Bempton Cliffs – 18 May 2018

I can’t remember ever writing about photography equipment in one of these blog posts before, but it was because I wanted to try-out a new lens that I decided to visit Bempton Cliffs on the Yorkshire Coast today.

I’ve previously visited Bempton a number of times to photograph the tens of thousands of seabirds which breed there each year, and I was eager to get back there today for my first visit of 2018.

A few weeks ago, and in time for my recent visit to Inner Farne, off the Northumberland coast, I invested in a Nikkor 70-300mm lens to supplement my photographic equipment. Usually, I rely on a Sigma 150-600mm lens attached to my Nikon D750 when I’m photographing birds, but occasionally that can be overkill. The Sigma lens is very heavy and tiring to use handheld after a while. (It’s also rather unwieldy to use such a long lens whilst on the boat going around the Farne Islands, surrounded by other people who are equally intent of photographing the seabirds!) Furthermore, at locations like Inner Farne and Bempton Cliffs, a lens of that size isn’t really necessary anyway; the sheer numbers of birds gives them the confidence to largely-ignore inquisitive human beings and allow a very close approach. (At Inner Farne I’ve sometimes found it necessary to step back a bit because the bird I was trying to photograph was so close to me that my lens couldn’t focus on it! This is particularly true of the Arctic Terns which nest right alongside the wooden walkways, and peck passing humans on the head!).

I was very pleased with the results from the 70-300mm lens at Inner Farne, and I now wanted to try it out at Bempton to see if the results I was able to achieve here were equally satisfying.

It was an almost perfect day for my visit: the temperature was in the high teens (°C) and there was very little wind. Only a few clouds dotted the sky, which meant that I could try to isolate some seabirds against a beautiful blue sky.

There aren’t any hides at Bempton – they’re not needed. Instead there are large decking-style viewing platforms right on the edge of the cliffs at various points on the reserve. Today I visited ‘New Roll-Up’, ‘Grandstand’ and ‘Bartlett Nab’ viewpoints. As usual at Bempton, one of the first things you notice as you approach the cliff-edge is the indescribable, overpowering stench of guano! With something in the region of 250,000 seabirds (mostly huge Northern Gannets) nesting at Bempton, it’s shouldn’t be a surprise really!

Gannet

This Gannet was using its tail as an air-brake to slow it down for landing.

Over the next couple of hours or so, I snapped-away at Gannets, Razorbills, Guillemots, Puffins, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Herring Gulls, Jackdaws and Rock Doves. It’s really quite thrilling standing atop Bempton’s 400ft-high cliffs looking out at so many birds, whizzing-along at all heights: some above, some below and some level with the cliff-tops. If there is a bit of a breeze blowing, some of the birds might be just ‘hanging’ in the air, making it relatively easy to achieve well-focussed images. With the settings I had on my camera, the new lens performed admirably, and I could tell from the viewscreen on the back of the camera that I was achieving a high success-rate with my focussing.

For all the sunshine, I eventually realised that my hands were frozen; there was just enough of a breeze at the edge of the cliffs to make it feel a bit chilly. As I started to make my way back towards the Visitors’ Center, I decided to walk the longer way, via a path which has hedgerows alongside it. I thought at this point that I had probably finished my bird photography for the day, but was very pleasantly-surprised to discover a number of Linnets and Whitethroats singing-away at the tops of the hedgerows, quite oblivious to my presence. I took a number of photographs of these birds, and for the first time during my visit to Bempton today, I yearned to have my long lens, which was sitting some distance away, in the car boot! Grrr!

About Alan Gordon

I am a retired teacher and former RAF Musician. I live near Sheffield and enjoy taking photographs of wild birds throughout the UK.
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