Sunday, 4 October 2015

4th of October: What a load of rubbish

Following our Blakeney Point beach clean in September, local artist Hugh Pilkington has been busily sorting through all 42 bags of rubbish. Here is the three miles worth of litter laid out...
 Thank you to all who helped us clear this rubbish off the beach

We eagerly wait for the final art project to emerge from this impressive collection of litter. It is an interesting representation of how much rubbish has built up over a six-month period. On a related note, volunteer Richard Porter has been collecting discarded fishing tackle on the Point - this is how much he has picked up in the last two years...

Fishing tackle is bad news for seabirds and marine wildlife, from swallowing hooks to getting caught in netting. Every year we see seals caught in netting, and occasionally we are able to successfully free them. In seal news, our latest low tide count recorded a total of 108 Common and 306 Grey on Tuesday (the 29th of September). In other mammalian news, a Harvest Mouse was spotted near the Long Hills on the same day.

This week has certainly not been without its migrant bird sightings. As ducks and geese continue to increase in the harbour, thrushes and warblers are also on the move. Highlights have included three Hen Harriers, a male Stonechat and the first Redwing and Ring Ouzel of the autumn on Monday (28th), a Red-breasted Flycatcher on Tuesday (29th), an Osprey and the first Robins of the autumn on Wednesday (30th), a Jack Snipe on Thursday (1st of October), a male Eider on Friday (2nd), a Little Bunting on Saturday (3rd) plus numerous Yellow-browed Warblers throughout the week.
 Red-breasted Flycatcher (Richard Porter)

 Yellow-browed Warbler in the Plantation (Richard Porter)

The end of September saw the end of the season for Seasonal Assistant Rangers Josh, Sarah and Paul. A big thank you to them for their hard work throughout the season. Their last week was pleasant and sunny, with some big spring tides, as captured in this short film...

I am on leave for much of October, but will be blogging again at the end of the month. By then, we could well be celebrating the first Grey Seal pup of winter 2015/16 (historically, the first pup has been born on the Point between the 26th of October and 1st of November). Always about a month ahead, due to their position further north, our friends the Farnes Islands had their first pup last week.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

27th of September: Blakeney bird seed

This year has been the best ever in recent years for Yellow Horned-poppy on Blakeney Point. Parts of the shingle ridge were like a forest of them. Over the past week the seeds have proved popular for Linnets (peak count of 120) and a few Goldfinches...
Goldfinches feeding on Yellow horned-poppy (Richard Porter)

The early part of the week was dominated by winds from the north and west, producing a smattering of passerine arrivals on the Point. Highlights were the first Lapland Bunting of autumn and the first Rock Pipits - on the 22nd. The 23rd saw three Goldcrests at various places, while north-easterly winds on the 26th produced an impressive movement of 29 Common Buzzards soaring high and west over the harbour, accompanied by two Honey Buzzards. Also on the 26th, an obliging Leach's Storm Petrel was seen flying west, close inshore...
Leach's Storm Petrel (Richard Porter)

Winter raptors are now a daily sighting and both Peregrines and Merlins can pop up anywhere along the Point.

Autumnal fungi are beginning to reveal themselves amongst the dunes, the most noticeable being the Dune Stinkhorn and the bright red Waxcaps...
 Dune Waxcap

 Dune Stinkhorn

Tonight's supermoon and lunar eclipse are being seen by some as a sign that the end of the world is nigh. However, the ranger team here is highly dubious and we are sure we will be posting another blog next week!

On the theme of the moon, we captured this footage of it from the Point yesterday evening... 

It has been a lovely, sunny weekend here in North Norfolk, but at the same time autumn is evident. We are now seeing skeins of Pink-footed Geese overhead. It is undoubtedly another wonderful time of the year.
- Paul and Ajay

Sunday, 20 September 2015

20th of September: Branded in Germany

Back in August, Beans Boat Trips noticed a branded Common Seal hauled out on Blakeney Point. With some help from the Sea Mammal Research Unit, it was finally traced. Named Yvonne, she was taken in by a German seal rescue centre at the age of three months in June 1995. She was released in September that year (20 years ago), having tripled in weight. Note that branding ceased in 1998, they are now fitted with tags on their back flippers instead.
Yvonne on Blakeney Point (Jason Bean)

The seal ferry trips run by Beans and Temples are the perfect way to enjoy watching seals in their natural environment.

We conducted our latest low tide seal count on Tuesday (15th), recording 766 Grey and 157 Common. It is normal to see a decrease in Common numbers and increase in Greys at this time of year.

