Thursday, 22 April 2010

Fulmars at Capel-le-Ferne, Folkestone

The great Sea bird colonies in Britain are far to the North and West of our Isles. There you can see tens of thousands of Gannets, Guillimots, Puffins and Kittiwakes. But they're so far away, that visiting them from Kent is really something you can do only once or twice a year as part of a holiday. Down in Kent, we have some good Tern colonies but nothing to match the grand cliff colonies of RSPB reserves such as Bempton in Yorkshire. However there is one magnificent seabird that can be found breeding on the chalk cliffs of Kent,-the Fulmar! A smaller cousin of the Albatrosses and has dramatically spread from Iceland and other near Arctic coasts. In the space of 100 years Fulmars began to colonise the Scottish islands and then down the Yorkshire coast to eventually meet the English Channel. What is remarkable about Fulmars is their expansion is hard to explain not least by the fact that they lay just one egg a year and take perhaps ten years to mature as a breeding adult.

You can see breeding Fulmars quite easily from any of the cliff top walks at Capel-le-Ferne, near Folkestone. There, birds can be seen this month dramatically soaring over the Folkestone Warren and engaged in some complex courtship display at their chosen nest sites usually a hollow or sheltered ledge crevice on the chalk cliff face. Some birds are particularly easy to watch (all be it they're high -up!) and with binoculars you can watch bonded pairs, display with much noise, head rocking and beak-clapping. Its as memorable as anything you'll see on an exotic David Attenborough programme - a great birding site to see this spring and into the summer too.

Fulmar about to land at nest site. The Dover/London railway runs at the base of the cliffs below the Fulmar colony.

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