17 Jul 2021

17 Jul 21 - The Remake Of Saturday Night Fever

Another weekend & another trip to Bempton Cliffs. This was my third trip in three weekends to try to see an English Black-browed Albatross. Due to some evening working, I was able to leave a lunchtime on the Friday & arrived for the evening at Bempton in the hope that it would appear on its cliff roost: it didn't. I slept in the Focus hotel & was walking out in the half light, with a few other Birders who had arrived overnight or just arrived. Frustratingly, there was no sign of the Black-browed Albatross and it didn't appear all day. I stayed till just after 20:00, when the sea mist that had appeared and cleared once, appeared again & looking to be in for the rest of the evening. Apparently, the following day was foggy during the morning and there was no sign of the Black-browed Albatross until the evening, when it returned to its roost spot.
Sunrise at Bempton Cliffs
However, a visit to Bempton Cliffs, when the weather is OK, is never a wasted opportunity given it is the best mainland Seabird colony, with unrivalled photographic opportunities. It is a great place to watch the Gannets and other Seabirds & how they interact with each other.
Gannet: This Gannet started to display
Gannet: He has his eye on the female
Gannet: Passing over the vegetation
Gannet: A convenient fumble allows him to get closer
Gannet: The vegetation worked
Gannet: He's back on the top of the bank
Gannet: He's now back with the female as another male starts displayng
Gannet: This Gannet has more moves than John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever
Gannet: The problem here is Gannets begin breeding in late Feb to Apr. A single egg is laid in Apr and incubation takes six weeks, with the chick fledging in late Aug. With four months from egg laying to fledging, this mating attempt will fail this season
Gannet & Egg: This Gannet is going to struggle to get a chick to fledgling
Gannet: Just to reconfirm the obvious, this is how advanced the main pairs are

10 Jul 2021

10 Jul 21 - Just Drifting By

In the last Blog Post, I detailed my first attempt to see the Black-browed Albatross at Bempton Cliffs, when I missed it by about one hour, after it had flown out to sea. It was back on the cliffs for most of the mornings on the Monday and Tuesday mornings, but it disappearing off to feed at some point in the day. There were no sightings on the Wednesday & Thursday. But it was seen again on the Friday, where it spent the day on the cliffs. During the week it seemed to have found a regular spot on the cliffs, which was viewable from one of the viewing platforms.

I decided to have another attempt on the Saturday, after another hectic week of work. I was too tired to get up at 23:00 after only two hours sleep. I finally got up at 00:30 and left at 01:30. I arrived at Bempton at 07:15, to hear that it had already flown off the cliffs, but it was still showing at a distance on the sea. However, it had flown out to sea by the time I arrived at the clifftop viewing platforms. I had missed it on its cliff roost spot by just over an hour & on the sea by about forty minutes.

Still I had a good time watching the Gannets, Auks and Kittiwakes and chatting with my friend Ewan Urquhart (Black Audi Birding) & his mate Hugh. We were at the platform that could see the Black-browed Albatross roost spot. It was packed with a few Birders, as well as, birdwatchers and photographers: as it also provided good views of part of the Gannet colony. Pete Moore was standing nearby, as he had arrived earlier than me. But there was no room in the crowd to join Pete. C19 still a big concern for me & I was not into sharing cars at this point.
Bempton Cliffs are a superb area to visit & enjoy the spectacular Seabird colony. It should be one of those locations that everybody puts on their Bucket List to visit at least once in their lifetime. I will focus on some flight shots in this Blog Post. But there was so much more going on in front of each of the viewing platforms, that it still remained a great day out, despite missing the Black-browed Albatross.
Later in the day, I walked off to try some of the other viewing platforms to see some of the other parts of the colony. There was a Bridled Guillemot distantly on view from one of the viewing platforms. I must have seen them before on my first visit to the Shetland Islands, but there is nothing in my notes to indicate that. It is only a colour form of Guillemot, which is uncommon in Dorset, but more common in the Shetland Islands.
Kestrel: It wasn't all about flying Seabirds during the day
Sea fog appeared & cleared a couple of times in the late afternoon, but then it drifted in and looked like it was set in for good. I left about 19:15 for the long journey home. The weather forecast for the following morning was for the fog to persist . There was thick fog there the following morning, which didn't clear for several hours. So, I made the right decision to head home. However, the Black-browed Albatross reappeared on the cliff around mid-afternoon and it spent the rest of the day on view on its preferred cliff perch.

4 Jul 2021

4 Jul 21 - The First Trek To Bempton Cliffs

I first visited Bempton Cliffs in my early teens during a family holiday in the mid-late 1970s, when we were staying with my Dad's relatives in Leeds. It resulted in six Ticks that day: Fulmar, Gannet, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin & Kittiwake. I remember it was a great afternoon with my first views of proper Seabirds. It would have included Tree Sparrow as well, if it wasn't for a pair that popped up one summer & attempted to breed in a nest box in our suburban garden on the Kent-London border. Surprisingly, I never returned in the following decades.

