Sunday, 30 June 2013

30th June: Royal Visitors

A Queen of Spain Fritillary butterfly was seen briefly today in the dunes of Far Point. Commonly seen on the continent, it is howerver a rare migrant to our shores.

Also on the Point now are Emperors. This Emperor moth larvae was found this morning feeding on bramble. We see adults in April to late May, these lay eggs, which in turn change into larva (caterpillars). Once they have achieved full size they pupate and in this state they spend the winter.

In contrast, White Satin and Yellow-tail moths spend the winter in a larval state, as seen here. We should see adult moths of both these species in July and August.
White Satin


Visitors are unable to read the Lifeboat House information board at the moment, due to this Ringed Plover nesting beneath it.
The sign has been roped off to protect the eggs from trampling and to encourage the bird to stay on the eggs and incubate them. A ranger is present most days in the vicinity to chat to visitors about it.

Also today we saw this recently fledged Meadow Pipit outside the back door, which was constantly being fed by its attentive parents.

(Bird photos by Ajay Tegala, moth photos by Paul Nichols)

- Paul

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

26th of June: The challenges of being a tern

If the arrival of the first Sandwich Terns signals the start of spring on Blakeney Point, then summer is definitely here when they are feeding chicks.

Terns face many challenges and successfully feeding their young is one of them. Nearby gulls often try to steal fish from the terns when they fly into the colony. This is called kleptoparisitism, Niki Lowndes studied this on the Point last year, and we currently have Rene Beijersbergen, from the Netherlands, observing Sandwich and Little Tern feeding behaviour on the Point as part of a European scale research project.

In this photograph some Sandwich Terns can be seen with sand eels in their bills.

Another challenge ground-nesting birds face here is the sea. There have been some particularly high tides over the past two days and these have sadly washed a few Little Tern nests away. Luckily less than 10% of nests have been lost and chicks were seen in the colony today. These big tides have also pushed seals closer to the terns.

Blakeney Point looked splendid today in the sunshine. Thousands of Cat's-ears are in flower on the dunes...

Another sign of summer is the Yellow Horned-poppy, an iconic plant on Blakeney Point, which is coming into flower. One of the first we spotted in flower was this one near the solar panels.
A study on the Point by E. J. Salisbury found that a single Yellow Horned-poppy plant may produce upto 60,000 seeds.

The yellow flowers of Tree Lupins are also out around the Lifeboat House. These were introduced many years ago. They are a good nectar source for insects such as bees.

Our latest trail camera footage captures a Meadow Pipit and a Reed Bunting bathing.

The work of a Ranger on Blakeney Point is certainly varied. You never know what is going to happen next. On Sunday we were involved in the rescue of a small sailing boat struggling in windy conditions. On Friday we had the pleasure of unblocking a sewage pipe! On a more pleasant note, getting up at dawn means that we see some wonderful sunrises...
(Photos by Ajay Tegala, except terns and seal by Matt Twydell)
- Ajay

Thursday, 20 June 2013

20th of June: They seek him here, they seek him there...

...and here he is on Blakeney Point!:
Scarlet Pimpernel is in bloom. Its small but distinctively-coloured flowers can be found in the shingly lows and grey dunes. Baroness Orczy was inspired by the red flowers when writing her novel 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' and the name of the hero was Sir Percy Blakeney.

Cat's-ear are starting to bloom too, their yellow flowers are abundant on the dunes. Cat's-ears are in the daisy family and are sometimes called Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon because the flowers close in the afternoon and open again in the morning.

It has been a good couple of days for insects, with sightings including a Hummingbird Hawkmoth. On Tuesday there were around 200 Silver Y moths seen on the Point, Silver Ys are migrants, crossing the sea to get here.

Redshanks seem to be having a good year on Blakeney Point. We have seen several chicks successfully hatch...

The Grey Patridge nest we found at the start of the month has also hatched, with 19 chicks hatching from 21 eggs.

Common Tern chicks were starting to hatch this morning. Arctic Terns are still a few days away.

Last week we did a Little Tern count to feed into a survey across the whole Norfolk coast. We are now up to 115 pairs, which is around an eighth of the Norfolk total.

Today we recorded 77 Common Scoter, 1 Velvet Scoter, 1 Little Gull, 114 Knot and 80 Bar-tailed Godwits.

In other bird news, we have a new friend who has been in the vicinity of the Lifeboat House for over a week, sometimes even venturing into our kitchen...
Rowena the racing pigeon

- Ajay and Paul (photos by Matt and Ajay)

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

11th of June: Oystercatchers and Olivers

In May we found an Oystercatcher scrape containing seven eggs, which was predated. Although it is sad to see a nest fail, it is only natural that some will be taken by predators, after all Oystercatchers are predators themselves, feeding on bivalves such as cockles. Most birds will have another attempt if they fail the first time, and this is what has happened to this Oystercatcher nest. In the same scrape another five eggs have appeared over the last few days. The clutch size for an Oystercatcher is two to four eggs, so it seems that, like before, the same two females have both laid in the same scrape. We put a trail camera on this nest and captured the following clip:
The clip shows an incubation changeover, where one adult takes over from the other. However, in this case one bird seems to force the other off the nest. We wondered whether this could be the two females incubating the same nest? Unfortunately it is very hard to know for sure.

