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Recent Gannet Observations at Muriwai

When I started this website, I included a few current observations which then turned into a running commentary on the progress of the breeding colony. I have singled out a circle of 7 nests, described in the entry for December 2, and follow them as time and weather permit. Originally, these observations were reported on the main page, but that got a bit out of balance, so I have moved them onto a separate page.

(Note that the links will open in a separate window which may cover the original where you came from. If you want to go back, move this window to the background or sideways.)

(The most recent observation is at the top of the table, continuing in reverse chronological order.)

18 Jan 99 The young birds keep growing! But there was still one adult sitting on an egg (this was in the vicinity where I had noticed some lost eggs earlier (cf. 8/11/98)). Maybe this is a replacement egg?

There was a lot of flying activity at our visit (between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.), quite exhilarating.

The number of terns is now quite small, with only a small number of chicks around. I witnessed the tail end of a small tragedy: there appeared to be some aggro between a tern trying to land at the edge of the cliff and a red-billed gull which stood its ground there. After the tern had taken another swipe at the gull, the gull descended to a ledge maybe 20 cm further down, which was partly obscured from view. It then pushed a young tern into view, and with the next move pushed it over the edge, where it fell like a stone, probably right down into the sea. (It would have been interesting to know what had preceded this little episode.)

3 Jan 99 Looking down over the southern point, my first impression was: is there a dusting of snow or what? In fact, the whole nest area has a thin cover of white down (as well as some other feathers), giving a rather light background.

No 1 --- has abandoned its site, as has the neighbour further back, and two eggs are lying there in the ditches between mounds. Watching the carry-on around them at close quarters over the last 7 weeks or so, these chaps may have reached rather radical conclusions about the merit of parenthood...

Nelson describes the habit of the australasian gannets of defecating over their webs to keep themselves cool. I have not actually observed the action, but the appearance of some of the feet of both adults and chicks is certainly consistent with that.

Some of the young white-fronted terns must have left already, but there are still quite a few there. I have not seen any of the young ones fly, whilst the ones I watched at Tamaki Drive took regular practice flights.

27 Dec 98 Came visiting with Ernest from Gundelfingen (near Freiburg, Germany). It was quite a warm afternoon, and some of the birds seemed to feel the heat (gular fluttering for cooling; also, parents of sleeping chicks make sure to place themselves so that they provide shade for the chicks. No. 1 is still incubating.

Group photo of the day: note that the larger chicks look already bigger than the adults. The plumage of no. 3 is clearly visible.

Some of the young terns have already a dark brown cap, rather like the adults have it in black. Some must be close to fledging.

23 Dec 98 No. 1 is still incubating, one of only a very small number of birds who still sit on an egg.

I witnessed how chicks can end up lying on their back (see 20/12, although this does not explain how one gets under a stem of flax): an adult was trying to land and misjudged the situation, clean bowling a chick and bumping into the guarding adult. The chick fell off its mound into the ditch, lying there on its back for a short time until it found its feet. Needless to say that the hapless adult got its share of pecks; just as well its own site was only a couple of mounds away.

The group photo: chick no. 3 gets a feed.

I also caught a group of 5 gannets returning from a fishing expedition.

Out at sea there were several groups (they formed, drifted, and disintegrated; some birds joining, some leaving throughout) of up to 40 birds on the water. They were either having a bath with a fair bit of wingflapping and splashing, or caught surface fish, or a bit of both - I don't know for sure. They shallow-dive when they join the group, and at times there were the odd forward lunges over a couple of metres or so (I thought that must mean catching a fish, but could not ascertain one way or the other). Some of the birds just rested, with their beaks tucked between the wings.

There was also a good number of common copper butterflies along the path near the northern platform.

Here is a (white-fronted) tern in flight, bringing home the bacon.

20 Dec 98 No. 1 is still incubating. The centre bird was a bit restless, and probably a bit hot: it was panting ('gular fluttering') and quite keen to start a fight at the least excuse of a reason. It also had its wings slightly lifted, probably for cooling.

Chick no. 3 has sprouted respectable feathers at the trailing edge of its wings. There was occasional sustained flapping of wings (i.e. real exercise as opposed to just stretching the limbs).

The centre bird has a very young chick, thus solving the puzzle that I faced at my last visit.

Some hooligans must have come through here recently: it appears that a quantity of wooden sticks as well as flax stems and toitoi have been thrown down from the southern platform in amongst the gannets. (The information board by the car park was also missing; I thought it might be for maintenance...)

I noticed a chick which was lying on its back in a ditch between nest mounds with a flax stem across its neck. At first it seemed like having an unusual kind of fun, kicking its legs into the air; but when I returned 2 hours later it was still in the same position, in fact just managing to extricate its head from under the branch. It kept on struggling, trying to get back onto its feet, without success during the short time I staid after that. (By 23/12/98 it was back on the mound, so it can't have been too serious.)

