Bempton Cliffs

Bempton Cliffs

Bempton Cliffs
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Bempton Cliffs

  • Thank you very, very, very much

    It seems strange to think about winter in the middle of summer but there is a good reason for it.  I remember one Christmas seeing Tommy Steele in the title role of 'Scrooge' at somewhere like the Bradford Alhambra theatre.    One of the big songs from the show was 'Thank you very much' - and it strikes me if there'd been a soundtrack to the event we held at the end of last month, this would have been it. 

    On a gorgeously sunny day in June we welcomed around one hundred guests to the reserve to say a huge 'Thank you' for all the help we received in transforming our old visitor centre into our magnificent new seabird centre.   And it turned out to be a real day to remember. 

    From those who raised funds and those who'd signed cheques, to those who'd laid bricks and even those who'd 

    There were local dignataries and local   And, of course, there were staff and volunteers too. 

    .   

    Opening the proceedings was The Reverend Barnes Lawrence, vicar of Bridlington Priory in the mid 1800s.  He explained how, appalled by the wholesale slaughter of the seabirds by Victorian shooting parties made up of tourists from Scarborough and Bridlington, he successfully fought to bring about the Seabird Preservation Act of 1869.   Arguably this makes Bempton Cliffs the birthplace of seabird protection.   

      

    Mike Clarke delighted everyone with his response to the Reverend, and explained what the RSPB had been doing in the subsequent years  to build on his good work.   It was a privilege to have the charity's Chief Executive 

    Other speeches followed and then it was time for lunch. 

    The team from the Spa Bridlington laid on a fabulous spread and as everyone tucked in, there was the chance to chat and mingle and find out how everyone had played their part 

    Then it was time to see the star attraction - the new seabird centre.  And there was plenty to see. 

    Personnel from the kittiwake ringing team were on hand to explain their work.

    There were also 'climmers' wandering about telling tales of their exploits egg collecting on the cliffs.  Like the Reverend, these were part of our live interpretation team who bring some of the history of the cliffs to life.  Hearing their stories really does show the cliffs in a different light - not just a place but somewhere that helped support large families in an isolated rural community. 

    Finally, the event was rounded off with a series of walks around the reserve.  The perfect ending to the perfect big day. 

  • Buying binoculars at Bempton Cliffs - and the new RSPB HDs reviewed!

     
    In the market for a decent pair of binoculars, but don't want to have to sell the kids to do so? Mark looks at the range of choice on offer and exclusively test drives the brand new RSPB HD range, available now at the Bempton Cliffs Visitors Centre
    It used to be a lot simpler. You had the high-end brands pitched at the serious birder (or, at least, the birder who wanted to be taken seriously), at seriously eye-watering prices – but even if you had to remortgage the house, you knew you getting the very best from the three or four big names who'd settled at the top of the tree as exemplars in their field.
     
    Then you had everything else, pitched at everyone else. Which - while there were certain brands and models which were significantly better than others – served to accentuate not just the gulf in price and status, but also in quality and workmanship. As a customer you effectively fell one of two target groups: in the high-end bracket, you were either rolling in it or so besotted with your pursuit that you'd sell the kids to get a pair of bins that did your avian subjects justice. At the other end, if you were neither of the above, you had to settle for whatever you could justify or afford, with a confusing and often disappointing variety of quality and choice.
    These days, it's all change on the (mostly virtual) shop shelves, and it's all the better for it. There are effectively three 'classes' of binoculars on the market – let's call them entry level, mid-range and high-end - and they've all shown a substantial improvements in the last few years. Entry level binoculars can be surprisingly usable these days, with several manufacturers leading the way, but you get what you pay for in reliability and quality of both optics and workmanship – thus, if you use your bins often and get a lot of pleasure from them, limiting yourself to, say, a £150 or £200 pair can ultimately be false economy.
     
    If you're in the market for a high-end model, then you're probably already aware that the same three or four traditionally lauded brands maintain their monopoly, and that for the best and latest models, you're looking at four figures before you can say 'diamonds are forever' . It's worth mentioning, however, that while there have indeed been recent improvements in this category, it's reached a point where there's so little to choose between them, it almost doesn't matter which of the top manufacturers you eventually decide to cross the palm of.
     
