Gannets Take Flight


The fifth Friday of the month gave my team at work reason to go on an afternoon outing. Off to Muriwai we headed.
Blowing off the dust I took the now 10 year old Four Thirds Olympus E500. Although only 8MP, and old tech by current standards, I still love the out of camera rendering + the lens set I have with it have a great range! Limited to 400iso, and slow but ok focus times, I knew it was going to be a challenge catching these birds in mid flight – especially with the decent trade winds blowing. I certainly had many poor results,but here are a group I am quite pleased with. The E500 ain’t book-shelved quite yet still!

The Gannet Gang

The Gannet GangGannets are pretty thin on the ground this time of year at Muriwai. Give it a few more months and spring/summer should see them by the mass.

A few interesting facts:

  • Gannets eyes are far enough forward to give them binocular vision and allow them to judge distance well – which comes in handy when hunting/fishing
  • With the ability to achieve speeds of 100Kph (60Mph) in dive, they can catch fish deeper than many other surface diving birds
  • Unlike our Terns close relatives (see a few days back), Gannets are in no way at risk population wise with a LC (least concern) rating – their numbers are growing



The Gannets of Muriwai

The Gannets of MuriwaiTodays shot, to some level or another, is likely mirrored in many peoples albums who have visited Muriwai. The gannets, when in full force, must be one of the major draw cards to this wild western beach. As mentioned yesterday, originally off the mainland (look to the horizon), once real-estate  ran out, they began setting on the cliff top in the foreground of todays image. Centre right, half way down the rock wall, we can see the Terns lower populated spot that featured in yesterdays image.

Out to the distance we can see Oaia Island, the Gannets motherland (for the area). Also home to fur seals, it paints an image of the sort of island a pirate may get marooned on when his crew shout a mutiny.

Looking over the images form my visit, its amazing how calm the sea was last week!


White Fronted Terns

White fronted TernsOne of the main draw cards to Muriwai for tourists is the Gannet colony. Perhaps a little less known, or viewed are the smaller, but equally impressive Tern colony that rests a little lower down the cliff line on the south hills of the beach. Once owners of prime real-estate,  these ‘large swallows of the ocean’ were booted out of their areas by the gannets in the 1970’s when they started nesting on the mainland. When you see the size difference between the two, its no surprise they no occupy the smaller ledges of the cliffs. That being said, all bullying aside, both groups of birds appear to thrive on these rocky ledges.

Sleek and quick, Terns are terrible nest makers. Or perhaps its not so much that they are terrible, but more that they hardly even bother. Around the world, they lay eggs on very sparse nests or branches – some on nothing at all. With clutches of 1-3 eggs, they usually group together in mass. Interestingly, they are even found at Antarctica. Although coastal sea birds, their plumage is not waterproof, so they dont rest in the sea.

Sadly, both in NZ and around the world, several species of Tern are endangered. We (Humans) didn’t help, buy eating masses of their eggs, and as in New Zealand, introduced species like Magpies have added to falling numbers of our Black Fronted Terns.

To finish on a positive note the white ones at Muriwai seem to be doing well and in mass!


Maukatia (Maori Bay)

Maori BayTodays shot is of the southern side of Maori Bay (more properly titled Maukatia). Shot from the souther hilltop of Muriwai, Maori Bay is a popular stop for surfers, offering nice waves and little of the swimming crowds that places like Piha (another west coast beach) offer.

I tried to look into the history behind Maukatia/Maori Bay and its name change, but didnt really find much. For those of you reading from overseas, you may have noticed from time to time I discuss New Zealand and its dual names of places – owing to the fact we have three official languages (Maori, English and Sign). I found record of some treaty settlements in recent history that rename Maori Bay back to its likely original name of Maukatia. Im not sure on the definition/translation of Maukatia. My usual dictionary does not list it. I can only assume it was called Maori bay from some observation of locals way back in the past?

With the car park high above the beach, surfers and visitors alike get some amazing views out to sea. Visit at low tide and you can also explore the natural tunnel on the northern end of the beach.

So thats Maikatia/Maori Bay. Some more from the Muriwai area tomorrow.


Muriwai Looking North

Muriwai looking NorthShot from the southernmost cliff of Muriwai Beach, todays image sees us looking to the North. With over 50km (>30Miles) of uninterrupted beach, it disappears from sight as the camera focuses up into the mist of sea spray.

As with many beaches on the west coast around Auckland, Muriwai is a black sand beach – given the name simply for the larger traces of volcanic iron sand in the area. I recall as a child (and every summer see many more kids and adults) running as fast as I could in bare feet, but never quite making the water before grimacing in pain at the amazing heat retention of that sand. On a really hot day, the black sand really is quite horrific for softer soled feet!

Moving inland, beyond the beach are the sand dunes. Fenced off around the popular car park areas, there is an ongoing effort to assist flora to grow and demote the ongoing erosion of the coastal dunes. High volumes of visitors, particularly in summer have a lot to answer for in respect to damaging dunes by not keeping to the recommended paths.

As with all of this Muriwai series, shot on the Sony Nex.

Another Tomorrow!



Muriwai South

Muriwai SouthI was speaking to someone the other day, mentioning and the (to date) daily photo post. They asked the simple question ‘how do you find something different to take a photo of each day?’. Prior to this site, I also completed a few Photo 365 projects, so I guess I have had some practice, but the plain answer is ‘easily at times, difficult at others’. There are days I dig into the archives, not always because I have not taken a shot that day, but sometimes because I have been uninspired. As with many of us, some days and weeks all roll into one, revolving around work and sleep. These last few weeks, aside from my Hamilton run, have felt a little like that of late.

Determined to break my creative lull, I managed to get out this morning and drive far from home, and into some nature, my relaxation release where I can unwind and take photos. I headed to Muriwai. If memory serves, the last time I went there I managed to get a few shots off just before a storm broke. Todays forecast was not much better, but aside from a short shower, the weather was cloudy, but acceptable.

Over the next few days I’ll share some of my shots, perhaps with a bit more information about this west coast beach/area.

Todays image ‘Muriwai South’ is from the southern most point of the beach, looking down the coastline.

Shot on the Sony Nex with cropping and sizing in Gimp.


Wild West Coast

Continuing on from my last entry where I discussed B&W being one of my more preferred mediums, I though I would post up a photo from my archives. I took this image on a Sony A230 on the windy west coast beach, Muriwai. The west coast gets battered by waves and wind, both forming and at other times destroying the sand dunes along the coastline. Muriwai is also home to a fairly large gannet colony, well worth a visit if you are in the area! In B&W I love how the wild nature of the area is highlighted with the contrasty sky and exposed roots of the tree.I ended up having this printed on A2 canvas, so its in my personal top pics for the last few years.

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