Wildlife at Blakeney Point 2013

The River Glaven meets Blakeney Harbour between Blakeney freshwater marshes (“The Freshes”) and Blakeney Point. Both the freshes and the point are part of Blakeney National Nature Reserve, owned and managed by the National Trust. They are very important areas for wildlife, especially breeding birds.

Breeding birds on the Freshes

This year Bitterns were seen on the Freshes between February and April, but breeding is thought unlikely. Breeding wildfowl that reared young on the Freshes this year included Mute Swan, Shelduck and Mallard. Moorhen and Coot also had a good year. Once again two pairs of Marsh Harriers bred amongst the reeds, fledging five young. Lapwings had to defend their young from the Harriers but managed to rear young, as did Oystercatcher, Redshank and Avocet. Cuckoos were scarce on the Freshes, but one was seen and heard. Skylark and Meadow Pipit seemed to fare pretty well as did Sedge and Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting. Two singing male Cetti’s Warblers were heard but no young were seen. Bearded Reedlings were seen and heard frequently amongst the reeds on the western side.

Breeding birds on the Point

Winter was particularly harsh with severe conditions extending throughout March and into early April. Consequently, the breeding season was delayed. The first Sandwich Terns arrived two weeks later than usual. However, the season quickly got into full swing with some species doing particularly well. A warm, dry summer helped chick survival, although egg and chick predation by gulls was particularly high early on, affecting ducks and Oystercatcher particularly badly.

Species that had a particularly good season were Grey Partridge and Avocet. This is the second year that Avocet have bred on the shingle ridge and they may have done even better than last year. Pairs of Grey Partridges have continued to increase, with 8-9 pairs fledging around 40 young. Good numbers of young Shelduck were also seen.

A colour-ringed Sandwich Tern
A colour-ringed Sandwich Tern

There was a record 4,120 pairs of breeding Sandwich Terns and a maximum of 2,000 juveniles fledged. In June, 50 nestlings were colour-ringed by Jez Blackburn of the British Trust for Ornithology. One of these was reported on the Dutch coast in August, it then moved on to northern Germany and was seen on the Danish coast in September. We look forward to ringing more nestlings in the future and learning more about their migratory routes.

Like last year, the other terns were nowhere near as successful, with Common Tern showing a continuing decline. Arctic Tern are still hanging on, with five pairs this year. Little Tern and like Ringed Plover suffered from predation and big tides, fledging 21 young from 121 pairs. Thanks to EU funding as part of the five-year Little Tern Life project, more resources will be put into Little Tern conservation next season. Footage of a Common Gull predating Ringed Plover eggs can be seen on the National Trust Blakeney blog.

Redshanks did very well this year with most clutches hatching. Two cases of Oystercatcher egg dumping were noted this year; a scrape containing six eggs on Middle Point and a scrape containing seven near the Lifeboat House.

Redshank chick and eggs
Redshank chick and eggs

Meadow Pipit and Linnet did fairly well, although Skylark numbers were slightly down on last year. A pair of Wheatears appeared to be holding a territory by a rabbit hole in the dunes for a week at the end of April, but did not go on to breed.

There were up to 15 pairs of Mediterranean Gulls, fledging a minimum of 25 young. These have increased each year since first breeding in 1992. At other sites, particularly in mainland Europe, Mediterranean Gulls heavily predate terns. This has not yet been observed at Blakeney, possibly because they nest amongst Black-headed Gulls rather than terns. A pair of Pheasants fledged one chick after breeding for the first time last year.

It is a pleasure to see Grey Partridge and Avocet doing so well on the Point, and to be involved in a Sandwich Tern ringing project. We hope that next year brings continued success for these species and look forward to learning more about Little Tern.

Seals on the Point

First seal pup at Blakeney Point
First seal pup at Blakeney Point

Good numbers of Grey and Common Seals have been recorded hauling out at low tide on the western end of Blakeney Point and on sands to the west of the channel. In the summer counts exceeded a thousand seals on many occasions. As we get further into November, the Grey Seals will be moving up into the dunes to give birth. The first pup was found on 30thOctober. Last year over 1,200 pups were reared on Blakeney Point and it looks like this should be another good season for them.

Ajay Tegala, National Trust