I have not reported on the progress of the white-fronted terns. There are plenty of chicks now, and the adults are busy supplying fresh fish: little silvery fishes, wiggling in the beaks of the birds who the offer them to the young ones. They are fun to watch, but too far away to take photos. (With a bit of imagination you can see a couple of chicks between two adults, just above the centre of the picture.) I have created a small page of photos of white-fronted terns, mainly from Auckland's Tamaki Drive.

Never mentioned before: red billed gulls are also part of the place. Here is a small group of them.

13 Dec 98 The Southwesterly wind is still blowing, but not with the same strength. Some of the older chicks are now sitting at their site alone, without parental supervision. While I was there, no. 2 senior left its chick. After some time I noticed that no. 3 senior waddled over to the nest of no. 2 and (gently) pecked the chick which then awoke. Then the old bird waddled back to its own site.

The wings of the older birds begin to sprout serious feathers, some dark; tail feathers also become noticeable. For the first time I notice the feet of the chicks: in the older ones they are not far from the size of the adults' feet, but without the green-yellowish lines of the toes. On this picture one can see a foot of no. 3, as well as its stretched out wing.

I now know for certain that the centre bird of my group sits on an egg. So either I was wrong with my earlier statement (2/12), or the egg was laid in the meantime. Time will tell, no doubt (a chick hatched before my next visit on 20/12).

11 Dec 98 An extremely blustery morning, with a gusty cold southwesterly, a few drops of rain, a few rays of sun. I wonder how gravity suffices to keep the birds on their nest sites.

The down cover of the larger chicks (like no. 3 and no. 4) is sufficient protection for them to stand up to the chill wind. No. 4 was flapping its wings, which keep growing.

While most of the older chicks still get preferential treatment by being allowed the centre of the nest with the adult standing at the edge, in some instances the adult gets the central place and the chick stands beside.

No. 1 has not hatched yet.

The obligatory group photo.

6 Dec 98 A glorious Sunday morning! Look at the group photo. No. 6 must have hatched shortly after my previous visit, because it is already covered in white down. No. 1 is still incubating. (See December 2 for the numbering.)

On the northern platform a few nice photo opportunities for birds in flight: here, here, here and here. The view of the southern point might just allow you to see that the pair of birds next to the cliff edge actually have an egg (between the feet of the bird on the right); they were just changing over from incubating duty.

The Pohutukawa trees at the southern platform have hardly any flowers. Maybe they are having a rest year, rather like the ones in my garden.

2 Dec 98 The chicks grow at an astonishing rate (bigger bodies, longer beaks, longer wings).

For future reference, let me establish the circle of birds which I observe: a central bird, next to a rock, and its neighbours. The central bird has an empty nest (on 13/12 I can clearly see an egg: either the bird covered the egg so well with its feet that I missed it, or the egg was laid between now and 13/12. Solution: I had missed it, and never double-checked; see 20/12.). I will number the neighbours, starting at the top and going clockwise:

  • egg (no. 1),
  • chick (no. 2),
  • chick (no. 3, one of the most developed),
  • chick (no. 4),
  • chick (no. 5),
  • egg (no. 6).
Note the size of the beak of no. 3. Diametrically opposite of no. 3, but outside my reference circle is a rather young chick, probably less than 2 days old (dark skin). No. 6 will have hatched at my next visit.
26 Nov 98 Now the chicks clearly outnumber the eggs, although some of the birds are still incubating. At least one of the nest sites appears abandoned, containing an egg.

The chicks have grown a lot in one week, having quite respectable beaks and also their wings are growing. Many of the chicks are now covered in white down.

Look at the new photo of the previous visit's birds. Here the little chick (no. 3 in the scheme described on December 2) begs for food, and is indeed successful. (Also note its wing.)

19 Nov 98 Quite a few chicks have hatched now, most are still black/greyish (i.e. various shades of nudity), but several appear predominantly white.

On the photo one can guess that the centre bird has a chick; the bird to the left has a chick that is visible. We will follow these birds over time. (In the numbering described on December 2, these are no. 3 and no. 4, respectively.)

8 Nov 98 Lots of white-fronted terns have arrived since my last visit about 2 weeks ago when there were only about a handful. They are now occupying the ledges below the gannet colony on the southern promontory, and on Motutara Island.

Many of the gannets are incubating their eggs. Below the southern platform I saw at least half a dozen eggs lying between nest sites. I wonder what might have happened. (See also observation of 18 January 1999.)

The flax along the paths is in full bloom now (both, the common reddish flowering phormium tenax and the more yellowish flowering mountain flax, phormium cookianum). (Added 23/12/98: I think someone should correct me on this: it seems that they are all phormium tenax, with seedpods growing upright; yet there seems to be quite a range of different colourings, from red, through orange to some kind of yellow. Strangely, most of the yellow ones I saw, had hardly any seedpods at all.
The New Zealand Geographic, Number 42, April-June 1999, featured a major article about flax. I have learnt that there are many, many varieties of flax, even though they are classified as only two species.)

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