Monday, 8 June 2015

Sea Birds At Bempton

On the 8 April, I went with the Phoenix Group (for more information on this group, see my previous post here) for a trip to Bempton Cliffs, a truly wonderful RSPB reserve. I had not been to this area for a while, so I was looking forward to seeing the multitude of seabirds and other wildlife that makes its home there!
Unfortunately, for the whole of the morning the weather seemed determined to make sure that we would be utterly miserable, by raining a great deal. We didn't see much, just a few bedraggled-looking guillemots (Uria aalge). However, we did see 2 bridled guillemots, which are a form of the normal species, which can be distinguished by the white around the eyes and the lines that stretch out from behind the eyes. This was a first for me, and they were great to see!

Add caption
The bridled form of the guillemot.

A new visitor's center has recently been opened, and it is a very nice place, with plenty of interesting books and other things for sale, as well as hot drinks. We had our lunch in there, and thankfully by the time we'd finished, the clouds had disappeared from the now blue sky, the rain had stopped, and the sun was shining brightly.
We had a wonderful afternoon, in which I learned lots of fascinating information. I saw one of my favourite birds, the razorbill (Alca torda), and learned that the inside of their mouths are bright gold in colour! I saw this for myself when a surprisingly close razorbill turned straight towards me and opened its mouth as wide as it could, as if to show off its lovely gold colour!

  A razorbill opens its mouth, displaying the gold colouration inside.

But of course a trip to Bempton Cliffs would not be complete without puffins (Fratercula artica). We were not disappointed, and we saw many of these lovely creatures. Surprisingly, during the winter, when the puffins are out at sea, they shed their brightly coloured bills, leaving a drab one in its place. This is because the bright colours are only used in the breeding season to attract a mate, so when the next summer comes, the bill once more becomes beautiful and colourful!
The highlight for me, though, was a barn owl (Tyto alba) which flew over the meadows that grow on the cliffs. The red campion growing beneath it reflected on its belly, making the feathers glow pink.
We also saw many kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla), a sort of gull. We saw a large group of them flying into a nearby field to pick up mud and grass to put in their nests on the cliffs. Apparently visitors often complain about mud falling onto their heads, because a kittiwake flying above them has just dropped some of its nesting material!

A kittiwake, showing its dark-coloured eyes, which I always think give it a rather amiable appearance.

Every year the volunteers at Bempton count up the seabirds, which us at the Phoenix Group got to have a go at, too. We were given clipboards with images of small patches of cliff. We had to find that area, count up the birds there, then compare that to the amount in the image. In this case we were counting guillemots. It is more difficult than you might think, even with binoculars, because you keep forgetting which birds you've already counted! After doing that, we did another survey, in which we counted the nesting pairs and the eggs visible. This was even more difficult, as sometimes it isn't very easy to tell which ones are brooding an egg and which aren't. The guillemots very rarely allowed us a glimpse of an egg, keeping themselves huddled over it to keep it safe. It was an interesting insight into the difficulties the volunteers at Bempton face!
We were all thoroughly surprised and bamboozled when the volunteer who was showing us around told us that she was taking us to see 'the elephant'. We were led to a viewing platform, from which we could, apparently, see the elephant. It turned out that the elephant is in fact a massive, natural rock formation that juts out of the cliff. It resembles the front half of an elephant, complete with legs (or alternatively tusks), and a large trunk that disappears into the sea, apparently sucking up water!
Overall, it was another wonderful day with the Phoenix Group. I can't wait for our next trip, and we will hopefully visit Bempton Cliffs again soon.

Until next time, keep on the wild side!