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Recent sightings

  • 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

  • 9 July 2014

    Recent Sightings 09/07/14

    Hello everyone! I’ll cut right to it, because we have BIG NEWS! A little over a week ago, one of our membership team specialists spotted something a bit strange on one of our visitor’s centre live cameras... it’s...

    Young puffin putting in a cheeky appearance on one of our live cams! Photo by Jaime

    ...a PUFFLING!

    Often, visitors coming to the cliffs to see their first puffins marvel at how small they are, and it’s easy if you’ve not seen them before to think that those on the cliffs must be young! But the fact is, adult puffins really are that tiny. The young themselves stay in their nests in the many cracks, holes, and crevices in the cliffs, and generally don’t come out until they’re ready to fledge and head far out to sea – which happens under the safe cover of darkness. Seeing a young puffin (or ‘puffling’ as they are called) is a very rare treat indeed, with many of our long-term volunteers never having seen even one in their many years of service. By the time they show themselves they’re roughly the same size as their parents, and more or less ready to leave!

    A few days later, on Wednesday, one of our viewpoint volunteers spotted another through a telescope off Bartlett Nab viewpoint.

    Digiscope of three adult puffins and one puffling off Bartlett Nab viewpoint, spotted by volunteer Lee W. Photo by Jaime.

    Two puffling sightings in a week is a very sure sign that our young puffins are reaching the age where they’re leaving the cliffs – and their parents won’t be far behind, as puffins truly are seabirds, and live most of the year at sea. What does this mean for us? Well, it means...

    For those of us still hoping to glimpse a puffin, best get to the cliffs within the next week or two – very soon, they’ll all be gone!

    The puffins will be flying away very soon, hurry to the cliffs to catch a last glimpse! Photo by Jaime.

    Of course, some of our other residents and their young will be with us quite a while yet, such as our incredible gannets and fulmars, as well as our grassland birds, insects, mammals, and more – there’s no shortage of things to see and new clifftop activities are in the works for later summer.

    Gannet and chick off Jubilee Corner viewpoint. Photo by Jaime.

    On the recent sightings front, and to give you an idea of what’s around at the moment, the reserve has been all aflutter with a variety of insects: narrow-banded 5-spot burnett moths; small tortoiseshell, red admiral, ringlet, small copper, and cabbage white butterflies; scorpionflies (not dangerous as they sound – they take their name from the male’s long, curled thorax, but don’t sting or bite!); and a variety of shield bugs are all to be found without trouble.

    Shield bug found by education volunteer Peter N. Photo by Jaime.

    For our ornithologists, the tree sparrows (including some juveniles), linnets, corn and reed buntings, sedge warblers, wagtails, and whitethroats have all been seen almost daily in the reserve’s fields and hedgerows. Our peregrines have not been spotted in the last few days, but a pair were seen near Staple Newk viewpoint on 1 July, and a single one the following day in the same place. On Saturday 5 July, a visitor reported a male cuckoo on Bempton Lane leading up to the reserve, as well as a great skua and barn owl near Jubilee viewpoint. On 7 July one of our volunteers spotted a moorhen, and on Tuesday 8 July both a lone curlew and a marsh harrier were to be seen flying over the reserve near RAF Bempton.

    Photo by Jaime.

    Twice in the past week, on Wednesday 2 July and again on Tuesday 8 July, gannet feeding frenzies were witnessed from the cliffs. Typically, these birds feed quite far out indeed, averaging approximately 150km round-trip on a food run. Yesterday, they were feeding so close to the cliffs, they could be seen without binoculars from all viewpoints making their amazing plunge-dives into the sea. Unlike many of our birds, gannets hunt from the air, spotting fish with their keen eyesight, and then making a sharp dive, hitting the water at up to 60mph to catch their prey! The ways these birds have adapted are just remarkable, and if you get a chance to see them feed, I highly recommend it! The huge groups of feeding gannets paired with a handful of equally huge rafts of our smallest seabirds, the kittiwakes, feeding by the cliff bottoms yesterday suggest that there must be an abundance of fish of a variety of sizes in the area, which may create ideal conditions for attracting many of our sea mammals. We’re still having fairly regular reports of harbour porpoises and grey seals off the cliffs, and while we’ve still not spotted one, the occasional reports of minke whales in the area continue to come in, so we’re certainly watching carefully!

