Bempton Cliffs

Bempton Cliffs

Bempton Cliffs
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Bempton Cliffs

  • SOS - trapped gannet

    Last Thursday was a really good day at the office.  Thanks to the RSPCA, we were able to save one of our 30,000 gannets.  

    Visitors on the reserve's Jubilee Corner viewpoint alerted staff to a trapped gannet on the cliff face that was obviously in some distress.  Their call set in motion a chain of events that culminated in a successful two-hour rescue operation undertaken in conjunction with the RSPCA.

    Having been informed of the bird’s plight by our warden, local RSPCA Wildlife Officer, Geoff Edmonson decided to bring in the organisation’s specialist climbing team.  

    Driving from Wales and Birmingham, the climbers met on the nature reserve at around 2pm to mount a rescue bid – having first received permission from Natural England. 

    Caught in fishing line and baling twine, the gannet was swinging by the leg approximately 150 feet down the 400 feet high chalk cliffs. 

    The first attempt to get to it failed.  A fresh climber made a second attempt and, well protected by thick gloves and eye goggles, managed to release the bird, place it in a bag and return with it to the cliff top.

    As luck would have it, retired vet Jill Reed, was visiting the site and was able to assess the bird’s condition on the cliff top.   Despite its ordeal, it was in remarkably good shape.  Although visibly tired, there appeared to be no damage to its leg apart from a bloody toe!   

    The bird was transported by the RSPCA to Scarborough’s Sealife Centre where it will be checked again for any injuries, given food and water and allowed to rest.  Once it’s back to full strength, it will be released back onto the cliffs.

    While everyone involved was delighted by the outcome, sadly there is evidence on the cliffs of other seabirds  who weren't so lucky.  Marine litter poses a real threat to seabirds and incidents like this are on the increase.  We are currently working closely with local groups to reduce the amount of waste left by fishermen on the cliffs and we continue to campaign to combat marine litter on a larger scale.  

     Images: Ken Calverley

  • Migration round-up - August 2015

    Welcome to the first of our monthly migration round-ups here on the Bempton blog, this one covering the month of August. As described in the previous post, Bempton isn't just about the seabirds - it's also a magnet for migrating landbirds, particularly in the autumn, and it's been an especially good one so far.... as part of the same area (and only a short walk west of the reserve), we've included neighbouring Buckton in our summaries to give a better overall picture of what's happening locally.
    Peregrine- Chrys Mellor
    A Little Egret took up residence at Buckton Pond from 1st (to at least 10th), while 2nd saw a Cuckoo also setting up shop there for a few days and a Hobby over Bempton village. A quiet few days followed before seven Yellow Wagtails dropped into the reserve on 7th, when no less than 300 Swallows were also present. 9th was all about the raptors, with a low-flying Osprey putting on a great show around the reserve, as well as six Common Buzzards and at least one Hobby in the general area. The excitement continued the next day when a Minke Whale was observed from the viewpoints, kindly sticking around for several days and much appreciated by many visitors!
    Minke whale - Tony Mayman
    Birds of prey continued to perform well with two Marsh Harriers and a Common Buzzard on 11th and another Marsh Harrier the following day, when wader passage began with a Black-tailed Godwit and two Golden Plovers over the reserve. Another Common Buzzard on 13th was upstaged by a Cuckoo on the reserve on 14th, when a nice cast of migrants arrived at Buckton including three Sedge Warblers, two Reed Warblers, a very early Fieldfare and both Green Sandpiper and Greenshank at the village pond.
    Spotted Flycatcher - David Aitken
    Action picked up further on 15th when a Wood Sandpiper and a Greenshank overflew the reserve, a Garden Warbler, two Blackcaps and two Willow Warblers arrived in the dell, and Buckton hosted a Marsh Harrier, a Black-tailed Godwit, a Whinchat and a Common Sandpiper. The following day saw the first Pied Flycatcher arriving at Buckton, soon followed by both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers and a Garden Warbler on the reserve on 19th.
    Osprey - Chrys Mellor
    A Wheatear at Buckton on 20th and both Common and Green Sandpipers at the village pond were very much the calm before the storm, and a fantastic fall - a simultaneous mass arrival of continental migrants, as eulogised about in the last post - occurred over the next couple of days, the like of which hasn't been seen for several years in an early autumn context.
    Pied Flycatcher - David Aitken
    A fantastic roll-call at Buckton was headlined by no fewer than three Wrynecks, with good numbers of other passerines including 20 Pied Flycatchers, six Whinchats, 20 Willow Warblers, four Redstarts, four Spotted Flycatchers, a Tree Pipit and a Reed Warbler, with a Merlin no doubt attracted by the bounty on offer... 24th saw our erstwhile warden striking patch gold with an Icterine Warbler in the dell by the reserve car park, as well as seven Pied Flycatchers, two Spotted Flycatchers and two Wheatears; back over at Buckton, common migrant numbers swelled further, with a staggering 100 Willow Warblers, plus single figures of Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchats and Redstarts, as well as Green and Common Sandpipers and the (no doubt well-sated) Merlin still.
    Icterine Warbler - David Aitken
    Many had cleared out by 25th, but some were still arriving, as evidenced by a new cast at the reserve which included four Pied and two Spotted Flycatchers, three Garden Warblers, a Reed Warbler and six Willow Warblers. Habitat creation work at Buckton Pond in recent years has provided a small but attractive area of mud for passage shorebirds, and with various common waders dropping in over recent weeks, it was perhaps only a matter of time before a rarer relative graced its shallows: that time came on 25th, when a pristine juvenile Little Stint pottered around innocently in front of appreciative admirers.
    Little Stint - Martin Garner
    A quieter (but still good quality) end to the month saw both Cuckoo and Whinchat at Buckton on 29th, a small new arrival there on 30th involving a Short-eared Owl, a Redstart, a Whinchat and a Wheatear, and two Whinchats, four Willow Warblers and a locally rare Curlew Sandpiper overhead on 31st.
    Common Redstart - Chrys Mellor
    Thanks to those who provided records and photos, especially Mark Thomas, Chrys Mellor, David Aitken, Tony Mayman, Martin Garner and the Flamborough Bird Observatory team.
    Mark James Pearson
  • Continental drift hits Bempton!

