When I arrived at Troup Head I could barely see. The mist was so thick it obscured the sheep chatting away in a field less than 30ft away. Seeing as I was here to photograph gannets at their clifftop nesting site, visibility as poor as this suggested impending disaster.
Refusing to waste a journey, I geared up and set off on the coast path. I took the long route to the cliff in the vain hope that the mist would have cleared by the time I arrived. Sadly not. As I approached the nesting site I could make out the blurry outlines of gannets gliding past – white against slightly duller white.
I settled on the grass and propped my camera lens on my knees. The entire ocean had disappeared, but luckily a cluster of gannets were perched close enough for me to actually see them through the fog.
I already had huge respect for gannets, with their vast wingspan, dagger-like bills and ability to slam into water from a great height without injuring themselves. But watching them navigate a jumble of clifftops through what was essentially a white-out was even more impressive.
Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, after several hours I managed to get some shots I was happy with. Gannet goings-on continued as normal, and I watched bonding behaviours between mating pairs, grooming, and the occasional brawl when a neighbour shifted too close.
You can anticipate exactly when a gannet is going to launch itself off the cliff, as it takes several slow steps along the ledge with its bill pointed straight up, as if either limbering up for take-off or encouraging its companions to watch. It’s a bit of a showy thing to do and I love them for it.
By midday the mist hadn’t moved and my stomach was grumbling, so I called it a day and strolled back along the coast trail. Scottish weather is nothing if not predictable, but this means you usually don’t have to wait long for it to change.
Sure enough, when I returned the next day the sun was gleaming and the ocean was back. This time I could see gannets everywhere, swirling in the now cloudless sky as well as perching on their precarious ledges.
I’d taken lots of stationary shots the day before so I turned my attention to birds coming into land. This provided its own set of challenges – unlike their sky pointing routine before take-off, there was no warning before they popped up in a flurry of white wings.
It was a pleasure to spend time with such striking and charismatic birds and watch their daily routine from the lofty heights of the clifftop colony.