Monday, 11 December 2017

11th of December: Just under 2,600

Today's Grey Seal count on Blakeney Point recorded 339 Bulls and 1,374 Cows. A total of 40 pups have been born since Saturday's count, which takes the running total to 2,598. This is exactly 100 above Wednesday's count.

Photograph by Ian Ward

Saturday, 9 December 2017

9th of December: Twenty a day

Today's Grey Seal pup count revealed an average of 20 births a day since Wednesday's count (a 41% decrease in birth rate). These 60 new-born pups take the running total to 2,558 births so far this season.

There is now a pup and cow on the beach opposite the Hood; although bulls and weaned pups have made it this far down in previous seasons, this is the furthest east along Blakeney Point a pup has been born.


Bull, cow and pup (Sue Richardson)

Young pup (Ian Ward)

Although the season is not yet over, the below graph shows how this season compares to previous years using the figure so far...
(click to enlarge)

- Ajay Tegala, Ranger

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

6th of December: Record pup year on the Point

2017 has been another record-breaking year for Grey Seal pupping on Blakeney Point.

Today's Grey Seal pup count on Blakeney Point recorded 103 pups born in the last three days. This takes the running total pup births to 2,498 so far this season. This is 36 more than the previous record season (2014/15) and there are still more pups to come over the next couple of weeks.

Cow and pup (Ian Ward)

Weaned seal pup sheltering in the dunes (Carl Brooker)

The Grey Seal colony grew every year from 2001/02 to 2014/15. Now, following two years of relative stability in pup numbers, they are experiencing another record-breaking year. Follow the blog to see just how many more pups are born over the remaining four weeks of the season.

- Ajay (Ranger)

Sunday, 3 December 2017

3rd of December: Number crunching

Today's Grey Seal count on Blakeney Point takes the total pups born, so far this season, to 2,395 (116 births in the last three days). This is just eight less than last year's total already.

This figure is 58 less than the record season total: 2,453 three years ago in winter 2014/15:


Year Total pups born
1999-00 5
2000-01 ?
2001-02 25
2002-03 50
2003-04 80
2004-05 100
2005-06 175
2006-07 213
2007-08 297
2008-09 433
2009-10 603
2010-11 789
2011-12 973
2012-13 1248
2013-14 1614
2014-15 2453
2015-16 2372
2016-17 2403

It looks like the 2017/18 season could be set to be a record-breaker, although birth rate continues to slow: dropping to an average of 38 per day over the last three days, from 52 per day during the three days before (a 27% decrease).

The number of cows on the Point has also decreased - from 1,849, 12 days ago, to 1,601 (a 13% decrease) - as cows that pupped early in the season have weaned their pups and left the colony. The number of bulls, in contrast, has increased from 706 to 844 in the same period.


Today's pup count was as follows:


                     Bulls   Cows   Pups*

     Zone 1      248      394      804
     Zone 2      139      508      640
     Zone 3      301      408      541
     Zone 4        80      267      360
     Zone 5          1          1          1
     Zone 6          2          3        10
     Zone 7        68        15        14
     Zone 8          5          5        15

     Total         844    1601    2395

*Total births this season - not total pups present today, as pups born early in the season have left the colony: heading into the North Sea to fish for themselves.


During today's count, we also recorded the number of weaned pups, which totalled 769. Interestingly, this is very similar to the pup count four weeks ago. This figure is 800 less than the pup count three weeks ago. As pups are weaned at about three weeks, this suggests that about 750+ pups have already left Blakeney Point; leaving approximately 1,650 pups currently on site alongside the 2,445 adults counted today: that's a total of around 4,100 seals on the beach (very close to the total seals present 12 days ago, which suggests that combined adult arrival and birth rate has been almost identical to cow and pup departure rate).


Moulting pup (Ajay Tegala)

Moulted pup (Ajay Tegala)


Pup, cow and bull (H. Mitchell)


A bit of drama to finish with:
Seal fight on the beach (H. Mitchell)

- Ajay, Ranger

Thursday, 30 November 2017

30th of November: Fifty a day

The rate of Grey Seal pup births on Blakeney Point is slowing down, but has still been just over fifty a day with 161 births since the last count three days ago.

Photograph by Carl Brooker

This take us to a total of 2,279 pups born so far this autumn and there is still another month left of the pupping season.

