YES, I AM READY FOR MY FIRST TAKE OFF, REACH FOR THE SKY ! Cape Gannet {Morus capensis}, Bird Island, Lamberts Bay, South Africa

Magriet Meintjes

TOLWE, South Africa

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CAPPTURED LOCATION: Bird Island, Lamberts Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

Camera: Nikon D50
Lens: VR 80-400mm F/4.5-5.6 D
Focal Length: 400mm
1/1250 sec – F/5.6
Exposure Comp.: 0 EV
Sensitivity: ISO 400
An experience of a lifetime to see thousands of birds together like this! The gannet calls was overwhelming!
Cape Gannets are easily identified by their large size and black and white plumage which is noticeably silky, giving them a graceful appearance
When seen in flight the snow-white body with the black tail, primaries and secondaries, and dark bill echo this grace
At closer range the distinctive golden crown and nape which gradually become white on the neck are noticeable

Name: Morus capensis

Diet Description: Cape Gannets feed on shoaling pelagic fish such as sardines and pilchards, consuming roughly 300g per day.

Habitat: Within its normal range Cape Gannets are restricted to the continental shelf, at no more than 100 km from the coast. Occasionally they have been recorded on oceanic waters.

Distribution: Cape Gannets are restricted to the coast of Africa. They are found in waters off the Western Sahara, around Cape Agulhas to the Gulf of Zanzibar (Tanzania) and occasionally to Mombasa (Kenya) on the east coast of Africa.

Reproduction: Cape Gannets are colonial breeders. The season begins in August when the pairs form and nests are rebuilt. Nest mounds are built on guano and are unlined.A single blue egg is laid and quickly becomes coated in brown guano.

Most eggs are laid in October. The eggs are incubated for approximately 40 days. Both adults incubate the eggs using the webs of their feet. Both parents care for the chick for 97 days before it goes to sea

Avian Demography Unit
Department of Statistical Sciences
University of Cape Town
Seabird Sites of South Africa
Bird Island, Lamberts Bay
Vincent Ward, Western Cape Nature Conservation Board
and Les Underhill, Avian Demography Unit
Bird Island at Lamberts Bay is the northernmost of the seabird islands on the west coast of South Africa
. Apart from some small cormorant colonies on rock stacks, there are no large seabird breeding colonies north of Lamberts Bay until the Namibian islands are reached. This is a gap of about 600 km.
The island is small (2.2 ha). It is only about 60 m offshore, and is connected to the mainland by a causeway, built in 1959, which helps create the the storm shelter for the small harbour at Lamberts Bay. The causeway makes it easy for visitors to get on and off the island, but also makes the seabirds on the island vulnerable to predators such as dogs, cats, rats and mongooses.
Apart from Robben Island, Bird Island is the only island along the South African coastline that is geared up to receive tourists. Robben Island is massively altered, so Bird Island is the only accessibly place for an “authentic” guano-island experience.
On Bird Island, the tourist facilities consist of a hide, built in 1998, on the edge of the gannet colony, a small museum which portrays the history of the guano industry and a restaurant. The museum was constructed within the former guano labourers’ quarters on the island.
The new bird hide is a love-it or hate-it feature. It is a two-level concrete structure, clad with fibreglass “rock”. The pattern and colour of the artificial rock were carefully constructed to match the natural rock on the island, and the hide is probably one of the most architecturally important bird hides in the world.
The gannet colony is the main attraction at Bird Island, Lamberts Bay. Of the six Cape Gannet colonies, this is the only one where the birds can readily be viewed. The other colonies are at Mercury Island, Ichaboe Island and Possession Island in Namibia, and in South Africa at Malgas Island and at the other Bird Island, Algoa Bay, which is near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.
There has not always been a gannet colony in Lamberts Bay. This colony is believed to have formed in 1912. The process whereby new Cape Gannet colonies form is unknown, because young gannets are incredibly faithful at returning to their natal islands when they mature and start breeding, and movements between colonies are exceptional.
The numbers of breeding gannets on the island has fluctuated over the decades, in part a consequence of the way in which the guano was scraped. If two much guano was removed, the breeding area became basin-shaped and flooded after rain. During the 1940s, about 300 tons of guano was harvested annually, but this dropped to about 150 tons in the 1960s. The area of the island underneath the gannet colony was paved with cobblestones to facilitate guano collection. Guano is no longer removed from any of the South African offshore islands; as a result of the availability of articifial fertilizers, guano harvesting on the offshore islands is no longer commercially viable. The Bird Island gannets were in decline between 1956 and 1967, but the population has recovered, and currently between 4000 and 6000 pairs breed annually.
Originally, Bird Island in Lamberts Bay was predominantly an African Penguin breeding colony. This population has dwindled to about 50 breeding pairs, and is at risk of going extinct.

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