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Seabird City

Updated: Jun 13

Most years, Julia and I try and get a trip into Bempton Cliffs in East Yorkshire to take in the sight, sounds and smells of one of nature's great spectacles - around half a million nesting seabirds; Gannets, Razorbills, Guillemots, Puffins, Fulmars and Kittiwakes dominate the tall white cliffs. Away from the cliffs, Tree Sparrows, Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits and Corn Buntings are present on the specially managed meadows and crops.

Our aim for the weekend was to photograph the seabirds, trying to get flight shots of most species, but also to enjoy the spectacle. We arrived on Friday 7 June and spent the afternoon at Bempton, most of Saturday was spent there as was nearly all Sunday (with a short trip to Sewerby Hall for lunch, to see the best images from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year and avoid some rain showers). Our original plan was to spend Monday morning photographing diving Gannets from a small vessel out in the sea with Yorkshire Coast Nature; however, a forecast Force 6 meant that the sailing was cancelled. Instead we visited to the RSPB'S St Aidan's Reserve and enjoyed the Black-necked Grebes feeding their young.


Gannets collecting nest material and greeting at the nest.

Several immature Gannets were present. Second-year birds are much darker than the adults. Third year birds are beginning to attain the adult plumage, retaining the dark flight feathers, but now showing a yellow head and white neck, with a white forewing. By the time the birds are four years old they have a few dark secondaries, looking like a piano keyboard and may show retain some dark tail feathers. By the time the birds are five-years old they have attained adult plumage below

Razorbills, Guillemots and Puffins are collectively known as Auks and are predominantly dark brown or black and white.


Razorbills have a large dark bill with white markings and can be quite fierce looking.

Even in flight the large razor bill helps identify this bird.


Guillemots are chocolate brown with a thinner bill than the Razorbill.

The thinner beak of the Guillemot can be seen in flight.

Guillemots and Razorbills will nest close to each other, occupying narrow ledges on the cliffs.


Puffins are also knowns as Sea Parrots due to their colourful bills. As they nest in burrows, they do not spend a lot of time on the cliffs.

Puffins are our smallest breeding auk and have relatively short wings which they flap must faster than Guillemot and Razorbill.


Fulmars belong to a family birds known as Tubenoses, due to their nostrils, or Stiffwings as they fly without flapping their wings.

Stiff flying Fulmars


Kittiwakes are true seagulls, only coming to the coast to breed, then spending the rest of the year out in the Atlantic.

Wing-tips of the Kittiwake looked they've been dipped in black paint!!

Farmland Birds

Tree Sparrows (Top). Meadow Pipit (Bottom Left) and Reed Bunting (Bottom Right)

Our visit to St Aidan's provided an opportunity to photograph Black-necked Grebes

Black-necked Grebe from an earlier early morning visit to St Aidan's this year

Black-necked Grebes and young

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