Gannets Galore

Gannets Dunbar July 9 0555

Image: Northern Gannets about to dive, Scotland. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 98 mm, f/4.5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

We finished off our European trip in July by heading up to Dunbar, Scotland for two last photography outings with some Northern Gannets.  Bass Rock, an island off the eastern coast of Scotland in the outer Firth of Forth (an estuary), is home to over 150,000 gannets, the largest colony in the world.  We had to take an hour-long boat ride on choppy water to get out to the rock.

Bass Rock map

The trip was initially cancelled the first day due to high winds that created waves not suitable for the boat or its passengers.  We waited a half hour and Captain Gordon said that the wind was changing in our favor.  Fifteen minutes layer, our excitement soared as we set off on choppy water.  It was a very bumpy ride as we rode out 2 miles to the rock, requiring us to sit or hold onto something to avoid falling.  We did a partial tour around the perimeter of the rock by boat but never landed. We saw the remnants of a castle and an intact lighthouse on one side of the rock surrounded by tens of thousands of nesting gannets.

Gannets Dunbar July 10 1716

Image: Bass Rock, Scotland. Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 24 mm, f/8, 1/1250 sec, ISO 500, hand-held.

As we got closer, we could see the gannets taking off and swirling around the island high overhead.  We were amazed by the sight as well as in awe of the realization that every white dot on the surface of this rock was a bird.

Bass Rock July 9 2860

Image: Northern Gannets swarming Bass Rock, Scotland. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 86 mm, f/4.5, 1/2500 sec, ISO 640, hand-held.

As we got closer, we spotted a fog horn further engulfed by nesting gannets.

Gannets Dunbar July 9 8912

Image: Northern Gannets on Bass Rock, Scotland. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 70 mm, f/4.5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

To appreciate the grandeur of this scene, I took a short video of the flocks swarming the island.  I apologize for the unsteadiness of the video, but it was impossible to keep a steady hand as I was being thrown around the boat.

After a short tour, we began chumming, the process of throwing dead fish into the sea to feed the birds.  Gannets came from everywhere to enjoy the feast.  Captain Gordon’s mate, Eric, threw one dead fish after another into the sea as gannets and a variety of gulls dove and fought for a meal.

Gannets Dunbar July 9 0034

Image: Northern Gannets swimming near Bass Rock, Scotland. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 102 mm, f/4.5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 640, hand-held.

It was hard to capture the chaos in a photo of what happened over the two hours.  I tried to capture some images of the birds flying over the rock.  In this image, because of the cloudy skies and the inability to see the beautiful coloration of the birds due to the far distance of them, I converted it to black and white.

Gannets Dunbar July 9 8919

Image: Northern Gannets on Bass Rock, Scotland. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 70 mm, f/4.5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

For other shots, I tried to capture patterns in the birds’ flight as they flew into the wind while following us and watching where the fish landed.

Gannets Dunbar July 9 1132

Image: Northern Gannets flying, Scotland. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 44 mm, f/4.5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

To give you a better idea of this scene, I took a couple videos of the chumming.  In this first video, you can see gannets diving into the water for fish and gulls trying to land on the water to grab the fish.   Again, I apologize for the unsteady footage.

Because of the uniqueness of the way the gannets folded their wings to create a torpedo shape as they dove in the water, I took a slow motion video of these birds in action.

At times, I was able to isolate a few birds and capture them as the flew overhead.

Gannets Dunbar July 9 0085

Image: Northern Gannets flying, Scotland. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 70 mm, f/4.5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 640, hand-held.

I also tried to get images of them that demonstrated their behavior before they made a dive.  In the photo below, the middle bird is just beginning to go for a fish in the water while the others look on.

Gannets Dunbar July 9 9990

Image: Northern Gannets flying, Scotland. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 70 mm, f/4.5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 640, hand-held.

When they went into full landing mode as opposed to diving like a torpedo, they appeared like the bottom bird in the image below.  You can also see that the gannet above it was ready to go after the fish as well, possibly in a torpedo dive.

Gannets Dunbar July 10 6129

Image: Northern Gannets about to land, Scotland. Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-200 mm at 70 mm, f/4.5, 1/5000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

For all of the images, I kept the shutter speed above 1/1600 and used a lower f-stop since I had a lens that allowed me to go lower to open the aperture for more light.  Because the gannets were so close to the boat, I did not need my long telephoto lens (200-500 mm).  I adjusted the ISO according to the amount of light and for correct exposure (between 400-800).

As I continue to sort and process images, I will display some photos of single birds and the torpedo dive process.  I hope to post these before I leave Saturday if all goes well.

 

 

Author: Dr. Amy Novotny

Amy Novotny is a physical therapist, marathon/ultra runner and nature photographer. She treats patients for a variety of conditions but specializes in chronic pain and calming an overactive nervous system using special diaphragmatic breathing. She has used this technique to help her qualify and run in four Boston marathons! She enjoys the outdoors and can often be found running and hiking on trails in throughout Arizona. She attempts to capture the beauty of nature with her photography both locally in Arizona and also throughout the United States. She is becoming more interested in wildlife photography and attempting to capture the emotion of animal interactions. In her spare time, Amy volunteers as a photo guide for the Arizona Highways PhotoScapes nonprofit and shares her joy of nature with others. Please feel free to contact her regarding her photography, physical therapy or running.

16 thoughts on “Gannets Galore”

  1. WONDERFUL set Amy. Your dialogue really adds a lot. I can’t believe how acrobatic the Gannet’s are – those fight positions in your last pix are incredible.

    Like

  2. These pictures and the story you tell makes me feel as if I’m traveling along with you. The shots are so wonderful and I so enjoy following you and seeing what you are up to. Thanks for taking me along…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Whoa, that really is amazing about how many birds were on that rock, and then to see the numbers of them that were so close to you when you were on the boat. Those torpedo dives were pretty awesome too! Glad you shared both photos and videos in this post. Really gave a full picture of what you experienced.

    Like

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