Sunday, 26 June 2016

26th of June: Open Ears

It's that time of the year when the Cat's-ears are out on Blakeney Point, adding a lovely splash of yellow to the dunes. The flowers start to close up in the afternoon, so morning is the best time to see "open 'ears"...
 Cat's-ears flowering in the dunes

Several broods of Shelduck goslings have been seen in the harbour. These attractive birds nest down holes in the dunes, then lead their black-and-white young into the harbour soon after hatching. After breeding, adults migrate to the Wadden Sea (north German coast) to moult, leaving the young in creches with a small number of adults that do not migrate. This creche is made up of 26 goslings...
 Shelduck creche (Tom Green)

On the tip of the Point, there are now over 500 Sandwich Terns nesting...
Sandwich Terns (Tom Green)

Common Tern chicks are starting to grow up a bit...
Young Common Tern (Ajay Tegala)

We are now also up to 52 pairs of Little Terns across the reserve, the first chicks won't be far away. There are several Oystercatcher chicks doing well on the beach and two well-grown juveniles seen regularly on the marsh near the Lifeboat House, being taught how to feed by their parents. They feed largely on worms pulled from the mud as well as molluscs and crustaceans. There are a number of Black-headed Gull chicks across the reserve too...
Black-headed Gull chicks (Wynona Legg)

The Plantation has been full of surprises this week. Firstly, on Monday morning (20th), we unexpectedly witnessed a Red Deer jump out of the brambles and then trot off into the dunes! Throughout the week, a Cuckoo was seen regularly in the vicinity of the Plantation, and as many as four were recorded on Friday (24th), all adults; three males and a female. They were frequently heard calling and seen being mobbed by Meadow Pipits. Other migrants this week have included several Swifts high above and occasional Whimbrel.

Finally, in seal news, this week's low tide count totalled 272 Grey and 166 Common. And today we saw the first Dark Green Fritillary butterfly of the summer.

- Ajay, Ranger

Sunday, 19 June 2016

19th of June: More chicks hatching

This week has been quite unsettled weather-wise; with warm, sunny spells and heavy rain showers. Lightning hit Blakeney Point/Harbour no less than three times! In spite of this, more chicks have been hatching.

Storm over Blakeney, seen from Friary Hills (A. Green)
Numerous broods of Shelduck have been seen in the harbour as well as young Avocets in the Old Glaven Channel near Cley. More Redshank and Oystercatcher chicks have been hatching, as well as more Black-headed Gulls.
Newly-hatched Oystercatchers (A. Tegala)

Please help these fragile young chicks by obeying our on-site dog signs; keeping out of the restricted sanctuary areas and ensuring dogs are kept on leads elsewhere on the reserve. These small steps can make a big difference for our special birds.

On Thursday (16th), the first Common Tern chicks of the season were seen; two very young chicks on the very tip of Far Point. This is four days later than the first chicks of 2015:
Very young Common Terns on Far Point (A. Tegala)

All four tern species are nesting on the very end of the Point, and are visible from the seal ferries, along with a good show of Common Seals, interspersed with a few Greys. On Far Point, there are now well over 300 Sandwich Tern pairs nesting, alongside 100 pairs of Common Terns, 28 pairs of Little Terns and 2-3 pairs of Arctic Terns. There are not many places where you can see these four tern species nesting side-by-side.

Other, non-breeding, birds seen this week included several Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler in the bushes, a Spoonbill in Pinchen’s Creek, two Great Crested Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, a lone Brent goose, a Whimbrel and up to 300 Knot in the harbour plus a Buzzard flying high overhead.

This week, we also continued our Little Tern prey sampling with ECON Ecology. Species added to the list included Garfish and Dab in the sea, along with several Weavers and squid plus the usual shrimps (four different species), Flounders and Shore Crabs in the harbour. The favoured Little Tern prey species, Herring and Sand Eel, were in plentiful supply. Big thanks to the UCL and our faithful volunteers for help hauling in the nets.

Collecting fish from the net (M. Scott)

Recording a catch (M. Scott)

Typical catch in the surf zone, including Weaver (M. Scott)

Moths caught last night included Marbled Coronet, Tawny Shears, Nutmeg and Uncertain.

We hope the coming week will bring more chicks... but less lightning!

