Bempton Cliffs Kittiwaking

It’s been almost exactly 12 years since I have seen my first seabird colony in the Varanger Fjord in Norway. Today we had a nice chance to see the breeding Razorbills and Atlantic Puffins again. After a four hour long Friday morning drive we arrived to the Bempton Cliffs RSPB Nature Reserve where tens of thousands of seabirds have been breeding, including the cute Atlantic Puffin. Rick and Elis Simpson, the lovely Wader Quest couple, were kind to us to take to this seabird colony and give Andi a chance to see the sought after puffins.

A view to the North Sea from the clifftop. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A view to the North Sea from the clifftop. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Huge cliffs are key for a seabird colony establishment. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Huge cliffs are key for a seabird colony establishment. © Gyorgy Szimuly

At the small RSPB Visitor Centre there were a couple of Eurasian Tree Sparrows at the feeder including a possible hybrid with a House Sparrow. I was very happy to see the tree sparrows as it has been quite a rare species in the UK by now.

While walking towards the cliffs Common Swifts and Barn Swallows were flying over the fields, Meadow Pipits and Common Whitethroats were singing.

Common Murres, Black-legged Kittiwakes are the most common breeders at Bempton Cliffs. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Murres, Black-legged Kittiwakes are the most common breeders at Bempton Cliffs. A single Atlantic Puffin is resting on the clifftop. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Every small cliff shoulder has been occupied by Black-legged Kittiwakes and Common Muures. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Every small cliff shoulder has been occupied by Black-legged Kittiwakes and Common Muures. © Gyorgy Szimuly

By coming near to the cliffs the calls of hundreds of Black-legged Kittiwakes were heard . They were very active in feeding their chicks as well as defending them from the patrolling European Herring Gulls. I loved the atmosphere of this huge colony, which holds nearly 100,000 breeding pairs of of several seabird species. Based on the 2008 survey the colony has the following composition:

Northern Gannets 7,859 (2,552 in 2000, 11,000 in 2013)
Black-legged Kittiwake 37,617 (43,433 in 2000!)
European Herring Gull 495 (709 in 2000)
Northern Fulmar 878 (1,252 in 2000)
European Shag 24 (31 in 2000)
Common Murre 59,166 individuals (44,893 in 2000!)
Razorbill 14,927 individuals (8,342 in 2000!)
Atlantic Puffin 958 individuals (2,505 in 2000!)

I always admire how busy those cliffs are during the breeding season. © Gyorgy Szimuly

I always admire how busy those cliffs are during the breeding season. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Northern Gannets and other seabirds are breeding on the cliffs. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Northern Gannets and other seabirds are breeding on the cliffs. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The fledged Common Murres were swimming under the cliffs while many chicks were still in the nests. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The fledged Common Murres were swimming under the cliffs while many chicks were still in the nests. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Landing Northern Gannet. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Landing Northern Gannet. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Incoming adult Northern Gannet. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Incoming adult Northern Gannet. © Gyorgy Szimuly

It is sad that, apart of the Northern Gannet the breeding population of all of the seabirds is in decline. Obviously the European Shag and Atlantic Puffin were the less abundant seabird species. Puffins were busy in carrying food for their chicks while many of the Northern Gannets were carrying nest materials. Most of the Black-legged Kittiwakes had downy chicks and so the Northern Gannets. The sea around the cliffs was full of birds, mainly with juvenile Common Murre and Black-legged Kittiwakes. Couple of Northern Fulmars have been seen flying around but one bird was still incubating. While puffins are cute little birds the adult Razorbills in breeding plumage are probably the most beautiful birds. They are so elegant by the shiny black plumage and those fine white lines.

Rick and Elis Simpson, our wonderful friends at the viewpoint. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Rick and Elis Simpson, our wonderful friends at the viewpoint. © Gyorgy Szimuly

It was a nice contrast to hear the loud kittiwakes from the sea front while Meadow Pipits were singing over the grassland of the clifftop. © Gyorgy Szimuly

It was a nice contrast to hear the loud kittiwakes from the sea front while Meadow Pipits were singing over the grassland of the clifftop. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Interestingly no Arctic Terns have been seen and I wonder why Great Black-backed Gulls aren’t breeding on the cliffs.

Common Murres and Black-legged Kittiwakes. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Murres and Black-legged Kittiwakes. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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RSPB experts are guiding the visitors. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Black-legged Kittiwake is a very nice seabird. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Black-legged Kittiwake is an elegant seabird. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Rick mentioned that these Rock Pigeons were breeding on these cliffs are considered to be wild birds thus the Brits are counting and ticking it, so do I.

Here are the full list and my rough estimates:

Northern Fulmar 15
Northern Gannet 600
European Shag 1
Black-legged Kittiwake 5,000
European Herring Gull 20
Common Murre (Uria aalge albionis) 4,000
Razorbill (Alca torda islandica) 40
Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica grabae) 25
Rock Dove 15
Common Wood Pigeon 6
Common Swift 18
Eurasian Jackdaw 15
Eurasian Skylark 3
Sand Martin 4
Barn Swallow 8
Eurasian Wren 1
Common Whitethroat 3
European Starling 4
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) 1
Meadow Pipit 8
Common Linnet 5
Eurasian Tree Sparrow 12

Thanks to Rick and Elis Simpson for this wonderful trip and great birds. Year list is at the humble 142, but I had three lifer subspecies as well.

At the end of the trip Kea enjoyed a short swimming in the cold North Sea. © Gyorgy Szimuly

At the end of the trip Kea enjoyed a short dabbling in the cold North Sea. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A short gastro visit to Bridlington. Massive fish & chips helped us to survive for a short while. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A short gastro visit to Bridlington. Massive fish & chips helped us to survive for a short while. © Gyorgy Szimuly

To learn about Rick and Elis incredible fundraising effort for saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper from the brink of extinction, please visit the Wader Quest blog or the fundraising page itself.

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