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Gannets - A Photo Essay


I am expanding on the image that I showed to explain more about the Gannet colony and the birds themselves.


Gannets are among the largest sea birds on the planet. The biggest are obviously the Albatross, of which we have a colony in NZ, on a peninsula near the city of Dunedin, making that the most accessible colony of its type in the world. They are diving predators, plummeting into the ocean to attack prey, often balls of fish like sardines and macrel. If you have seen any of the fabulous series by David Attendborough you will have seen how they interact with dolphins and seals that drive prey to the surface where the gannets attack in numbers.


The Australasian gannets make their homes (predictably enough) between NZ and Australia. They come to NZ to mate and the fledglings, on their first flight, make the 2,000km trip to Australia, where they stay for several years before returning to NZ to breed. Quiet a few of our human kiwis do something similar actually...


The breeding season starts between August and October and lasts until February when the last birds migrate. Gannets lay a single egg that takes about 44 days to incubate and hatch. During that time the males and females share nesting responsibilities, fishing in the waters of the Tasman sea, made rich for all life by cold currents deivering nutrients from the depths.


Sadly, like all sea birds there has been a drop in numbers - our Royal Albatrosses are in the endangered category, and the common gull population is plummeting. This is due to several causes: over-fishing, changes in ocean currents reducing nutrient levels or types of fish in their territories and, massively, plastics that they pick up by mistake and fill their guts, causing them to literally starve to death. This is not unique to these birds, it is a world-wide phenomenon. Plastic rings, often used in many countries to hold pop cans together can end up around their necks so they cannot swallow their catch and starve that way.


So here are some shots of the gannets, taken by a variety of cameras and lenses over an extended period. All by me and all hand-held.



On the Wing.  With a wingspan twice their body length, they are designed for efficiency in gliding.



From the side one can see the streamlined silhouette


The colony is rare in that it is on the mainland and easily accessible by road.  Located on NZ's west coast, there is road access to the nearby Muriwai sufring beach to the north, with another road running to homes immediately above the colony peninsulas.



To the south lies a park area with beaches made of black sand, washed from the volcanic cone of Mt Taranaki several hundred km to the south.


N1-Muriwai 001.jpg

In the photo above, taken outside the nesting season, one can see the peninsula where the colony lies (hidden at itstip behind the vegetation , along with several craggy islets off the coast.  The visitors' car park is at the bottom of the image.


0000 Gannet Colony LR.jpg

While access to the birds' nesting area is fenced off, there are a couple of viewing platforms from which one can get up close and personal with the birds, which (by and large) seem to ignore the many visitors.


000 Gannet Colony LR.jpg


002 Gannet Colony LR.jpg


001 Gannet Colony LR.jpg



Early mating rituals involve intricated, synchronized head bobbing



Eventually the bobbing turns to mutual grooming and caressing


002 Gannets Mating LR.jpg

And finally mating - not easy in a brisk breeze!  Note the plastic used for nesting on the top right.



Then nest-building begins in earnest, with much competition for the best spots and materials.


NZ Auckland Muriwai Gannet 11.jpg



At last an egg!



After a month and a half of incubation a fluffy chick appears - which an apetite that keeps both parents busy providing shelter from the sun and food.



The chick spends much of its time strengthening its flight muscles and gaining body mass



To pass the time gannets are quite fond of reading  - in this case a discarded pamphlet encouring visitors to take their litter...


Muriwai-Gannet copy-1-2.jpg


NZ Auckland Muriwai Gannet Colony Sunet 06.jpg

During the day it's hot, smelly, crowded and busy, but sunset is a good time to get some great views.


Muriwai Gannet 006.JPG

They are very interesting birds and I feel priviliged to have such easy access to them

cheers, TREVOR

"The Amount of Misery expands to fill the space available"
"All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow", Leo Tolstoy;
"Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase" Percy W. Harris


Wow! Cat Surprised


 Great Essay and photos! Beautiful birds. My favorite photo is the one of the gannets at sunset (17th photo). I'm glad that there are photographers out there like you that brings to light how we need to be very mindful to take good care of this great planet and the animals beecause all lifee is connected.



click here to view the gallery