    To finish out the update, last time, I said we’d have a little mystery. In the last week or two, several astute visitors have noted that there seem to be a lot of butterfly wings strewn along the reserve’s paths and trails. What’s going on?

    Wings on the trail... where has their owner gone? Photo by Jaime.

    As you can see, they’re often found in pairs or small groups, and all missing their owners! So I did a little asking around. The general agreement seems to be that they’re being predated upon. Manager Keith C. suggested the culprit might be bats. Warden Dave A. suggested birds. In any case, it turns out that butterflies are actually rather nutritious – but only their meaty bits! Both bats and birds such as swifts and swallows will catch butterflies if they can, and eat the healthy bits whilst still in flight, dropping only the wings as they pass. It’s an unfortunate story for the butterflies, but good for the bats and birds, not to mention for any of us who’d like to get a closer look at the intricate patterns on the different butterflies’ wings!

    That's it for this update, see you again soon!

    Posted by Jaime G

  • 30 June 2014

    Recent Sightings - Seabird Cruise Special!

    Hello all and welcome to a special edition of Bempton Recent Sightings! This past weekend I had the privilege of joining one of our unique Sea Bird Cruises sailing on the Yorkshire Belle out of Bridlington harbour, and wow, what a trip!

    But first, a quick note of apology for the weekend's regular recent sightings post -- it was meant to go up Saturday evening but there was a problem with the picture upload and the post only made it online this morning! Apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused!

    Now on to the cruise! RSPB Bempton Cliffs runs sea bird cruise trips for two distinct seasons: puffin and gannet season, going on now, and skua and shearwater cruises in September. Cruises are about 3 hours long and go around Flamborough Head, past North Landing, and up along the length of the Bempton Cliffs reserve before making the return trip. All trips are timed to coincide with high tide, meaning that providing sea conditions are favourable, the cruise can pass remarkably close to the cliff faces themselves! If you've ever visited the main reserve and enjoyed the views of the birds from above, let me tell you -- it's nothing compared to seeing them from right down on the sea! 

    For me, joining this cruise was a special treat as I must confess, I'd actually never been on the sea! My hometown in Canada is around two days' drive from the sea and working hard at uni I'd had limited chances to visit the English coastline, so my nautical experiences had thus far been limited to lakes and rivers!

    The cruise begins, as mentioned, at Bridlington's north pier, and offers some amazing and colourful views of the town as it sets out for Flamborough Head.

    View of Bridlington harbour from aboard the MV Yorkshire Belle. Photo by Jaime.

    Once out of the shelter of the harbour and around the Head, the sea tends to be a little bit rougher and the wind a bit stronger, so it's a good plan to have some layers along if you plan to sit on the outside decks (though there are sheltered seats with windows available as well if you prefer). In terms of the Flamborough-Bempton seabird colony, the first really grand view is at Braille Nook near Flamborough's North Landing. Here you begin to see and hear all our regulars in huge numbers: kittiwakesguillemotsrazorbills, gannets, and of course, puffins! The stack in the middle of the Nook has an interesting feature -- a herring gull has nested in a tyre atop the stack. From here you can also make out some of the caves along the bottoms of the cliffs in which some of our local shags nest, and if you're really lucky, you might get to see some chicks! Since the shags are restricted to these lower-altitude caves, this is your best chance to see them as anything more than a black shape skimming near the surface of the water, which is all you're likely to ever see of them from the clifftops! Sadly the swell and backwash on my trip were such that the ship couldn't get as far into the Nook as normal and none of my photos of their nests worked out, but be assured they're there!

    View of Braille Nook from the sea. Photo by Jaime.

    Continuing north, the ship passes Thornwick Bay and quickly comes upon the south end of the main reserve, where aside from an up-close view of our main gannetry, you can also get an excellent view of the impressive formations in the chalk cliffs. These were laid down approximately 70-90 million years ago, with layers of chalk and bands of calcareous clay. It looks almost like an artistic carving, but this was done purely by natural forces over millions of years, when the cliffs, despite their impressive heights, were actually at the bottom of a shallow sea!

    The cliffs below Staple Newk viewpoint as seen from the sea. Photo by Jaime.

    But of course the real advantage and treat of the cruise is being so close to the seabirds as they swim and fly all around you. I could sing their praises all day but I think instead I'll just share a few snapshots I took and let these incredible creatures speak for themselves!

