Tuesday, 21 November 2017

21st of November: Pup numbers double in one week

Seven days after our last Grey Seal count, pup numbers have more than doubled: with 816 born in the last week, there have now been 1,546 pup births. Today's count also recorded 706 bulls and 1,849 cows. That's a total of over 4,000 seals currently on Blakeney Point...

                     Bulls   Cows   Pups

     Zone 1      272      575      653
     Zone 2      149      559      361
     Zone 3      205      484      339
     Zone 4        57      226      192
     Zone 7        22          5          0
     Zone 8          1          0          0
     Total         706    1849    1546

The data shows that seals are spreading further east, having crept into zones 7 and 8 since last week's count. See map below.
Zone 1: Beach west of Gap [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 2: Far/Middle/Near Point and Stanley's Cockle Bight [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 3: Beach between Gap and Long Hills [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 4: Yellow dunes, Great Sandy Low and Beach Way [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 5: Grey dunes and Landing Ridge
Zone 6: Long Hills and Yankee Ridge
Zone 7: Beach east of Long Hills
Zone 8: Ridge east of Long Hills including the Hood

Bull following a fight (Carl Brooker)

Pup about to suckle from its mother (Carl Brooker)

Snoozing pup (Carl Brooker)

The very early pups, born in October, have now moulted and will soon be starting to disperse. Pups are fed on their mothers rich milk for up to three weeks before being left entirely to their own devices. Most weaned pups tend to laze around on the Point for a couple of weeks, before their instincts lead them to the sea to begin fishing for themselves.

Moulting pup (Ajay Tegala)

Moulted pup (Ajay Tegala)

- Ajay, Ranger

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

14th of November: 700 pups and a Heinkel

Today's seal count recorded 722 Grey Seal pups, particularly high for mid-November. Over the last week, the beach has got a lot busier, with 1093 adult Grey Seals (plus 7 Common Seals) alongside the pups.

  Bulls   Cows   Pups
Zone 1
151 296 376
Zone 2
89 200 176
Zone 3
147 167 147
Zone 4
16 28 23
403 691 722

Dreaming of fish! (Ajay Tegala) 

Newborn pup (Ajay Tegala) 

Snoozing pup (Ajay Tegala) 

Young pup (Ajay Tegala)

Over the last couple of days, a number of pups have been born in the flat area near our mobile hide, allowing walkers decent views...

The best way to see the pups, however, is definitely on a boat trip that go to the end of the Point where there are now several obliging pups. 

As a consequence of tidal erosion to the foreshore near the Long Hills, the remains of an old military aircraft have been unearthed from under the shingle...

We strongly suspect that it is part of the Heinkel that crash landed on the Point in 1940...

Erosion to the beach near the Long Hills...

- Ajay (Ranger)

Sunday, 5 November 2017

5th of November: Over Eighty

Today's Grey Seal pup count takes the running total to over 80 births so far this autumn. Alongside two juvenile Common Seals, a total of 597 adult Grey and 84 pups were recorded on Blakeney Point this afternoon.

  Bulls   Cows   Pups
Zone 1 100 228 55
Zone 2 49 50 19
Zone 3 94 73 10
Zone 4 3 0 0
Total: 246 351 84

When conducting pup counts, we divide the Point into eight zones, as listed below.

Zone 1: Beach west of Gap [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 2: Far/Middle/Near Point and Stanley's Cockle Bight [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 3: Beach between Gap and Long Hills [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 4: Yellow dunes, Great Sandy Low and Beach Way [no access 25th Oct - 25th Jan]
Zone 5: Grey dunes and Landing Ridge
Zone 6: Long Hills and Yankee Ridge
Zone 7: Beach east of Long Hills
Zone 8: Ridge east of Long Hills including the Hood

Map showing Blakeney Point pup count zones - click to enlarge

It is only in the last five years that the rookery has spread beyond zones 1 and 2, into 3 and 4, and only in the last two years that pups have been born in zones 6, 7 and 8. Funnily enough, the first Grey Seal pups ever born on the Point (in autumn 1988) were on the Landing Ridge, in zone 5, as were the sporadic pups born in the early/mid 1990s. By the late 1990s, pups were regularly being born in zone 1, forming a rookery at the very start of the 21st century.