Monday, 27 November 2017

27th of November: Over 2,000 pup births

Today's pup count on Blakeney Point takes the running total to 2,118 pup births so far this season.


Photography by Ian Ward

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

21st of November: Pup numbers double in one week

Seven days after our last Grey Seal count, pup numbers have more than doubled: with 816 born in the last week, there have now been 1,546 pup births. Today's count also recorded 706 bulls and 1,849 cows. That's a total of over 4,000 seals currently on Blakeney Point...

                     Bulls   Cows   Pups

     Zone 1      272      575      653
     Zone 2      149      559      361
     Zone 3      205      484      339
     Zone 4        57      226      192
     Zone 7        22          5          0
     Zone 8          1          0          0
     Total         706    1849    1546


The data shows that seals are spreading further east, having crept into zones 7 and 8 since last week's count. See map below.
Zone 1: Beach west of Gap [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 2: Far/Middle/Near Point and Stanley's Cockle Bight [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 3: Beach between Gap and Long Hills [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 4: Yellow dunes, Great Sandy Low and Beach Way [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 5: Grey dunes and Landing Ridge
Zone 6: Long Hills and Yankee Ridge
Zone 7: Beach east of Long Hills
Zone 8: Ridge east of Long Hills including the Hood

Bull following a fight (Carl Brooker)

Pup about to suckle from its mother (Carl Brooker)

Snoozing pup (Carl Brooker)


The very early pups, born in October, have now moulted and will soon be starting to disperse. Pups are fed on their mothers rich milk for up to three weeks before being left entirely to their own devices. Most weaned pups tend to laze around on the Point for a couple of weeks, before their instincts lead them to the sea to begin fishing for themselves.

- Ajay, Ranger

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

14th of November: 700 pups and a Heinkel

Today's seal count recorded 722 Grey Seal pups, particularly high for mid-November. Over the last week, the beach has got a lot busier, with 1093 adult Grey Seals (plus 7 Common Seals) alongside the pups.


  Bulls   Cows   Pups
Zone 1
151 296 376
Zone 2
89 200 176
Zone 3
147 167 147
Zone 4
16 28 23
Total:
403 691 722

Dreaming of fish! (Ajay Tegala) 


Newborn pup (Ajay Tegala) 


Snoozing pup (Ajay Tegala) 


Young pup (Ajay Tegala)

Over the last couple of days, a number of pups have been born in the flat area near our mobile hide, allowing walkers decent views...

The best way to see the pups, however, is definitely on a boat trip that go to the end of the Point where there are now several obliging pups. 

As a consequence of tidal erosion to the foreshore, what look like the remains of an old military aircraft have been unearthed from under the shingle...
We strongly suspect that it is part of the Heinkel-111 German bomber that crash-landed near the Point in 1940.

Erosion to the beach near the Long Hills...


- Ajay (Ranger)

Sunday, 5 November 2017

5th of November: Over Eighty

Today's Grey Seal pup count takes the running total to over 80 births so far this autumn. Alongside two juvenile Common Seals, a total of 597 adult Grey and 84 pups were recorded on Blakeney Point this afternoon.

  Bulls   Cows   Pups
Zone 1 100 228 55
Zone 2 49 50 19
Zone 3 94 73 10
Zone 4 3 0 0
Total: 246 351 84

When conducting pup counts, we divide the Point into eight zones, as listed below.

Zone 1: Beach west of Gap [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 2: Far/Middle/Near Point and Stanley's Cockle Bight [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 3: Beach between Gap and Long Hills [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 4: Yellow dunes, Great Sandy Low and Beach Way [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 5: Grey dunes and Landing Ridge
Zone 6: Long Hills and Yankee Ridge
Zone 7: Beach east of Long Hills
Zone 8: Ridge east of Long Hills including the Hood


Map showing Blakeney Point pup count zones - click to enlarge

It is only in the last five years that the rookery has spread beyond zones 1 and 2, into 3 and 4, and only in the last two years that pups have been born in zones 6, 7 and 8. Funnily enough, the first Grey Seal pups ever born on the Point (in autumn 1988) were on the Landing Ridge, in zone 5, as were the sporadic pups born in the early/mid 1990s. By the late 1990s, pups were regularly being born in zone 1, forming a rookery at the very start of the 21st century.

