Thursday, July 13, 2023

Gannets galore at wondrous habitat in New Zealand's north island

A spectacular gannet sanctuary in New Zealand offers a rare opportunity to view these graceful,
enduring birds close-up, here with their young chicks near the end of their breeding season.



A sea of gannet parents and their young stretch out toward
the southern end of the Tasman Sea, awaiting migration.


COMING FACE TO face  with hundreds of gannets is a thrill of a lifetime.
We have the good fortune to know gannet-loving friends in Auckland, New Zealand. Their home is an hour's drive from the beautiful Muriwai gannet breeding site. So Barbie and Tom graciously organized an outing when they learned of our interest in this fleet, handsome and able-bodied bird.  

At Muriwai, Tom Wellington and Barbie Davidson,
right, hosted Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie"
Meyers to a splendid day of gannet viewing.
WE FOUR DROVE to Muriwai, a popular coastal community on Auckland's west coast, to watch the graceful birds, famous for their endurance capabilities and long flights.  These stalwart birds can fly 300 miles at 60 miles per hour. Their excellent vision allows them to spot fish from 100 feet or more.
So it's no surprise that paleontologists have unearthed the fossilized remains of an extinct gannet species that lived in what is now Portugal during the Miocene epoch, some 15 million years ago.

POETS CONSIDER the northern gannet to be symbolic of the perfect marriage between wind and sea.
They can live 15 years, and besides being graceful, strong and long lived, they are "somewhat monogamous," experts claim. That means the parents separate when their chicks leave the nest -- presumably amicably. They usually bond again the following year, perhaps just needing a change of venue. 

A young girl is one of the fascinated tourists
and locals who admire Muriwai's gannets.

NEARLY AS LARGE as an albatross, the northern gannet has a heavy, sharp bill, pointed tail and long, slender wings. We were thrilled to watch dozens of adults with their young.   Catching them in February before they leave in March, we were thrilled to watch dozens of adults with their young and "teen-agers." The mature gannet is snowy white with black wingtips and a downy crown washed with gold. The young ones have fuzz, froth and fluff, and the juveniles have speckles and greyish feathers.

A close-up of a mature gannet
with lovely blue and gold.

 ALTHOUGH gannets can be seen occasionally from most places along the coasts of New Zealand's main islands, most Kiwi gannetries are situated off the North Island, where our friends live. The Muriwai colony inhabits two vertical-sided islands, and the viewing spot is a pleasant stroll from the parking area. We were lucky to observe both adults and juveniles, and relieved that dogs aren't allowed because they would disturb the nests on the sandy banks. About 1,200 pairs of gannets nest in Muriwai from August to March each year, caring for their single young in nests just centimeters apart. Gannets normally lay only
one chalky-blue egg, using their webbed feet to warm the eggs.
Of three, New Zealand's largest mainland gannetry is at Cape Kidnappers with around 5,000 breeding pairs. Farewell Spit and Muriwai are the country's other two.

Several stages of gannets can be seen in this photo, from
the fuzzy young, to mid-sized juveniles to fully grown adults.

YOUNG GANNETS forsake their nests at about three-and-a-half months. Then, like many human Kiwis, these birds head across the Tasman Sea for Australia's east coast.
Their arduous maiden flight can take from six to 15 days from Muriwai.
There are other gannet colonies in the world. England, Scotland and Wales hosts several -- at Troup Head, St Kilda in Scotland, and on Grassholm in Wales. Bempton Cliffs is home to the only mainland breeding colony of gannets in England. Northern Hemisphere birds arrive at the colony from January and leave in August and September. They migrate from the coast of Africa, another remarkable gannet journey.

These tiny endangered Humboldt penguins are among the stars at
Sea Life Park in Honolulu, among the tropical delights there.

UP NEXT: While we're in a birding frame of mind, come with us to Sea Life Park in Honolulu, where the rare, endangered Humboldt penguin is making a comeback thanks to researchers and diligent care.  The tiny, tropical bird is among other attractive residents, including dolphins and sharks. We explore the well tended exhibits and take time to feed the budgies, too, at this popular wildlife park, animal sanctuary and aquarium. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, performance, family and more. Please share the link and consider a free subscription:

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