Tuesday, 29 May 2012

29th of May: A Visit from Blakeney Primary School

Over the past two days, we have been spending some time with four Year 6 children and two teachers from Blakeney Primary School. They stayed overnight in the Watch House. We took them on a walk up the point, talking about the habitats, history and wildlife as well as carrying out a variety of activities including looking at moths, fencing around Oystercatcher nests and looking out from the watch tower. It was a pleasure to show them around the reserve and talk about the work we do here, and to see them enjoy themselves and show an interest in our work and the wildlife.
Fun in the sun with Blakeney Primary (Niki Lowndes)

Watching Swallows (Edward Stubbings)

In the watch tower (Ajay Tegala)

This evening our first Oystercatcher chicks started to hatch, by the landing stage. This was the first Oystercatcher nest we found, on the 1st of May. Fledged Wrens were also seen zipping around in the Suaeda near the Long Hills.

With the exception of regular Spotted Flycatcher sightings, things have been rather quiet migrant-wise over the last few days. However, an interesting variety of migrants were seen on the point today. Things started off slowly with a Chiffchaff and a Collared Dove. A Song Thrush and a Goldcrest were seen later in the day. But the two definite highlights were a female Bluethroat at the Long Hills (the fourth Bluethroat of the season!) and a splendid Grey-headed Yellow Wagtail on Near Point.

- Eddie and Ajay

Saturday, 26 May 2012

26th of May: Sandwich Tern Nest Count

Today we went into the colony to count the Sandwich Tern nests. This was a very serious and well-planned operation. We have a license that enables us to enter the colony. As this causes disturbance to the terns and gulls, we were very careful to spend as little time in the colony as possible, while at the same time being very cautious.

Due to the great numbers of nests we used small pieces of macaroni to mark each one. Before entering the colony, we counted out four bags of 1,000 pieces of macaroni, then we double-counted them to ensure accuracy. This meant that we didn't have to count nests whilst in the colony, we counted the amount of macaroni left afterwards and subtracted this from 4,000.

Having allocated different parts of the colony between four of us, we entered the colony at 6am and began the nest count. We carefully chose this time to cause minimum disturbance to the birds. The conditions were warm and clear, so the eggs would not get too cold. It was low tide, which meant that the birds had plenty of places nearby to settle, preventing them from panicking. And this particular date was chosen because it was late enough that all of the terns have laid eggs, and early enough that all of the chicks hadn't hatched and left the nests.

It was a true privilege to be able to be in the colony. The sound of the adults was incredible. The colony contains a mixture of Sandwich Terns and Black-headed Gulls. The gulls nest first and then the terns move in later, gaining security benefits from being amongst the gulls.

Although close together within the colony, the gull and tern nests are in separate areas. The eggs of both species are different, making it easy for us to count the right species. However the task is still quite stressful because the tern nests are so close together, meaning that we had to watch every footstep carefully. Several nests are tucked under Suaeda bushes too, so we had to look carefully to find every nest as well as watching our steps. We also had to be quick so that we could be out of their way before they became too stressed.

The experience was a mixture of stress, nerves, excitement and honour. Truly amazing. It was a success and has enabled us to find out the exact number of Sandwich Tern nests on Blakeney Point: 3,735. Last year 3,562 were counted (using the same method), which was 35% of the total UK population. This year we may be nearer to 40%.

- Ajay

Thursday, 24 May 2012

24th of May: Mist

The weird weather continues. By mid morning a thick sea mist had formed. It remained throughout the day, clearing around 5pm. It has now returned creating an eerie atmosphere...

Due to the poor visibility, we have resorted to staying inside and drinking Norfolk ales this evening. 

-Ajay Tegala

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

22nd of May: Nest News

Throughout May we have found at least one new Oystercatcher nest every day. We now have at least 35 on the point, excluding a handful that have been predated. Yesterday we found another nest very close to the landing stage, this Oystercatcher didn't seem to mind nesting amongst a load of old rubbish!

There is also a nest with five eggs in it. This is unusual, as Oystercatchers usually only lay two to four eggs.

Yesterday the first fledged Skylark chick was seen and the first Redshank chicks hatched. Plenty of the passerine nests now have chicks in, several Meadow Pipits and Linnets. The Reed Bunting chicks in this nest are now a week old:

The latest low tide seal count was 261 Common and 434 Grey, on Sunday. This is an increase in numbers for both species since the last count two weeks previously.

- Ajay

Monday, 21 May 2012

21st of May: Common Rosefinch

Today The Point was graced with another rare avian visitor from Eastern Europe, this time a Common Rosefinch, which was seen briefly on the wreck of The Yankee this evening before flying off, probably never to be seen again.

Joe Cockram

Sunday, 20 May 2012

20th of May: Boats and 'throats

Yesterday evening a sudden change in the wind resulted in a small boat getting into considerable difficulty as it was swamped and lost power as it tried to return to Blakeney Harbour. Fortunately the three men on board managed to escape safely to The Point, though in a rather cold and wet state, and the wardens were on hand to help them recover and return to the mainland. The boat was left stranded on the beach and suffered quite a pummeling from the waves during the high tides over the course of the night before we could work on re-floating it this morning.

