Ohio Shorebirds

As summer winds down here in Ohio, I prepare to switch into a different type of photography, landscapes.  But before fall actually arrives according the calendar, one of the things I like to do this time of year is to photograph shorebirds.  Normally a good location for shorebirds is the Conneaut sand spit located in extreme north east Ohio.  I made a visit to this location a couple weeks ago for the first time in several years.  Not sure why but for some reason I will go years between visits at certain locations.  Unless of course there is something really good there.

Things were kind of slow at the sand spit but I did manage some decent shots in some great light before the clouds rolled in 2 hours later.  My favorite thing to do with shorebirds is to photograph them from a a low angle.  It really changes the perspective of things.   I like to use my Skimmer Pod whenever possible and I know I won’t be shooting in the water as the pools up at this location would be deep enough to submerge my lens using the Skimmer Pod.

Greater Yellowlegs preening in the morning light

When I can’t use my Skimmer Pod as in these photos I like to splay my tripod out as low as I can go without submerging my camera into the water.  I’m sure I am a sight to see.  :)

Semipalmated Plover in mid stride

Something about being partially submerged in water and/or mud really appeals to me. Call me crazy.  Most people probably do.  :)

Lesser Yellowlegs much like the Greater but…lesser or smaller.🙂

For most of these guys there next stop will be Florida or even parts in South America as I have come to learn for some species.  Pretty remarkable journey these guys make from the high Arctic to parts south.  One day, I hope to be able to visit them on their breeding ground up in Alaska.

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Atlantic Puffins of Machias Seal Island

At long last…my trip to Maine for the Atlantic Puffins.  Atlantic Puffins are a member of the seabird family, along with the Razorbill and Common Murre.  These guys, spend autumn and winter in the open ocean of the cold northern sea, only returning to land in early spring to breed.  Fledged chicks make their way to sea at night.  They swim away from shore and do not return to land for several years when they will first breed.

I was supposed to go two years ago but ultimately had to back out making this trip even sweeter.  The Atlantic Puffin and other sea birds inhabit Machias Seal Island, located 9 nautical miles off the coast of Cutler Maine which was the equivalent to a 40-45 minute boat ride from Cutler harbor to the island.  I HIGHLY suggest going with Bold Coast Charters.

The “Barbara Frost” at harbor as Captain Andy prepares the boat for the day. The skiff used to offload to the island is off to the left of the boat.

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Captain Andy giving welcoming us to the beginning of our exciting trip. This boat is used to load everyone (2 groups) from harbor to boat.

Once you get out to the island you hop into a small skiff from the main boat, in two separate groups. Time allowed on the island varies.  I think mostly because of sea conditions.

Machias Seal Island. The concrete ramp on the left hand side serves as the dock for the skiff you have to take.

A couple days we were on the island for well over an hour. The last day not so much because of detereating sea conditions.

I had booked three consecutive trips out to Machias Island for the Puffins.  The reason why I booked three days is incase conditions did not warrant an island landing which can and does happen.   I booked at the beginning of the year. When you book, I strongly recommend you do so for at least two days.  Both for weather reasons as well as tidal reason, both can make it unsafe to land.  Luckily I was able to land all three days, the last day was the shortest visit due to growing swells out in the ocean which made it rough for the skiff at the “dock”.  Two days I had blue skies and sun and another day we were heavily socked in with fog, which is not uncommon for that area.  Captain Andy said they manufacturer this stuff.

Some “light” fog as we were leaving the one day….lol. The island is in this photo somewhere.

Exposures on the Puffins were not as bad as I had thought they would be.  We got to the island early enough in the morning but as the morning wore on you could see the light becoming harsh so I dealt with that as best I could.  The blinds were very cramped and small.  One of the days I had three other people in the blind with me and that was rough.  The last day was by far the best.  Only two other people and the couple were bird watchers so I basically had the blind windows all to myself.  As far as what I brought.  I asked different people and got different answers.  I ultimately used both my bodies (1dx and 5dmkIII) and two lenses. My 70-200mm f/2.8 with 1.4x and my 500mm f/4.  My 500 I used some, the last day I never took my 500mm out of the bag.  Don’t bother bringing a tripod or monopod as there is no room in the blinds.  You can rest your lens on the window opening anyways.  Some windows are smaller than other allowing/restricting bigger lenses.  Good footwear with is a must in my opinion. I wore my hiking shoes.

I stayed in each of those two blinds during my 3 day trip. Look at all the birds!!

