Sunday, 24 May 2015

24th of May: Blakeney Blue

Today saw the arrival of one of the most special visitors to Blakeney Point...

The Bluethroat is perhaps the iconic Blakeney Point spring migrant, but is rarely so showy.

Paul captured some footage of the bird by the Tamarisk.
Perhaps the first Bluethroat to be filmed on the Point?

We would like to thank those who came up to see the bird for being respectful and not disturbing it. It was a surprise that so few people made the effort to come and see this most beautiful of birds.

The Bluethroat was undoubtedly the highlight of the week. But other discoveries included....

Marbled Coronet in the moth trap

799 Sandwich Tern nests in the colony

There are now lots of eggs on the sand and shingle, including dozens of Oystercatchers.
Sadly these are at risk from predation by Common Gulls...
Common Gull feasting on Oystercatcher egg

Finishing on a happier note...
We now have Avocet chicks on the Point

- Ajay (with photos from Paul and Sarah)
Please note that it is illegal to photograph Schedule 1 bird species at their nesting sites (including Avocets and Little Terns) without a licence. We are licenced for nesting monitoring purposes.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

17th May: Mega start to the week!

This week got off to a great start and a lot of excitement with not one but two Sub-alpine warblers dropping into the Plantation on the Point on Monday 11th May.  One of these was the extremely rare Moltoni's Sub-alpine warbler, only recently separated as a species in February this year.  The other was a female Sub-alpine of unknown species - still of interest although less rare.  The male Moltoni's warbler was a first for both England and therefore Norfolk too, meaning it was a major a twitch.  It was great to see everyone enjoying the glimpses of this rare bird.
Moltoni's Warbler (Richard Porter)

Footage of male Moltoni's Warbler (Paul Nichols/ National Trust)

There was a nice supporting cast of migrants on that day too, with 4 Common Redstarts, 2 Spotted Flycatcher, 3 Whinchats, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, and 7 Yellow Wagtails.  A scan of the harbour also produced a couple of fine waders in the form of a Wood Sandpiper and a Curlew Sandpiper in summer plumage.   The rest of the week has been relatively quiet in terms of migrants.

In insect news this week we've had a few butterfly 'firsts' for the year including Common Blue, Red Admiral and Painted Lady.

Today we carried out the first major nest count of the year in the Black-headed Gull colony.
Mixed Sandwich Tern and Black-headed Gull Colony, Blakeney Point (Sarah)

With careful footwork we counted 2,075 nests, a few of those already with chicks and a couple of eggs ready to hatch.
Black-headed Gull egg hatching (Sarah)

Shell and shingle (Harry Mitchell)

Blakeney Point ranger team 2015 (Harry Mitchell)

- Paul, Sarah, Ajay and Josh

Sunday, 10 May 2015

10th of May: Sandwiches on Eggs

We can now confirm that Sandwich Terns are once again nesting on the Point; today we counted 400+ nests in the main colony on Far Point.
Sandwich Tern (Ian Ward)

Oystercatcher nests are springing up all over the place with many pairs returning to their regular nest sites, and Redshank nests are being found too so all four resident waders are now on eggs.
Oystercatcher (Ian Ward)

Little Terns are displaying above their usual nesting areas and you can clearly hear their characteristic chatter.  They should start to settle this week.

We also have four pairs of Mediterranean Gulls on the Point.

 Mediterranean Gull (Ian Ward)

The chicks from the first Skylark nest of the season that we were following have now fledged, leaving behind an empty nest.  Eggs in the Pied Wagtail nest have now hatched - the same adult pair successfully fledged two broods last year so we're hoping for an equally good season for them this year.  

Many plants are now flowering and it is lovely to see the pretty blooms of Sea Campion, Thrift, and Bird's-foot-trefoil (commonly known as Eggs and Bacon or Granny's Toenails) and Heath Dog-violet amongst others.  
Heath Dog-violet (Ian Ward)

We currently have Bluebells not just at Bullfer Grove but on the Long Hills too, however we reckon the display at Bullfer Grove is the one worth visiting!
 Bluebells on the Long Hills (Sarah)

In Migrant news things have been relatively quiet.  The Shorelarks are still here but down to three birds now.  We have also had a male and a female Whinchat (seen on separate days), Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Wheatears, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, and numerous Swifts, Swallows and House Martins passing through.

