The gannet – the ultimate fisherman

One of natures most splendid sights is the gannet in flight. It is a diving seabird and I believe it’s one of the worlds biggest divers. They are 94cm long with a wingspan of 174cm and they dive for fish from an average height of around 25m at speeds of up to 100km/hr (60miles/hr)! They fold their wings back just before they enter the water and watching it from above the surface is  absolutely breathtaking.

This particular gannet (Morus bassanus, Dansk: sule) landed on a ledge a couple of hundred feet up the cliff face at Bempton in East Yorkshire. The top of the cliffs is an RSPB reserve and it’s one of my favourite places to be. On the particular day I was there – February 13th – it was ferociously cold. I was well wrapped up, the air temperature was about 1 degree C, but the killer was a fierce offshore wind howling across and causing a lot of windchill. The birds didn’t seem to mind it though.

This gannet seemed to be just relaxing on its ledge until another flew past close by and then it took off:

I really like this sequence of events and the rocky ledge so high off the water was the perfect place to capture it!

There’ll be more from Bempton and that part of the world in the near future.

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37 responses to “The gannet – the ultimate fisherman

  1. Pingback: The Gannets and The Climmers | The Naturephile

  2. Those are some excellent shots in sequence Finn. Well worth the biting cold and frozen fingers! Thank you for bringing this to us. Sharon

  3. What a wonderful set of pictures. You can really see the motion of the bird diving – fantastic!

  4. What a great experience it must have been to watch this big and special bird. The photos are very good, – and I am curious too, do yoy have any of the landing?

  5. Such beautiful birds! Very trip lines!

  6. Are gannets the same as “boobies” er…that didn’t come out right! I mean blue footed boobies? (not a result of the wind chill factor OR mutated in any way 😉 ) I remember seeing a doco about them years ago and laughing till I fell off my chair because they are amazing when they are in the air but when they land they are hilarious! It’s a wonder they haven’t managed to breed themselves into an easier landing! Cheers for the lovely post and here’s hoping that the gannets and boobies are one and the same! (And that you get some landing shots…I could do with a good “falling off my chair” chuckle event 😉 )

    • Hello Fran, gannets aren’t the same as boobies but they are closely related. I’ve chuckled at them too when they land, but gannets land on cliff faces and they seem to be fairly accomplished at it, even in fierce winds. I do have a photo of one landing, stay tuned it’ll be in a post pretty soon.

      • Just wondering…if they ARE related closely…are you sure that they don’t just fly straight into cliff faces and we are seeing a dexterous landing when what they are actually doing is crashing? Just sayin’… ;). I will be most interested to see one landing. On an aside… I found a HUGE black spider in my walking shoe yesterday. I usually just grab them and force my feet into them on my way out to walk the dog but for some reason I decided to take a peek inside them and noticed a large funnelled web…”Hmmm” I thought to myself “Interesting!” and proceeded to poke around with a eucalyptus stick but nothing came out…I banged the shoe on the side of the brick wall…again… nothing came out…sighing, I undid all of the laces and from my new vantage point I gingerly probed around with the stick. Steve said “Nothing in there!” but I knew better…”Spiders got 8 legs!”…probing carefully all the time and then I gave the shoe a final mightly “WALLOP” on the side of the brick wall and out fell a HUGE black female member of the black widdow family who would have bitten me OLD SCHOOL if I put my foot into my shoe…needless to say I took a picture and as she was groggily staggering away I gingerly picked up my shoe and have decided to NOT put them where I usually do, outside and ready to go, for my walks! Lesson learned spidy…”fool me once” and all! 😉

      • That’s a great story Fran 🙂 Are you going to post the picture? I’d love to see her.

      • I will post the photo even though it isn’t the best photo. It certainly shows what she looks like. Hopefully she has recovered from her rather rough eviction 😉

      • I’m looking forward to seeing Shelob. I told your story to my wife this morning and she shivered!

