Photographing Atlantic Puffins Via Harley-Davidson

Harley's Ready to Ride

Background Comments - Planning, 2006

After our outstanding motorcycle adventure to Newfoundland in summer of 2005, we’d discussed planning another Harley run into Canada in the warm weather of 2007. We talked with our friend’s Kevin and Loretta Corcoran about this; they’d planned on going to Newfoundland with us but had to cancel unexpectedly and didn’t make the trip. I had a few ideas on another journey and indicated I’d investigate several options. This planning commenced early in the fall of 2006 predicated on a time span of a single week...

One thing I’d considered and wished to do was photograph Atlantic Puffins during their July/August nesting season. After all, we live in the right area for this pursuit and many people visit Maine with this in mind – everybody enjoys Puffins I’ve found and I'm included with this group. I wished to add some good images of these wondeful birds to my Bird Images Index. Coincidently, an article came out in our Sunday paper about this very thing and indicated what/where and provided some contact information to get the investigation underway.

It didn’t take long to figure out the best thing to do was find a way to get onto Machias Seal Island (MSI) where a large colony of Alcids can be imaged from various strategically located blinds in lieu of doing a boat trip cruising around the islands. The Alcids are sometimes referred to as ‘penguins of the north’ as they have similar body shapes. The species of this family share similar basic characteristics like short tails and necks, generally short pointed bills and black and white plumage and include the Dovekie, Black Guillemot, Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, Common and Thick-billed Murres and some others. All can ‘fly’ underwater in pursuit of prey. These pelagic birds come to land only to propagate and gather in colonies where they nest in burrows and crevices or on narrow cliff ledges. The balance of the time they live far out to sea. This island sounded a bit like Valhalla for a bird imager or even a visitor with a casual interest. Overall it appeared to be a really special place to consider.

I commenced web searches seeking information about Grand Manan in the Province of New Brunswick, Canada and other locales that supported this effort. I focused first on ascertaining a date to get on Machias Seal Island with one firm, Sea Watch Tours. Once I made contact with these folks and later locked down some dates after conferring with the others, I investigated finding a place to stay. I was fortunate in both instances and the place we rented for the four days on Grand Manan Island was simply outstanding for our needs. By February everything was in place with our plans. So, I documented the details, forwarded the information to others in our party and kicked back to wait out the winter into spring and summer...

The months came and went. Soon it was time to finalize the trip commencement and to start thinking about execution of the planning. It had been so long since the dates were verified we all had to re-read the notes and itineraries to refresh our memory of what was planned. I sent out confirming emails just to make certain everything was as it should be.

The Journey Commences

Kiro2 Loaded Up For me, this trip was mostly about photographing Atlantic Puffins as well as anything else of interest to my eye. In the end result there were many beautiful scenes that fit this prerequisite as I knew there would be. Planning what to bring with the limitations of packing a motorcycle and passenger proved to be a bit of a challenge. I thought about this on multiple occasions but wasn’t at a point where the decision had to be made until now – we were actually packing...

Nearly every time I planned to image birds, relatively small subjects and didn’t bring my Canon 500mm F/4L lens and tripod along I’d regretted it. I figured this would be the case on this trip as well. However, this lens cannot be handheld successfully and as we would be on a whale watch vessel and traveling by sea to MSI, its use would probably be limited. One of the major debates I had for the photographic gear was the lens selection and how to safely transport a longer, somewhat fragile lens. I ended up bringing it along and it traveled as well as could be expected without issue. If I knew then what I do now, I would have carried the 500mm lens with me to Machias Seal Island...

I reserved one saddlebag on the Harley for photographic gear to isolate and make it accessible while on the road. In my camera bag I capped & packed my Canon 5d body, Linda’s 30d, a EF 70~300 Diffractive Optics f/4.5/6 IS (Imaged Stabilized) lens, two battery chargers, one each Canon EF Extender II at 1.4X and 2X, a electronic cable release and eight compact flash cards equaling 48GB of memory. This was placed in the saddlebag and packed on either side of it were my other shorter focal length choices, an EF 70~200 f/2.8L IS & 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. The 500mm f/4L and my tripod/ballhead were packed separately and tied off around the primary pack on the motorcycle. The other saddle bag and the backrest pack supported all the other gear we carried on this run.

