Saturday, 16 January 2016

16th of January: Seal season summary and storm news

The Grey Seal pupping season on Blakeney Point is about to reach its end. The last pup of the winter was born on New Year's Day and is now almost weaned. This takes our 2015/16 total to 2,343 pups, of which just two were taken to the RSPCA rescue centre at East Winch. In addition to the 2,343, around 45 dead pups were observed in the colony, putting mortality at less than 3%.

This winter was the first time since the colony formed, around 15 years ago, that the number of pups born did not increase.

Our counts show that 73 less pups were born this year than in 2014/15, a small (and insignificant) decrease of 3%. However, looking at the graph plotting pup counts back to 2000 (shown above) we can see that this year's count is on the curve with last year's result being a possible anomaly. What will happen and what numbers we will see during the the 2016/17 breeding season remains to be seen and we look forward to finding out.

What we do know is that, although the core area of the beach remains the prime pupping area, seals pupped further east and a bit further south this winter. This suggests that there are a number of future spreading options.

This winter, we had the first pup born on Yankee Ridge...

the first pups born on the Long Hills...

and the first pup born in New Glaux Low (in the main dunes)

We would like to thank visitors for their cooperation and respect for the seals. Next week, we will be taking the fences down, giving wider access to the beach and dunes (until the first of April when fencing is put up to protect vulnerable ground-nesting birds).

On Thursday night (14th of January), gale-force north-westerly winds caused an 80cm surge. This caused seawater to come over these shingle ridge at Salthouse, causing flooding on both the Salthouse and Cley Beach Roads.
Gramborough Hill viewed from Salthouse

There was no damage to any buildings, but the profile of Blakeney Point changed. Far Point was hit quite hard, causing erosion to the dunes and shingle over-topping on the tip. Any visitors who frequent the seal ferry trips, will notice a definite change to the end of the Point next time they go out. But this is what Blakeney Point does: changes with the tides and the weather, which is what makes the place so exciting. It is always changing.
 Erosion to the seaward edge of Far Point

End of the Point from above (Ian Ward)

We were pleased to note that our resident group of partridges (17 Grey and 1 Red-legged) were not negatively affected by the storm. They were happily feeding on the shingle the following day.

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)

Monday, 21 December 2015

21st of December: Winter Solstice

Today, on the Winter Solstice, we would like to thank everyone who has helped us look after wildlife on the Norfolk Coast this year by following our guidelines. The seal pups have had a peaceful season, with the least disturbance ever, and so far just a single pup in need of rescue. We would like to say a big thank you to our wonderful volunteers, who have worked hard to protect the seals and provide a cheerful welcome to all visitors.
Our volunteer seal ranger team

For people contemplating walking up the Point over the festive period, we would like to remind you that boat trips are running, providing the opportunity of up-close seal views without causing disturbance. Please remember that it is an arduous eight-mile walk to see the seals, and they are already quickly dispersing.
Seal pup (Ian Ward - NT volunteer)

Today's pup count brings the total up to 2,314, which is about the same as this time last year. We expect a couple of dozen more births over the next two weeks and will let you know the grand total in mid January.
Cow and pup (Tom Whiley - NT volunteer)

Finally, we are pleased to be able to share this video with you, with exclusive footage of the seals filmed earlier this month...

Wishing you happy holidays from the Norfolk Coast team

Thursday, 10 December 2015

10th of December: Seals slowing down

Today's seal pup count revealed that 130 pups have been born in the last three days. This compared to 222 in the three days before that, showing that pupping is slowing down. However, this still gives a total of 2,155 pups so far this season, with a few more to come over the next four weeks.

Weaned pup (Peter King - NT seal volunteer)

There are now more weaned pups than pre-weaned, meaning there are far less cows on site. Some of these weaned pups are on the move and can be found further away from the core breeding site. Please be aware that there are pups further along the Point now, but they are fine. After three weeks of suckling, they are left to their own devices and eventually head to sea and instinctively learn to catch fish.

Naughty pup! (Helena Dye - NT seal volunteer)

Bulls fighting over territory

This week, we witnessed two pups suckling from the same cow. We have observed this previously in both 2012 and 2014. At large and crowded Grey Seal rookeries - such as the Orkneys - two pups have frequently been seen suckling from the same cow, both together and after the other. A cow with plenty of milk may tolerate the suckling of one or more 'alien' pups, which are hungry enough to approach her. This appears to be what was happening here:

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

25th of November: Pup count reaches four figures

Last Wednesday's Grey Seal pup count on Blakeney Point totalled 573. This was 30 more than the same date last year, suggesting that we may be heading for another record-smashing season.

