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 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

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

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)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Saved by the bund...

Following the tidal surge of the 5 December the seawall that surrounds Blakeney Freshes was breached in more than thirty places. 

This left the freshmarsh vulnerable and at risk to saltwater flooding (in fact saltwater has crept in over a further three occasions), which poses as risk to grazing livestock and also delays the recovery of freshwater life. 

When the footpath works were undertaken in a partnership between Environment Agency, Norfolk Trails, Natural England and ourselves many of the breaches were raised just to provide a safe path. 

This left just three really low points, so we decided to build a temporary bund around each of these low points to protect the site whilst the longer-term thinking goes on.

The first step was to survey the area for both height and breeding birds.

 Once done, we were able to start the works.

Using a local contractor the bunds were built at a height we felt would keep out a higher than average tide, should they need to be tested!

Then on the 15 June only a week after the works were completed they were tested and held.

We were debating whether to do this work because it was only temporary and still cost a fair amount of money, but we are all really pleased we took the decision to!

Graham Lubbock
Coastal Ranger

Sunday, 22 June 2014

22nd of June: Many Archers, but no Arrows

As regular readers should be aware, the National Trust is involved in an EU funded partnership to protect the Little Tern by understanding their movements and behaviours better. So on the 12th of June, two RSPB ringers, with assistance from the NT rangers (us), managed to ring four adult Little Terns.

A scrape cage consisting of wire mesh is placed over a bird's eggs. Upon return they enter through a small slit, but are unable to get back out.

The birds were fitted with a normal metal ring and also an individually marked colour-ring with a unique three-letter code: UB5, UB6, UB7 and UB8.

Wings are measured

Measuring head and bill length

Dye is added to identify ringed birds

Many observer hours now need to be put in to learn about these tiny sea birds.

On the wing now is the beautifully-marked Dark Green Fritillary butterfly, Norfolk's only fritillary. Look out for them in the dunes on warm days.

The Hornet moth is a member of the Clearwing family and is a superb mimic of the hornet. Sightings of this moth have been occurring in the Plantation for the last four years. Breeding was suspected, so on the 9th of June the rangers conducted a survey, which involves checking the bases of poplar trees for exit holes. a total of 12 were found, some with pupal cases protruding, along with a freshly-emerged adults.
Above: pupal case. Below: emerged moth.

A recent moth trap, on the 21st, produced a few nice species, including:
Pine Hawkmoth
Bright-line Brown-eye
Brown-line Bright-eye
Light Arches
 Buff Arches
Dark Arches
Archer's Dart

To finish with, we are delighted to announce that all four of our tern species now have chicks...
Above: Common Tern; Below: Little Tern
Paul Nichols,
(Photography by Paul, Sarah, Ajay, except Little Tern ringing by Richard Porter)