Sunday, 25 January 2015

25th of January: The less glamorous side of seal monitoring

Following a week of television attention, it is now very quiet on the seal front, the breeding season having come to an end. In a very short space of time, Blakeney Point has become almost devoid of pups, with just single figures remaining, all weaned. With the beach and dunes more-or-less desserted, we have been able to carry out some important data collection, without causing disturbance.

For the first time ever, we have collected some DNA samples from dead pups. This involves snipping a small piece of tail flipper off. The samples will be sent of for analysis to see how the Blakeney Point Grey Seal DNA differs from Grey Seal pups in other parts of the UK and also The Netherlands, this will give an idea of how much inter-change there is of adults between breeding sites from season to season.

If you see any dead pups with green dye on them, these have been marked by us to show they have been sampled (to avoid taking a sample from the same pup twice). Although there are a few dozen pup carcasses on the Point, this is perfectly natural - a 5% mortality rate is very low.

This week, we have also been collecting seal scats for anlysis. This is basically seal poo. A student at St. Andrew's in Scotland is studying Grey Seal diet. The fish species eaten by the seal can be revealed by identifying its ear drums. This study is looking at seal diet at different sites in the UK at different times of year, to teach us more about what fish species seals are eating where and when.
Picking up a seal scat

Note how empty the beach is now, but how flat the Marram grass is

A big thank you to our volunteers who spent an afternoon helping to collect scats

At the start of this week, we will be taking down the fencelines. Now that the seals have moved on, there will be access to the beach and dunes once again. However, the very tip of Far Point will remain fenced off to protect the seals that haul out here.

With the breeding seal season over, it won't be too long before the first Sandwich Tern of spring arrives. The first one is usually spotted in Norfolk towards the end of March.

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)
with photography by Richard Porter

Sunday, 18 January 2015

18th of January: On TV this week

The seal pupping season on Blakeney Point is pretty much over, with the birth of pup number 2,426 at the start of the week - more than likely the last one of this winter. As the season reaches its end, the media spotlight is very much on the Grey Seals of Blakeney Point...
One of this winter's pups (Ian Ward)

They will be featured on Winterwatch at 8pm tomorrow on BBC 2 and also on Tuesday night's episode - click here for a sneak preview. To coincide with Winterwatch, the seals are also appearing on Blue Peter at 5.30pm Thursday (22nd) on CBBC. Tune in and look out for Rangers Ajay and George on Winterwatch and Blue Peter respectively.

Ajay with Iolo Williams (BBC)

Ajay and George with Radzi Chinyanganya

Read more about the record-breaking seal pupping season on Blakeney Point on the National Trust East of England blog.

The below graph and table show just how dramatic the pupping increase has been over the last 13 years...

Sunday, 11 January 2015

11th of January: Melanistic pup

Things are really quietening down in the rookery on Blakeney Point. Many weaned pups have left, as have most of the cows. There have been, however, a small number of births this week. Since the start of the new year, six pups have been born. This takes the total up to 2,425.

Weaned pups are dispersing

Among the moulted pups on the Point, is this melanistic one...

Approximately one in 300 pups are melanistic. Melanism does not affect their behaviour. On the Isles of Scilly, there is a record of a black pup being abandoned by its mother and attacked by other seals. Thankfully this one on the Point seems to be doing just fine.

In bird news, the group of 8 Shorelarks are still being seen from time to time. Similar numbers of Goldeneye and Red-breasted Mergansers are being seen in Blakeney Harbour. Snow Buntings also continue to be a frequent sight between the Point and Salthouse.
Flock of Snow Buntings

On Friday, George captured this Peregrine on Stiffkey Marshes using his phone through a telescope...

Another wildlife sighting this week was an Ocean Sunfish, that washed up near the Lifeboat House.

A number of others have washed up along the Norfolk Coast recently. These large fish are occasionally seen in Norfolk, with a handful of records from the past few years. Fishermen reported at least a dozen out to see in the summer. Presumably some of these stayed into the winter but could not cope with the cold conditions.

- Ajay