Today's count revealed that a lot of pups have been born over the last week. With newborn pups further east along the Point than ever before, we knew it was going to be a high count.

An impressive total of 1269 pups were recorded.
Including this one:
While we make every effort to cordon off the breeding area, seals have a habitat of moving and disobeying our fence-lines. If you visit the Point, please obey our signs and give all seals plenty of space. For more information, see our web-site. And don't forget, the best way to see the seals is from the ferry trips that go regularly from Morston Quay.

- Ajay

Sunday, 15 November 2015

15th of November: Seal story so far

This week has seen the Grey Seal pupping really kick into full swing. Monday's count totalled 64 live pups. A count on Wednesday recorded 149, an increase of 85 in two days.

One of this year's first pups (Ajay Tegala)

We will be doing another count in the next few days, be sure to check our Facebook page to  find out the result.

Grey Seals on the beach (Peter King)

For anybody in the area looking for something to do on Thursday evening, look no further... at 7.30pm our volunteer Richard Porter is giving an illustrated talk at Cley Village Hall, Cley next-the-Sea. It is titled 'Life on the Edge - the Wildlife of Blakeney Point'. Richard will be talking about not only the birds, but also the plants, butterflies and mammals of this special place. The cost is £2.00 to Norfolk Wildlife Trust members and £2.50 to non-members, with refreshments provided.
Fieldfare on Blakeney Point (Richard Porter)

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

2nd of November: First seal pup

The first seal pups of the winter were born on the Point on Sunday (1st). We went out the following morning, to make sure they were doing okay, and took ITV Anglia news with us - you can see their report here.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

25th of October: Sandwich in South Africa

News has just reached us that one of our Sandwich Terns, ringed on Blakeney Point as a chick last summer, has been seen in South Africa. It was seen on the coast of Storms River on Sunday the 18th of October amongst a group of several other Sandwich Terns. The bird was colour-ringed on the Point on the 18th of June 2014 (with the unique code 'KD3') and was seen 51 days later at Findhorn in Scotland on the 8th of August 2014. Fourteen months on and it is a live and well far away in South Africa.
Sandwich Terns on Blakeney Point

Last autumn, a Sandwich Tern ringed on the Point was seen in The Gambia, where it is widely accepted that many of Norfolk's breeding terns spend the winter. It came as a surprise to learn that Norfolk birds have made it so far south.

October is a good time to catch the arrival of migrant thrushes on Blakeney Point. In the second week of the month, dozens of Song Thrushes and Redwings appeared, with he occasional Ring Ouzel amongst them.

Highlights this month so far have included a Great Grey Shrike, Red-breasted Flycatcher (both Thursday 15th) and Long-eared Owl (Friday 16th).
Great Grey Shrike (Richard Porter)

Also in October, we have exceeded 150,000 blog views. We exceeded 100,000 last autumn, meaning there has been an average of almost 4,000 views per month in the last year. Many thanks to all who look at the blog and help us to look after the coast.

Our last seal count was conducted back on the 8th of October, when 102 Common and 572 Greys were counted. Numbers have since dropped to just 5 Common and around 30 Grey, which is a sign that the Grey Seal pupping season is about to begin. They are currently out to sea feeding up prior to coming ashore. Our friends a little further around the Norfolk Coast at Horsey have just had their first pup. Our first pup is expected this coming week. We will announce its arrival on the blog.
Soon there will be hundreds of pups on the Point

From 25 in 2001 to 1,566 in 2013/14 to an incredible 2,426 last winter, the number of pups born at Blakeney is increasing rapidly. Last year we became the largest breeding colony in England.

By mid-November, the western-most mile of Blakeney Point will be occupied by hundreds of pups, their mothers and several territorial bull seals. It is a dangerous place for people and dogs, their own safety at risk as well as the seals'. We thank responsible visitors for respecting access restrictions. We advise that the best way to see the pups is undoubtedly by the seal boat trips that go regularly from Morston Quay. You can book onto our guided boat trips here - but be quick as tickets are selling fast.

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)

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!

UPDATE: we captured this footage of the 'supermoon'...

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 from data collected by E. Stubbings, A. Tegala and D. Wood
(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)

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