Love on the rocks
Last modified: 13 February 2009
Thousands of gannets will renew their vows with their lifelong partners this Valentine’s Day with delicate, tender and elaborate courtship displays that could teach Neil Diamond a thing or two.
The RSPB’s Bempton Cliffs nature reserve, near Bridlington, is the only English nesting site for gannets and around 6,000 pairs of the birds are already preparing for the forthcoming nesting season.
Gannets, large white and long-lived seabirds – distantly related to pelicans – are renowned for their faithfulness, mostly returning to the same nesting site with the same partner for many years.
The birds’ fidelity certainly seems to pay dividends as the Bempton colony has swelled from 20 pairs in 1988 to 6,000 pairs last year, making this one of the most rapidly increasing colonies in the UK.
Each year the gannet ‘couples’ renew their bond with elaborate skypointing courtship displays, where the pair face each other and hold their heads skyward, accentuating their beauty and strength. This delicate display is very popular with photographers. This year a photograph of courting gannets taken at Bempton Cliffs came first in a prestigious UK-wide bird photography competition, organised by BirdGuides.
'I was sat on the cliff at Bempton waiting for the light to lift, and when it finally did I got into position to photograph these birds in their unique pose.'
Alan Dalton, the centre manager at Bempton, said: 'Bempton is one of the best places to experience the sights, sounds and smells of a seabird colony. A rock that looks white from a distance is covered in thousands of pairs of squabbling gannets while others swirl overhead before plunging arrow-like into the sea as they dive for fish.'
Judges selected a stunning image of courting gannets taken at the RSPB’s Bempton Cliffs reserve ahead of more than 26,000 submitted images to scoop the prestigious title of Photo of the Year 2008 for photographer Dean Eades. A poignant image of a puffin with a beak crammed with sandeels was awarded joint second place.
Now in its third year, the competition organised by BirdGuides attracts thousands of top quality images from enthusiastic and dedicated photographers.
The UK’s coastline is crucial for the gannet population with around 60 per cent of the world’s population nesting here. It is crucial that the forthcoming marine legislation safeguards their future, and the future of the other seabirds that are drawn to our coastline to breed.
After dazzling the judges with his mesmerising image, Yorkshire born Eades gave an insight into how he captured the moment.
He said: 'I was sat on the cliff at Bempton waiting for the light to lift, and when it finally did I got into position to photograph these birds in their unique pose. What an experience Bempton Cliffs is, to see these outstanding birds in their full glory.'
Fiona Barclay of BirdGuides said: 'We are constantly amazed by the quality of the photos we are sent and it's getting harder and harder to choose our favourites. Dean's gannet image is a wonderful choice by the judges as it highlights one of the great wildlife spectacles of our shores. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who submits photographs to us and to congratulate all of the winners on an outstanding collection of images that really brings home the diversity and wonder of birds. I hope that the pictures will inspire everyone to get out birding wherever they are.'
The winning entries can be seen at www.birdguides.com
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