This summer we recorded a peak count of 431 Common Seals (on the 17th of August), which is actually the highest count since August 2011 and the first time our low tide count of Commons has exceeded Greys in as many years. When the National Trust first began fortnightly counts in 2005, there were far less Greys - the graph below shows how the annual average number of seals has changed in 11 years of monitoring.
This graph was produced by from data collected by the National Trust
(c) National Trust

This week has been one of great transition in terms of migrant birds. We have seen an overlap of birds arriving and departing. It has been nice to see and hear several Sandwich Terns on passage, on their way to West Africa - in amongst them have been the occasional Common and Black Tern. Dozens of Swallows have also been seen on passage, along with a couple of House Martins. We have also seen an increase in wintering wildfowl, with Monday's monthly wetland bird count recording numerous Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and Brent Geese. On Thursday (17th) 38 Pintail were seen arriving and the first Goldcrest of the autumn was heard.

The migrant bird highlight of the week, however, was undoubtedly this juvenile Red-backed Shrike, that spent two days feeding on moths and bees in the garden.
Juvenile Red-backed Shrike eating bee (Richard Porter)

Footage of the shrike, plus a Lesser Whitethroat in the Lifeboat House

Yesterday we held our annual litterpick on the Point for the Marine Conservation Society's Great British Beach Clean. The weather held out and we were joined by 28 willing helpers, enabling three miles of beach to be cleaned, resulting in 42 bin bags full of rubbish. People came from Blakeney, Holt, Norwich, Sandringham and as far away as Bedford, Leicester and even Yorkshire. A big thank you to all who helped. Our next beach clean will be in late March ahead of next year's breeding bird season.

A good morning's work

 Wigeon and Teal aren't the only ducks arriving on our shores!
- Ajay

Sunday, 13 September 2015

13th of September: Ortolan Bunting

This week has produced a nice selection of rare birds on Blakeney Point, thanks to easterly winds. The highlight was undoubtedly an Ortolan Bunting. Once one of the Point's "signature species", they are now barely annual.
Ortolan Bunting on Blakeney Point (Richard Porter)

We were also treated to an early Yellow-browed Warbler, which was filmed contentedly feeding in the Plantation.
Yellow-browed Warbler in the Plantation (Paul Nichols)

Other birds seen on the Point this week included Short-eared Owl, Black Tern, Siskin, Wryneck, several Whinchats, Wheatears, Redstarts, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Willow Warblers and a Tree Pipit. The first Song Thrush of the autumn appeared in the Plantation on Wednesday (9th). Friday (11th) produced two Firecrests - a rarity on the Point.

There is still a fair bit of saltwater left in Great Sandy Low, which has supported a Spotted Redshank for several days, with a Greenshank also seen there and even a young Fulmar, which sadly died.

The latest low tide seal count was conducted on Thursday (10th), recording 523 Grey and 245 Common on the West Sands. This included approximately 30 juvenile Common Seals, born this summer - a healthy number.
One of this year's young Common Seals

On Saturday (19th), we are hosting a beach clean for the Marine Conservation Society's Great British Beach Clean. Please come along and help us keep Blakeney Point beautiful. We are meeting at 10am - please bring sturdy gloves, we will supply litterpickers and bin bags.

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)

Sunday, 6 September 2015

6th of September: High tide at the seaside

The start of the week saw some very high tides hitting the Point changing the character of the place considerably.  Erosion on Far Point was noticeable with the embryo dunes being undercut and washed away, while low-lying areas were filled with water creating a series of inland lakes.  The water came right up to the steps of the Lifeboat House which meant we were treated to waders feeding literally on our doorstep.  If you haven't already watched it, there is a great video by Ajay:

High tide near the steps to the Lifeboat House (Sarah Johnson)

Bird highlights for the week included two Barred Warblers and a Spotted Redshank on Monday 31st August, with the latter still present on Friday 4th September.  The first day of September saw the arrival of two juvenile Red-backed Shrikes - one at the Watch House and one at the Hood.  Once a common breeding species in Norfolk, these birds are now sadly only seen on migration.  On Wednesday 2nd September, a Honey Buzzard was seen being mobbed by a Common Buzzard, and another small hatch of flying ants produced three Hobbies - two adults and one juvenile - anting above the Plantation.  Watching them closely you could actually see the Hobbies snipping the wings off the ants before eating the body.  Saturday 5th September brought strong northerly winds, which created an ideal opportunity for some sea-watching, the highlights of which were four species of shearwater: Cory's, Manx, Balearic and Sooty; and three species of skua: Arctic, Great and Long-tailed.
 Long-tailed Skua (Richard Porter)

Saturday was also the date of the Blakeney National Nature Reserve Bioblitz, part of the Neptune Campaign.  This saw many experts from Norfolk and beyond descending on Salthouse, Blakeney Freshes, Friary Hills, Stiffkey, Morston and Blakeney Point to record as many species as they could find in one day.  Species recorded ranged from the tiniest insects to mature trees, taking in birds, mammals, lichens, fungi and much else besides.  The total number of species recorded so far is a whopping 655 individual species from 1537 individual records! There are still many more records to be verified by the experts before we can add them, so we expect this number to go up in the coming days   A big thank you to all the experts that came and gave their time and knowledge for free.
And to finish with, here is the week's most unexpected tide-line treasure:


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.


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.

 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