Hi there. Allow me to introduce myself, I’m Chris Calow and I’m your brand new visitor experience intern. I’ve taken the reins from Laura and Becky who did a fantastic job over what was an incredibly busy and challenging time for the team here at Bempton. I think it’s safe to say that the season wouldn’t have been the success that it was without them and the contributions which they made. All good things come to an end though and the two of them have both moved on to pastures new for the next six months. This means that you’re stuck with me now all throughout the winter season.
With a poplar hawk-moth - Pernille Egeberg
I suppose I should come clean and admit that even though I’ve only just started here as an intern I’m no stranger to Bempton Cliffs. I began volunteering with the RSPB right here at Bempton back in November 2013 and stuck around for six months before moving on to volunteer at other RSPB reserves for the next year or so. I was delighted to be invited back to help out over the busy summer holidays before transitioning into my internship, which brings us up to now. Over the next six months I’ll (hopefully) be posting regular blogs about all things Bempton.
Bempton Cliffs - Steve Race
I can’t think of a better place to spend the next six months or a friendlier team of talented and hard working people to work with. I’ve volunteered at four different RSPB reserves and have had a fantastic time at each of them but I can safely say that Bempton Cliffs remains my favourite. I can’t think of anywhere else where you can see such fabulous wildlife surrounded by such incredible scenery. I’m looking forward to my time here and can’t wait to get stuck in.
Now to business. It’s an exciting time at Bempton Cliffs, many of the seabirds may have left us for the year but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to be seen. First and foremost the gannets are still here in large numbers. There is still hardly an inch to spare on Staple Newk; many of the gannets still have chicks so they’ll be staying here with us well into October.
On September 9th several local fisherman were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to see something truly spectacular just off shore between Bempton and Flamborough Head. Can you guess what it was? Give yourself a point if you said basking shark. We’re used to sightings of marine mammals here at Bempton, porpoises are common and we’ve been fortunate enough this year to have several sightings of minke whales and we were even lucky enough to spot at least five common dolphin from Staple Newk on the 17th, but a basking shark is a true rarity in these waters. It is the second largest fish in the world and can reach a size of 9 - 10m, with a few exceptional individuals on record as being 12 m long. This picture should give you some idea as to the size of a basking shark.
Basking Shark - Chris Gotschalk
It’s certainly an impressive fish but there’s no need to panic if you ever find yourself in the water with one, they feed on plankton, small fish and invertebrates. Despite the enormous size that it can reach we know surprising little about basking sharks, it’s not easy to study an animal that spends so much time deep underwater
Slightly less spectacular but no less exciting were the small mammals that we caught on our discovery day earlier this month. Five species were caught in total. These were field mouse, wood mouse, bank vole, common shrew, and pygmy shrew. It just goes to show that there are more species of mammal out there than you might think. Good news for us but bad news for those five species was the weasel that was spotted outside the visitor centre on the 10th and 18th September. The weasel is Britain’s smallest carnivore but don’t be fooled by it’s size, it is an incredibly successful hunter that specialises in hunting small rodents.
Shrew - Leo Kokoszko
There are still a number of beautiful butterflies to be seen on the reserve this month. We’ve had sightings of peacock, small tortoiseshell, and wall and a large influx of red admirals coming in off the sea on the 10th.
So far I’ve barely mentioned the birds on the reserve. Autumn migration is well and truly underway with regular sightings of species heading back south for the winter. The Dell and Pallas’ Patch have been the regular haunts of willow warbler (1st, 12th, 15th, 16th), blackcap (1st, 15th, 16th), whitethroat (1st, 15th, 18th) goldcrest (3rd, 15th, 16th, 18th), spotted flycatcher (6th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 15th), pied flycatcher (10th, 12th), and most frequently of all, redstart (10th, 11th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 18th). These aren’t the only migrant birds about though; there have also been sightings of garden warbler (1st), wheatear (1st, 10th), yellow wagtail (6th, 10th), siskin (15th, 16th) and redpoll (16th). We are still seeing the odd house martin and swallow in addition to a very late swift on the 15th. It won’t be long before all of these birds are winging their way towards the warmer weather that they will find in Africa over the winter. They’ll be replaced on our shores by a new cast of characters coming to us from the north. Now is the time to start looking out for species such as redwing, fieldfare and maybe even a waxwing or two.
So far September has also proved to be a productive month for sea watching from Bempton. The 4th yielded sightings of great skua, red throated diver, common scoter, arctic skua and arctic tern, while the 5th produced manx shearwater, sooty shearwater and another sighting of common scoter.
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