Tuesday, 31 July 2012

31st of July: Seal rescue

Every year we come across the occasional injured seals from time to time. Where possible we do our best to help them. Already this season we have helped two seals that were caught in netting and fishing lines. Yesterday, there was a Common Seal pup suffering from lungworm on Far Point.
We used a seal stretcher to catch the pup. It was then taken to the RSPCA animal hospital at East Winch where they specialise in seals. We hope it will make a full recovery, and will keep you updated.
Above photos: Graham Lubbock

Photo: Joe Cockram

A small number of migrant birds have been sighted over the last few days: a Purple Sandpiper, female Tufted Duck and Wheatear were seen on Sunday, three Curlew Sandpipers and two juvenile Stonechats on Monday, and a Common Whitethroat today.

- Ajay

Friday, 27 July 2012

27th of July: Coloured Rings... but not for the Olympics

This week's weather has been really rather nice after one of the coldest, wettest and windiest seasons in memory. There has been little wind, balmy temperatures, barely any rain and a few more butterflies. The only down side to all this is that the Little Terns have abandoned the main beach colony due, probably, to a late start to the season, bad weather, surge tides and numerous predators (Heron, Kestrel, Hobby, Short-eared Owl and all the usual ground predators) picking away at the edges of the colony. It looks like from 4-5 colonies and a maximum of 140 pairs only around 25 young will fledge. After last year's success with 160 breeding pairs fledging 140 young this years paltry performance is quite disappointing.
Photo by Joe Cockram

A few more migrants have been passing through today. Joe saw a Willow Warbler and a juvenile Stonechat at the Hood and Paul saw a few seabirds (1 Red-throated Diver, 32 Common Scoter, 1 Red-breasted Merganser, 1 Pomerine Skua)  whilst looking for cetaceans (whales and dolphins) for the Seawatch National Whale and Dolphin Watch. Interestingly, the Stonechat was colour ringed (LBC, B; RBG, M) on the 1st of June at Gramborough Hill by Birgitta Bueche, or Bee (Eddie's better half).

- Eddie

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

24th of July: Secrets of the night

For the last week we've deployed a couple of camera traps in the dunes in order to to take a peek at what roams around Blakeney Point when we're not looking. Results had been a little disappointing, with no un-expected sightings. However, whilst checking through the memory cards today we were greeted by a series of photos of a Short-eared Owl seemingly investigating the camera. These images were captured at 3am, no wonder we hadn't seen this bird around ourselves.

Many thanks to Natural England for loaning us the cameras.

The autumn passerine migration started today with 2 juvenile Willow Warblers in the garden and 2 Yellow Wagtails flying over. A few Arctic Skuas are still roaming around the beach and the harbour, stealing fish off terns as they bring them in for their chicks.
Willow Warbler (Joe Cockram)

Arctic Skua (Joe Cockram)

- Joe

Sunday, 22 July 2012

22nd of July: A desperate cry... for a butterfly

A desperate warden on Blakeney Point makes a final cry for a butterfly. So far 2012 has been the worst year for butterflies since the National Trust began recording them for the Butterfly Conservation Society (BCS). The Blakeney Point transect was set up in 2008 with the help of Chris Dawson, Region Organiser for BCS. Every week between April and October a set route is walked and butterflies are recorded within a 4-metre radius. Transects must be undertaken in conditions over 16 degrees or with 100% sunshine. BCS use transect data to analyse and monitor the UK's butterfly populations.

This year our transects have recorded a disappointingly low number of butterflies. None were recorded in the first 5 weeks. To date a maximum of only three individual butterflies have been recorded on a single transect and a total of just 15 to date (seven species). This is not just confined to the point; numbers are also low on the mainland.

Most people over a certain age (50) can remember when butterflies were far more common than they are today. This certainly is the case for some species such as Small Tortoiseshell. However, butterfly populations do go through natural cycles linked to parasites. Also, once rare butterflies such as Speckled Wood, Comma and Essex Skipper are increasing and expanding their range, often spreading northwards.

Although this summer may seem depressing due to low butterfly numbers and bad weather, there is hope for the future. Everybody can help butterflies either by recording them for BCS or encouraging them into your garden. For more information go to the BCS web-site.

Just in case you've forgotten what they look like; here is a photo of a Small Copper on the point:
Photo: Lucy Browne (2005)

- Eddie

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Branodunum's new seat

Located east of Brancaster village, and easily accessed from the Norfolk Coast path, is the site of a Roman fort called Branodunum. Whilst in Roman times, the fort's northern wall lay directly on the shore, today the site lies behind extensive areas of internationally important saltmarsh habitat and the Royal West Norfolk golf course.

