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Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!

Posted: Sunday 2nd August 2015 by TimBirch

Puffin, Farne Islands, Tim Birch Puffin, Farne Islands, Tim Birch

By Tim Birch, Head of Advocacy and Conservation Strategy, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust

One of the things I missed the most whilst living overseas for over 10 years were the amazing seabirds colonies that you can find around the coasts of the UK.

I have seen wonderful seacliff scenery in many places of the world but what they don’t have are those spectacular seabird gatherings that take place every spring and into early summer on our cliffs.

Places that spring to mind are the seacliffs at Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire, the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast and the wonderful islands off the Pembrokeshire coast – Skokholm and Skomer, a world class seabird reserve that is managed by the South and West Wales Wildlife Trust.


There are few places in the world where you can see such huge assemblages of birds – puffins, gllemots, razorbills, gannets, kittiwakes, arctic terns and hundreds of Atlantic Grey Seals with Dolphins and Porpoises thrown in as you cross the sea to visit some of these sea bird islands. The noise is often overpowering rather like the smell that drifts up from the cliff faces – it is a smell never to be forgotten, as many of you will know.

One of my first recollections of nature as a child was taking the boat from Martins Haven in Pembrokeshire over to Skomer Island nature reserve when I was 12 with my parents. I had never witnessed such huge concentrations of birds before and to be met by a swarms of puffins buzzing the boat as you pulled into the landing stage on Skomer and be examined in close up by inquisitive guillemots and razorbills peering down from their nesting cracks and crevices was a mind blowing experience. It was one thing to be watching David Attenborough with his nature documentaries on TV but to come so close up to seabirds was a revelation for me.












Some years later I returned to the neighbouring island of Skokhom with my wife taking parties of young ornithologists from the RSPB for a week to experience island life. I have never forgotten how excited they would become when they stayed out late at night to welcome back to the island hundreds of thousands of Manx shearwaters on drizzly dark April evenings. These birds spend the daytime far out at sea fishing and avoiding predators such as the great black backed gulls and only return under cover of darkness. However when you have wailing Manx shearwaters calling from their burrows under the floorboards of your accommodation on the island it did leave many of the teenagers rather bleary eyed in the morning from a lack of sleep!

This spring I decided to go on a seabird binge as I felt I needed to get re-accustomed with all my old sea bird haunts and meet some old friends. So in two weeks between end of May and early June I managed to squeeze in trips to Skomer and Ramsey Island off Pembrokeshire, the Farne Islands and Bempton Cliffs – by the time I got back to my Peak District home I reckoned I must have seen over half a million seabirds. How awesome was that!


Where do I start with the highlights from this seabird and sea life bonanza? Well here are some of my highlights:

  • Waddling puffins waiting to cross the footpath at a location called The Wick on Skomer Island Nature Reserve because humans were in the way – they are very polite!
  • Finding feeding porpoises in a channel called The Bitches between the Pembrokeshire coast and Ramsey Island. You know the porpoises will probably be around as gannets follow porpoises and when they see them feeding will join in the feeding frenzy with their ridiculously spectacular angled dives into the ocean.
  • Meandering through carpets of bluebells stretching as far as the eye can see and almost touching the horizon on Skomer Island
  • Watching choughs bouncing up and down and riding the wind in sheer delight on Ramsey Island.
  • Getting the full peck on the head treatment from angry arctic terns on the Farne Islands
  • Listening to hundreds of Atlantic grey seals moaning and crying from remote sand banks at Holy Island in Northumberland as the light faded on a stunning June evening.
  • And finally taking a trip on the Yorkshire Belle from Bridlington on the Flamborough coast and getting up real close to the hundreds of thousands of puffins, gannets, shags, kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills that cling to some of the highest seacliffs in England for a brief spell each spring and early summer.

Many of these places are beginning to fall silent now as the birds finish their hectic breeding cycles and then head off to all parts of the globe for their wintering quarters – they are experienced world navigators – here is where some of these birds will end up and it is just mindblowing:

  • Kittiwakes have been tracked to the east coast of Canada
  • Gannets drift down to the West Coast of Africa
  • Manx Shearwaters skim over the ocean to the coasts of Argentina and Brazil
  • Artic Terns enjoy the delights of the Antarctic summer
  • Puffins chill out in the middle of the North Atlantic

Now that travel schedule takes some beating.

I’m already counting down the days to when they will all return in the early spring of 2016 – I can’t wait.


Photos, All cresdite to Tim Birch.

Skomer Island which is bluebell haven by early June.

Spectacular scenery in pembrokeshire on the coastal path there.

A puffin with its take away on Farne Islands.

Kittiwake on Skomer Island.

Gulliemots at bempton cliffs.

Puffin in flight.

Arctic tern in flight.

Read TimBirch's latest blog entries.


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