I visited the RSPB nature reserve at Troup Head the other day. I had not planned to visit, but was in Portsoy and spied the cliffs to the east, from my vantage point above the harbour. I recalled a friend telling me it was the place to go to see the gannets. I saw many gannets on the Bass Rock while in North Berwick a couple of months ago, and more recently a few solitary ones, diving for fish off the coast at Gairloch in Wester Ross.
Following my trusty Google maps, I drove along the tiny road to the headland, hesitating slightly when it came to driving through a farmyard (by that time there were reassuring RSPB signs) and finally reached the tiny car park. Avoiding puddles, I had a look at the map indicating the path(s) to the cliffs. I regretted not putting my walking shoes or boots in the car. Luckily I was wearing reasonably sensible footwear, but would advise on non-slip soles at a minimum.
After a false start (my memory of the map was not great), I followed the straight path through a goldening field of barley towards the headland. It is a while since I walked that distance in a straight line. Two parallel tracks through the crop. I met one couple and a woman; they traversed to the other furrow. Coming to the edge of the field, the path turned to the left, leading upwards across grassland. Ahead lay a gorse covered mound, through which another path (the red one) travelled. I chose the blue (shorter) path, mindful of my less than ideal footwear.
Through the barley field, the sound had been the swishing of heads and beards. As I approached the crest of the slope, the sounds of bird cries began to reach me in the wind. On the ground, on the trodden grass, were occasional wisps of downy white. Some small, some larger. As I started going downhill, the frequency of downy wisps became greater. There were occasional small white feathers. And the unmistakeable smell of fish. The bird calls became louder. Through the kissing gate, I passed a couple of photographers with tripods and huge lenses, eyeing my small bridge camera with what seemed like amusement. Turning left, past the sign which indicated the way back to the car park (should my nerve fail me) or onward to the viewpoint.
I walked along the path. Slowly, not wanting to miss anything. A few birds could be seen on the grassy cliff tops. Further on, I could see down to the turquoise depths below; the waves crashing on the rocks. Birds perched on the cliffs; on turf beds with their babies. I did not see the young ones at the time; my eyes were glued to the swooping and soaring display taking place in the sky right in front of me. I have always thought that gannets were graceful birds. My mind has been changed. Laughter spilled out of me - their movements were comical, ungainly, yet amazing. A gannet would storm up from the left of me (with the wind) - up - up - up and then turn to fly back, swooping down with great speed. Or come in to land on the cliff, big black webbed feet akimbo and wobbling like a novice on a high wire. I watched and watched; tried to take some photographs which captured their fantastic flying feats. And then I watched some more. It really was an thrilling and enchanting experience. Magical.