The fields that are within our ownership are popular with the local community and their dogs, and we were approached by local residents Mr & Mrs Till with a request for a bench to rest tired limbs or to take in the stunning views.

Being an important archaeological site and designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, we can't just put a bench where we fancy and we needed to apply for consent from English Heritage. Unfortunately the bench wasn't approved so this made us think a little harder.

What if we were to pursue a tree trunk appropriate to the area, place it on the site and cut it to act as a perching place?

This revised approach was approved so we contacted our nearby neighbours NT Felbrigg Hall who unlike us have a lot of trees to see if they could help out.

Head ranger Richard Daplyn & ranger Ed sourced a piece of sweet chestnut that was felled for management reasons and not only sliced the bottom to allow it to lie flat but also took a large chainsaw bar to the top followed by a sander and achieved a finish I couldn't do myself.

Mrs Till kindly donated the value of the timber that would have otherwise been sold and transport costs, and last monday the log seat arrived, which timely happened to be their anniversary!

Warden Keith and Academy Ranger George from our team helped to get the log that weighs about three quarters of a tonne off the trailer safely with a landrover and levered it into place.

Here we all are enjoying the new seat that is sited on the upper field.

Left to right on back row: Warden Keith (Norfolk Coast NT), Ranger Ed (Felbrigg NT), Academey ranger George (Norfolk Coast NT), Head Ranger Richard (Felbrigg NT)

Front row: Mr & Mrs Till 2nd from left & far right

We'd love to receive photos of views from the bench! Please e-mail them to Victoria.Francis@nationaltrust.org.uk

Monday, 16 July 2012

15th of July: Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists

This weekend the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists have been recording beetles, lichens and vascular plants on the point. Scientific recording of species began here in Victorian times. These trips can be productive and enable species never before recorded to be discovered. Four years ago, the first Lesser Stag Beetle was found on the point, the first one to be found in Norfolk for several decades. This year another new beetle was discovered, it is currently still being verified.

Photos: Victoria Francis

Our latest low tide seal count (14th of July) recorded 298 Common and 825 Grey Seals on the West Sands.

In other news, it seems we have 56 eggs between us... so it looks like omlette for dinner.

- Ajay

Saturday, 14 July 2012

14th of July: A Tale of Two Cuckoos

An adult male Cuckoo in The Plantation has been a nice sight over the past two days, stopping to feed up on the abundant White Satin moth caterpillars. He was an especially welcome visitor given the terrible decline of this species in the UK in the last decade. Check out the BTO Cuckoo project to find out more about efforts to determine the cause of the problem.

To our amazement, whilst watching this bird, a juvenile Cuckoo appeared. Obviously, Cuckoos do not raise their own young, so it was very strange to see the two together.

The two birds sharing a section of dune-stabilising chestnut paling.

Doing some reading on the subject this evening, it seems that Cuckoos are known to form loose groups at particularly rich feeding grounds on migration, which is presumably what is occurring here. You learn something new every day!

Swallows have started fledging from nests around The Lifeboat House. These three enjoy sitting on the waste pipe underneath the toilet block, they fly off whenever someone flushes.

 This female Pied Wagtail has suddenly taken a disliking to her reflection in the mirror of our quad bike. We've covered the mirror up now to save her efforts, so stand well back if you see us reversing.

Photos: Joe Cockram. Text: Ed.

Friday, 13 July 2012

12th of July: Countryfile

Yesterday the BBC Countryfile team came to Blakeney for a day's filming for their summer special episode. They began by filming the point from the top of Blakeney church and then headed to Morston Quay with the National Trust team. Here is a sneak preview, the episode will be aired on Monday the 27th of August at 6pm.

Victoria was interviewed by John Craven on a Temple's ferry. They had great views of seals and terns. The large numbers of seals and terns are a big draw for media, and the Trust is approached on several occasions each year. The challenge is to communicate conservation messages whilst providing entertainment and enjoyment. The main points that we try to convey are the international importance of the Sandwich Tern colony and the sensitivity of the reserve. This time we also had the opportunity to highlight our centenery.

Iain looked good behind the camera as well as in front of it.

  After lunch John interviewed the wardens about what attracts us to our jobs.
 Back at Morston Quay, Iain was filmed.

Photos: Graham Lubbock, Victoria Francis and John Sizer.

