Sunday, 26 July 2015

26th of July: Autumn arrives

With strong winds and heavy rain, it felt like autumn on Saturday morning. Although the first weekend of the summer holiday, we witnessed the appearance of our first autumn migrant of the year: a Black Redstart around the Lifeboat House.

Big waves on Saturday (Sarah Johnson) 

Northwesterly winds pushed the large crashing waves up high, dramatically re-profiling the shingle ridge. We braved being sand-blasted for half an hour to record passing seabirds pushed closer in-land by the weather. Amongst dozens of Gannets were seven Manx Shearwaters and two Sooty Shearwaters moving east.

Counting Gannets (Sarah Johnson)

Crashing waves are one of the most evocative sounds of the coast. Paul recently wrote an article about "A Year of Sounds on Blakeney Point", which is well worth a read.

A full brood of four Ringed Plover chicks hatched near the Lifeboat House on Friday and managed to survive the heavy rain and wind. There are now several flying juvenile Oystercatchers - identifiable by the dark tip to their bill - and three family groups of Grey Partridges in the dunes.
Adult Ringed Plover (Ian Ward)

After a slow and uncertain start to the season, things are looking great for the Point's Little Terns. Friday saw nine flying juveniles near the Watch House. Today another five were added to the list, plus two almost ready to fly and another two flying near the Gap. We expect up to 21 to fledge this year (three times more than last year's seven), which constitutes a good year for Little Terns.
Adult Little Tern (Ian Ward)

Other recent bird sightings include several Green Sandpipers. One morning, following heavy rain and strong winds, a Barn Owl was seen flying over the main dunes. A day-flying summer record is actually an extreme rarity on the Point, having previously only been recorded in winter.

Recent invertebrate sightings included a very rarely-recorded leucistic Gatekeeper butterfly (probably a first for the Point) seen by Paul plus a couple of Elephant Hawkmoth larvae feeding on Rosebay Willowherb in the main dunes...

Visitors to the Norfolk Coast are currently enjoying the Common Sea-lavender, which is at its best now, turning the saltmarsh into a haze of delicate purple.
Common Sea-lavender close-up (Ian Ward)

Another plant currently showing in all its finery is Sea Spurge, with its red stems and bright green leaves...

Late July to August is a good time to see this summer's Common Seal pups on the Point. We recommend the seal ferry trips that go from Morston Quay.
Common Seal pup on the beach this week

It looks set to rain for most of the coming week, but we will be out and about every day carrying out our research work, patrolling and meeting visitors who have ventured out to the Point.
- Ajay

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Faith's Blakeney Point Diary

Hello, my name is Faith and I’ve been asked by Ajay to write a blog about my experiences here on the Point.  I am a National Trust Academy Ranger based at Attingham Park in Shropshire.  The Academy Ranger scheme is a two and-a-half year traineeship which gives you a qualification in countryside management as well as the practical tickets to set you on your way to begin a career as a ranger.  Recently the Academy Rangers have been learning about habitat management and as part of our assignment we need to gain an understanding about terrestrial, freshwater and coastal management objectives and techniques for conservation.  So, having grown up on the North Norfolk coast, I thought it was a great opportunity to get a coastal experience here on Blakeney Point.


My week has been varied and I have learned lots.  Each day the Rangers will ensure the visitor facilities are cleaned and the previous day’s bird count is written up in the visitor centre for all to see.

Blakeney Point’s primary focus is to protect its bird colonies.  One way in which we do this is to fence off areas where birds are known to have nested.  Each day at low tide a ranger will be at the gap to talk to visitors and explain where people can walk, to get a closer look at the seals.  As well as this a member of the team will also be in the tower of the boat house monitoring boats at high tide to ensure the safety of the seals and terns.

Another key part of a coastal ranger’s role is to inform the public about conservation and I was lucky enough to go on a guided walk led by Ajay to an enthusiastic A-level group that had walked over from the mainland.  Here detailed information was given about the three rare types of habitat that are present at Blakeney Point: saltmarsh, vegetated shingle and sand dunes.  Further discussion then led on to the flora and types of birds that are likely to be present within each habitat.
Left to right: Sand dunes, shingle, saltmarsh

I have personally found the flora of the Point fascinating having seen many new species of plant.  The Point hosts four different species of Sea-lavender: Common, Rock, Matted and Lax-flowered.
 Common Sea-lavender

Rock Sea-lavender

Matted Sea-lavender

Lax-flowered Sea-lavender

Another species, that is usually a hated figure by many, is ragwort.  As a regular ragwort puller it was nice to see ragwort in a place where it needn’t be removed, and I was fortunate enough to capture the caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth feeding on it.

