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 colour.ringing@bto.org.


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

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Morston bridges update



Morston Bridges

Friday 25 July will see the completion of Bridge 4 and the new viewpoint at Morston and we plan to open it as the new access at 3pm.

The remaining work that will take place this week will involve establishing the ramp leading to Bridge 4 and fitting the final handrails and anti-slip boards and the steps leading off the viewing platform. 




 
Next week will see a bench being installed on the viewing platform and chestnut paling being erected as part of our ecological mitigation work required by Natural England to allow the vegetation to re-establish on work sites and the area immediately north of the viewing platform. Temporary fence lines will be taken down, matting removed and the digger access track graded. There are also some minor works to go back to on Bridge 2 to relocate some of the bolts which are now sticking proud on the footpath to the ramps.

The temporary pontoon and works access and platform at Bridge 4 has been removed over the high tides last week and using local support. 

We will be present at the viewing platform alongside Dunella on the 12 August between 2-3pm so please do join us for a drink and bit of cake and maybe see some of you on Friday for the opening!

Footpath Repairs

With the bridge project being completed, we are starting to think about repairing the path between the bridges, and the specification and logistics of it. To help our thinking you may spot different types of footpath options being trialled over the summer to see how they fare with lots of foot pressure.

In order for Morston to be business as usual for the summer we are hoping that works can start in the Autumn once schools are back and the main visitor period is over. We will be maintaining access to visitors at all times.

We need to gain certain consents and agreements for the works and will look at the best approach to be undertaken but we have been looking at the logistics of moving large quantities of gravel and materials for footpath repairs.

With the temporary vehicle crossings being in place for the bridge project we have an ideal opportunity for moving the materials, with the temporary pontoon crossing at Bridge 2 and the temporary culverts at Bridge 1 and 3.  We have decided to give ourselves some flexibility and are therefore leaving these in place ready for the Autumn.

We will be in contact again shortly to share our thoughts about the path design and we can talk about this more on the 12th. 

 
Victoria Egan
Countryside Manager

Sunday, 20 July 2014

20th of July: Sunny weather


The recent sunny weather has brought lots of butterflies - an increase in Graylings, first Gatekeepers and Essex as well as Small Skippers.

 Essex Skipper on Sea Holly

We also had a day when we had a number of migrant hawkers (16th July) - approximately 40 were recorded on the Point.

Sandwich, Common and Little Tern chicks are now on the wing.  Juvenile Sandwich Terns have been seen fishing.  There are also a number of chicks of all species that have yet to take their first flight, such as the Common Tern chick below:



These chicks are still very vulnerable to predation, so please continue to keep your distance from fenced nesting areas.  The dog restrictions (no dogs allowed on the Point except for around the Lifeboat House if on a lead) are still in place until mid-August for this reason. 

Little Tern chick hatched yesterday (photographed under licence)

Spot the chick (click to enlarge)

We're happy to see our breeding birds feeding well.  Terns are enjoying good fishing close to the colony, with feeding 'frenzies' most days.  Black Headed Gulls are feasting on a recent spate of  freshly hatching insects (often referred to simply as a 'hatch') giving both adults and juveniles an abundance of food. 

'Mini' hatch with gulls gathering to feed

In migrant bird news, Starlings have regularly been present in strong numbers over the past couple of weeks, with over 200 seen today in different groups.  We have been enjoying the company of a Black Redstart that appears to have taken a liking to the Lifeboat House and garden area, as it has been around for just under a fortnight with only a couple of days where it was not sighted.  Arctic Skuas are now regularly being seen harassing terns for their fish, as they survive by stealing fish from other birds (known as kleptoparasitism).  They are amazing birds to watch on the wing, very acrobatic, and apparently were the inspiration behind the British Fleet Air Arm’s first naval dive-bomber, the Blackburn Skua (see Arkive.com).

Our latest low-tide seal count on 13th July gave 449 Grey Seals and 38 Common Seals hauled out on the sands.

