Sunday, 24 July 2016

24th of July: Lots of butterflies

This week has been a good one for butterflies, with an increase in both number and species being seen daily. We have been seeing dozens of Grayling in the dunes and on the sun-warmed shingle. In flight, a flash of marbled orange will give them away but once settled, grayling tuck their fore wings beneath their camouflaged hind wings and appear to vanish against the ground. The Gatekeeper is another striking species we have been seeing on the reserve in recent weeks, with its brown bordered, bright orange wings and subtle eye spots.


If you’re out on the reserve this month, stop and have a little look on the leaves and flowers of the Ragwort plants and you may see the caterpillar of the Cinnabar moth feasting on this important foodplant. Easily recognisable with its handsome stripes of orange and black, the Cinnabar moth is a UK BAP priority species due to its marked decline - 83% over the last 35 years - and so conservation of this species and protection of its foodplant here on Blakeney Point is crucial.

Cinnabar moth caterpillar feeding on Ragwort

Our last round of seine netting has kept us busy with and given a closer look at all that dwells in the water. Now that the waters are starting to warm up, some species will start moving out to colder parts further from the shore. This meant that species like pipefish and sandeel were found in lower frequency in the harbour and creeks this month. The highlights included several species of baby flatfish, which is a good sign for health of the water systems and nursery habitat, and also thousands of Herring and spratt (tern food) in the sea.  It is important to sample the fish species here to understand more about our breeding birds, in particular the rare Little Tern; to see which prey species they are feeding on and how they might change their foraging strategies to adapt to their movements.

We have had regular sightings of a male Black Redstart around the Lifeboat House aswell as juvenile Wheatear and male Cuckoo moving through. There are still large flocks of Knot present on the Point and good numbers of Dunlin and Sanderling on the tideline.

Wynona (Seasonal Assistant Ranger)

Sunday, 17 July 2016

17th of July: Tern chicks on the tip

This week, on Blakeney Point, Beans Boat Trips captured this lovely shot of two fluffy Little Tern chicks, which have been entertaining visitors on the seal ferry trips.
Little Tern chicks (Beans Boat Trips)

Also on the end of Far Point, there are over a hundred Sandwich Tern chicks, aged between 0 and 10 days. Alongside them are around 15 older Common Tern chicks, which are now quite mobile.
Sandwich Tern chick (Ajay Tegala)

This weekend's lovely sunshine (at last!) brought out several Grayling, Small Copper, Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown butterflies.

In migrant bird news, a juvenile Wheatear was recorded on Monday (11th), a Chiffchaff was present from 12th-14th, several Whimbrel have been heard over the Point, with 25 recorded in flight yesterday (16th) as well as a westward movement of 31 Sand Martins and 25 Swallows. A flock of around 50 juvenile Starlings has been resident on the Point for a few weeks now, often landing on the hut roofs.

In seal news, the fourth Common Seal pup of the season was seen on the beach yesterday.
Common Seal (Ajay Tegala)

Today's low tide count totalled 218 Common and 289 Grey.
 Grey and Common Seals (Ajay Tegala)

We leave you with a short film showing Blakeney Point's wildlife in July. Filmed three years ago, this is the first time it has been shared.

- Ajay, Coastal Ranger

Sunday, 10 July 2016

10th of July: Marvellous moths and a partridge chick

We’ve had mixed weather on the Point this week, seemingly bright and sunny days quickly turn to thunderstorms and heavy rain in the evenings. One particular storm was so vicious lighting was hitting the ridgeline and the buildings were shaking form the thunder peeling overhead. As you can imagine, these conditions are not conducive to migrant birds or pleasant for our ground nesting species.

Terns on the tip
Our resident terns out on Far Point and on the shingle ridge are doing very well and we have seen our first Little Tern chicks over the last few days. Our total Little Terns nest count stands at 60. This is eight higher than last year, which is truly fantastic news! We also have 17 Avocet pairs nesting on the ridge, this too is slightly up on last year's total. It’s not just the terns hatching at the moment either, we had our first sighting of a Grey Partridge chick taking its first steps from the nest. They closely follow mum and dad hiding in the grass at the first sign of danger.  
Grey Partridge chick hiding in the grass near the Lifeboat House (Daniel Wynn)

Creatures of the night
Moth trapping is an important part of the work we do on the reserve. We routinely put out our Robinson trap whenever the weather permits, and we had a truly mega-haul on Friday night catching over 24 species and 77 individuals! Featuring in the all-star line-up were some truly beautiful moths, and if you weren’t already interested in Lepidoptera, then these will surely peak your interest.
A male Drinker, native to the UK (Daniel Wynn)

Garden Tiger Moth, native to UK (Daniel Wynn)

Elephant Hawkmoth, native to UK (Daniel Wynn)

In butterfly news, we have seen our first Grayling on the reserve. Numbers are slightly down on previous years owing to the unpredictable spring weather, but we are still seeing the same diversity of species.
Grayling (Tom Whiley)

Migrant birds
Migrants have been very slow with few notables this week, but this is to be expected as the spring migration has more or less finished. We are now starting to see the first juveniles of the year moving past the Point, like this juvenile Stonechat. As we move more into late-July we will start seeing more and more Knot, Godwits and other returning waders like Grey Plover.
Juvenile Stonechat pictured in the garden (Daniel Wynn)

The seal colony is still going strong with large numbers in the hundreds recorded daily. No new pup births to report for this week but we will let you know as soon as we see anymore.

