If you are into birds and bird photography – then you need to visit Bonaventure Island off the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, Canada. The main attraction of Bonaventure Island is its easy access to thousands and thousands of Northern Gannets. How many? 1995 census showed 60,000 birds, 2004 had 106,000 birds – and 2009 had over 120,000 birds - making Bonaventure the largest Gannet nesting site in the world!
It starts with a boat trip around Perce Rock and Bonaventure – which allows close up encounters with Gannets, Kittiwakes, Murres, Terns, Guillemots, Auks, Gulls, Razorbills and grey seals. Although there were tens of thousands of Gannets around the island – most were on top.
It’s about a 45 minute hike to the colonies from the boat launch. In early June about 20% had already laid their eggs – the others were nest building and courting. By end of June eggs were beginning to hatch and by early September the fledglings are about 3/4 adult size.
I found photographing Gannets fun and challenging. White plumage and direct sun is an issue and cloudy days lack contrast. Taking wide angle shots was also a challenge as it was almost impossible not to chop off birds in the foreground. Most shots were using manual exposure – metering off the “grey” sea.
Some quick facts: There are only 6 Northern Gannet colonies in North America, 3 in the Gulf of St Lawrence and 3 in the North Atlantic off Newfoundland. It takes 4-5 years for the birds to mature. Gannets return year after year to their same nesting site. Their courtship involves a picturesque ritual of bowing, spreading of wings, fencing of beaks – followed by aggressive copulation. The female lays a single egg, which is incubated under her web feet. Gannets are one of the few birds that have binocular vision – that is their eyes are positioned so that they can see forward using both eyes. Gannets feed by an aerial display of head-first dives with wings tucked back as they torpedo into the water after their prey.