Thursday 5 June 2014

RSPB Bempton Cliffs

It's strange how you can go through some years and completely miss out on seeing some favourite species of birds. Last year for example, I failed to connect with any puffins or ospreys. Which reminds me, I need to head up to Rutland. Puffins however, would surely be seen if I went up to Bempton Cliffs, so an early alarm was set (not too early as some of the motorways heading up there are closed during the night!), and just before 9am, I was kicking up a cloud of dust as I parked near the RSPB visitor centre.

I ought to point out now that I hadn't made the 3 hour drive up there for puffins, as despite them being there, photo opportunites aren't great. I was really hoping to see gannets, fulmars, kittiwakes and any other cliff-nesting sea birds I could encounter. Despite the sun shining and a promise of a warm day, I still chose to wear a fleece just in case it was breezy along the cliff-tops. And I was glad I did, though not for the breeze... no, for protection from the flies. Clouds of them in their millions, and biting ones too. I doused my head with some spray, donned a hat and swiped off any that bothered me, but some folks was covered in them. Horrid. When the breeze picked up occasionally, they peppered my hat as if they were rain drops.

As usual the first thing you notice at Bempton is the odour of fish drifting up from the nesting area, but more pleasingly, I also got a lovely song from a nearby corn bunting. It was sat on a barbed wire fence belting out songs, with its beak moving so fast it became a blur, even on a high shutter speed.

Peering over one of the view points I was chuffed to see a kittiwake looking back up at me. White birds in direct sunlight isn't easy, but being observant of the exposure readings in the viewfinder allowed me to get some decent detail on the bird, before I strolled off.

The cliffs were a mass of activity, both on the rocks where all manner of birds were nesting, bickering, greeting each other, stealing nest materials, feeding and decorating the rocks, as well as in the air where gannets and fulmars sailed expertly along with minimal effort, contrasting to the frenetic direct flight paths made by the puffins, guillemots and razorbills.

On the water were rafts of birds, maybe enjoying the view from down there, waiting to see if anything worth catching swam by beneath. It was a fabulous spectacle on such a sunny, clear morning.

Being a such people-person, I soon found myself away from the crowds and pretty much alone on the cliff path, surrounded by a sea of campion flowers. I found spots along the walk where I could view the colonies, and in some cases, get remarkably close views of the birds.

I could also get angles where the background was more pleasing on the eye, as a lot of shots taken here have cliffs behind, usually a mass of other birds and droppings. So not that attractive.

The flies were still a problem and I have had to clone some out of some images, as they were rather unsightly. By crouching down, I attempted to include the wildflowers in some shots, though more often than not, the subject would move before I'd lined up the shot I was striving for!

After finding somewhere to set up where I could watch the birds fly past, I simply enjoyed the experience. I tried for whatever was flying past, which was fun. The gannets were usually easier as they are large enough to focus on at distance and track as they approach.

Fulmars too drifted by but have a habit of turning back without warning and heading out of view.

And I kept an eye out for subjects nearby, particularly gannets which were coming and going frequently, and showing signs of affection to one another when together on the nest sites.

Wearing a hat and fleece in temperatures of over 20C isn't wise, and my bottle of Ribena was getting emptier. So I headed back along the cliffs, grabbing shots of whatever took my fancy, though the haze from the warmth was now pretty apparent. The local tree sparrows were making the most of the bonanza of flies though, carrying dozens in their beaks as they hopped along the fences, picking them off easily.

By the time I had reached the car again, my feet were aching and I'd maybe lost a few ounces from sweating! Not a pleasant thought, though neither was the return trip down the M1 motorway. Still, I'd had a great few hours at the reserve, and had hundreds of images to review later.

And did I see a puffin? Of course, and even took a "record" shot to remember it.

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