The weather was ideal for filming. The sun was shining and a slight south-westerly wind dropped in the afternoon. This gave the wardens the perfect opportunity to monitor the terneries for chicks in the evening. Two broods of Ringed Plovers were seen in the main Little Tern colony as well as five Oystercatcher chicks of varying ages and ten Little Tern chicks. Also, the Short-toed Lark first seen on Sunday was seen again on Beach Way.
Little Tern chick (Ajay Tegala)

- Eddie and Ajay

Monday, 9 July 2012

9th of July: Larks Ascending, Swallows Descending

While tidying up around the Lifeboat House this morning we noticed that part of a Swallow nest under the eaves had collapsed, leaving two rather shaken little chicks on the ground. They were still  a good few days away from fledging, so with the aid of a ladder they were returned to the ledge the nest was built on. The ledge is quite narrow but hopefully the birds will manage to cling on, anyway, they'll stand a better chance up there than down on the wet concrete. 

Mum appeared somewhat bored by the whole episode.

Yesterday we discovered a Short-toed Lark feeding on the shingle at Beach Way. Although there are already 14 records from Blakeney Point, this vagrant from Southern Europe was most un-expected at a time of year when little migration is taking place.

Finally, does anyone have any guesses as to what is going on here?

-Joe Cockram

Friday, 6 July 2012

Wind farm is rejected - a good day for Sandwich terns

Richard Powell, regional director for the National Trust on the decision to reject the application for a wind turbine array off the Norfolk Coast:

"Today's announcement to reject the Docking Shoal wind array is a good day for North Norfolk's important sandwich tern population. Although we support renewable energy sources in the appropriate place, we had deep concerns about the cumulative number of bird strikes that could have been caused by all three arrays going forward.

"It's also important from a seascape point of view for the people who live in or visit this beautiful area. The National Trust manages a significant proportion of the Norfolk coast for the benefit of people and wildlife.

"We will keep pressure on for effective monitoring of wildlife well-being as new arrays come on stream. Renewable energy for people is hugely important and something the National Trust is actively supporting but it needs to come with no cost to the natural environment."


For more press information please contact Nick Champion on 01284 747558 or e-mail nick.champion@nationaltrust.org.uk

Notes to editors:

The National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 710 miles of coastline and hundreds of historic places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For more information and ideas for great value family days out go to: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/

Point Break: final thoughts

Hello, Steve Downes here for the final time. Having made a temporary nest at Blakeney Point, I am about to fly home to Cromer to be back with my brood. I'd better forage at some shops on the way, otherwise they'll be disappointed.
It's a grey final day, but it has been illuminated by the sight of a marsh harrier, five herons, eight sanderlings, whimbrel, ringed plover, curlew, lapwings and a gaggle of greedy gannets. Oh, not to mention two hares bobbing between bushes.
I'm still distilling my thoughts at the end of five of the best days of my life. My early conclusions are that I am ashamed that it has taken me 38 years to spend time at this remarkable place, and grateful to have been given the opportunity to do so in the company of people with passion, patience and knowledge.
Other conclusions are:
1/ I must buy some binoculars
2/ I must get out more, to see the delights of my home county, Norfolk
3/ I must be more observant, looking up and around me to see the abundance of life
4/ I must spend more time talking to my children about the natural world, to instil in them a respect and passion for nature
5/ If I come here again, I must bring more food. Fresh air makes you hungry, and the wardens are more ravenous than all the sandwich tern chicks combined.
As I sign off, I have just seen my first spoonbill. Old hat to most of you, but an exciting moment for me.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Hawk moths and globby dobbins

