Sea, hear for wild encounters

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Razorbills

August, with its calm seas and golden sunshine, promises much to visitors that climb aboard the sea-bird cruise out to salt-encrusted gnarled rocks of Bempton Cliffs. Offering unbeatable views of the birds from the sea, the RSPB runs special sea-faring trips out from net-strewn Bridlington Harbour on the East Yorkshire coast.

Under a smattering of cold, salty sea-spray, passengers are primed to keep their cameras at the ready once the vessel nears the bird-covered cliffs. Cutting its engine to glide effortless, up to nooks and crannies containing nesting puffins and gannets, the boat cruise provides a rare and privileged close-up-view of one of the most important sea-bird nesting sites on the planet. Rising to 300 feet above the steely grey waters of the North Sea, the cliffs are the result of millions of years of chalk layering, which has created a huge array of jagged ledges that are a perfect home for seabirds.

Bempton Cliffs, with its bleak, ragged spits, and attracts over 200,000 birds each spring, transforming its boulders into a hive of flapping, squawking, toddling, shuffling, courtship and nesting activity that showcases gannets, puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars in their prime. From the boat, passengers are eye-witnesses to the extraordinary spectacle of adults bringing food to their young, and small chicks embarking on their first faltering flights. With the help of an expert wildlife guide, they are coached to spot the difference between each species, from the comedic puffin ( aka “clown of the sea) to the gregarious guillemot with its sleek plumage and plenty of wow to the ubiquitous herring gull.

Guillemots

Scour the tops of the cliffs for congregations of adult birds or watch them cruising a few feet above your head, searching for shoals of fish. Soaring up into the clouds before dipping down below the horizon in hypnotic circles these most aerial of seabirds will then seek out a rock on which to precariously perch. They hunt at high speed, plunging from great heights to break the water surface with a bullet crack at the boat-side. Each and every passenger will emit an involuntary gasp as they marvel in the splendour of the spectacle, the closest anyone will ever get to a gannet in the whole of the British Isles before they migrate south.

But it’s not just seabirds at Bempton Cliffs – when breeding season is in full swing, you’ll also spot tree sparrows, whitethroats, grasshopper warblers, sedge warblers, skylarks, linnets, reed buntings, rock and meadow pipits within 200 metres of the RSPB reserve car park. Butterflies flit amongst the shrubs on sunny days, along with day-flying moths such as cinnabars, burnet moths and occasionally hummingbird hawk-moths. Trailside flora is dominated by red campion, black knapweed, various thistles and orchids including common spotted and northern marsh. Keen to stay on dry land? Visitors without their sea-legs can position themselves at specially-created cliff-top viewpoints to take in the seascape or can marvel at nesting gannets in comfort live via CCTV.

Little can prepare you for the amazing spectacle of over 200,000 magnificent seabirds – and with close-up encounters guaranteed this is no struggle to see a distant feathered speck. Bempton also seems to attract an oh-so showy type of seabird, the RSPB team swear that some even pout and strike a pose as shutters click and whir. A top tip for visitors? Talk in hush tones and avoid loud, sudden noises. Why? Because thousands of frightened sea-birds above your head can produce a heck of a lot of poop, so shhhhhhhhhhh.

For details of RSPB cruises at Bempton Cliffs please telephone 01262 850959, email: bempton.cruises@rspb.org.uk. Price: Tickets cost: Adult £20, child under 14 £10 and family £50 (two adults and two children). Children aged two and under sail free. For other events at Bempton, such as sea-bird photography courses & workshops, cliff top guided walks, and family wildlife safaris, as well as events at 200+ RSPB reserves UK-wide,click here.

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