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.
Grey Seal
Common Seal

2017 summer (Mar-Sep) average:



Ten-year summer average:



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,

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