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Recent sightings

  • 28 August 2014

    Recent Sightings - There and Back Again

    Hello readers, and guess who's back! For those who have been following the blogs, you might remember I was writing earlier this summer, but left to graduate. I have been able to return for a fortnight though, and am happy to be back! Firstly, I must give a huge thanks to Bill for doing such an excellent job keeping you all posted on what's been going on with our wildlife. Like many of our birds, he's left us now, and will certainly be missed! But though many birds (and volunteers) have now finished their time and left us for the season, there is still plenty to see on the reserve, with many creatures besides myself returning for a visit on their migration!

    I'll begin with the big news: as of yesterday, the areas surrounding our visitors' centre and car park are now officially newt-free! For those who have visited this summer, you might have noticed the green fencing all around the site. This has been due to our impending re-development of the visitors' centre and the presence of great-crested newts on site -- they are a protected species under UK and EU law, and so by law must be handled with the utmost care by licensed professionals. In our case, a fantastic team from Wold Ecology Ltd. have been with us over the spring and summer months, seeing to it that these newts and various other amphibians were safely re-located outside what is soon to be a construction zone. The fencing was installed along with bucket traps, each cleverly outfitted with a "mammal ladder" (that is, a stick, which mice, voles, and other small mammals could climb to escape the trap) and a small small flotation device as a guard against flooding should any big storms pass by! Dan, Chris, and Jack have been checking the traps every morning, relocating any critters they found to safer areas outside the re-development zone, and ensuring the traps and fencing remained in good order. I had the privilege of accompanying them on some of their work, so I can share a few photos from the project with you.

    Much ado about newt-thing! Our centre re-development was delayed a year so that we could have our rare and beautiful great-crested newts re-located to safety. Photo by Jaime.

    Occasionally, a mammal such as this shrew (perfectly healthy, just resting!) didn't quite manage to make it up the mammal ladder before the traps were checked. Photo by Jaime.

    The traps also caught hundreds -- around 800, to be precise! -- toads of all sizes, all of which are now safe from the bulldozers. Photo by Jaime.

    Of course, now that we've received the all-clear as far as the newts go, this also means our time is nearly up! Construction on our new, expanded centre is due to begin very shortly, meaning we will be closed after this Sunday, 31 August! The public footpath on the cliffs will of course remain open, but our centre, servery, toilets, and car park will all be inaccessible until we re-open for the return of our breeding sea birds next spring. This weekend is therefore your last opportunity to come check out our all the fantastic wildlife on the cliffs with all the guidance of our enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff and volunteers, or the comfort of a nice beverage or opportunity to shop for a few nice souvenirs of your visit! We do hope you'll come join us this weekend and take advantage -- there's loads yet to see!

    The gannets are still around in huge numbers, showing quite well, and many are now fledging, so you can enjoy their amazing -- if somewhat awkward -- first flights as they glide down to the sea. And though we've been having a few distinctly autumnal windy days the last week, a bit of wind actually makes for the best viewing, as these huge birds glide right up to eye level and fly and hover incredibly close to the fences, allowing us to observe and enjoy them up-close. 

    The gannet numbers on the main gannetry near Staple Newk viewpoint are still very high! Photo by Jaime.

    What's not to love about a bird with a wingspan wider than I am tall?! Photo by Jaime.

    A bit of wind means we can get incredibly close to these stunning birds! Photo by Jaime.

    And... fulmars! As their own chicks come up toward fledging (most are now wearing the same plumage as their parents -- the only one of our eight seabird species that does so before leaving the nest), they're proving extremely active, gliding all around us with their "stiff wings" flight style as if to show off just a bit!

    The "little tough guys" of the cliffs -- living over 50 years -- are still around too, and showing better than ever as their chicks prepare to fledge! Photo by Jaime.

    As Bill mentioned recently, there has also been lots of action down on the water. The shags are still quite active below us, skimming the surface of the water and performing their hop-dive fishing style from the water's surface.

