Sunday, 23 November 2014

23rd November: Seal pup update

The rookery continues to expand - on Saturday 22nd November the pup count stood at 877 pups.  This is 280 pups more than we had at the same stage last year so that's positive news.  Whilst carrying out the count this weekend we have had the privilege to see pups close up and even one being born - a rare event to witness as most are born at night.

 We saw this cow give birth to her pup

Pups spend a lot of their time sleeping and feeding, but as they get more active they begin to explore their new world.

 Snoozing pup

 Suckling pup

Pup in a sandpit

There are still plenty of heavily pregnant females hauled out waiting to give birth.  This close-up of one of them shows its whiskers (known as vibrissae) and its eyebrows.  These are both highly sensitive and used for hunting under water - seals can even sense the movements of fish in front of them through these vibrissae.

Pregnant cow in dunes

We also took this short video clip showing a mother and pup interacting.  You can hear the almost baby-like cries of the pup as it seeks to feed.

Sarah and Paul

Sunday, 16 November 2014

16th November: Pups and pods

Pup numbers are up again – from 265 on 13th November to 436 on 15th November.  The seals have spread east of the Gap now, with pups being born outside of the original fenced-off area and prospecting bulls and females moving east of the Gap as the rookery gets busier.  

 The rookery on Saturday 15th November

For this reason we have expanded the fencing to include Zone C as marked on the map below (shown in our blog 26th October).  As mentioned before the red dotted lines show suggested walking routes during the restricted period. These routes have various viewpoints to get good views of the seals.  Please obey all onsite signage and please stay out of fenced off areas. 

Zone A - no access at any time of year to protect hauled-out seals on the tip
Zone B - fenced off 1st November to 1st February to protect seal pups (core area)
Zone C - fenced off 15th November to 1st February to protect seal pups 

We’re getting a range of pup ages now.  Pups are generally born at night, but we came across this family actually on the Gap path.  The afterbirth you can see behind the pup shows that it must have been born recently. 

Bull, mother and pup on the Gap path

As the pups get older they lose the yellow-tinge to their coats which were stained whilst in the womb, revealing a pure white coat. 

Pup - approx. 5-6 days old

This pup below is playing with a washed up piece of driftwood.  As pups get older their co-ordination improves. 

Pup with driftwood

Whilst the focus is often (naturally!) on the very cute pups, it is still wonderful just to watch the adult seals close up.

Bull - this bull had a harem of 4 females

Female and pup - part of the harem

We are running seal events on the 28th and 29th of November and there are currently only 9 places left; see our web-site for full details and booking.

Things have been quieter on the bird front recently, but there was much excitement caused by a pod of Long-finned Pilot Whales last Sunday evening - a first for Norfolk.  Here's a video of them taken by one of our rangers George:

Spectacular sunset on the Point on Saturday

Sarah and Paul

Sunday, 9 November 2014

9th of November: Seal pups galore and so much more ...

From 11am onwards it's been a beautiful, calm and sunny day here on Blakeney Point - perfect for a Grey Seal pup count.  On the 1st November our first two seal pups were born, now on the 9th the rookery (the name given to a seal colony) is looking much livelier with 110 pups counted.

 The rookery - building in numbers.

Below is a new pup on the beach.  You can tell it is only two days old as it still looks very thin and its ribs are still visible.  Pups will put on about 2kg per day during the weaning period and will soon fatten up.

2 day old pup

There are also lots of pregnant cows dotted around with bulls in attendance.  As mentioned in last weeks blog this can lead to fights as bulls defend their territories. 

Bull fight

Even before females have chosen where they will give birth to their pups, bulls will stake out an area to defend.  This bull was lurking in the dunes by himself, probably hoping that as the rookery expands females will move into his patch.

Bull in dunes

Even a male seal will suffer a lapse in attention!  We spotted this bull snoozing loudly in a muddy bath.

Snoring bull

 Whilst conducting the seal pup count some interesting birds were seen.  A late House Martin flew overhead, a Woodcock was flushed from the dunes, and on the beach two of North Norfolk's special wintering visitors were encountered - a flurry of 6 Snow Buntings and a delightful flock of 7 Shore Larks.  Blakeney Point is one of very few places in the country where Shore Larks may be seen.