And to finish with, our latest guess the legs:

Sarah (Seasonal Ranger)

Sunday, 6 July 2014

6th of July: Lucky ducky

This morning as we went out on patrol, we came across five abandoned Shelduck ducklings, huddled together and shivering in the wet grass not far from the Lifeboat house.

After a  brief debate a rescue was decided upon, Ajay was like a pied piper figure as he led the ducklings back to the Lifeboat house.

Once here we found a cardboard box which we lined with cotton wool and towels as well as a toastie warm hot water bottle.

An internet search revealed that we did not have what was required to brood these fluffy humbugs, so the RSPCA were called. We then put the ducklings on a Temple's seal ferry where they were taken away to Morston, to be collected and sent to East Winch animal hospital.

Five Fluffy Humbugs
Five shivering ducklings sat in the dune
Need to do something, need to do soon
Led them away to a nice cosy home
Warm and safe, where no dangers roam
Happy ducklings now whistle a content tune
Safety at East Winch awaits them all soon


Seals
On the 29th of June, a low tide count revealed 865 Grey and 26 Common seals hauled out around the Point and West Sands.

Birds
On the 5th of July, we saw the first fully fledged Sandwich Tern of the season flying over the Gap giving its distinctive call. A full chick count will take place soon.

Return migration has begun, with Whimbrels being seen and heard, for the last few days and a couple of young Yellow Wagtails, and two drake Eiders in eclipse plumage off the tip of Far Point. 

Moths and Butterflies
Tis national moth week this week, and to celebrate we ran a moth trap on the 4th of July, which caught a few impressive species, amongst them were the giant of our native moths, the Privet Hawkmoth, plus Garden Tiger, Ruby Tiger, Oak Egger, Drinker and my favourite the Buff-tip, a master of camouflage, looking exactly like a broken branch of a Silver birch tree. See our facebook page for moth photos.

Grayling butterflies  - a dune specialist - are now on the wing, and can be seen feeding on Sea Lavender and other flowers among the dunes. Their mottled plumage makes them hard to see at rest, but they soon become visible when taking flight.



There is much to be seen and heard, you just got to remember to look and listen.

- Paul

Sunday, 29 June 2014

29th of June: Seeing the unseen

The use of trail cameras (also known as camera traps) on Blakeney Point enable us to capture moments we would not otherwise witness. Here we see a Common Tern presenting a crab to its mate at their nest.

The same Common Tern nest, at night:
 

Sandwich Terns are perhaps not the most hygienic of birds. They do not leave the nest to defaecate, resulting in a white 'sunburst' effect around the nesting area.
This image also shows just how closely Sandwich Terns nest together. These ones have been brave enough to nest around a Black-headed Gull.

Visitors to the Point are more than likely to see Oystercatcher chicks at this time of year. The chicks are nidifugous, meaning that they leave the nest soon after hatching and well before they are capable of flight. They can be seen being taught to feed by their parents. Please do not go too close to them or linger for too long.

The six Pied Wagtail chicks in the yellow plastic box left the nest yesterday.
This photograph was taken six days earlier.

Orchids are somewhat of a rarity on Blakeney Point. This June, we were delighted to find two in the main dunes.
 Common Spotted Orchid

Southern Marsh Orchid

This week, the first Grayling butterflies of the year were seen on the wing. There have also been a sprinkling of smart Red Admirals.

Today's low tide seal count recorded an impressive 865 Grey Seals along with 26 Commons, on the West Sands.

Yesterday we stumbled upon a year-old Common Seal looking sorry for itself about a mile west of Cley Beach. It appeared to be struggling to breathe, possibly suffering from lungworm. We took it to the car park where the RSPCA came to collect it. They will treat the seal with antibiotics.

Ajay Tegala - Coastal Ranger
Photography: Ajay, Paul, Sarah (National Trust), Ben Collen (University College London)