Last month I was due to go on a diving gannet photography day from Bridlington on the East Coast. Unfortunately the weather put paid to that trip so my plans got rearranged and I set off instead for a day at Bempton Cliffs.
Known locally as the Seabird City Bempton Cliffs are home to a staggering number of gannets, razorbills, fulmars, puffins, shag, herring gull, kittiwake and guillemots. In fact this year has proved to be a record year with almost 450,000 birds counted.
The gannets are the most numerous with over 200,000 visiting the cliffs from March to October to breed or in the case of youngsters get used to being a gannet as it’ll be 5 years before they breed. These Northern Gannets return to Bempton every year from their wintering sites in West Africa and they return to the same nest site with the same partner every year.
Although very affectionate to each other when they are crammed up close and personal on their very small nest spaces tempers can easily get frayed and some violence can ensue. They are our largest seabird with a wingspan up to 2 metres which allows them to effortlessly soar above the cliffs or travel great distances to feed. They eat larger fish such as mackerel and cod and the availability of these has been key in the recent rises in population as they successfully raise their chicks.
An onshore wind holding the birds above the cliffs offers some spectacular photo opportunities especially when they are gathering grass and plants to adorn their nests or offer as gifts to their partners. I’m not sure about nettles though as a suitable nesting material!
As the local little owls are a lot happier to be photographed than the tawny owl I do tend to let them appear more often on my blog. Hopefully I can correct that oversight with these photo’s taken recently.
Now I know what to listen for in the woods finding the tawny owl is a lot easier. Whenever one of them is around the other birds kick up a real commotion trying to scare them off. I just tend to follow the noise and sooner or later spot where the owl is being hassled. Magpies and jays will swoop down to try and move them along while the blackbirds just set off their alarm call from nearby branches.
They generally tend to ignore the uproar but will fly off if it gets too much. Most of the time they are just trying to sleep during the day before spending the evening hunting. There are a pair in the woods and there has been at least one owlet spotted, but unfortunately not by me.
If it wasn’t for the other birds alerting me to their presence it would be very hard to spot them as they are very well camouflaged and quite often if you look away they can be hard to re-find as they blend in so well.
Great to know they are in my area and one I will always look out for when the blackbirds start sending up the alarm.
Spoonbills haven’t nested regularly in the UK since the 1700s, but in recent years they have slowly been expanding their range north and returning to Britain once again. These birds are regularly seen along the east coast of England, and there is a breeding colony in East Anglia. However this year has seen them breed in Yorkshire for the first time in 400 years with three chicks fledging at the RSPB site Fairburn Ings. As they generally tend to only lay 3 eggs all three hatching is a real success.
Due to their rarity the spoonbill is a protected species in the UK, and the successful breeding at Fairburn Ings had been kept secret until earlier this week. This success can be put down to the excellent work of everyone on the reserve who have created a suitable habitat for what will hopefully become a new Yorkshire resident.
I’d never seen a spoonbill till this morning when I went to another Yorkshire wetland site half hoping to see one of these enigmatic creatures. They are regularly seen at Blacktoft Sands but I was told I was unlikely to see one as they generally feed here in the afternoon. So I was amazed to see this one right in front of the first hide I ventured into. No time to check the camera setting just fire away before it departed.
They use their distinctive beak to sweep through the water filtering up any shrimp, fish or crustaceans they disturb. the beak snaps shut as soon as suitable food hits the inside.
Great to see these birds beginning to spread throughout the UK but it is probably a result of global warming as their more usual sites in Southern Europe dry out.
I’m seeing lots of these little chaps everywhere I go at the moment. They were all over the moors at the weekend and then yesterday there was a mini flock quite close to work.
When I was young there were literally millions of house sparrows. Every time we raced round a corner we’d disturb a flock of thirty or forty birds off the street and on to the rooftops. Nowadays they’re nowhere near common, with a 70% reduction in numbers since the Seventies and not just in the urban areas.
I’m lucky to live in an area where I see sparrows quite regularly and the local council is currently monitoring the bird to see how the population is doing. In my garden in the last week or two it’s blossomed with a pair bringing their fledglings to the feeders.
Sparrows lay between 2 and 5 eggs and this pair seem to have hatched the maximum and Dad has been on feeding duties most of the time. He pecks away at the fat balls before passing it on to one open mouth after another. This suggests Mum is back on the nest as they can have up to four clutches in a good breeding season.
The young are beginning to get the hang of the feeders and can be seen precariously balancing on a small twig trying to reach the seeds rather than alight on the feeders built in perch. As their confidence grows they are becoming more adept.
These five will be added to the local survey and if the parents are as good at raising the next brood hopefully I can add their siblings. Maybe one day we’ll get used to seeing flocks again on our streets rather than the rare individual of recent years.
On a visit to Bempton Cliffs I picked up a brochure extolling the delights of the Yorkshire Nature triangle and one of the places it recommended was just round the corner from the B+B I was staying in. It said Thornwick Pool was a good place to spot Yellow wagtails a bird I’d not seen before so off I went.
The pool is quite small but has two hides (only one was open) and although very quiet when I arrived there was some shelducks and mallards on the water with an impressive display of flying from some sand martins. In the middle of the pool I spotted a small bird which I recognised as a plover but wasn’t sure which one. I’ve only ever seen them at a great distance so was very happy when it flew over and landed right in front of the hide allowing me to get some good photo’s and also see a Little Ringed Plover up close.
These little dumpy birds whizz up and down like a wind up toy and are generally seen on the shoreline or like here around small gravel pits. They are a summer migrant which first bred in the UK in 1938 and are fairly widespread now although they are more common the further south you go. It’s distinctive golden eye ring makes it easy to recognise when you spot one.
No sign of the wagtails but this little chap made the visit well worthwhile.
At this time of year many birds will be starting on their second broods after having been busy raising and feeding their first family. As soon as they hatch the parents begin an endless round of food collection and feeding. When I was watching the woodpeckers raise their young I counted them flying in with food 31 times in an hour!
I sat on the river Wharfe recently and photographed some busy parents collecting a variety of insects for their offspring. This dipper was nesting under a tuft of grass halfway up the span of a bridge.
Close by a grey wagtail was also busy hoovering up the insects to feed the family.
And this pied wagtail was obviously trying to set a new record for the number of bugs it could fit in its beak!
All three were totally focussed on their job, as soon as they had enough they were away to the nest but were back almost straight away to begin the hunt again.
There are two flycatchers which are regular visitors to Yorkshire in Spring and Summer, and a good place to spot them is the woods around Bolton Abbey.
On a recent visit I managed to spot both types but found it difficult to get any decent shots….so I went back and tried again with slightly better results.
The Spotted Flycatcher is a bit of a misnomer as its not really that spotty and has more of what I’d describe as flecks than spots. They are rather undistinguished but their aerial antics catching flies are mesmerising to watch as they dart out from a perch to grab an insect before returning. When feeding young they will collect a huge beak full before returning to the nest. They are a late arrival when it comes to migrants, turning up in mid May before returning in September.There are plenty of nesting sites in the oak trees and also plenty of nest boxes put up especially for these and the pied flycatchers.
The Pied flycatcher is a more distinctive bird and the black and white male particularly stands out. These birds winter in Africa before returning here to breed. Again like their spotted cousin they are brilliant at catching insects on the wing.
Couldn’t resist this image of two proud Guillemot parents looking lovingly down at their chick!