Monday, 15 September 2014

Help us tidy up Blakeney Point for the Great British Beach Clean

The recent high tides have washed up a lot of litter on Blakeney Point. For the Great British Beach Clean, we are carrying out a litter pick on Saturday. Please come along and help.

 (Click above to enlarge)

Sunday, 14 September 2014

14th of September: A rustling in the bushes

Birdwatching on Blakeney Point at this time of year can be an absolute delight. Amongst the brambles and Suaeda bushes, migrant birds can often be found. This week has produced Redstarts, Whinchats, Wheatears, Song Thrushes, Willow and Garden Warblers, Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers. Also, the first Blackcap, Redwing and Brambling of the autumn have been seen this weekend.

Yesterday morning, I investigated a rustling in the brambles. Expecting a Song Thrush, I was slightly surprised to see a Sparrowhawk shoot out. A lucky Linnet also flew out. This morning, there was an even bigger surprise; a Hoopoe. These distinctive birds are a stunning sight and have only been recorded on the Point on little over a dozen occasions.

Two other notable rarities turned up at the Hood on Thursday: a Greenish Warbler and a Red-breasted Flycatcher. The latter was particularly showy...

Red-breasted Flycatcher at the Hood (Richard Porter)

Long-tailed Skua this morning (Richard Porter)

Monday saw the first Pink-footed Geese of the autumn, when 31 flew over. A low tide seal count on the same day recorded 729 Grey and 27 Common (of which 10 were pups). Numbers of ducks are also swelling, with the arrival of Teal and Wigeon. On Thursday 170 Pintail flew west over the Point. Thursday also produced a Jack Snipe and a movement of Brent Geese was noted. Amongst the dunes, three coveys of Grey Partridges can regularly be seen, the largest consisting of seven birds.

This Thursday also brought the biggest tides of the year. The water almost tickled the steps to the Lifeboat House...

It was a still morning. Had the wind been from the north, then it would have pushed the tide higher. In this photo, Graham can be seen walking the tideline left by the December surge, when onshore wind certainly did push the tide much higher...

Great Sandy Low is still holding a lot of water left behind by this week's tides

The Wood Pigeon nest, that appeared in the Tamarisk at the end of August, has sadly been abandoned. This wasn't surprising as it was in quite an exposed location. Wood Pigeons always seem to turn up late in the season on the Point and behave rather oddly - last year a bird sat on a nest for two months without laying an egg!
Abandoned eggs (Sarah Johnson)

The breeding bird season is therefore now officially over. So here is a summary of the birds that bred - or attempted to breed - on Blakeney Point in 2014:

    Shelduck - 68 pairs (up on last year)
    Gadwall - 5 pairs
    Shoveler - 1 pair
    Mallard - 4 pairs
    Red-legged Partridge - 1 pair
    Grey Partridge - 7 pairs
    Pheasant - 1 pair
    Oystercatcher - 85 pairs (down on last year)
    Avocet - 13 pairs (up on last year)
    Lapwing - 1 pair - breeding unconfirmed (bred once, 1961)
    Ringed Plover - 11 pairs
    Redshank - 16 pairs
    Black-headed Gull - 2,419 pairs
    Common Gull - 3 pairs
    Mediterranean Gull - 8 pairs
    Herring Gull - 3 pairs
    Lesser Black-backed Gull - 1 pair
    Little Tern - 110 pairs
    Sandwich Tern - 2,859 pairs (down on last year)
    Common Tern - 87 pairs (up on last year)
    Arctic Tern - 4 pairs
    Wood Pigeon - 1 pair
    Skylark - 39 pairs (up on last year)
    Swallow - 2 pairs (down on last year)
    Meadow Pipit - 102 pairs
    Pied Wagtail - 1 pair
    Wren - 4 pairs (down on last year)
    Dunnock - 11 pairs
    Wheatear - 2 territories held in spring - did not breed (last bred 1936)
    Sedge Warbler - 1 singing male - breeding unconfirmed
    Linnet - 45 pairs (up on last year)
    Reed Bunting - 27 pairs (up on last year)

We have had a pleasing number of sightings of juvenile Sandwich Terns ringed on the Point this summer:

"On the 25th of July, three birds were seen 46km WNW at Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire. On the 31st, two were seen 517km NNW at the Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire, one of which was seen 99km S at Port Seton, East Lothian on the 14th of August and then 178 km N at Findhorn, Moray on the 31st. Another four birds were seen at Findhorn between the 8th and 31st of August. One bird was seen 402km SW at Dawlish Warren, Devon from the 29th of August to 1st of September. Another bird was seen 392km S at Le Harve, France on the 14th of August and one 230km SE at Westkapelle, Netherlands on the 29th."