    The shags don't come up high for us, but a pair of binoculars gives excellent viewing of these birds and their funny feeding behaviour. Photo by Jaime.

    Especially exciting for a lot of us has been the excellent showings of harbour porpoise we've had most days lately. Seeing these takes a little luck, since they don't leap and breach the way dolphins do, but they've been spending a lot of time fishing just below us, especially at high tide. With a pair of binoculars (available for hire if you don't have your own), the viewing is absolutely fantastic, as we've watched them swim so nimbly through the waves, darting here and there after the fish that make up their meals. We've also been observing the striking colouration and contrast of their dark back and light underside, which sadly didn't show up well on my small camera.

    Harbour porpoises are all around us! What an incredible treat! Photo by Jaime.

    We've also had some migrants passing by -- watch out for various skuas and shearwaters, or for really great viewing why not join onto one of our Skua and Shearwater Cruises, sailing from Bridlington Harbour beginning 6 September! (Pre-booking is highly recommended as spaces are selling out fast!)

    There are plenty of migrants to see, especially on our upcoming cruises, like this shearwater! Photo by Jaime.

    Our Big Birds and Mini-beasts kids' guided walks have now concluded, but a self-guided family tour will remain available over the weekend, with information posts, a chance to hunt for mini-beasts, and a fun quiz sheet. Gazing at Gannets walks also continue; much like our earlier Puffin Patrols, these offer an exciting opportunity to learn about Bempton and our birds and go onto the reserve with one of our knowledgeable volunteers (and a telescope!). Tours depart daily at 2pm, with additional walks at 11am on Saturday and Sunday.

    There are plenty of mini-beasts yet to be seen all around the reserve! Photo by Jaime

    Brave young wildlife explorers may find the chance to get very personal with all sorts of mini-beasts! (I wasn't brave enough to touch anything more beastly than this lovely moth!) Photo by Jaime.

    Tree-sparrows are among those still fledging, and making for excellent viewing along our feeding stations and nature trail. Photo by Jaime

    Some young chaffinches have been proving themselves capable of flight, but not quite ready to leave mum and dad! Photo by Jaime.

    I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that our peregrines have been seen nearly every day I've been back, too! To summarise, there really is a lot going on, so don't miss this fantastic last-chance to come check out the full Bempton Cliffs experience this weekend! Hope to see you there!

    Posted by Jaime G

  • 23 August 2014

    Bill signing off

    And it's goodbye form him!

    Hello, Bill here with his final blog. I hope that you have enjoyed the few that I have done.

    I am on my way back to The Netherlands on Wednesday.

    I would like to say a big Thank you to all the staff at Bempton Cliffs for all their help over the past few weeks.

    I have enjoyed it a lot and take a lot away with me. As Arnie said, "I will be back."

    Some recent sightings -

    willow warbler, sparrowhawk, lots of oystercatchers, blackcap, peregrines (most days), song thrush, juvenile wheatear, arctic skua, linnets, moorhen juvenile and goldfinches

    Alos the Harbour Porpoises have made an appearance at Bartlett (23/8) and stayed all morning quite close in.




    Posted by Bill M

  • 17 August 2014

    Swallows and Pigeons - part2

    Hello again,


    As promised, I will include pictures of the Great Crested Newts (when I manage to send the pictures to myself); collected by Wold Ecology, with the amphibian fencing around the site of the building extension.


    Also Jo Allen, of the Member ship team has kindly sent me the pictures below of the fledging swallows at the centre. Thanks Jo!



    (all pictures above - Jo Allen)

    Until the next blog, by for now.


    Posted by Bill M

  • 15 August 2014

    Swallows and Pigeons

    Hello again, from The Cliffs.

    Should be Swallows and Amazons, I know! I haven’t found any Amazons up here, yet! The prolific swallows in the entrance way of the visitor centre are at it again. The young of the second brood of the year, are about to fledge (due any time now). They produced 6 in the first brood and there are 5 or 6 in this latest one. Also at the centre we have a pigeon which regularly comes and sits on the top of the shed. The staff have various names for him, but one thing for sure is that he is smart, as the shed is where birdfeed is kept!

