A gannet’s first flight

A gannet’s first flight

I’ve just returned from a trip north, where I was an “accompanying person” at my wife’s conference in Auckland.  A highlight was a trip one evening to the gannet colony at Muriwai beach.  It’s a well-photographed spot which hit the news a month or so back when a local swimmer was killed by a great white shark.

Muriwai gannet colony

It this time of year there are fewer birds, many of the juveniles have left.   Conditions were good:  a strong onshore wind giving plenty of lift so we hoped to see one take off on its first flight.  The youngsters were practising hard, flapping their wings vigorously.

Muriwai gannet colony

Every so often one would waddle over towards the edge of the cliff,

Muriwai gannet colony

take a good look over the edge,

Muriwai gannet colony

and decide it was a very long way down, with big waves crashing onto the rocks below.

Muriwai gannet colony

But eventually one slightly braver than the rest made its way to the very edge:

Muriwai gannet colony

After several changes of heart, backing off and then approaching the cliff edge once more, suddenly he was off!

Muriwai gannet colony

Even though it was a long way down, there was not much time in which to figure out how to fly.  With the fairly large waves crashing on the rocks, a swim may well have been fatal.

Muriwai gannet colony

 

Muriwai gannet colony

He made it!

Muriwai gannet colony

The fledgling stayed in sight for only a few minutes before it was lost, heading west into the setting sun.  Later I read that the next dry land it would see would be Australia!  But first it must work out how to land on the water and, much more difficult, take off again.  Apparently quite a few are lost to fur seals, abundant at this time of year.  That also explains the presence of Great White sharks.

Here’s a good link on the colony.

So in a couple of years we may see this bird back at Muriwai, once of the lucky 20% who survive.  We wished it luck.

The lookouts at Muriwai are a great place to capture photographs of gannets in flight, especially with an on-shore wind.  My next post will show some of my attempts.

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