On Saturday, we finally made the long-awaited trip to Bempton Cliffs. It was that time of year for the sea birds spectacular when they come ashore to breed. We’d been planning this trip since the beginning of April but was unable to make it due to the unreliable weather and Babe’s continuing ill-health. We checked the weather first and plenty of sunshine was promised in the afternoon. But it was the winds that we were worried about. 20kph winds from the North Sea on a 120m cliff sounds a bit scary but we were up for it. As usual, I always have my camera on my lap, trying to take a photographic view of the trip. And it came very handy when this van driver suddenly appeared from nowhere and overtook us by less than a metre. Bl—dy h—l. You should hear the colourful words coming from Babe. I don’t blame him when some prat was trying to kill us. When the idiot spotted the camera fitted in the windscreen, he immediately switched to the fast lane and sped off. We were so tempted to call the police. So to whoever you are, we have your number.
Along the way, the weather still couldn’t make up its mind. As we drove through the different counties, it turned cloudy, showery, windy and sunny. We passed through rural countryside filled with fields of blooming rapeseed. Great swathes and sheets of gold as far as the eye can see. You can’t help feeling uplifted to the brilliant colour although the sickly perfume can be a bit overpowering. Sorry to those suffering from pollen allergies. After 3 plus hours, we arrived at our destination. We thought the car park was full because a lot of cars were parked along the road. We continued driving and found out that there were plenty of spaces. I guess they don’t want to pay the £5 fee. A bit sad I think since the reserve was run by volunteers and as a charity. As usual, we always take time to observe the antics of the Tree Sparrows on top of the visitor centre. I love this shot taken by Babe. A male spotted a feather floating chased it deftly, and with immense aerial skill, caught it in mid-air and returning to his nest. His mate will be grateful. As soon as we walked along the path towards the cliff, we were assaulted by the cacophony of sounds and smells of the natives. It was amazing. It was as if you’re in a huge rock amphitheatre, with hundreds of birds above, below and right in front of you. As usual, we took the route to the right first. At the New Roll-up viewpoints, we’d a very good close-up of the Gannets. Check those buttery-yellow head and beak with the beady blue eyes, all beautifully kohled in black. I think we were a bit early for the breeding season because we didn’t see that many Gannets nesting on the rock arch at Staple Newk. It was lovely to watch the constant interaction they had with each other.We did see a few mating displays such as mutual bill-touching, fencing and sky-pointing.
I am watching the white gannets blaze down into the water
With the power of blunt spears and a stunning accuracy
Even though the sea is riled and boiling and grey with fog
After about 2 hours in the freezing cold winds and trying to stay upright, we made our way back to the warmth of the car for lunch. While enjoying our sandwiches and hot coffee, we were entertained by a flock of Jackdaws. They kept inching closer and closer to the car, eyeing us as we’d our lunch. As usual, I just had to share my lunch with them. What a sucker!!!
There is a bird who, by his coat
And by the hoarseness of his not
Might be supposed a crow,
A great frequenter of the church,
Where, Bishop like, he finds a perch
And dormitory too
~William Couper ‘The Jackdaw’~
Then back to the chalk cliffs. The sun came out but still quite windy. We could hear the Kittiwake calling their names out loud, dominating the vicinity. They were nesting on the precarious cliff faces, occupying every ledge. Babe managed to get this gorgeous photograph of them mid-call where you can see the beautiful orange-red colour.inside of their mouths. Check out the wings that looked like they had been dipped in ink.
The snowy Kittiwakes overhead,
With beautiful beaks of gold,
And wings of delicate grey outspread,
Float, listening while they scold
~Mary Oliver, 1935-~
At the Grandstand, we managed to catch a glimpse of a very beautiful powder blue egg of a Guillemot. We felt so blessed to have seen this. The egg had evolved to be pointed, so that it will roll in a circle from the point, but not off the cliff edge.This chocolate brown bird, with a white tummy and a sharp dagger like beak was sitting upright penguin-style with its whitish ‘spectacle’ around the eye.
I’m a Guillemot
I do my speccy reccy from my rocky window sill a lot
I am a Guillemot
Am I not?
Nearby, were the Razorbills lining like milk bottles along impossible ledges. They looked very similar to the Guillemots, except for that they are darker with their shorter necks. They had a vertical white line on their razor-like bills and eyes looking almost like a comedy thief’s mask.
The Razorbill auks and the silly-looking puffins all stand
with their backs to the mainland
in solemn, uneven lines along the cliff's brown grass-frayed edge
(Elizabeth Bishop, 1911-1979)
Then the piece de resistance, the adorable Puffins. We have been to Bempton Cliffs for the past 3 years and only had seen them flying past. But today, we seemed to bump into them at every turn. An unmistakable bird with its black back and white underparts, and distinctive black head with large pale cheeks and a tall, flattened, brightly-coloured bill. Its comical appearance was heightened by its red and black eye-markings and bright orange legs. No wonder they were playfully known as 'clowns of the sea' and 'sea parrots'.
Every Puffin we see tonight is a miracle
The star of the day was when one of the Puffin decided that he wanted to check out the photographers at the top of the cliff face. He expertly used the high wind speed to rotate his way upwards, looking at us quizzically. We were nearly eyeball to eyeball. He was so adorable and I felt very privileged to have seen this amazing behaviour. It made my day.
Oh, there was once a puffin
Just the shape of a muffin
And he lived on an island
in the bright blue sea!
He ate little fishes
That were most delicious
And he had them for supper
And he had them for tea.
~Florence Page Jaques,~
After all the excitements, it was time to say our goodbyes to one of our favourite playground. On the way back to the visitor centre, a pair of birds were defending their territory. We think it was either a Skylark or Meadow pipit. They were hovering but we couldn’t hear any virtuoso performance. Perhaps too busy checking out the opponent. We ended the lovely day by checking out the feeding station. There was a party going on. Apart from the main feeder, bird-feeders were hanging on every tree and they were all occupied by a variety of birds. We saw Tree sparrows, Bullfinches, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Robins, Greenfinches, Collared Doves, Wood pigeons, Dunnocks, Linnets, Yellowhammers and ,oh hello, a Brambling. This was our first sighting of a Brambling. On the way home, we drove through intermitten cloudbursts. We arrived home in one piece, very exhausted but contented. Babe was too tired to upload more than 1k photographs that we’d taken. After a light dinner, we went straight to bed dreaming of being surrounded by thousands of wheeling birds.