Sunday, 19 June 2011

Bempton Cliffs 2011

We've had a few days away, visiting Bempton Cliffs, which we last went to two years ago. The cliffs are spectacular, hosting many thousands of breeding seabirds. Above is a rather nice shot, showing the combination of wildlowers hanging on to the cliff edge along with the birds to their right, also hanging on to the cliff edge. If you don't believe me, click on this photo and zoom in on the cliff to see the birds.
Our aim this time was to see some young birds, and we weren't disappointed. Most of the kittiwakes, like these above, had chicks already hatched. Many had two in the nest, perched on 6 inches of cliff edge.
They're incredibly close together, in this picture you can see 5 nests, some of which have been used for decades. The chicks are very cute balls of grey fluff. I also saw a couple of herring gull chicks, which were adorable brown speckled things, but couldn't get a photo.
It was hard to find a guillemot chick in a position where I could get a photo, but here's one in positively palatial surroundings, most of them grow up in spots with much less room than this. If you think the birds in these photos are spotted with suspicious looking white goo, then you are right - the birds just jettison their waste off the cliff onto whatever happens to be below. Since these cliffs have several storeys of inhabited ledges, it creates quite a mess and an incredibly strong smell. You can smell the birds before you see them! The guillemot chicks jump off the ledges into the sea at 3 weeks old, before they can fly, amazingly. I think some of them will be bouncing down these cliffs since the sea isn't exactly at the bottom!
There were lots of puffins knocking about, but they don't stay still for long as they nest in burrows so most of the puffins you see are on their way to or from a fishing trip. This one obligingly had a snooze on a ledge for me.
We wanted to see gannet chicks, which we did manage but not on the day I had my telescope for taking pictures. These birds are enormous and nest in ridiculously small spaces on the cliffs.
This one was asleep on its rather larger nest at the top of a stack, which was adorned with a daisy plant at one end. The oldest part of the colony (this is a newer area) had the oldest chicks, which, sad to say, are large, white and very ugly, with big black beaks. Not nearly so distinguished as their parents.
This pair were courting, there was still a lot of nest building going on, with gannets carrying seaweed in, or, conveniently for the human visitors, landing on the cliff tops and ripping off grass to carry away. There were several "mowed" patches along the cliff edge. Animal gardening at work.
So no gardening this weekend, though I did enjoy the cliff top plants and noticed this beautiful common spotted orchid yesterday. We walked miles along the cliff tops, saw pretty much every nesting kittwake and gannet and had a good break. Back to the garden this week.
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