Sunday, 29 June 2014

29th of June: Seeing the unseen

The use of trail cameras (also known as camera traps) on Blakeney Point enable us to capture moments we would not otherwise witness. Here we see a Common Tern presenting a crab to its mate at their nest.

The same Common Tern nest, at night:

Sandwich Terns are perhaps not the most hygienic of birds. They do not leave the nest to defaecate, resulting in a white 'sunburst' effect around the nesting area.
This image also shows just how closely Sandwich Terns nest together. These ones have been brave enough to nest around a Black-headed Gull.

Visitors to the Point are more than likely to see Oystercatcher chicks at this time of year. The chicks are nidifugous, meaning that they leave the nest soon after hatching and well before they are capable of flight. They can be seen being taught to feed by their parents. Please do not go too close to them or linger for too long.

The six Pied Wagtail chicks in the yellow plastic box left the nest yesterday.
This photograph was taken six days earlier.

Orchids are somewhat of a rarity on Blakeney Point. This June, we were delighted to find two in the main dunes.
 Common Spotted Orchid

Southern Marsh Orchid

This week, the first Grayling butterflies of the year were seen on the wing. There have also been a sprinkling of smart Red Admirals.

Today's low tide seal count recorded an impressive 865 Grey Seals along with 26 Commons, on the West Sands.

Yesterday we stumbled upon a year-old Common Seal looking sorry for itself about a mile west of Cley Beach. It appeared to be struggling to breathe, possibly suffering from lungworm. We took it to the car park where the RSPCA came to collect it. They will treat the seal with antibiotics.

Ajay Tegala - Coastal Ranger
Photography: Ajay, Paul, Sarah (National Trust), Ben Collen (University College London)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Saved by the bund...

Following the tidal surge of the 5 December the seawall that surrounds Blakeney Freshes was breached in more than thirty places. 

This left the freshmarsh vulnerable and at risk to saltwater flooding (in fact saltwater has crept in over a further three occasions), which poses as risk to grazing livestock and also delays the recovery of freshwater life. 

When the footpath works were undertaken in a partnership between Environment Agency, Norfolk Trails, Natural England and ourselves many of the breaches were raised just to provide a safe path. 

This left just three really low points, so we decided to build a temporary bund around each of these low points to protect the site whilst the longer-term thinking goes on.

The first step was to survey the area for both height and breeding birds.

 Once done, we were able to start the works.

Using a local contractor the bunds were built at a height we felt would keep out a higher than average tide, should they need to be tested!

Then on the 15 June only a week after the works were completed they were tested and held.

We were debating whether to do this work because it was only temporary and still cost a fair amount of money, but we are all really pleased we took the decision to!

Graham Lubbock
Coastal Ranger

Sunday, 22 June 2014

22nd of June: Many Archers, but no Arrows

As regular readers should be aware, the National Trust is involved in an EU funded partnership to protect the Little Tern by understanding their movements and behaviours better. So on the 12th of June, two RSPB ringers, with assistance from the NT rangers (us), managed to ring four adult Little Terns.

A scrape cage consisting of wire mesh is placed over a bird's eggs. Upon return they enter through a small slit, but are unable to get back out.

The birds were fitted with a normal metal ring and also an individually marked colour-ring with a unique three-letter code: UB5, UB6, UB7 and UB8.

Wings are measured

Measuring head and bill length

Dye is added to identify ringed birds

Many observer hours now need to be put in to learn about these tiny sea birds.

On the wing now is the beautifully-marked Dark Green Fritillary butterfly, Norfolk's only fritillary. Look out for them in the dunes on warm days.

The Hornet moth is a member of the Clearwing family and is a superb mimic of the hornet. Sightings of this moth have been occurring in the Plantation for the last four years. Breeding was suspected, so on the 9th of June the rangers conducted a survey, which involves checking the bases of poplar trees for exit holes. a total of 12 were found, some with pupal cases protruding, along with a freshly-emerged adults.
Above: pupal case. Below: emerged moth.

A recent moth trap, on the 21st, produced a few nice species, including:
Pine Hawkmoth
Bright-line Brown-eye
Brown-line Bright-eye
Light Arches
 Buff Arches
Dark Arches
Archer's Dart

To finish with, we are delighted to announce that all four of our tern species now have chicks...
Above: Common Tern; Below: Little Tern
Paul Nichols,
(Photography by Paul, Sarah, Ajay, except Little Tern ringing by Richard Porter)

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Redshank nest hatches on Blakeney Freshes

On Blakeney freshes, we have been keeping an eye on the progress of a redshank nest. We have captured typical nesting behaviour that can be seen on the three clips below.

