Bempton Cliffs - Birds of a feather

8. Bempton Cliffs – Birds of a feather

Friday 30 March 2012
The weather had been its usual unpredictable self and a March workshop planned to coincide with the gannet inshore migration back to their seasonal nesting sites at one of the UK’s major sites at Bempton cliffs on the Yorkshire east coast looked like being ANOTHER day of grey and miserable weather! Then, all things changed (thank goodness) and, as it happened, a window of opportunity between passing weather fronts gave us all the opportunity for some predicted sunny blue skies for a great photo shoot. It didn’t go all our way however.

Kittiwakes. High on the cliffs of Bempton these amazing birds seem to deffy gravity itself and appear to cling to the cliffs. The cliffs are littered withthe birds who follow the migratory routes of sand eels along the coast. their breeding season only lasts a few months and then they are gone, spending most of their adult lives at sea.
We arrived for a 10am start along with a bank of sea fog which hung to the cliffs. We crossed our fingers for a heavy sea breeze to disperse the fog but, alas, it was not meant to be. As the roosting birds perched on their nest sites way

Gannet portrait. The birds where very comfortable and relaxed in our company used to the paparazzi probably Out timing was perfect for some remarkable close ups Being in the birds company was an absolute thrill
Gannet gathering nest building material. Afavourite spot for gathering fresh nest building material.
Juvenile gannet in flight. The gannets in flight are mesmorising. They appeared as lone flyers or part of a group a squardron as we called them. True masters of the skies
down the cliff were stretching the very best out of telephoto lenses in the conditions to get crisp sharp shots we had to change tack – lunch!

Frustratingly no more than 1 mile away from the coast and the weather was ‘cracking flags’. Albeit great to sit outside and enjoy, that wonderful sunshine really did need to be bathing those beautiful white cliffs at Bempton! We returned to try and make the best of it and were thrilled to see that the weather had indeed started to change – a chance at last to get our cameras really into action.

The change in weather had encouraged other wildlife enthusiasts (who can blame them) to the cliffs so our small group under the direction of our wildlife photographic expert Paul Miguel ( had to work hard to get the shots we wanted in the usual photographic locations and so, seeking space to work and to practice in flight shots, we soon found ourselves moving location further along the cliffs. As luck would have it the change in location proved to be the best decision.

By mid to late afternoon the strength in the sun, together with the improved sea breeze had blown and burnt away the sea fog hanging over the cliffs to reveal deep blue skies which coincided with stumbling upon some great characters at really close quarters – gannets on the cliffs! The juvenile and pairing adult birds were perfectly placed and their behavioural antics were just great to photograph.

The bright sun and the beautiful white plumage of the gannets really tested our skills with meter readings as exposure was very tricky in such conditions. Practice earlier in the day culminated in some great in flight shots for me again and, just before the weather made a turn again for the worst again, some of the best action photographs of the day. Working again with Paul (a truly gifted wildlife photographer) was an excellent experience. The skills I learnt on the day again working alongside Paul adding to my growing knowledge and confidence for future wildlife photographic assignments. Bring it on!

Gannet fixed gaze. Amazing light, amazing plumage...amazing stare
Gannets preening. The wait was worth it a window of opportunity in beautiful blue skies and the birds in the perfect position for telephoto compositions. 1 hour later and it was all over sea fog had crept back in.

Juvenile gannet landing. Some of the best shots of the day were taken with sigma 70-200 with minimum shutterspeed 1600 fixed and set in the menu. the detail for me in this shot is fantastic and an education what beautiful feathers. It takes between two and five years for the young to gain full adult plumage. During this time the skin around the eyes becomes bright blue and the beak changes from brown to steely blue.
Gannets pairs. The Northern Gannet is a monogamous colonial nester often with long term pairing. Male and female birds build nests of grass and seaweed together on the rocky coastal rocky cliffs. They often reuse the same nest from previous years with material being added to repair it using grass, seaweed and other such coastal plants. Here we see the birds in social behaviour and greeting ceremony known as mutual fencing where bills are clatted together, mutual grooming taking place and echoing each others stances and profiles reinforcing the pair bonding which is quite fascinating to watch
Cliffhanger. Northern Gannets are not the only birds to nest along the vertical cliffs and rocky ledges at Bempton RSPB sanctuary on the east coast of Yorkshire. There are many other species too including the wonderful Razorbill birds they reveal a beautiful yellow lining inside their mouths when open. The one I had been focusing on had been feeding on the nearby petals of the plant to its right. If you look closely you can see many absent on one of the daisies. I have never seen this type of behaviour before photography assisting in education