We discussed what day to depart and elected to leave on Monday, July 23rd although our reservations did not start on Grand Manan until the following afternoon. This would provide time to do anything we wished on our travels and left the option of where to stay open for the first evening. As long as we made the ferry crossing and ended up on the island on Tuesday our schedule was flexible.

The photo at left is a view of my packing job annotated to indicate placement of the camera gear. Because the lens portion of the 500mm is a larger diameter compared to the camera side, I used rolled tee shirts to make both about the same diameter so when tied off the bundle was a bit more symmetric.

Day 1, Monday July 23rd – Portland to St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada

Kevin and Loretta planned to meet us at our home in Portland the morning of departure. Wisely, they decided to trailer their bike as they were leaving early, planning to meet us around 0800 hours and this would alleviate a few extra hours road time until the Sun was up a bit. It was approaching 0900 when they arrived and Kevin got unloaded and geared up to start the trip.

At the time of the Newfoundland trip, Kevin was riding a new Harley Davidson Screaming Eagle Softail Deuce. These factory customs are beautiful with great attention to detail. Unfortunately, although the scoot was striking in looks and performance, the ‘Badlander’ seat was uncomfortable for Ms. Loretta on a long ride. They’d been looking at the ‘07 models at their local New Hampshire dealer and she convinced Kevin they needed a new Road King, a top notch touring machine. So they came on this trip with their new scoot, a FLHRSE3 – a Screaming Eagle factory custom Road King and a true thing of beauty...

Kevin & Loretta's 2007 FLHRSE3 Screaming Eagle Road King

Kiro2 - 2005 FLHRCI Road King Classic Linda and I were riding my 2005 Road King Classic with just under 5,000 miles noted on the odometer as we commenced this trip. I did ask Kevin if my outdated model would prove an embarrassment to him as we’d be traveling together... He replied something along the line that 'he could handle it and/or would get over it in any event'. It would take much for me to part with this road bike – Kiro2 is the finest motorcycle for touring and long trips I have ever operated. If you’re in the market for a new ride this would be a model I would recommend without equivocation.

We got on the road but not for long. The first planned stop was for breakfast at a restaurant near our home and this is where we went. While at breakfast we discussed the several options of routes we could take to Calais, Maine and the border. They elected to follow the coast – Route 1 from Brunswick to Calais, a picturesque but longer route – after all we weren’t in a hurry. So we paid our tab, fired up the scoots and off we went.

Route 1 is a major tourist draw in summertime Maine when the population nearly triples over normal. At times you can go 55 or 60 miles per hour, but it goes through smaller towns and villages with much lower speed limits although it really is a pretty ride. We stopped for gas when required and did a bit of sightseeing but not much until we got into Searsport, where I suggested we stop at Bluejacket Ship Crafters - ship kit producers and model makers for the U.S. Navy. Looking at their displays is always interesting and I think the ladies didn’t even mind the stop. We had a late lunch in Searsport and again headed north.

I’d mounted the GPS on my scoot, a Lowrance IWay500 and pre-programmed it for the first leg of the journey and several other way points. West Quoddy Light House in Lubec was on the way with just a short detour from Route 1 and I wished to get some images of that area. So in the late afternoon we came into Lubec and headed to the easternmost point in the continental United States. I wasn’t certain if we could visit the lighthouse as late as it was but the small park is open until dusk and we had plenty of time. We walked the grounds, took some photographs and after a time decided to move on.

West Quoddy Light

As we looked out to sea at Canada across the way I indicated to the group about how close we were as the crow flies to where we were headed. It’s not far to Grand Manan by sea from Lubec and the land mass directly in front of us across the water was in Canada. You may be familiar with the United States/Canada dealings on Campobello Island (Canadian territory, even through it includes the summer retreat of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, now a museum) and other islands off the coast of Maine, but there are several, including Machias Seal Island, that remain in contention as to which country actually owns them.