Cock Pheasants have been spotted fighting down near the Hood.
Cock pheasants fighting at the Hood (Richard Porter)

Pheasants have done funny things in the past.  One particular cock took up residence on the shingle ridge a few years ago and would attack anybody or anything (even the quad bike) that got in his way.
Pheasant on the quad bike, 2010 (B. Beuche)

 - Paul, Sarah and Ajay

Sunday, 3 May 2015

3rd of May: First chicks

May has begun and with it we have the first chicks of the year on Blakeney Point. Skylarks, although they look punkish now, should grow into natural opera singers.
Skylark chicks in the main dunes (Sarah)

As well as Skylarks, Meadow Pipits also make their fragile nests in the dunes, so please stick to the boardwalk and obvious paths to avoid accidental crushing of eggs.

The Mallards that nested early on in Suaeda on Far Point have vacated their nest and are presumed to have fledged.

The latest Sandwich Tern roost count gave an estimate of 4,500+ individuals (on Tuesday 28 April). There are probably now between 5,000 and 5,500 roosting, with the first nests about to appear. Little Terns have been displaying over the beach and we hope they will settle soon.
Little Terns on Far Point (Graham)

Common Gulls are one of the species that will predate the eggs of many of our breeding birds. We set up a dummy nest, using chickens' eggs painted to look like Oystercatcher eggs, to see what would take them...
Common Gull about to take one of the eggs

Our five Shorelarks are still present, mostly hanging around Beach Way but sampling the delights of Great (Sandy) Low at times for a change of scene!

Today we have had two Chiffchaffs and a Swift (first of the year was seen on Thursday 30 April), other birds of interest have included Hobby and a Spoonbill (Tuesday 28 April).
Spoonbill in Pinchen's Creek (Sarah)

Two species of owl have been photographed, with the aid telescopes, on the NNR this week: a resident Barn Owl on the Freshes, and a Short-eared Owl hunting on the Point.
Short-eared Owl on Pelvetia Marsh (Ajay)

Barn Owl on Blakeney Freshes (George)

The latest low tide seal count was conducted on Friday, recording 331 Grey and 9 Common. This is a slightly higher count than this time last year.

If you like bluebells, then the National Trust's Bullfer Grove, near Gunthorpe, is a very good place to visit at the moment...
Bluebells at Bullfer Grove (George)

Sunset behind the Lifeboat House (Ajay)

- Paul Nichols, Seasonal Assistant Ranger

Sunday, 26 April 2015

26th of April: Returning Terns

This week on Blakeney Point, we welcomed the return of the Common, Arctic and Little Tern. Common Terns first appeared on Monday (20th), with three perched on the No. 14 buoy in the harbour. Three days later there was a small group on the very tip of the Point...
Common Terns on the tip of Far Point

Common Tern (Ian Ward)

We were delighted to watch a westward passage of Little Terns on Friday (24th), whilst on a Blakeney Point adventure with students from Langham Primary. The children spent a morning learning about terns, hares and Shelduck, including looking at the holes where they nest...
Looking for Shelduck prints (Alex Green)

We are hoping the Little Tern decoys will attract birds to nest in areas less vulnerable to flooding than they chose last year.

A pleasure of this time of year is finding nests as they start to appear. The Black-headed Gulls started laying this week, and passerines are nesting in the main dunes. I stumbled upon a delicate Skylark nest, highlighting how important it is to watch your every step. We encourage visitors to stick to the boardwalk.

Wading birds are laying their camouflaged eggs on the shingle. We have fenced off the main areas. Please observe signs and watch your step, wild birds nest where they want, regardless of where we put the fences!
Ringed Plover eggs, camouflaged amongst shingle (Sarah)

Avocets kindly respecting our fenceline (Sarah)

Please note that Avocets and Little Terns are Schedule 1 protected species. This means that it is a criminal offence to photograph them at their nest without a licence.

Shorelarks are still an almost daily sighting on Beach Way, although numbers have dropped to five. Presumably they are starting to migrate to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and northern Russia.

Yesterday (25th) brought a couple of exciting rare birds to the Point. A White-tailed Eagle over the sea and a Kentish Plover heading west. A pair of Kentish Plover actually bred on the Point in 1983 (their first clutch was predated and the second abandoned). Kentish Plover were first described as a species when they were 'discovered' in Kent, much like the Sandwich Tern, first observed at Sandwich Bay in Kent.

