How good does it feel to release a puffin back into the wild? The smile on Jo Allen's face probably gives you some idea.
The box in the photo (henceforth known as a Puffin not Pet Carrier) contains a puffling that was brought to the reserve yesterday after being found in a garden in the nearby village of Buckton. Membership Development Officer Jo Allen was first to meet him and so he was named 'Little Jo'.
The fantastic team at Wildlife Rescue in Scarborough cared for him overnight keeping him warm and feeding him mealworms.
Once young puffins fledge, they are completely independent and head straight out to sea. Jim Ward, of Wildlife Rescue, suggested this one may have become disorientated and flown inland or maybe panicked because he was under threat - pufflings made ideal snacks for peregrines.
But as Little Jo appeared no worse for his adventure, it was back to the cliffs to be reunited with Big Jo as soon as possible.
The official 'send off' brought lots of the team down to the viewing platform. Natalie, part of the Membership Development Team along with Residential Volunteer Chris didn't want to miss saying goodbye.
Education Officer, Steve Race, was on hand to advise on just how best to release him. Onto the grass or into the air was at the heart of the debate but the air won out in the end.
By now Little Jo was itching to be off so there was just time to wish him 'Good luck and fair weather' before letting go and seeing what happened. Fortunately, he did what comes naturally and headed out to sea where he will stay until he matures.
So long Little Jo, see you around.
Welcome to the first of an occasional series of blog posts looking back at the 2014 seabird monitoring programme at Bempton Cliffs.
It’s hard to believe, but the 2014 seabird monitoring season at Bempton Cliffs is winding down. Most of our auk chicks have fledged, with only late chicks still on the cliffs. Kittiwake chicks are moulting into their first year plumage and are busy stretching their wings. Gannet chicks are huge and brown juvenile feathers are starting to come through their fluffy white chick plumage. These Gannet chicks won’t be fledging until into September and they are giving great views. Fulmar chicks are dotted around the cliffs – Fulmar breed later than most of our seabirds. There are still plenty of Puffins around – one of our volunteers counted over 200 from the New Roll-up viewpoint on 23 July - but they will be leaving soon so come now if you haven’t seen a Puffin yet this year.
Gannet with a large chick - they're even bigger now. Photo Mike Babcock
Fulmar chick - viewable now. Photo Mike Babcock
The seabird monitoring team at Bempton cliffs - consisting of the Warden, the Seabird Research Assistant, a full time residential volunteer and a big team of volunteers - does two main types of monitoring - productivity monitoring and population monitoring. Productivity monitoring means repeat visits to observe nesting sites and record how eggs and later chicks are getting on. This lets us calculate how successful the breeding season has been. Population monitoring means counting birds or nest sites on study plots and helps us see trends in the seabird populations at Bempton Cliffs. It’s simple to write, but during the height of the season in May/June the team puts in hundreds of hours of effort to collect valuable data.
Preliminary results from our Guillemot and Razorbill productivity monitoring suggest that it’s been a good breeding season. For our other species, it’s still too early to tell, although the wind and rain on 9-11 July hit some of our Kittiwake plots pretty hard. Kittiwakes could do with a good year since last summer productivity was low after hard winter storms in 2013.
Kittiwake with chick - keep your fingers crossed for our breeding Kittiwakes. Photo Mike Babcock
This summer we have done some additional work alongside our core monitoring. From 9 to 23 July we spent an extra two hours a day (often starting before 5am) staring intently at small groups of Guillemot chick to record what fish were being brought in to feed them. Seeing what the birds bring in helps us understand what is going on in the North Sea - the availability of the right sort of fish on their feeding grounds at the right time of year is vital to all of our breeding seabirds. Guillemot diet is relatively simple to monitor since they bring in single fish, which they hold lengthways in their bill. Puffins and Razorbills carry multiple prey items across their bill.
Guillemot feeding its chick. iPhone scope video Ruth Jeavons.
After getting our eyes in, we recorded 126 prey items. Of these, the majority were Sprats, with most of the rest being Sandeels plus a few Gadids (members of the family that includes Cod). Despite our best efforts, a little over 20% of the prey items had to go down as unidentified – but we’re hoping to improve that next year.
Something else we’ve done this season is participate in a national survey of Bridled Guillemots, the first one for 30 years. We surveyed over a thousand easily visible Guillemots and about 2.5% were of the bridled form – it will be fascinating to see how this figure compares with other colonies and whether there has been any change since the last survey.
Mike Babcock - Seabird Research Assistant
I'm a bit scared of poems. They do their best to bamboozle me and usually succeed. So it was with a certain amount of trepidation last month that I got involved in the Bridlington Poetry Festival and offered Bempton Cliffs as a fringe venue.
To get in the mood (and in an attempt to overcome my fear of iambic pentameters), I asked staff and volunteers to send me their favourite poem to display around the reserve. The response suggests there are a few more poetry scaredy-cats out there but the recommendations that did arrive in my in-box were just brilliant. And one in particular had a profound effect on a visitor.
Peter Hall spotted volunteer John Bairstow's selection, ‘Unless you’ve been a Soldier’ by Clive Sanders. Mr Hall , the father of two soldiers currently serving their country - Captain Martin Hall with the Royal Artillery and Sgt Major James Hall with the Parachute Regiment - immediately felt an affinity with the words chosen by John, who also served in the forces.
When Mr Hall returned home to Bridlington he phoned us to request two copies - one for each son.
Both are 'career' soldiers and Mr Hall has lost count of the countries his lads have been to:
‘They’ve been on active service all over the world. Both have done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The younger one also served in Kosovo. At one stage in their careers they were both guards in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland’.
He felt the two verses of the poem simply summed up their experiences of warfare:
‘They must’ve seen some sights but they’ve come through without a scratch. I’m grateful for that and very proud of their achievements.’
Happily for Mr Hall both his sons are now stationed closer to home. Captain Hall is at Heddon-on-the- Wall, near Newcastle and Sgt Major Hall is at Topcliffe near Thirsk.
And speaking of closer to home...Mr Hall used to visit Bempton Cliffs as a boy but he didn't come to see the birds. On Sunday afternoons he'd help heave the ‘climmers’, locals who descended the 400 feet high cliffs on ropes to collect seabird eggs, up the cliffs before the activity became illegal. Now somebody must've written a poem about that. Any offers?
Meanwhile, here's the poem, that inspired Mr Hall to get in touch:
Unless you’ve been a soldier
Unless you’ve been a soldier,
you just won’t understand,
The things that we have seen and done
in the service of our land.
We have trained to live in combat,
To cope with awful sights,
That shouldn’t be seen by anyone,
And keep you awake at nights.
We won’t discuss the wounds we have,
To the body or the mind,
We just put our hurts behind us
And turn our memories to blind.
We are proud to serve our country,
And remember those we have lost,
For the freedom that you have today,
They paid the awful cost.