    Falls, scarcities, drift migrants and more.... Mark James Pearson decodes the jargon and explains why Bempton's scrub and hedgerows are worth more than just a glance this September
    Red-backed Shrike - a classic early autumn scarcity
    Bempton Cliffs RSPB is of course justifiably most famous for its internationally important and enviably accessible seabird colony, and indeed the breath-taking views that add further to the awe of the reserve in its spring and summer finery. Much less well known, however, is Bempton's reputation for attracting migrating passerines – songbirds making their way from natal to wintering areas – during the autumn migration period, and especially during September and October.
    Common Redstarts can look very smart, even in September...
    The east coast of the UK is legendary for its capacity to host falls of migrants arriving via the North Sea's airspace, from the near continent, Scandinavia, and even further east. In simple terms, a fall is a notable arrival of land-birds at a given location, usually as a result of prevailing weather conditions (more on that in a while). Anywhere that may act as 'first contact' for arriving migrants can be worth exploring, and as you might expect, the coast is best; better still, an island off it, or a peninsula extending from it.
    Good numbers of Pied Flycatchers can appear during an autumn fall
    Just like, say, Flamborough Head - a legendary hotspot for just such occurrences. Positioned on its northern flank, Bempton may but a little further 'in' than the tip of the head, but it still benefits hugely from its favourable position, jutting out into the North Sea – and as part of the greater Headland, it's an excellent and often under-watched place to find your own migrants as they arrive from their long and often arduous journeys over the ocean.
    Imagine you're a Common Redstart or a Pied Flycatcher in the forests of Sweden, born just weeks ago, but – as a bona fide long-distance migrant - you're itching to make a move in response to various fine-tuned triggers from inside and out. One of those triggers is the weather, or more specifically, the right weather to begin your journey to Africa; ideally it'll be fine, dry, and with either very little or a tail wind, and you're off, heading roughly south.
    Wryneck - one of the classic continental scarcities of the east coast autumn
    However, an easterly breeze causes you to drift across the North Sea – no big deal, as it's not a major diversion – but running into heavy cloud, fog or precipitation as you do so means you decide to play it safe and find the nearest haven to sit out the worst of it. As you lower you flight altitude accordingly, the first available habitat you see is a hedgerow at Bempton – a perfect spot – and if you're noticed by a keen birder when you start to feed up in the morning, you've made it into her or his notebook as a classic drift migrant.
    Spotted Flycatcher - a regular migrant to Bempton in September
    So, what are the best conditions for anticipating a fall? Firstly, it's not an exact science, more of a dark art, and sometimes decent arrivals of migrants (and indeed rarities) can arrive under seemingly unpromising conditions; equally, the perfect weather chart can deliver a tumbleweed-strewn false dawn. But educated guesswork goes a long way, and the circumstances described above often pay out (and sometimes to legendary and exceptional degrees). Check the charts, and if there's high pressure over Scandinavia, an easterly airflow over the North Sea, and (best of all) murky drizzle right over the coast, buckle up and enjoy the ride.
    Greenish Warbler - look for one this week, the conditions look promising!
    What about rarities? Well, if you're lucky to have the means, the opportunity and of course the local patch to call on, then rarity-hunting can become an addictive and rewarding aspect of birding (albeit one with an aqcuired taste!). When the above conditions prevail in September and October, you can almost hear the alarm bells simultaneously ringing in the heads of patch-workers up and down the coast. A fall of commoner migrants - like the aforementioned Common Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers, for example – is one thing, and indeed for all but the most jaded of birders is more than enough to constitute a memorable day in the field. But within their ranks, there may just be something more unusual lurking, carried over on the same weather system and sneaking through alongside the more familiar faces within the avian crowd...
    Wood Warbler - a scarce autumn jewel among much commoner Willow Warblers
    They come in all shapes and sizes (although the cliché of most being Little Brown Jobs unfortunately holds some water!), and from various far-flung locations. Scarcities, for example –occuring a little more frequently than true rarities, but unusual and hard-won visitors nonetheless - are often from less further afield. If conditions allow, August and early September are particularly good for a range of these continental scarcities to make landfall here on the coast, and Bempton has a long and enviable tradition of hosting them; Icterine Warbler, Wryneck, Barred Warbler and Red-backed Shrike are classic examples.
    Wheatear - sometimes the commoner migrants are the most charismatic
    True rarities, however, are the birds that are found frequenting our area (and indeed are entire country) only occasionally, hence the ensuing flap they often cause among the twitching community. A perfect example of this is the Brown Flycatcher, which arrived on north-easterly winds during this very week in 2010, just a few hundred metres west of the reserve, at Buckton. Just the fourth ever to be found in Britain, this heart-stopping rarity should've been in India, via its Siberian birthplace – and was therefore a little more off course than your average Redstart, it's fair to say....
    Indian jungle or Buckton gorse? This Brown Flycatcher made a novel choice....
    While falls, rarities and scarcities may indeed represent a particularly exhilirating and pulse-quickening aspect of birding, by definition they're more the exception than the rule, and the miracle of passerine migration is just as vivid in the appearance of a Willow Warbler as it is in the discovery of a Siberian Rubythroat. Still, if you find one of the latter at Bempton, it's unlikely you'll be buying your own drinks here ever again.....
    Mark James Pearson