Sunday, 30 August 2015

30th of August: Raptor fest

The week started off on Monday 24th with south-easterly winds and drizzle - perfect conditions for a small fall of migrant birds. On Blakeney Point, raptors were out in numbers, with the highlights being two Ospreys, a Merlin, eleven Marsh Harriers and a Honey Buzzard that flew past the Lifeboat House whilst being mobbed by a Hobby.  
Hobby hunting the Point (Joe Cockram)

Other goodies seen in the Plantation and suaeda belts were: one Icterine Warbler, thirty plus Willow Warblers, nine Whinchats, five Redstarts, two Wrynecks, ten Pied Flycatchers, one Spotted Flycatcher and one Short-eared Owl. A nice selection for those birdwatchers who made the pilgrimage up the Point that day.

On Thursday 27th the first Pink-footed Geese of the year were heard and a Wood Sandpiper gave its distinctive 'chiff-iff-iff' call as it flew overhead.

Yesterday on Saturday 29th Flying ants took to the skies in impressive numbers, which spurred every Black-headed Gull from miles around to have an aerial picnic over the Lifeboat House.
Aerial picnic (Ajay Tegala)

Invertebrates showing themselves this week included good numbers of dragonflies, including Migrant Hawkers, both Common and Ruddy Darters and our largest dragonfly, the Emperor, one of which landed on my face, tickling my lips as it walked around my mouth.
Butterflies out and about at the moment are Graylings, Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, Large and Small Whites and a few Small Coppers the latter of which will be the fourth generation.
The distinctive high pitched buzzing of Long-winged Coneheads can now be heard along the entire length of the Point, as well a few Short-winged Coneheads.
Short-winged Conehead (Matt Twydell)

The Wood Pigeon breeding in the Tamarisk bush is only a couple of days away from hatching.
Wood Pigeon on nest

Don't forget, next Saturday (5th of September) is the Blakeney National Nature Reserve Bioblitz - find more information on how to get involved here.

-Paul.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

23rd of August: Full-on fall

Today on Blakeney Point, migration got into full swing. With south-easterly winds and rain all converging to produce the perfect conditions for a 'fall' of migrant birds. As the afternoon went on and the rainfall increased, birds began to arrive in greater numbers resulting in a very special moment in time. Conferring with bird-watchers that braved the four-mile shingle trudge, an impressive list of birds was put together...

The stars were a juvenile Montagu's Harrier over Far Point, a first-winter Marsh Warbler at the Hood and a Wryneck on Far Point. The shear numbers of passerines were probably under-counted: 25+ Whinchats, 15+ Wheatears, 10+ Redstarts, 25+ Willow Warblers, 10+ Tree Pipits and 30+ Pied Flycatchers. Other birds seen today included Hobby, Merlin, Wood Sandpiper, Arctic Skua, Cuckoo, Short-eared Owl, Sparrowhawk and Grasshopper Warbler.


Short-eared Owl (Sarah Johnson)


Sparrowhawk on Beach Way (Sarah Johnson)

Insects have also been arriving. With numerous Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and a few Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies, plus several Migrant Hawker and a few Emperor dragonflies.
Peacock on Sea Holly (Sarah Johnson)

This week's moth sightings have included a few Drinkers.
Drinker (Sarah Johnson)

Due to the presence of a notably high number of Common Seals, we have been monitoring the seals throughout the week. We bumped into former Head Warden, Dave Wood (2000-2011), who remembers it used to be the norm that Common Seals would out-number Greys in August, before switching in the autumn. This week's counts have showed a steady increase in Greys...

Monday 17th:       Common x 509;  Grey x   78
Wednesday 19th: Common x 279;  Grey x 436
Thursday 20th:     Common x 386;  Grey x 670

To protect seals from disturbance - and to keep some areas free from disturbance for birds and other wildlife - there is no access to the tip of Far Point at any time of year. But there is open access to the rest of the Point for the next two months (between the end of the breeding bird season and the beginning of the Grey Seal pupping season), except for the Plantation and Garden (these two areas are a refuge for tired migrant birds):

We would like to thank visitors for their cooperation.



Although Blakeney Point is a renowned hot-spot for migrant birds, the lesser-known Gramborough Hill has been particularly productive over the last few days, also owned and managed by the National Trust (previously owned by Brent Pope). Situated three miles east of the Point, at Salthouse, Grambrough is much more easily accessible. Today, visiting bird-watchers enjoyed views of Icterine Warbler, Booted Warbler and Wryneck.

If you are interested in exploring Salthouse, you may be interested in our circular downloadable walk.


Also, don't miss Ranger Graham Lubbock's talk at Blakeney Harbour Rooms at 7.30pm on Monday 24th of August: The History of Blakeney National Nature Reserve - 50 Years of Neptune.

- Ajay and Paul

Sunday, 16 August 2015

16th of August: Icterine Warbler

The last few days have brought a nice selection of migrants to Blakeney Point. Wednesday brought 4 Willow Warblers and 2 Common Whitethroats. Thursday produced 4 Common Redstarts, 3 Whinchats, 7 Wheatears, 2 Pied Flycatchers and this splendid Icterine Warbler.
Icterine Warbler (Richard Porter)

On Friday, Spotted Flytcatcher, Lesser Whitethroat and Black Tern were added to the sightings list. While Saturday brought 2 Little Gulls and a Roseate Tern, these were amongst 600+ Black Headed Gulls and c.40 Common Terns all feeding on a hatch of ants near the Lifeboat House in the evening.
The "hatch" (Sarah Johnson)
 
Moths recorded this week included Garden Tiger, Silver Y, Drinker, Blood Vein, Latticed Heath, Common Wainscot, Saltern Ear, White-line Dart, Archer's Dart, Coast Dart, Large Yellow Underwing, Straw Underwing, Turnip and Mouse Moth.
Mouse Moth inside the Mobile Hide (Sarah)

Other insect sightings this week included this Mining Bee, seen here clearing out its hole in the sand. This wonderful little video clip was captured by Ranger Sarah.
 
