Australasian Gannets at Muriwai Beach

Muriwai Beach is a coastal area in the North Island of New Zealand about 40 minutes drive from Auckland. It is a popular beach for human activities, and also a dense breeding ground for the Australasian Gannets (Morus serrator).

It is an interesting place for photographers for two rather disparate reasons. It is a beautiful and unique place for landscape photography, as well as an excellent place to photograph flight shots of the gannets due to their huge numbers. For birdwatchers it is also an excellent place to learn about the social life of the birds during their breeding period. I had an opportunity to spend an hour or so to partake in all these.

Landscape photography is not my strength, but the coast is beautiful and the dense colony serve as an excellent subject against the backdrop of high cliffs and clear blue ocean. I am afraid I do not do the place enough justice, but here are some pictures nonetheless. I think the golden hour would accentuate the beauty of the place, but I was happy enough to get sufficient light for handheld photography.

Australasian Gannet
A view from the trail leading down to the inland colony.

Australasian Gannet
A closer view of the colony at the rocks further away from the beach.

Pleased with the nice landscape photo moments, I next turned my focus on bird flight photography. At any one time there are probably close to 100 birds in the air at various location, and getting flight shots was a breeze. It was a matter of getting the right bird, at the right angle and with the right background.

Australasian Gannet
I thought it will be cool to photograph them flying over the beach and here it is.

Australasian Gannet
A clear sky backdrop with seaweed in mouth.

Australasian Gannet
Next, a photograph of the gannet with the sea as a backdrop.

Australasian Gannet
A frame filing frontal approach.

Australasian Gannet
Having done all that, it was time to observe them on the ground. In spite of the beauty of the place, bird poo was everywhere and with the accompanying odour. As the previous pictures suggest, the main colony are at the flat ground further down, and safely beyond human reach. The ones I manage to get close to were isolated birds unable to get prime breeding spots and has to use the slope instead.

Australasian Gannet
Just as the birds were taking seaweed in mouth, they also take local vegetation. The reason is that these serve as nesting material. Once obtained, they literally plunge down the cliff and soar to their nest.

Australasian Gannet
A closer view of part of the colony. I did not see any eggs or hatchlings yet. Perhaps they were incubating.

White-fronted Tern
In contrast, the White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata) at a tiny corner of the place not taken up by the gannets, already have hatchlings.

Beyond the birds, the scenery and the beach itself is worth exploring. I am glad I visited the place upon a recommendation from a friend.

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