Archive for Sulids

Northern Gannet 9/11/18

One of my all time favorites, I never tire of watching flocks of these seabirds circle and climb in the air to plunge dive for mackerel and other schooling fish. Once they pop back up to the surface like a giant cork, they rest-up for a few moments before flapping along the surface to get airborne and climb 50 to 100 feet for their next dive. Check out that blue eye! North American gannets spend most of their life in the air or on the water, only ever coming ashore to breed in one of only 6 colonies—3 of them in the Gulf of St Lawrence and another 3 off of Newfoundland.  Sexes are alike.

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Northern Gannet 6/30/14

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Gannets are remarkable birds for their dramatic plunge dives into the sea. In this photo are an adult with orange head and black wingtips about to hit the water, and a browner immature bird who has already popped up from its dive and is getting a running start for takeoff, climbing 50 to 75 feet to find a target from overhead before diving again.

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Northern Gannet juvenile 11/13/13

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Driving home from Cape Breton Island I’d pulled over at the Canso Causeway truck scales thinking I ‘d seen a Kittiwake fly by, but I never saw that bird again, instead sitting in the low swell just off the mainland shore was this juvenile Northern Gannet. Gannets are plunge-diving seabirds related to Boobies and in North America there are only 5 known colonies where they breed, most of them in the remote north. This youngster was probably born in the Magdalen Islands in the middle of the Gulf of St Lawrence, the closest and southernmost colony less than 100 miles from where I took this pic. Juveniles start out all dark and over the next 5 years a subadult’s plumage gradually becomes all white with black wingtips and a lovely creamsicle-colored head.

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Northern Gannet 7/5/12

These Northern Gannets are diving into large schools of Sandlance coming into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence from the Atlantic. Dozens, hundreds, and occasionally thousands of birds gather and circle from 50 to a hundred feet above the water, then fold their wings and plummet headfirst into the chop making a watery thunk. A few moments later they pop up onto the surface, rest up for awhile, and then take off to begin climbing in a circle for another dive. I never get tired of watching them. They seem to never tire of eating. The whole dance is in motion, following the schools of fish up or down the shore.

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Northern Gannet 4/9/12

Last week I came across a couple dozen Northern Gannets plunge-diving outside the mouth of Hampton Harbor. They were too far out to get good pics of their dives but after coming up they’d make a big circle around coming closer to me while gaining height  for another dive. I could watch Gannets for hours and  can’t  think of another pelagic seabird  anywhere close to their size that comes this close to shore. They are the Boobies of the North Atlantic.

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Northern Gannet 6/7/11

One of my all time favorite seabirds, Northern Gannets are huge, colorful, and gregarious. This one’s full up and resting after a morning of diving for Gaspereaux off the northwestern shores of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Check out that blue eyeliner! North American gannets spend most of their life in the air or on the water, only ever coming ashore to breed in one of only 6 colonies—3 of them in the Gulf of St Lawrence and another 3 off of Newfoundland. Watch for a short video of a flock plunge-diving like a tornado of missiles later this week.

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Northern Gannet 6/18/10

It’s not a close-up, but it does show a gannet about to strike the water as well as one that just has. Northern Gannets are just awesome to watch, and usually you only get to see these seabirds from a boat, but here I’m a quarter mile away watching from a clifftop. If I zoomed out you’d see over 100 birds, half of them wheeling high above the water sighting fresh targets, and the other half rising and taking off after their spectacular high speed plunge-dives. Northern Gannets have heads built like battering rams along with facial air sacs that act as shock absorbers, and eyes set far more forward than most birds for binocular vision. They’re also beautiful with their ochre and white pattern with black wingtips, not to mention enormous. While most dives for squid, smelt, and herring are relatively shallow, they are known to go as deep as 75 feet. They’re closely related to the Pacific boobies and have similar elaborate courtship and nesting rituals. There are only 6 known breeding colonies in North America, all in the Canadian Maritime provinces, and I suspect these are commuters from the closest one on the Magdalen Islands, about 45 miles out to sea in the Gulf of St Lawrence.

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