Thursday, 19 April 2012

Feet on the Ledge

Flamborough Head on the East Yorkshire coast sticks out into the North Sea and makes you feel like you're in the middle of the ocean when the wind blows. This makes it very good for birds.

As an added benefit, a cold current washes down from the north and collides with warmer water coming up from the south, providing a small concentrated area of food which the birds feast upon, a constant stream of them moving across the point..... auks in their 30-50s, gannets in groups of a dozen of so, and gulls and kittiwakes moving on their own.

At any time there were hundreds of birds swimming or flying offshore.

I looked around the edge of an outcrop and got a shock - a small group of guillemots were nesting within close view, and a few of the early settlers had an egg. They look like Easter eggs, all turquoise and brown.

Kittiwakes nearby had colonised an overhang, on the cliffs which are chalk, Jim, but not as we know it - it's much harder than the White Cliffs down south, so much so that local houses were built of chalk rocks.
Guillemots occupy the slightly flatter parts, while razorbills seem to prefer impossibly narrow ledges. Keep those feet on the ledge!
And down below, grey seals patrol and occasionally rise up to take a swimming auk.

A couple of miles along the north coast of Flamborough Head is the RSPB reserve of Bempton Cliffs, nesting ground for thousands of sea birds at this time of the year and one of the most magnificent birding experiences in England.

According to Poysers' Bird Observatories of Britain and Ireland, the most recent counts of birds here include:
  • Gannet 2,552 nests
  • Kittiwake 85,095 pairs
  • Guillemot 46,685 birds
  • Razorbill 8,539 birds
  • Puffin 2,615 pairs

That's a lot of birds, especially when many of them leave the cliffs as one of the Peregrine falcons cruises by.

I reckon we saw only about 30 puffins, but having watched one fly in towards the cliff and immediately disappear into a hole that's not surprising. Another one was glimpsed peeping out.

The gannets were far more obvious, gliding and stalling in the strong wind, before dropping onto one of the colonies.There's an egg there, just visible under the parent's feet.

And no report of Bempton is complete without mention of the colony of tree sparrows nesting noisily around the visitor centre.

It's a wonderful area - if you haven't been, please go (in spring, because the nests and cliffs will soon be empty).

1 comment:

me ann my camera said...

I enjoyed viewing ypur Kittiwakes photos of these birds nesting on the cliffside. I had a similar sighting last week in Newfoundland, Canada. I also saw Common Murres. I will post my Kittiwake pictures tomorrow,Wednesday. Most exciting about my trip I saw and ohotographed Atlantic Puffins.