it incubating its eggs.

Here also is some night vision footage of a nest change taking place:

Oystercatcher chicks are continuing to hatch on the point, like this dear little fellow below. 

Birds seen today include a late Common Whitethroat, a Hobby, 300+ Knot, 122 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Greenshank, and a Marsh Harrier. And here is a photo of a Wood Pigeon on its nest in the plantation, it is our 28th breeding bird species of 2013.
(photos by Matt and Paul)

- Paul and Ajay