Late on the afternoon of 1st November 2018 I had a call on her mobile phone from Beccy Garvey. She had been driving through Glenleraig (NC1431) on her way home from work, when she spotted a large bird at the side of the road. I hastened down to meet her, with a big cardboard box and an old curtain.
The bird was indeed large, with a formidable bill, and sporting the blackish plumage, speckled with white, of a juvenile northern gannet, Morus bassanus, fledged this summer. It must have crash-landed on the wet surface of the road, perhaps thinking that it was water, though we wondered quite what had brought it so far inland.
It appeared to be undamaged, so we approached it very carefully, threw the curtain over it and put in the box. We released this fortunate juvenile gannet shortly afterwards on shallow water at the edge of Loch Nedd, where it paddled off, hopefully to rejoin others of its species over the open sea.
The nearest breeding colonies of gannets are on remote islands off the north coast of Sutherland or to the west of the Outer Hebrides, but they are a regular sight along the coast of Assynt. Recent research using geolocators has shown that adult gannets from particular groups of breeding colonies have mutually exclusive, albeit extensive, home ranges which they patrol for food. Immature birds, on the other hand, can be much wider-ranging and individualistic, although this bird had gone somewhat off piste. A fascinating account of these and many other aspects of the life of seabirds worldwide may be found in Far from Land (Michael Brooke, 2018).
Ian M. Evans