Bird Island, Lambert's Bay
If you are looking to photograph the beautiful Cape Gannet with their distinctive golden crown and blue ringed eye - then Bird Island is the place to be!
Bird Island plays host to between 6,000 to 8,000 breeding pairs of Cape Gannets and is located in the West Coast fishing town of Lambert’s Bay about 3 hours from Cape Town. The Island itself is located about 80m offshore and accessed from the mainland by a causeway/breakwater and is wheelchair friendly (please note that the upper level of the hide is only accessed via stairs).
Interesting fact is that in the 1940’s about 300 tons of guano (bird droppings) was harvested annually for use as fertilizer for the surrounding farms. Thanks to commercially available artificial fertilizer this practice has all but stopped and as a result the bird population has flourished as guano is the main component used to build their nests. Conservation is a long term commitment as each female only lays 1 egg per season. Overfishing of sardines and anchovies cause an imbalance in the food chain forcing the Kelp Gulls to target the Cape Gannet eggs and Cape Fur Seals to target the fledglings when at sea.
The hide is a 2 level structure that blends in well with the surrounds due to the fibreglass rocks that clad the concrete walls. The lower level is enclosed with one-way glass allowing you to view the gannets from up close, the upper level is open and allows for great photographic opportunities. In terms of photography mornings are best as the rising sun will be behind you meaning that the gannets will be front lit.
The bird circling the colony identifies their mate by crying out an unique call, in return the mate on the ground will turn their head skywards and start flapping their wings. To put it into perspective is it like trying to scream at the top of your voice to get your partner’s attention whilst over 16,000 other people right next to you are doing exactly the same thing!
** Photo below reflects a response to their partners call!
One of my favourite behaviours is called Scissoring (or Bill Scissoring) which is believed to be a ritual dance and a way to welcome their partner back.
The most fascinating fact for me is how the gannets feed - executing head-on dives into the sea. The gannets will fly approx 20 metres above the sea searching for fish, as soon as they spot a fish they will hover for a few seconds before commencing their onslaught. Just before entering the water they will stretch forwards whilst swinging their wings backwards making their body appear like an arrowhead. The plunges are so powerful (sometimes up to 100km/h) that they can penetrate the water up to 10 metres deep - nature is amazing!
Camera body capable of 10 fps (frames per second)
AI Servo AF (Canon) or Continuous-Servo AF (Nikon)
Continuous Drive mode and not Single Shot
Shutter Speed of 1/1250 and above (to freeze the wings and prevent any blur)
Multiple AF (auto focus) points and not single/centre AF point
To photograph BIF (birds in flight) you will need to learn to lock focus and then track (pan) your camera with the flight of the bird
Class 10 Memory card – gives 10MB/s Write Speed and limited buffer (temporary storage space between image sensor and memory card)
Remember to expose for highlights (you want to keep as much detail in the white parts of your image)
Here are a few photos I managed to capture - enjoy
Spending time with such amazing birds is truly a privilege – cannot wait to return!
Till next time…