Thursday, October 11, 2012

Gannet Fever - 26 Sep 2012

Canada Cruise Day 6
Gaspe'sie, Quebec

We arrived in the Gaspe' Peninsula (sorry for lack of accent marks...) early this morning and had an opportunity to see the mountainous region on either side of the ship.  The sun was rising and we had some nice early morning views of our beautiful surroundings.

Robin was still feeling the effects of yesterday's ICU visit, so she stayed behind while I left the ship for a tour of Gaspe'sie, Perce', and Bonaventure Island.  My quarry today were Northern Gannets, so I was hoping that the weather would cooperate for some decent photo opps.

Our bus ride took about an hour to reach Perce', traveling along Route 132.  As we approached the small village I was able to get an image of Perce', Perce' Rock National Park, and Bonaventure Island (in the distance) through the bus window.

Upon arrival we had broken clouds and high winds.  This meant that we were in for a bumpy boat ride. Our tour had to abandon a smaller tour boat for a larger one, and for good reason.  The swells were large enough that folks had to time their step onto the boat, which was dropping and rising 5 feet on either side of level.

Once on board I ran to the top of the boat so that I could get some images of Perce' Rock and some of the Northern Gannets that were foraging nearby.  Most of the birds in the vicinity were Herring Gulls, but a few Great Black-backed Gulls were nearby, as well.

We made a slow pass by Perce' Rock NP, which can be reached on foot over a sandbar. But, because someone got hit by a rock slide (and sued) the rock is now off-limits to all.  I took tons of pics w/ the Nikon V1, trying to get panoramic shots of the magnificant natural feature.

From there we motored over to much larger Bonaventure Island, where we would slowly cruise along the rocky cliffs to see the Northern Gannet colony (120,000 birds strong this year).  I was hoping to see some Atlantic Puffins, but apparently only 20 birds were seen this year, and only for a two week period in June.

Trying to photograph birds in flight is difficult enough, but in heavy swells the challenge is even greater.  Hardest part is trying to wedge yourself into a corner of the boat, hold on, and time the passage of birds with the contant up-down motion of the boat.  I now know how it was like for Capt. Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise when they were attacked by Klingons!

As we approached the Gannet colony we were able to see dozens of Gray Seals swimming and basking along the shoreline.  They were a challenge to photograph, as the camera wanted to overexpose them against the gray-green background.

A juvenile Gannet was swimming very near our boat, so it was an opportunity to get some images in its juvenal plumage.  Other birds were in their 2nd and 3rd years, with mixture of brown and white feathers on their back and wings.  It is the 4th year birds that are all white with brown wing tips.

I emptied a 16GB card in less than 20 minutes, shooting mostly JPG.  Luckily, I decided to switch to RAW for the next 16GB card, since photographing Northern Gannets turned out to be a real challenge.   In flight, the birds can be photographed using a -1.0 EV compensation, and life is good.  However, as soon as they passed over water, or in front of the mountains, they were immediately washed out.  Shooting in RAW allowed me to adjust exposure compensation after the fact to recover the blown highlights I would've lost had I shot JPG.  

We got close enough to start seeing birds roosting on the rock ledges and any spit of bare rock that would support a possible nest.  As we moved around the island the waves got rougher and bird numbers steadily increased.

This video gives an idea of the wind/wave action we endured while we passed the massive Gannet colony.  I could not shoot fast enough to keep up w/ the scenery and passing birds.

A 30 minute cruise around this island was not enough time to appreciate the shear numbers of birds.  An estimated 120,000 birds were reported this year, with as many as 300,000 birds seen in previous years (according to our guide).  I would've like calmer seas, but then I'd still be processing images for the next month...

Northern Gannets were flying close enough to the boat to get some nice portrait shots.

As we headed back to to dock we passed by the quieter side of the island where we encountered small flocks of Common Eiders.  They were a bit far off in the distance.  As we reached the dock I spotted a half-dozen Harlequin Ducks next to shore.  We had about 30 minutes before our bus would arrive, so I high-tailed it down to the beach to digiscope them from about 100 ft. away.  By now it was raining, and  heavy cloud cover had moved in.  Not wanting to miss the bus I headed back into town, huddled next to a tall stand of phragmites, and sat out the rain until our ride back to the ship arrived.

Awesome trip!

A slide show of these images, and more can be seen by clicking on the image below:

Click on the image for slide show


Vireo said...

Great shots, Jerry. As always.

Can you share the exif details on one of the flying shots?

Vireo said...

Great shots, Jerry. As always.

Can you share the exif details on one of the flying shots?

Birdlady Potts said...

very awesome pictures of the Northern Gannets, Jerry! I hope to see them someday myself! Karen Potts

Birdlady Potts said...

great pictures of the Northern Gannets, Jerry! I hope to see them myself someday! Karen Potts

Cherrie said...

I'm so glad I found your blog. What wonderful photos. I'll be taking a cruise around Bonaventure Island soon and was worried that the Gannets might have left. I was also hoping for Puffins, but realize that it won't happen. Thanks

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