Sunday, 25 May 2014

25th of May: Snow on the beach

Migrant bird sightings on Blakeney Point picked up towards the end of this week. On Friday a trio of delightful sightings were made. Firstly a male Red-backed Shrike appeared and was witnessed catching and feasting on bees. Then a male Snow Bunting showed up on Beach Way in summer plumage, although common in winter, they are seldom seen here in the summer. Later on we saw a Stone Curlew flying along the ridge. Stone Curlews are a true rarity on Blakeney Point with only a handful of records.
 Red-backed Shrike (Richard Porter)

Two birds on their way to the Arctic (Richard Porter):
Snow Bunting and Tundra race Ringed Plover, Beach Way

Since last weekend, over 150 more Sandwich Terns have started nesting on Far Point. More Common Terns are also settling on the beach along with Little Terns. We are delighted to report that the latter have shown interest in the experimental additional fenced area we provided on the beach. As protectors of Blakeney Point's breeding birds, we are on patrol from dawn until dusk. Please remember damaging or interfering with a bird's nest is a criminal offence and the police should be notified immediately: ring 121 and quote 'Operation Compass' if you witness any egg-related crimes in Norfolk.
Common Terns settling down on the beach

Little Tern fishing (Richard Porter)

In bloom
This year's first Yellow Horned-poppies have emerged, Blakeney Point's iconic flower:

Fish of the day
This Common Dragonet was found washed up on the beach. These small fish have flattened bodies and live on the seabed. They have a burrowing lifestyle and feed on cockles and small invertebrates.

After more than a month of low counts, seal numbers are starting to build again. Today's low tide count totaled 433 Grey and 10 Common hauled out on the West Sands.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

18th of May: 5,072 sandwiches don't quite make a picnic

It's that time of the year again...

This weekend we conducted part one of our annual Sandwich Tern nest count. This is the fourth year that Paul's ingenious idea of using pasta to count nests has come into play. As Sandwich Terns nest so closely together (see photograph below), marking each one is the quickest and easiest way to count them. Counts are done as briskly, but carefully, as possible, at low tide on warm days to ensure minimal disturbance to incubating birds.

This year, some 71 Sandwich Terns are nesting on the shingly tip of Middle Point, this is the first time they have nested in this location.
The tip of Middle Point

A total of 2,536 nests were counted

Sandwich Terns in flight

We will be undertaking a second count in early June, as there is often a later influx of birds at this time.

This year, for the first time ever, we used the pasta method to count Black-headed Gull nests too. Previously we estimated gull numbers visually, putting the number at around 2,000 pairs. The count revealed a total of 2,366 spread across five locations along the Point.
Black-headed Gull nest

The best way to see Blakeney Point's breeding tern and gull colonies is from the seal trips that go from Morston Quay.

Over the past few days, numbers of Little Terns have built up. There are currently at least 75 pairs present on the Point. They will be starting to settle down over the coming week. On Friday we found the first Ringed Plover nest. These delightful, small waders have declined in recent years, so we were saddened to notice that one of the eggs had disappeared overnight - probably taken by either a Common Gull or a nearby nesting Oystercatcher. To help Ringed Plovers, please stay away from our fenced enclosures and respect the dog restrictions.

In other breeding bird news, the six Pied Wagtail chicks in the nest box fledged today.

Migrant bird sightings have been very few this week. However, today there were reports of a Spotted Flycatcher and a Black Tern.

In insect news, the first Brown Argus butterfly was seen today. There are also several Cinnabar moths on the wing, these day-flying moths can be seen amongst the dunes.
 Cinnabar moth

Highlights from last night's moth trap include the classic Elephant Hawkmoth

the beautifully-marked Campion

and the aptly-marked Choclate-tip

This week we had the pleasure of meeting a delightful couple who were visiting Blakeney Point for the first time in 52 years, when they had met as students at the University College London on a botany field course. They were celebrating their golden wedding anniversary.
George and Susan Peterken

-Ajay and Paul,
Blakeney Point Rangers

Friday, 16 May 2014

Morston Bridges Update

Bridge 2 piling is now in place and time has been taken to provide the support frame to all these to be driven into place accurately and to help align the structure which sits on it. 

The test pile for the northern bridge 4 has enabled us to reduce pile lengths slightly in some areas and these piles will be delivered in  two weeks time.

Dunnella will commence installing the timber frame which supports the bridge deck next week for bridge 2 and they are on programme to complete this bridge inline with the removal of the temporary scaffold bridge and as our original construction programme. The temporary bridge will only be removed once bridge 2 is open.

Bridge 2 piles in position

Bridge 4 flotation tanks delivery to the site is being co ordinated with local help and is envisaged to be in position during the last week of May. The pontoons enable a safe working area and access on/off the site. Following their delivery they will commence constructing a similar temporary crossing for the excavator to drive the piles.