Some people approached running towards us from one of the trails and told us a hiker had broken an ankle some distance back. They were seeking help but nobody was around the lighthouse and we hadn’t seen a Ranger or much of anyone else. We debated among ourselves if we could assist in some fashion but thought it best to find some emergency personnel as they would be able to get equipment to the scene in lieu of somebody trying to carry the hiker out. The runners got into a vehicle and it wasn’t long before an ambulance was on the scene, arriving at the park as we were leaving the area.

We were close to the border and decided to run into Calais to seek a hotel for the evening and were soon on our way.
Kevin & Loretta at the Easternmost Point

Lobstering off West Quoddy

Once in Calais we fueled the bikes and inquired at a few places seeking rooms. Linda talked to an innkeeper and learned soon enough there was little chance of obtaining lodging on the United States side as the hotels were filled with transient construction workers. He advised crossing the border as there were more hotels in Canada. With this news, we took his advice and crossed the border into St. Stephens, New Brunswick to try our luck.

St. Stephen Inn where we spent the first night One never knows what to expect when crossing into Canada or if your vehicle may be selected for more than a cursory glance. However, our experience with the scoots had never been particularly troublesome and this was the case today. I was asked the plate number of my Harley, where we were going, for what purpose, etc., and we didn’t have to wait long in line to cross over. As of January 2008 everyone will need a passport; as it is now, you’re supposed to have an original birth certificate to prove your nationality and photo identification to indicate who you are. Everyone but Linda had a passport, but I didn’t show mine and we went through after answering the simple enough questions. Kevin and Loretta were asked the same questions; he later indicated to me that he told the customs guard he didn’t know where he was going – he didn’t remember the name of the island and that in essence, he was following me. The guard remembered what I’d told him and let them through...

We gained an hour immediately upon crossing the bridge. It went from 2020 to 2120 hours (9:20 PM), which isn’t a big deal we thought. This turned into more of an issue when we learned all the restaurants in St. Stephen closed at 2100 and we ‘missed the boat’. We found a hotel with availability, checked in and located a Tim Horton’s to get us by until morning. The hotel, St. Stephen Inn, was okay and the lady that ran the place of Asian decent was really nice. Her English was halting to a degree but not bad and we understood her. She looked at Kevin’s Harley jacket as we checked in, then stated she ‘knew others in your club’ – ‘yikes’ we thought – that is one helluva large club.... I told her my friend was ‘scooter trash’ but I on the other hand was completely trustworthy in every regard. We both ended up with rooms and had a decent night’s sleep...You know this hotel must be comfortable – it says so right on the sign.

It had been a long but good day. I'd gotten up around 0530 hours, was packed and ready to ride by 0800. According to the GPS we’d spent 6 hours, 22 minutes in the saddle and traveled just under 300 miles getting into Canada.

Day 2, Tuesday July 24th – The Island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada

Main Street, Saint Stephen

I slept later than expected I would, getting up round 0700 hours local time. I put a lens on the camera and walked outside to see what may be going on and to check the area in daylight. It was overcast and rain threatened. Shortly afterwards it started in with a light drizzle, which didn’t bode well for the day and our next ride. Kevin had removed his saddlebags in lieu of unpacking the contents and he came out and started to re-fasten them. He had listened to the television weather report indicating rain in the early morning followed by clearing by mid day.

I don’t think Kevin expected to see me out and about as I came back from a walk with my camera in the photograph at right.

Once the ladies were up and ready we walked down the street to a restaurant and had breakfast while discussing when to depart. It was decided to leave around 1030 in hopes that the rain would stop before we got on the road. Whether or not we donned rain gear would be decided at that time. Before the noted time the sun was out and the world as we knew it was drying out. I knocked on Kevin and Loretta’s door with the news and had my bike packed and ready to ride. We left the hotel right at the scheduled hour.

