Field Trip to Bempton Cliffs

By the middle of May, the leaves on the trees were making bird spotting in our area difficult, so the local group took themselves off to Bempton Cliffs on the East Coast, where there are no trees!

During the summer, the Bempton Cliffs RSPB Nature Reserve is home to half-a-million seabirds. The internationally important gannet colony (or gannetry) affords some great close-up views of this magnificent looking bird. Britain is an important location for gannets, as it is home to 56% of the World’s population.  Over 1,630 pairs nest on the cliffs, making it the largest mainland colony in Britain.

Gannet
Gannet

Also nesting on the cliffs were guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars. A relatively small population of puffins (approximately 200) have made their summer home at Bempton but were difficult to spot as they were either at sea or nestling in their burrows.

Guillemot
Razorbills
Kittiwake
Kittiwake and Puffin

However, the highlight of the trip was getting to see ‘The World’s Loneliest Albatross’ hanging out with the gannets.

A black-browed albatross – inevitably nicknamed ‘Albert’ or ‘Albie’ (even though its sex has not been determined) – has been visiting the area for the past three years. Normally a resident of the southern hemisphere, until recently it was thought to be the only albatross across the whole of the northern hemisphere. However, on 2 April another adult was filmed off the coast of Denmark – let’s hope they meet one day!

‘Albert’

It’s not known how old Albie is, but albatrosses can live for more than seventy years. It looks like a huge gull with remarkable long narrow wings that span more than two metres. They are rarer than they once were, but there are still an estimated 600,000 pairs breeding in places such as the Falklands, South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands. It is the most common albatross, but its conservation status is described as ‘Near Threatened’ due to its declining population.

It is most likely that it was blown off course; it’s thought to have been in the northern hemisphere since 2014. It has also been spotted across the North Sea in Germany and Scandinavia where it spends the winter. It is unlikely that it will ever get ‘home’ because of light equatorial winds.

As well as the seabirds, in the nearby shrubland, we saw several smaller birds, including corn bunting, linnet, whitethroat and various warblers. A rare colony of tree sparrows lives near the visitor centre year-round. As with the walk two weeks previously, one member of the group identified 39 different species.

Everyone enjoyed the day in the sunshine and are looking forward to the group’s next field trip in the autumn.