Saturday, 7 June 2014

Bempton Cliffs & Blacktoft Sands (6th May 2014)

The busy cliffs at Bempton
It wasn’t until waking up this morning that I decided to make the 2 hour trip to Bempton. I try to go at least once a year but last year left it too late and missed most of the birds. So, determined not to make the same mistake this year I set off with Ron in tow to see some new birds for this years list.

We arrived at around 11 o’clock and to my disappointment we were greeted with a cool reception at the visitors centre, there were at least 6 RSPB employees just outside the centre and not one greeted us with a smile or a hello. A girl inside was much better as were all the volunteers out on the reserve that were manning the viewing points. I hate to mention this but felt I had to get it out of my system.
Tree Sparrow

Now that’s out of the way lets get back to what we came here for. The first bird we saw was Tree Sparrow, it always gives me great pleasure to watch these delightful birds, around the reserve they are very comfortable around people and you can get some great views and witness some interesting behaviour very close to hand. As we walked toward the 1st viewing point we saw Guillemot & Kittiwakes, they were perched on the cliff faces desperately trying to hold onto their tiny territory.
 Gannet were soaring along the cliff edge, their size and wingspan amazes me every time I see them, a great bird to watch. From the viewpoint I picked out Razorbill and a Bridled Guillemot again clinging to the rock face. 15 minutes of scanning the rafts of sea birds I finally managed to pick out a single Puffin sat drifting on the water. As we moved around the reserve people were saying how they had not seen any Puffin; the volunteers confirmed that not many had arrived back at the cliffs.

I then I heard a sound I’d not heard before, well not at least in real life. I recognised it from hours of listening to bird song on the CD in the car; the books refer to the sound as the jangling of keys and it’s not a bad description. Sat on a barb wire fence was a Corn Bunting, a lifer for me, and not just one. Along the stretch of fencing were around 5 -6 birds all singing into the wind, Skylark joined in and the sound of this duet filled the air and was wonderful to hear.

We stopped for lunch where we watched Kittiwake tearing grass from the cliff tops and then we visited the west side of the reserve where we saw out first Fulmar soaring around on the updraughts without a wing beat. A large patch of bare earth was being used by the Kittiwake to collect mud; this was mixed with the grass collected earlier to make their nest site, a neat cup is formed on a cliff edge to make life safer and more comfortable. 2 eggs will be laid and young raised in this small precarious home. Rock/Feral Pigeon were flying around in large numbers which attracted the attention of a Peregrine. Ron, my self and around ten other very excited birdwatchers enjoyed some fantastic views of this bird as it flew back and forth along the cliff top. Climbing up we knew it had selected a target, it turned and plummeted back toward the cliffs, all manner of birds were flushed in panic as it locked on its prey. Luckily for the selected meal the Peregrine missed but it was a fantastic thing to witness.

We then left Bempton Cliffs and headed for Blacktoft sands where we hoped to see one particular bird. After spending a short time in Singleton and Townend Hides where we had some great views of Marsh Harrier and Pochard we moved onto and settled down In the Marshland Hide.

Here we watched our target bird, the Avocet.

There wasn't a great number of birds but boy are they beautiful with their clearly defined black and white bodies, very delicate upturned bills and blue legs. In 1893 the Avocet was declared extinct in Britain, however in 1941 the Avocet recolonised when coastal marshlands were flooded in East Anglia as a defence against possible invasion by the Germans. We now have around 1,500 breeding pairs in the UK, these numbers are boosted by around 4,500 visitors that over winter with us. I was watching one of these pairs preparing a nest, just a simple scrape in the mud and a few twigs right on the edge of the shoreline on a small island.

This island had around 10 breeding pairs of Black-headed Gulls too and I was surprised that the Gulls weren't more aggressive toward the Avocets but seemed to tolerate them. I wish I had more time to watch but it was getting late and it had been a long day, I still had a 1 ½ hour drive home so chose to reluctantly leave. 

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