Sunday, July 02, 2017

Saltee tales I

There's nothing quite like a seabird colony - noise and smell combine in an assault on the senses that once experienced is unlikely to be forgotten, yet I keep being drawn back.

At the end of May I went on another Natures Images trip, this time somewhat nearer home and targeting gannets then puffins.  The 2 centre trip started with a ferry ride over to Ireland and then to our base for the next few days - Kilmore Quay, a fishing village in the southeast.  Mostly quiet at this time of year, except for a sunny Sunday afternoon when the world and his brother came down for ice creams!

The daily plan was to get the boat over to the gannet colony on the island of Great Saltee.  As always  these trips are at the mercy of the weather and despite appearances in the snap above that was a day we weren't able to go because the landing on Saltee can be a bit tricky and the wind was just too strong. 

The only consolation was a chance to see a rather distant arctic skua harassing some of the local terns (big crop -one of those dreaded 'record' shots I thought I had stopped posting).
For similar reasons we missed out on the chance of snapping the gannets in the end of day golden light, but that's all the more reason to go back another time!

Still we had a couple of fun sessions, starting with a slightly bouncy boat trip and then a ride on the rib to the shore, all of us more worried about keeping our camera bags dry than ourselves.  Waiting for the second half of the group to be brought over we were joined by several seal's heads, nosey as ever. 
Once on land a walk along the cliffs past choughs, kittiwakes, auks and some puffins until the gannets came into view.
Close up the birds seem packed in tightly,
but with some elevation you can see that the nests are quite consistently placed apart - looking like streets in places. 
Watch a while and the reason for the spacing becomes clear - they need to be a bit more than two neck and beak lengths apart!
The best of the nests are lovingly tended discs of seaweed and plant material, constantly tweaked to keep it just right.
But stray too far from home and your neighbours will be in there helping themselves,
and if one gets caught in the wrong place all hell breaks loose. 
Sometimes several neighbours get dragged into the squabble - and these fights are for real.

Sadly this squabble resulted in an egg rolling off the plateau, no doubt to end up as food for one of the ever watchful black-backed gulls. 
Not all moves that appear aggressive are though - this neck grip is actually a routine part of the way a returning bird and it's partner greet. 
In fact within the pair gannets are as affectionate as any bird you will see, often twining necks- note the loved up pair in the background (completely ignoring the scrap, but I guess they see it all the time).
The pairs do use several ritualised displays.  When a bird returns the neck grip is followed by bill fencing where both heads are extended to 45 degrees and ..... they fence. 
The other common display is the sky point - when one of the pair is about to fly off it fully extends its neck and points straight up - although the eye placement means it still keeps it's blue ringed eyes on you.
One of the challenges of snapping the gannets was the close proximity of one to another, but in the next post I will show some of the pics where I achieved some relative isolation  - pics a bit more for the portfolio than these for the blog.


sue a said...

Brilliant pics Brian, love the write up too...

Brian said...

Thanks Sue. I'll put the B word down to social media speak! The blog is a good place for Tom's 'documentary' pics even if only 2 men and a dog read it - nice to look back a couple of years later. Have a great time in Dorset.