      Juvenile swallow - (RSPB images)

      Nameless pigeon - (picture - Bill McCarthy)

    We are continuing with the ‘Big Birds and Minibeasts’ program, which runs on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. You can have a guided tour on one of those days at 11am or 2pm. You could also guide yourself, using the map and answer the trail questions (you can do this on other days as well). There are Arts and Crafts activities for the kids (and adults, if they like).

    A lot of people ask about the amphibian fencing all around the centre building. It is there as part of the work Wold Ecology are doing to collect any Great Crested Newts, for re-location on the safe area nearby. The site has to be clear of this type newts for at least 5 days before any construction can take place. The team are pretty sure that there are very few left to re-locate. As well as the newts they are collecting many toads and we normally have some for anyone to look at in the Arts and Crafts marquee of the Big Birds and minibeasts program. They have collected over 700 common toads so far!

      Green fencing for amphibians - (picture - Bill McCarthy)

    Apologies from me - pictures of newts and Chris form Wold Ecology to follow in next blog!

    I think that we can finally say that the puffins are all gone. A few individuals hung around for a lot longer than expected, but they all seem to be off now. The kittiwakes are following suit. I, and many others, have been part of the kittiwake breeding productivity monitoring program for tracking the progress of the chicks. On the site I was looking at (Bartlett Nab) they have nearly all gone now. The gannets, however, continue to thrill and even with my i-phone, I got a great picture at Staple Newk!

      Gannets at Staple Newk - (picture - Bill McCarthy)

    Other birds spotted over the last week –

    Siskins (in field near New Roll—up and on feeders), grey wagtails, little egret, kestrel, peregrines (over fields and sat on cliff at Staple Newk), kestrel, wheatear and cuckoo

    Other things spotted –

    Harbour porpoise, roe deer and the weasels again.


    Posted by Bill M

  • 8 August 2014

    Bill's Blog No 2


    Hello again, time for some updates on what is going on at Bempton Cliffs.

    We recently took part in the 13th National Whale and Dolphin Watch, organised by the ‘Seawatch’ organisation. This is an event, which went on all around the UK. We were on the cliffs at Bempton (Bartlett Nab viewpoint), from the 27th August and until Sunday 3rd August. The last 2 days were the most successful and some harbour porpoises were spotted throughout both days. Typical, I was on the cliff for most of the week and the porpoises appeared when I wasn’t there! The results have been sent to Seawatch and will appear on their website.

    We have also started the ‘Big Birds and Minibeasts’ program, which run on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. You can have a guided tour on one of those days at 11am or 2pm. You could also guide yourself, using the map and answer the trail questions (you can do this on other days as well). There are Arts and Crafts activities for the kids (and adults, if they like). Look for pictures on facebook (thanks Maria) and listen out for the ad on Yorkshire Coast radio. You can also see some really interesting creatures in the marquee - toads, moths and a bat were on display last week. 

      Toads collected from Amphibian fencing buckets (photo - Bill McCarthy)


    Last week we released a couple of Kittiwakes, from Bartlett Nab.

      "Go little kittiwakes, go" (photo - Bill McCarthy)

      "Not sure if I want to go yet!" (photo - Bill McCarthy)

    Puffins? Well there are still a few bobbing around on the sea, but very difficult to see any on the cliffs now. Keep watching those kittiwakes and gannets with their chicks.

    Other things spotted over the last week –

    A heron (mobbed by gulls) out over the sea, many common scoter, marsh harrier, black-tailed godwit, whimbrel, peregrine falcons and a lot of oystercatchers on various days.

    Bye for now.


    Posted by Bill M

  • 1 August 2014

    Thanks Jamie, now it’s Bill

    Hello, this is Bill McCarthy and I am the new Residential Volunteer at Bempton Cliffs. I will be here until the 27th August. I am a Primary Teacher in The Netherlands and I am volunteering in my Summer holidays. Swapping kids for birds!

