Gannets Galore and Puffin Flights!

With a break in the winds that looked like they were going to be present throughout our week here on Shetland, our first day trip with  our ‘Ultimate Shetland’ group was on the Mousa Boat, heading out to the impressive seabird colonies on Noss. Although the wind was relatively low, the crossing was pretty spectacular and quite choppy. As we neared the cliffs of Noss, the mist began to lift, revealing the wonderful spectacle that is a seabird colony. The smell of guano (the droppings of the seabirds) wafted  and their calls filled the air. I’m afraid my lurching stomach meant I did not take many photos as we neared the cliffs… I was content just to watch this spectacle as trying to photograph on the moving boat made me feel rather queasy!

The cliffs here are home to numerous breeding colonies of gannet and guillemot. They occupy almost every space on the cliff, their droppings painting the surfaces like some monochrome work of art. It is truly spectacular and the scale is difficult to capture on a photo.

As if that view wasn’t wonderful enough, the experience was about to get even more spectacular! Darren and Rodney from The Mousa Boat prepare to throw fish off the back of the boat. The gannets know what to expect and start swirling around in huge numbers. As the fish start hitting the water, then the gannets start plummeting from the sky all around us; wings folding and them entering the water at frightening speeds. The sea became a heaving mass of spray, gannets and other seabirds all fighting for the fish prize!

It is exhilarating to watch and a big challenge to photograph! The easiest ploy is to focus where the fish enters the water, then fire off shots at a high shutter speed, hoping to capture something that is representative of the turmoil!….

This year, my aim was to try to capture images of the gannets as they dived, showing the wonderful way in which they fold their wings when entering the water. This happens too fast in real time for the eye and brain to process it. It is only when you look at the photographs that you truly appreciate this wonderful feat. Considering this dive is over in a split second, it is almost impossible to capture in focus, unless you choose one bird in flight and follow it until it dives. That is the technique I tried to follow….. I had far too many failures to mention, but if you take enough images, you are bound to get some you are pleased with….