Back in August it was reported that many of the adult Northern Gannets had abandoned their chicks (similar to an event that happened back in 2012). It appeared many chicks were left for dead. Last week it was reported that many of the adults had returned and that the colony was back stronger then before. With this news I decided to make one last trip out to Cape St.Mary's to see the Gannets before the year was over.
5:00 am I was on the road and heading out to the Cape. It was calling for 50-60 km wind gusts but that is a normal day here on the island..lol. I arrived just around 7:00 am as the sun was peaking over the barrens behind the interpretation center.
Being out on the open barrens you certainly feel every bit of 60km wind gust but with such a beautiful day and stunning scenery you easily forget about the conditions.
Before heading out to the Cape I was informed by Chris Mooney (One of the Staff at the Cape) that there were plenty of Raptor sightings...boy was he rights. I spotted 6 eagles hovering around the colony throughout the morning. One was perched on a grassy section of the cliffs on my way out
Northern Harriers were also plentiful. I spotted 8 on the barrens hunting for food. Most appeared to be Juvs. I had hoped to capture some images of them but with such an open area it was hard to approach them and I didn't have enough time to really study their behaviors/flight patterns to get myself in a great position for up close looks. I managed to capture a few decent distant shots as one individual passed by.
Once at Bird Rock my focus shifted to the colony
There were certainly a lot of Gannets and appeared that things were back to normal. Many of the chicks where testing out their wings and eager to start flying. There were a few chicks that seemed to be a little behind and were still covered in down feathers.
I personally didn't see this little guy get feed while I was there and the parents both seemed to have been out looking for food(normally one stays behind). They did returned a couple of times but only stayed for a short moment and then disappeared again. I'm not sure that's a great sign for this little one.
One of my main goals for this trip was to try and capture some beautiful and unique inflight shots of the Gannets. With so many birds you would think this would be an easy task but trust me it isn't. Isolating one individual is hard enough and then most of the area you have to work with is blue sky as a backdrop. There is one section I have tried many times to capture images of the gannets in but the images have never turned out nice. This area is on the back part of the colony to the left where your background would be the distant cliff side. The main issue here is in the morning your subject is back lit. Even though the sun was out in full force I had some nice big puffy clouds that rolled in every few mins causing nice diffused light. So the fun began...
First attempted look promising and what I began to notice was a pattern of the Gannets flying in from the back of the colony heading to the left. Then banking about mid way and heading straight back to the colony with their feet out trying to slow themselves down as they looked for their nest and a place to land. So I continued...
This image I captured one a little further up the hill which created this nice green BG. What I noticed in this image was the feet. It appeared as though the little bit of sun pushing through the clouds was lighting up the feet.
Above you can really see the feet standing out and giving them a translucent feel and orange hue.
I grabbed a few more images before the sun escaped the clouds and was too harsh to work with in that area.
The above images were not easy to expose properly. I basically had all elements working against me..white bird, dark BG, back lighting and strong winds to try and capture inflight shots in.
I was happy with my results so I moved on to capture other inflight shots. In order to add some interest to images being captured on blue sky BGs you really want to the bird doing something or a unique pose. In the below image the Gannet was just about to shake so his feathers were all puffed up
on this next image I like the wing position and the feather detail of this younger Gannet
Gannets have such large wing span(6.6 Ft) that capturing any banking shots is best done vertically which is quite the challenge. I was able to come away with a few images but this one I really liked
No trip would be complete with out some nice portrait shots of these beautiful birds.
With the sun getting higher and brighter it was time to clue up my day.
One setting on my camera that I was testing out for the moring was Focus Tracking with Lock-on. Its a feature that by default is on for my nikon camera and I think for most that have it. You are able to play with the timing on this feature and personally I think it helped out with my flight shots. I will talk more about this setting in more detail on my next blog post.
I want to thank all of you that read my posts and leave comments. It means a lot to me...