    Puffin with a small meal. 

    Puffin taking off from the waves! 

    Guillemots taking flight from the sea! 

    Juvenile great black-backed gull having a swim. 

    Fulmar! Just look at that tube-nose!

    Fulmar in flight low over the waves... look how stiffly horizontal it holds its wings!

    (All photos above by Jaime.)

    Just... wow! Throughout the trip, commentary is provided by a group of experienced guides and volunteers, so even those new to the cliffs or the birds won't be left feeling lost, and there's always something new to learn! In all, I'd say that for any nature enthusiast, this is definitely an experience you don't want to miss! There are only two Puffin & Gannet cruises remaining for this season, on Sunday 6 July (9:30am) and Saturday 12 July (4:30pm). Skua & shearwater cruises begin 6 September. If you're interested in getting more information or to book a place, please e-mail the Bempton cruise team on or call 01262 422211. 

    I'll be back later this week with another regular "Recent Sightings" update, and maybe... a mystery? There's never a dull moment at Bempton Cliffs!

    Posted by Jaime G

  • 30 June 2014

    Recent Sightings 28/06/14

    We had a very busy and very sunny start to the week, and though the weather has cooled off considerably, there’s still plenty to see! All our regulars are still out in force, including the puffins, who will likely only be around a few more weeks! If you’re itching to see them, be sure to come along before the children begin summer holiday for your best chance, as that’s typically around about the time our last puffins leave!

    After my last post on Sunday 22 June, we had some excellent sightings around the reserve. Several corn buntings have been seen every day, and our yellow wagtails put in an appearance very close outside the back of the visitor’s centre. 

    Corn bunting near Staple Newk viewpoint. Photo by Jaime.

    Some sharp-eyed photographers who were visiting came in with pictures of two more critters of note: the first of our narrow-banded 5-spot burnett moths and a pair of carrion crows down on the south end of the reserve. The day-flying moths are good news for fans of pretty insects, as their deep blue or purplish black coloration is offset by bright red spots advertising their chief means of defence to would-be predators: these little guys are poisonous to anything that eats them! But the colouring and pattern makes them very attractive little critters indeed. Several more have been seen on the wing since, particularly today, so keep your eyes peeled! The carrion crows are slightly less good news for many of our nesting seabirds – those who aren’t wary will see their chicks stolen in an instant! With herring gulls, carrion crows, and jackdaws all feeding from others’ nests, it’s a tough life for some of our avian parents!

    Narrow-banded 5-spot burnett moths. Photo by Jaime.

    Monday 23rd was another busy day: a report of 3 little egrets flying over the cliffs in early morning by one of our nest-monitoring volunteers made me a bit jealous that my day doesn’t begin till 9! A mistle thrush was seen hopping about just outside the back of the centre. But most excitingly – our visitor’s centre swallows began to fledge!

    Swallow chicks nearly ready to fledge. Photo by Jaime.

    These little fellows have been nesting above our front door year after year. Over the winter, a small camera was installed in hopes of catching the action as they returned to their nest in spring. The little pair outsmarted us however, and constructed a new nest on top of the camera! We’ve been watching all spring as five little faces peeked over the edge of their cup-shaped nest at us, and Monday offered a surprise – there were actually six chicks! After two had fledged, four more remained! Jo Allen, from our membership team, had a particularly close encounter with our first fledgling – and what a picture!!

    Membership team member Jo Allen had a close encounter with our first fledged swallow! Photo courtesy of Natalie H.

    The remaining four chicks fledged the following day, but have been coming back on occasion to hang around, and there are plenty on the wing all across the reserve’s fields!

    Tuesday 24 June saw a ringlet butterfly and northern rustic moth along the nature trail behind the centre, a grey seal spotted off Barlett Nab and Grandstand viewpoints, and the first of a few of barn owl sightings over the fields near the car park (the lone owl was spotted again on Thursday 26 and this morning!). We found an owl pellet just outside the visitor’s centre, which is now drying in a cup in my room, and once I get a chance to pick it apart I’ll let you know what I find! For those new to the concept, owl pellets are basically regurgitated balls of fur, bones, and so forth, which the owl could not digest. They’re not slimy and icky like you would expect for something regurgitated, but just a bit damp when they’re fresh. They don’t even smell! But as far as your small vertebrate critters go, there’s really no better way to get a nice look at a skeleton! Pre-cleaned for you! Nature really is just amazing!!

