Sunday, 26 April 2015

26th of April: Returning Terns

This week on Blakeney Point, we welcomed the return of the Common, Arctic and Little Tern. Common Terns first appeared on Monday (20th), with three perched on the No. 14 buoy in the harbour. Three days later there was a small group on the very tip of the Point...
Common Terns on the tip of Far Point

Common Tern (Ian Ward)

We were delighted to watch a westward passage of Little Terns on Friday (24th), whilst on a Blakeney Point adventure with students from Langham Primary. The children spent a morning learning about terns, hares and Shelduck, including looking at the holes where they nest...
Looking for Shelduck prints (Alex Green)

We are hoping the Little Tern decoys will attract birds to nest in areas less vulnerable to flooding than they chose last year.

A pleasure of this time of year is finding nests as they start to appear. The Black-headed Gulls started laying this week, and passerines are nesting in the main dunes. I stumbled upon a delicate Skylark nest, highlighting how important it is to watch your every step. We encourage visitors to stick to the boardwalk.

Wading birds are laying their camouflaged eggs on the shingle. We have fenced off the main areas. Please observe signs and watch your step, wild birds nest where they want, regardless of where we put the fences!
Ringed Plover eggs, camouflaged amongst shingle (Sarah)

Avocets kindly respecting our fenceline (Sarah)

Please note that Avocets and Little Terns are Schedule 1 protected species. This means that it is a criminal offence to photograph them at their nest without a licence.

Shorelarks are still an almost daily sighting on Beach Way, although numbers have dropped to five. Presumably they are starting to migrate to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and northern Russia.

Yesterday (25th) brought a couple of exciting rare birds to the Point. A White-tailed Eagle over the sea and a Kentish Plover heading west. A pair of Kentish Plover actually bred on the Point in 1983 (their first clutch was predated and the second abandoned). Kentish Plover were first described as a species when they were 'discovered' in Kent, much like the Sandwich Tern, first observed at Sandwich Bay in Kent.

Friary Hills has not been a bad spot this week either, with Redstart and Ring Ouzel. On Wednesday (22nd) two Spoonbills put in an appearance on Blakeney Freshes:
Spoonbills on the Freshes (George)

In other news, last night the Norfolk Wildlife Trust's hut was stolen from Cley Beach car park. Can anyone shed any light on the matter?

- Ajay

Sunday, 19 April 2015

19th of April: Nesting now

This morning, assistant ranger Paul found the first Ringed Plover nest of the year on Blakeney Point. It contained three eggs, one less than the usual clutch number of four, which suggests she will probably lay another egg tomorrow. The nest is located within one of our fenced areas, put up to protect ground-nesting birds from disturbance and the risk of camouflaged eggs being trampled. Both the male and female Ringed Plover incubate, and eggs usually hatch after around 28 days. We wish this pair success.
Ringed Plover on Blakeney Point (Joe Cockram)

Ringed Plover sat on eggs

Ringed Plovers are usually the first waders to lay on the Point. But on Blakeney Freshes, we have already had a number of Lapwings (also known as Green or Crested Plover - and Peewit) lay their eggs.
Lapwing eggs on Blakeney Freshes (George)

For the third year running, a pair of Pied Wagtails have made a nest in the nest box on the shed next to the Lifeboat House. We hope they will be as successful as last year, when they fledged to broods of six.

This weekend there have been a series of spring tides. These highlighted changes in beach profile opposite the Gap...
View north from the Gap today (Paul)

The photograph shows how a shingle ridge has formed (over the last nine months). Last night's tide over-topped the ridge, leaving a pool of knee-deep water behind it after receding, reminding us that the Point is an ever-changing landscape. This time last year, the beach opposite the Gap was flat and sandy.

Rainbow this afternoon (Paul)

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)

Sunday, 12 April 2015

12th of April: Wardens from days gone by

Currently on Blakeney Point, the rain is lashing down and it's blowing a hoolie. In strong winds, birds often face the wind rather than get hit side-on and get their feathers ruffled. Here the Black-headed Gulls in the colony are facing the wind...

Amongst these harsh conditions, a small clump of delicate Wild Pansies Viola tricolor are in flower in the dunes:

Although introduced, there are a small number of daffodils on the Point:

Earlier in the week, when the weather was much more pleasant, the first moth and butterfly sightings of the year were made on the Point. With a Herald moth heralding spring on Monday (see image below, this was also the first moth species we found last year too), Small Tortoiseshell on Tuesday and Peacocks on Wednesday.

