Broad-Bodied Chaser

Broad-Bodied Chaser
Wing Mosaic (Broad-bodied Chaser): Winner, Nikon In-Frame Competition August 2010


Spoonbill: Birdguides Photo of the Year 2012 Runner-up

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Gannets Graveyard

Some time ago in October 2014 I was on my annual trek along the beach from Cley to Blakeney Point on the North Norfolk coast, a walk that is only about three miles each way but, due to every footstep sinking into shingle, sometimes feels like thirty.

Before reaching the Point I came across a dead Gannet lying on the tideline, an adult bird.  I thought it may be interesting to see what would happen if I placed the Gannet in the vegetation on the point and returned to it on a later visit.  Would a scavenging mammal or corvid take advantage? Or would a high winter tide wash it away across the marshes? Would it still be there if I returned in the future? I carried it over the shingle ridge, and dumped it in a dense patch of saltmarsh Sueda bushes.  Making a rough mental note of its location, I headed off to the point and then later that day made the long return along the shoreline to Cley.

A year later I was back, heading up to Blakeney point on a windy grey autumnal morning.  I had forgotten all about the dead Gannet until I reached a certain part of the peninsular, when I suddenly recalled what I had done a year earlier.  I soon found the bush where I had placed the dead bird, and there it was - a skeleton hanging in the exact position I had left it.  The only difference was that it had no head - this was disappointing as I was hoping to gather it to add to my collection of mammal and bird skulls.  However, a few feet away in the shingle I found the upper part of the skull and bill, and soon located the lower bill nearby. 

After a bit of a clean up, the skull is now taking centre stage in my small collection. 

It's a surprisingly fragile skull for that of a bird engineered to take huge contact pressure.  Gannets fish by diving from height and entering the sea at up to 60 mph.  The skull shows its superb streamlined design to minimise impact as its head hits the water; it dives with its wings tucked into its body to reduce drag on entry.  The large eye sockets also point to its unusual binocular vision used to accurately judge distances.

Juvenile Gannet, about to hit the water off Blakeney Point, 2012

As I walked back along Blakeney point with the skull in my pocket I wondered how many times that head had hit the water at great speed between the North Sea and the Southern Hemisphere (rough estimate was 45,000 times for a five year old!).  Oddly, in almost exactly the same location on the point, I found another dead Gannet, this time a juvenile - with its a beautiful plumage of dark grey with white speckles.

Into the bushes it went, until next year...

Adult Gannet in better days, Bempton Cliffs, 2013

Thanks for looking!

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