  Shore Larks on shingle

Paul and Sarah

Sunday, 2 November 2014

2nd of November: The pupping begins

Yesterday morning, we were delighted to find not one but two seal pups. These are the first live pups of this winter. They were both born on the same area of beach.

Pup suckling on the beach

The best way to see these pups is on the seal ferry trips that go from Morston Quay. We are also running two seal pup events in late November - see our web-site for bookings.

This morning, a third pup had been born in the same area. Throughout the next two months, hundreds more will be born at Blakeney.

The first bull has moved into the bay between Middle and Far Point

Although no cows are present there yet, he is presumably claiming his territory early. The timing of such moves can be hard to get right. If a bull arrives too early, then he may have used up all of his fat reserves before most cows are receptive to mating, which is immediately after they have weaned their pup. However, if a bull arrives too late, the territory may already have been taken. Such instances can lead to dramatic bull fights. All the drama is yet to come.

Bird highlights this week include a Grey Phalarope and 1,500 Starlings on 28th, 120 Little Gulls and a Pomerine Skua on the 29th, a female Hen Harrier and three Black Redstarts on the 30th, Jack Snipe, a few Woodcocks and Snow Buntings...

Snow Bunting on the shingle 

Black Redstart on our washing line

Today, with half term over, we move out of the Lifeboat House for the winter. This means the toilets and visitor centre will now be open only at weekends.

We leave you with news that a Viking has been seen on Blakeney Point
This is Skippy from nearby Aylmerton Field Studies Centre. He was leading a group of schoolchildren from Bergen in Norway.

Photography by Sarah Johnson

Sunday, 26 October 2014

26th of October: Still waiting for the pupping to begin

Grey Seal numbers have dropped to just 141, as revealed by this week's low tide count. This is because they are off for a final feed-up before coming ashore to pup. We eagerly await the arrival of pup number one.

Bull on the beach

Donna Nook had their first pup today, three days later than last year. If we follow the same pattern, ours will be born in exactly one week. Which is also the day we close down the Lifeboat House visitor centre and toilet block for the winter.

A few seals have ventured up into the dunes prospecting, but none have been present in the daytime.
Seal tracks into the dunes

Soon this area will be full of seals...

There have been other delights in the dunes to admire. Such as this Dune Waxcap near the boardwalk:

 ...and these bright pink Spindle fruits:

A number of raptors have  been seen on the Point this week: Peregrines, Marsh Harriers (including one with green wing tags), Kestrels, Sparrowhawk and Merlin. But the highlight was a Rough-legged Buzzard this morning, flying over the dunes. We have also had a Black Redstart hanging around the Lifeboat House all week. On Thursday, a juvenile Whooper Swan was reported and the first two Snow Buntings of the autumn/winter were seen. Other migrant birds of note include a few Goldcrests, two Greenfinches and over 3,000 Starlings yesterday.
 Starlings flying over the dunes

We leave you with news that the Lifeboat House will feature in the Norfolk episode of 'Homes by the Sea' on More4 at 9:00pm on Thursday. Tune in to learn more about the history and interior of this unique building.

Photos by Sarah

Sunday, 19 October 2014

19th of October: A Mini Rush of Thrushes

The north-easterly winds early in the week blew a number of migrant birds to Blakeney Point. Many of them were thrushes having crossed the North Sea from Scandinavia. Song Thrushes peaked at 125 on the 13th, Blackbirds at 50 on the 15th and Redwings at 90 also on the 15th.

The most impressive arrival was of some 109 Ring Ouzels in two large flocks on the 13th; this is by far the largest number of Ring Ouzels recorded on the Point in a single day. The previous record having been just 30.

Other notable arrivals included 140 Robins and 45 Blackcaps on the 13th plus 140 Goldcrests and 10 Short-eared Owls on the 14th. Among the migrants were a number of special birds, including 2 Long-eared Owls, 2 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Great Grey Shrikes and the first Shore Larks of the autumn.