Ok, enough of all the technical stuff….I remember my first impression of these Puffins thinking that they would be larger in size then what they were.  They are really the size of footballs basically with the Razorbill and Common Murre being much larger in size.  Below is a video I took with my iPhone as I laid it down in the window as I shot with my camera.

The one shot that I did not get an opportunity of is a Puffin coming in with a mouth full of fish.In fact I did not even get a chance to see one with that action let alone photograph it.  Other photographers said they saw it though.  I after a short while I didn’t want to waste the precious time I had in there only looking for that shot so figured if it happened it happened.

Razorbill with fish in its mouth on a very foggy day.

Along with the Atlantic Puffins that inhabit the island you will have a good chance of photographing two other seabird species, Razorbill and Common Murre.

Atlantic Puffin

Razorbill

Common Murre

A really interesting shot I got was with a pair of Razorbills displaying some touching of bills which is a courtship behavior. It is said that a mating pair will court several times during breeding periods to strengthen their bond between the two. Once a female chooses a male, the two will stay together for life. It was really heartwarming witnessing this behavior first hand.

Razorbill courting

I really wanted to get some good portrait shots of these guys as well.  Something that I figured I would have a high chance of accomplishing due to how close the Puffins and Razorbills came in.  More so, I really wanted some good Puffin portraits to show off all the beautiful colors on their heads during breeding season.  But I also did have a two close encounters with Razorbills as well.

Razorbill portrait

Atlantic Puffin portrait

I was pleased with what I came away with and the opportunity that I had with them as I had been looking forward to this for a few years now.  It was so worth the visit to the island to see these guys though.  You can literally get within arm’s reach of them inside the blinds.  Close enough to take photos of them with your smartphone.  If you are an avid bird lover this is a trip that you have to take to experience at least once in your lifetime.

Captain Andy, his first mate, and his wife run a GREAT operation out of Cutler.  Highly recommend that if you are looking for your first Puffin experience to seek them out.

Harbor Seals and another species of Seal we saw on the way back one of the afternoons.

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Maine Lighthouses

In mid-July 2015 I left for my long awaited trip to Maine, I decided to drive rather than fly.  Kind of easier these days with airfare restrictions.  The main reason I was going to Maine was for the Puffins.  But I also decided to photograph some lighthouses while there to fill in down time. After doing some exhausting research online I compiled a list of locations I wanted to visit.

So I left home at 8am and drove about 12 hours to spend the night an hour south of Portland in Kittery.  My plan was to stop there for the night and see a lighthouselocated at Sohier Park, Cape Neddick Light (Nubble Lighthouse) my first of many Maine lighthouses.  I made a beeline up there the evening of my arrival.   I was so excited to see it!  The park itself was crowed, people were crawling all over the rocks down from the parking lot.   Still, I got a shot I was content with.

Cape Neddick Lighthouse after a cloudy sunset

This also marked my first taste of Maine Lobster.  I got a Lobster Roll from Fox’s Lobster Shack.  The lobster was delicious!  Little did I know the next day I would have a Lobster Roll that would blow me away up in Portland.

I spent the night at a less than ideal motel.  The carpet had stains on it, shower was the size of a tiny bathroom closet and there was mildew on the bottom of the shower curtain.  Thankfully I was only there for one night.  I was traveling on a budget so this was the cheaper of the places in the area.  I can see why now.

The next morning I was up at sunrise to try for the same lighthouse again.  A really lack luster sunrise and a mix-up with my GPS (user fault) got me there later than I had wanted to.  So from there it was off to Portland, about an hour drive north.

Portland Head Lighthouse was beautiful.  I spent about 4 hours just wandering around the park itself there.

Portland Head Lighthouse

Going to the opposite side of the lighthouse you are able to take the cliff walk.  Not as scary as it sounds.  Basically it is just a way to walk down the rocky shoreline to get to ocean level which was very, very cool!  If you choose to do that though watch out for slippery rocks.

After all that walking it was time for something to eat.  I had looked up this place to eat within the park before I left home and wrote it down (as I did for many places).  The place is called Bite into Maine.  I had a Picnic Style Lobster Roll there which has Lobster, coleslaw, melted butter and chives all on the same roll.  It was AWESOME!!!!!  I can’t recommend that place enough to eat if you are in the area.  It is a little trailer located at the top of the hill, you can’t miss it.

