Northern hemisphere's only albatross moves visitors to tears as it returns to RSPB Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire - after being feared dead in eagle attack

An 'exiled' albatross thought to be the only one of its kind living in the northern hemisphere has reappeared at RSPB Bempton Cliffs - a year since its last visit to the nature reserve on the Yorkshire coast.

Tuesday, 29th June 2021, 2:35 pm
The albatross photographed by Andy Hood
The albatross photographed by Andy Hood

The albatross was first seen in Europe in 2014, and is believed to have been blown off course and become unable to return to its natural habitats in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia in the South Atlantic.

The lost wanderer was first spotted at Bempton Cliffs in 2017, and visited again last summer. The RSPB have now confirmed that it is back among the gannet colonies of Flamborough Head again, having survived an attack by nine white-tailed eagles in Denmark this spring which many birdwatchers feared had led to its death.

The albatross moved visitors to Bempton Cliffs to tears when it 'dive bombed' the viewpoint at Staple Newk, and its appearance is expected to attract huge crowds.

The RSPB's Maria Prchlik said: "It’s the same German bird that visited last year, almost at the same time. We had constant views between around 6.20-10.20am on Tuesday morning and it landed five times.

"The bird got ‘hassled’ by herring gulls which sent it further out to sea,and the last sighting was in the distance off our Bartlett Nab viewpoint."

The black-browed albatross was lingering in Oresund, a narrow stretch of water between Copenhagen and Malmo, in April when up to nine eagles attacked it. It also managed to escape an eagle ambush in Denmark in 2015.

Only two 'lost' albatrosses have been recorded in Europe in the past decade, with the world's entire breeding population living in the South Atlantic.

The albatross photographed by Rich Berry

Although they breed only in the southern hemisphere they have a northerly migratory pattern, which explains the occasional sightings in the North Atlantic. These displaced birds are considered 'vagrants' because they have wandered far outside their normal range. They are often exiled for decades as they struggle to return to the Southern Ocean.

Albatrosses are traditionally associated with sailors and the age of maritime exploration, when they were hunted extensively, although they were also viewed as totems by superstitious seafarers.

Flamborough Bird Observatory chair Craig Thomas said: "It's an adult bird and must be at least eight years old, but could be much older - they can live up to 70 years old.

"There have been just over 30 records of black-browed albatross in the UK. They originate from the South Atlantic and it is very rare for individuals to travel to the northern hemisphere.

The albatross in flight photographed by James Davies

"Today's bird is clearly looking for a place to rest on the cliffs, but the local gannets are often quite aggressive towards it, despite the albatross being a bigger bird.

"There have only been two birds recorded in the North Atlantic in the past 10 years, so it's probably one of these. They often follow gannets and tag along with them, then sit in the colony. There are around 15,000 pairs of gannets at Bempton and I think it has followed them back to the cliffs.

"It will be exiled forever now. Albatrosses have very long wings, but they don't flap them much and rely on updrafts. This means they can't usually get across the equator because the air is too still, so it's unlikely it'll get back to the Falklands. It will live out its bachelor days with the gannets for company!"