This week, in a moment of enthusiasm – a group of us decided (on the last minute as usual) that we would hop off to Bempton to see how the Gannets were doing. It’s about a two hour run up to the cliffs – and as we left, in light rain – it seemed that it would probably improve as the day went on.
We weren’t right – the rain continued steadily throughout the day, and at one point on the cliffs – it was raining hard, blowing a gale and the birds were shooting across the sky. The light however was good, and despite everything we came away with good shots.
The adult Gannets are large and bright white with black wingtips. They are distinctively shaped with a long neck and long pointed beak, long pointed tail, and long pointed wings. At sea they flap and then glide low over the water, often travelling in small groups.
They feed by flying high and circling before plunging into the sea. Breeding in significant numbers at only a few localities they are an Amber List species. The numbers at Bempton are exceptionally high – and for the price of admittance to the cliffs, via the RSPB office (£4, or free for RSPB members) it is well worth the trip. In addition to Gannets, there are a wide variety of other sea birds, including a large puffin population.
It’s the start of the breeding season, and the Gannets are making sure that they have a partner. The billing, and necking is frequent with birds constantly circling around, only to land again at the feet of their partners, sometimes bringing gifts of weed, or, in this case, we think, bright green paper strips.
Where to see them
The biggest mainland breeding colony is at RSPB’s Bempton Cliffs.
There are two mainland colonies – at Bempton and Troup Head, Scotland. Also, big island colonies on St Kilda, the Northern Isles, and Bass Rock in Scotland and Grassholm in Wales. They can be seen offshore almost anywhere, especially when they migrate south between August and October.
When to see them
They arrive at their colonies from January onwards and leave between August and October. Non-breeding birds can be seen at any time around the coasts and the main migration period offshore is during the autumn.