When you live above the Arctic Circle and meet a traveler, possibly the most asked question is this: What do you do in the winter time? Kids very often will not only answer spot on, they will ask simple, obvious, and affirmative enlightening questions. A local kid in Nordkapp was watching a bus full of Thomas Cook travelers putting on their sea legs to watch seabirds at Gjesværstappan Nature Reserve. “What are the tourists doing in the winter time”? The tourists are doing the same thing as the Northern gannets, or most seabirds. They fly south, and stay there.
Seabirds are an important part of the animal kingdom, a part subject to more stress than most species. A number of them are on the red-list, endangered. It has become the object of more research. A very important time of the year is breeding season. Breeding season is when seabirds go ashore, lay their eggs and nurture their chicks through adolescence. At Gjesværstappan Nature Reserve the census of the different bird populations are updated every year. More extensive research has been done regarding the Northern gannet. Equally important, and perhaps more difficult, is to learn what they do before and after breeding. This is when they are at sea.
Five colonies of gannets in Western Europe have been scrutinized for their time at sea aided by miniaturized sea-movement recorders:
• Gjesværstappan (Norway)
• Store Ulvøyholmen (Norway)
• Bass Rock (United Kingdom)
• Grassholm (United Kingdom)
• Rouzic (France)
Gjesværstappan being the northernmost at 71°14′N, 25°30′E, and Rouzic the southernmost at 48º54′N, 3º26′W.
The birds spend their winter time in the:
• North Sea
• Irish Sea
• English Channel
• Bay of Biscay
• Along the coast of Portugal
• As far south as Senegal on the coast of Northwest Africa
• A surprising few numbers of gannets would also dwell in Western Mediterranean
By and large the gannets from each colony migrate together. However, the gannet may have individual and different way of spending their off-breeding season.
It is important that the winter site accommodate fishing opportunities. The coast of Northwest Africa is one of the four most important upwelling zones in the world during winter. Gannets are distributed in the most chlorophyll-rich areas, a prerequisite for edible prey. The ecological consequence of disrupting balance in one place could disrupt the whole.
Gannets from Gjesværstappan are distributed between the North Sea and the northern part of Northwest Africa/ the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. The birds from North Cape and Lofoten arrived at their wintering sites earlier than their brothers and sisters from the other rocks. After a week en route they arrived in October. Compared to the others – a month or so later – they leave the winter site in February/early March. A large portion of the North Cape gannets will spend a lot of the winter with their Bass Rock brethren.
Surprisingly, the different colonies migrate on average the same distance. Thus, the gannets from Store Ulvøyholmen, 500 km south of Gjesværstappan will spend their winter season further to the south compared to the Gjesvær bird. On average, the distance flown to wintering site varied between 3 000 and 4 000 km among the Norwegian, British and French gannets. This is surprising because seabirds, unlike most other birds migrating cross waters, can feed and rest en route between summer and winter sites.
However, some gannets have recorded migration 7.000 kilometers long. Just like travelers. Some travel far distances, whereas others travel shorter distances.
What do you think is the most interesting facts about seabirds?
The Northern Gannet Trilogy
The seabirds at Gjesværstappan is a surprising attraction at North Cape. In a series with three blog post you can fly into the life of the beautiful gannet.
III. What does Thomas Cook and Northern Gannets have in common