Yes I took a picture of this AWESOME lobster roll!  :)

Yes I took a picture of this AWESOME lobster roll!🙂

After lunch, I waited a bit for the sun angle to drop a bit so as to provide a better photo of Portland Head Lighthouse with softer light.  It seemed like my time at Portland the tide was out so the water wasn’t as high as I had hoped it would have been. Also was hoping for some bigger tides but it seems like the further north I went the chopper ocean I saw.

Something of note is that when you are walking into the portion of the park that has the lighthouse you will pass what is known as Battery Blair.  This was the largest of six gun batteries built at Fort Williams (where Portland Head Lighthouse is located within).  This was manned in WWI and the early years of WWII.  Really gave me chills standing on the grounds of such an historic site.

Leaving the Portland area around midafternoon I made the nearly four hour drive up to Lubec where I would be spending three nights for my Puffin part of my trip.

In between my time in Lubec for the Puffins I visited and photographed two lighthouses.  The first was West Quoddy Head Lighthouse which is situated on the eastern most point in the US.

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Yes I took a selfie with the “Easternmost Point” marker. But I didn’t use a selfie stick so that took skills!🙂

The scenery there was absolutely breathtaking.  One of the cool things about this lighthouse is that it was so quite out there you could hear the foghorns out in the Quoddy Narrows which is the water way you see in the background.  The foghorn for the lighthouse would sound off then the one in the Narrows would.

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse at sunset.

I also brought my passport along with me and went over to New Brunswick Canada at Campbello Island to Head Harbour Lighthouse or East Quoddy Head Lighthouse. East Quoddy is only able to be photographed at low tide when you literally walk across the ocean floor to access the lighthouse.  If you aren’t back when the tide comes in which is around 18 feet you are stuck out there until the tide goes back down. There are signs all over the parking lot warning you of that.

Head Harbour Lighthouse (East Quoddy Head) on Campobello Island in New Brunswick Canada

After my time in Lubec I still had one more stop on my trip that was to Bristol for Pemaquid Point Light.  I shot this location in the evening as well as the morning.  The lighthouse was a big people magnet which was a problem at times but what can you do. Had a breeze that evening so I had to time my shots to when the wind died down enough that I got a somewhat decent reflection in the tidal pool.

Evening shot at Pemaquid Point Light

The final evening I spent in Maine was at Marshall Lighthouse.  This is the same lighthouse that appeared in the movie “Forrest Gump” if you recall.  This one was a very unique looking lighthouse design wise with a log boardwalk leading out to the lighthouse itself.

Marshall Point Lighthouse

Marshall Point Lighthouse

Couple things that I wanted to do that I didn’t get to is to visit Acadia National Park and try my hand at Milky Way shots at night.Simply didn’t have the time or money. Honestly though, I would rather spend a week in Acadia then a rushed couple days trying to squeeze in multiple things.  Guess I’ll just have to make another trip!

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Kicking off my new blog!

Howdy!  I am transitioning over to a new website to blog.  Like the look and feel of this one hosted by WordPress much better.  Currently there is no plan to currently copy over all my old material but you never know.

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Least Tern fun in Florida

For two consecutive years now my wife and I have timed our Florida trip around the baby Least Terns.  Last year I had some decent success.  I did get photos of the little guys running around the beach but as every photographer you are always left yearning for more and something better.  Well this year, by far surpassed my experience last year.  I made two trips out to the east coast of Florida for these little guys.  What I got to see this year that I really didn’t see last year (course doesn’t mean it happened) was skirmishes with the Ghost Crabs and Least Terns.  This was an interesting behavior to watch between the two. From my understanding, the crabs will go after the babies so anytime a Tern spots a wayward crab wondering to close they charge the crab with its wings raised high in an attempt to chase the crab away.  Sometimes, you will see the Terns double up on the crabs which I was able to see.

Least Tern and Ghost Crab skirmish!

Along with the skirmishes that I saw I was able to capture more moments with the baby Terns and the Terns with their parents with some feeding shots. Something that I wasn’t able to capture last year. I was fortunate to have some very sweet light in the morning as well which was something that I didn’t have last year.

Feeding time with mamma!

I was able to capture images of a Wilson Plover that had decided to set up its nest right by the boundary ropes on the beach too.  No pictures of the babies as the eggs hadn’t hatched yet but I am sure some of my Florida photography friends were able to get them.

Well hidden Wilson’s Plover Nest

I mentioned my wife came with me on the second day.  Again she got to see what I look like in action and did her thing taking pictures of me taking pictures.  She did enjoy her time on the beach and by the ocean as we both do when we visit Florida.

Enjoying a day at the beach with my wife

Enjoying a day at the beach with my wife

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