Scaring crows kind of goes against the grain with us. In fact, ever since singing along with the crows in the Disney film 'Dumbo' I've had a bit of a soft spot for them. So when we decided to get involved with the famous (in the East Riding) Muston Scarecrow Festival, we decided we'd have to make an un-scarecrow. A scarecrow that might welcome birds rather than frighten them.
How our involvement came about isn't straightforward, as these things rarely are. It all started with a phone call from Muston resident, Malcom Johnstone. About a month ago he started building a model of Bempton Cliffs for a display in All Saints Church, in the heart of the village. The theme of 'Coast to Coast' inspired Malcom to attempt to recreate nearby Bempton Cliffs in miniature - complete with tiny visitor centre on top and little puffins below. We were invited to give advice and tips as Malcom researched the cliffs in detail to make them as accurate as possible.
However, having seen the impressive results of Malcom's sterling efforts, it seemed only fair that we rolled up our sleeves and got stuck in - literally. But with only a day to go before the start of the festival, we desperately needed reinforcements if we were to get our un-scarecrow to the church on time. Luckily, we found an enthusiastic team at a local care home for the elderly. Residents at Mallard Court in Bridlington agreed to spend a sunny afternoon making a jolly scarecrow to sit in the pew next to the model. Activites co-ordinators Sue Weldon and Steve Moss set up an work area and in no time at all, we settled down to some serious paper scrunching.
Tom and Nancy took the lead on packing out the body. And boy did it take some packing! 15 copies of the Bridlington Free Press later and we'd just about got a human shape.
Further assistance turned up as friends and family arrived to bolster the workforce. 18 month old Darcy, Tom's great grand-daughter, even managed to get in on the act. She proved to be a dab hand at paper tearing.
Creating the head almost stumped us. After a bit of trial and error, we struck on the idea of using an upturned bucket with, to highlight the connection with the sea, shells for the eyes and nose. The mouth we cut from a length of rope and it naturally fell into a smile - a good sign.
With everything in place, all we had to do was come up with a name. So what do you call the un-scariest scarecrow in town? 'Sunshine' , said Nancy. Which seemed absolutely perfect.
Once he was kitted out in RSPB clothing, given some wellies and a pair of binoculars he was ready for off. And as an un-scarecrow, he was a huge success. I can officially report that not a single creature we saw was spooked by him.
The Muston Scarecrow Festival continues until Sunday, 3 August. Pop along and say hello to Sunshine.
Hello readers, and welcome again to a special edition of Recent Sightings. Apologies for the delay in getting this one up -- I've just graduated, so I'm sure you can imagine it's been a busy week! Unfortunately, this also means that this will be my final update, as my placement time at Bempton has ended and I must be moving on. Today I'll be updating what was seen in my last few days on the reserve (up to last Monday), and reflecting a bit on my time there by sharing some of my favourite pictures that I haven't used yet in these updates!
First, as promised: have a look at this little fluffy! Fulmar chicks, being typically the last of our seabirds to hatch, can now be seen here and there along the cliffs. This one is on a grassy outcrop off New Roll-up viewpoint. Fulmars have an amazing defence mechanism -- they can spit a smelly, oily, fishy mixture from their guts which is said to be worse than skunk spray and impossible to wash from clothes (those involved in ringing and tracking fulmars allegedly burn their clothes at the end of each season!). Their ability to spit at distance and under high pressure can really mess with a predator's fur or feathers, and since they're so well protected, fulmars can afford to have their young right up near the tops of the cliffs where our other seabirds would be very vulnerable to predators. Keep your eyes peeled and you may be able to spot a few!
Digiscope of a fulmar chick off the south side of New Roll-up viewpoint. Photo by Jaime, thanks to Chris for use of the scope.
Elsewhere on the cliffs, a handful of surprise late chicks appeared: a guillemot off the north side of Grandstand (which may have left already -- after all they jump after only 2 to 3 weeks!), and a gannet and kittiwake off the north side of Bartlett Nab.
Late guillemot chick seen off Grandstand viewpoint. Photo by Jaime.
Late gannet chick off Bartlett Nab viewpoint. Photo by Jaime.
This late little kittiwake is much younger than its neighbours, who are all busy fledging! Photo by Jaime.
On Saturday the 19th, a little egret and a few manx shearwaters were seen flying south, while a dozen or so common scoters were seen on the water. Saturday the 20th saw a huge flock of common scoters on sea again, this time estimated at over 100 individuals! They were joined by a pair of whimbrels, and a pair each of manx shearwater and grey herons off Grandstand viewpoint. One of our young peregrines was observed putting up the kittiwakes into fear flights all along the cliff, while a merlin, which doesn't specialise in birds as prey the way the peregrine does, was largely ignored by the seabirds at New Roll-up. My final day on the reserve was a bright and sunny one: 21 July saw the meadow alive with butterflies including small skippers and painted ladies. To finish out with a bit of excitement, I was lucky to see both a peregrine and a grey seal off Jubilee Corner.
