Bempton Cliffs

Bempton Cliffs

Bempton Cliffs
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Bempton Cliffs

  • Orange skies and orange beaks

    It’s always a special time - when the glow of the day turns to the gold of the evening.   And so it was for the final evening puffin patrol of the season.

    On Grandstand viewpoint, puffins were ticked of the must-see list.  There’s been a puffin nesting unusually close to this viewpoint and the puffling inside the crevice in the cliff has been visible on many occasions.  In fact, it’s appeared in so many photos, it probably has its own Twitter account.  

    A trail of puffin-facts wound its way along the cliff tops and shed some light on the life and loves of the seabird.  Unlike the puffin on the chalk board, we weren't sensible enough to pack a  torch so we didn't hang around. 

    While famous for its seabirds, the reserve is home to all kinds of wildlife.  And we were treated to some real surprises on this walk – a barn owl flying low in search of supper;  a spotted common orchid, just past its best, hiding amongst the long grass; a woozy ‘woolly boy’ dropped from the beak of a clumsy seabird;  the rising song of skylark and a fleeting glance of a corn bunting in the now darkening sky.  We were entranced. 

    And there was also the moment that 70 year old Guoxian from Yunnan, China gazed across at the sea for only the second time in her life – the first time being only hours earlier a little further south.   From a land of lakes and mountains, she was mesmerised by the waves. 

    As the sun slipped sleepily further towards the horizon, we arrived at New Roll-up viewpoint.   Here a stiff-winged fulmar spiralled slowly downward in large circles.  Beneath the churning sea 300 feet below, lies one of the thousands of ships that ran aground on this treacherous coast.  The Radium sank here in 1937 carrying a cargo of coal.  Its boiler can still be seen at low tide.    But the most famous wreck hereabouts  is the Bonhomme Richard which met its end in the Battle of Flamborough Head in 1779.  Its Captain was John Paul Jones, the father of the US Navy, and Americans still scan the seabed in the hope of discovering his lost sailing ship.  

    With the light now fading, over towards Filey, the sun and the sea gently kissed and the magic happened.   A pool of gold formed across the bay where surely there must be yellow-haired mermaids playing.    And a pink pathway stretched out towards the cliffs that if followed would likely lead to sunken pirate treasure.  (That’s the problem with sunsets, they do tend to make you more than a little whimsical). 

    Earlier on the cliff top path, we passed a bunch of flowers tied to a fence post in memory of someone unknown to us but still missed by a loved one.  We hoped with all our might that the visit they were remembering had been as wonderful as this one.  

  • First fluffy Fulmar chicks

    Hello again,

    Warning: This blog contains extremely adorable photos of Seabird chicks.

    First Fulmar chick spotted!

    I was very excited about this, so I started looking for others. A few Fulmars looked like they were sitting on fluffy cushions. I had to wait a while until the adult fidgeted and a tiny face would appear out of the fluff.


    The Fulmars are understandably very protective over this vulnerable ball of fluff. The photo below shows this, when a very brave or silly Guillemot wonders a little too close:

    The Guillemot wisely backed away in the end.

    Below is the fist one spotted again. With its parent doing a good job making sure nobody comes too close. Here you can see the white dot on the end of the chicks beak, this is its egg tooth, this helps it get its way out of the egg before falling off the beak.



    A little update on two other species: The Kittiwakes and Gannets. A few of the Kittiwake chicks have started to fledge. You can spot them fluttering close to the cliffs, learning how to get the hang of their wings. Despite some already fledging, there are still a lot that are not quite ready yet. As this photo below shows: Here there is a fledged Kittiwake above a younger Kittiwake still in the nest.

    The majority of the Gannet chicks are comically big now. Though a lot are still covered in incredible amounts of fluff, a few of them have their juvenile feathers coming through:




  • So much to learn...

    Welcome to a guest post from Mike - Seabird Research Assistant.

    Hello all. At the end of last season my blog posting privileges expired and this season the team have been doing such a great job that I never felt the need to get them restored, until now.

    One of my favourite things about the seabird work that we do here at Bempton is that there is still so much to learn. I was reminded of this most recently by Razorbill MA82 430.

    On 2 July, as I was drinking much needed coffee and checking my emails after an early start with a seabird tagging team from the RSPB STAR project, a message flashed up from our indomitable Gannet monitoring volunteer Linda – she’d spotted a colour ringed Razorbill at Breil Nook, Flamborough. Now there are a LOT of razorbills at Breil, but I thought I’d keep an eye out for it just in case.

    A few days later I bumped in to Linda out on the cliffs and she showed me exactly where she had seen the bird, but I still didn’t have high hopes. Needles and haystacks kept running through my mind. Nonetheless, I continued to scan the area on my subsequent visits to Breil – I am there 4 days a week. And then on 7 July there it was – a Razorbill with a green ring above a metal ring on its left leg. I kept watching and saw a flash of red on the right leg. This was the bird! I kept on it, hoping to see the distinctive numbers or letters usually engraved on a colour ring so it can be read in the field. There were none. Instead I saw something even more interesting – a geolocator, a tiny tag designed to record where the bird is, attached to the red ring on the right leg. Curiouser and curiouser.

    I spent some more time scoping the bird and managed to read part of the number on the BTO metal ring, but that was it. An interesting (to me anyway) fact about the metal rings used on Razorbills (and Guillemots) are not actually rings, but are triangular. They are designed so that one side rests flat against the rock the birds frequent and that side has no writing on it. The rock wears away the writing on a traditional ring.

    Now there are not that many people likely to have been fitting geolocators to Razorbills in the UK. So I emailed a contact who does seabird research on the Isle of May – who confirmed that the bird might well have been ringed there. But we would need the full BTO ring number to be sure. The following day, Sophia I were back at Breil, and so was the Razorbill – right in the same spot. We spent half an hour, as it started to rain, scoping the bird and agreed on the number – MA82 430. That afternoon I emailed my contact from the May who confirmed that the bird had been ringed there in July 2013. It would be great if we could catch the bird to get data off the geolocator, but it has cunningly chosen a spot where this isn’t possible.

    Since then I have seen the bird at the same spot a few more times, and suspect that it bred there. So we have an Isle of May bird which moved to Flamborough, or a Flamborough bird which checked out the May before deciding to breed here after all. How cool is that. And how many more Razorbills move colony or scout other colonies? And do Guillemots do the same thing? What about Puffins? There’s still so much to discover about the life histories and ecology of our seabirds.