Saturday 31 July 2021

Albatross at last

You have probably heard of an Albatross. You may not know that they normally roam around the Antarctic and Southern oceans, a very long way from the Northern Hemisphere. So, it was quite a surprise when, in 2017, a Black-browed Albatross with a wingspan of about 2.40m, was seen off the cliffs at Bempton in East Yorkshire. It stayed for a couple of days and then disappeared until 2020, when it returned for a few days.

In 2021, Albert Ross, as it is affectionately known (and presumably the same bird) reappeared on 28 June and has been seen almost every day since. Now, I have never seen an albatross anywhere in the world on my travels, so I just had to go and see it. He'd been seen every day for several days, so I went up on 6 July with Magnus Andersson intending to stay two nights. Magnus had already seen it!

The Albatross had been seen that morning, but by the time we arrived it had disappeared. It didn't reappear on 7 July, nor again on the morning of 8 July when we had to return. My disappointment was somewhat alleviated by seeing a magnificent Western Rufous Turtle Dove at Spurn, along with Spoonbills, Barn Owl and a few hundred Little Gulls. 

Western Rufous Turtle Dove. - Very nice, but not exactly an Albatross!!

Angry Spoonbill advances!

Out of my way. I'm feeding here!

Barn Owl came out at dusk to hunt.

It was frustrating that the Albatross returned the day after we got back but I couldn't go again because we had booked a 10-day holiday in Cornwall and Devon. It was seen almost every day while I was away!

Eventually, I went up again on Friday 23 July. The Albatross  disappeared again on that day and it was not seen on Saturday 31 July either!  I decided to stay one more night just in case it turned up on Sunday morning. Luckily for me, it did! I was staying 10 minutes from Bempton.  When I arrived at about 8:30, the Albatross was sitting on the sea about 300metres off shore.  Even with a telescope it looked quite small and unimpressive. Nevertheless, the other birds were stupendous to watch.


Great Skua offshore

Puffin - everyone's favourite. The foreground bird is a Razorbill

Kittiwakes. The chicks have a black ring on their neck and other black markings. They are born and fledge from these narrow ledges!! The chick at the bottom is covered in guano from the birds above! 

Guillemot. They have small wings and have to flap them very quickly!

Fulmar - Not  gull, but a bird that is quite pelagic (spends most of its time at sea).

Razorbills are one of my favourites. They are tiny next to the mighty Gannet.

Razorbill - You can see they are a little dumpy and have tiny wings. It's a wonder they can fly!

Razorbills - I love them!

Gannet. Built for speed in diving. Plunging from great height into the sea to catch fish. 

FINALLY - the Albatross!

Speaking with one of the volunteers at RSPB Bempton, I learnt that the Albatross would probably come off the sea in a couple of hours and soar around the cliffs for a while before settling. He advised me to go to the next viewpoint, which I did.  Sure enough, just after 11.00 Albert Ross came into view, to the delight of everyone present, and wheeled around for about 20 minutes before landing on the cliff around the corner. I took some flight shots of this magnificent bird.


Black-browed Albatross - the other bird is a Gannet, certainly not a small bird, larger than a gull!

Black-browed Albatross - what a bird. A long distance flier - normally, it hardly has to flap its wings!

Mission accomplished, I started home, via Frampton Marshes RSPB to see the Pacific Golden Plover and a few other birds that I hadn't seen this year. These included Curlew Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank.


Wood Sandpiper - passing through on migration

Snipe - not uncommon, but hard to see owing to it's superb camouflage. This one is right out in the open.

Spotted Redshank. Again, on migration. A much finer bill than the Common Redshank.

Avocet. This is a juvenile. Adults are black and white.

My wife had arranged to go out with a friend of hers the following day so I decided to go to Snettisham for the night ready to look for the Western Sandpiper the following day. This very small American wader was best seen either shortly before or shortly after high tide, which was at 08:30 next morning. I was lucky to find a room in the Queen Victoria pub, Snettisham. I got down to the beach in time, but the bird was not seen before high tide. As a large flock of Dunlin and Sanderling roosted on the shore waiting for the water level to drop, we scoured hundreds of small birds looking for the one that looked slightly different. Someone did find it and called it out but just as I got my binoculars on it, the whole flock flew off and landed in a position where it was impossible to see most of them. We waited for the water level to drop and the birds then started moving onto the mud to feed. At that time, I was able to photograph the Western Sandpiper, which looked remarkably similar to a sanderling.


Western Sandpiper - An American wader which is way off course!

Western Sandpiper - Arrowed!

Sanderling. They look superficially like the others but are more scaly above and with no black belly.

There was time for a brief stop at Titchwell Marsh RSPB, where the highlight was a Great White Egret. While there, I got talking to a couple who had seen a Little Owl that morning. I hadn't seen Little Owl this year. As it was on my way home, I dropped in to Abbey Farm NR, a small reserve with a single small hide. As I entered, the Little Owl was sitting in front of me. A Marsh Harrier visited before I made my way home to Sutton.


Little Owl

Marsh Harrier. This is a male.

Altogether a very enjoyable trip. I was so pleased to see The Black-browed Albatross, a truly magnificent bird. 



  1. Enjoyable photos and adventures, as always.

  2. Fantastic photos really enjoyed them. I would have trouble telling the difference between the sandpiper and the sanderling


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