Gannets

The fog was so thick and settled that the Sumburgh Airport was closed down, with no relief in sight.  Changing our travel plans on the fly, as it were, we nabbed seats but no berths on the all-night ferry.  Arriving at 7 AM, we might have been excused for heading straight for our beds.  Instead, within three hours of landing in the Shetlands we were bundled into a small-ish boat for several hours to watch seabirds nesting on the cliffs of Noss. The good news was that the lack of wind that had let the fog settle also let the seas settle.

Our expotition leaders said there were an estimated 12,500 pairs of birds.  Having seen the cliffs covered in birds, I figure that’s a conservative estimate.

The gannets are lovely, if somewhat snooty looking.  They’re clearly in the same family as the blue-footed boobies we saw in the Galapagos.

Two gannets; one on nest2 gannets; beak to beakTwo gannets in mating posture, heads raisedGannets scowling.Gannet with wings flaredGannet looking straight into camera.

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17 Comments

  1. Jim Taylor

    You probably didn’t realize, when you were writing this piece, that it tied in surprisingly closely with the knitting piece. Joan and I encountered a gannet colony on an island off Perce (with an e-acute) Rock on the Gaspe (also e-acute) Peninsula, in Quebec. The guide assured us that gannets mated for life, and nested for life. The mate you choose, early, will be with you for the rest of your years; the nesting side the two of you choose will be where you will nest every year. So it pays to make wise choices.
    The connection with knitting? Well, if you make a mistake in those first rows, you really can’t work backwards to undo it, can you? It pays to get those first rows right.
    On a less philosophical note, didn’t Daphne du Maurier feature a lethal gannet in her book “Birds”? Something about a diving gannet aiming itself at the protagonists, and when it missed, penetrating a concrete sidewalk to a depth of several feet? Unlikely, but a gannet diving from a great height into the ocean is an awesome sight.
    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – No, you’re right, that hadn’t occurred to me. Although you can fix knitting errors by ripping out (if a great many rows) or by tinking (which is “knitting” backwards – honest) if not so many. But there does come a point where I decide to live with an error . . . As for Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds, I haven’t read that story, only seen the Hitchcock film. But there were gannets in the story, so you remember at least a part of it aright.

  2. Jim Robertson

    Nice captures Isabel!! Were you as close as those pictures seem to be? We’ve been to several colonies and the numbers can certainly be overwhelming.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – Thanks! The best shots were taken from 10 to 20 feet, I think, although I’m a lousy distance estimator. In one place I felt as if I could reach out and touch them, but I’m pretty sure we weren’t that close! I also have lots of shots at the limits of the camera’s zoom (and then some) from birds on the cliffs.

      1. Isabel Gibson

        Barbara – Yes, although it didn’t record well, over the wind and boat-engine noise. Lots of calling birds. And, of course, the smell.

  3. Vince

    Huh.

    My student call sign for radio work during Primary Flying Training in the RCAF was “Gannet481”. We were told Gannets were flightless birds at the time, and having no Wikipedia to verify the claim, took it for granted as the insult it was intended.

    I see now that while the urban dictionary (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=gannet) allows for “Someone who hangs around when they are usually unwanted”, Hinterland Who’s Who (http://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/birds/northern-gannet.html) brings us very specifically to the point:
    “a fast and powerful flyer but its short legs and large webbed feet make it awkward at landings and take-offs”.

    Thanks for the reflection Isabel, and for the beautiful pictures.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Vince – Thanks for sharing *your* memories and the links. We shared our boat with another couple or two and a family of three. When we rounded another corner and saw yet more cliffs crammed with birds, their 11-year-old son exclaimed, “This must be gannet heaven.”

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