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Puffin Love!!!!

Since I moved to rural England almost a year ago, I have been somewhat surprised to find seabirds living in the fields close to my home.  Living in a rural environment, I bet you never could imagine that, along with the smell of manure and farms, I can watch great flocks of gulls playing around in the thermals over the meadows.

Despite this, I have found myself oddly missing the perfume of salt air and guano, the cacophony of sounds and activity of seabird colonies since I moved here.  I don’t miss it quite as much as I miss my family and friends but there has always been something very familiar to me with seabirds.  That comforting smell of oily seabird plumage, fish oil, guano and the sea.

At Easter, a few days after we returned home from Ladakh, Mark forced me to take the entire weekend off.  It was the first Easter I’d had off in my adult memory.  It felt surreal to just potter around home in our garden and enjoy the sudden onset of spring blossoms in the trees.

In a moment of spontaneity, Mark suggested that we go to Bempton, a seabird colony on cliffs that are very similar in appearance to the White Cliffs of Dover.  It’s about 2.5 hours drive from our place but well worth the effort.  We drove out to Bempton and stopped at a wonderful British pub called “The Seabirds” for true fish and chips – a delicious piece of battered Haddock and proper chips, both drenched in salt and vinegar which we washed down with a nice glass of red.

After lunch we headed out to the RSPB reserve at Bempton.  The RSPB does birding in a very organised and professional way here in Britain.  Every time I visit one of their reserves it makes me sad that Australia doesn’t have the same well-organised system of conserving important bird areas – a system of proper people management, public education, established footpaths, considered viewing platforms, manned by volunteers and all done with the spirit of fostering an interest in birds within the general public with a special focus on future birders.  Australia has a far greater diversity of avifauna than the UK.  It could really benefit from a more proactive organisation operating a network of reserves that serve the public in a better way.

When we arrived the volunteer in the carpark said “The Puffins are showing well today”.  I was exhilarated.  Until that day I had always longed to, but never seen a wild Puffin.  They are my mother’s favourite seabird and even she has never seen one.

Well the volunteers certainly hit the nail on the head with their comment.  Not only did we see many Puffins, some of them were close enough to get reasonably good shots of!

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I fell in love!  Puffins are like little clown-like parrots of the sea!  I was completely mesmerised by them!

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Visiting seabird colonies in the UK nearly always allows me a chance to see new birds for my seabird list.  My first taste of a UK seabird colony was at another RSPB Reserve called St Bees Head, on the other side of the country and the largest colony in north west England.  On the day we went last June, however, the weather was so horrid that I didn’t even both to take my camera out to get shots.  It was just too wet.  I still loved our walk there though and during it Mark acquainted me with some lovely birds including Razorbills, Guillemots and Northern Fulmars.

Fast forward to Easter and on better weather nearly all of these birds were present, coloured up and getting ready for nesting and breeding.  We saw paired Razorbills

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Northern Fulmars doing courtship displays

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Very smart looking Guillemots

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Loads of Gannets flying around, displaying, collecting nesting material and scrambling to secure the best nesting real estate

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Tiny, dainty Kittiwakes also hovered parallel to the cliffs searching for their own spot to breed

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The whole experience had me reeling to the point where Mark nearly had to crowbar me away from those cliffs.  I could have stayed up there for hours!  Apparently it is better to visit these or the Farne Islands in June and July when the Puffins are bringing Sand Eels in to feed their chicks.  I think if I was presented with that situation I would die of a cuteness overload!

Some other highlights of the day included seeing a Great Skua (rare visitor to Bempton) and watching the resident pair of Peregrine Falcons hunting for Rock Pigeons on the wing.

It was a wonderful experience to be up there in the throng and smell of Bempton.  I have a feeling that it may become one of our more regular haunts in the future!

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