The UK's summer wildlife spectaculars
Hundreds of thousands of birds all jostling for space, the smell of guano and rotting fish and a cacophony of calls and yells.
It can only be the sensory overload you get from a seabird colony in summer.
No wonder that these spectacular seabird cities have been described as one of the 'wildlife wonders of the world'.
And in the UK we have some of the best examples on the planet.The usual suspects
With so many similar coloured seabirds crammed onto the same cliff, identification can be tricky.
Almost everyone will recognise a puffin, but what about guillemots and kittiwakes?
Hopefully our picture gallery below will help to identify some of the more common species and lead to a more rewarding experience.Continue reading the main story
Interested to know how and why common names come about? Then read our guide on how to describe wildlife.
Magical marine mammals
If a seabird colony in summer wasn't enough of a thrill keep your eyes, and binoculars, on the water, you just might spot one of these marvellous marine mammals.
From left to right:
Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus): are the most frequently seen species of dolphin in British waters, with resident populations off of the Scottish and Welsh coasts. Watch out for the acrobatic leaps out of the water.
Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena): no leaping out of the water for this small porpoises so all you will usually see is the short, blunt dorsal fin. Luckily, they are the commonest cetacean in European waters.
Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus): spotting the world's second largest fish would be the icing on the cake for many. They will venture into shallow coastal waters during the summer harmlessly filter feeding, look for the large triangular dorsal fin and tip of the tail fin.
Grey seal (Halichoerus grypus): spend most of the year out at sea until autumn when they haul out on rocky shores and beaches to form formidable-looking breeding colonies. About 40 percent of the world's population are around British coasts.
Check out our guide on where to see marine mammals for more information.
Where to see
There are a number of locations around the UK's coastline where you can experience this summer spectacle.
To get you started we have selected an example from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
From left to right:
Bempton Cliffs, England. A managed reserve near the town of Bridlington in East Yorkshire boasts over 200,000 birds between April and August. It is home to England's biggest mainland gannet colony, as well as a sizeable kittiwake one. Look out for guillemots, razorbills and puffins as well.
Bass Rock, Scotland. This seabird sanctuary is a volcanic island situated in the Firth of Forth, one mile off the mainland. It is home to an incredible 150,000 gannets, making it the largest single island gannet colony in the world. Guillemots, razorbills and shags occupy the lower ledges.
Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland. Lying off the coast of County Antrim with tens of thousands of birds, it is Northern Ireland's biggest seabird colony. Here you'll find puffins, guillemots and kittiwakes and as an added bonus, choughs are breeding again after nearly 20 years.
Skomer Island, Wales. Just off the coast of Pembrokeshire, Skomer and sister island Skokholm have an estimated 120,000 breeding pairs of Manx shearwaters, making it the largest known concentration in the world! If that's not enough there are also important numbers of storm petrels.
Search our list of bird activities happening near you or try these organisations and charities:
- A list of RSPB reserves with seabirds
- The Wildlife Trusts
- The National Trust
- The Scottish Seabird Centre
- Scottish Wildlife Trusts
- The National Trust for Scotland's seabird colonies
- Welsh Wildlife Trusts
- A BTO list of seabird sites in Northern Ireland
Quick tips to take with you
Some of the best seabird colonies are out at sea on rocky outcrops and secluded islands so you will have to embark on a short boat or ferry ride. Although mainland colonies, such as Bempton Cliffs, offer great views without having to leave the land.
You'll want protective clothing, possibly sun screen and of course a pair of binoculars for some great close-up views.
An ID guide will be useful for sorting out who's who on the cliff face (use the photo gallery above to get you started).
A camera or phone is a must to capture all the sights and sounds on offer. These handy tips and tricks will help you to get the best out of your photographic equipment, whatever your level of expertise.
Above all else be prepared for the noise and the smell of the birds!
But please remember to follow the Countryside Code when out and about.Been inspired?
And don't forget to share your seabird photos on the Summer of Wildlife Flickr group - #seeitsnapitshareit.