The ride into Black’s Harbour, where we would take the ferry was quicker than expected, less than 45 minutes and mostly on a highway. The GPS took us right to the ferry terminal; as we pulled in to access the loading lanes we saw we were the only people there and the ferry was still at the pier. Linda went into the building and learned nobody was around to make an inquiry about what we should do. Just as she was coming out I viewed the ferry crew waving us on indicating they had room for both bikes and to get a move on. We dropped off our passengers near the vessel for safety’s sake and followed the grated ramp into the ship. In a just few minutes we had the scoots tied off; even before this simple task was completed the ‘Grand Manan’ was underway to the island. Talk about good timing... We learned a motorcycle verses a four-wheeled vehicle makes a great deal of difference when getting on board a ferry – they can always find room for bikes.
Kevin Installing His Saddlebags

On Board the Ferry Grand Manan

We enjoyed the trip through the Bay of Fundy and had our cameras available to look for whales, porpoise, birds or whatever we came across. The passage to Grand Manan (pronounced Grand Man-nan – we asked to make certain we pronounced it correctly; just like in Maine places the phonetics sometimes have little bearing on the actual verbalization), took 90 minutes so everybody kicked back to enjoy the ride. I received some strange looks carrying my camera with the 70~200mm lens and extender around. I never think much about it but it is larger by far than the average short focal lens when the lend hood and extender are employed.

We took some photos of sea creatures around the vessel and viewed our first great whale. The shots of this were far distant and not particularly interesting but at least we had some to get things started photographically. It was foggy and the visibility wasn’t great. We didn’t realize at the time this was a more prevalent condition than not in the time we spent in the area.

As we cleared land I explained to Kevin, Loretta and Linda about pelagic birds and asked them to be on the lookout for tubenoses - pelagic seabirds with nostrils enclosed in narrow tubes on top of their bills. This group includes Shearwaters, Northern Fulmars and Petrels. Linda knew about these somewhat from a recent trip, Photographing Pelagic Birds at Sea, but they forgot almost instantly and the term became ‘snot-noses’. I pointed out examples of ‘snot-noses’, particularly Greater Shearwaters as we came across them. We photographed examples of these and their habit of running across the surface when taking flight.

On Board the Grand Manan

Swallowtail Light in Fog - Grand Manan As the time approached 1300 hours we viewed the island looming in the distance. It remained foggy and we took some images of Swallowtail Light enshrouded as we approached. This was all fairly exhilarating and the announcement to return to the vehicles was sounded and everyone started going below. I will comment these ferry crews have this stuff down pat. They take little time in clearing the decks and bringing the new group of cars and passengers on board and are extremely well organized. The girls walked up the ramp as Kevin and I un-strapped the scoots and followed along when directed. I don’t think anyone who rides on two-wheels is especially fond of metal grated ramps – this is exacerbated near the water when the ramps could be wet and possibly slick. Everybody I know cringes when riding on these as it just doesn’t appear natural. With the extreme tide fall in the Bay of Fundy it’s even more of a challenge as one never knows how steep the ramp may become...

We made it off without incident, pulled over and waited for the girls as we took our first steps on Grand Manan, ‘Queen of the Fundy Isles’. The ferry payment situation is one way only. We didn’t have to do anything to get on the island but reservations and payment were required to get back to the mainland. We discussed making a point to check into this further before our Saturday departure. So, we were on the road once again. We weren’t certain exactly where we were going so followed Route 776 southwest towards Grand Harbour, where The Whistler’s is located. I had the address in my saddlebag and figured we would stop and I’d check it when the time came. The scale of the island isn’t large actually and as we traveled along I began to see places I’d read about in planning, Castalia Marsh, various coves & streets, etc. Fish Weir at Flaggs Cove

The Island of Grand Manan

Arrival at The Whistler's - Our Home for the Week

Arrival at The Whistler's I looked right and viewed a sizeable sign out front of a house indicating it was ‘The Whistler’s’ – yikes, we were home already... We turned around, entered the driveway and parked the bikes. The door was open and in we went. I had no cell service on my phone but Kevin did. I asked that he call and inform the group that the Rogers party of four had arrived...

The Whistler’s as a rental property is owned and operated by Tammy Brown of Beach Front Cottages. It was built for and occupied for many years by her grandparents. Her Grandfather, Merritt Brown, along with his brother Sherman, operated the garage across the street from his home for over sixty years. The home was constructed in 1946 and the care and craftsmanship involved in this process is noteworthy. Today the home continues to exhibit the skill and attention to detail it always has and our stay there was exemplary. When I first made a rental inquiry to Tammy I was seeking to rent several of her beach front cottages. These were spoken for during the week of our stay and she suggested this home. I cannot say how the cottages would have worked out but have nothing but praise and positive comments about The Whistler’s and our time there. It was perfect for us, had a nice yard, was centrally located and proved overall to be quite wonderful.

