Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Kittiwakes find Holy refuge
Tom Bickerton

Kittiwakes find Holy refuge

We were driving through the town of Lowestoft, Suffolk in July, with the windows of the car down because it was so hot and the humidity was making driving conditions terribly oppressive, but we were then both surprised to hear kittiwakes calling. There was no possibility of us stopping or pulling over as we were stuck in rush-hour traffic, so we decided to return on Sunday in the evening when congestion had calmed down.

So, on the Sunday we drove back into Lowestoft to the dock area and parked outside Marks & Sparks. On opening the cars' door the noise of kittiwakes was deafening, looking around we could see them high up nesting on one the docks storage buildings ribs, but that wasn't the epicentre of the noise, the clamour was coming from a row of terraced house across the road.

The birds were nesting along the top gutter and the window ledges of these houses. From our position we could see that nests were everywhere, in the next street, along shop rooflines, even on a church.

Whether the good people of Lowestoft want these birds whitewashing their buildings and the street below remains uncertain. There were certainly a large number of preventative spikes in place to deter the birds from nesting.

The birds have forced churchgoers to putting up umbrellas as they enter the church of Our Lady Star of the Sea to protect themselves from bird droppings.
Around 200 kittiwakes have made their home in the tower.

Deacon Steve Pomeroy said some find the protected species a nuisance, but he considered them a "blessing". Both Marianne and myself previous experience of the pungent smell at RSPB Bempton Cliff had forewarned us what to expect, so to combat the whiff the church has been burning more incense recently to cover the smell of the droppings outside - it's a good job it is a Catholic Church, they do love burning their incense!
The kittiwakes arrived in the town about five years ago, starting with a small colony of about 100 birds, but they found Lowestoft houses more to their liking than the wind-battered cliffs.

The kittiwake is on the conservation "red list", meaning the species has the highest conservation priority, requiring urgent action.
As the seabirds have made their home above the entrance to the church, the Deacon had commented: "Some parishioners do come with their umbrellas."
The Deacon also admitted the exterior of the church was often covered in droppings, but he said the rain usually washed that off by the time the birds leave in the autumn.

"Volunteers have been cleaning up at ground level so those attending services do not need to side step the mess."
But the Deacon sees many advantages to having the gulls at the church.
"It makes for a lovely mass - we're not allowed singing at the moment so what we get instead is the kittiwakes calling," he said.
"There is a lovely piece of scripture that says something to the effect of 'blessed are those where the swallows nest above the altar of the Lord". Psalm 84:3
Although you can't call these bird's sea swallows - terns have already taken that pseudonym. The Deacon certainly has a point, but the Psalm was more appropriate for the sparrow. The kittiwake is a true ocean loving seabird.

Marianne Eagles & Tom Bickerton