The first Swallows were seen flying west over the Point on Monday, with the odd Sand Martin too. Other migrant birds this week included a Short-eared Owl, female Goosander, Fieldfare and plenty of Chiffchaffs and Wheatears. The exaltation of Shorelarks is still frequenting Beach Way, albeit with numbers having sadly dropped from eight to seven.

Sandwich Terns are steadily arriving. Reaching a roost count of c.600 on Friday evening.

In mammal news, after two years, the lone rabbit is still living near the Lifeboat House. A couple of decades ago, rabbits were present on the Point in their hundreds but were completely wiped out by myxomatosis. As a consequence, the diversity of dune flora has increased allowing invertebrate life to also increase. This individual rabbit was first spotted in summer 2013 and managed to survive the tidal surge.

What do you do in the evenings?
Just as musicians often get asked "what do you do in the daytime?", Blakeney Point rangers get asked "what do you do in the evenings"... Well, I spent last night painting Little Tern decoys!

The plan is to use these decoys, combined with tape lures, to attract Little Terns to safe areas to breed. We are licenced by Natural England to do this. The reason we are trying this is because last year 60 nests were flooded by spring tides in June, due to birds laying in a low area of beach, which just filled with water (see below):

Rather than moving nests and causing disturbance. We are trying to be proactive and attracting them to suitable areas in the first place. "Why bother?" you may ask. Well, Little Terns are a rare and declining species, with limited available habitat. As partners in an RSPB-led EU Life project, we are committed to increasing their breeding success as well as trying to learn more about them. And, of course, we are legally obliged to protect them, as they are a Schedule 1 species. You can help by staying away from fencelines and obeying the seasonal dog restrictions. Your cooperation is much appreciated.

Seasonal assistants
Having spent more than two weeks alone on the Point. I am looking forward to the arrival of this year's seasonal assistants at the end of this week (I hope they are looking forward to starting despite the lack of running water!). Although, I have managed to get a lot of things ticked off the job list...

I am pleased to be joined once again by Paul Nichols. This will be Paul's ninth season on the Point, making him the second longest serving assistant, after Reginald Gaze who did numerous summers in the early days.
Reginald Gaze with Billy Eales in the 1930s 

We are delighted to be joined by Sarah Johnson, who is returning for a second season. This year we are also very pleased to welcome our newest recruit to the team, Josh Barber. No stranger, Josh filled in for two months (February and March 2013) between Eddie leaving and me starting. Josh also spent the winter filling in at Heigham Holmes and also works for the National Trust at nearby Sheringham and Felbrigg.
Josh helping Paul and Graham in 2013