For a comparison, this next clip shows a normal changeover between male and female Oystercatchers. This bird seems a lot less reluctant to leave the nest...

Things have slowed down on the migrant bird front. The Pied Flycatcher stayed for two days but has now moved on. This morning 70 Canada Geese flew in off the sea and this afternoon a Grey Heron flew over the beach only to be mobbed by Herring Gulls.

In botanical news, we recently found a new plant for the Point: Cow Parsley.

A couple of weeks ago we had a very special visitor on Blakeney Point. We were thrilled to be visited by Professor Francis Oliver’s grandson, Stephen. Francis Oliver was a botanist from the University College London (UCL) who spent much time studying the vegetation of the Point. Professor Oliver played a big part in the acquisition of the Point in 1912 recognising the need to protect its wildlife and habitats.
Stephen brought a collection of old photographs, letters and documents, some dating as far back as 1910. He also shared with us many of his memories of the Point from the 1950s as well as stories about his grandfather. Among the items Stephen showed us was this pressed plant, which is 99 years old:

Left to right: Matt, myself, Paul, Stephen Oliver, Professor Dawn Oliver (UCL) and Professor Andrew Pomiankowski (Head of Biology at the UCL)

In other news; on our respective days off all three of us went to the Norfolk Broads and all saw Swallowtails. Matt took this photograph at the RSPB's Strumpshaw Fen:
Swallowtails can sometimes be seen at the National Trust's Horsey estate, near Great Yarmouth. It is well worth a visit if you are nearby.

- Ajay

Sunday, 9 June 2013

9th of June: Rings, chicks and a large sausage!

A few weeks ago we found a ringed Sandwich Tern on the Point. It turns out that it was ringed as an adult in July 1998 in Teesside (Northeast England). This means it was born in 1996 or earlier, as Sandwich Terns do not migrate north to breed until their second year. So this tern was at least 17 years old.

Continuing the theme of ringed birds, Richard Porter photographed this colour-ringed female Ringed Plover on the Point this week. This bird was ringed along the coast at Snettisham in 1999. She has been found breeding or holding a territory on Blakeney Point for at least seven years since 2003.

These two stories highlight how useful ringing birds is for getting more information about them. We will be ringing a sample of Sandwich Terns this summer in order to increase our knowledge about their movements.

Also this week, the first Oystercatcher chicks have hatched as well as more Redshanks. We were able to capture some footage of four Redshank chicks leaving their nest with our trail camera:

Unlike passerines (song birds such as Linnets and Meadow Pipits) which remain in the nest for several days after hatching, wader chicks can leave the nest the same day, like ducklings and goslings.

We have enjoyed watching Oystercatcher chicks running amongst the thrift in front of the Lifeboat House. The first one hatched on Wednesday.

Other bird sightings include a Spoonbill in Pinchen's Creek on Saturday, which Matt managed to photograph. There are still a few migrants trickling through; today there was a female Pied Flycatcher in the Plantation.

On Friday 42 Common Blue butterflies were counted. This is the highest record of Common Blues on the Point.
(Photograph by Richard Porter)

On a completely different note; you never know what you might find washed up on the beach. Our most recent finds include this large German sausage, which has proved delicious for lunch...

... and these rather patriotic sunglasses:

- Paul, Ajay and Matt

Monday, 3 June 2013

3rd of June: Nest news and more

We continue to find new nests daily on Blakeney Point. Recently we found a Grey Patridge nest, containing 21 eggs.

Sitting tight on the nest, the patridge is very well camouflaged amongst the vegetation:

We record all nests using a nest monitoring computer programme and update their progress. So far we have 79 nests logged. At the end of the season, the data will be sent to the BTO. Whilst monitoring nests this year, we have noticed a high level of gull predation. Both Herring and Common Gulls have taken several Oystercatcher and duck eggs. Sadly around 50% of Oystercatcher nests have failed due to predation. Oystercatchers will re-lay a new clutch, but this higher than normal rate of predation suggests gulls are relying on eggs due to a reduction in other food sources, or maybe individual gulls have become specialised to find and take eggs.

Sadly, the Oystercatcher nest containing seven eggs has been predated and is now empty. It's not all bad news however... We recently noted several more Sandwich Terns sitting on the very tip of Far Point that were not present when we conducted our nest count. An additional 326 nests were counted, taking our total number of Sandwich Tern nests up to 4,120. This is the highest ever number recorded on Blakeney Point (previously the highest was in 1992 when there were 4,000).

The very end of May brought several notable migrant birds to the Point. Between the 29th and 31st there were a couple of Wrynecks, a male and a female Red-backed Shrike, several Spotted Flycatchers and a Pied Flycatcher. A nice end to the month. Yesterday morning an Osprey flew over the Lifeboat House.

To finish with, here is a time-lapse video we made of the tide coming in and going out of Pinchen's Creek. Eight hours condensed into ten seconds...