One of the younger pups (Ajay Tegala)

One of the slightly older pups (Ajay Tegala)

Please remember that the best way to see the seals and their pups is on the ferry trips that go out of Morston Quay. To avoid disturbance and potential pup deaths, please stay out of fenced areas and keep dogs on short leads at all times.

- Ajay, Ranger

Thursday, 2 November 2017

2nd of November: Spreading seals

The Grey Seal rookery on Blakeney Point continues to spread eastwards along the beach. Today's count took the total pup births to 17. Adults are now starting to move into the dunes and salt marsh. Over the next two weeks, pup numbers will explode. Watch this space for updates.

Grey Seals on the beach this afternoon (Ajay Tegala)

Please do head over to our web-site for more information and a guide to responsible viewing.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

31st of October: Double figures

One week after the first Grey Seal pup of the autumn was born, we were out on Blakeney Point this morning, where a few more have been born.

Grey Seals on the beach this morning (Ajay Tegala)

Today, we reached double figures: there have been a total of 10 seal pup births on the Point in October, six of which were born since Friday.

Please note that these pups are only visible by boat at this time. Ferry trips run most days from Morston Quay, run by Temples and Beans.

One of this week's newborn pups (Ajay Tegala)

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

24th of October: A tale of two pups

You can read the Eastern Daily Press' article on yesterday's seal pup birth by following this link.

Around midday today, we were out on the Point putting up the protective fences and stumbled upon another surprise. Yesterday's pup was doing well... and just a few metres from it was a second, smaller pup - born earlier today.
Pup no. 2 is in the centre, camouflaged by wind-blown sand
(click on photograph to enlarge)

Until this year, the first pup has always been born between 26th October and 1st November. So, to have not one, but two pups, by the 24th October is unusual. These may be inexperienced mothers pupping for the first time, outside of the main period. The main pupping season will kick off over the coming week to ten days. Please obey the access restrictions and remember that the best way to see the pups is by the ferry trips that go from Morston Quay.

-Ajay, Ranger

Monday, 23 October 2017

23rd of October: Blubber on the beach

This morning, whilst surveying the western end of Blakeney Point for the monthly Wetland Bird Survey, I was surprised and delighted to spot the first Grey Seal pup of the autumn...

I photographed it through my telescope, to prevent getting too close and causing unnecessary disturbance.

Over the last few year's, the first pup has usually been born between 30th October and 1st November. Until today, the earliest first pup was on 26th October. The pup looked healthy and well, it is the first of 2000+ we are expecting over the next 10 weeks or so. The rookery is already made up of 194 adult Grey Seals hauled out on the beach - along with a lone Common Seal looking slightly out of place!

Here is how you can safely enjoy seeing the seal pups without disturbing them:

The best and recommended way to see the seal pups is by boat from Morston Quay. The pupping area is fenced off with no access for visitors giving the seals space to give birth and to raise their pups. It is possible to walk but with an arduous six mile round trip on loose shingle with no facilities, it is not recommended. Beans Boat Trips and Temples Seal Trips both run seal trips during the pupping season departing from Morston Quay. These are popular so please contact the providers in advance for times and bookings.

Always keep your distance from any seals you may come across. Please do not try to take your photo with any seals as mothers are protective and males are very territorial which could result in serious injury to you or the death of a pup.

If you do decide to visit on foot then the team would prefer dogs to be left at home but if you wish to bring them then please keep them on a short lead at all times.

Please respect fence lines and any advice given to you by National Trust.

Other sightings on Blakeney Point this morning were two Merlins together over Beach Way. A Peregrine has also been seen regularly over the previous week.

The sands north of the Point are ever-changing. Over the past few years, the harbour entrance has moved several metres eastwards and is now the other side of the Hjordis wreck.
(Click photograph to enlarge)

The Blakeney Harbour Association have been busy moving the channel marker buoys to enable safe nautical navigation.

