Auckland, October 2017
The gannet colony at Muriwai Beach, an hour or so outside of Auckland, was an accidental discovery. Flemming and I had headed to Muriwai on a location scouting mission. It quickly turned into a bird watching one.
There is a cliff walk on the south end of Muriwai, where we observed several groups of brightly clad tourists appearing and disappearing from the entire time we were on Muriwai. Never ones to dismiss paths of little resistance, we nosed our way there too. It promised a view of cliffs and sea. We never dismiss those either.
Thoughts of views disappear around the bend in the path, approaching the crest though. The cacophony of birdcall, and the sight of dozens of them in the air is breathtaking. Having no idea what I was about to come to, I thought at first it was a feeding frenzy. Then rounding a bend, this was what greeted me:
I’ve never seen a gannet in real life before, only pictures of them arrow diving, wings folded back, into the sea. And here was a whole province of gannetes, either minding nests or wheeling around in the air, along with seagulls and a small, grey swallow-like bird.
And the noise! The cawing and rawking that overpowered even the roar of the ocean as it waged war on the cliffs!
Hundreds and hundreds of birds perched calmly on evenly spaced nests along the slopes of the cliffs. The info panels along the cliff walk say that gannet pairs generally mate for life (around 20 years), and partners take turns minding their season’s single egg in its nest, and heading out to fish for an incredibly hungry and demanding chick. They nest along the cliffs in the raging wind because it assists with their take offs and landings, which, in the hour or so we spent between the two lookouts, are spectacularly accomplished. This means that gannet chicks, when ready to leave the nest, don’t have much of a practice run. It’s an all or nothing first flight.
These birds have the equivalent of a “Honey I’m home” kiss on the cheek, if one partner has been away for a while. Upon return, they take turns crossing beaks and necking. There was a lot of this going on right under our noses.
This is one of the few gannet colonies near Auckland, and it is obvious that the birds are used to humans. They fly very close to people, so close in fact, that one’s wingtip brushed my ear as it swooped in from behind me, to land at the nest just below the lookout and greet its mate, in the photo above.
I’ve never taken so many pictures of birds in my life. It’s not often that faced with cliffs and forest and beach, I come home with a memory card full of birds!