Friary Hills has not been a bad spot this week either, with Redstart and Ring Ouzel. On Wednesday (22nd) two Spoonbills put in an appearance on Blakeney Freshes:
Spoonbills on the Freshes (George)

In other news, last night the Norfolk Wildlife Trust's hut was stolen from Cley Beach car park. Can anyone shed any light on the matter?

- Ajay

Sunday, 19 April 2015

19th of April: Nesting now

This morning, assistant ranger Paul found the first Ringed Plover nest of the year on Blakeney Point. It contained three eggs, one less than the usual clutch number of four, which suggests she will probably lay another egg tomorrow. The nest is located within one of our fenced areas, put up to protect ground-nesting birds from disturbance and the risk of camouflaged eggs being trampled. Both the male and female Ringed Plover incubate, and eggs usually hatch after around 28 days. We wish this pair success.
Ringed Plover on Blakeney Point (Joe Cockram)

Ringed Plover sat on eggs

Ringed Plovers are usually the first waders to lay on the Point. But on Blakeney Freshes, we have already had a number of Lapwings (also known as Green or Crested Plover - and Peewit) lay their eggs.
Lapwing eggs on Blakeney Freshes (George)

For the third year running, a pair of Pied Wagtails have made a nest in the nest box on the shed next to the Lifeboat House. We hope they will be as successful as last year, when they fledged to broods of six.

This weekend there have been a series of spring tides. These highlighted changes in beach profile opposite the Gap...
View north from the Gap today (Paul)

The photograph shows how a shingle ridge has formed (over the last nine months). Last night's tide over-topped the ridge, leaving a pool of knee-deep water behind it after receding, reminding us that the Point is an ever-changing landscape. This time last year, the beach opposite the Gap was flat and sandy.

Rainbow this afternoon (Paul)

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)

Sunday, 12 April 2015

12th of April: Wardens from days gone by

Currently on Blakeney Point, the rain is lashing down and it's blowing a hoolie. In strong winds, birds often face the wind rather than get hit side-on and get their feathers ruffled. Here the Black-headed Gulls in the colony are facing the wind...

Amongst these harsh conditions, a small clump of delicate Wild Pansies Viola tricolor are in flower in the dunes:

Although introduced, there are a small number of daffodils on the Point:

Earlier in the week, when the weather was much more pleasant, the first moth and butterfly sightings of the year were made on the Point. With a Herald moth heralding spring on Monday (see image below, this was also the first moth species we found last year too), Small Tortoiseshell on Tuesday and Peacocks on Wednesday.

The first Swallows were seen flying west over the Point on Monday, with the odd Sand Martin too. Other migrant birds this week included a Short-eared Owl, female Goosander, Fieldfare and plenty of Chiffchaffs and Wheatears. The exaltation of Shorelarks is still frequenting Beach Way, albeit with numbers having sadly dropped from eight to seven.

Sandwich Terns are steadily arriving. Reaching a roost count of c.600 on Friday evening.

In mammal news, after two years, the lone rabbit is still living near the Lifeboat House. A couple of decades ago, rabbits were present on the Point in their hundreds but were completely wiped out by myxomatosis. As a consequence, the diversity of dune flora has increased allowing invertebrate life to also increase. This individual rabbit was first spotted in summer 2013 and managed to survive the tidal surge.

What do you do in the evenings?
Just as musicians often get asked "what do you do in the daytime?", Blakeney Point rangers get asked "what do you do in the evenings"... Well, I spent last night painting Little Tern decoys!

The plan is to use these decoys, combined with tape lures, to attract Little Terns to safe areas to breed. We are licenced by Natural England to do this. The reason we are trying this is because last year 60 nests were flooded by spring tides in June, due to birds laying in a low area of beach, which just filled with water (see below):

Rather than moving nests and causing disturbance. We are trying to be proactive and attracting them to suitable areas in the first place. "Why bother?" you may ask. Well, Little Terns are a rare and declining species, with limited available habitat. As partners in an RSPB-led EU Life project, we are committed to increasing their breeding success as well as trying to learn more about them. And, of course, we are legally obliged to protect them, as they are a Schedule 1 species. You can help by staying away from fencelines and obeying the seasonal dog restrictions. Your cooperation is much appreciated.

Seasonal assistants
Having spent more than two weeks alone on the Point. I am looking forward to the arrival of this year's seasonal assistants at the end of this week (I hope they are looking forward to starting despite the lack of running water!). Although, I have managed to get a lot of things ticked off the job list...

