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Recent sightings

  • 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

  • 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

Your sightings

Grid reference: TA1973 (+2km)

Tree Sparrow (6)
15 Aug 2014
Whinchat (1)
13 Aug 2014
Grey Wagtail (2)
9 Aug 2014
Corn Bunting ()
7 Aug 2014
Fulmar (2)
15 Aug 2014
Gannet (300)
15 Aug 2014
Shag (1)
15 Aug 2014
Kittiwake (25)
15 Aug 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.