Saturday, November 19, 2016

Gannets of Muriwai

In my family, it’s now an established custom of sorts that most of our travel includes a good share of birding, and my wife has been a good sport about it. The first place we visited in New Zealand was a nesting colony of Australasian Gannets some 40 kms away from Auckland in a beach-side town called Muriwai.

We got our first glimpse of the gannets almost as soon as we stopped the car at the designated area. I’m not proud to admit it but I qualify as someone who is known in birding circles as a “twitcher”, and my first instinct when I see a bird is to get a record shot for my life list. It was a blustery day - we were in the roaring forties after all - and it wasn’t easy to get a respectable photo of the airborne birds as the vortices made them fly unpredictable paths. We walked further up the road, turned a corner, and realised I needn’t have fussed about getting those difficult shots at all. The cliff that was now visible was full of breeding gannets who seemed to scarcely mind the presence of humans.

Birds in New Zealand evolved without the presence of land predators. It’s amusing to see them venture close to humans oblivious to the dangers we could pose them. I’m not sure if that’s the only reason for the Gannets being comfortable with us getting close to them. Taxonomists who classified the Gannets seemed to know about their absurd lack of fear, and put them down in a genus called Morus, which derives its name from the greek word “Moros” meaning “foolish.

We spent a good hour getting a close look at the birds going about their business - preening, mating, flying, frolicking, as I took the occasional photograph, not for the last time in NZ, with my 50mm lens.

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