I am pleased to be joined once again by Paul Nichols. This will be Paul's ninth season on the Point, making him the second longest serving assistant, after Reginald Gaze who did numerous summers in the early days.
Reginald Gaze with Billy Eales in the 1930s 

We are delighted to be joined by Sarah Johnson, who is returning for a second season. This year we are also very pleased to welcome our newest recruit to the team, Josh Barber. No stranger, Josh filled in for two months (February and March 2013) between Eddie leaving and me starting. Josh also spent the winter filling in at Heigham Holmes and also works for the National Trust at nearby Sheringham and Felbrigg.
Josh helping Paul and Graham in 2013

Over the past couple of years, I put together this list of Blakeney Point Wardens from days gone by:
Summer Lead Assistants Assistant Assistant
1901-29 Bob Pinchen (none)
1930 Bob Pinchen Billy Eales
1931-38 Billy Eales Reginald Gaze Ted Eales
1946-50 Ted Eales Reginald Gaze
1951-73 Ted Eales John Peake (1950s) ?
1974 Ted Eales Mike Bennett (two did moonlight flit)
1975-76Ted Eales??
1977 Ted Eales Alec Osborne ?
1978 Ted Eales Alan Davies Steven (from Cheshire) John Bean (winter)
1979 Ted Eales Chris Parker ? John Bean (winter)
1980 John Green Chris Parker Marc Jones
1981 Ronald Pimm Andrew Stocker (succession of five!)
1982 Joe Reed Andrew Stocker Christopher Pryor
1983 Joe Reed Glenn Webb Laurie Allan
1984 Joe Reed Glenn Webb Graham Lubbock
1985 Joe Reed Glenn Webb Graham Lubbock
1986 Joe Reed David Sharrod David Mills Helen Smith
1987 Joe Reed Richard Gilbert David Mills Victoria Johnson
1988 Joe Reed Richard Gilbert John Walton James Sellwood
1989 Joe Reed Richard Gilbert Mark Driscoll Juliet Grace
1990 Joe Reed Richard Gilbert Gareth Eggar Clare Robinson
1991 Joe Reed Richard Gilbert? Bradley Robson Victoria Stares
1992 Joe Reed Richard Gilbert Dougal McNeil Rachel Tuck
1993 Joe Reed Martin Williams Dougal McNeil Rachel Tuck
1994 Joe Reed Martin Williams James McCallum John Riley
1995 Joe Reed Richard Gilbert James McCallum Martin Williams
1996 Joe Reed Nick Hammond Andrew Hayman Mark Warren
1997 Joe Reed Saul Brown Andrew Hayman Stefan McElwee
1998 Joe Reed Paul Leatherland David Pile Robert Mortley
1999 Joe Reed Paul Leatherland James McCallum Hannah Leveridge
2000 Joe Reed Dave Wood Tracey Cooper Robert Mortley
2001 Joe Reed Dave Wood Henry Walker Mark Cornish
2002 Dave Wood Graham Collins Niall Mugan
2003 Dave Wood Aaron Boughtflower James McCallum
2004 Dave Wood Aaron Boughtflower James Squires
2005 Dave Wood Lucy Browne Chris Le-Clare
2006 Dave Wood Eddie Stubbings Andy Cristinacce James McCallum/Lucy Browne
2007 Eddie Stubbings Paul Nichols Andy Cristinacce Aaron/Lucy/Ollie Moore
2008 Eddie Stubbings Paul Nichols Jason Moss
2009 Eddie Stubbings Paul Nichols Richard Berridge Ajay Tegala
2010 Eddie Stubbings Paul Nichols Joe Cockram Ajay Tegala
2011 Eddie Stubbings Paul Nichols Becky Pitman
2012 Eddie Stubbings Paul Nichols Joe Cockram Ajay Tegala
2013 Ajay Tegala Paul Nichols Matt Twydell
2014 Ajay Tegala Paul Nichols Sarah Johnson Josh Herron
2015 Ajay Tegala Paul Nichols Sarah Johnson Josh Barber

Above: Left: Ted Eales; Right: Richard Gilbert, c. 1988 (now works at Dunwich for the Trust)
Below: Left: Joe Reed ringing a Black-headed Gull chick in the 1980s; Right: the 2011 team

If anyone can fill any of the gaps in the table, then please do get in touch. We are always interested to hear from past members of staff, their memories and any pictures they may like to share.
 Bob Pinchen with students in the 1920s (thanks to UCL)

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)