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)

Sunday, 5 April 2015

5th of April: African arrivals

This morning on Blakeney Point, the dunes were full of sound. With the syrupy song of Skylarks and calling Meadow Pipits. Both of these bird species are abundant in the dunes, and will soon be making their fragile nests amongst the Marram grass.

Earlier in the week, the point was blasted by blown sand, splashed with horizontal downpours and ripped by 70mph winds. As a result new dunes have formed on the foreshore. But it made for a bitterly cold start to the month.

Today, however the sky and sea were shades of warm Nofolk blue. With dozens of visitors walking on the beach. Many coming to see the seals, of which there were 385 Grey and 6 Common. It really did feel like the first day of spring, not just because of the weather, but the "keerick" calls of Sandwich Terns above.
On Friday evening, 94 were counted roosting on Far Point. It's so good to have them back, having migrated from West Africa. These elegant seabirds with pure white plumage, angular wings and shaggy black crests are the emblem of Blakeney Point. The end of the Point now belongs to them (there is no public access to this area).

For this reason - and other ground-nesting birds along the shingle ridge - the seasonal dog ban is now in place, and will be until around the 10th of August. This is to reduce disturbance and has proven to work. Dogs are still permitted on the first mile of the Point from Cley beach and on the Landing Ridge, around the Lifeboat House and southern half of the boardwalk, but please keep them on leads at all times.

Another sign of spring were these Colt's-foot flowers at the Marrams. This clump appeared last spring and was the first record of the species on the Point. Presumably the seed was brought here by the December 2015 tidal surge.

Migrant birds over the past few days have included a mixture of birds arriving and leaving Merlin, Wheatear, Black Redstart, Robin, Song Thrush, Goldcrest and also the first Whimbrel of the spring (on the 3rd). And the exaltation of Shorelarks are still seen regularly in the Beach Way area, their favourite spot since December.

Recent sightings also included a Muntjac on Beach Way. We have several Muntjac sightings on the Point every year, and the occasional Roe Deer too. 

Calm water in Blakeney Harbour this evening

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)

Sunday, 29 March 2015

29th of March: Strong winds and heavy rain

This afternoon was far from a fair spring day. With strong winds and heavy showers sweeping across Blakeney Point. You could imagine the look-out tower blowing off the top of the Lifeboat House. Had the rotting wood not been replaced two years ago, then this may well have happened!
 Blakeney Point this afternoon

Although still a bit miserable, thankfully conditions weren’t so bad during yesterday’s beach clean. A big thank you to all who came along to help. It was nice to see some new faces. The litter on the beach was not as bad as it has been in previous years, but we still managed to collect 15 large bags full, 25 containers, 2 fish-boxes, a fishing rod and a flipper… and the obligatory tennis ball – there’s always a tennis ball! No pants this year, though!
A morning’s work

Blakeney Point is now nicely tidy, ready for the start of the season. However, unfortunately the toilets will not be ready. The leaking water pipe is going to take a little while to be replaced. For the time being, the toilets on the Point are closed. We will keep you updated with the progress of the pipe repairs.
Toilets closed until further notice

In the meantime, we have stocked up on bottled water for the Lifeboat House:

The water pipe was put in during the 1970s. Bob Pinchen, the original Watcher (from 1901-1931), tells of how they got water in the early days (from his 1935 book ‘Sea Swallows’):

“For a good many years fresh water was carried down to us in small tubs, jars or bottles, and with the coming of visitors came a difficult problem. I well remember that when students from the University College […] were visiting the Point that we had only one large tank for catching rain-water.

After a few years it was decided to build a laboratory on the Point, and Professor W. Oliver of London University suggested to me that we might endeavour to find a supply of water somewhere. I told him that would not be much trouble and that if he walked up Pinchen’s Creek on the hottest day in summer, at a certain place he could see water spouting up. It is very cold at this particular spot even when other parts of the Creek are quite warm. I advised him to have a try in Glaux Low close to where it was decided to build a laboratory. Several attempts to obtain water were made and the idea of sinking a pump was soon given up as this became choked. An empty tar-barrel was also tried, all to no purpose. I suggested that a carpenter should make a square wooden structure without a bottom so that one could get inside, dig down, and then let it drain. This was done and, after going down a matter of four to five feet, the water welled up and filled the inside.

Since then a plentiful supply of fresh water has been available, and what seemed an insuperable difficulty has been overcome.
Bob Pinchen in the 1920s

After this we used our handcart to convey water, in any form of vessel available, to the Lifeboat House some distance away. Talking the matter over with the Professor I suggested that, as water was to be had at one spot, they ought to be able to get a supply close to the House. He agreed, and the next day some of his young men were set to work. They drove in four posts and dug down a few feet. Finding water, they boarded up the sides and thus solved another problem, for an ample supply of water at this place also has been forthcoming. Four more wells close by have since been opened.

During the war soldiers were stationed on the Point, and they did not trouble to keep the sand clear, with the result that the wells filled up. After the war, Professor Oliver had two large drainpipes sunk one on top of the other, a cover being fitted to the top with a lifting lid, into which a pail could be inserted. I have seen water running over the surface of the ground by the well, and in the driest summers we had water for all requirements. The surface of the water rose and fell with the tide, but the taste of it was unaffected. […] The one small well gives supplies for all purposes, for residents and visitors alike at Blakeney Point – no mean advantage, considering the former haphazard method of getting water and the difficulties of carting it such a long way.”