      • I can send her the spider if she likes…I don’t think I want it any more 😉

      • That’s a very magnanimous gesture! I’ll mention it to her and let you know what she says 🙂

        Earlier in the week my seven year old son found a house spider around an inch across in his bedroom and he brought it down and threw it towards the good lady. Suffice to say that after she’d peeled herself from the ceiling she read him the Riot Act with some vigour. When she’d calmed down she explained to him that it was one of those irrational fears but she couldn’t help it, she simply can’t cope with spiders. To which the little monster replied with humbling compassion and understanding “If I’d known that I’d have put it in your bed”.

      • Ha! 😉 (watch that one 😉 )

  7. I couldn’t agree more, a diving gannet is a splendid sight! What always amazes me about them is how they keep their feathers so white, they always look immaculately turned out.

    • Gannet feathers are incredibly white which is great because it means you can see them miles away, but it can also make photographing them tricky as they can overexpose even in relatively murky conditions. I guess you saw a lot of them during your time on the high seas.

  8. Fantastic photos! I admire your grit in withstanding the wind chill.

    • Thanks Sue. It just had to be done, even though it was cold it was marvellous. And because it was so cold I had the whole place to myself, which made it even more bleak and beautiful.

  9. Superb sequence. Well done for braving the elements!

    With regard to the reference about children eating too much, I remember my older sister using that phrase with her children many times although I had never heard anyone else use it then – or since (until now 🙂 ).

  10. It looks cold and dangerous, and the sea that cold grey North Sea!!!

    • Hello valerie, it was bitterly cold and the North Sea was very cold and very grey. Bizarrely though, we were up at Flamborough Head, a couple of miles south of Bempton, the next day and the clouds had cleared, the wind had dropped away completely, and we were running around in shirt sleeves!

      The notion of danger up there is illusory though because what the pictures don’t show is that the RSPB have erected a stout fence all the way along the top of the cliffs. Which suited my purposes perfectly because in the strong winds I wouldn’t have ventured close enough to the edge to get a lot of these photographs. But even with the fence it’s still a very exhilarating experience, espcially for someone like me who’s a complete wuss when it comes to heights.

      • Loved your explanation Finn, but it still looks pretty challenging to me!… I felt very nostalgic at your mention of all those lovely Yorkshire places… Yorkshire is my favourite place on earth… specifically – Swaledale

      • Hello Valerie, it is indeed a specialy place up there. We didn’t make it across as far as the dales on this trip, we were over on the east coast, but the whole of that part of the world is spectacular.

  11. Beautiful, I love gannets – they always remind me of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, although I know it was actually an albatross he had hanging round his neck.
    Spring is here!

    • I do believe spring is on its way. On the subject of albatross I got some great shots of fulmar, the closest we have to an albatross, while I was at Bempton and I’ll be posting those soon. The gannets are simply majestic, everything about them is exceptionally beautiful. It was a few hours well spent despite the fearsome weather!

  12. As you well know, Finn, the gannet is one of my very favorite seabirds. I’ve been a fan for a couple of decades, and savor any chance that I may have to watch these magnificent fliers and fishers in action. I can very well picture you bundled up in the fierce winds and spending quality time with your camera. Love the cliff-takeoff sequence!

    • Hello Gary, that’s exactly what I was doing! The wife and kids were huddled inside in the warm and I took the opportunity to explore on my own. Where do you go to see gannets? I guess they’re some distance from where you are. There’ll be other seabird posts from that part of the world in the near future including more on gannets.

  13. Great shots Finn 🙂 I just love seabirds’ feathers, perfection in motion. I saw lots of gannets on a trip to the Scillies. And now i come to think of it my dad used to compare us children to gannets….swooping down on his dinner – when we’d already eaten!!

    • We also used ‘gannet‘ as an insult when we were kids for someone who we thought ate too much. I was thinking of mentioning it in a post but decided not to because I thought it may be just us that used it in that way. But apparently not!

      Aren’t the Scillies a wonderful place? Especially if you like seabirds.

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