Monday, 1 June 2009

My Seaside Weekend - Part 1

I've just got back from my weekend at the seaside, and thought I would post some of my pictures today, some tomorrow.  Above is a picture of Bempton Cliffs, where we spent the day yesterday.  Those white dots are birds, thousands upon thousands of them.   There are around 5 miles of chalk cliffs here, with around 125,000 pairs of birds which only come here to breed. For every bird on the cliff there is another one on the sea, so it is an amazing sight.

The promontory on the left is covered in gannets, the rest of the cliff from top to bottom, side to side with other species such as kittiwake, guillemot, razorbill, herring gull, and puffin.  Click on any of the pictures to see more detail.  It's hard to take in the size of the bird colonies here.  The sight, sound and smell (guano!) of around a quarter of a million birds breeding here is quite simply breathtaking.  The cliff above is huge and ordinary camera shots don't do it justice, so I took my telescope and digiscoped close-ups of the main bird species from the colonies on cliffs which were closer.
This is a gannet on its nest, they are really beautiful birds.  Like most of the birds here, they only ever come to land to breed once a year.  This one is sitting on its egg, to the left of the picture you can see a bit of yellow plastic.  Gannets traditionally build their nests out of seaweed, but in today's seas there are lots of other things floating around which they use... this picture you can see (if you click on the photo) the bird on the right has a piece of rope in its beak and all the nests are full of bits of fishing nets.  The nests are added to each year, some of them get very high.  From a low point of 21 breeding pairs in the 60s, there are now over 2000 pairs of these big birds here (they're about a metre in length), nesting in groups.  The largest colony is on the promontory at the top of this post, I'll have a picture of that tomorrow.
There are lots of flowers and plants we would describe as weeds, such as nettles - here is a clump of a white flower which I suspect is a garden escape, unfortunately I didn't take my flower book with me so can't be sure.  At the top of the picture you can just see a patch of red campion, which covers the coastline.
This is a typical cliff, covered in kittiwakes (80,000 pairs breed here), guillemots and razorbills.  These birds nest in impossible positions, defying gravity and the strong wind.  I struggled just to hold my telescope and camera still, so how tiny chicks stay on these cliffs I really don't know!
These are fulmars, relatives of the albatross.  Nice quiet birds (gull-sized), they nest straight on the ground, but need a bit of space around them as you can see.
Most of the gorse had finished flowering, but there were a few patches of yellow along the cliffs.
These are kittiwake nests - you can just see two eggs at the front of the picture.  This is typical spacing, on a typically narrow ledge.  These birds do at least build a nest out of mud and grass to keep the eggs and the chicks in.  Every ledge wide enough is full of these birds, long lines of them, in a multi-storey arrangement.
Now these birds - guillemots - are simply crazy.  They lay an egg on the narrowest of ledges, it stays on because of its shape (designed to roll in a circle) and generally they are packed closely together in a long line.  They incubate it standing up in the very position above.  We did see one chick but most of them have not hatched yet.
This is a razorbill, these also nest on narrow ledges without building a nest of any kind.  If you're wondering, its eye is almost invisible at the end of the white line.
This is a patch of red campion - I know it's pink, but I didn't name it!  I'll have better pictures of this lovely wildflower tomorrow.  

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