So maybe we should dig another well?!

In this rough weather, it is perhaps not surprising that no Sandwich Terns have arrived on the Point yet. One was reported flying out at sea past Cley on the 20th, but none have made it to the Point. This time in 2013 was far more extreme; our beach clean had to be cancelled due to strong winds and snow. That year, the first Sandwich Tern arrived on the 1st of April. It could well be around that date this year too. But a few migrants have dropped into the bushes over the weekend; a Chiffchaff in the Tamarisk yesterday and three Chaffinches in the brambles this morning. During the beach clean, the over-wintering flock of Shorelarks put in an appearance at their usual favourite spot on Beach Way.

In other news, a juvenile Goshawk has been captured on camera on Blakeney Freshes this week. Goshawks are seldom seen on the reserve as they are largely found in woodlands. It was a delight to find that one of our trail cameras had captured this up-close footage:
-          Ajay (Coastal Ranger)

Monday, 23 March 2015

22nd of March: And so it begins...

Spring has officially arrived and is evident on the Point. A Mallard is incubating her eggs in a nest underneath a Suaeda bush on Far Point. It is in more-or-less the same location that a Mallard's nest turned up last March, also the first nest of the year we stumbled upon. The 2014 nest was shared by two females, but was abandoned before hatching. We will be carefully watching this year to see if this is also a shared nest, and to see if they have a bit more luck this year. Nesting so near a Black-headed Gull colony is a big risk.
Mallard nest on Far Point

Interestingly, the last nest of 2014 can still be found on the Point. The dead eggs of a Wood Pigeon, that nested in the Tamarisk in September, can still be seen behind the Lab. So six months after the last nest of 2014, the 2015 nesting season begins.
Wood Pigeon eggs laid in September 2014

There are still signs of winter around. About half a dozen juvenile Grey Seals are still being seen on Far Point. The latest low tide seal count recorded a total of 109 Grey Seals and two Common Seals.
Juvenile Grey Seal on Far Point

Before the nesting season really gets underway, we are conducting our annual beach clean (details below - please click to enlarge). If you are free on Saturday, please do come and lend a hand, and help keep the beach safe and tidy. Your help is always much appreciated.

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)

Sunday, 15 March 2015

15th of March: Fiery Hills

March is a month of avian anticipation at Blakeney. With some sunny days early in the month, there is a strong feeling that the breeding season and spring migration are about to begin. But patience is needed as things don't just happen overnight. We have been keeping busy as there is lots to prepare before April. An extra thing keeping us busy this week has been clearing up Friary Hills after a fire, which happened last Saturday.

It is believed that somebody deliberately set fire to two areas of gorse. The fire service had to be called to put out the blaze. Two blackened areas were left, which we have now cut and removed. Luckily, part of our management of Friary Hills involves removing gorse anyway, and fortunately no birds had begun nesting in the areas that were burned. A number of birds will be nesting here very soon, including Linnets and Long-tailed Tits.

These photographs were taken the day after the fire:
 Above and below: The eastern end

The western end

This week over on the Point, signs of spring have brought smiles to our faces. On Tuesday, a few hundred Black-headed Gulls returned to their breeding grounds amongst the Suaeda on the tip of Far Point. The return of these chocolate-headed birds signifies the beginning of the breeding seabird season at Blakeney.
Far Point, access is restricted to prevent disturbance

With the Black-headed Gulls back, we eagerly await the first Sandwich Tern, which shouldn't be too long. The first sighting last year was on the 23rd of March. Yesterday, two Mediterranean Gulls were heard amongst the 'Black-heads'. These splendid birds are a pleasure to see, but also have a taste for Sandwich Tern eggs, highlighting that nature is full of conflicts no matter how beautiful the species!

Four pairs of Ringed Plovers have been observed on the shingle ridge.
Male displaying (Richard Porter)

The over-wintering flock of Shorelarks continues to delight those lucky enough to stumble upon them in the Beach Way area...
One of the flock of eight seen regularly (Richard Porter)

Beach Way also hosted the first Wheatears of the spring; two on Friday. Saturday produced a delightfully chirpy Chiffchaff in the Plantation. A quick low tide count of Far Point and the West Sands recorded 32 Grey Seals (approximately 8 bulls and 24 cows).

It won't be too long until myself and the Seasonal Rangers move into the Lifeboat House. But first, we need to fix a leak in the water pipe that runs under the harbour from Morston to the Point. Not only does it supply our drinking water, but also the public toilets. It is not an overstatement to say that repairing a water pipe in Blakeney Harbour is a challenge!
Locating the pipe at Morston

George and I were out on Blakeney Freshes at 5:30am on Thursday to listen for booming Bitterns. Unfortunately none were present, but we were able to watch the Marsh Harriers leaving their roost at Cley/Salthouse and a pair of hunting Barn Owls that seemed to be showing an interest in the owl box where nesting occurs most years.
Looking east at dawn

We will keep you up to date with more wildlife news as the season unfolds.
- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)