Common Seals continue to delight, with around 300 seen on the end of the Point at high tide today. Among them are a small number of this summer's pups.
Common Seal pup on the beach (Ajay Tegala)

The end of the Point is constantly changing. This season we have noticed a small area of saltmarsh forming inside the very end of the spit as well as an increase in vegetation on the shingle...
Saltmarsh forming

Vegetation on the shingly tip of Far Point

We leave you with a very rare sighting made on the Point this morning; a vacuum cleaner!
- Ajay

Sunday, 9 August 2015

9th of August: Lots of little Little Terns

This weekend marked more-or-less the end of the breeding bird season on Blakeney Point, with the final Little Tern juveniles of the year fledging.

We had two main colonies on the Point this year. Some 18 pairs nested on the shingle ridge east of the Watch House. From this colony, 21 birds fledged.
Watch House colony, now empty (Richard Porter)

Juvenile being fed away from nesting site (Tom Whiley)

The second colony was on the beach east of the Gap. Last year, two pairs fledged two young from this area, unlike the larger more established beach colony that suffered severe flooding. For this reason, we put out decoys. These seemed to work, attracting 11 pairs to nest. From this colony, 12 birds fledged. This represents the best Little Tern productivity on the Point since 2011.
Adult Little Tern in flight (Tom Whiley)

With all Little Tern chicks fledged, the seasonal dog ban has been lifted. We would like to thank visitors for obeying the access restrictions and respecting the dog restrictions throughout the breeding season. Disturbances have been notably fewer this year, so a big thank you for helping and especially to our Little Tern volunteers who have done a great job helping to observe and protect the Watch House colony.

Our latest low tide seal count has recorded the largest number of hauled out Common Seals since September 2011. The count - conducted on Wednesday (5th of August) - totalled 519 Grey and 412 Common.
 
Young Common Seal this week (Sarah Johnson)

This week's migrant birds have included Hobby, Merlin, Willow Warblers, Pied Flycatcher and a Magpie, the latter being a very rare sighting on the Point. The Swallow chicks in the Old Tern Hide fledged this week too.
Swallow chicks before they fledged (Sarah Johnson)

There are no longer any birds on nests. That is, except for a pair of Wood Pigeons still building a late nest in the Tamarisk! There are still a few small Ringed Plover chicks around and several hundred Oystercatchers are roosting on the beach at high tide. For this reason, we ask that visitors still keep dogs under close control as birds are vulnerable to disturbance at all times of year.

- Ajay

Sunday, 2 August 2015

2nd of August: Melodious on the Point

On Friday 31st July during a quick look in the garden by the Lifeboat House, Ranger Paul spotted a yellow warbler.  Initially thinking it was the first returning Willow Warbler of the year, a look through his binoculars revealed a Hippolais warbler.  After gaining better views it turned out to be a juvenile Melodious Warbler.  Breeding mainly in Italy, Spain and Portugal, and wintering in West Africa, it is not surprising that few have been seen in Norfolk - this bird is only the 5th record for the county.
 Video of the Melodious Warbler on Blakeney Point (Paul Nichols)

Other birds to have graced the Point this week include two Great White Egrets, two Spoonbills and five Grey Herons today, whilst in addition to the Melodious Warbler on the 31st we also had two Yellow Wagtails, a Short-eared Owl, a Hobby and a Peregrine.

In terms of the breeding birds, the Little Terns still have young being fed on the shore.  Feeding rates appear to have improved hugely since earlier in the season and we're hoping Little Terns on the Point might fledge more than last year.
Little Tern juvenile on beach (Sarah Johnson)

North Norfolk's shores are currently being invaded by millions of insects.  Over the past two days the ranger team has been seeing large numbers of Large and Small White butterflies, a smattering of Peacocks and Painted Ladies, thousands of Bishy Barnabees (ladybirds) and a handful of wasps.  There have also been a number of Odonata, such as Small Red-eyed Damselfly, Emperor Dragonfly and Banded Demoiselle.
Small Red-eyed Damselfly (Sarah Johnson)

We began the week with round three of our seine netting sessions - the last for this year.  Species caught included Sea Bass, Herring, Shrimps, Plaice, Flounder, Pipefish and Sea Scorpion - the last two being the first of each species we've caught.
Former Seasonal Wardens Joe Cockram and Richard Berridge 

Recording the catch...

...involves lots of notetaking 

Different shrimp species 

Sea Bass

In seal news: We sent a 14kg weak, abandoned Grey Seal pup to the RSPCA East Winch back in January. We have just heard back that it was released at Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire on the 8th of July, weighing a healthy 43.5kg. Big thanks to the team at East Winch for doing a great job to help a Blakeney-born seal.

With the beautiful weather this weekend it has been great to see so many people out enjoying the Point, but please be aware if you are planning a trip that dogs are still not allowed on the Point except for limited areas around the Lifeboat House on a lead, and within the first 1/4 mile or so from the NWT Cley car park.  This will change mid-August.  Fenced off areas may look empty but still have young birds in them and act as a refuge before they are fully-fledged, so please respect the fencelines.

And finally, here's a racing pigeon with an identity crisis

-Paul and Sarah

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.