    First of all I would like to say thanks to Jamie for her previous blogs and I hope that I can live up to her standard of ‘blogging’. She has Just posted a great new blog with great pictures!

    I first came to Bempton about 3 years ago (Spring/Early Summer) and was bowled over by the sights, sounds and smells associated with the cliffs. The views are amazing as are the thousands upon thousands of wonderful birds. So, I came back and applied for the Residential Volunteer position.

    Starting on the 23rd of July, my first week has been very busy, with lots of things happening. I am, luckily still pointing out puffins on the rocks and in the water. There are still a few left, but numbers are down a lot, even from last Friday (25th). Lots of people ask about, and photograph, them so it is lovely to be able to still see them. However the gannets still have lots of young on nests and it is fantastic to see the different stages of development (although not many very small ones left to see). Also the beautiful kittiwakes still have to fledge in some cases, but you can see most of them trying out their flying muscles, with their beautiful stripe-edged wings. The earlier leavers are really proficient flyers already. You might still see the odd razorbill and guillemot on the cliffs too.

    Other things spotted in the last few days -

    common scoters , arctic skua, whimbrel, peregrine, redshank, shag and sparrow hawk

    Also seen, near ‘Grandstand’ were some weasels that were busy playing and ignoring the watching public. There were some fighting stoats also seen at the end of last week, between ‘Bartlett’ and ‘Grandstand’. How can you tell the difference?


                            Stoat photo – thanks to Ian Percival


    28/29 July In the amphibian fencing traps – water shrews have been found !


    Finally, for now. We are currently taking part in the 13th National Whale and Dolphin Watch, organised by the ‘Seawatch’ organisation. This is an event, which is running all around the UK. We have been on the cliffs at Bempton (Bartlett Nab viewpoint), since the 27th August and we will be there until Sunday 3rd August. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen anything so far (except for a sighting of Harbour Porpoise off Staple Newk, by Steve Race from a boat - 31 July).


    Posted by Bill M

  • 30 July 2014

    Recent Sightings Special 21/07/14 - Farewell!

    Hello readers, and welcome again to a special edition of Recent Sightings. Apologies for the delay in getting this one up -- I've just graduated, so I'm sure you can imagine it's been a busy week! Unfortunately, this also means that this will be my final update, as my placement time at Bempton has ended and I must be moving on. Today I'll be updating what was seen in my last few days on the reserve (up to last Monday), and reflecting a bit on my time there by sharing some of my favourite pictures that I haven't used yet in these updates!

    First, as promised: have a look at this little fluffy! Fulmar chicks, being typically the last of our seabirds to hatch, can now be seen here and there along the cliffs. This one is on a grassy outcrop off New Roll-up viewpoint. Fulmars have an amazing defence mechanism -- they can spit a smelly, oily, fishy mixture from their guts which is said to be worse than skunk spray and impossible to wash from clothes (those involved in ringing and tracking fulmars allegedly burn their clothes at the end of each season!). Their ability to spit at distance and under high pressure can really mess with a predator's fur or feathers, and since they're so well protected, fulmars can afford to have their young right up near the tops of the cliffs where our other seabirds would be very vulnerable to predators. Keep your eyes peeled and you may be able to spot a few!

    Digiscope of a fulmar chick off the south side of New Roll-up viewpoint. Photo by Jaime, thanks to Chris for use of the scope.

    Elsewhere on the cliffs, a handful of surprise late chicks appeared: a guillemot off the north side of Grandstand (which may have left already -- after all they jump after only 2 to 3 weeks!), and a gannet and kittiwake off the north side of Bartlett Nab.

    Late guillemot chick seen off Grandstand viewpoint. Photo by Jaime.

    Late gannet chick off Bartlett Nab viewpoint. Photo by Jaime.

    This late little kittiwake is much younger than its neighbours, who are all busy fledging! Photo by Jaime.

