Friday, September 12, 2014

Newfoundland Seabirds- Northern Gannets

August is the end of the nesting season for seabirds in Newfoundland, so most species are gone.  Two spectacular birds are still present - Northern Gannets and Atlantic Puffins. Our first outing for seabirds was a long drive from Heart's Delight down the Avalon Peninsula to Cape St. Mary's where we were to walk 1.6 kilometers out to the Bird Rock. As you can see at right, the trail goes out a neck of land that faces a huge lump of rock. On it is a mass of white dots, all nesting birds.  Visitors are to stay within the red lines, or else.

Along the way we passed free-range sheep that were completely habituated to people. Some of the sheep were even down on the steepest slopes of the mountain, presumably where the grass is greenest. But, we were more interested in seeing Northern Gannets.

As we hiked out the trail, Bird Rock (or many bird rocks)  came into view. From sea level up to the top are distinct zones where different bird species nest. It begins with Cormorants at the bottom and tops out with Northern Gannets.

At the top left in the green areas are some oblong white objects. Sheep. Sure-footed sheep I presume.

As we reached Bird Rock, we came upon a rock crown nearly covered with Gannets.  They  have lovely coloration.

Opposite the above rock crown was another steep slope which was more interesting. The birds would fly in from the seaside directly over our heads and make a 180 turn for a landing into the wind. It was just like an airplane approach.  The  visitor center was visible in the distance as this Gannet lowered flaps for a landing.

We became fascinated with the beauty of these large, graceful flyers.

As the bird approached its nesting area, the strong up-slope let it virtually hover in place and gently settle down the steep slope to an exact spot. We'd never seen this before.  My photography evolved from birds-in-flight to birds-in-stasis.

The object of all this activity is the nest, and raising young.  There were still some late hatching chicks present, and even a few were still downy white as below.  It is questionable if this chick can grow fast enough to be ready for winter.

Now, a graceful landing is not always paired with a graceful launch, so some attention was paid to observing the exit. It was, to some surprise, efficient and graceful.  Perhaps it is easier when the launching pad is 100 meters or more above the sea.

After such success, the drive did not seem quite so long.

Two days later, we found some juvenile Atlantic Puffins.  That will be the next installment.

Paul Schmitt

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