August rushes by like desert rainfall,
A flood of frenzied upheaval,
~Elizabeth Maua Taylor~
[All flowers were from the garden]
We experienced an unsettled spell of weather for August. There was the usual mixture of sunshine and showers, interspersed with unseasonably windy conditions. Temperatures soared in the continent but Britain struggled to exceed 20C. Euro-heatwave, nicknamed Lucifer, swept across and persisted for several days. What a shame that these scorching blankets of hot air failed to creep up to the UK and we’d our usual rain-soaked British-isles.
We kept an eye on the weather forecast and as soon as dry weather was mentioned, we quickly made our way to Bempton Cliffs. It would be our last trip for the year and we wanted to say goodbye to the occupants before they flew back to the Atlantic. We left the casa at 9.16 am and it was cloudy with temperatures of 15.7C. We arrived at 12.30 pm and the place was buzzing. We’d forgotten that it was the school holidays.
Thankfully, we managed to find a parking spot near the visitor’s centre. After using the facilities, we made our way towards the cliffs but I was distracted by the butterflies that were feeding on the flowering Buddleia. The bush was like a huge honey pot giving off sweet waft of fragrance that drew in the Red Admirals, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells. We decided to walk towards Scale Nab and I came across Whites and Painted Ladies feeding on the thistles. I was so chuffed to see the Pained Ladies.
Butterflies go fluttering by
On colored wings that catch the eye.
On wings of orange, and silvery blue
On wings of golden yellow, too.
Butterflies float in the air,
Making their homes most anywhere:
As we walked along the paved path, we noticed that the aroma, sights and sounds of the sea-bird city was slightly subdued. It was the end of the breeding season and the natives will be heading out onto the North Sea and North Atlantic where they will sit out the winter months before returning to the cliffs in the spring of 2018. Then, from April to October, the RSPB will host the annual spectacle of thousands squawking rabble of Gannets, Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Puffins, again. I could not wait. .
As we walked towards our favourite cove, we noticed a bright yellow New Holland combine harvester busy at work. The name was derived from its combining 3 separate harvesting operations like reaping, threshing and winnowing into a single process. They were one of the most economically important labour saving inventions, significantly reducing the number of labourers needed in farming. The miles and miles of rapeseed oil fields hugging the hillside had already been harvested and the fields were left to fallow.
We headed straight to Staple Newk because Babe wanted to video the action on Scale Nab, an outcrop that was home to many nesting Gannets. From the grandstand, we stood on a superb, extended viewpoint overlooking the main gannet nursery. Bempton Cliffs was home to the only mainland breeding colony of Gannets in England. They arrived here from West Africa in early February and will be leaving in August/September. Some had already left.
Gannets were silent except during breeding, when the head and neck were brushed in a delicate yellow. From time to time, their rough throaty hard cacklings could be heard. They paired for life, recognising the distinctive calls of their mate regardless of time spent apart and occupy the same nest each year. We enjoyed watching their bonding displays like bowing, sky-pointing and mutual ‘fencing’ of the bills. The males built the nests out of seaweed, feathers, grass, earth and sometimes strings and nets, all kept together with their droppings.
Below us, on the rocks and ledges were chicks in various stages of development. Gannets chicks were known as Gugas. When they first hatched, they were featherless, as well as being blue or black in colour. In the 2nd week, they were covered in white down. From the 5th week, they were covered in dark brown feathers flecked with white. They were fed a couple of times a day for about 90 days. They were fed regurgitated semi-digested fish. Older chicks received a whole fish.
Unlike other species, these chicks don’t move about the nest or flapped their wings to ask for food. This reduced the likelihood of them falling off the nest. When they fledged, they jumped off the ledge on cliff into sea and this meant that they were separated from their parents for good. They were so chubby and buoyant that they weren’t capable of surface diving and headed south for winter by drifting with the currents. These fledglings usually go without food for 2-3 weeks until they’d slimmed down and mastered diving.
It took 4-5 years for a juvenile to gain adult plumage, passing through ever-whiter stages. Fledglings were brown with white wing tips. The plumage of one-year-olds could be completely brown. In the 2nd year, their appearances changed depending on the different phases of moulting, They could have adult plumage at the front and continued to be brown at the rear. They gradually acquired more white in subsequent season until they reached maturity.
In their second year, a number returned to the colony they were born in, where they arrived after the mature birds. Immature birds stayed on the edges of the colony. We watched a few juveniles in varying states of plumage with their mix of dark and light markings on the wings flying past. These young pre-breeding birds spent the summer investigating breeding colonies, a behaviour known as prospecting and also meeting potential breeding mates on the way.
Nearby, on one of the ledges, Kittiwake chicks were waiting patiently for their parents to return. In contrast to the dappled chicks of other gulls, they were downy and white since they were under little threat of predation, as the nests were on extremely steep cliffs. At the moment, they had black stripes on their wings and a black bar along the back of their necks. Unlike other chicks which wander around as soon as they could walk, they stood still in the nest facing the wall to avoid falling off.
They stayed in the nest and were fed by both parents for 40-45 days until they were strong enough to fly. A special adaption of Kittiwakes was that the chicks stayed in the nest until they could fly and if they tried to leave too early, they would fall from the cliffs. We saw a parent alight at the nest and food was regurgitated in response to the chick begging. There were also plenty of wing flapping going on.
I was not used to the silence from the Kittiwakes. When we were here in May, we were deafened by their eerie onomatopoeic serenades ‘kitti-wake’ or ‘kala-week’ making the colonies very noisy places indeed. It was only during courtship and nesting time that the birds ‘kittiwake’. For the rest of the year they were mostly silently except for an occasional ‘kit’. True gulls of the open sea, they spent half the year out in the middle of North Sea and North Atlantic, only returning inland to breed.
