Northern Gannets nest in dense colonies and their nest sites are only inches apart from one another. Sighting in on their own territory amidst the mass of white birds wedged closely together on the rock face is an incredible feat that occurs over and over. How they do it is one of Nature’s remarkable accomplishments. This gannet appears to be sighting in on where to land as it flies in front of the cliff face toward its own nesting site. Nikon D5, 500mm PF.
The opposite side of the log cabin at Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park had a single, multi-paned window. The leafy canopy outside under cloudy skies let only a small splash of light spill onto the wooden floor. Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 S.
One of the abandoned cabins in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains sheltered us from a rain storm for an hour or so one morning. The cabin was dark, with only two windows, one on each end with a stone chimney in the middle separating them. The sky was dark and the cabin was surrounded by trees so there was very little light inside. What light there was from the window intrigued us with its dim reflection on the wooden floor. I took the shot in black and white to emphasize the moodiness of the setting. Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 S.
There’s a reason the Great Smoky Mountains got that name. And, they certainly live up to it. There is a natural ground fog that often hangs over the mountains and, from a distance, that fog appears to be large smoke plumes. The fog clings low to the ground and allows the ridges to push up through the fog banks creating stunning views especially in the early morning..
With minimal fall colors in the Great Smoky Mountains due to a drought and higher than normal temperatures, we found other ways to photograph the beauty in the Park. One of my go-to lenses to make unusual images of ordinary subjects is the Nikon 8-15mm Fisheye lens. At 8mm, it creates its own world. Pointing straight up to the leafy green canopy above, the resulting circular image stimulates the imagination.
In October, foliage in the Great Smoky Mountains should be vibrant with vivid oranges, yellows, and reds. But hot and dry temperatures have lingered in Eastern Tennessee and a drought has prevented the normal fall display in the Smokies. The leaves are turning brown and dropping from the trees instead of turning color as in normal years. Nevertheless, we did t come across a few spots of color that stood out from the deep greens that surrounded them.
When Carl Sandburg penned his poem “Fog” in 1916, he may have had the Great Smoky Mountains in mind. The poem is brief but perfectly describes the ground fog in the Great Smoky Mountains. It creeps in and settles around the trees, obscuring them from sight, then suddenly disappears. If you are not familiar with the poem:
by Carl Sandburg
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
The Great Smoky Mountains at sunrise—Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200 f/4
Cades Cove is one of the more popular areas in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, America’s most visited national park. In some areas, the park preserves places that represent mostly forgotten ways of life in America. For example, at one time, families would visit gristmills near their homes a few times a month to get corn and wheat ground into flour to make bread. Back then, people made their own bread because grocery stores and bakeries as we know them today did not exist. The John P. Cable Gristmill in Cades Cove, built almost 150 years ago represents this bygone way of life. It has been restored over time, including the addition of a new waterwheel built in 2018.
Until I visited Pacific Gove a few weeks ago, I had never seen a Black Turnstone. Black Turnstones are Pacific Coast birds. Their dark feathers allow them to blend in perfectly with the dark granite rocks that line the shore.
The rocks, cliffs, and air were filled with thirty to forty thousand Northern Gannets at Bird Rock at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve in Newfoundland last week. It is one of the largest seabird colonies in North America. We stood on a narrow ridge that jutted out toward Bird Rock to photograph the birds. Occasionally, one, like this one, flew close enough to completely fill the frame, as it jostled into position so it could squeeze itself into its tiny space on the rock.
Northern Gannets nest on rocky ledges in dense colonies. They raise one chick per season and both parents feed the offspring. They feed their young by regurgitating fish as the young gannet thrusts its beak deep into the parent’s beak. The young make their first flight after about 90 days and grow to be larger than their parents when they first fly. This chick isn’t ready to fly yet. It is still partially covered in down.
With tens of thousands of Northern Gannets nesting on and around Bird Rock at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Preserve in Newfoundland, space is at a premium. Birds coming in to land often have to hover while they assess the lay of the land, so to speak, and try to find their mate.. They are not graceful at landing and their landings often seemed like semi-controlled crashes. This Northern Gannet hovers above the mass of birds beneath it before attempting a landing.
Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm PF.
When we were in Newfoundland last week, My friend Eric took an exceptional photograph of a Northern Gannet in flight with the Cape St. Mary’s Lighthouse in the background. When I saw it, I knew it was a shot I wanted. None of the rest of us had taken that shot. During the last two days, we all worked at getting it. And, to make things more interesting, our challenge was not only to get the shot but to get the shot with the light from the lighthouse on! In the end, I managed to get a few flying gannets in front of the lighthouse. Only one had the light from the lighthouse on.
Threatening clouds approached quickly Thursday afternoon as we stood photographing Northen Gannets on Bird Rock at the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Preserve. The light disappeared and we set off for the mile walk back to the vehicle. Rain dropped briefly on the walk back. After an early dinner, a beautiful rainbow appeared across the fields then hail pelted down as we retreated to our rooms. But, shortly after the hail stopped, we were rewarded with a gorgeous sunset. Our rooms at the Bird Island Resort face the Atlantic Ocean. As a resident of the Pacific Coast, I think of sunsets over the Pacific Ocean, sunrise over the Atlantic. Since we’re on a spit of land that juts from Newfoundland and is surrounded on three sides by the ocean we got to enjoy an Atlantic sunset. I definitely have a room with a view. I took this shot by walking out my door and a few feet across the lawn to the fenced edge of the property which drops precipitously to the water.
When we arrived at the viewing area for Bird Rock at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve on Thursday, this Northern Gannet was perched on a rock at the tip of the point directly across from Bird Rock preening. The Northern Gannets only occasionally landed near us on this rock. This particular side of the cliff is not a nesting site for some reason. We approached slowly, one by one and were able to photograph the gannet for just a few minutes before it lifted is wings and was gone.
Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm PF Lens.
Cape St. Mary’s on the southwest tip of Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland, Canada is home to Bird Rock one of three breeding colonies of Northern Gannets in Newfoundland. Northern Gannets are the largest seabirds in the Atlantic Ocean. They’re the first to arrive and the last to leave Bird Rock. This time of year, they are the only seabirds remaining at Bird Rock and there are about 15,000 pairs here, as well their chicks. In October, near the end of the breeding season, chicks are strengthening their wings and are beginning to fly off where they will learn on their own how to survive. Adults are monogamous and mate for life. They are apart for six months of the year. In March, they return to Bird Rock, find the same nesting spot, and find each other. It is a mystery how they do this. Mated pairs greet each other with various displays such as this one.