    On Wednesday 25, a visitor reported their exciting sighting of a reed bunting, and several visitors and volunteers came in with reports of a small rabbit in the car park! This was a bit exciting as it’s the first rabbit we’ve seen on the main reserve!

    Several great black-backed gulls were spotted by yours truly on Friday, on the water off Bartlett Nab viewpoint squabbling over a chick they’d predated. This was a bit of a surprise for me personally as I’d not known that these gulls happened by here; in fact, I’ve not seen one since leaving my home in Canada a few years ago! I come from quite inland, so I’m used to them being quite rare, and generally only viewable in massive rubbish heaps and dumps, so seeing them in their natural element, on the sea, was quite a treat indeed! More and more of these gulls are appearing beneath the cliffs daily.

    Juvenile great black-backed gull off Bartlett Nab viewpoint. Photo by Jaime.

    Lucky visitors and volunteers have spotted our peregrine falcons several times this week, on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and this morning. They seem to be more active towards the north end of the reserve recently, particularly flying high overhead, so keep a watch out!

    Today we saw at least two harbour porpoises off Bartlett Nab viewpoint again. If they’re in close to shore, your best bets for seeing these are to neglect the binoculars and simply watch for a strange, dark shape, which will appear to bob out of the water and disappear below again nearly as quickly. If there are a lot of them, you might try the binoculars once you’ve spotted them, but given how much they move around I definitely suggest starting with the naked eye to get a wider field of view! Lastly, one of our associates from down Flamborough brought us a local speciality – the confused – a moth which to me looked unremarkable but apparently is quite rare to the area! I’ll have to learn more about them soon.

    The confused, brought in from Flamborough. Photo by Jaime.

    This evening I’ve been off on one of our fantastic Sea Bird Cruises out of Bridlington. I’ll report more on this in another update soon, but suffice to say it’s a trip not to be missed! For interest’s sake, we have two final cruises planned to finish out our puffin and gannet season – these depart on Sunday 6 July and Saturday 12 July. If you’d like to get a whole new perspective on our seabirds and fantastic cliffs, call 01262 422211 or e-mail on for info and to book your place!!

    Posted by Jaime G

  • 22 June 2014

    Recent Sightings 22/06/14

    Hello again all, and what a busy weekend it’s shaped up to be at Bempton Cliffs! The week had a very slow start on the interesting sightings front, as the weather was cold, cloudy, and very windy indeed! A single sighting of a whitethroat on Wednesday 18 June was threatening to be our only spot of excitement for the week. But come Friday, the weather cleared to be positively glorious, and things began to pick up! The whitethroat was seen again in the same area – in the hedgerow near the main trail – on 20 June, and the puffins and other seabirds have all been a bit more active now they’re not hunkering down against that cold north sea wind quite so much!

    The amazing view looking south from Bartlett Nab viewpoint to Flamborough's North Landing. Photo by Jaime.

    That same morning we got a very exciting notice from Filey to the north: a single minke whale was spotted heading our way! We all kept a close watch, but alas, no whale sightings off the reserve yet. It is a bit early in the season yet for minke whales, as many of the regulars to the area have told me that August/September is the peak period for whale activity off the Yorkshire coast. Even then, it’s extremely lucky to see one – these particular whales, I’m told, like to keep low, and often don’t look like much more than strange, dark waves moving in the wrong direction! We’ll all be watching for them on clear days – me especially, as believe it or not, I’ve never seen a living whale! A whale sighting is definitely near the top of the seaside wishlist for this summer; if you spot one, do let us know!

    The Friday hunt for whales was not totally fruitless, however, as we did spot some harbour porpoises some way off. These don’t leap the way dolphins are known to, but were travelling in a group, and are seen every few weeks in the water. So while Bempton’s known for seabirds, that’s certainly not all there is to see in our waters!

    Harbour porpoises in the sea. Photo courtesy of Adrian Ewart.

    Returning to the birds, a reed warbler was seen once again on Friday as well, this time in the hedgerow along the main trail. This was my first time spotting a reed warbler, and I must confess I had to double check its markings and have a little listen to its song as well before I was confident in my find! Corn buntings were spotted on both Friday and Saturday to the south of Grandstand, so for those hoping to catch a glimpse, they’re definitely out there!