    On Saturday the 19th, a little egret and a few manx shearwaters were seen flying south, while a dozen or so common scoters were seen on the water. Saturday the 20th saw a huge flock of common scoters on sea again, this time estimated at over 100 individuals! They were joined by a pair of whimbrels, and a pair each of manx shearwater and grey herons off Grandstand viewpoint. One of our young peregrines was observed putting up the kittiwakes into fear flights all along the cliff, while a merlin, which doesn't specialise in birds as prey the way the peregrine does, was largely ignored by the seabirds at New Roll-up. My final day on the reserve was a bright and sunny one: 21 July saw the meadow alive with butterflies including small skippers and painted ladies. To finish out with a bit of excitement, I was lucky to see both a peregrine and a grey seal off Jubilee Corner.

    The puffins have unfortunately largely left (there were very few to see on Monday 21 before I left), but this simply means that the cliffs' thousands of gannets are now the great stars of the show! With wing spans reaching up to about 6 feet (that's a little taller than me!) and all sorts of incredible adaptations for their plunge-diving hunting style, these birds are really impressive. Guided walks have shifted gears to focus on them instead of Puffin Patrols, but the opportunity is still there to learn about all the birds that you can still see on the cliffs, and get up-close views with one of our volunteers' telescopes! Besides the guided walks, there's also a new interactive quiz trail for families coming soon -- helping design it was one of my final tasks with the reserve -- so be sure to come and check out our big birds and minibeasts!

    The gannets aren't leaving yet! Come learn about them and all the other remaining birds! Photo by Jaime.

    And that, sadly, is really all I can say about recent sightings! To finish out, as promised, I'd like to share some more of my photos from the reserve that I've not had a chance to include thus far. I hope you'll enjoy them!

    Young gannet in flight. Gannets are black when they fledge, and gradually turn white over 4 to 5 years until they're ready to breed! Photo by Jaime

    Two gannets having a bit of a scrap. Young are often seen practicing this and other behaviours along the tops of the cliffs! Photo by Jaime.

    Does anyone remember these little fluffies from my first post? Little 17a and 17b were the first hatchlings I found when I temporarily took over a kittiwake monitoring plot at Bartlett Nab. We watch hundreds of these nests with weekly checks of how their eggs and chicks are doing, as kittiwakes with their small bills and poor diving skills have a very restricted diet, making them a good indicator species for any changes going on at a very basic level of the food web out in the sea. I followed these chicks every week I was on the reserve, so now you can see them grow up, too!

    Reposted photo of little 17a and 17b, so named for their plot-monitoring nest number, on my first week on the reserve. Photo by Jaime.

    The same chicks approximately 2 weeks after hatching. Photo by Jaime.

    Around three weeks of age. Photo by Jaime.

    At around 4 weeks of age. Photo by Jaime.

    Five weeks old! They've finally got their feathers! Photo by Jaime.

    And lastly, about five and a half weeks old. Photo by Jaime.

    Unfortunately, neither of the pair were ready to fledge by the time I left, but with their feathers largely fully in, they were looking like they'd start exercising their wings like their neighbour, below, at any moment.

    Young kittiwake off Bartlett Nab flapping to exercise its wings in preparation for fledging in the near future. Photo by Jaime.

    Of course, when they do fledge, they'll be showing off what I think is one of the prettiest plumages in the colony, like this little fledgling below. The black arrow patterns on young kittiwakes' (or "tarrocks", as they are alternately known) wings are very striking, as well as their dark collars. Over the following year or two they'll gain adult plumage and end up looking just like their parents.

    Recently-fledged tarrock in flight over the sea. Photo by Jaime.

    And that's the last I have to share about the birds! It has been an absolute blast working with the whole RSPB team of staff and volunteers up at Bempton Cliffs, and a real pleasure writing these updates for you all -- thank you for reading!!

