Monday, 20 May 2013

Foggy at the cliffs and a Razorbill adventure

Despite the not ideal weather forecast, I made a trip today to RSPB Bempton Cliffs. Although the sun shone before getting to Bridlington, a thick blanket of fog covered the Flamborough headland all the way to the reserve and beyond into the sea. The wardens in the visitor centre reassured me that birds were still visible at the cliffs. The foggy breeze was quite chilly and I was glad I took my raincoat and hat, but I would regret for more than one reason not to have taken my gloves as it will become clear later.
 Despite the dismal weather, the Skylarks sung more invisible than ever from high within the mist, and even the Whitethroats and Reed Buntings were actively singing. I took the Nature Trail to start with, but there was little to see, other than the half carcass of a Guillemot or Razorbill probably eaten by a fox.
 As I got to the cliffs the sea was not visible, and Guillemots and Razorbills could barely be told apart. I was cheered up by a couple of Puffins, and they were quite numerous at the cliffs today, I reckon I must have seen over 20.
 The fog lifted up a bit, and when I reached Jubilee Corner the birds were easier to see. I spent some time taking photos of Gannets collecting grass for their nests, and when I turned to carry on my way I was confronted by this incongruous image:
A Razorbill, looking straight at me from the middle of the path. It had probably flown over the cliff confused by the poor visibility and, despite its best efforts, it was unable to lift itself from the ground by just flapping its tiny wings while running. I have previously found a Kittiwake stranded in this way, which could fly perfectly once facing the breeze coming over the cliffs, so I decided to capture the Razorbill and release it from a high vantage point with a clear run down the cliff. Unfortunately, after I took this single shot the bird decided it didn't like me, turned on its heels and run/flapped away from me quite fast despite its poorly placed little legs. After some pathetic chasing along the path, I was able to corner it against some long grass and catch it. The Razorbill protested immediately and it was most uncooperative, pecking my wrist - fortunately, together with watch strap - fiercely, showing its beautiful yellow mouth. Unfortunately, at that point the path was quite sunk, so I had to carry on walking with the angry Razorbill goring my wrist and complaining. I had its wings well under my hands, but having quite small hands and nil experience in handling Razorbills, I was unable to keep its head pointing forward. Finally, I spotted a suitable point of release and placed the bird on top of a fence post with a clear fall to the sea. Within a couple of seconds, it flew away, leaving me quite relieved and scratched.
 Out of the eight species of marine birds that breed in the cliffs, I was able to see seven, missing only Shag.
A Swallow rests on top of the camera installed to be able to watch its nest from the visitor center.
Red Campion is at its best now in the reserve meadows.
The view toward the sea as I arrived at the cliffs
Herring gull
Kittiwake at nest
A pair of puffins.
Gannet collecting grass
Gannet in flight
Staple Newk
This grassy slope was favoured by a group of Gannets for collecting grass and other nesting material
Make some space, I'm landing!
More grass collecting
Displaying Gannet couple
The Gannet colony at Staple Newk
A close up of the tip of the Gannet colony. Not quite Bass Rock, but very impressive notwithstanding.
A squabble on the grass collecting slope
Grass collecting trip
This one found a feather
Spot the couple of puffins amongst the Guillemots
Tree sparrow

Now the gory stuff!
The remains of a frog by the pond at the Nature trail. I could hear some croaking.
The remains of a guillemot/razorbill
The state of my right wrist after the Razorbill incident. I would proudly carry Razorbill scars, but I think it won't be.

Bird list

  1. Blackbird        
  2. Carrion Crow        
  3. Chaffinch        
  4. Collared Dove        
  5. Dunnock        
  6. Feral Pigeon        
  7. Fulmar        
  8. Gannet        
  9. Goldfinch        
  10. Greenfinch        
  11. Guillemot        
  12. Herring Gull        
  13. Jackdaw        
  14. Kittiwake        
  15. Linnet        
  16. Pheasant       
  17. Pied Wagtail
  18. Puffin        
  19. Razorbill        
  20. Reed Bunting        
  21. Robin        
  22. Skylark        
  23. Swallow        
  24. Tree Sparrow        
  25. Whitethroat        
  26. Woodpigeon        
  27. Wren


Jessica Stokes said...

How cool to get so close to a Razorbill! But not sure I'd fancy being bitten by one either haha. Such a great post, I love the photos! I went to Bempton the other day too, but the birds just look like dots in my pictures haha.

Africa Gómez said...

Thank you Jess. I am feeling like upgrading camerawise, Mine has only a 5x telephoto, and I am taking lots of bird photos lately due to horrid invertebrate weather. I had a look at this one:

with a 30x zoom for £200, and apparently, also a 0 cm macro.

I loved being so close to the Razorbill, it is an incredibly beautiful bird, but my hand is quite bruised now. Do you have any tips on how to hold a bird that size from ringing?

Jps said...

On Bridlington beach one evening this week we came across a razorbill (probably a young one) standing at the water's edge. As we approached it came towards us and sat right at my feet. We are not at all knowledgeable about birds but thought this was strange behaviour.
. It had all its feathers but its wings looked very small. We felt guilty leaving it but thought a parent might come if we went away. It was able to fly a few yards on its own which it did when someone let their dog chase it. It seemed almost tame. Can you explain this behaviour (the bird's)?