My first visit to Bempton Cliffs of 2019 saw me arriving on a sunny morning. Lots of small birds were chirping from their perches in the trees surrounding the car park and I was eager to get down to the cliffs for some serious Gannet photography!
Bempton Cliffs is a unique kind of RSPB reserve in that it doesn’t have any hides – just a series of five viewpoint along the cliff-edge. These viewpoints are rather grand affairs made out of garden decking and are quite substantial. They would really need to be, given the huge numbers of people that cram onto them at any one time!
I visited three of the viewpoints today: Grandstand, Bartlett Nab and Jubilee Corner. From each location it is great fun to stand and watch literally tens of thousands of assorted seabirds. Bempton’s cliffs are some 330 feet tall, and as such, are tall-enough to support a huge Northern Gannet colony – infact Bempton Cliffs is the UK’s only mainland Gannet Colony. Bass Rock, which is a huge island in the Firth of Forth off the Scottish coast, is home to the UK’s largest Gannet colony with some 150,000 birds at the peak of the breeding season. Bempton may not have quite as many Gannets as Bass Rock, but at times the skies are simply full of these magnificent birds with their huge bodies and wingspan of almost six feet!
Other seabirds easily found at Bempton Cliffs include: Kittiwake, Razorbill, Guillemot, Fulmar, Herring Gull and the occasional Puffin. Regular-occurring, non-seabirds include large numbers of Jackdaws and Rock Doves. Today, however, I was lucky-enough to include a brief sighting of a Peregrine as well!
I spent a couple of hours trying my best to photograph some of the birds in flight. It is relatively easy to photograph the Gannets due to their sheer size, (that’s not to say, of course, that every shot is by any means a winner!), but the challenge I always set myself at Bempton is to capture a good shot of a Fulmar. There’s just something special about these strange ‘tube-nose’ members of the petrel family that I really like.
However, Fulmars are far less-common than the huge numbers of similar-sized Kittiwakes and it is necessary to carefully-study the masses of birds swirling-around the cliff-top to pick-out the occasional Fulmar. By the time I’ve spotted one, it has usually zipped past me before I can get my lens to bear on the bird, let-alone focus on it and fire the shutter of my camera! However, perseverance pays off, and I occasionally capture a Fulmar shot that I’m really pleased with. As I always say about bird photography – if it was easy nobody would do it – it’s the challenge that makes it so exciting!
After a couple of house on the cliff-top my legs were aching a bit and so I began to walk back towards the car park. In the hedgerows on the way back I spotted a couple of Whitethroat to add to my day’s tally.
I love a trip to Bempton Cliffs – it’s always such a special place to visit – so long as you don’t mind the smell of guano!