    And now, to part, and just as a reminder that there are always interesting things to see all over the reserve, I leave you with... a toad! Forget gross and warty,  they're generally not the slightest bit slimy, and just look at the beautiful colour of its eyes! What's not to love?!

    Toad on a log along the nature trail. Photo by Jaime.

    And that, folks, is all! Best wishes and happy spotting!

    Posted by Jaime G

  • 24 July 2014

    Reflections on the season: seabird monitoring

    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.

    (Please visit the site to view this video)

    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


    Posted by Michael B

  • 19 July 2014

    Recent Sightings 18/07/14

    Here we are with another recent sightings update! First up, following on to last time's big news, I'm pleased to report that we've still had a fair number of late puffins hanging around the cliffs, as you can see....

    Some puffins are still here! Photo taken 18 July, by Jaime.

    As a result, our popular daily Puffin Patrol guided walks with our enthusiastic volunteers (including, periodically, yours truly) have been extended through this weekend. But the puffins are gradually decreasing in number, and soon will truly be gone for this year, so if you've been hoping to see them, don't miss your chance!

    Last call for Puffin Patrol! Join one of our enthusiastic guides to see and learn more about all our birds! Photo by Jaime.

    This applies to all of our auks, the family of which puffins are a member; most of our razorbills have left, and the guillemots are beginning to dwindle as well. Both these birds lay their eggs directly on the cliff ledges, without a nest, leaving their chicks very vulnerable to predators. The chicks are adapted to leave very quickly, after only 2 to 3 weeks, at which time they take a jump and head out to the safety of the sea before they're even ready to fly. In fact, they take around 30 days after taking the plunge before they have the feathers and strength to properly fledge off the sea! But because they leave so quickly, their parents leave relatively early too. A few late guillemot chicks have still been reported here and there this week, but if you don't want to miss the auks, we're getting down to last call for this year!

    A few razorbills remain, but compared to a few weeks ago, numbers are really dwindling! Photo by Jaime.

    Razorbills, like our other auks (puffins and guillemots) will soon be all gone. Photo by Jaime.

    That's not to say there's not still a lot to see on the cliffs! The kittiwakes are only just beginning to fledge, the gannets will be around quite a while yet, and as to our latest egg-layers, the fulmars, I'm pleased to report we've finally got a confirmed chick off the south side of New Roll-up viewpoint! I've not managed to get a picture of it just yet, but rest assured, I'll be trying hard this weekend!

    'Gotta run! I finally have a baby to feed....' Fulmar taking off from the sea, photo by Jaime.

    Two other types of sightings have been picking up as well! Our shags are making more regular appearances down along the water. These cormorant-like birds are probably the most cryptic of our 8 nesting seabird species -- since they prefer to nest in the caves at the very bottoms of the cliffs, sightings are not nearly as common or easy as with the others! In fact, we do get cormorants passing by occasionally, but they fly quite high, whilst the shags stay very low to the water. If you happen to see one or more large, all-black birds skimming the tops of the waves, then you're probably in luck with these ones! To illustrate the most you're likely to see of them without binoculars, I took a quick snapshot of a group of 4 today.

    Family of 4 shags off Staple Newk viewpoint. This is how they look without binoculars. Photo by Jaime.

    Secondly, we're seeing sea mammals peeking in, and should continue to see more as time wears on. If you want to know what to look for, have a look at this grey seal, spotted today just below Grandstand viewpoint.

    Grey seal as seen without binoculars off Grandstand viewpoint. Photo by Jaime.

    Yes, that's it, down in the lower left -- not nearly as dramatic at all as one might think. Nonetheless, to spot that odd, dark shape rising from the water, then raising one's binoculars to make out the details of a head, a dorsal fin (in the case of porpoises), or other features... or maybe even catch them looking back at you... can be quite a thrill!