The puffins have unfortunately largely left (there were very few to see on Monday 21 before I left), but this simply means that the cliffs' thousands of gannets are now the great stars of the show! With wing spans reaching up to about 6 feet (that's a little taller than me!) and all sorts of incredible adaptations for their plunge-diving hunting style, these birds are really impressive. Guided walks have shifted gears to focus on them instead of Puffin Patrols, but the opportunity is still there to learn about all the birds that you can still see on the cliffs, and get up-close views with one of our volunteers' telescopes! Besides the guided walks, there's also a new interactive quiz trail for families coming soon -- helping design it was one of my final tasks with the reserve -- so be sure to come and check out our big birds and minibeasts!
The gannets aren't leaving yet! Come learn about them and all the other remaining birds! Photo by Jaime.
And that, sadly, is really all I can say about recent sightings! To finish out, as promised, I'd like to share some more of my photos from the reserve that I've not had a chance to include thus far. I hope you'll enjoy them!
Young gannet in flight. Gannets are black when they fledge, and gradually turn white over 4 to 5 years until they're ready to breed! Photo by Jaime
Two gannets having a bit of a scrap. Young are often seen practicing this and other behaviours along the tops of the cliffs! Photo by Jaime.
Does anyone remember these little fluffies from my first post? Little 17a and 17b were the first hatchlings I found when I temporarily took over a kittiwake monitoring plot at Bartlett Nab. We watch hundreds of these nests with weekly checks of how their eggs and chicks are doing, as kittiwakes with their small bills and poor diving skills have a very restricted diet, making them a good indicator species for any changes going on at a very basic level of the food web out in the sea. I followed these chicks every week I was on the reserve, so now you can see them grow up, too!
Reposted photo of little 17a and 17b, so named for their plot-monitoring nest number, on my first week on the reserve. Photo by Jaime.
The same chicks approximately 2 weeks after hatching. Photo by Jaime.
Around three weeks of age. Photo by Jaime.
At around 4 weeks of age. Photo by Jaime.
Five weeks old! They've finally got their feathers! Photo by Jaime.
And lastly, about five and a half weeks old. Photo by Jaime.
Unfortunately, neither of the pair were ready to fledge by the time I left, but with their feathers largely fully in, they were looking like they'd start exercising their wings like their neighbour, below, at any moment.
Young kittiwake off Bartlett Nab flapping to exercise its wings in preparation for fledging in the near future. Photo by Jaime.
Of course, when they do fledge, they'll be showing off what I think is one of the prettiest plumages in the colony, like this little fledgling below. The black arrow patterns on young kittiwakes' (or "tarrocks", as they are alternately known) wings are very striking, as well as their dark collars. Over the following year or two they'll gain adult plumage and end up looking just like their parents.
Recently-fledged tarrock in flight over the sea. Photo by Jaime.
And that's the last I have to share about the birds! It has been an absolute blast working with the whole RSPB team of staff and volunteers up at Bempton Cliffs, and a real pleasure writing these updates for you all -- thank you for reading!!
And now, to part, and just as a reminder that there are always interesting things to see all over the reserve, I leave you with... a toad! Forget gross and warty, they're generally not the slightest bit slimy, and just look at the beautiful colour of its eyes! What's not to love?!
Toad on a log along the nature trail. Photo by Jaime.
And that, folks, is all! Best wishes and happy spotting!
It’s always nice to get a pat on the back. When it's accompanied by a university-style gown on your back, it’s even more welcome.
This is exactly what happened recently to East Riding local group volunteer and RSPB Council member, Sal Cooke.
Earlier this month, the Myerscough College in Preston, Lancashire conferred an honorary fellowship on Sal in recognition of her ‘outstanding career in the use of pioneering technology, particularly within the education sector.’
Professor Stephanie Marshall, chief executive of the Higher Education Academy, said: “This fellowship is very well-deserved and I’m delighted that Sal has been recognised in this way. I have worked closely with her over the years and her commitment and enthusiasm is second to none.’
Sal's background is, not surprisingly, rooted in academia. She qualified as a teacher, taught and lectured in schools, colleges and university and now heads up a leading UK advisory service which focuses on the use of technology to aid and support learning, training and employment.
Out of office hours, Sal is heavily involved with the RSPB. She has served on the East Yorkshire Local Group committee for over 20 years, is its former joint leader, is a pin badge coordinator, supports RSPB campaigns, gives talks, has undertaken practical work on reserves and shows birds and other wildlife to visitors. But it’s her commitment to RSPB Bempton Cliffs Seabird Cruises that have made her a familiar face to thousands of visitors who have sailed to the cliffs from Bridlington harbour over the past 29 years.
So we’d like to add our congratulations to the many Sal’s already received. And hope that she continues to blaze a trail for technology as well as for Bempton Cliffs.