Chasing the golden headed unicorn

How handsome am I ?

There we were, all hunched up trying to fight off the freezing cold of mid-winter, totally exposed out on the Otago Peninsula’s most jutting out bit.
Squinting seawards into the barely discernable light, we were waiting and hoping for a sunrise good enough to burn or eyes out. Stephen uttered, hey Fluerty there’s a Gannet straight up above you. Stephen had known, that for a long time Id wanted some good images of Gannets and to date I had zilcherio. I stared back at Stephen in astonishment, knowing full well that it would take at least another 6 more stops of light before I would have had a chance of capturing the mythical beast in mid-flight.
To make matters worserest and to rub salt into my wounds, the guys from Auckland, post images of the soft yellow headed, unicorns on the D-photo photographic forum regularly from the Muriwai Beach colony, this usually leaves me despairingly jealous and suicidal.
And some time later.
Ring, ring, this time it’s another Steve, on the other end of the phone, “I’m off to the Gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers the first fine patch of weather, want to come????”.
4 days later we were happily snapping our way northward towards the Hawkes Bay.
We timed our arrival to coincide with a receding tide. The 2.5 hour walk along the beach can only be achieved at low tide unless you’re a Seal which I isn’t, although I may sound like one from time to time.
As we trudged our way around the coast the beautiful day became less beautiful as a sea fog rolled in and worry preoccupied my mind, worry about how to get these birds sharply in focus in the reduced light. After about 1 and 3/4hours we came across the first of the birds nesting on the cliffs and small rock islands just out in the waves. I came face to face less than a meter away from one of the mythical beasts and snapping I did, there was so much going on it was hard to settle down and shoot in a determined way but I managed to rein in my raw excitement and went to work, White fronted Turns whirled overhead where they nested in the high cliffs with the Gannets on the lower ground right in front of me. The action was much more exciting in some ways than up at the main colony and the angles much more interesting and varied. Quick descents on to the nest seemed to be the order of the day amid much head shaking, mutual neck stroking and wild flapping of wings. It wasn’t long however before I was reminded that we needed to move on to the main event, so off we went dragging ourselves a further hour along the beach and up the hill to the main colony.
We had the whole place to ourselves for quite a while as we had pushed the envelope on the tide thingie, forging ahead of the timid, fighting off the crashing waves and we got a bit wet doing it. Birds zoomed in over our heads so close that I was forced to ditch the 40D and 70-200 to pull out the 5D loaded with the 17-40, even then some birds filled the frame, it was just amazing.
The action was very close and quick,we had the place to ourselves and we made good use of our time.

up close and personal


Eventually people began to file up the hill, those who had walked the beach and others who had paid to be pulled along the coast on trollies by tractors and began to take up positions around the low fenced in nesting birds, some pointing at them in their excitement others seem to feel tranquillity and sat on the fence stumps looking all reflective like. Me I was fighting low lighting and was back to trying to tame the wild bucking 40D to get some close ups of smash crash landings and couples having heated disputes while others played the mating game….and then there were the birds themselves …..
Eventually the light was chased around the coast by nightfall and we began the long walk back to the car arriving around 11.pmish.Tomorow held its own rewards as we made our way home .I’m no longer jealous or suicidal over those Muriwai Beach images on the web, I done got some of my own now….

By the way we got a stunner of a sunrise and was well worth the frezzing wait.

The Latham Bay heading out of the Tiroa Heads

Now, Lord, suffer me for Yellow Eyed Penguins please.

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