On 2 & 3 July 20, a Black-browed Albatross appeared in the Gannet colony at Bempton Cliffs for a few hours. In Jun 81, I had seen Albert, the original Black-browed Albatross, that spent its most summers from 1975 to 1995 in the Hermaness Gannet colony. As a result, I wasn't going to race up to Bempton Cliffs on a mid-week trip, in the hope of seeing another one in the UK. It returned the following year to the Gannet colony at Bempton Cliffs on 28 Jun 21 and it was seen on & off until it flew out to see on the evening of 30 June 21. With no sightings over the next three days, it looked like it had moved on. Then news broke early on Sunday 4 July, that it was back in the Gannet colony. I had nothing planned for the day, so I decided to use it as an excuse to make a long-overdue return visit to Bempton Cliffs. I arrived about 16:30 to hear that the Black-browed Albatross had left the cliff it had been on all day, flown around a bit, before flying out to sea & being lost to view. It didn't seem likely that it would return, which proved to be the case. But there was the best part of six hours of light before it would be dark and there were plenty of Seabirds to see & photograph.

Although I was primarily looking for the Black-browed Albatross, it was hard not to take photographs of the breeding Gannets, Auks and Kittiwakes that are perched closed to the viewpoints or constantly flying past. Bempton Cliffs are the UK's best mainland Seabird colony and the numbers of Seabirds that are breeding along the cliffs are stunning. Additionally, the viewing platforms provide excellent views of small parts of this massive Seabird colony: which stretches for several miles. If you haven't been, then plan a visit and make sure you have plenty of food & drink as you won't want to leave. It's also well worth having plenty of warm clothes as it can be noticeably colder on that coast, compared to a few miles inland.
Gannet: The cliffs are vertical & about 400 ft high, so they are 50% higher than my St Aldhelms patch. But being vertical, it will be more difficult for Rats to access the nests
Gannet: There is a constant stream of Gannets moving in all directions around the cliffs. Not surprising with over 13,000 pairs along the breeding cliffs that stretch from Bempton Cliffs to Flamborough Head
Gannet: Most of the breeding pairs are on the steeper parts of the cliffs, but some individuals are happy to sit at the top of the cliffs and within easy view of the viewpoints
Gannet: This photo is hardly cropped
Gannet: Like a number of Seabirds, Gannets maintain close pair bonds. I guess it's necessary if one parent is going to be a sea for a day or so feeding, before returning to feed the young
Gannet: I assume these are two males who are involved in this fight
Gannet: One is starting to get the upper hand (or should that be bill?)
Gannet: Finally, the loser left the winner to occupy this small bit of cliff
There were areas near the top of the cliff where near adult Gannets were congregating: The adult Gannets nest below
Gannet: A close up of the some of the near adult Gannets: presumably, this allows them to start the courtship process
Gannet: It was also an area where it was possible to do some preening
Gannet: It looks like the preening worked, as another Gannet arrived & they started to display to each other
Gannet: It was also an area where it was possible to have a rest & let the food digest
Bempton Cliffs are also known for their breeding Auks, with around 57,000 pairs of Guillemots, 19,000 pairs of Razorbills and around 1,400 pairs of Puffins.
Guillemot: Like most of the Seabirds along the Bempton Cliffs coastline, Guillemot numbers have increased in recent years
Razorbill: Razorbills are the Auk that nests closest to some of the viewing platforms
Razorbill: I like the juxtaposition with the flowers
Razorbill: The next generation
Puffin & Razorbills: It looks like this Puffin has found a craft breeding hole in the cliff
Puffin: Sometimes it's tiring been the star of the show
Kittiwake: There are around 45,000 pairs of Kittiwakes
Kittiwake: Looks like they are having a good breeding season, based upon a totally unscientific set of photos
Barn Owl: This Barn Owl started flying over the fields, well before it was dark. However, it wasn't that close
There are good numbers of Tree Sparrows around the RSPB shop & cafe, as well as, along the clifftop path.
Tree Sparrow: Juv. Always a treat for a Dorset Birder to see on the deck, rather than as a Vis-Mig species every few years
Tree Sparrow: Juv
Tree Sparrow: Juv
I stayed until last light in the slim hope that the Black-browed Albatross would reappear on the cliffs: but it didn't. It had been a good trip to Bempton Cliffs, even if I didn't see the Black-browed Albatross. It was a long drive home & it was wasn't that far off dawn by the time I arrived home. Fortunately, I was still working at home in the post C19 world & so I could "lie in" to a few minutes before I was due to start work.