    While not strictly speaking a reserve sighting, on Friday one of our managers brought a special treat from his garden not far from the reserve: an elephant hawk-moth and an eyed hawk-moth. These were on display in a terrarium made nicely homely for them with some foliage for the day, before being released near where they were found. Both species have been spotted on the reserve previously, so if you keep your eyes peeled, you might just spot one in the fields and gardens! Watch out for the lovely pink colouring on the elephant hawk-moth, and the eyed hawk-moth... where does that name come from? From the lovely “eyes” it displays on its hindwings by vibrating them rapidly when it’s upset! This is meant to be a defence mechanism that might startle a predator, but to us it just looks really cool!

    Elephant hawk-moth. Photo by Jaime.

    Eyed hawk-moth with hindwing startle pattern just showing. Photo by Jaime.

    For our flower enthusiasts, our bee orchids are still blooming, and with some new buds coming along, they should be around to be enjoyed for at least another week or two! 

    Saturday 21 June saw all our regular seabirds out in force, with the puffins coming and going, and chicks of all our regulars with the exception of fulmars on display. Fulmars are notoriously later to hatch, so we'll be watching out for the first of their chicks in weeks to come. Nevertheless, you can enjoy some fantastic views of the adults hanging around near the tops of the cliffs at several viewpoints. Fulmars are the most comfortable of any of our seabirds nesting within reach of the weasels and stoats, thanks to their fantastic defence mechanism. That funny lump atop its bill is known as a tube-nose, common to the petrel family from which they hail, and is useful in a number of specially adapted contexts – particularly as a narrow cannon through which fulmars can projectile vomit a stream of foul-smelling stomach juices sure to mess up the feathers of any avian predator and make any mammals that come near seriously think twice before trying it again! If you want to know more about these amazing birds (one of my personal favourites!), be sure to ask any of our volunteers, or join up on a Puffin Patrol where you'll see and learn about all our fantastic seabirds!

    Fulmar nesting in a crevice, showing its tube-nose! Photo via scope, by Jaime.

    To finish out Saturday, well, sometimes one of our birds has a bad day.

    Young guillemot rescued from the wrong side of the fence by manager Keith Clarkson. Photo by Jaime.

    This poor little guy (or girl! In guillemots, as with all of Bempton's seabirds, both sexes look the same!) was perfectly healthy, but had an unfortunate crash landing on the wrong side of the fence shortly after hours. He/she was a young non-breeder, so fortunately hadn't left an egg exposed on the cliffs, but was understandably quite upset with the predicament! Guillemots can't take off in an upward direction, and this bird couldn't quite hop high enough to get through the gaps in the fence. Fortunately one of our most experienced team members was on hand to execute a quick rescue and return it to the cliff side of the fence. If on a visit you should happen to see a seabird stuck on the wrong side of the fence, please remember that even the small ones could do serious damage with their sharp bills and surprisingly strong wings, and might also carry disease; don't try to approach it, but let one of our staff or volunteers know!

    The weather today is looking to be fabulous, and we have a nice clear view out to the horizon! Here's hoping more rarities will show themselves in the coming days!

    Posted by Jaime G

  • 17 June 2014

    Recent Sightings 17/06/2014

    Hello everyone! My name is Jaime and I’m a new residential volunteer at Bempton Cliffs. I've recently completed a degree in ecology here in England, but was originally born and raised in Canada! Over the next several weeks, I’ll be helping to keep you all up-to-date on what our amazing Bempton flora and fauna are up to, and for those of you who are new to Bempton like me, sharing a bit about what amazing things I’ve learned and seen! Look for a bit more of that in forthcoming updates.

    But first, there’s a lot of “eggsiting” news to share! All of our popular seabirds are nesting, and if you’re very lucky, you might see... chicks! Many of our birds, such as gannetfulmar, and razorbill, were first sighted with eggs all the way back in March and April. Hatching is ongoing. We have a number of gannet chicks of varying ages, as well as newly-hatched herring gulls, and fluffy kittiwake chicks.

    Proud kittiwake parent and two chicks seen off Bartlett Nab. Photo by Jaime.