    Which leaves us with the mid-range - the class which has shown the most marked upward surge in quality of late - and it's here where the all-new RSPB HD range comfortably nestles post-launch this month. It's an increasingly crowded, and therefore competitive, marketplace; good news for consumers, especially those who are serious about their birding and their enjoyment of nature, but who were previous excluded from the quality optics market. So, with plenty of choice and new models appearing all the time, how does the new RSPB range rack up?
     
    I've been test-driving the 8x42 HDs, and comparing them against my trusty 8x42 Leica Trinovids, a high-end model that have served me well for some years. I should point out that at no point did I expect the RSPB HDs to match them, and nor should they be expected to with such a huge difference in price (the former a mere third of the latter) – but with a £500 tag, I was hoping for something that would exude the requisite quality on multiple levels.
     
    They've been put to the test in various situations here in Filey over the last few days, including out on the wave-pummeled promontory of the Brigg and in the more genteel, sheltered environs of the Dams and East Lea (our local wetland reserves), as well as in various lights and conditions - and I'm happy to report they were very much up to the challenge in every department.
     
    The 'feel' of your binoculars is one of the most important and often undervalued features, and this is an area where the RSPB HDs instantly score highly. Beyond their refreshingly no-frills, functional appearance, they sit very comfortably in your palms and are well-balanced overall. Better still, their textured TPU body armour makes them 'stick' very satisfyingly in your grip, a feature they have up on even some of the higher-end models.
     
    The design and positioning of all other features are similarly traditional, with the focus wheel positioned at the top of the central bridge and the dioptre on the right-hand eye-piece. The former is easy to reach even for small hands, and turns smoothly but firmly (another sign of quality), while the latter is reassuringly difficult to move without making an effort to do so.
     
    The eye-pieces have three settings – fully retracted for those who wear glasses, halfway, and fully extended – and the three settings click into place easily but firmly, a feature that is a welcome new addition to the RSPB range. As you'd expect from new HD binoculars, they're nitrogen-filled to prevent fogging and are fully waterproof, and come with a ten-year warranty (which is about par for the mid-range pair).
     
     
    Optically, they're impressive, and there were several areas where they excelled. Most notably, image refraction was minimal, and was limited to a narrow area at the very outer reaches of the field of view (and thus are noticeably better than some of their contemporaries); light gathering was excellent, even in overcast and darker conditions, and image sharpness even gave the Leicas a run for their money.
     
    On one important aspect they even beat their far more expensive cousins, and by some distance, too: their close-focusing range (i.e. the distance at which you can focus down on a subject close at hand) is great, substantially better than my Leicas, and indeed better than the two metres detailed on the accompanying specifications. If you want to make the most of a wider variety of wildlife when out and about with your binoculars, then this is a critical and often overlooked feature that, if you pick the right pair, will greatly improve your experience - for dragonflies, butterflies and other insects in particular.
     
    So, if you're in the market for a serious pair of binoculars but don't want to pay astronomical prices, it's fair to say the new RSPB HDs are very much worth checking out - and there's a perfect opportunity to do so.... the visitor centre at Bempton Cliffs has an excellent selection of optics (including the new, just-arrived HDs), knowledgeable staff on hand to help and advise, and even dedicated optics Open Weekends where you can really test-drive your options. The next is just a few days away, on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th December – why not drop by and see for yourself?
     
    Mark James Pearson
     
  • The Birds Are Back In Town

    November will soon be over, Christmas adverts are playing on the television and we’ve already had the first snows of winter, in fact I was lucky enough to have a ‘white birthday’, winter is well and truly upon us. That shouldn’t put you off from visiting Bempton Cliffs though. It’s equally as beautiful and remarkable a place now as during the height of summer. A bracing cliff top walk at this time of year is just the thing to blow away any cobwebs, and your hat too if you don’t hold on to it. If you’re brave enough to face the wind though you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views and wonderful wildlife.

