Welcome to the first Spud article based in the UK, Spud’s homeland. Recently, Vicky got the opportunity make a visit to Bempton Cliffs, a nature reserve run by the RSPB on the East Coast of England. During the spring and summer months over 250,000 sea birds make these cliffs their home. Here Vicky talks about her visit and the search to find the comical little puffin among the chaos.
What are the Bempton Cliffs?
Bempton is a small village nestled in East Yorkshire, which is famed for the nearby chalk cliffs which run for several miles along the east coast of England. The breath-taking Bempton Cliffs are one of the many nature reserves lovingly run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which are open to visits from the general public.
During spring and summer, the cliffs are a popular attraction for both birds and bird lovers alike. Over a quarter of a million seabirds (yes, you read that right, a QUARTER OF A MILLION) make the vertical cliff face their home from March all through to September. During this time they mate and rear their young, forming the largest mainland seabird colony in the UK.
Our visit to Bempton Cliffs
The drive there from South Yorkshire took around two hours, and afforded us with wonderful views of the British countryside. After all Spud’s traveling, I still can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be than in the UK on a crisp, sunny day in spring. The British are notorious for complaining about the weather, but all that rain we have to put up with turns the land around us into patchwork carpet of luscious greenery.
Driving along we passed tiny little churches, sheep grazing in the open with their lambs, fields full of wheat, vibrant yellow rapeseed and deep red poppies, and villages with strange-sounding names such as Bainton, Burton Agnes and Haisthorpe.
Arriving a little after 11am, we were surprised to see just how busy the site already was. Despite planning a mid-week visit, outside of the school holidays, the main car park was full and we had to put the car in the overfill area.
Having never visited before, we were worried that the car park signaled the site would be crammed, but it’s such a big place and we never felt overwhelmed with people. If you can, I would suggest to avoid weekends, and go as early as possible, because it was becoming noticeably busier after lunchtime.
Walking around site
This leaflet from the RSPB shows the different routes you can take around the site. We did the Clifftop Walk, shown in red. The leaflet estimates that it takes 20 minutes to walk to Jubilee Corner, the last viewing point, which is probably about right if you walk directly there. For us, it took a lot longer as we stopped at every opportunity we could to look for puffins and to marvel at the sheer number of birds around us.
What did we get to see during our visit to Bempton Cliffs?
The views over the cliffs are stunning. We were blessed with a clear day and could see a long way out to sea and up and down the coastline.
Many, many birds make Bempton Cliffs their home during the spring and summer months. Here are just a very small handful of the species we were able to spot with our limited knowledge on birds!
Ok, ok, so the main reason for our visit (and that of many other visitors!) was the potential to see puffins. Just look at the photo below, who could refuse the opportunity to glimpse these unusual looking little birds!
The twitter feed from the RSPB Bempton Cliffs account had been posting great photos of puffin sightings in the run up to our visit, so we were hopeful that we would see one too. We weren’t disappointed! The small birds made us work for our sightings, but during our two hour visit we got to see not one, not two, not three…. But SIX puffins nesting along the chaos on the cliffs, as well as many more flying out at sea.
When trying to spot them, look out for their bright little orange legs when they’re stood along the cliffs. They are harder to spot when out flying, but as their wings flap up to 400 times a minute, look for the little black dots going past in a blur!
The puffins can be seen at Bempton Cliffs from around April to July.
As the largest bird species to make Bempton Cliffs its home, the gannet is one of the easiest to spot. With its sheer size and beautiful white feathers, it really does stand out in the crowd. It’s actually pretty amazing that gannets are able to squeeze their big bodies onto the rock face for such long periods of time!
Razorbills & Guillemots
Spotting the difference between a razorbill and a guillemot can be tricky for even the most experienced of birdwatchers. As a total newbie myself, my only advice for telling who is who is by paying close attention to the beak. Whilst from afar both of these lovely black and white seabirds look very similar, their beaks are actually quite easy to spot. Razorbills have chunkier beaks that seem to curve off at the end, whilst guillemots have really pointed little beaks.
It’s not all about seabirds…
We weren’t lucky enough to see them, but sightings of dolphins and porpoises have been recorded on clear days. It’s also possible to see hares, stoats and weasels in the meadow areas if you are patient enough.
They do have a small garden area with a pond and insect hotel, which is a great place to spot other bird species who don’t live out at sea. We went at the start of the Russia World Cup 2018 and they have this prediction point set up (shown in the photo below). When England are playing, they put the flag of the opposition on the next feeder and see which the birds predict to win! Just a little bit of fun from the RSPB staff.
Planning a visit to Bempton Cliffs
The Bempton Cliffs reserve is beautiful, and worth a visit whether your a season bird watcher or not. Here is a quick overview of how to plan a trip, and you can check out the reserve’s site for more information.
The entrance is £5 per adult and this includes car parking. If you have an RSPB membership entrance is free.
If you have children with you, the first enters for free and anymore are charged at £2.50 a head.
- Pay attention to the knowledgeable RSPB volunteers who stand at points throughout the site. They are happy to chat with you and will point out any note-worthy sightings, including the lovable puffin!
- Keep up to date with RSPB Bempton Cliffs Twitter and Facebook accounts as they will let you know what’s been recently sighted. This will give you a better understanding on what you can expect from your day.
What to pack
- There is a cafe onsite with hot and cold drinks and snacks. We’d recommend taking some water with you for when your walking around.
- There isn’t a lot of protection on the cliffs from the sun or the wind, so take your sun cream, a hat (make sure it’s secure!), and something to keep you warm.
- If you have a camera, make sure to take it for some great shots, otherwise ensure your phone is fully charged up!
- If you have a pair of binoculars, it will make those puffin sightings a lot easier! If you don’t have your own, you can rent them from reception for £5. There are also volunteers stationed along the coastline with large telescopes that you can take a peek with.
- If you’re an RSPB member, don’t forget to take your membership card for free entrance.
Once you have finished your visit, the coastal town of Bridlington is just a short drive away. Go there for a quaint British seaside experience, complete with some infamous fish and chips. If, like us, you prefer something a little different to eat, we popped into the small independent North Man Coffee for a super tasty veggie burger.
If you’re interested to read more from Spud on the Run, take a look here for our other posts.