Home to tens of thousands of Gannets, Bass Rock is well worth a visit. But don’t forget your camera…
Feast your eyes on tens of thousands of Gannets at Bass Rock in Scotland
WE DEPARTED DUNBAR in the chill breeze of an early summer’s morning on a small trawler, bobbing our way steadily across the North Sea towards Bass Rock in Scotland’s Firth of Forth. We were a small group of photographers accompanied by the island warden. As we came close I was gripped by the primordial appearance of the scene before me.
A colossal assembly of mostly-white seabirds inhabited the Rock. There were also literally thousands of birds in the air, all circling the island in a clockwise direction. The scene was simply jaw-dropping. Bass Rock is more than 100m tall and surrounded by precipitous cliffs
on all but the south-west aspect, where the ground is still very steep. It hosts the largest colony of (Northern) Gannets anywhere in the world. Between April and October, the breeding season, there can be well in excess of 150,000 birds occupying cramped nesting sites.
These amazingly graceful creatures are the largest seabirds in the British Isles, having a two-metre wingspan. Predominantly white, they can be distinguished by their black wingtips, silver-grey eyes in a blue surround and honeyyellow feathers on the nape of their neck and head. They have large, long, pointed beaks with a small tooth or barb for holding slippery fish. We found several inches of soft mud; guano and unwanted feathers. There was a pervading stench, and constant cacophony of harsh, ‘krokking’ bird-calls. I spent the first few minutes of our four-hour stay absorbing the spectacle. On the upper slopes, within a few feet of where we stood, nesting Gannets covered every inch of ground, each jealously guarding their pitch from predators; including us! They fenced and jabbed at our legs with their terrifying open beaks, guttural squawk and glaring binocular eyes in bright blue rims. Thankfully, committed to their parental duty, they remained glued to their nests; each predominantly comprising salvaged seaweed and constructed to insulate the egg or chick from the cold, damp ground. These birds will also, however, employ anything else they can get their bills on, including discarded human rubbish, such as old fish netting, plastic bottles and crisp packets. One or other of the mated pair will be constantly coming and going, sharing the task of foraging for food or materials for nest building. When the partner returns after more than an hour or so away, they will greet one another, heads raised and pointed skyward, with a display of gentle beak tapping. They take it in turns to
incubate the egg or mind their offspring, sitting the same on their webbed feet; the warm blood flowing through their mint-coloured veins, helping to keep the egg or young chick warm. On a still day, gaining sufficient lift for a smooth take-off, even from a cliff-top site, proves difficult. The feat is achieved with a vigorous and clumsy flapping of wings. Once airborne, however, it is a different story. These are incredibly graceful beings, capable of fine manoeuvres in flight. Unlike many other birds, their eyes are angled to
When they spot a shoal of fish they dive to catch them. Depending on the depth of the shoal, their biology allows them to dive from a height of 40m and hit the water at speeds of up to 100kmh
SEA OF WHITE
Gannet colonies are very tightly packed affairs. And each bird is a metre long with a 2m wingspan!
Gannets are supremely built for plunging deep beneath the surface and grabbing fish