Babe’s favourite bird, the doe-eyed Fulmars, were sky diving and gliding, skirting the cliffs on stiffly held wings with occasional wing-beats. The whiteness of their bodies and relative thickness of their head earned them the nickname ‘flying milk bottle’. They were also likened to a mini albatross because they seemed to enjoy flying in stronger winds. Their long narrow wings enabled them to fly great distances and were one of the best birds at gliding on air currents.
Then it was a slow walk back to the main viewing platform. The wind was getting stronger and it was a challenge to walk straight. At the platform, it was quite strange to see the cliffs empty of the dark brown Guillemots and Jet black razorbills which tucked themselves away in the crevices and cracks in summer. Most visitors were looking for the Puffins but they with the Guillemots and Razorbills had already gone to sea. Below, we spotted a Great Skua feeding on a Kittiwake chick that had fallen off the cliff and drowned,
It was time to slowly ambled back to the car. The view was stunning from here as the rugged limestone cliffs rose 400 feet from the North Sea with unrivalled views of the beautiful Yorkshire coastline with Flamborough Head, Filey Brigg and Scarborough all jostling for attention within a breath-taking panorama. We bid the sea-bird city au-revoir as this will be our last trip to Bempton Cliff for 2017.
After such a long journey, the next day we stretched our legs at Ryton Woods, a local nature reserve. We seldom visited this wood because it was very secluded and there were stories of cars being broken into. We said a little prayer and made our way through this semi-natural ancient woodland which had been designated as an SSSI. Parts of the woods dated back to the 11th century and huge ditches indicated the ancient, medieval boundaries.
There were many paths to explore the 85 hectares woods which included oak, hazel and coppiced, small -leaved lime stools. An abundance of honeysuckle, the county flower of Warwickshire, scrambled through the lower-growing hazel, emanating its sweet perfume. We kept on the waymarked walks through the ferns and bracken to avoid getting lost and also kept an eye on the path which were quite muddy and slippery.
Sunlight dappled the path with shifting patterns. Birds were singing in the trees above, well-hidden in the canopy. A Comma was getting drunk on the ripening blackberries. Speckled wood fluttered by and landed on the bracken. I was chuffed to bits when a large, pale orange butterfly fluttered past and landed on the brambles. Whoop…whoop. It was a Silver-washed Fritillary. Unfortunately, it was too far away for a good photograph but I was really pleased to have seen it.
We continued walking and nearly stepped on a tiny Common Froglet hopping on the path. The tadpoles were black when they hatched and developed light brown speckles as they matured. Babe picked him up and gently put it in the bushes where it quickly scampered away. Then we returned back to the car to make sure it was still in one pieceA Common Darter was sunning nearby keeping it safe.
We then checked out the other side of the woods. Different species of rotting fungi dotted the path emanating a musky aroma. Babe was busy micro-photographing the different kinds of bugs hanging on to the leaves. We continued walking when we came across a platform which Babe think was used to shoot deer!!! On that thought, we decided to leave the woods.
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
We ended the week with a visit to our favourite playground. We headed straight to Steely Hide to see if the Kingfisher was out and about. We made a pit-stop at the bottom pond and spotted a Ruddy Darter basking in the sun. This species preferred quiet bodies of water that featured semiaquatic vegetation such as rushes and reeds which was abundant around the pond.
We continued our walk and made ourselves comfortable in the empty hide. There was nothing much about except for a few Mallards, Moorhens and a Heron skulking in the reeds. A Buzzard was heard mewing and we saw it riding the winds high up in the sky. Suddenly we heard a high pitch cry and saw the bright blue and orange bird flying low over the water and perched on its favourite pole. All you could hear was our cameras rattling away. Unfortunately, the Kingfisher didn’t stay long.
Since all was quiet, we decided to head back to the car. We walked through the sensory garden and saw a few butterflies enjoying the sun. A Small Copper was feeding on the Verbena. Red Admiral was enjoying the Buddleia while a Small tortoise-shell was basking in the sun. In the shade, a Speckled Wood was having a rest. Bees was buzzing, flitting from flower to flower.
May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun.
~An Irish Blessing~
When we were walking into the visitor centre, we felt that we were being watched. When we looked up, at least 4 pairs of eyes were checking us out. This must be the last Swallow brood with their deep yellow gape clearly visible. After 3 weeks, they will leave the nest, although their parents will keep on feeding them while they get ready for their first flying lessons. At the end of September, whole Swallow families gathered to prepare for their trip back to their winter quarters.
“All the summer long is the swallow a most instructive pattern of unwearied industry and affection; for, from morning to night, while there is a family to support, she spends the whole day in skimming close to the ground.”
~Gilbert White, 1789~
When we arrived home, we looked out of the window and saw this adorable Blackbird chick sunbathing in the garden. We often saw it foraging, running and hoping with a start-stop-start progress, eating a wide range of insects, earthworms, seeds and berries. Common blackbirds spent much of their time on the ground which can be a problem because the local cats were always prowling about in the garden.
One of my favourite vegetable was courgette and this year I planted 6, 3 in pots and 3 in the raised beds. I had forgotten that a flourishing courgette patch was the gift that kept on giving, long after you wished it wouldn’t . With courgettes, it was always feast or famine and for me, it was always a feast or according to Babe, death by courgettes!!! We’d it with every meal, in everything, roasted and spiralised. You named it and we’d eaten it. And one of our favourite was these Moroccan courgette fritters.
75g (3oz) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp dried mint
1/2 tsp salt
2 courgettes, coarsely grated
4 spring onions, finely chopped
olive oil, for frying