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#2 Bempton Cliffs, England

If someone had told me a couple of years ago that I would be waking up at 4.30am to go to work early, enabling a lunchtime finish that would allow me to drive four hours north to see birds, I'd have laughed. That's the power of photography. It has enhanced my love of the outdoor and introduced me to completely different aspects of it.

RSPB Bemption Cliffs Puffin UK Best Spot June Birdwatching

We start this story in Yorkshire at RSPB Bempton Cliffs, a place that I discovered just a few days ago by stumbling across it on my favourite research app, Instagram; a tool that has a lot to blame for my wanderlust around the globe. I went with a single image in mind, to capture a pair of gannets kissing (I'm sure there is a more technical word for their ritual, but for now I will call it kissing). Something about their long white necks interlocking over a background of azure waters made for a captivating encounter. It was in fact a far greater challenge than I had expected given the thousands of gannets that nest on these cliffs.

Arriving in the early evening gave me a couple of hours to familiarise myself with the layout of the cliffs and what to expect the next morning – it’s always nice to have time for

a little recce.

It was on this dusk stroll that I spotted a Peregrine Falcon perched on the edge of a cliff some 30 meters away from me. And only afterwards, when looking at my camera screen, did I truly appreciate what a beautiful bird it was and how lucky I had been to capture the moment.

While being in Bempton predominantly for the gannets, I was also pleasantly surprised with the puffin encounters. Having visited Skomer Island only two weekends prior, where you are within touching distance to some 200,000 puffins, I hadn’t expected to top that. I probably only saw 15 or so puffins but having them perched on the edge of Bempton’s 100 metre-high cliffs posed a different challenge and gave a completely different feel to my shots compared to Skomer Island’s. Probably my favourites too!

RSPB Bemption Cliffs Gannet UK Best Spot June Birdwatching

As the night rolled in, I got my first close encounter with a Northern Gannet. Although there were thousands present, it was a struggle to get close enough for an intimate portrait due to the nature of the cliffs. Having found one perched on a rock just a few meters away from a viewing area, it was time to call it a night and head back to my tent.

The wind was picking up by this point, far from ideal when perched on the edge of some of the tallest cliffs in the UK. Driving up the M1 earlier, there had been weather warnings about strong winds, but I must admit I didn't think too much of it. That was until 1am, when the rain and wind began hammering down as I laid there in my tent. It's fair to say I didn't get much sleep that night, not ideal when already suffering from jet lag having only landed back from Canada two days earlier. It did however mean that come first light around 4.30am, I was awake and packed up, ready to head back to the cliffs. In addition to benefiting from the soft early morning light, I got to enjoy the area alone as no one else was silly enough to be up photographing birds in gale force winds at the crack of dawn. It definitely made it that much more intimate.

RSPB Bemption Cliffs Puffin UK Best Spot June Birdwatching

With time on my side, I ventured outside of the official RSPB area where you can walk right up to the edge of the cliffs. It was here while poking my head precariously over the edge hoping to see some gannets, that I spotted a lone puffin basking in the morning light. Little did I know that this would be the only 20 minutes of sun I would see that morning. It's at this point, sat in a pile of stinging nettle (yes seriously!) at 6am, 200 miles away from home and whilst almost being blown off the edge of a cliff, that I realised why I love photography so much. It's that feeling of satisfaction you get when looking down at your camera screen to see the shot you were hoping for. It somehow makes it all seem like a

RSPB Bemption Cliffs Puffin UK Best Spot June Birdwatching

good idea.

Feeling somewhat content with my puffin encounters, all that was left was to get the shot I had come all this way for. Having had a good scout around, I knew where my best chance to achieve it was and so headed back to the viewing area to set up camp. Within the first 10 minutes, I could see pairs of gannets in the distance, performing the kissing routine that I was after but the framing was all wrong. It took well over an hour and a half for the bird closest to the viewing platform to be reunited with its partner, and for me to get the shot I was longing for. There they finally were, performing the ritual I had come so far to see. Firm proof at last that I had made the right choice to travel here on my day off.

With the mission complete by 9am, it was time to head home. Another reason why getting up at the crack of dawn had been a wonderful thing, even with a four-hour drive I was still home by lunchtime!


June 2018


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