    Guillemot and razorbill chicks have regularly been spotted on the cliffs since late May. These chicks look remarkably like small fluffy penguins, and quickly become “jumplings”, making a gliding night-time dive off the cliffs and rapidly heading out to the relative safety of deeper water with one or both parents after only 2-3 weeks. While more are hatching regularly, each individual chick is therefore only around for a short time! Feel free to ask any of our guides and volunteers for your best viewing bets of any of our juveniles when you visit.

    Guillemot group with chicks. Photo courtesy of Mike Babcock.

    Of course the stars of the show at Bempton, for many people, are our puffins. Puffin activity is gradually picking up around the cliffs. Just a few short weeks ago most were spending the bulk of their time in their underground nests incubating, and sightings were particularly challenging to come by. This past week, however, the first few sightings of puffins with their beaks laden with sand-eels were made at various viewpoints around the reserve: a sure sign that their eggs must be hatching! Sightings of puffin chicks are not possible due to their underground nesting habits, but do be sure to watch out for the adults basking, stretching, and returning with food for their young in this and coming weeks.

    Puffin returning with food for its underground chick. Photo courtesy of Mike Babcock.

    A number of rarer visitors have happened by the reserve in the past week as well. A grey partridge accidentally flushed from the brush along the nature trail by one of our volunteers on 10 June was a pleasant surprise. On the warbler front, a marsh warbler was seen in the car park the same day, and a reed warbler heard singing in the car park on 11 June was followed later that day by a blackcap seen at the feeding station to round our warbler encounters for the week. A spotted flycatcher was seen around a large tree on Cliff Lane by several visitors and volunteers on 14 June, and a lesser black-backed gull put in an appearance on 15 June.

    A personal thrill for me was pointed out by a group of visiting schoolchildren!

    Mystery bird off New Roll-up...? Photo by Jaime.

    What’s that big dark bird, on the cliff...?

    Our mystery bird zoomed-in... a falcon! Photo by Jaime.

    It’s... a peregrine falcon! A young male, to be specific. I didn't have a proper lens along at the time, but even with the limitations of my small lens, you can just make out the black "moustache" or “executioner’s hood” covering the top of his head and pulled down past his eyes with a flash of white cheek showing. This fellow has been spotted hunting around the south end of the reserve fairly regularly this season, and may have found himself a nice lady falcon to settle down with on the cliffs where we can’t normally see them. If you are lucky enough to catch him hunting, be advised it’s not a sight for the faint of heart! Peregrines are the fastest birds we know, climbing to great heights and attacking from above in great dives at over 200mph! Any bird unlucky enough to be hit by a peregrine is likely to die instantly of a broken neck. Until fairly recently, peregrines were greatly endangered in many countries due to hunting, trapping, and poisoning of their food web by the pesticide DDT, but their numbers are recovering and thankfully now we can see them at Bempton (and even back in my home of Canada!).

    Birds aren't the only things at Bempton, as the RSPB works to truly “give nature a home”. A number of butterflies including red admiral, painted lady, small tortoiseshell, and speckled wood are now commonly seen on the reserve, and a chimney sweeper moth seen near the center on 14 June joined our two sightings of hummingbird hawk-moths on 13 and 14 June as our invertebrate stars of the week.

    Speckled wood butterfly seen on the south end of the reserve. Photo by Jaime.

    Small tortoiseshell butterfly on the reserve. Photo by Jaime.

    For those who enjoy plants, there’s plenty to see as our northern marsh and common spotted orchids are both in full flower, and with great excitement on Saturday (14 June), a sweep of the areas around the car park turned up two bee orchids in flower! These are marked off with caution tape so as to prevent them being trimmed or trod upon, and we ask that any visitors wishing to view or photograph them please not displace the barriers, as a blooming bee orchid is quite a rarity in the area!

    Bee orchid blooming by the car park on a cloudy day. Photo by Jaime.

    A number of our residents are about, including tree sparrows and swallows nesting on and around the centre, corn buntings which you may hear in the fields or, if you’re lucky, spot perched along the wire fencing towards the north of the reserve, weaselsstoats, and shrews.

    All in all, it’s been a very active week at Bempton Cliffs! I’ll be back later in the week with another update!

