Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Bempton Cliffs Nature Reserve

We drove 200plus km, for 3 hours with a pit stop at the newly-opened Tibshelf services, through gloomy skies, sunny intervals and showers and arrived at our destination in one piece. I was keeping my fingers and toes double-crossed that the weather would clear towards the coast and to a certain extent it did. The first thing that hit me when we got out of the car was the constants tweetings and twitterings from the bushes and trees surrounding this beautiful reserve. We will definitely check them out later.Bempton Cliffs D300s X2  01-04-2011 12-05-01 After a quick trip to use the facilities and pay £3 per car (free for RSPB members), we’d a quick lunch in the lovely sunshine. As usual, a woman got out of her car and asked Babe about how he managed to hang the tripod to the backpack. Babe explained that he used a metal ring and gave her a spare one that he’d. Then another man, asked him about the cameras and lenses, etc, etc. We have met very friendly people here.

As we walked towards the visitor centre, I noticed that there was a noisy racket on the roof. We looked closely and found out that the tree sparrows have been using the eaves as nest sites. They were bringing moss in to build a warm, cosy nest. I guess it would be the safest place in the world, sheltered from the elements.Bempton Cliffs D2h  01-04-2011 12-18-17

Then it was time to start our adventure. We’d to walk through the visitor centre and as we got closer towards the cliff, the sound, sight and smell hit us. There was a cacophony of noise and the air was filled with thousands of wheeling birds. The amazing sight of these birds flying everywhere against the backdrop of precipitous cliffs and the open North Sea. With so many birds, there was tons of guano generated, producing one huge smelly pong :-).Bempton Cliffs D2h  01-04-2011 12-36-22 From the visitor centre you can take either the left or right fork in the path. A fellow photographer informed us to take the right path first. There were 3 well fenced and protected observation points on the right and 2 to the left. There were good walkways along the top of the cliffs. These hard chalk cliffs  rise were resistant to erosion and thus offered plenty of sheltered headlands and crevices for nesting birds. They run about 10 km from Flamborough Head north towards Filey and are over 100 metres high at certain points. Bempton Cliffs D300s  01-04-2011 13-57-08 I just don’t know where to start describing this fantastic bird spectacle and seascape. It was a conundrum of sounds, sights, smells and ornithological chaos. We just stood there watching at the vast swirl of activity around, above and below us. There were soo many seabirds that the cliffs looked like a snowstorm had just swept in. This wasn’t their absolute peak of activity. More is yet to arrive and I just don’t know where on earth they were going to fit in.Bempton Cliffs D50  01-04-2011 13-10-10In the peak season, these towering chalk cliffs were a high-rise city to 250,000 seabirds nesting on them. And the piece de resistance was the Gannet, the crown prince of seabirds.  There was about 3,500 Gannets at Bempton Cliffs and they arrived at the colony from January and leave in August and September. These huge swooping gannets have a six feet wingspan, a gorgeous pale apricot colour head and blue eyes thickly ringed in black like a burlesque dancer. Bempton Cliffs D300s  01-04-2011 13-30-47

It was great to watch these stunning gannets cruising around at the base of the cliffs. When they landed on the nest where their mate was nesting, they behaved like long-lost lovers, caressing each other and indulging in ‘bill-fencing’. Check that behaviour out. The sight of a cliff peppered with gannets was pretty hard to resist. They were clinging to every crack and cranny!Bempton Cliffs D300s X2  01-04-2011 13-16-29