When Kevin reached the firm by telephone, he talked with Amanda. She indicated we should go in, make ourselves at home and we’d catch up eventually to conduct the business end of the proposition. This is how things are done on the island – low key, personal and with a great deal of trust. It was several days before we actually met with Amanda to get things squared away.
The Whister's

Kevin in the Yard of The Whister's - This is the Life!

It was a brief and cursory investigation of The Whistler’s to learn it was an exceptional place. Each couple took a bedroom and Kevin and I unloaded the bikes while the ladies went about checking requirements and planning a grocery run to get the place properly outfitted. We'd viewed a restaurant near where the ferry lands/departs so after a time we took a ride to grab some lunch and check the lay of the land. While out we obtained another map of the island and inquired to learn where things were – gas, the grocery store, package store, where we needed to meet the vessel for the tours, all the usual things tourists ask over and over I’m certain. Our waitress was a wonderful woman and answered our questions without reservation even though I’m certain she must grow weary about all this. We were pleased and impressed with everything we viewed and the folks we talked with. Once back at The Whistler’s, Kevin and Loretta decided to make a grocery run while we hung around and unpacked or whatever. Linda, Loretta & Kevin Kicking Back

Upon their return we decided to go for a ride. The first run after we unpacked was to visit Long Eddy Point, noted as one of the better spots for viewing whales offshore and birding on the extreme northern portion of Grand Manan. I packed the tripod and 500mm lens for this run and off we went. There were a few people around upon our arrival and we talked with them about what they’d viewed, where they were from, etc. Kevin and Loretta took a walk down the hill to get near the ocean while Linda and I kept watch for whales and the occasional porpoise in the water far below and out to sea from our lofty perch. We later learned it was eight miles across the channel we were viewing and the United States loomed large across the way.

Long Eddy Point Views

Happy at Home... On the way back to The Whistler’s we stopped at the local grocery store and picked up some burgers and fixings as we’d decided to cook on the grill this evening. This became the trend over the next few days – lunch on the road in our travels and Kevin cooking on the grill in the evenings. He enjoys doing this and did a great job with it. We returned around 1915 hours and remained in for the balance of the night. We were tired and after sitting in the chairs outdoors after sunset for a time, I went in to retire for the evening. We’d arrived at our destination and things were going splendidly. It was shaping up to be a good week with a few days remaining before the opportunity to image Atlantic Puffins.

Day 3, Wednesday, July 25th – A Free Day, Some Touring & Southwest Head

My sleep habits since the May bird migration had modified enough to have me up fairly early in the mornings. We could sleep in as long as anyone wished as this morning nothing was planned. Much as I’d expected, I was up early, not long after sunrise. As a matter of fact, this was the only ‘free’ day we had to do whatever we choose without any scheduling whatsoever. I’d done some investigation of birding spots on Grand Manan; Tammy kindly mailed a checklist pursuant to species on the island and I decided to quietly arise, dress and get outside to learn what may be around. I went out to find a dripping wet motorcycle and heavy fog enveloping the land & sea. To say the visibility was poor understated the case and even driving may prove problematic. I returned indoors and found a towel to wipe my bike down. After a short delay as I considered the situation, I determined to head to Castalia Marsh to check out the lay of the land if nothing else.

Foggy Morning Birding at Castalia Marsh

Once I was on the road I found the driving okay as long as I didn’t go too fast, which would not have been advisable anyway under the conditions. At the marsh road I turned in and followed it to where it traveled left and right on a gravel road that was a bit of challenge on a slow ride with larger rocks and washed out areas. This was my first time here and I viewed this gravel strip paralleling the main paved road with the marsh between the two. It actually went the length of the marsh and a bit beyond and had some picnic tables and several built up wood platforms facing to seaward and looking into the marsh. Of course this morning offered limited visibility so I rode along to see what may be in the area. I noticed a sizeable group of ducks close inshore on the ocean side of the road. I later learned these were Black Ducks and didn’t see any other species besides these from what I could tell. I’d hoped to view some sea ducks but didn’t on this day. I parked the scoot, got the camera out and walked back to where the ducks were, taking a few images in this foggy landscape. In the bushes and plantings on the marsh side of the road I could see some House and Song Sparrows flitting about but none were easily approachable and I couldn’t see other birds out in the marsh from my viewing spot. Morning Greeting