As we waited for the waters to receed so that we could get to work today, a quick look around the bushes revealed this Bluethroat, probably a young female, one of quite an impressive arrival of these scarce migrants along the East coast in recent days.

Once the tide had gone down, we set about sorting the boat out, and getting it off The Point as soon as possible. First job was to bail out the water and sand that had accumulated inside overnight. 

Then, using the tractor the boat was pulled out of the sand that it had sunk deep into, and dragged down to the waters edge where it was re-floated on the high tide this evening, before being towed safely back to harbour for repair work.

After closer inspection, Paul found out what had really gone wrong, the boat had a leek in it!!
-Joe Cockram

UPDATE: News article about the boat: Fishermen helped to safety after boat sinks at Blakeney

Friday, 18 May 2012

18th of May: Shelduck Count

One of the most striking bird species that breed on Blakeney Point is the Shelduck. Falling somewhere between a duck and a goose, they look black and white from a distance but closer inspection reveals a smart glossy green and brown plumage, topped off with a plasticine-like red bill. They nest here in good numbers every year, using old rabbit burrows in the sand dunes. They seem to like congregating in the dune slacks early in the morning, which makes it relatively easy to get an idea of the numbers present, and thus estimate the breeding population. This morning we conducted the first coordinated count of the season, with wardens and a local volunteer we recorded 110 birds over the length of the point. This was a little lower than expected. compared to some casual counts from recent weeks, so we will be doing more counts soon in the hope of getting a higher, and more accurate figure.

Joe Cockram

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

16th of May: Swallows in the House

Today's warm weather brought a lot of visitors to the point. It also brought some Swallows into the Lifeboat House! We opened some windows and within minutes a couple of Swallows were flying around upstairs. We have taken off a shed door to try an encourage them to nest in there, but they seem to determined to nest in the Lifeboat House.

Talking of birds nesting in awkward places, an Oystercatcher scrape with an egg in was found right in the middle of the path by the landing stage. We quickly fenced around it to prevent it being trodden on. If you come on a seal trip and land on the point, then have a look but please pass by quickly.

- Ajay

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

15th of May: Little Tern Fencing

Over the last two days we have been putting up Little Tern fencing on the shingle ridge near the Watch House. One area to the east and another to the west. Little Terns have been settling in these two areas, as they do every year, so we have put up fences to protect them from disturbance. Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers will benefit from this too, as they also nest on the shingle in these areas.

Yesterday a Cuckoo was spotted flying over the dunes. This was a first for the season.

- Ajay

Sunday, 13 May 2012

13th of May: Deer on the Point

Today, while conducting a breeding bird survey (BBS), a Muntjac deer was seen on Middle Point. The wardens got to within 5 metres before it noticed and ran away. The gulls and terns were not comfortable with it being so close to their nests, and they 'mobbed' it on the beach. Although deer mostly feed on vegetation, they occasionally eat eggs and young birds.

In addition to Muntjac, two other deer species have been recorded on the point. Red Deer (mentioned in our first post) and also Roe Deer have been seen. Although Chinese Water Deer are often seen nearby on the mainland at Cley and Blakeney, there are no records of them actually on the point.

In other news, we have 17 pints of milk and 16 bananas - any recipes welcomed!

- Ajay

Thursday, 10 May 2012

10th of May: Nest Recording

The breeding season is in full swing now and we are spending a lot of time looking for and monitoring nests. We are contributing to the BTO's (British Trust for Ornithology) nest monitoring scheme. This involves filling out a card for each nest found and briefly visiting it every four days to record the number of eggs and, later on, the number of chicks. In fact, today we watched a Meadow Pipit feeding a successfully fledged chick.

We are monitoring ten nests each. Species include Linnets, Meadow Pipits, Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Ringed Plovers. We also have a dissertation student from UEA (University of East Anglia, Norwich) monitoring a number of Oystercatchers.

We are not using the BTO nest monitoring scheme method to record individual tern nests because - aside from the fact that there are over 3,000 nests - it would involve walking into the colony, which would cause too much disturbance. Incubating terns are counted from a distance using a telescope.

Like on Tuesday, several Swifts, Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins flew west over the point. In a 2 and-a-half hour period 1,782 Swifts, 834 Swallows and 522 House Martins were counted. Extrapolating from this, we estimate that around 5,000 Swifts flew over Blakeney Point today.

Swallow (Joe Cockram)

Above and below: Swift (Joe Cockram)

- Ajay

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

8th of May: Swallows

Throughout the day - which at times was actually almost warm - large numbers of Swallows were seen passing through. An estimated 3,000, along with around 100 House Martins and Sand Martins and about 200 Swifts. Sitting in the sand dunes counting them fly over, the Swifts flew very close, the sound of their beating wings clearly audible as they zoomed past. Swifts are in fact the fastest bird in self-propelled flight.

Swallows nest on the Point every year. Last year there was a nest in the men's toilets. This year we have put up 'swallow shelves' inside our new sheds and the newly refurbished Tern Hide. These are small wooden shelves screwed close to the roof, to encourage Swallows to nest. Some years these shelves are used more than others, ranging from 3 to 9 nests. It will be interesting to see how many of our new shelves get nested on this year.