- Ajay, Ranger

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Lizzie and the Little Terns

This week, we have had Lizzie Hibberd, a student from the University of Southampton, staying with us in the Lifeboat House. She has been carrying out research on Little Terns for her dissertation next academic year. She has written a short piece explaining her research and what she has been up to this week…

"I have been observing the Little Terns around Blakeney Point, focusing on their foraging behaviour, particularly mapping where different groups are foraging and what they are eating. I have been spending eight hours a day watching the birds and have seen some fascinating courtship behaviour over the week. It all looked pretty worrying at the start of the week as the terns had not settled anywhere on the Point, except from a few scrapes on Far Point. This is strange because most years by now there would be many more pairs well into the incubation stage of breeding season.

Little Terns in flight
Observing the terns

I believe that the relatively cold weather we had over the last two weeks, with the northerly winds, are to blame for the late nesting of the birds. With no obvious colony position to study, I spent my first few days based at different spots around the Point trying to suss out where all the birds were feeding and if any looked to be settling down. By the second half of my week, I had found a group of birds were reliably returning day on day down near the Watch House; so I decided to stick with them. 

Over the last few days I have been monitoring their feeding activity and have found that feeding appears to be very dependent on the tides. The birds down at the Watch House colony are feeding both out to sea and in the harbour. The feeding intensity out to sea increased when the sea state improved, owing to the wind direction change we had from northerly to south westerly in the last few days. The terns, which feed predominantly on small fish, need good water visibility for successful diving and so low wind speeds are great for feeding offshore. The harbour is a great alternative due to its sheltered nature, which means the birds can feed there regardless of the weather and still appear to be finding and catching lots of fish! Yesterday morning, when I was out for my last observation session this week, I noticed that at least five pairs appeared to be going down and sitting on scrapes in the shingle, this is fabulous news for me because hopefully it means that there will be some eggs being laid over the next few days.

For the next part of my research project, I will be based down in the Solent near Southampton where I am studying another colony of Little Terns. My project is comparing the colonies to see whether inshore vs. offshore feeding patterns are consistent in two locations in the country. I will be back to Blakeney Point in just over a week to continue observations there again. Hopefully there will be lots of pairs incubating eggs by then and I can see whether feeding habits change during different stages of the breeding season.

I thought it would be great to show you all this scene I witnessed yesterday - and caught on camera - of a pair of Little Terns. The male (left) is waggling a fish for the female, this is a common sight during courtship as the males try to win the attention of females for mating. The female on this occasion doesn't look overly impressed!"

In other news, if you missed Ajay on Springwatch Unsprung, you can watch it here.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

5th of June: Chicks hatching

The beginning of June has been marked with the arrival of the first chicks of the year on Blakeney Point. We have already seen the first Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Meadow Pipit and Reed Bunting chicks and we have now recorded our first Redshank, Oystercatcher and Black-headed Gull chicks too.

Oystercatcher chicks seen in the nest (Wynona Legg)

To raise the cute factor even further we have seen our first Shelduck goslings. They hatch in the burrow and head straight to sea once they are fledged. You often see ducklings more frequently out in nursery crèches in the open water then on the ground, so it was great to witness these 11 ducklings being led off Near Point into the harbour by their parents.
 Shelduck ducklings being led off Near Point yesterday (Daniel Wynn)

In the coming weeks, we can expect to see increasing wader numbers and we have already witnessed this change with flocks of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit recorded off the Point. A late night walk along the marsh edge this evening revealed an exciting find, a pair of Tufted Duck, a rather erratic and uncommon visitor to us out here on the Point.
Tufted Duck pair seen in Pinchen’s Creek (Daniel Wynn)

This week, we have witnessed some notable arrivals including our first sightings of a Red-Backed Shrike and Common Crossbill. We have also regularly seen Spotted Flycatchers, Black Redstart, Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Common Redpoll and a few Wheatears. There’s still time for those late ‘mega’ arrivals and we all have our eyes open and fingers crossed…
Common Crossbill in Plantation (Richard Porter)

During this week a few sunny days has seen some dramatic blooms in invertebrate life including over 50 Common Blues at the Cley End and 74 Painted Lady’s across the Point. The first Cinnabar moth of the season was recorded too.

Our seal news for this week is a total of 260 Grey seals and 98 Common Seals hauled out on the West Sands recorded on Friday (3rd June). An obliging Common Seal pup is being seen regularly on the tip of the Point from the seal ferry trips.
Common Seal pup (Ajay Tegala)
Daniel Wynn,
Seasonal Assistant Ranger