Black Ducks on the Fog Bound Ocean

At Castalia Marsh I took several handheld photographs but recognized this was hardly worthwhile. I actually enjoyed the solitude and unearthly view the fog presented in this environment and didn’t bother to set up the tripod. Walking out by the marsh didn’t yield much activity that I could see so I took a seat for a time to visualize the scene being presented. I got back on the bike and followed the road until it turned into beach sand. An hour and a half had passed and I decided to head home to see what the others may be doing. I sensed the fog would be burning off soon and it would probably be a nice day.

On the way out in the distance I viewed a lady walking the road. She was the only person I’d seen this morning and I stopped to speak with her for a moment. I asked if she were a birder and she replied no, she just loved this place and like me, decided on a morning visit. She told me about taking a photo of three adult Bald Eagles that had perched in a tree near where she was staying at an area called the Anchorage (I knew these were adults from her description). I made a mental note to investigate this location on our map and to check it out as time permitted.

It was getting near 0830 hours when I returned to The Whistler’s and found Linda having a cup of coffee and reading. Kevin was outside putting his boots on and looking around. He asked if I’d seen the dew droplets on the evergreen at the end of the driveway and we walked over to take a look. These drops are neat photographically as each is a small prism and magnifies the light that shines through them. Although I didn’t want to pull the tripod out as I should have, I did locate, mount and prepare to shoot handheld with the 100mm macro lens I carried on the trip.

Macro Photography

By 1000 hours everybody was up, showered (except for me, I was on a night schedule) and Kevin was cooking bacon and eggs to start the day. As we enjoyed our breakfast, we discussed what everyone wished to do and where to go next. Not long afterwards we fired up the bikes and headed towards Dark Harbour on the western side of Grand Manan. Kevin Greeting the Day

Visiting Dark Harbour

Grand Manan is known to produce excellent dulse and ‘Dark Harbour dulse’ is known as some of the best available being darker, thicker and more flavorful than average. If you’re like me the first question that begs to mind is, ‘what in the world is dulse?’... Well, dulse is red seaweed that grows attached to rocks in North Atlantic and Northwest Pacific waters. Dark Harbour, being on the western side of the island and having high cliffs in the area which shades the dulse from bright morning sunlight, creates an outstanding environment for this seaweed to grow and be harvested. Dulse is eaten fresh off the rocks or sun-dried & consumed, ground up into flakes or a powder for various dishes or for use as a seasoning. It can be found in some health food and grocery stores and can be ordered directly if desired. It is harvested from June through September, picked by hand at low water and carried to a drying field where it’s cleaned of debris and left to dry. Although we viewed this in the grocery store we didn’t buy or try any dulse during our time on Grand Manan.

Dark Harbour View

Beached Dory As we approached the protected waters of Dark Harbour we had a beautiful view from the top of the hill overlooking the scene. We headed into the gravel parking area at the bottom of the hill and got off to look around. There were a few people around and we asked about a few things as we walked about. Some fish weirs were hauled up on land providing us a chance to have a look at these up close.

We took some photographs of the surroundings before thinking about heading back up the hill. It was beautiful day and we were in a scenic spot on Grand Manan. These landscapes hardly do the location justice.
Harbour View


Fog rolling in - this came and went often. This scene is the same area posted two images up and was taken just a matter of minutes later. This didn't occur just at Dark Harbour but in many places we visited on the island. Incoming Fog

We’d decided to get a higher vantage point on the way out and stopped to take this image looking down upon the scene.

Dark Harbour from the Hilltop

Roadside Butterfly Afterwards as we continued along, we viewed many butterflies flying around, enough that it drew our interest. I pulled over and Linda and I got the cameras out to see if we could get a few shots of some of the many in the area.

