Sunday June 29th
I saw the first one from a plane and it was gleaming white over the wrinkled sea. Then I saw three more. Gannets, they were: the great spear-billed dive-bombers of the seas. Not easy birds to see unless you’re on a boat. But I was flying to Alderney – one of the Channel Islands, but you knew that – to get closer to them than most people can.
It was evening when I touched down, and Roland Gauvain, manager of the Alderney Wildlife Trust was there to meet me with the most solicitous question possible. .
“Pint or birds?”
So out we drove to a bit of rugged coast – not a hard thing to do on this tough little island—and I walked seawards. In about three and a half minutes I was looking at as wonderful a sight as I have ever seen, and I’ve spent a fair time looking.
It was a rock. Completely white, like a wedding cake. White with gannets, and painted whiter still with the droppings of dynasties. Here was a seabird city. Its inhabitants are a good six feet, almost two metres in wingspan and fly with a power and purpose few birds can match.
One gannet is a thing of wonder: this gathering of all but 6,000 nesting pairs was way beyond that. I gazed for a while entranced. Good birding – good wildlifing of any kind – is like that quite often. Never mind species, or number, or age, or plumage details: just look at the wonderful bloody thing and rejoice.
The following day I’d be getting rather closer, Roland said.