Sunday, 19 June 2016

19th of June: More chicks hatching

This week has been quite unsettled weather-wise; with warm, sunny spells and heavy rain showers. Lightning hit Blakeney Point/Harbour no less than three times! In spite of this, more chicks have been hatching.

Storm over Blakeney, seen from Friary Hills (A. Green)

Numerous broods of Shelduck have been seen in the harbour as well as young Avocets in the Old Glaven Channel near Cley. More Redshank and Oystercatcher chicks have been hatching, as well as more Black-headed Gulls.
Newly-hatched Oystercatchers (A. Tegala)

Please help these fragile young chicks by obeying our on-site dog signs; keeping out of the restricted sanctuary areas and ensuring dogs are kept on leads elsewhere on the reserve. These small steps can make a big difference for our special birds.

On Thursday (16th), the first Common Tern chicks of the season were seen; two very young chicks on the very tip of Far Point. This is four days later than the first chicks of 2015:
Very young Common Terns on Far Point (A. Tegala)

All four tern species are nesting on the very end of the Point, and are visible from the seal ferries, along with a good show of Common Seals, interspersed with a few Greys. On Far Point, there are now well over 300 Sandwich Tern pairs nesting, alongside 100 pairs of Common Terns, 28 pairs of Little Terns and 2-3 pairs of Arctic Terns. There are not many places where you can see these four tern species nesting side-by-side.

Other, non-breeding, birds seen this week included several Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler in the bushes, a Spoonbill in Pinchen’s Creek, two Great Crested Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, a lone Brent goose, a Whimbrel and up to 300 Knot in the harbour plus a Buzzard flying high overhead.

This week, we also continued our Little Tern prey sampling with ECON Ecology. Species added to the list included Garfish and Dab in the sea, along with several Weavers and squid plus the usual shrimps (four different species), Flounders and Shore Crabs in the harbour. The favoured Little Tern prey species, Herring and Sand Eel, were in plentiful supply. Big thanks to the UCL and our faithful volunteers for help hauling in the nets.
(Pictures to follow)

Moths caught last night included Marbled Coronet, Tawny Shears, Nutmeg and Uncertain.

We hope the coming week will bring more chicks... but less lightning!

- Ajay, Ranger

Sunday, 12 June 2016

12th of June: Lizzie and the Little Terns

This week, we have had Lizzie Hibberd, a student from the University of Southampton, staying with us in the Lifeboat House. She has been carrying out research on Little Terns for her dissertation next academic year. She has written a short piece explaining her research and what she has been up to this week…

"I have been observing the Little Terns around Blakeney Point, focusing on their foraging behaviour, particularly mapping where different groups are foraging and what they are eating. I have been spending eight hours a day watching the birds and have seen some fascinating courtship behaviour over the week. It all looked pretty worrying at the start of the week as the terns had not settled anywhere on the Point, except from a few scrapes on Far Point. This is strange because most years by now there would be many more pairs well into the incubation stage of breeding season.

Little Terns in flight

I believe that the relatively cold weather we had over the last two weeks, with the northerly winds, are to blame for the late nesting of the birds. With no obvious colony position to study, I spent my first few days based at different spots around the Point trying to suss out where all the birds were feeding and if any looked to be settling down. By the second half of my week, I had found a group of birds were reliably returning day on day down near the Watch House; so I decided to stick with them. 

Observing the terns

Over the last few days I have been monitoring their feeding activity and have found that feeding appears to be very dependent on the tides. The birds down at the Watch House colony are feeding both out to sea and in the harbour. The feeding intensity out to sea increased when the sea state improved, owing to the wind direction change we had from northerly to south westerly in the last few days. The terns, which feed predominantly on small fish, need good water visibility for successful diving and so low wind speeds are great for feeding offshore. The harbour is a great alternative due to its sheltered nature, which means the birds can feed there regardless of the weather and still appear to be finding and catching lots of fish! Yesterday morning, when I was out for my last observation session this week, I noticed that at least five pairs appeared to be going down and sitting on scrapes in the shingle, this is fabulous news for me because hopefully it means that there will be some eggs being laid over the next few days.

For the next part of my research project, I will be based down in the Solent near Southampton where I am studying another colony of Little Terns. My project is comparing the colonies to see whether inshore vs. offshore feeding patterns are consistent in two locations in the country. I will be back to Blakeney Point in just over a week to continue observations there again. Hopefully there will be lots of pairs incubating eggs by then and I can see whether feeding habits change during different stages of the breeding season.

