Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Bempton Cliffs

Continuing a return journey from Scotland with a one day stopover in Flamborough.

The journey out of Scotland and down the Northumberland coast took me past dozens of good birding sites, Bass Rock, St Abbs Head, the Farne Islands, and Lindisfarne, to name but a few. I did make a couple of quick stops around the Druridge Bay area but I needed to get some miles under my belt before I stopped. The plan was to pay a quick evening visit to Bempton Cliffs and then to spend the next day birding around Flamborough Head.

That plan quickly went out of the window when I saw Bempton Cliffs. The number of birds is truly spectacular. There were tens of thousands on the cliffs, on the sea, and carrying out a spectacular aerial ballet in the sky above the cliffs. I spent the evening there and most of the next day. A quick one hour trip around Flamborough Head and it was clear that this was an area that had great potential but needed days of detailed searching to cover all the available sites.

Bempton added picture opportunities of Puffins and Gannets to those sea birds I had already seen on the trip.

Gannet In flight

Gannets in Love

Gannets at War

Part of the six thousand pairs of Gannets that use the cliffs

 There are around 38,000 pairs of Kittiwakes, 60,000 Guillemots, 15,000 Razorbills, along with assorted other sea birds including around 1,000 Puffin. Puffin numbers are in decline though, with hundreds being washed up dead on the beach. They were emaciated and with little body fat and it is thought that this is due to the prolonged bad weather in the area. This is a natural occurrence known as a wreck but highlights the risk to the colony with up to 10% of the areas Puffin population dead, with many of the survivors in poor breeding condition, and with the sand eels they feed on in short supply.

Survived the storm but tired and hungry

All the nesting holes gone

No room here either

The colonies have always been at risk. Locals used to take around 130,000 eggs a year to supplement their diet and to trade. That no longer happens so there is scope for recovery but what it really needs is a marine conservation area off the Yorkshire coast to safeguard the birds food supplies. Unfortunately at the moment none of the proposed sites have been designated by the government.

Fulmar and Guillemot



One of the more interesting birds on the cliffs are the Rock Doves. These are the ancestral form of the common feral pigeon that we see around our towns. True Rock Doves breed in caves and on steep cliffs on sea coasts and in mountains. I am sure there must be cross overs between the two populations and I often see birds with the correct makings around where I Iive, but it is nice to see these flocks and to recognise them as a true wild bird.

Rock Dove

They all look pure breed

There were also plenty of birds along the top of the cliffs although these were regularly disturbed by the visitors. The chances of seeing these improved drastically as you moved away from the car park.


Tree Sparrow taking a dust bath

The drive home from Flamborough took most of the day. I had a quick stop in Bridlington harbour where I found Turnstones wandering around the car park looking for scraps just like you would see Sparrows back at home. I also stopped just off the A1 at Paxton Pits by St Neots. It is rated as one of the best sites in the country to see Nightingales but it was really the chance to photograph the Hobby that caused me to visit the site.




My panning technique is definitely improving

And, to round off a good trip, I noticed  a Red-crested Pochard in the bottom of the frame whilst I was photographing the Hobby. Can't wait to go again.

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