Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Cape Gannets of Bird Island, Lambert's Bay

For bird lovers, the Cape Gannet (Morus capensis) colony at Bird Island, across the causeway from the harbour is a very important reason to visit Lambert's Bay. It is well worth the charge of R50 per head to visit the island, but be warned, they only accept cash. On our first attempt at visiting the colony, we were turned back as we had insufficient cash and they were not interested in our cards. There are nbo ATMs in the town, but the Spar supermarket will allow you to draw cash with your card at the till
The causeway
A pair of cormorants was flirting in the harbour
A sculpture made of driftwood at the entrance
and a fibreglass representation of a Southern Right whale
The excellent hide at the edge of the nesting area. A very good vantage point for photography. It is a two-level concrete structure, clad with fibreglass "rock". The pattern and colour of the artificial rock were carefully constructed to match the natural rock on the island, and the hide is probably one of the most architecturally important bird hides in the world. It provides extraordinarily good views of the Cape Gannet colony. From the lower level, the gannets go about their daily business within a few metres of a huge window of one-way glass. Upstairs is an open viewing platform which provides an overview of the colony, and where the cacophony of calling gannets is overwhelming. The gannets breed in spring and summer.
Bird Island Nature Reserve is a 3-hectare CapeNature nature reserve in Lambert's Bay, South Africa. It is an important breeding site for Cape gannets and crowned cormorants. Currently it is home to between 4000 and 6000 breeding pairs. It is the only place at which one has access to see the birds at close quarters and is the last place at which a seabird breeding colony can be visited before the Namibian islands 600Km to the north

The other colonies are at Mercury Island, Ichaboe Island and Possession Island in Namibia, and in South Africa at Malgas Island and at the other Bird Island, Mandela Bay, which is near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. There has not always been a gannet colony in Lambert's Bay. This colony is believed to have formed in 1912. The process whereby new Cape Gannet colonies form is unknown, because young gannets are incredibly faithful at returning to their natal islands when they mature and start breeding, and movements between colonies are exceptional
The birds crowd together and one is amazed at seeing them return to their own nests when they return from fishing
The noise is extreme, but they seem to recognise their mates' calls
From this point I'll keep comments to a minimum. The birds speak for themselves
Maybe a bit self-indulgent, but this a very small selection of the photographs I took
A courting couple in a mating dance
Clear off! She's mine! 
Young birds are covered in guano which is washed off when they dive into the sea
First flights of fledglings. They'll be a lot cleaner when they return
Perfection in the air 
Cape fur seals also breed on the island. They prey on sea birds as well as fish, so are a threat to the bird life, especially cormorants, penguins and gannets
A kelp gull pair. They also breed on the island, but away from the gannets
Profuse thanks to the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town, from whom I borrowed some of the text http://www.adu.uct.ac.za/adu/projects/sea-shore-birds/sites/sa/lamberts-bay
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© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2019

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