'KZX' was seen at Le Harve (Ian Ward)

We also found out this week that two of the 'Shelducklings' we rescued and sent to the RSPCA in July have been released at King's Lynn Point. Fingers crossed they will return to Blakeney and breed in the future.

In invertebrate news. A fair few Red Admirals are still around. Some have been feeding on Sea Aster...
Watch House (Richard Porter)

In other news, we are delighted to have now had over 100,000 page-views since Eddie and I launched the blog just over two years ago. A big thank you to all who follow our blog and support our nature conservation work.

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)

Sunday, 7 September 2014

7th of September: Misty mornings and migrant birds

There’s been a real touch of autumn in the air this week with some beautiful, cool, misty mornings and shorter evenings, with almost summery days in between.

The change in weather has meant there’s been more activity in the Plantation and we’ve been seeing quite a few migratory birds on the Point in general, including some that we might usually expect later in the season - Robin and Goldcrest (both first seen today).  Birds seen this week include Whinchat, Wheatear, Wryneck, Song Thrush (first of autumn), Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher and Common Redstart.  One of the highlights this week was an Ortolan Bunting, which was spotted near the Hood.  This is a nocturnal migrant that winters in Africa, and is quite shy so we were lucky to get a glimpse.
Ortolan Bunting – not the best photo but gives an idea of the bird and bright eye ring
Pied flycatcher on the toilet block

In terms of botany, there are still some beautiful flowers in bloom at the moment, including the Yellow Horned-poppy that appears to be recovering well on the shingle ridge post-tidal surge, and well-established clumps of Sea Rocket. The Suaeda is still changing colour and around Pinchen’s Creek the dominant hue is increasingly autumnal.

Sea Rocket

Yellow Horned-poppy

Around Pinchen's Creek

In invertebrate news, there have been some large numbers of Red Admirals in off the sea, with very bright, fresh looking wings. This week we also ran another moth trap (after which we admired the stunning moon with Saturn just beside it through the scopes).  We had a more successful night than the last time we ran a trap due to better conditions.  Some of the species in the trap were Flounced Rustic, Coast Dart, Square-spot Rustic, Pale Eggar, Flame Shoulder, White Point and Blood Vein (below).

As a final note, we are currently in the process of updating our web-site information about Blakeney Point and more detailed information is being added about plants, birds, seals etc. So please do take a look if you are trying to id something – you may find some helpful information there – and let us know what you think.


Sunday, 31 August 2014

31st of August: The coming of Autumn

The warmth of summer days lingers on, but cooler dawns and dusks remind us that Autumn is just round the corner, other signs of this include the changing vista of the saltmarsh, gone are the bright and vibrant greens, and instead we have deep purples and crimsons of Suaeda and Glasswort.

Although Autumn is on its way, a Wood Pigeon is building a nest in the Tamarisk behind the Lab, a bit optimistic we feel.

The Yukka, or Spanish dagger (so-called due to its sharp blade-like leaves), is once again showing off its fine flower spikes...
 It was planted over a hundred years ago.
This painting was made of it in 1927:

Insects of the week 
Butterflies on the wing lately include Small Copper, Painted Lady, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell. While moths on show include a few Silver Y, and today a superb Red Underwing, which was found nectaring on Sea Aster near the Long Hills. A few Dragonflies can still be seen or heard clattering from bushes as you walk by, like Migrant Hawkers and  Ruddy Darters.
Red Underwing on Sea Aster

Migrant birds of the week
Migrant passerines finding their way onto the Point this week were four Wrynecks on the 26th, the supporting cast included a smattering of Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, as well as Redstarts, Whinchats, Stonechats, Wheatears and Willow Warblers.