What has been the most interesting experience at the Point for me was the surveying.  A ranger is always watching at Blakeney.  From the beginning of the day to night fall, the rangers are constantly keeping count of the birds they have seen, to the butterflies, hares and any interesting behaviour they may be showing.  As Blakeney Point has a history of keeping great records, it is important that this continues today. 

I took part in a butterfly survey, which included seeing Small Tortoiseshells and Gatekeepers as well as going over to Far Point to see how many remaining Common Tern nests there were with eggs that were yet to hatch.  I have seen many species of bird which I haven’t seen before including the Marsh Harrier, Whimbrel and Little Egret.
Common Tern eggs

As my final day is fast approaching I am looking forward to moth trapping and a wader and wildfowl survey.  I would like to thank the Blakeney Point ranger team for giving me the opportunity to experience what the role of a ranger is like on the coast as well as giving me a memorable experience here at Blakeney Point.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

12th of July: Little Terns behaving like Cuckoos?

Despite it being a difficult start to the season for Little Terns, several pairs on Blakeney Point now have young. Our observations and research revealed poor feeding earlier on, with nesting significantly delayed. But, in the last week, feeding seems to have increased. A chick being studied was fed four times in an hour, which is a good sign.
Adult Little Tern in flight (Ian Ward)

Back on the 29th of June, we found a shared nest on the very tip of the Point: a scrape containing one Little Tern egg and one larger tern egg, which we decided was either Common or Arctic (the eggs of these two species are very hard to tell apart)...
Shared nest (Sarah)

Last year we found a scrape in a similar location containing two Little Tern eggs and a Common Tern egg. This was incubated by a pair of Little Terns. They hatched one Little Tern chick, but the Common Tern egg did not hatch.

Like last year, we put a trail camera on the nest to find out more. This revealed that the eggs were being incubated solely by a pair of Arctic Terns. Presumably the Little Tern had abandoned. Or maybe - although unheard of - they were leaving the Arctic Terns to incubate their egg, like a Cuckoo does.

Well, on Thursday morning (9th July) around 5am, a Little Tern chick hatched. The chick was brooded and fed by the Arctic Terns...

By 3pm on Thursday afternoon, the Arctic Tern chick had also hatched. The chicks were then fed and brooded by the Arctic Tern pair. Both chicks were captured happily snuggled up alongside each other in the scrape...

Sadly, at around 7.20pm that evening, both chicks disappeared. Frustratingly, the trail camera did not capture what was undoubtedly a predation event. Experience allows us to make an educated guess that a Common or Herring Gull was responsible. It is surprising that the camera was not triggered, as it is motion-sensitive. However, we can be fairly sure that the chicks were predated because the camera records several images of the adults looking around the scrape for a period of time afterwards; looking for their chicks, which had disappeared rather than wondered off. A sudden, sad end to a fascinating story.

Wader news
Several juvenile Oystercatchers can be seen across all parts of the Point. Many are now well-grown and almost capable of flight.
 Oystercatcher juvenile (Ian Ward)

Another wading bird that is doing well on the Point is the Avocet. A record 16 pairs have nested on the shingle ridge this year. So far, 12 pairs have hatched between two and four young, with several family groups seen heading to Cley Marshes.

Like Little Terns, things seem to be looking up for Ringed Plovers. We are monitoring seven late nests across the Point. Three pairs have hatched young over the past few days. We hope the other four nests are also successful.
Ringed Plover (Ian Ward)

Other breeding birds
The trail camera on the shared tern nest also captured a female Mallard leading eight ducklings to the harbour. We wouldn't have known about them if it wasn't for the camera.

Insect news
Friday was a particularly magical day for butterflies. With dozens arriving in off the sea from the Continent. Mostly Whites. Some were flying low over the waves, while others were several metres high in the sky. A highlight from our recent moth traps was this Small Elephant Hawkmoth...
Small Elephant Hawkmoth (Ian Ward)

Plants
There is a terrific show of Yellow Horned-poppy at the moment on the main ridge. Seed was spread in the December 2013 tidal surge and this summer increased abundance is clear.
Yellow Horned-poppy (Ian Ward)

Seals
Today's low tide seal count recorded 647 Grey and 123 Common. Our "Tern Cam" on the tip of the Point captured this Common Seal rather close to the nesting terns...

- Ajay

Monday, 6 July 2015

A challenging year for Blakeney Point's Terns

As the tern breeding season approaches its end, National Trust rangers have been reviewing the results of what has been a challenging year for these important birds.


