FolkestoneJack's Tracks

The gannet colony

Posted in Muriwai, New Zealand by folkestonejack on March 21, 2013

Our drive south brought us to Muriwai in late afternoon and one of the sights I had been most eager to see – the Tākapu (gannet) refuge – which is one of only three mainland gannet colonies in New Zealand. I have to confess that I have never been especially interested in birds but the pictures I had seen of the colony looked quite remarkable.

Motutara Island

Motutara Island

Over a thousand pairs of gannets nest at Muriwai between August and March each year, filling the space along the cliff edge at Ōtakamiro Point and atop the peak of Motutara Island. A couple of tracks (as marked on this map from the Auckland Regional Council) provide an easy route from the car park up to two dedicated viewing platforms that have been constructed just inches away from the colony. It is an amazing sight and one that is easy to get completley wrapped up in, with so much going on all at once.

Adult and juvenile gannets at Muriwai

Adult and juvenile gannets at Muriwai

The season was almost up when we visited. Egg laying usually takes place around October/November and each set of parents take turns to incubate their single egg until it hatches 45 days later. The birds leave for Australia when they are 15 weeks old. After spending several years across the Tasman Sea around a quarter of the gannets will return to Muriwai to breed. The colony is usually deserted in late autumn/early winter.

As expected, the sight before us was almost exclusively comprised of adult (snowy white) and juvenile (grey) gannets, with just a few late-starters displaying the fluffiness of gannet chicks. Although it is hard to discern any pattern to the scene from the look out points there is a pecking order at play – the newcomers get the less desirable real estate at the edges, whilst the older dominant birds get the prime real estate at the centre.

An adult gannet with one of the younger gannets at the colony

An adult gannet with one of the younger gannets at the colony

Three juvenile gannets at Muriwai

Three juvenile gannets practice flapping their wings at Muriwai

As we watched, three juvenile gannets practiced flapping their wings at the edge of the cliff, readying themselves for their first flight. It is amazing to think that the first flight these birds will make will take them 2000km across the Tasman Sea – it makes the first steps we take as toddlers look positively unambitious!

After leaving the gannets behind I took the steps down to the flat rock at the base of the cliffs and to the black volcanic sands of Muriwai Beach, all of which was just as photogenic as the colony above. I can see why this place has become something of a mecca to photographers and it is a place I could happily come back to over and over again.

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