    Posted by Jaime G

  • 27 May 2014

    Recent sightings update 27 May

    It’s never a dull moment at Bempton during the breeding season. All of our seabirds are present in good numbers, especially Puffins, with most species now on eggs. Guillemot and Razorbill chicks have been sighted on the reserve should be hatching in numbers soon – keep your eyes peeled for movement under adult birds on the cliffs. Gannet chicks are appearing as well. The ‘nest 33’ gannet chick at Staple Newk is getting easier to see and entertaining visitors daily. Gannets are still busy collecting nest material at the tops of the cliffs - providing some good opportunities to see these magnificent birds up close. Kittiwake eggs are appearing as well.

    Gannets at Staple Newk. Mike Babcock

    Puffin! Mike Babcock

    Corn Bunting seem to be everywhere – with up to 6 singing males on the Reserve, an increase from last year. A Peregrine has been entertaining patient visitors at the Staple Newk viewpoint on most days. There are plenty of Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and Linnets around as well, plus the Whitethroat which are regulars around the car park. A Yellow Wagtail was seen on 16 May and Wheatear and Stonechat were both reported on 22 May. Spotted Flycatcher and Pied Flycatcher have been reported from the Dell, but have proved elusive. A Great Skua was over the sea on 20 May.

    Corn Bunting doing well. Dave Aitken

    On the Bempton rarity front, residential volunteer Ruth was surprised to see a Turtle Dove in the car park early on the morning of 18 May, and the bird entertained visitors for at least three days. A female Ring Ouzel was spotted on 12 May and a Redwing on 14 May. A House Sparrow on 12 May was an unusual record for the Reserve. The Moorhen has been spotted around the pond again. A female Marsh Harrier, presumably one of the birds regularly seen at Buckton, was seen over the fields behind the Reserve on 18 May. A Quail was heard very early one morning, but hasn’t been seen.

    The Bempton Turtle Dove. Dave Aitken

    Female Ring Ouzel. Dave Aitken

    Posted by Michael B

  • 8 May 2014

    Egg-sighting times

    Apologies for the delay since the last recent sightings update, our office move has meant that access to our IT systems has been limited.

    Seabird breeding season is in full swing, with plenty of our breeding Guillemot and Razorbill seen on eggs. Watch out for a tell-tale flash of blue when a Guillemot changes position.  Most of our breeding Gannet are on eggs and the first Gannet chick was spotted on 6 May – nest 33 leading the way as usual. The first Fulmar egg was spotted from Jubilee viewpoint on 5 May. Kittiwake have started nest building in earnest.

    Gannet Chick - Ruth Jeavons (iPhone Digi-Scoping)

    Our resident Tree Sparrow and Skylark are very much in evidence. Corn Bunting seem to be having an excellent year and their jingling keys song can be heard up and down the reserve. Peregrine have been seen regularly from the Staple viewpoint. A Short-eared Owl has been seen regularly by early or late visitors. A Great Skua was seen over the sea on 29 April.

    Corn Bunting - Andy Hay (

    There are plenty of migrants around as well, with Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler heard regularly and Whitethroat regularly seen around the Dell and the car park. A Lesser Whitethroat was in the Dell 20 April, as was a Brambling. A Sedge Warbler has been heard along the direct path from the Visitor Centre towards the cliffs. Grasshopper Warbler has been heard near the Visitor Centre, most recently on 3 May. Several Wheatear have been seen on the reserve, most recently on 7 May. Wheatear have been also seen regularly along Hoddy Cows Lane at the far end of the reserve, as have Yellow Wagtail and Yellowhammer. Many Swallow have been seen passing through, and it appears that the pair which nested in the Visitor Centre last year has returned. Flyover Whimbrel were seen on 29 April, although this caused some confusion when reported in a certain newspaper as if they were in residence.

    Finally, most exciting recent record for Bempton listers was the Moorhen on the pond on 5 and 6 May, which was generally considered to be the second record for the reserve.

    Posted by Scott Smith - Visitor Services Manager

Your sightings

Grid reference: TA1973 (+2km)

Tree Sparrow ()
28 Jul 2014
Whimbrel (29)
26 Jul 2014
Quail (1)
21 Jul 2014
Corn Bunting (1)
16 Jul 2014
Fulmar ()
28 Jul 2014
Gannet ()
28 Jul 2014
Shag ()
28 Jul 2014
Puffin ()
28 Jul 2014
Razorbill ()
28 Jul 2014
Guillemot ()
28 Jul 2014

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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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