    As to our other exciting sightings, on 11 July a great skua was spotted under Bartlett Nab viewpoint, and has been reported here and there since. July 12 saw two swifts over the south end of the main reserve, and our resident corn buntings were on full display around New Roll-up viewpoint, along with a sedge warbler and a juvenile cuckoo. Several painted lady butterflies have been seen lately, with the most recent noted on 13 July. The paths and trails through our meadows are teeming with peacock butterfly caterpillars since the 14th of July, when a female wheatear was also seen, with a moorhen at our feeding station and kestrel hunting over the cliffs rounded out the exciting sightings for the day.

    On 15 July, several of our volunteers noted that our tarrocks -- that is, young kittiwakes -- were beginning to take to the wing. One of our most experienced volunteers also spotted a rarity on the reserve: a female house sparrow. This may not seem remarkable, but the reserve is generally home only to tree sparrows -- the village just up the road is positively teeming with house sparrows, with not a tree sparrow to be found, but the two species seem to have developed their own boundary somewhere along the road down to the reserve, and each generally keeps to their own side. When I first arrived, I had difficulty telling them apart! Some of the other volunteers pointed out the key differences to me, however, and now when I see them it seems perfectly obvious! Firstly, male and female tree sparrows look the same, while male and female tree sparrows don't. 

    House sparrows are "dimorphic", meaning that males and females look different. Photo by Jaime.

    Tree sparrows are not dimorphic; males and females look the same. Photo by Jaime.

    Tree sparrows generally look a lot like male house sparrows, but as you will notice, house sparrows have a grey cap atop their heads, whilst tree sparrows are a more gingery colour, tree sparrows also have a dark spot on the cheeks which house sparrows lack. The tree sparrows also have a much less pronounced black 'bib' under their bills. But then... I could have sworn I saw some female house sparrows about!

    Juvenile tree sparrow. Photo courtesy of Dave Aitken.

    In fact, despite the strikingly obvious differences in side-by-side photographs, to the untrained eye, young tree sparrows look a bit like female house sparrows at a distance. The key features to look for are, again, those cheek patches starting to come through, and the really gingery head. 

    Rounding out our sightings, on 17 July, our moorhen was spotted at the feeding station once again, and a juvenile marsh harrier was seen hunting near Jubilee Corner viewpoint.

    Warning - if you're uncomfortable with bones, the next picture is not for the faint of heart!

    To finish out this update, I wrote in a previous update about owl pellets. I finally had occasion to take apart the owl pellet we found, and inside found all sorts of bones. The size of them makes them very delicate and difficult to separate without breaking (genuinely, there were ribs in there that were thin as cat's whiskers!). The best-preserved of the lot was the skull of a small mammal. If I had to guess... maybe a vole? The size seemed about right, but I reckon I'll have to consult someone more experienced to be sure -- it's not every day we get to see bones, so without guidance, learning the exact features to look out for can be tricky! Still, even without a positive identification, it's certainly something neat to see!

    Small mammal skull recovered from an owl pellet. Photo by Jaime.

    My time here at Bempton, sadly, is nearly up, so I'll be back in a few days' time with one last update. Until then, happy spotting, and hope to see you out on the cliffs!

    Posted by Jaime G

Your sightings

Grid reference: TA1973 (+2km)

Sabine's Gull ()
21 Sep 2014
Little Bunting (1)
18 Sep 2014
Merlin ()
28 Sep 2014
Red-backed Shrike (1)
28 Sep 2014
Tree Sparrow ()
28 Sep 2014
Little Gull (30)
28 Sep 2014
Whinchat ()
28 Sep 2014
Sooty Shearwater (18)
21 Sep 2014
Yellow-browed Warbler (1)
19 Sep 2014
Red-breasted Flycatcher ()
18 Sep 2014

Contact us

Where is it?

  • Lat/lng: 54.14609,-0.16889
  • Postcode: YO15 1JF
  • Grid reference: TA197738
  • Nearest town: Bridlington, East Yorkshire
  • County: East Riding of Yorkshire
  • Country: England

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Note: Some reserves are not served directly by public transport and, in these cases, a nearby destination (from which you may need to walk or take a taxi or ferry) may be offered.