Finally, Ranger Carl and I would like to thank all who came on our sell-out autumn wildfowl walk on Saturday. Despite 'Storm Brian', we were treated to fantastic Marsh Harrier displays, a flock of several hundred Golden Plover above Blakeney Harbour and skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying over Blakeney Freshes to roost at neighbouring Cley Marshes.

Ajay Tegala,

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Autumn wildlife update from Blakeney

Autumn is a time of transition on the reserve. With several of our breeding birds migrating south, we review the season. We also celebrate the arrival of our over-wintering wildfowl and prepare for the upcoming Grey Seal pupping season.

Summary of the 2017 breeding bird season
The breeding Marsh Harrier population on Blakeney Freshes is stable. The same number – three females and two males – have bred for at least the last ten years. As usual, they managed to fledge young; two broods. The usual pair of Barn Owls nested in the box near Marsh Lane, fledging two young. Avocet numbers are stable across the reserve, with a minimum 38 pairs nesting. For a third year, Little Ringed Plovers bred successfully on Blakeney Freshes. Following two years of suspected, but unproven, breeding, Water Rail breeding was confirmed, with two young observed on Blakeney Freshes: the first sighting of young on the reserve since 2002.

On Blakeney Point, a record 11 Grey Partridge pairs bred. These gamebirds are the only species resident on the Point throughout the entire year. Family groups are a frequent sight in the sand dunes throughout the winter.

Little Terns nested at four sites on Blakeney Point. Unlike in 2016, the majority did not nest on the tip of Far Point, this year favouring the Watch House colony. A mixture of good weather, good feeding and low disturbance – aided by volunteer presence – led to high productivity at the Watch House colony. The Point’s nesting Little Terns, as a whole population, fledged 56 young from 65 pairs; the most fledged since 2011 and highest overall productivity since 1999.
Little Tern fledgling (Richard Porter)

The National Trust team would like to sincerely thank the residents of Blakeney, Cley, and further afield, including the many visitors – some of whom come specifically to see terns (and seals) in the unique setting of Blakeney National Nature Reserve – for their co-operation and support this summer and in the future.

Low tide seal counts
This summer’s low tide counts showed that the number of seals hauling out on Stiffkey West Sands is stable for both species.
Grey Seal
Common Seal

2017 summer (Mar-Sep) average:



Ten-year summer average:



Annual mean Common Seal numbers were fractionally above the ten-year summer average, whilst Grey Seals numbers were slightly below.

Breeding Grey Seals
From this Wednesday (25th October) the Grey Seal rookery area on Blakeney Point will be fenced off ready for the imminent pupping season. As usual, there will be no access to the westerly mile-and-a-half of beach and northern parts of the dunes. We would like to thank you in advance for staying out of the restricted areas and ensuring all dogs are on short leads, for the safety of visitors and dogs as well as vulnerable seals. We will have volunteers on site at peak times and will keep the blog updated with pup counts throughout November, December and into January.

Bird migration
September migrant bird highlights on Blakeney Point included: juvenile Montagu’s Harrier on 3rd; Long-tailed Skua on 14th; Barred Warbler on 15th; Wryneck on 16th; Red-breasted Flycatcher on 18th – 19th; Yellow-browed Warbler 18th – 19th. The rarest bird seen on Blakeney Point probably all year was a Tawny Owl, on 15th September. This is only the second ever record for this usually sedentary species. As of mid-October, a Peregrine appears to have taken up a winter residence on the Point.

Other wildlife
Weekly butterfly transects were conducted on Blakeney Point for a tenth year and on Blakeney Freshes and Friary Hills for a third year. The most frequently recorded butterflies on the former were Small Copper and Meadow Brown on the latter. A total 15 species were recorded on the Point and 17 on the Freshes and Friary Hills. On 18th June, a peak of 14 Dark Green Fritillary Butterflies was recorded. Early October saw several dozen Red Admiral butterflies across the reserve. On 21st and 22nd of July, a bat detector – loaned from the Norfolk Bat Project – recorded nine species over Blakeney Freshes, the most common being Noctule, Common and Soprano Pipistrelle.