Purple Sandpiper camouflaged amongst shingle

Long-eared Owl on Far Point

Reports from other parts of Blakeney National Nature Reserve include a Bittern on Blakeney Freshes and Snow Buntings over Granborough Hill at Salthouse. We wait eagerly for the first over-wintering flocks of Snow Buntings to take up their residences on the Point and at Salthouse. In fact, it is a time of year full of anticipation, as we also await the birth of the first Grey Seal pup. Pupping has already started on the Farne Islands and is imminent at nearby Donna Nook in Lincolnshire. On Friday we saw the first signs of a seal investigating the dunes. Our first pups normally appear between the 26th and 30th of October. We will let you know as soon as number one is born.

In preparation, we have put out metal road pins to form fence-lines when pupping gets underway. Please do not interfere with these, as they will all be joined together with string when pupping starts. This is important, as the pups are vulnerable to disturbance and adults can be extremely vicious.

This map shows the restricted zones (click map to enlarge):
Zone A - no access at any time of year to protect hauled-out seals on the tip
Zone B - fenced off 1st November to 1st February to protect seal pups (core area)
Zone C - fenced off 15th November to 1st February to protect seal pups 
The red dotted lines show suggested walking routes during the restricted period. These routes have various viewpoints to get good views of the seals.

We are running seal events on the 28th and 29th of November; see our web-site for full details and booking.

Continuing the seal theme. We have just had news through about a tagged Grey Seal found dead on the Point earlier in the year. It had been rescued as a pup and released by RSPCA East Winch in 1999, making it 15 when it sadly died. This is in fact the oldest recorded of a released from East Winch.

We also had news this week of a ringed female Little Tern we found dead on the beach in the summer. This bird had been ringed at the Humber Estuary, Lincolnshire in 1993, making it an impressive 20 years and 11 months. The average life expectancy is around 12 years and the record is 23 years and 11 months.
We knew the bird was a female because it was egg-bound. The above photograph - although a little gruesome - shows the egg inside the bird.

- Ajay

Sunday, 12 October 2014

12th of October: Good for Gannets

The last week, on Blakeney Point, has been good for...


...and Sunrises:

Birds seen this week include Blackbirds, Redwings, Song Thrushes, Bramblings, Chiffchaffs, Lapland Buntings, Robins, Redstarts, Red-throated Divers, a Greenfinch, a Blackcap and a Long-eared Owl in off the sea.

Oystercatchers at high tide

Turnstones on the shoreline

This week we also spotted a Dune Stinkhorn:
These distinctive mushrooms, that grow in sand dunes, have caps covered in a smelly coating to attracts insects that distribute spores.

- Ajay -with photography by Sarah and Paul

Sunday, 5 October 2014

5th of October: Autumn Skies

Autumn is definitely here. Although it has been a sunny Sunday, there is a cold edge to the evening air. Blakeney harbour is alive with the burbling sounds of Brent Geese, whistling Wigeon and occasional skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying over. Bird highlights of the last few days have included a Tree Sparrow (very rare on the Point),  Rock Pipits, Stonechats, Whinchats and even a Kingfisher. Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and the odd Redwing have passed over. A Honey Buzzard was seen above the dunes this afternoon. One was also seen on the 23rd, being mobbed by a male and female Peregrine.

After the rain, yesterday afternoon, sun shone through the clouds and some gorgeous colours filled the skies...

We haven't blogged for a while. So a belated big thank you to all who came along to help with the Great British Beach Clean on Blakeney Point on the 20th of September. We were able to clear litter all of the way from Cley Beach to the end of Far Point, some four miles.
The pile after the first two hours

 Another load

The most frequent litter items were blue plastic drinking straws, small pieces of plastic and over 200 helium balloons. These items can be extremely harmful to sealife when ingested. We urge people not to release helium balloons, as so many end up in the sea. Unfortunately it is impossible to get on top of sea-borne litter, as it is ever washing up on our shores. But thanks to the recent beach clean, the Blakeney Point shoreline is tidy for a while at least.

During the litter-pick, we found three young Wood Mice and their parent in the sand. There are so many beautiful things to discover on the Norfolk Coast, even when its raining...

-Ajay (Coastal Ranger)
with photos by Sarah Johnson and Alex Green