 Hello once more from guest blogger Steve Downes, reporter for the Eastern Daily Press and North Norfolk News and writer-in-residence at Blakeney Point. One of the delights of life on the Point has been the elemental skies, which are constantly changing. How people could ever tire of it, I don't know. As I pompously tell my children, only boring people get bored.
 If you study the next photo very carefully, you should be able to spot me. I am wearing a camouflage hat, and I am almost impossible to pick out as I move from dune to dune during my second solo Gap Watch. Unfortunately, people were equally difficult to spot, as the two hours passed without any encounters with human life. Next time, I will take with me the seed pod of a yellow horned poppy, so that I can count the estimated 65,000 seeds inside to pass the time.
 Wednesday evening's moth trap was a great success, with plenty of splendid specimens caught - along with thousands of flies. Some say moths are the dull cousins of butterflies, but I challenge them to look at the elephant hawk moth above, plus the many other evocatively named and subtly marked insects that we caught - including the small fan-footed wave, shore wainscot and archer's dart. At dusk, we set them free - or tried to. The privet hawk moth (below) did not seem keen to seize its freedom, and loped about lazily for a while.
Finally for now, I bring you a list of Norfolk names for local birds. The list does not include the wibbly piggy or the globby dobbin, both of which were made up by the wardens as they made fun of their guest.
Pied wagtail - nanny dishwasher
Ringed plover - stone runner
Redshank - tewk
Avocet - shoehorn
Lapwing - peewit
Swift - devlin screamer
Bittern - bog bumper.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Hi, Steve Downes again, on day three of Point Break - my five-day stay on Blakeney Point. I have failed miserably to take relevant or newsworthy photos today, so here's a pretty view that I took lying prostrate on the viewpoint.
After being hauled to my feet by a team of wardens, I can report a mixture of delights and disappointments.
Delight came in the shape of my first solo gap watch, which not only enabled me to miss the Olympic torch relay, but saw me meet a lovely couple from Hertfordshire. While Mr Herts trudged onward to the seal colony, Mrs Herts stayed for a chat - and inflated my ego by saying she recognised me from my daily Point Break dispatches in the Eastern Daily Press. I almost awarded her the freedom of the Point - before realising it might compromise the efforts of the wardens.
Disappointment came when I watched Paul set up the moth trap. I had visions of large nets, 19th century wooden equipment and all manner of idiosyncrasies. Then Paul plugged the moth trap in, and I realised that it is a big light bulb attached to a plastic container. Dreams shattered. Hopefully the morning will bring a colourful crop of moths.
To finish on a high note, the evening ended with the hypnotic sight of a full moon looming over brightly-lit Blakeney, reflecting its glory on the surface of the harbour waters.
Oh, by the way, the nature highlight of the day came when I saw a shrew: not scurrying about among the sea campion and ragwort, but scuttling under the oven in the lifeboathouse. It was a welcome diversion from the thousands of pesky flies that are testing my secret swatting technique to the limit (more of that on another day, with photos).

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Paw show and fledgling success

 Hi, Steve Downes here again, guest blogging on day two of a five-day 'writer-in-residence' stay at Blakeney Point. Another day when the black clouds brooded, but promised more than they delivered. Early highlights included the first of many sightings of two marsh harriers, which ducked, dipped and circled the dunes with minimum effort and maximum majesty. A lowlight is pictured above. Eddie and I were doing Gap watch duty when he saw these tracks. They are either those of a rat (bad, but not unexpected and impossible to eradicate) or a hedgehog (double bad, because hedgehogs would be a new predator on the Point, with a penchant for egg stealing).
 The photos above and below show one of the landmark moments of the season - the sandwich tern chick count. How Eddie did it, I will never know. I couldn't tell a sandwich tern from a black-headed gull, let alone a fledgling from an adult. It was like a giant game of Where's Wally, except with everything in the picture wearing white. Ultimately, the news was great, with 2,200 chicks fledged from 3,735 pairs - a 59pc success rate. The vigilance and dedication of the wardens is clearly paying off.
 To work up an appetite before dinner, I volunteered to clear away a lupin that was growing over the boardwalk near the boathouse. Armed with loppers, a saw and determination to earn my spurs as a (temporary) warden, I joined battle. "Gentle lupin", says the poem, which is wrong. It's a tenacious terrier, and took much sweat and backache to conquer. I'm hoping for a plaque on the spot, saying: "Here stood a lupin, which was cleared by the heroic, single-minded determination of Steve Downes - motivated by the desire to make your boardwalk experience special".
To hear more about my Point Break, follow @stevedownes1973 on Twitter and visit www.edp24.co.uk.

Monday, 2 July 2012


Hello, I'm Steve Downes, guest blogging for a bit. I'm an Eastern Daily Press journalist, spending five days as a ranger and writer-in-residence on Blakeney Point. As you can imagine, it's awful out here, putting up with the huge skies, magnificent views, peace, solitude and wonderful wildlife. But I am prepared to tough it out for the cause.
 On the next shot, I'm acting as scribe for Ajay on a little tern survey for Natural England, to help it draw up the boundaries for a special protection area. We're recording the numbers, the direction they are flying in, and whether they have food in their bills. Thankfully, Ajay was in charge of the difficult bit, while I just had to do numbers, commas and plus signs.
 Below is an osprey, which kindly made an appearance overhead within 30 minutes of my arrival for my Point break. The osprey wasn't quite as pleased, as it was immediately pursued by a shrieking army of oystercatchers (photo two), which saw the unsuspecting osprey as a threat and harried and hassled it until it escaped from view. Apparently, ospreys get this all the time from smaller birds. I imagine this poor fella is a nervous wreck by now.

And finally - for this evening - a ringed plover chick, one that hatched 2 weeks ago. Just for the aaaa factor. I'll be back tomorrow, if the pain of this job doesn't become too much. By the way, to follow my progress, see the Eastern Daily Press every day this week, follow @stevedownes1973 on Twitter  or visit www.edp24.co.uk

(Photos: Joe Cockram)