30 Jun 2021

Black-browed Albatross, Bempton Cliffs RSPB

Once upon a time a Black-browed Albatross in British waters was a mythical creature. Prior to 1972 there were only a handful of records and only one long staying bird - one that frequented the Gannet colony on Bass Rock between 1967 & 1969 around the time the Gannets were breeding. It was not very accessible but when one turned up on Unst in 1972 it became a regular feature of trips north for generations of birders until it was last seen in 1995! Affectionally known as Albert (as in Albert Ross) I saw this bird in 1976.

More recently a bird has been seen regularly off Bempton cliffs. Some times its not stayed long before heading off somewhere else but this year it had been seen on two consecutive days. After catching up with Snowy Owl on Shetland after 45 years last Tuesday I decided to go for the double as I did in 1976. Snowy Owl and Black-browed Albatross in the same week. I didn't make the decision until 10.30 pm so didn't bother going to bed.

Setting off at 01.00 I arrived at Bempton in the dark to find the car park already quite busy. Unlike the previous day the weather was wet and windy and I shivered waiting for it to get light enough to scan the cliff face where the Albatross was last reported at 21.45 the previous night. Nothing! It soon became apparent the bird wasn't there and people started meandering away to other view points. Meeting up with Chris Griffin we wandered down the footpath to a couple of other viewpoints before heading back to where we started. By now I was getting hungry, thirsty and seriously cold so I decided to head back to the carpark for a comfort break, some food and a hot drink. No sooner had  I turned the engine on and poured myself a mug of tea the message came through it was back and had flown along the cliff edge! 

Abandoning both my tea and a half finished breakfast of a packet of Walkers finest prawn cocktail crisps I set off down the footpath to the clifftop where there was confusion as to where the bird had disappeared to. Luckily I was stood next to someone who found it sitting distantly on the sea and  I saw it through his telescope before it flew off round a headland out of sight.

For the next few hours it played hide and seek with the assembled birders - suddenly appearing and then being lost to view as it hugged the cliff. Several times it landed among the Gannets before moving off again  until eventually it settled for an extended period and showed well if distantly.

An incredible bird that evoked memories of going on a Pelagic from Simons Town, S Africa in June 2009. See here for trip report. Although I wasn't lucky enough to have it fly really close I got a few photos and a short video of it sat on the cliff.

Eventually I'd had enough. The cold, wet, hunger, thirst and lack of sleep were getting to me. Saying my goodbyes I headed back to the car for a second time with the thought of a nice warm mug of tea.....only there wasn't any. I'd stuffed the flask into a pair of waterproof socks in attempt to keep the tea hotter for longer but must have  accidentally left the lid loose as my socks were now full of tea. It could have been worse. Without the socks I'd have had a very soggy bottom that was nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off.

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