One of the younger pups (Ajay Tegala)

One of the slightly older pups (Ajay Tegala)

Please remember that the best way to see the seals and their pups is on the ferry trips that go out of Morston Quay. To avoid disturbance and potential pup deaths, please stay out of fenced areas and keep dogs on short leads at all times.

- Ajay, Ranger

Thursday, 2 November 2017

2nd of November: Spreading seals

The Grey Seal rookery on Blakeney Point continues to spread eastwards along the beach. Today's count took the total pup births to 17. Adults are now starting to move into the dunes and salt marsh. Over the next two weeks, pup numbers will explode. Watch this space for updates.


Grey Seals on the beach this afternoon (Ajay Tegala)

Please do head over to our web-site for more information and a guide to responsible viewing.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

31st of October: Double figures

One week after the first Grey Seal pup of the autumn was born, we were out on Blakeney Point this morning, where a few more have been born.


Grey Seals on the beach this morning (Ajay Tegala)

Today, we reached double figures: there have been a total of 10 seal pup births on the Point in October, six of which were born since Friday.

Please note that these pups are only visible by boat at this time. Ferry trips run most days from Morston Quay, run by Temples and Beans.


One of this week's newborn pups (Ajay Tegala)

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

24th of October: A tale of two pups

You can read the Eastern Daily Press' article on yesterday's seal pup birth by following this link.

Around midday today, we were out on the Point putting up the protective fences and stumbled upon another surprise. Yesterday's pup was doing well... and just a few metres from it was a second, smaller pup - born earlier today.
Pup no. 2 is in the centre, camouflaged by wind-blown sand
(click on photograph to enlarge)

Until this year, the first pup has always been born between 26th October and 1st November. So, to have not one, but two pups, by the 24th October is unusual. These may be inexperienced mothers pupping for the first time, outside of the main period. The main pupping season will kick off over the coming week to ten days. Please obey the access restrictions and remember that the best way to see the pups is by the ferry trips that go from Morston Quay.

-Ajay, Ranger

Monday, 23 October 2017

23rd of October: Blubber on the beach

This morning, whilst surveying the western end of Blakeney Point for the monthly Wetland Bird Survey, I was surprised and delighted to spot the first Grey Seal pup of the autumn...


I photographed it through my telescope, to prevent getting too close and causing unnecessary disturbance.



Over the last few year's, the first pup has usually been born between 30th October and 1st November. Until today, the earliest first pup was on 26th October. The pup looked healthy and well, it is the first of 2000+ we are expecting over the next 10 weeks or so. The rookery is already made up of 194 adult Grey Seals hauled out on the beach - along with a lone Common Seal looking slightly out of place!

Here is how you can safely enjoy seeing the seal pups without disturbing them:

The best and recommended way to see the seal pups is by boat from Morston Quay. The pupping area is fenced off with no access for visitors giving the seals space to give birth and to raise their pups. It is possible to walk but with an arduous six mile round trip on loose shingle with no facilities, it is not recommended. Beans Boat Trips and Temples Seal Trips both run seal trips during the pupping season departing from Morston Quay. These are popular so please contact the providers in advance for times and bookings.

Always keep your distance from any seals you may come across. Please do not try to take your photo with any seals as mothers are protective and males are very territorial which could result in serious injury to you or the death of a pup.

If you do decide to visit on foot then the team would prefer dogs to be left at home but if you wish to bring them then please keep them on a short lead at all times.

Please respect fence lines and any advice given to you by National Trust.


Other sightings on Blakeney Point this morning were two Merlins together over Beach Way. A Peregrine has also been seen regularly over the previous week.

The sands north of the Point are ever-changing. Over the past few years, the harbour entrance has moved several metres eastwards and is now the other side of the Hjordis wreck.
(Click photograph to enlarge)

The Blakeney Harbour Association have been busy moving the channel marker buoys to enable safe nautical navigation.

Finally, Ranger Carl and I would like to thank all who came on our sell-out autumn wildfowl walk on Saturday. Despite 'Storm Brian', we were treated to fantastic Marsh Harrier displays, a flock of several hundred Golden Plover above Blakeney Harbour and skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying over Blakeney Freshes to roost at neighbouring Cley Marshes.

Ajay Tegala,
Ranger

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Autumn wildlife update from Blakeney

Autumn is a time of transition on the reserve. With several of our breeding birds migrating south, we review the season. We also celebrate the arrival of our over-wintering wildfowl and prepare for the upcoming Grey Seal pupping season.