Group of Butterflies Spring Azure

We stayed around the road on this hot day for a bit, the heavy fog had burned off long ago, before moving on. As we followed the winding road to my left I spotted a Ruffed Grouse sitting in a tree watching us pass. Yes indeed, a new bird for my Bird Images Index. These medium sized game birds aren’t rare and there are quite a few in the north including a range of the entire State of Maine, but they are more likely to be heard and not seen. I felt most fortunate to have such a sterling example close by. I figured by the time I got the camera out the bird would disappear but it was worth the effort... The grouse was still with us as I approached with a 200mm lens; I took several ‘insurance shots’ and moved in closer to attempt a larger image scale. After several more exposures the bird must have had enough and flew into the brush below the tree at the side of the road. I immediately stepped off into the undergrowth – not sure what I was thinking as there was no chance of seeing the grouse in that mess – but that first step was a long one... There was nothing beneath the undergrowth whatsoever except a deep drainage ditch... I was doing fine until I reached the end of my extended leg and then, down the ditch I rolled, trying to not fall on my lens in the process. As I got up and walked out I notified my compatriots to, ‘not walk off the roadway as it isn’t safe’. They laughed (they probably wondered if it was okay to do so at the time) and asked if I were okay as I viewed the grouse fly across the road and land in another tree... I went across and took another shot or two before the bird went underground not to be seen again. Ruffed Grouse

We still had much daylight remaining and decided to tour the island some more. We followed the road back to the primary access road, Route 776 and south to visit Southwest Head, the extreme southern portion of the island and another area of cliffs overlooking the sea with a lighthouse. The drive wasn’t more than perhaps twenty minutes or so as we scudded along. We knew this would take us by Seal Cove where we were to meet the vessel Day’s Catch for a whale watch tour tomorrow and figured we’d find out where to go ahead of time for this adventure. We passed a group of what I thought were reindeer or caribou in a fenced yard alongside the road. We later learned these were New Zealand red deer that a fellow raised for various purposes, mostly for meat.

Visit to Southwest Head

View from the Southwest Head Cliffs

Light at Southwest Head Soon enough we came to the end of the road at Southwest Head and it was every bit as beautiful as we’d been informed. The high cliffs overlooked the sea below in the sparkling sunshine with several terrific vantage points available. This is a whale overlook area as well so I set up the tripod and 500mm lens after looking around for a time. Everyone kind of went their own way and enjoyed the majestic scenery along with a few others that were present when we arrived. I viewed several people with optics viewing/shooting down from the heights and looked at various birds flying by below us as I sought out a premier place to set up and level the tripod. The landscape was picturesque and we could see far out on the water. My compatriots weren’t overjoyed with my choice of locations to set up as I was near the exposed edge. It was a long way down as I looked over the precipice... I informed Kevin that if I fell off, he’d had to ride both Harley’s back to Maine.

Not long after we arrived a government helicopter could be seen in the distance making towards the lighthouse. I photographed this interesting site as it came around, landed and discharged a few passengers. I later learned that I’d just viewed the shift change of the lighthouse attendants from Machias Seal Island. Yes, that’s correct, MSI is one of the few locations left that actually has lighthouse tenders that work in shifts around the clock... Government Chopper

View from the Southwest Head
Cliff View Smoothed Rocks by the Water

Below are two images of Kevin & Loretta standing on the cliffs above the water. Linda took the image at left at 200mm. I took the right image at 700mm from quite a distance. I wished to display both so you can get some idea of the height of the headland.

Kevin & Loretta on the cliffs Kevin and Loretta in a Closer View

Black Guillemot with Fish Taken from the Heights at 700mm Black Guillemot with Fish

Some Young Canadians We talked to this fine group of young people on the cliffs. I asked if they wanted their picture taken and then presented them my card so they could check my website for this account after a few weeks. Okay you guys, please find your Southwest Head photograph at left...

We took many photographs at Southwest Head and after time packed our gear to head northward. Loretta wished to get some photos of the deer but they weren’t near the road on the way by so we didn’t stop. Not far from this point we came across a restaurant and decided to stop for lunch. Afterwards we took the road into Seal Cove and located the departure pier where ‘Day’s Catch’, the vessel we had our sea tours planned with, puts out & anchors. We’d called Sea Watch Tours and knew we’d have to be back here around 0730 the next morning and wished to get a jump on learning where we had to be.