Over the past couple of years, I put together this list of Blakeney Point Wardens from days gone by:
Summer Lead Assistants Assistant Assistant
1901-29 Bob Pinchen (none)
1930 Bob Pinchen Billy Eales
1931-38 Billy Eales Reginald Gaze Ted Eales
1946-c61 Ted Eales Reginald Gaze
c1967-69 Ted Eales ? ? John Bean (winter)
1970-73 Ted Eales Paul Cobb ( John Bean (winter)
1974Ted EalesMike Bennett(two did moonlight flit)John Bean (winter)
1977 Ted Eales Alec Osborne Mike Rawling John Bean (winter)
1978 Ted Eales Alan Davies Steven John Bean (winter)
1979 Ted Eales Chris Parker David Wilby John Bean (winter)
1980 John Green Chris Parker Marc Jones
1981 Ronald Pimm Andrew Stocker (succession of five)
1982 Joe Reed Andrew Stocker Christopher Pryor
1983 Joe Reed Glenn Webb Laurie Allan
1984 Joe Reed Glenn Webb Graham Lubbock
1985 Joe Reed Glenn Webb Graham Lubbock
1986 Joe Reed David Sharrod David Mills Helen Smith
1987 Joe Reed Richard Gilbert David Mills Victoria Johnson
1988 Joe Reed Richard Gilbert John Walton James Sellwood
1989 Joe Reed Richard Gilbert Mark Driscoll Juliet Grace
1990 Joe Reed Richard Gilbert Gareth Eggar Clare Robinson
1991 Joe Reed Richard Gilbert? Bradley Robson Victoria Stares
1992 Joe Reed Richard Gilbert Dougal McNeil Rachel Tuck
1993 Joe Reed Martin Williams Dougal McNeil Rachel Tuck
1994 Joe Reed Martin Williams James McCallum John Riley
1995 Joe Reed Richard Gilbert James McCallum Martin Williams
1996 Joe Reed Nick Hammond Andrew Hayman Mark Warren
1997 Joe Reed Saul Brown Andrew Hayman Stefan McElwee
1998 Joe Reed Paul Leatherland David Pile Robert Mortley
1999 Joe Reed Paul Leatherland James McCallum Hannah Leveridge
2000 Joe Reed Dave Wood Tracey Cooper Robert Mortley
2001 Joe Reed Dave Wood Henry Walker Mark Cornish
2002 Dave Wood Graham Collins Niall Mugan
2003 Dave Wood Aaron Boughtflower James McCallum
2004 Dave Wood Aaron Boughtflower James Squires
2005 Dave Wood Lucy Browne Chris Le-Clare
2006 Dave Wood Eddie Stubbings Andy Cristinacce James McCallum/Lucy Browne
2007 Eddie Stubbings Paul Nichols Andy Cristinacce Aaron/Lucy/Ollie Moore
2008 Eddie Stubbings Paul Nichols Jason Moss
2009 Eddie Stubbings Paul Nichols Richard Berridge Ajay Tegala
2010 Eddie Stubbings Paul Nichols Joe Cockram Ajay Tegala
2011 Eddie Stubbings Paul Nichols Becky Pitman
2012 Eddie Stubbings Paul Nichols Joe Cockram Ajay Tegala
2013 Ajay Tegala Paul Nichols Matt Twydell
2014 Ajay Tegala Paul Nichols Sarah Johnson Josh Herron
2015 Ajay Tegala Paul Nichols Sarah Johnson Josh Barber

Above: Left: Ted Eales; Right: Richard Gilbert, c. 1988 (now works at Dunwich for the Trust)
Below: Left: Joe Reed ringing a Black-headed Gull chick in the 1980s; Right: the 2011 team

If anyone can fill any of the gaps in the table, then please do get in touch. We are always interested to hear from past members of staff, their memories and any pictures they may like to share.
 Bob Pinchen with students in the 1920s (thanks to UCL)

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)

Sunday, 5 April 2015

5th of April: African arrivals

This morning on Blakeney Point, the dunes were full of sound. With the syrupy song of Skylarks and calling Meadow Pipits. Both of these bird species are abundant in the dunes, and will soon be making their fragile nests amongst the Marram grass.

Earlier in the week, the point was blasted by blown sand, splashed with horizontal downpours and ripped by 70mph winds. As a result new dunes have formed on the foreshore. But it made for a bitterly cold start to the month.

Today, however the sky and sea were shades of warm Nofolk blue. With dozens of visitors walking on the beach. Many coming to see the seals, of which there were 385 Grey and 6 Common. It really did feel like the first day of spring, not just because of the weather, but the "keerick" calls of Sandwich Terns above.
On Friday evening, 94 were counted roosting on Far Point. It's so good to have them back, having migrated from West Africa. These elegant seabirds with pure white plumage, angular wings and shaggy black crests are the emblem of Blakeney Point. The end of the Point now belongs to them (there is no public access to this area).

For this reason - and other ground-nesting birds along the shingle ridge - the seasonal dog ban is now in place, and will be until around the 10th of August. This is to reduce disturbance and has proven to work. Dogs are still permitted on the first mile of the Point from Cley beach and on the Landing Ridge, around the Lifeboat House and southern half of the boardwalk, but please keep them on leads at all times.

Another sign of spring were these Colt's-foot flowers at the Marrams. This clump appeared last spring and was the first record of the species on the Point. Presumably the seed was brought here by the December 2015 tidal surge.

Migrant birds over the past few days have included a mixture of birds arriving and leaving Merlin, Wheatear, Black Redstart, Robin, Song Thrush, Goldcrest and also the first Whimbrel of the spring (on the 3rd). And the exaltation of Shorelarks are still seen regularly in the Beach Way area, their favourite spot since December.

Recent sightings also included a Muntjac on Beach Way. We have several Muntjac sightings on the Point every year, and the occasional Roe Deer too. 

Calm water in Blakeney Harbour this evening

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)