    November saw us running four fabulous geology walks with Paul Hildreth, which I can tell you from experience were fantastic and well worth getting a little chilly for. We’re very grateful to Paul for coming all the way from Lincolnshire each week to lead the walks for us. Don’t worry if you missed them though, we’ve got plenty more walks planned throughout the winter. December is shipwreck month. There will be three walks throughout the month, led by our fabulous volunteer Tony Mayman. There are more than 50,000 shipwrecks between the Tees and the Humber yet many people have no idea that there any shipwrecks at all along the Bempton coastline. This walk will give you the chance to learn all about them, why the ships were here, where they were going, who was onboard and perhaps most importantly, why did they sink. As with the geology walks the price, £5, will also include a hot drink and a slice of cake. It’s one that’s not to be missed. As of writing the first shipwreck walk has taken place and it was a huge success, so don’t miss your chance to come along to the next one.

    Tony Mayman delivering a presentation before heading out for the shipwreck walk - Sarah Aitken

     

    This month also saw the last of our series of talks that have been running all year in conjunction with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust at the Living Sea Centre. We were lucky enough to have the marvellous John Altringham entertain and enthral us about bats for almost two hours. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went away with a new found appreciation of the fuzzy little critters. We will be running another series of talks next year, once again in conjunction with our friends at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. It’s too early to tell you who the speakers will be but if the whispers that I’m hearing are true we will be in for a real treat on a monthly basis.

    We’re continuing to see whooper swans on the move past the reserve. Good numbers were sighted on the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 19th and 20th of November. During the winter months the Yorkshire coast is visited by good numbers of wintering divers, particularly red-throated divers and we’ve started to see evidence of this recently with sightings on a regular basis. At one point on the 20th there were up to eight birds present on the sea just off Grandstand viewpoint.

    Red-throated diver, here in summer plumage - RSPB Images

    Recently stormy weather has seen large numbers of adorable little auks pushed in towards the coastline. The Yorkshire coast has been inundated with these tiny, delightful auks recently, we were even lucky enough to spot small numbers of them from the cliff top viewpoints.

    Little auk illustration - RSPB Images

    After a short break spent away from our cliffs I am delighted to say that the fulmars have returned. They don’t leave for long, maybe a month or so but it’s always pleasing when they return. It’s a joy to see them soaring effortlessly through the air with their wings held stiff. You may or may not know this but despite look superficially similar to a gull fulmars actually belong to the same family as the albatross. A recent training session held in the centre for staff and volunteers revealed that it’s the fulmar which is the favourite bird of the majority of our team. Take that puffin.


    Fulmar - Steve Race

     

    They’re not the only seabird that we’ve been seeing back on the cliffs recently because guillemots have been returning too. They won’t be back on the cliffs to breed until next year but it’s not too unusual to see them at this time of year. They may have followed a shoal of fish in to shore or there may be a storm out to sea which forces them to seek shelter, but regardless of the reason it’s certainly good to see them. The 3rd of December was a fantastic guillemot day with over 1000 birds present on the cliffs spread between Grandstand, Mosey Downgate and Bartlett Nab viewpoints.

    Guillemot - Chrys Mellor

    There is one species of bird which I have barely mentioned in my previous posts, a particularly spectacular bird which is present on the cliffs all year round. As a result I’m ashamed that I have mentioned it until now, the peregrine falcon. We are privileged to provide a home on our cliffs for the fastest animal on the planet. There are few sights in nature more spectacular than a peregrine in full stoop. They do well here thanks to our healthy population of pigeons, which provide a food source throughout the year. Recently, one of the resident birds has taken a liking to a particular perch between Grandstand and Bartlett Nab. Fortunately it is visible from both viewpoints.

    Peregrine falcon and young - RSPB Images

    Have you ever wanted to see a barn owl? Well then Bempton Cliffs is currently the place to be. Over the last week we’ve been treated to some incredible views by the local owls. If you stand out at the back of the centre after 3 pm you stand a good chance of seeing one of two different birds, both were seen on one occasion, slowly quartering the cliff top meadow in a beautiful yet deadly search for food. 

    Barn Owl

    It’s not just birds though, harbour porpoises and grey seals are both still being seen frequently from the viewpoints so keep your eyes on the waves as well as the air.

    Harbour porpoise - Adrian Ewart