Piling for bridge 4 is due to be completed during the second week of June followed by the construction of the deck structure as with bridge 2.

We are still on track with our intended programme for bridge 4 construction.

Following completion on the final bridge we will have a two week period to demobilise the site, remove temporary crossings and remove existing structures and materials.

The recent good weather has aided installing the main piling for bridge 2 and we are extremely pleased with the Dunnella's attitude to making the bridges good for the future.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

11th of May: Bullfighting on Blakeney Point

This week on the Point, the rangers were more like matadors, the bull in question was not of the bovine variety, but a large Grey Seal bull, with lots of netting around its neck. First seen on the 6th, when it was only feet from the water, offering no chance of a rescue attempt. Then on the 7th we noticed him hauled out 20 feet from the sea. A rescue attempt was now possible.

Using a seal stretcher we were able to block his path to the sea, however it soon became apparent just how big this bull was, aged between 9 and 12 years and weighing in at 300+kg, this was going to be some fight. After several failed attempts, to subdue him, it was decided more hands and another seal stretcher were needed. Two hours later and the RSPCA arrived to lend a hand. With both rangers using a stretcher like a pair of giant chopsticks, we were able to pin it down, for short periods just long enough to cut through a couple of strands of netting at a time using a thin saw blade. After another hour, we finally managed to free him. The wound was about 15cm deep, but given time and plenty of salt water baths, he should make a full recovery. 
The EDP covered the story in today's paper.

The first wader nests of the season have at last been found. On the 8th we found a Redshank's nest with a full clutch of four eggs near the Lifeboat House. While out on the beach near the gap, we discovered the first Oystercatcher egg of the year on the 10th. This is particularly late for Oysterctachers, although the weather has not exactly been encouraging over the last few days.
Redshank's nest

The weather this week has been horrible to say the least, with several heavy downpours and a hailstorm on the 9th. Unsurprisingly numbers of butterflies and moths seen were low, however on the 7th Richard Porter did see the first Common Blue butterfly of the season.
A hailstorm rendered the Point white in a matter of seconds

Migrants seen during the last week include Osprey, Peregrine, Hobby and Goosander on the 8th, while on the 10th a steady trickle of Swifts and Hirundines were flying through all day. They were joined by a few Yellow Wagtails and three Goldfinches. Today we have seen another Hobby as well as two Whinchats, two Sedge Warblers and a handful of Willow Warblers.
Meadow Pipit chicks snug in the nest

As promised, the answer to last week's "guess the legs" quiz...
(photograph by Joe Cockram, 2012)

Paul Nichols,

Seasonal Ranger

Sunday, 4 May 2014

4th of May: Looking out for Little Terns

As partners in a Little Tern LIFE project, we have a large focus on protecting and learning more about these most delightful and delicate of seabirds.
Little Tern over the Point (Joe Cockram, 2010)

Little Terns have been synonymous with Blakeney for over a century. In 1901, the Blakeney and Cley Wild Bird Protection Society appointed a Watcher to look after the breeding terns on Blakeney Point, then just Common and Little. In the early days of the twentieth century, there were typically 10 to 40 pairs of Little Terns nesting each summer.
Bob Pinchen, Watcher 1901-1930

Today, typically over 100 pairs breed here, but with mixed fledging success. This year, with the help of volunteers and students, we are increasing our observation and protection. The colonies have been fenced off for protection, please give all fencelines a wide berth to avoid disturbing incubating birds. Little Terns are a Schedule 1 protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, meaning it is an offence to cause disturbance to them.
The 2014 Blakeney Point Little Tern team

This weekend the first Sandwich Tern eggs were laid, two weeks after the first Black-headed Gulls. We expect to find the first Oystercatcher eggs any day.
One of this year's first Sandwich Tern eggs

Unfortunately, this weekend was not without its disturbance events. Low-flying para-motors are becoming an increasing problem. These two flew over the colony, disturbing the Sandwich Terns at 18.00 on Saturday.
At 14.20, an orange one flew dangerously low over the seals hauled out on the West Sands, scaring them all into the water. We urge para-motor users to obey the law and not to fly low over important protected wildlife sites. If you have any information on Saturday's events, please do get in touch.

The birding highlight of this weekend was a group of nine Common Cranes, that flew west over Blakeney Harbour on Saturday morning.

This morning's annual Shelduck count, revealed 68 breeding pairs on the Point.
Shelduck at Blakeney (Gary K. Smith)

In invertebrate news, the first Cinnabar and Yellow Belle moths have been seen this week. These moths can be seen during the daytime amongst the dunes.

And finally, here is another "guess the legs" challenge...
(Answer to be revealed in our next blog post)

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)