Disappearing redshank

Adult redshank share the incubation of eggs, this one is seen returning to the nest where after shuffling the eggs it settles down to become invisible.


Upon returning to the nest the adult is seen to be restless and sitting up high, a sure sign that eggs are hatching or that chicks are present.

Chicks appear

After putting in appearances around the nest, 3 1/4 hours later three of the chicks strike out boldly away from the nest.

A normal redshank clutch is four eggs but only 3 chicks were caught on camera.

We'll keep an eye on them and keep you posted.

Chris, Seasonal Ranger

Sunday, 8 June 2014

8th of June: Ringing recoveries

As promised in our last post, here is some footage from our Oystercatcher nest camera. Here an incubation changeover is taking place. Note the droplets of rainwater on their backs.

In other Oystercatcher news, we sadly found a dead bird a couple of weeks ago. The bird had a metal ring on its leg, so we sent off the code to the EU ring web-site. This week we had a response, and were impressed to learn that the bird had been ringed in 1987 - before Ajay was even born! It was ringed along the Norfolk Coast at Snettisham, aged at least three years. That makes the Oystercatcher at least 30 years old, which is quite impressive considering the typical lifespan is just 12 years, and this bird was still breeding. On a slightly less positive note, it confirms our suspicions that we have an aging population of breeding Oystercatchers (in 2009, two ringed Oystercatchers were found to be aged 29 and 32).

In happier news, we are delighted to announce that the first Sandwich Tern chicks hatched this week. If you look closely at the photograph, you can see the egg tooth. This is not a tooth at all, but actually a hardened tip to the bill, used to break through the eggshell.

The adults are working hard to feed their chicks. As the tide receded today, a pool of water was left behind, trapping many fish inside it. This resulted in a feeding frenzy. All four of our breeding tern species were seen indulging, along with a Little Gull.

Finally, the answer to last week's "Guess the Legs" was in fact a Marsh Harrier. Not something you find washed up on the beach very often.

Ajay and Paul,
Blakeney Point Rangers

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Morston Bridge 2 is complete

Excellent news…..

We inspected the works with Dunnella earlier today and the excellent news is that their efforts over the last 2 weeks mean that we are on programme and have completed the construction of our new bridge.

 Bridge 2 completed - the test piles will be shortly removed

The plan is now to allow public access to the new crossing from Friday 7th @ 3pm,  the temporary scaffolding bridge should no longer be used.  We are waiting for dates from Rise Scaffolding to confirm when the scaffolding will be removed.

We are making minor tweaks to the footpaths either side of the New Bridge, to allow them to connect with our temporary paths.  Once all works are completed we will finalise how we link these in with the original paths and public access.

 Laying the temporary path to Bridge 2

Dunnella will still have their main works access using the lower quay and access for equipment and machinery running alongside Bridge 2 and then on to Bridge 4.

They are now cracking on with laying the deck timbers to the working platform and pontoons for Bridge 4, which will allow them to commence installation of the piles for this structure and the viewing platform.

Piles have arrived today for Bridge 4 and these will be floated to the work area, using local assistance.

Materials will be moved to Bridge 4 along the footpath, using their small dumper and trailer, there may be some localised disturbance of the gravel surface to the path – this is inevitable but we are trying to reduce the impact by limiting the movements and transporting materials where ever possible on a tide with local assistance.

As mentioned originally there may be times when constructing Bridge 4, that we need to reduce access or stop it at times for public and users.  This will be the case when we carryout the Piling for Bridge 4 – it needs time to get the main piles & beams right to allow for the rest of the bridge installation to proceed quickly and efficiently.

We are now looking at the need to alter the existing timber Bridge 4,  as the far end coincides exactly where a number of piles for the viewing platform need to be installed.  The intention is therefore to alter the end of the existing bridge and swing it slightly out of the way – landing on the creek edge a little further up the creek away from the work area.  This operation will take 2 days,  and during this period we will need to provide alternative temporary access during the day across our working pontoon platform (this will be controlled by contractor and National Trust) or will need to temporarily close access.  We will let you know closer to the date when this takes place – and we will discuss further access to limit impact to local moorings and users and will look at timings to reduce inconvenience.


Tuesday, 3 June 2014

What is the digger doing on Blakeney Freshes?

Some of you may have spotted a digger on Blakeney Freshes working next to the four major breaches that remain in the northern wall following the tidal surge.

 Mike Page's photo shows Blakeney Freshes a couple of days after the tidal surge hit

Over the last 6 months we have been monitoring water and salt levels on the Freshes and we have noticed that seawater sometimes comes through these breaches if there are either high tides or northerly winds pushing the tide up.