Reserve management
Our winter work on Blakeney Point is centred on monitoring and protecting the Grey Seal rookery, with support from our dedicated volunteers. On Blakeney Freshes, we will be conducting our annual ditch-clearance works. This involves clearing the vegetation out of ditches on a five-year rotation, prevent them from becoming too clogged up and affecting water flow through the site, but also preventing loss of habitat for aquatic species as the clearance is spread over a number of years, rather than all at once. Other winter work on the reserve involves counting Pink-footed and Brent Geese, as part of a national census, to monitor their populations.

Ajay Tegala,

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Late summer updates and musings

Living on Blakeney Point offers a great opportunity to study the movement of bird life, and the reserve is famous as a stop-off point for birds moving to their breeding grounds/wintering areas in spring and autumn. Earlier in the summer we saw a small influx of waders, including bar-tailed godwit and turnstone. These birds are likely to be failed-breeders, cutting their losses in the Arctic to get a head-start and exploit the relatively uncrowded feeding sites here. Curlew returned in respectable numbers, though their journey was presumably less arduous as they had less ground to cover. These birds breed across the UK (excluding most southerly locations) and their call has become synonymous with desolate moors and upland areas. Now we are privileged to hear them through the night and it’s really a lovely sound – a soothing counter-melody to the staccato harshness of the pied pipers of Blakeney Point.

Roosting turnstones in Blakeney Harbour: Richard Porter

  As the weeks pass by, more and more wading birds are starting to arrive. One of the curious things you have to learn as a budding bird-watcher is that the avian calendar is not strictly aligned with our own. By now, most species have bred or are expending their final efforts to successfully rear young (hopefully). Already there is a slight feeling of restlessness in the air, and avian autumn is within touching distance. Here, the passage of time and birds has been marked with the arrival of large numbers of whimbrel, and smaller numbers of sub-arctic breeding species such as greenshank and green sandpiper (an arboreal nester that lays its eggs in the old nests of other species).   

Birds that have been breeding locally are starting to band together, too. Their territorial streaks tamed by the waning of their reproductive cycles, the same grey partridge that were so secretive earlier in the year have now decided to expand their social circles in a bid to increase their stakes in the survival lottery. One of the highlights of my season so far began to unfold as I was lying in bed one night, reading a book. My head is on the pillow, right next to the window, and I hear a loud, slightly-unnerving sound that is simultaneously grating and keening. It betrays the vocalist as a wretched creature in distress. The noise is so loud and close it almost seems like it’s coming from inside my room. Curiosity piqued, I open my window wide and peer beneath the ledge before searching the immediate vicinity, half-expecting to see a young raptor on the floor. I see nothing, which gives the situation a new degree of strangeness. I can’t let it lie, so I leave the house by the back door and step into the night. I start to round the house and approach the little patch of ground that sits in front of my bedroom window, and there I see it - a grey partridge in the half-light, its rear side shrouded by the darkness, its head and breast illuminated by the full moon to which it seemingly calls, head held skywards like a corncrake. I was very close but it was uncharacteristically unperturbed, preoccupied with the task at hand. It would have made a great painting. I would have called it “partridge moon”. Alas, those days of solo crooning are gone, and these days I’m much more likely to stumble across a group of 10 birds in the dunes. They aren’t the only birds banding together. In a premature nod to the winter, linnets are roaming in ever-increasing flocks and a modestly-sized group of starlings can be seen patrolling the reserve. 

Living here, you have the luxury of being laid bare to the finer points of bird behaviour. We only have to open the front door of the big blue lifeboat house to be witness to amazing things. Sometimes, after our brains have been exposed to an hour of TV-watching in the evening, we almost forget where we are and after rising from the sofa, stretching and turning around to face the window, are hit with a renewed appreciation of how lucky we are to be living in such an amazing place. Several times this week we have watched hundreds of black-headed gulls take to the wing and indulge in an aerial feeding frenzy, plucking flying insects from the air in a slightly clumsy imitation of­­ a hirundine or swift. 