 An obliging Dunlin on the saltmarsh

Mammals of the week
Common Shrew feeding near the back steps of the Lifeboat House, Pipistrelle bat in the same area, and - rather unexpectedly - a dead Mink washed up on Far Point, as well as the usual seals and Brown Hares.

Mink - a first for the Point

Brown Hare in the dunes

- Paul (with photographs by Sarah and Ajay)

Sunday, 24 August 2014

24th of August: Into the water

This Wednesday, we were alerted by the ferrymen that a flare had been let off near the wreck marker. Attending the scene immediately, a man on a dory was spotted. The engine had flooded and the boat was on its side, the man clinging to the railings. The large, choppy waves luckily pushed the boat ashore and we were able to help anchor the boat and take the man, Jamie, to the Lifeboat House for a cup of tea. The coastguards were also involved, attending the scene promptly.

With choppy seas continuing for the rest of the week, it became clear that launching the boat at high tide was too risky. Instead, some rollers were borrowed to try and get the boat down to the water at low tide.

At first, it was a struggle to lift the boat onto the rollers. But eventually, with the aid of some blocks, we got the boat moving.
Using the quad to toe it, we slowly moved it towards the water, collecting the rollers from the back and moving them to the front to keep it moving towards the water.
Jamie and Mark (the owner) were then able to walk the boat around to the channel where they were then toed back to Morston.

At the start of the week, the last Common Tern chick of the season fledged. This was the only tern chick left on the Point and we were delighted to see it taking flight.
 Common Terns with chick earlier in the season

The Swallow chicks under the Old Lifeboat House roof were not so lucky. A week after hatching, the parents sadly abandoned, the urge to migrate taking over. The weather was very autumnal this week, perhaps causing the adults to leave. This was their second clutch, so at least they had fledged five chicks earlier on in the summer.

The only active nest currently on the Point is that of a Wood Pigeon, in the garden. Whilst rummaging amongst the brambles to inspect the nest, a number of Large White butterfly larvae were noted. One took a liking to our National Trust clothing and clung on.
This week's moth trap produced several Large Yellow Underwings, Straw Underwings and Archer's Darts.

In migrant bird news, the first Whinchat, Willow Warblers and Garden Warblers of the autumn were seen on the Point this week.

Our latest low tide seal count of the West Sands was conducted on the Friday. There were 24 Common Seals and this season's highest count of Greys so far, an impressive 1,058.

- Ajay and Paul
(photography by Sarah)

Sunday, 17 August 2014

17th of August: Fences down

The 2014 breeding bird season is coming to an end on Blakeney Point, with many of our terns already many miles away.
Terns at Blakeney (Ian Ward)

The seasonal dog ban has been lifted and dog walkers are now welcome all of the way up the Point. All dogs should still be kept on leads, this helps to prevent disturbance to Norfolk's best loved waders that roost on the shoreline - Curlews and Oystercatchers.

With all Little Terns now fledged, the fenced enclosures on the shingle ridge have been taken down. The very tip of the Point remains fenced throughout the year to protect seals.

Signs and stakes ready to be stored away for the winter

Over the next few days we will be taking down the remaining fence-lines on the headland and getting stuck into report writing. It isn't all over yet, however. We have a nest of day-old Swallow chicks in the Old Lifeboat House roof, being busily fed by their parents so that they can grow strong ready for their migration to Africa in just a few week's time. There is also still a clutch of Common Tern chicks on the very tip of the Point, which are yet to take their first flight.

Small numbers of Wheatears are being seen on their return migration, and on Monday a Common Whitethroat appeared in the garden. Other bird sightings this week included several Whimbrels, a couple of Hobbies and the occasional Yellow Wagtail.

In other news...
The terns aren't the only birds to have received rings this summer... This year's Seasonal Rangers, Paul and Sarah, who met on the Point, got engaged this week. We wish them all the very best.

- Ajay, Coastal Ranger

Sunday, 10 August 2014

10th of August: Ringing recoveries

This summer on Blakeney Point, the BTO colour-ringed 109 Sandwich Tern chicks. The purpose of ringing these chicks is to learn more about their migration routes. We are delighted to have had some recoveries already...

On the 25th of July, three were seen at Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire - 46km WNW.

On the 31st of July, two were seen at the Ythan Estuary in northeast Scotland - 519km N.

