Diving Gannets

I didn’t quite get the picture I wanted of a gannet with its beak just breaking the water as it dived for a fish, but I got close.

In this one three gannets all dived close together entering the sea like a poorly synchronised diving team.

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Here this gannet prepares to dive

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And in this picture one gannet emerges with its prize as another heads down for a fish.

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Gannet Chaos

Another day and another trip out, this time on a boat out of Bridlington to photograph diving gannets below Bempton Cliffs. I was due to go on this trip earlier in the year but the sea was too rough so it was cancelled however this time the day dawned bright and clear and the sea was like a pond.

The trip to the base of the cliffs takes about an hour so plenty of time to relax set up the camera and watch the world go slowly by. The boat is stocked with 6 or 7 cases of mackerel which are the chum to lure in the gannets. As soon as the boat is in position the first gulls arrive and greedily grab the first few fish.

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However within seconds the boat is surrounded by a cloud of wheeling gannets who rotate around the boat looking for their chance to dive and grab a fish. They can hit the water at up to 60mph to snap up the fish and it soons becomes an absolute frenzy of gannets arriving at all angles.

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As soon as one emerges fish in beak, it is assailed by others looking to steal the prize.

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It really is a scene of complete mayhem and great fun to try and photograph. No big long lens needed here as the birds are often close enough to touch and getting wet is part of the thrill. Watching the circling throng lining up their dive, then following them as they plunge into the sea is a joy to watch.

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The madness continues till all the fish have been cast over the side and a sense of calm finally returns as the gannets move off looking for another meal or just to float on the waves. If you’re ever in Yorkshire I would highly recommend the trip, 3 hours on the North Sea with an hour in the middle of just pure gannet bedlam.

The trip is run by Yorkshire Coast Nature and you can visit their website here

 

A Gannet Fact

Juvenile gannets will make a leap of faith from their nest site to the sea below before they can fly! At Bempton cliffs in Yorkshire this can be a leap of up to 300 feet. Usually they are able to glide down to the water and they will then float on the surface bobbing around for up to three weeks before they can fly!

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Living on the fat they have built up while high on the cliff edge they will naturally start to swim South, their instinct for the long flight ahead to West Africa where they will spend the next 18 months to 2 years kicking in and sending them off in the right direction.

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Sea Bird City Bempton Cliffs – Gannets

Last month I was due to go on a diving gannet photography day from Bridlington on the East Coast. Unfortunately the weather put paid to that trip so my plans got rearranged and I set off instead for a day at Bempton Cliffs.

Known locally as the Seabird City Bempton Cliffs are home to a staggering number of gannets, razorbills, fulmars, puffins, shag, herring gull, kittiwake and guillemots. In fact this year has proved to be a record year with almost 450,000 birds counted.

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The gannets are the most numerous with over 200,000 visiting the cliffs from March to October to breed or in the case of youngsters get used to being a gannet as it’ll be 5 years before they breed. These Northern Gannets return to Bempton every year from their wintering sites in West Africa and they return to the same nest site with the same partner every year.

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Although very affectionate to each other when they are crammed up close and personal on their very small nest spaces tempers can easily get frayed and some violence can ensue. They are our largest seabird with a wingspan up to 2 metres which allows them to effortlessly soar above the cliffs or travel great distances to feed. They eat larger fish such as mackerel and cod and the availability of these has been key in the recent rises in population as they successfully raise their chicks.

An onshore wind holding the birds above the cliffs offers some spectacular photo opportunities especially when they are gathering grass and plants to adorn their nests or offer as gifts to their partners. I’m not sure about nettles though as a suitable nesting material!

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