The dramatic thunderstorm and torrential rain, that hit the Blakeney area on the night of the 20th to 21st of June, had a huge impact on the birds nesting on Blakeney Point. The Sandwich Tern colony was hit particularly hard, as their chicks were at a vulnerable stage and unfortunately most of these chicks died due to exposure.  We believe these terns were already struggling to rear their chicks as their preferred food of Sand eels seemed to be in short supply in the area this summer, which has also impacted on Little Terns across Norfolk.

Of 130 pairs of Common Terns, only one fledged juvenile has been seen so far.

Our team of rangers and volunteers have done an excellent job helping us to minimise disturbances by working with visitors to the area and talking about the colonies and their vulnerability to disturbance from walkers. However, we can do little about weather, tides and food supply as this is nature. Fortunately, Scolt Head Island, West Norfolk are having an excellent year for Sandwich Terns, with an estimated 3,500 juveniles almost ready to fledge. Birds laid earlier at Scolt Head, so were less vulnerable during the poor weather

Over the decades, there has always been the occasional year when weather and poor food availability have negatively impacted the tern populations. For example, the 2004 breeding bird report reads as follows:

“Poor weather and predation added up to a disappointing year. Little, Common and Arctic Terns all failed. The weather in June was the main cause, making the fishing very difficult for the terns, and the survival of their young impossible. The number of breeding pairs was down for all the terns, with the bulk of the Sandwich Terns breeding on Scolt Head.”

In this example, 2005 went onto to be a successful season for Sandwich Terns, with 1650 nests fledging 900 young.

Terns are long-lived birds; their strategy is to have many breeding attempts so that over their long lifetime they will hopefully fledge enough young to keep the population stable or growing. This means that a single bad season is not enough to have a serious impact on the population.

We would like to thank the local community for their support during the breeding season, by not landing boats on the tip of the Point and following the dog restrictions. It is greatly appreciated.


Sunday, 5 July 2015

5th of July: Fighting chicks

This week on Blakeney Point, Ranger Sarah captured this video of two Oystercatcher chicks fighting on the beach. This could either be play fighting or competition for food.

Other slightly unexpected discoveries included this barley growing on Far Point. Presumably the seed had been transported by a gull and somehow managed to germinate in the shingle. This, combined with a domestic farmyard duck nesting on the tip, makes for a disturbingly farm-like atmosphere on a spit of land as close to wilderness as you can get in Britain, showing that no area of land is completely un-influenced by man!
Barley growing on Far Point

...If it spreads, we could brew our own Blakeney beer!

Bird sightings this week have included migrating Swifts, Herons, Mute Swans and Curlews, plus regular Spoonbills, a pair of Stock Doves and a couple of Roseate Terns over.

Butterflies have included several Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and Whites arriving in off the sea, plus the first Graylings and Dark Green Fritillary of the year.

Today we found three flowering Pyramidal Orchid spikes in the dunes. Orchids are a rarity on Blakeney Point and a true joy to discover.
Pyramidal Orchids (Harry Mitchell)
 
 - Ajay

Monday, 29 June 2015

29th of June: In-seine on the Point

What's gone insane on the Point?  Luckily not the rangers.  Instead it's fish - round two of our investigation into fish availability around the Point in partnership with ECON Ecological Consultancy (including our friend and former Blakeney Point seasonal warden, Joe Cockram).  As before, we used a 50-metre long Seine net to create a loop that was hauled in from the shore where the fish caught were transferred to a large aerated tub whilst crabs were put in another container.  Fish species caught were both Greater and Lesser Sand Eel, Three-spined Stickleback, Sea bass, Flounder, Plaice, Sand Goby and Sand Smelt, along with both Crangon (brown shrimp) and Palaemon shrimps and plenty of shore crabs.  This research is being done to assess the food supply available to Little Terns in particular - something particularly relevant at the moment as food supply appears to be a big problem in parts of Norfolk this year for them.
Hauling in the Seine net in the harbour

Dr. Martin Perrow and Joe Cockram

Hauling in the net in Pinchen's Creek


 

 


 




With a warm night and good cloud cover on 27th June we decided to run another moth trap.  We were rewarded with our best catch so far this season.  Here are the stars of the show:
 Archer's Dart

 Bright-line Brown-eye

 Dark Arches

 Elephant Hawkmoth

 Lychnis

 Smoky Wainscot

Tawny Shears

In other news, we have seen the first fledged Common Tern on the West Sands and the first Little Tern chick on Far Point.  Migration, as usual at this time of year, has been quiet with only a Spotted Flycatcher seen in the Plantation and a slow trickle of hirundines and swifts flying west.
First Little Tern chick of 2015 (photographed under license)

- Paul and Sarah