This week I have been employing commando tactics in an effort to get better views of the waders that frequent the creeks off yankee ridge. Leaving the house at the evening low-tide, I’ve been approaching the ridge from beach way and keeping a low-profile until I reach the wreck of the yankee. I will admit, with no small embarrassment, that from there I have sometimes crawled on all fours and occasionally made use of a sideward roll (cringe) in order to reach a patch of suaeda that provides the dual benefit of being an excellent vantage point and concealing my presence. I sincerely hope that no-one saw me from across the harbour in Blakeney or Morston - pride is a delicate thing. Luckily my antics payed off and I got an excellent chance to study four greenshank feeding in the creek. It’s nice to slow down sometimes, just taking the time to observe a single species in a bit more depth than usual, and I enjoyed watching these birds for an hour as they pursued small fry on the ebbing tide.  

Breeding terns

I’m pleased to be able to say that the little terns are doing really well this year. Estimates are purposefully kept conservative and are subject to change, but we can divulge that the number of fledglings has so far surpassed that of many previous years, even when considering the lower-margin of the estimates. All signs point to a “bumper year” and for the colony at the “watch house” this is certainly one of the best seasons in recent memory.

Notorious for their habit of nesting in loose colonies within touching distance of the high-tide mark on shingle beaches that are also valued by recreationists, these little birds need every help they can get. Luckily, there are some fantastic volunteers here at Blakeney Point, who selflessly and enthusiastically give up their spare time to help protect a much-loved and iconic part of our wildlife. For this bird, every colony in the UK is massively important – their status as a breeding bird in this country is precarious and their fate would be a lot worse if it wasn’t for the efforts of the volunteers. On the outside, their job is to see that the colony is not disturbed or threatened by external forces, but they are also making a huge contribution to our knowledge of this species in Norfolk (particularly this colony) through their observations and counts. For my part, watching the birds work together to see off a threat as if they were one giant organism with a hive-mind has been another highlight. 

Little tern fledgling: Richard Porter

An extra bonus has been the confirmation that arctic terns have nested on the tip of far point, and are currently raising chicks. These birds have historically nested here in small numbers, but it’s always encouraging to see them in the breeding season because they are on the southerly edge of their range here. A famous wanderer from pole to pole, they really bring home the fact that birds do not adhere to national boundaries and the conservation efforts geared towards many of our species have to be considered with respect to wider geographical areas.

Arctic tern with chick: Richard Porter

We’ve had several interesting sightings recently, including a red-throated diver at sea in breeding plumage (15th and 31st July). This is another bird that breeds in more northerly latitudes, and is most often seen in its winter plumage, which is much more drab. Arctic and great skuas have been spotted drifting down the coast on numerous occasions in mid-July, and a sooty shearwater was seen far out to sea during the strong onshore winds of the 12th of July. Along with red admirals, painted ladies, and confiding gatekeeper butterflies, the point was also host to some dark green fritillaries in late June, as photographed by local wildlife expert Richard Porter.

Dark green fritillary nectaring on bramble: Richard Porter

 Things are set to get really interesting soon, as the passage proper of birds through the point is on the horizon. We’re really excited to see what might stop by, and will of course keep you posted! 

Thanks for reading,
Luke (Seasonal Assistant Ranger)

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

News from Blakeney Point creche

The bird breeding season has been well underway for several weeks now, with an increasing plethora or fluffy chicks running this way and that across the reserve. Among the new arrivals are shelduck-lings, to be seen at dusk trooping in a line across mudflat at low tide, adult shelduck at either end keeping watch. It often seems their on their way for swimming lessons. The oystercatchers have been busy too, usually hatching about 3 grey and white chicks which attract the attention of patrolling gulls. Rangers on duty meeting visitors on the main beach and up towards Far Point are often to be seen waving their arms and jumping up and down to alert the adults to overhead threats.

The insect world has come to the fore too, perhaps partly due to the ridiculously hot weather. There has been a good hatch of dark green fritillaries, often to be seen nectaring on the sea lavender among the dunes, and yesterday (26 June) saw this year's first sighting of a grayling. Other fascinating sightings include an emperor dragonfly, brown argus, small tortoiseshell and common blue butterflies, with moths represented by yellow belle, mother shipton, eyed hawkmoth, marbled coronet and white colon.

The standout sighting of the week though has to be a stone curlew, a rare visitor to the reserve, spotted nestling among shingle and sueda on the main beach running up from Cley car park.