Bempton Cliffs

Bempton Cliffs

Bempton Cliffs
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Bempton Cliffs

  • Katherine's on the case #2

    Another update from Katherine! With the monitoring that Katherine is doing, she gets to be right in the heart of the action and so I really look forward to reading her blogs, as I'm sure you do too.

    20th June 2016

    I was thinking it might be a good idea to let you know some of the tell tale signs that there are chicks about! It sounds easy to go out and look for chicks amongst the razorbills and guillemots, but until you ‘get your eye in’ it really can be quite a challenge.

    So, I’ve put together some photos which may help you get a bit of a better idea what to look for and the tips fall into four main groups:-

    1. Broken eggs
    2. Odd shaped blobs by the top of an adult’s wing
    3. Little feet facing the ‘wrong’ way
    4. Poo squirting from a place you are not expecting it

    I have some photos to illustrate the first three. I do not have photos to illustrate the fourth as I have not been quick enough with the camera, so you will have to use your imagination and keep your eyes peeled!

    1. Broken eggs

    Sometimes when you look on the cliffs you may see the broken blue eggs of the guillemot, or the white/grey ones of the razorbill. You might jump to the conclusion that there is trouble at mill, and you may be right. However, it may be a sign of a chick.

    If you look at the back end of incubating birds, and you can tell they might be incubating because of their hunched posture (see below), you may see some little bits of broken shell.

    You can see both the hunched, incubating posture here and the little bits of blue egg at the rear end of the bird fourth from the left. This is a clue to a chick because if the egg had been predated it would have been taken away and if it had smashed in situ there would be the contents of the egg spread about. But, of course, in this case the contents of the egg is not spread about – it is under one of the birds being brooded. Kept lovely and warm and protected from would be attackers.

    Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get to see both. The little bits of egg, and a sign from a next-door neighbour as to what might be under the bird with the broken egg!

    Just out of interest, the bird on the left (No. 53a) still has its chick and it is quite big now. Unfortunately, the bird on the right (No. 53), despite bringing their chick to about 12 days old, now no longer has the chick. So we presume the chick has either fallen from the ledge and died, or been taken by a predator.

    The main predators of the chicks are crows, herring gulls and/or jackdaws. All these predators will take both chicks and eggs so it is very important the adults use their bodies as a shield to prevent attack and removal of their eggs and young.

    2. Odd shaped blobs by the top of an adult’s wing

    The other day on Grandstand, we ended up with quite a session on ‘odd shaped blobs by the top of an adult’s wing’ spotting session. What to look for is something not quite sitting right on the normally very well groomed birds, or a colour on their wing/back that is not in keeping with the rest of them. Let me show you some examples.

    You might see this...

    And you might wonder what the grey blob is on the back of such a lovely black bird. Keep looking! It may move! And then, if you have a telescope, you may see this...

    A lovely little chick. All warm and snug up against its parent’s body and safe from predators too. This chick still has the egg tooth visible. This egg tooth is what it uses to bash its way out of the shell when it’s hatching out and it disappears after a little while.

    Both razorbills and guillemots brood their young in this way, so keep a look out in both species.

    3. Little feet facing the ‘wrong’ way

    Instead of the sound of tiny feet telling you there’s a chick – bionic hearing would be required – you can sometimes see feet that are both too small for the adult, and facing the wrong way. This is a very good sign there is a chick somewhere under there! So again, keep looking and if they move the foot/feet become clearer and you know what’s going on. You may see something like this – spot the little foot facing the ‘wrong’ way!

    In terms of the fourth tip, I’ll leave you to look out for that one. It is a very good indicator there’s a chick under there!

    Nest time (boom boom!) I shall be showing you more chick pictures and even some of chicks ‘home alone’. Thankfully, not for long.

  • Party animals

    'Don't stop me now I'm having such a good time, I'm having a ball'.  You can't beat a bit of Queen when it comes to partying.  And, despite the miserable weather in the photo, that's exactly what we were doing when our local Phoenix group visited us to celebrate their 20th birthday.    It's quite an achievement when the group is older than its members who are all aged between 12 and 18.    The group's success is in the main due to the commitment of its ever enthusiastic leader, Bev Hylton, who has been around from day one. 

    For those who aren't familiar with Phoenix groups, they are the RSPB's  Youth Membership clubs that get teenagers to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in to conservation activities as well as nurturing their love of nature.  

     Tom and the group return for pop and sandwiches after a windswept walk

    Tom Cross, Bempton Cliffs' Membership Development Manager, organised the event and is a wonderful example of how experience gained from this group can help youngsters forge careers in conservation. 

