One of the biggest bird events of 2021 was when a Black-browed Albatross took up residence in an east coast Gannet colony for the whole breeding season. Hopes of a return were realised this March when the bird again returned to the cliffs and birders started to flock to see it, most for the second year in a row.
So it was that in mid-April 2022 I decided to pay the east coast of Yorkshire a visit with the hope of catching up with this southern hemisphere giant again. Setting off early I arrived at Bempton Cliffs RSPB at around 8am with the news on my RBA newsfeed that the bird was present that morning. With no time to waste I headed straight along the clifftop path to Staple Newk where the bird had been seen daily. A small gathering of birders informed me that the bird was indeed present but was some distance out to sea and despite getting directions my search was fruitless, no Albatross had been ticked yet! Then not long after my arrival the bird took flight and headed straight in to the cliffs, this time I picked it up and with that had achieved early success in my quest to add it to my 2022 Yearlist. The adult Black-browed Albatross flew in and swept along the cliffs directly in front of the small crowd giving fabulous views. After performing fantastically well in flight it eventually landed on the cliffs directly below us with the Gannets. But unfortunately for newly arriving birders it was completely out of view. After a short wait and no change in this situation I decided to head off and do a bit more general birding on the reserve with plans to return later to see if it would leave its cliff-face roost site.
The first big surprise was on the clifftop path near Staple Newk when what to all appearances looked like a Blackbird turned out to be a male Ring Ouzel, a really good migrant on passage. A few scans offshore produced sightings of the three breeding auk species here, namely Guillemot, Razorbill and, best of all, Puffin.
Seabirds of course dominated the sightings with Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Shags and Cormorants also being added to the list. The constant calls of the Kittiwakes chanting their own name was a lovely backdrop as I strolled along above where they were breeding on precarious ledges way above the sea. More unexpected was the sight of 2 Greylag Geese powering along some way offshore, but that added the species to the growing daylist nevertheless
A return up to the visitor centre produced several more sightings and this time not seabirds. Tree Sparrows were seen in huge numbers, nest boxes dotted around the reserve supplementing their breeding sites and feeders helping to sustain them. Reed Buntings, Skylarks and Linnets took advantage of the rough pasture that had been managed for farmland specialities such as these, again being seen in good numbers. Nearby the bramble patches contained a couple of recently arrived Whitethroats and the cascading song of Willow Warblers came from the numerous small copses bordering the fields. The next surprise was a bird that alighted on a bare-branched sapling in the hedgerow. Immediately the largely unmarked breast and fine flank streaking marked this out as a Tree Pipit, a scarce passage migrant on the reserve and a notable sighting indeed. Nearby the jangling song of a Corn Bunting added another excellent bird to the daylist and another farmland speciality, Stock Dove, was also seen in this area.
Returning along the cliffs the walk out to Staple Newk allowed a few more good birds to be added, the first being a Peregrine flashing past just offshore and causing panic in the feral Rock Doves that inhabit the clifftops. Arriving back at the viewpoint the news was that the Albatross had flown out to sea again and was sitting far offshore with a few gulls. This time it was easier to find and a record digiscoped picture was obtained, albeit at a great distance. Whilst watching the Albatross a group of 4 Common Scoters flew past and were almost the final bird of the day. I say almost as the honour of that falls to a Wheatear which was up on the pillbox structures above the rough pasture, yet more evidence of Spring migrant bird species moving though. Spring in the UK is one of the most exciting times of the year with breeding birds returning and migrants on passage. Add to that the occasional rarity and who could deny what a fantastic hobby birding can be.
Oh and the title of the Blog....... some Albatross species, including Black-browed are called the Mollymawks and as birders like to give returning rare birds nicknames this one has been alternatively called Albert Ross or Molly Mawk!!