Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Empty Nest Syndrome

The magnificent chalk sea cliffs at Flamborough Head, which project far out into the North Sea, provide a perfect habitat for migrating birds to breed as they pass by the headland. (Turn on the sound for the video above and you'll get a good idea of the noise level -- of both birds and wind!)

The nooks and crannies make ideal nesting sites, and birdwatchers come by the droves with their trusty binoculars hoping for a rare sighting among the over 100 different species of birds found nesting here throughout the year. For avid bird watchers there is a list of the birds that can be found at Flamborough and nearby Bempton, here.

In 1985, over 600 nests of gannets were counted. The gannet has a 6 foot wing span! For amateur ornithologists, the favorite is usually the elusive puffin, known for their brightly colored beaks, and their penguin-like appearance -- although they are not of the penguin family but are of the auk species. Their short wings enable them to swim under water, and in the air they flap their wings rapidly -- up to 400 times a minute! Every visitor to the headland hopes to catch site of one; even better, get a photo of one!When we were there in 2007, we had a couple of rare sightings, but only from a great distance, so I had to be content with this is beautiful rendition of Puffins at Flamborough Head drawn by my artistic sister, Chris.

But I did find this short video on You Tube -- a lovely, lone puffin preening himself on Bempton Cliffs.

Decades ago, birds' nests were ravaged by 'climmers' (climbers). From May to July, gangs of men could be found risking life and limb to gather seabirds eggs from their nests in the cliffs.
They would drive an iron stake into the cliff top, and then one man, attached to a harness would be lowered down the sheer cliff wall. He would have two linen bags slung from his shoulders in which to put the eggs, and his hat was filled with straw to protect him from falling rocks! Amazingly, very few accidents were recorded.

During peak periods, between 200 and 400 eggs per day would be gathered and used as a means of supplementing the climmers income and diet. They were sold for patent leather, food and to egg collectors.

By 1850 a much more damaging activity had become popular -- tourists had taken to shooting birds for sport. This caused a drastic drop in the number of nesting birds and ultimately the Seabirds Preservation Act was passed in 1869.

Climming continued until 1954 when it finally became illegal. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds now owns much of the cliffs where climming was once practised.

1 comment:

  1. Those are great videos, Kay. Really bring back the memories.