Sandwich Terns over-winter in West Africa, therefore it is fascinating to learn that these birds have moved north before heading south. The reasons for this are unknown. A couple of ideas we have come up with are:
- they are following food source
- they are looking for potential alternative breeding sites for the future

The heron family comes in many shapes, sizes and colours. Little Egrets are present in the saltmarsh creeks most days. Its bigger relative, the Great White Egret, is an infrequent occurrence at Blakeney, but one did grace the nearby Cley Marshes on the 4th of August and flew west over the Point. Grey Herons, like Little Egrets, are seen fairly frequently. Their purple relatives are much more sporadic. One of these was reported flying west over the Point on the 1st of August. Spoonbills have also been sighted regularly of late, the most recent being two on the 7th.

Our latest low tide seal count recorded 879 Grey and 55 Common hauled out on the West Sands on the 1st of August. We ask walkers on the West Sands to respect their space.

Although our Sandwich Tern chicks have already reached faraway destinations, two Little Tern chicks have only just fledged and are still vulnerable on the beach. There is also a week-old Ringed Plover on the beach. Therefore, the dog restrictions are still in force until these birds are no longer so vulnerable.

 The last two Little Tern chicks, prior to fledging
(photographed under license)

The long spell of sunny weather was brought to an abrupt halt early yesterday morning when 111mm of rain fell in just an hour-and-a-half. Next week's forecast looks to be wet and windy, however it is still worth getting out in the wild to watch the nature around you. You may find you have a whole nature reserve to yourself.

Ajay, Paul and Sarah
Blakeney Point Rangers

Sunday, 27 July 2014

27th of July: Sun, sand and seals

We are now well into the second half of July, but a pair of Swallows have been busily building a second nest under the Old Lifeboat House roof on Blakeney Point. A fourth egg was laid today. Hopefully the chicks will hatch in around two weeks' time.
Paul and myself using a mirror on a stick to see how many eggs are in the nest.
This is part of our nest monitoring work.

A number of moths and butterflies can be seen amongst the dunes in the daytime. These include the occasional Forester, these beautiful iridescent moths have a wingspan of 25-30mm.

Sarah stumbled upon this Nutmeg moth on a piece of wood.

Silver Y moths are present in their dozens and can be seen on Sea-lavender and Sea Holly.

Bird sightings this week have included a Yellow Wagtail or two most days, a couple of Greenshanks on the 21st, a Green Sandpiper on the 23rd, regular Arctic Skuas and Whimbrel, 30 Sand Martins moving through yesterday and 24 Spoonbills in the harbour on the 22nd.

Dunlin on the shingle ridge

It has been lovely to see visitors enjoying Blakeney Point in the sunshine. We are always happy to talk about the wildlife and wondrous changing landscape of the Point, so do come and speak to us if you see us around. We would also like to remind people to please obey the dog restrictions and keep them on leads in areas where they are permitted, we still have a number of small chicks around and a few birds are still incubating eggs. It has been a challenging season for our Little Terns, so please keep away from fenced enclosures. Also, to prevent disturbance to birds please do not fly kites, and to prevent damage to the vegetation please do not light fires.

There are a number of Common and Sandwich Tern chicks on the tip of the Point. Several are capable of full flight, and a number of these have been fitted with blue colour-rings as part of a joint project with the British Trust for Ornithology to learn more about their movements and migration. Ian Ward recently came to one of our events and managed to photograph one of our ringed chicks on Far Point from a seal ferry:
If you see a colour-ringed bird, please report it to

Our latest low tide seal count (25th of July) recorded 801 Grey and 40 Common.
This summer, there have been a number of occasions when dogs off leads on the West Sands have chased all of the seals into the water. Seals need to rest to digest their food and heal wounds. Although the National Trust does not own the West Sands, we urge people to be respectful of wildlife.

For those that couldn't find the Little Tern chick pictured in last week's blog, it's circled below:

And finally, the answer to last week's guess the legs quiz...
They were the legs of a Gannet, which had sadly washed up dead on the shingle ridge. Our nearest breeding Gannets are at Bempton Cliff in Yorkshire, about 115 miles north along the coast. Many are seen flying out to sea from the Point.

- Ajay (Ranger)
A moody scene on the Point last night