    From being knee high to a puffin, Tom has loved wildlife.  He joined the RSPB's junior society, Wildlife Explorers before progressing to the Phoenix group and then adult RSPB membership.   His teenage years spent with the Phoenix group helped him form a real connection with the natural world through hands-on activities such as improving habitats or building homes for nature.   And he has really happy memories of days spent up to his ankles in mud clearing ponds and even falling in one in an attempt to get closer to a species of bird.  

    Today’s members are equally as passionate as Tom. 

    14 year old Jacob Jackson lives in Hessle and has been a member of the group for around 18 months.   He’s always been interested in wildlife and progressed from the junior group, Wildlife Explorers into the Phoenix Group.  Jacob said:  ‘Some people think it’s nerdy, but it’s not.   I feel I’m really making a difference in the natural world and that’s really cool’.    

    Ethan Scott from Beverly is 17 and he’s been a member for five years and appreciates the opportunity to get out into the wilds and do something a bit different.   And the different things the group does range from building habitats for snakes to beach cleans.   Of course, there's  plenty of time to watch birds and observe wildlife too. 

    Back in the Seabird Centre, Group Leader Bev Hylton, was presented with a certificate and a watercolour painting to mark the occasion.   A surprised Bev said if she didn’t like it so much, she’d cut it up into tiny pieces so she could share it with all the members as it’s only because of them, and the support from her amazing activity leaders, that the group has gone from strength to strength. 

    Siobhan McGuigan, RSPB’s Youth Development Officer for Northern England, praised Bev's dedication over the years:

    ‘It’s important to say Thank You – and Bev does such a tremendous job.  She's inspired generations of youngsters to get involved with conservation projects that not only benefits nature but the community too'.

     Tom Cross, Bev Hylton and Siobhan McGuigan

    If you know someone who is interested in joining the East Riding RSPB Phoenix Group, you can get in touch with Bev at:

  • Auk, gannet and kittiwake chicks + Recent Sightings

    This time of year is so exciting at Bempton Cliffs! We have chicks everywhere and every time I catch sight of one I can't help but feel warm and fuzzy inside. In the last week or two we have started to spot the auk chicks huddled with their parents on their tiny ledges. I didn't know this, but auk chicks hatch at quite a good size, as they leave the nest after just 2 and a half weeks and need to be big enough to do so. When they leave the nest they jump down to the sea, which is where they get the name 'jumplings' from. Their flight feathers take another 4 weeks to fully form, so until then they sit on the sea and continue to be fed by the male. In this picture you can get an idea of the size of a guillemot chick, which still has a week or so left before it is ready to fledge.

    Guillemot and chick - Image by Mark Smales.

    The gannets have a much wider window of opportunity when it comes to laying their eggs. The first gannets start returning to the cliffs in January, and the last gannets will leave in October. We have many gannet chicks on the cliffs at the moment, and many more to come! So, if you've visited us recently and seen the many different stages of gannet chicks on the cliffs, that's why! Pair 33's chick was the first to hatch at the beginning of May, so will be the biggest by far, but it still has 6-8 weeks left in the nest before it will be ready to fledge. The gannet chick pictured below is still small enough to sit safe and warm under the adult. Isn't it cute?!

    Gannet with chick - Image by Kevin Groocock

    While I have been writing this post my e-mail pinged with this gorgeous photo fresh from the cliffs of a kittiwake with its chicks. This is our first sighting of kittiwake chicks this year at Bempton Cliffs, so it definitely needed a mention! I've been watching in awe for weeks as large numbers of kittiwakes have been gathering nesting materials from a pond across the fields near Jubilee Corner, and then flying back over visitors' heads to their nests on the cliffs. That all stopped about 3 weeks ago and now I know why :-)

    I told you it was an exciting time to be here!

    Image by Michael Babcock


    The team here at Bempton are really efficient with updating our recent sightings board, so here is what we've seen around the reserve lately.

    Kestrel, barnacle geese x 4 flying north, sandwich tern flying south past Grandstand, painted lady butterfly, sparrowhawk (female), peregrine falcon, corn bunting, reed bunting, linnet, white throat, tree sparrow, barn owl, turtle dove, spoonbill, small copper butterfly, yellow wagtail, canada geese x 40 flying by Bartlett Nab. Lastly in the Dell there has been a blackcap, lesser white throat x2 and a moorhen with 3 one week old chicks.