Wildlife spectacular captures the gannet at home

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The Independent Online

The greatest wildlife spectacle in the British Isles has been photographed comprehensively in the only practical way - from the air.

The greatest wildlife spectacle in the British Isles has been photographed comprehensively in the only practical way - from the air.

Thousands of gannets, the most magnificent seabirds in the northern hemisphere, cluster together to nest on Stac Lee, a huge sea rock near St Kilda, Scotland's remotest island.

Each snow-white bird has black-tipped wings that span more than six feet, and when hunting for fish they plunge into the water sometimes from 100ft up: a group of them diving is a sight long remembered.

But their breeding colonies are more memorable still. They are the mega-cities of the bird world, vast strident congregations full of squabbling life. There are 23 of them around the coasts of Britain and Ireland, holding over half a million birds, and this summer Scottish Natural Heritage funded a survey of the 14 colonies in Scotland.

They are in such isolated and difficult places - usually rocky islands with steep cliffs - that aerial photography is the only way of counting them, and the wildlife consultant Stuart Murray shot this and other stunning pictures from an Islander aircraft.

"I think these dramatic birds nesting in such enormous densities in such remarkable scenery undoubtedly provide the most spectacular natural sights in Britain," said the survey co-ordinator, Dr Sarah Wanless. "Or perhaps even in the world.''

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