Sunday, 30 November 2014

30th of November: Pups galore

A lot has happened in one month on the end of Blakeney Point. Four weeks after the first pup was born, the last mile of beach and dunes are covered in hundreds of Grey Seals and their pups. Pups born in the first week of the month are now weaned. Having been fed on their mother's milk for three weeks, they have been left to fend for themselves, with hungry cows taking to the sea to feed (they last fed prior to giving birth and have become very thin from feeding their pups). Many weaned pups are very plump and are contently resting on the Point, but a few hungrier ones have taken to the sea on their first foraging trips.

This weaned pup has almost moulted its white fur

With weaned pups starting to leave the Point, our counting methodology changes. A total count will only show the number present, which is now less than the total number born. So, as of today, we are counting new-born pups and adding them on to yesterday's total of 1,420.

Plenty of pups are still being born

Today's count of new-born pups totalled 88, which puts the total for the year so far at a whopping 1,508 - and it's not even December yet. We are 381 pups ahead of the same date last year. This means we have now caught up with the Farne Islands, who had 1,507 yesterday, but started pupping five weeks before us and are coming to the end. We are just behind Donna Nook, who had 1,541 yesterday, they started pupping a week before us and are starting to see a decrease in the number of cows. So it looks like we may well reach our prediction of being the largest Grey Seal rookery on the English coast. There will be lots more births at Blakeney throughout December, so watch this space!

They're so cute!

In other wildlife news, some notably late migrant birds were seen on the Point today: a Black Redstart in off the sea and also two Chiffchaffs.

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)
Photography by Andrew Capell

Sunday, 23 November 2014

23rd of November: Seal pup update

The rookery continues to expand - on Saturday 22nd November the pup count stood at 877 pups.  This is 280 pups more than we had at the same stage last year so that's positive news.  Whilst carrying out the count this weekend we have had the privilege to see pups close up and even one being born - a rare event to witness as most are born at night.

 We saw this cow give birth to her pup

Pups spend a lot of their time sleeping and feeding, but as they get more active they begin to explore their new world.

 Snoozing pup

 Suckling pup

Pup in a sandpit

There are still plenty of heavily pregnant females hauled out waiting to give birth.  This close-up of one of them shows its whiskers (known as vibrissae) and its eyebrows.  These are both highly sensitive and used for hunting under water - seals can even sense the movements of fish in front of them through these vibrissae.

Pregnant cow in dunes

We also took this short video clip showing a mother and pup interacting.  You can hear the almost baby-like cries of the pup as it seeks to feed.

Sarah and Paul

Sunday, 16 November 2014

16th of November: Pups and pods

Pup numbers are up again – from 265 on 13th November to 436 on 15th November.  The seals have spread east of the Gap now, with pups being born outside of the original fenced-off area and prospecting bulls and females moving east of the Gap as the rookery gets busier.  

 The rookery on Saturday 15th November

For this reason we have expanded the fencing to include Zone C as marked on the map below (shown in our blog 26th October).  As mentioned before the red dotted lines show suggested walking routes during the restricted period. These routes have various viewpoints to get good views of the seals.  Please obey all onsite signage and please stay out of fenced off areas. 

Zone A - no access at any time of year to protect hauled-out seals on the tip
Zone B - fenced off 1st November to 1st February to protect seal pups (core area)
Zone C - fenced off 15th November to 1st February to protect seal pups 

We’re getting a range of pup ages now.  Pups are generally born at night, but we came across this family actually on the Gap path.  The afterbirth you can see behind the pup shows that it must have been born recently. 

Bull, mother and pup on the Gap path

As the pups get older they lose the yellow-tinge to their coats which were stained whilst in the womb, revealing a pure white coat. 

Pup - approx. 5-6 days old

This pup below is playing with a washed up piece of driftwood.  As pups get older their co-ordination improves. 

Pup with driftwood

Whilst the focus is often (naturally!) on the very cute pups, it is still wonderful just to watch the adult seals close up.

Bull - this bull had a harem of 4 females

Female and pup - part of the harem

We are running seal events on the 28th and 29th of November and there are currently only 9 places left; see our web-site for full details and booking.

Things have been quieter on the bird front recently, but there was much excitement caused by a pod of Long-finned Pilot Whales last Sunday evening - a first for Norfolk.  Here's a video of them taken by one of our rangers George:

Spectacular sunset on the Point on Saturday

Sarah and Paul

Sunday, 9 November 2014

9th of November: Seal pups galore and so much more ...

From 11am onwards it's been a beautiful, calm and sunny day here on Blakeney Point - perfect for a Grey Seal pup count.  On the 1st November our first two seal pups were born, now on the 9th the rookery (the name given to a seal colony) is looking much livelier with 110 pups counted.

 The rookery - building in numbers.

Below is a new pup on the beach.  You can tell it is only two days old as it still looks very thin and its ribs are still visible.  Pups will put on about 2kg per day during the weaning period and will soon fatten up.

2 day old pup

There are also lots of pregnant cows dotted around with bulls in attendance.  As mentioned in last weeks blog this can lead to fights as bulls defend their territories. 

Bull fight

Even before females have chosen where they will give birth to their pups, bulls will stake out an area to defend.  This bull was lurking in the dunes by himself, probably hoping that as the rookery expands females will move into his patch.

Bull in dunes

Even a male seal will suffer a lapse in attention!  We spotted this bull snoozing loudly in a muddy bath.

Snoring bull

 Whilst conducting the seal pup count some interesting birds were seen.  A late House Martin flew overhead, a Woodcock was flushed from the dunes, and on the beach two of North Norfolk's special wintering visitors were encountered - a flurry of 6 Snow Buntings and a delightful flock of 7 Shore Larks.  Blakeney Point is one of very few places in the country where Shore Larks may be seen.

  Shore Larks on shingle

Paul and Sarah

Sunday, 2 November 2014

2nd of November: The pupping begins

Yesterday morning, we were delighted to find not one but two seal pups. These are the first live pups of this winter. They were both born on the same area of beach.

Pup suckling on the beach

The best way to see these pups is on the seal ferry trips that go from Morston Quay. We are also running two seal pup events in late November - see our web-site for bookings.

This morning, a third pup had been born in the same area. Throughout the next two months, hundreds more will be born at Blakeney.

The first bull has moved into the bay between Middle and Far Point

Although no cows are present there yet, he is presumably claiming his territory early. The timing of such moves can be hard to get right. If a bull arrives too early, then he may have used up all of his fat reserves before most cows are receptive to mating, which is immediately after they have weaned their pup. However, if a bull arrives too late, the territory may already have been taken. Such instances can lead to dramatic bull fights. All the drama is yet to come.

Bird highlights this week include a Grey Phalarope and 1,500 Starlings on 28th, 120 Little Gulls and a Pomerine Skua on the 29th, a female Hen Harrier and three Black Redstarts on the 30th, Jack Snipe, a few Woodcocks and Snow Buntings...

Snow Bunting on the shingle 

Black Redstart on our washing line

Today, with half term over, we move out of the Lifeboat House for the winter. This means the toilets and visitor centre will now be open only at weekends.

We leave you with news that a Viking has been seen on Blakeney Point
This is Skippy from nearby Aylmerton Field Studies Centre. He was leading a group of schoolchildren from Bergen in Norway.

- Ajay

Photography by Sarah Johnson