We have also created a rock pile to attract Wheatears to breed. There are large numbers of Wheatears on the Point, but they have probably not successfully bred here since the 1930s.
Ajay Tegala

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

7th of May: Cranes

This morning two Common Cranes flew west over Blakeney Harbour. They had been seen on the ground on Blakeney Freshes. We saw them from in front of the Lifeboat House as they flew past. Cranes are seen flying through Blakeney from time to time. The National Trust's Horsey estate, in the Norfolk Broads, is a good place to go to see cranes as they are seen much more frequently there.

Joe Cockram

Monday, 7 May 2012

6th of May: Bluethroat

Today we were privileged to see a smart bird synonymous with Blakeney Point. Ever since the 1880s, birdwatchers and naturalists have come to the point to look for Bluethroats. Once seen frequently on passage migration, they are now relatively rare. They are also quite elusive. We were lucky enough to get clear views of this smart-looking bird.

Photos: Joe Cockram
(Text: Ajay)

Saturday, 5 May 2012

5th of May: Pallid Harrier

The run of interesting migrant birds on Blakeney Point continued today with the discovery of a Pallid Harrier, a rare visitor to the UK from Eastern Europe. The bird showed very well to the wardens and a few visitors who trekked up the shingle ridge to see it, before it flew off West over the harbour, last seen near Holkham.

Pallid Harrier (Joe Cockram)

The nicer weather has encouraged some more of the breeding birds to get on with it, and Oystercatchers in particular are laying eggs. There are several nests near to the point where the seal trip boats land, and these are cordoned off with blue string and are clearly visible. If you see one of these fenced areas, please don't linger by it, as the adult bird will be waiting for you to leave so that it can return and continue incubating. While the eggs are left unprotected by the parent they are also exposed to predation from gulls, so have a quick look, and then move swiftly on, thankyou.

The latest low-tide seal count recorded 391 Greys and 136 Commons.

- Joe

Friday, 4 May 2012

4th of May: Birds Battling the Weather

After a few welcome days of more spring-like weather it's back to biting Northerlies and rain, bleurgh! It's not deterring the birds though, with migrants still trickling through, and breeding birds pushing on with their nesting, albeit a bit slower than we would expect at this time of year.

A Hobby gave a stunning fly-by to the wardens this morning before heading off inland. This migratory falcon spends the winter in sub-saharan Africa, only returning to breed in Europe once it's prey of large flying insects are plentiful enough. Hopefully the weather won't restrict the food supply too much for this bird
Hobby (Joe Cockram)

Willow Warbler and Wheatear (Joe Cockram)

Many of the smaller breeding birds have now got nests on the go. Some of them, such as this Meadow Pipit even have chicks, judging by that beak-full of flies

Meadow Pipit (Joe Cockram)

An adult Spoonbill also visited the saltmarsh briefly today. In 2010, Spoonbills bred just down the coast from us at Holkham NNR, the first British breeding record for 300 years. They bred successfully there again last year, and hopefully will soon become well established in the UK, they are always a spectacular sight, and always brighten up the greyest of days.
Spoonbill (Joe Cockram)

- Joe

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

2nd of May: Red-breasted Flycatcher

With a return to nicer weather conditions, today was a day to be spent in the field looking for interesting birds. First up was this Blue-headed Wagtail that landed briefly on the shingle ridge. This bird, a continental subspecies of Yellow Wagtail is an uncommon but regular visitor to Eastern England in the spring.

Much more unexpected was this Red-breasted Flycatcher that appeared in the plantation this afternoon. Breeding no closer than Germany, these little gems are mostly seen as vagrant juveniles in the autumn, so it was a delight to see an adult male showing how its name came about.

Photos and text: Joe Cockram

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

30th of April: Spring at Last

At last, this morning we woke up to sunshine and warmth. The warm weather, combined with a southeasterly wind, brought in a number of migrant warblers. Over forty Willow Warblers were counted, along with the first Sedge Warbler of the season. We also estimated there to be 68 Wheatears on the point.
 Wheatear (Joe Cockram)

We spent some time looking at plants on the sand dunes. There is a fine display of Heath Dog-violet, Spring Vetch and Early Forget-me-nots. The most abundant flowering plant on the reserve at the moment is probably Danish Scurvy-grass. There are also a few flowering Thrift plants and a few patches of Spring Beauty and Sea Campion. However, there are not sufficient flowers to support many butterflies. We didn’t see any on our transect. However we did see a Small Copper and Small Tortoiseshell in the morning. The only other butterfly seen so far this season was a Peacock on the 20th of April. In the coming months more and more flowers will come into bloom attracting more and more butterflies.

The pleasant conditions brought a number of visitors to the point today. More than we have seen for many days. It was nice to see lots of people enjoying the reserve. We would like to remind visitors not to enter fenced off areas in order to prevent disturbance to vulnerable nesting birds. Also, in the areas where dogs are permitted, we ask that they are kept on leads to reduce disturbance.

- Ajay