Dan Wynn,
Seasonal Assistant Ranger

Sunday, 3 July 2016

3rd of July: Bloomin' Orchids

With a bout of warm sunshine through June, we are happy to be reacquainted with two old friends this summer on Blakeney Point; Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis and Southern Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza praetermissa. Both of which grow in the dune slacks, nestled down in sheltered spots away from the wild winds that blow off the sea. Although both locally common, orchids grow on Blakeney Point in very small numbers and are fragile and slow growing. Extra care must be taken not to damage plants and they should never be picked from the wild. Help us protect these special plants by keeping to the boardwalks and paths to prevent excess trampling and to stop dune erosion.
 Above left: Southern Marsh Orchid; Above right: Pyramidal Orchid

A new face in the shingle
This month we have discovered a single plant of Wild Clary Salvia verbenaca growing in the shingle just outside the Lifeboat House - right on our doorstep! Although locally common in Norfolk, this plant doesn’t appear in plant records for the Point in recent history and is thought to be a new one for the list. It has most likely been brought here by birds as a seed and has taken hold in the shingle to flower this year.  Wild Clary belongs to the family Lamiaceae which makes it a relative of many of our garden herbs, basil, sage and thyme.
Wild Clary

New threads
Whilst some of our chicks are still very newly emerged (including the first Little Tern chicks of the year, on Far Point), many have long since ventured from the safety of the nest and have been out exploring the point under the watchful eye of their parents (and us rangers!) Some of our Oystercatcher youngsters are well on their way to adulthood and can be seen around the Lifeboat House looking very mature in their new threads!

Going Cuckoo
We have had some spectacular views of a visiting Cuckoo. Some days we were treated to sights of up to four birds displaying in the Plantation and their call could be heard all of the way from Gap! The Knot have been great to watch over the harbour too, giving us some spectacular flight displays, forming all sorts of shapes and twisting and turning in unison to reveal a wall of silver like a shoal of Sandeels!
Cuckoo in flight

Seasonal Assistant Ranger

Sunday, 26 June 2016

26th of June: Open Ears

It's that time of the year when the Cat's-ears are out on Blakeney Point, adding a lovely splash of yellow to the dunes. The flowers start to close up in the afternoon, so morning is the best time to see "open 'ears"...
 Cat's-ears flowering in the dunes

Several broods of Shelduck goslings have been seen in the harbour. These attractive birds nest down holes in the dunes, then lead their black-and-white young into the harbour soon after hatching. After breeding, adults migrate to the Wadden Sea (north German coast) to moult, leaving the young in creches with a small number of adults that do not migrate. This creche is made up of 26 goslings...
 Shelduck creche (Tom Green)

On the tip of the Point, there are now over 500 Sandwich Terns nesting...
Sandwich Terns (Tom Green)

Common Tern chicks are starting to grow up a bit...
Young Common Tern (Ajay Tegala)

We are now also up to 52 pairs of Little Terns across the reserve, the first chicks won't be far away. There are several Oystercatcher chicks doing well on the beach and two well-grown juveniles seen regularly on the marsh near the Lifeboat House, being taught how to feed by their parents. They feed largely on worms pulled from the mud as well as molluscs and crustaceans. There are a number of Black-headed Gull chicks across the reserve too...
Black-headed Gull chicks (Wynona Legg)

The Plantation has been full of surprises this week. Firstly, on Monday morning (20th), we unexpectedly witnessed a Red Deer jump out of the brambles and then trot off into the dunes! Throughout the week, a Cuckoo was seen regularly in the vicinity of the Plantation, and as many as four were recorded on Friday (24th), all adults; three males and a female. They were frequently heard calling and seen being mobbed by Meadow Pipits. Other migrants this week have included several Swifts high above and occasional Whimbrel.

Finally, in seal news, this week's low tide count totalled 272 Grey and 166 Common. And today we saw the first Dark Green Fritillary butterfly of the summer.

- Ajay, Ranger

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.

Collecting fish from the net (M. Scott)

Recording a catch (M. Scott)

Typical catch in the surf zone, including Weaver (M. Scott)

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.