We have seen spikes in salt levels in the ditches and you can see where the grass is brown in places where it has been sitting on the fields. This is not only having an impact on how quickly the freshwater wildlife can return to the affected areas but also poses a risk to how we manage the site through conservation grazing and to the livestock present.

We are undertaking a temporary solution which involves building a low bund on the inside edge of the scour pools and breaches to reduce the chances of the marsh being inundated.

We expect the digger to be on site for a week, completing the work ahead of the next set of high tides.

Today cattle returned to the marshes we look after and it is good to see them on site.

Countryside Manager  



Sunday, 1 June 2014

1st of June: Black Redstart in ladies loos

Earlier this week a Black Redstart was spotted in the ladies loos on Blakeney Point. This delightful, robin-sized bird was passing on migration and didn't spend long in the ladies toilet block - perhaps it felt embarrassed? - so there wasn't chance to get a photograph, but this sketch might help you to picture the scene...

Other notable migrants reported this week included an Eastern Subalpine Warbler, a Siberian Chiffchaff, an Icterine Warbler, Greenish Warbler (only the third spring record for the Point) and two Bee-eaters (the third ever record on Blakeney Point).

Breeding bird news
Several Black-headed Gull chicks have now hatched.

Earlier in the month we had a trail camera on a nest, it captured this footage one night:

The Redshank eggs near the Lifeboat House also hatched this week. The chicks are fluffy and adorable. Their parents quickly move them into sheltered creeks where they are, hopefully, hidden from aerial predators.
Just hatched (2012)

The Pied Wagtails, that fledged six chicks from a nest box on our shed, have now built a second nest amongst a pile plastic crates in the gas cage by the Lifeboat House. We hope their second clutch will be equally as successful, the nest currently contains five eggs.

This weekend we surveyed our breeding pairs of Oystercatchers.

These distinctive pied birds with carrot bills and blood-coloured legs are known and loved as one of the Point's iconic breeding bird species, with several pairs nesting along the main ridge and around the Lifeboat House, their 'kleep-kleep' calls are familiar to many. However, sadly they are declining. The total to this year's count was just 80 pairs, down 20 from last year.

A large reason for their decline is predation by that notorious egg thief, the Common Gull.
 Common Gull amongst Sea Rocket (photograph by Joe Reed)

Unfortunately the sight of a Common Gull raiding an Oystercatcher nest is all too familiar. They have also taken Little Tern and Ringed Plover eggs, we captured the latter on trail camera last year - you can watch the footage here. Happily, however, we have found two Ringed Plover nests in the last few days, both with a full clutch of four eggs, and both tucked away under Suaeda bushes, hopefully out of sight.

Spot the Oystercatcher
There is an Oystercatcher sat on a nest somewhere in this photograph - can you see her?

The nest in question actually belongs to our old friends the egg-dumpers, who featured in our blog in both 2012 and 2013. They return to more-or-less the same area, and each year one female lays her eggs in another's nest, sharing incubation duties. We have just put a trail camera on this nest, which currently contains five eggs, we will share the footage next week. We also found a nest with six eggs on Near Point.
The five-egg nest

 In bloom
 Just coming into flower on Blakeney Point: Sea Bindweed - also known as 'Granny-jump-out-of-bed'. This plant spread rapidly on Blakeney Point following the disappearance of rabbits.

Moth of the day
Last week's moth trap produced an Elephant Hawkmoth, last night we caught a Small Elephant Hawkmoth.

In other invertebrate news, this week the first dragonflies and damselflies of the year were recorded on the Point: a couple of Hairy Dragonflies and a Common Blue Damselfly.

Mammal news
On one of our recent dawn patrols, a Roe Deer was spotted bounding along Beach Way. Deer are rare on the Point, but there are occasional sightings of Roe Deer and Muntjacs every year, and some years even Red Deer. In 2010 a Muntjac fawn was actually born amongst bushes in the Plantation.
Muntjac on the Point in 2011

Guess the legs
We were very surprised to find this bird washed up on the beach. Can you guess what species it is? Answer to be revealed in our next post.

On the theme of yellow legs, we saw this Yellow-legged Gull on the beach recently.

"Blakeney days and Blakeney nights! When does one see the Point at its best? In summer when the skies are blue and terns scream, dive, fight and play overhead and seals bask in the sunshine on the sandbanks" - Reginald Gaze, 1949
Above: Dawn; Below: Dusk

Finally, our latest low tide latest seal count, conducted on the 30th of May, totaled 515 Grey and 10 Common. The Common Seals will be having their pups nearby in the Wash over the next two months.

Blakeney Point Ranger