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Flying Gannets Bass Rock 1996
Bass Rock is a 450 foot high crag at the mouth of the Forth of Forth, 30 miles from Edinburgh, Scotland. Bass Rock 10km off the coast is home to 100,000 gannets, and countless other seabirds, including puffins. Mammals such as few Grey Seals. Bass Rock is now one of the largest gannet colonies in the World. The gannet is Britain's largest seabird with a wingspan of 6 foot.
At the peak of the breeding season a gannetry is a sight to be seen. Not only will there be lots of breeding adults and young chicks, but non breeding youngsters will have returned to congregate around the edges of the Colony- over 150,000 birds (2010 figure).. It is a fascinating privilege to land on the Rock and watch the birds close up. Behaviour's such as bill-touching, sky pointing, nest guarding and displaying are all on show. Wondering about the Flying Gannet Picture above? Well it was one of the Best of the Rest in BBC TV's Countryfile Photo97 Competition.
Adult gannets return from Morocco in North Africa to the Bass Rock Colony in late winter, and don't leave until late Autumn. Not surprising when you consider that it takes 40 days for the incubated eggs to hatch, and a further 90 days for the young to fledge. Gannets reach maturity when they are 3 or 4 years old. They pair for life, occupying the same nest year upon year. The parents only have time to raise a single chick each summer. The eggs are a bluish green.
Both adult gannets fetch food for their chicks, taking it in turns to go on fishing trips, that can last a whole day. Disgorging a meal of regurgitated herring, mackerel, and sandeel on their return. Chick is born naked but soon is covered in a fluffy down, later replaced by dark brown feathers, until maturity when the feathers become white. You may be lucky enough to see gannets diving torpedo like for food, folding in their wings at the last moment, diving from 10 to 300 feet. Did you know that dives from a height of 30m are not uncommon, and that the gannet has special air sacs that cushion the impact on hitting the water?
Boat trips around Bass Rock run from North Berwick, at the mouth of the Firth of Forth. It is a one and a half mile trip off shore in a open boat. Landing is very difficult, very sea condition dependant- and it is steep walk to the top of the rock. Landing trips sail from Dunbar harbour and can be booked from the Seabird Centre. Places are snapped up, so book well ahead, and landing is not always possible. Should you be one of the lucky few able to set foot on "the Bass" the sights and sounds of a gannetry at the height of the breeding season are unforgettable.
In 2005 this 3 mile coastal strip was purchased by the RSPB to create one of their latest reserves. At the peak of the breeding season over 150,000 birds are at the cliffs. Including over 1500 gannets (2006 figure)- one of the few mainland colonies. Maybe take a boat trip from Macduff harbour? Or watch the images from the webcams beamed into Macduff Aquarium. Troup Head itself is reached by a stiff walk from the nearest car park.
Watching wildlife, particularly in remote offshore locations does have its hazards, both in reaching the location, and then exploring it. You must take great care at all times. Cliffs are dangerous. Keep away from the edge and from sudden drops. Landing from and onto boats can be dangerous even in the hands of skilled careful skippers and crew. Wet grass, gangways and boardwalks can be slippery, paths may be loose, and unlikely to be maintained if made up at all. Wearing sensible clothing and footwear is advisable. Do not approach wildlife close up. You visit such locations and watch wildlife solely at your risk and discretion. Take care and have an enjoyable time.
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