Then our ears was filled with the unmistakable shrill call of  'kitti-week' calls of the dainty Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) . Along the cliffs, we saw them them packed onto their tiny nesting ledges. Around 10% of the United Kingdom population lived here. Even now, the incessant din created by all the Kittiwakes shouting their name, was still ringing in my ear.Bempton Cliffs D2h  01-04-2011 12-27-27 While the variety of birds at Bempton is limited (with primarily 6 breeding species), the sheer number of them was overwhelming. Apart from the Gannets and Kittiwake, we saw a lot of Herring Gulls hanging about, Rock Doves puttering on the very edge of the cliffs, while Guillemot and Razorbills were paddling in the sea. It was very unfortunate for us that we didn’t see any Puffins which usually nest on the soil banks at the top of the cliff. I guess the blowing gale put them off. Bempton Cliffs D50  01-04-2011 13-50-58 Talking about gale, do checkout the speed of the wind before coming here. When we were here, it was blowing a gale, making walking along one of the highest sea cliff-top path on the east coast of England, a big, big challenge. Trying to hold the camera whilst being buffeted by the very strong winds was another heck of a job. Babe couldn’t even used the tripods. Our arms were sore by the time we left. If you want to blow the cobwebs away, a walk here on a windy day will definitely help.Bempton Cliffs D300s  01-04-2011 13-58-38 We met a wonderful volunteer at one of the viewpoints. She told us that we could have a wonderful 360 degree birding and photography sea-level encounter with these seabirds on boat trips in summer. They will sail right up to the base of the cliffs, among all the noise and bustle. It would be spectacular. Unfortunately, we have to book it weeks in advance and with Babe’s health problems, it was quite difficult to make a decision. Apart from that, we lived 200 km plus away. Sigh…

It was quite hard to say goodbye to such a spectacular setting. We will definitely visit again especially since I’ve not seen a puffin yet. As we walked back to the car, we heard and spotted Skylarks enjoying the warm sunshine.  Before we left, we checked out the feeding station. At first, it looked like nobody’s home. Then mixed flocks of tree sparrows, goldfinches, greenfinches, dunnocks, chaffinches, robins, blue and great tits started arriving to feed.

We left at about 4pm, hoping to miss the Friday traffic. Not a chance. The funny thing was that we entered via Berkeley and left through Hull. How strange was  that. We didn’t cross the amazing Humber Bridge but drove below it. It took us 3 hours to Bempton Cliffs and 4 hours back. What a fantabulous day. We took 1k photographs and Babe spent the whole night uploading/editing them.Road Trip Bempton Cliffs D200  01-04-2011 16-26-33 After such a hectic Friday, Saturday was spent chilling out. I did the laundry and we went to do the weekly shopping at Asda. I spent the afternoon pottering about in the garden with the radio on. I was listening to the football match between Sky Blues and Watford. It was quite surreal because I could hear the the groans, the roars and the singing. The stadium was behind our casa. After such a turbulent week, the Sky Blues defeated Watford 2:0. Well done. The fans have been singing all night long. 

On Sunday, it was Mothers’ Day or Mothering Sunday here in the UK. I’m always confused because in Malaysia, it falls in May. I wished my Emak and mother-in-law and all mothers out there, “You’re simply the best”.

Being a full-time mother is one of the highest salaried jobs... since the payment is pure love.
~Mildred B. Vermont~

After a very relaxing Saturday, we went to Brandon Marsh to stretch our legs. The reserve was alive with bird songs and people. We checked the Baldwin Hide and it was very quiet. Where  was everybody??? When we arrived at East Marsh Hide, it was cramped with twitchers and photographers. They were waiting for the Spotted Crake which had been sighted several times. Unfortunately, it refused to make an appearance while we were there.

We weren’t that bothered. There were plenty of other waders to keep us occupied. We saw Little Ringed Plovers feeding on the main island and as usual, we played spotting the Common Snipes. A pair of Redshanks flew in to join the crowd and amorous Oyster Catchers were busy making up. A Greylag was already nesting on the island in front of the hide. Noisy lapwings were chasing each other around the reserve.Teals, Galdwalls, Mallards and Shelducks were also busy feeding.  A Cetti Warbler was heard but not seen.Brandon Marsh D300s X2  03-04-2011 14-26-04 We left when it was getting busier, noisier and warmer in the hide. At Carlton Hide, it was very quiet and later we knew why. Babe spotted this handsome Buzzard checking out the surroundings and hunting for food. We observed him swooping over the reeds but flew back to the tree stump with nothing. We left after he flew off to another part of the reserve. Brandon Marsh D300s X2  03-04-2011 15-08-04 It had been a wonderful weekend for us and I hoped everyone did too.

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