I thought it would be great to show you all this scene I witnessed yesterday - and caught on camera - of a pair of Little Terns. The male (left) is waggling a fish for the female, this is a common sight during courtship as the males try to win the attention of females for mating. The female on this occasion doesn't look overly impressed!"

In other news, if you missed Ajay on Springwatch Unsprung, you can watch it here.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

5th of June: Chicks hatching

The beginning of June has been marked with the arrival of the first chicks of the year on Blakeney Point. We have already seen the first Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Meadow Pipit and Reed Bunting chicks and we have now recorded our first Redshank, Oystercatcher and Black-headed Gull chicks too.

Oystercatcher chicks seen in the nest (Wynona Legg)

To raise the cute factor even further we have seen our first Shelduck goslings. They hatch in the burrow and head straight to sea once they are fledged. You often see ducklings more frequently out in nursery crèches in the open water then on the ground, so it was great to witness these 11 ducklings being led off Near Point into the harbour by their parents.
 Shelduck ducklings being led off Near Point yesterday (Daniel Wynn)

In the coming weeks, we can expect to see increasing wader numbers and we have already witnessed this change with flocks of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit recorded off the Point. A late night walk along the marsh edge this evening revealed an exciting find, a pair of Tufted Duck, a rather erratic and uncommon visitor to us out here on the Point.
Tufted Duck pair seen in Pinchen’s Creek (Daniel Wynn)

This week, we have witnessed some notable arrivals including our first sightings of a Red-Backed Shrike and Common Crossbill. We have also regularly seen Spotted Flycatchers, Black Redstart, Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Common Redpoll and a few Wheatears. There’s still time for those late ‘mega’ arrivals and we all have our eyes open and fingers crossed…
Common Crossbill in Plantation (Richard Porter)

During this week a few sunny days has seen some dramatic blooms in invertebrate life including over 50 Common Blues at the Cley End and 74 Painted Lady’s across the Point. The first Cinnabar moth of the season was recorded too.

Our seal news for this week is a total of 260 Grey seals and 98 Common Seals hauled out on the West Sands recorded on Friday (3rd June). An obliging Common Seal pup is being seen regularly on the tip of the Point from the seal ferry trips.
Common Seal pup (Ajay Tegala)
Daniel Wynn,
Seasonal Assistant Ranger

Sunday, 29 May 2016

29th of May: Blooming marvellous

In the run up to June and with all this warm sun, the flowering plants are beginning to carpet the dunes in colour. With many early plants like the Common Stork's-bill Erodium cicutarium, which has been flowering since April, already coming into seed, we are seeing new plants emerging every day. If you have been out walking the shingle ridge this month you would have seen the monstrous Sea Kale Crambe maritima in full bloom and the first of the Yellow Horned-poppy’s Glaucium flavum, which have thrown out their vibrant yellow flowers from prickly blue-green capsules. On the Point, the Common Cat’s-ear Hypochoeris radicata and Mouse-ear Hawkweed Pilosella officinarum are laying down a carpet of yellow over the dunes and Thrift Armeria maritima has been covering vast stretches of Great Sandy low in a cloud of pink. If you are on the Point next month you will see the Sea-lavender begin to flower, but with four species; Common, Rock, Matted and Lax-flowered on the Point, you will have to look a little closer to tell them apart.

 Sea Kale (Wynona Legg)

Yellow Horned-poppy (Wynona Legg)

With the emerging flowers comes bustling insects ready to take full advantage of their sweet nectar and rich pollen. We are seeing good numbers of common blue butterflies along the shingle ridge and small copper flitting among the sheep sorrel in the dune among other travellers coming in off the sea. An abundance of caterpillars can be seen at this time including the moth of the Garden Tiger Arctia caja, sometimes known as ‘the woolly bear’ due to its dense long hairs...
We have our first tern nests of the year confirmed this week. With 29 Common Tern and 7 Little Tern nests it is a good start to the year for them and in the next few weeks we hope to see the numbers of pairs grow. With trail cams recording sections of the shingle beach, we hope to get some footage of settling pairs next to their ceramic decoy neighbours, which have been up since April.
Common Tern (Dan Wynn)

In seal news, we have had our first healthy Common Seal pup, which was found on the Point today with mum keeping a close watch.

Those recent strong winds and turbulent tides have scoured out some of the shingle on a small section of the upper beach, leaving a steep shelf. You can see the layers of deposited sand and shingle which have formed the beach over time and the incredibly long roots of some of the dune plants which have been exposed.
The long roots of Sea Sanwort (Wynona Legg)

Seasonal Assistant Ranger