Summary of the 2017 breeding bird season
The breeding Marsh Harrier population on Blakeney Freshes is stable. The same number – three females and two males – have bred for at least the last ten years. As usual, they managed to fledge young; two broods. The usual pair of Barn Owls nested in the box near Marsh Lane, fledging two young. Avocet numbers are stable across the reserve, with a minimum 38 pairs nesting. For a third year, Little Ringed Plovers bred successfully on Blakeney Freshes. Following two years of suspected, but unproven, breeding, Water Rail breeding was confirmed, with two young observed on Blakeney Freshes: the first sighting of young on the reserve since 2002.

On Blakeney Point, a record 11 Grey Partridge pairs bred. These gamebirds are the only species resident on the Point throughout the entire year. Family groups are a frequent sight in the sand dunes throughout the winter.

Little Terns nested at four sites on Blakeney Point. Unlike in 2016, the majority did not nest on the tip of Far Point, this year favouring the Watch House colony. A mixture of good weather, good feeding and low disturbance – aided by volunteer presence – led to high productivity at the Watch House colony. The Point’s nesting Little Terns, as a whole population, fledged 56 young from 65 pairs; the most fledged since 2011 and highest overall productivity since 1999.
Little Tern fledgling (Richard Porter)

The National Trust team would like to sincerely thank the residents of Blakeney, Cley, and further afield, including the many visitors – some of whom come specifically to see terns (and seals) in the unique setting of Blakeney National Nature Reserve – for their co-operation and support this summer and in the future.

Low tide seal counts
This summer’s low tide counts showed that the number of seals hauling out on Stiffkey West Sands is stable for both species.
Date
Grey Seal
Common Seal
06/07/2017
369
202
21/07/2017
552
302
06/08/2017
114
392
11/08/2017
420
312
25/08/2017
216
455
10/09/2017
290
363

2017 summer (Mar-Sep) average:

225

167


Ten-year summer average:

308

147


Annual mean Common Seal numbers were fractionally above the ten-year summer average, whilst Grey Seals numbers were slightly below.

Breeding Grey Seals
From this Wednesday (25th October) the Grey Seal rookery area on Blakeney Point will be fenced off ready for the imminent pupping season. As usual, there will be no access to the westerly mile-and-a-half of beach and northern parts of the dunes. We would like to thank you in advance for staying out of the restricted areas and ensuring all dogs are on short leads, for the safety of visitors and dogs as well as vulnerable seals. We will have volunteers on site at peak times and will keep the blog updated with pup counts throughout November, December and into January.

Bird migration
September migrant bird highlights on Blakeney Point included: juvenile Montagu’s Harrier on 3rd; Long-tailed Skua on 14th; Barred Warbler on 15th; Wryneck on 16th; Red-breasted Flycatcher on 18th – 19th; Yellow-browed Warbler 18th – 19th. The rarest bird seen on Blakeney Point probably all year was a Tawny Owl, on 15th September. This is only the second ever record for this usually sedentary species. As of mid-October, a Peregrine appears to have taken up a winter residence on the Point.

Other wildlife
Weekly butterfly transects were conducted on Blakeney Point for a tenth year and on Blakeney Freshes and Friary Hills for a third year. The most frequently recorded butterflies on the former were Small Copper and Meadow Brown on the latter. A total 15 species were recorded on the Point and 17 on the Freshes and Friary Hills. On 18th June, a peak of 14 Dark Green Fritillary Butterflies was recorded. Early October saw several dozen Red Admiral butterflies across the reserve. On 21st and 22nd of July, a bat detector – loaned from the Norfolk Bat Project – recorded nine species over Blakeney Freshes, the most common being Noctule, Common and Soprano Pipistrelle.

Reserve management
Our winter work on Blakeney Point is centred on monitoring and protecting the Grey Seal rookery, with support from our dedicated volunteers. On Blakeney Freshes, we will be conducting our annual ditch-clearance works. This involves clearing the vegetation out of ditches on a five-year rotation, prevent them from becoming too clogged up and affecting water flow through the site, but also preventing loss of habitat for aquatic species as the clearance is spread over a number of years, rather than all at once. Other winter work on the reserve involves counting Pink-footed and Brent Geese, as part of a national census, to monitor their populations.

Ajay Tegala,
Ranger