Linda took this Monarch Butterfly image near the light house after she chased it around for a time.
Linda's Monarch Butterfly Image

Southwest Head View We’d be driving by the Anchorage area where the Bald Eagles had been spotted and knew from the map several ponds were also near by. So we took the short road into the Anchorage Provincial Park to take a look around. Much like the marsh area earlier, a gravel road ran parallel to the sea and we followed this to the left, which passed the ponds. The gravel road was between the ponds and the sea and the area was quite scenic. There were several walking passes from the road to get over to the sea but we followed the road to the end, where there was parking and picnic tables and a few other amenities. It was fine day and we walked towards the water onto a large and open beach area. This beach was pristine in character and I immediately thought of what this scene would be like in Maine – it would have had many people around - people all over the place – here there were hardly enough folks around to make an impact on the size of this expanse... we didn’t have time to frequent any beach this trip but I knew if we did this beautiful place would be it.

We didn't pull either camera out at The Anchorage so didn't get any shots to add here. We'd been doing a great deal of photography and we just wished to relax for a bit. Packing and unpacking the camera gear can get tedious if one stays on the move often.

We talked to a gentleman who lived on Grand Manan for a time and learned much about the island from our discussion. He was interesting and helpful; I always like to speak with people living in the area to obtain their views on things. Linda had our binoculars and had been scanning the sky when she announced there was a pair of eagles in flight far away over a distant point. We all had a look and confirmed she was absolutely correct. Our new friend gave me directions if we wished to try to access that location to seek out where they may have gone. I learned there are many eagles on the island but never was able to find any close up as I’d hoped.

Linda and I took the bike up the road closer to the entrance and stopped at a hiking path going into a wooded area. We walked this trail for ten or fifteen minutes and didn’t see anything of particular interest and only a single bird when I decided to head back. Kevin and Loretta wouldn’t know where we got off to and we weren’t really dressed for this endeavor. When we came out of the woods they were waiting and speaking with a fellow near where the bikes were parked. We asked this fellow about eagles and his view was that they were a scourge on the island and had decimated the songbird and other populations with their voracious eating/hunting habits. I thought this point of view interesting although I understood how this could be an issue. Eagles are protected in Canada as well as the United States from what I gathered so the locals didn’t really plan to take action or anything. With all the eagles around I thought it would be great to get some close up shots. I even got a lead on where a pair of eagles roosted regularly that would be easily accessible but theses close up images was not to be as I never located the pair...

Although I didn’t know it at that time, I took this image of the vessel we were to join tomorrow, Day's Catch, heading to Machias Seal Island through the hazy day.
Day's Catch Heading to Machias Seal Island

Common Eiders on the Ocean As we drove northward towards home we decided to visit the grocery store to buy some supplies for dinner. After we completed this task we headed for home. As we traveled along we viewed a pair of ladies in a church parking lot with binoculars looking skyward. I knew instantly that they had to be viewing a bird considering the observing angle. Thinking about it, my inclination was to stop and ask as it a may have been something interesting. I didn’t however, we had the food loaded and although I had my camera gear on the bike, figured it would be best to return as Loretta and Linda were carrying several bags. I learned later I had made an error in judgment by not making this stop and I kick myself still, long after the event...

This night we elected to have burgers again with hot dogs & some pre-made salads we’d purchased, which were fresh and quite good. Kevin whipped up the food on the grill in short order and we sat outside with our four chairs lined up to enjoy the evening. The day had been warm, downright hot actually and tonight was much warmer than last evening. The sky was clear and soon Jupiter and the summer triangle of Deneb, Vega and Altair (constellations Cygnus, Lyra & Aquila) shown bright, clear and fairly low in the heavens. Linda showed Kevin and Loretta the four Galilean moons of Jupiter through the binoculars as we looked around and had a few drinks – life was good for sure. Because this night was considerably warmer than the last, with the sunset a major batch of mosquitoes joined us and it wasn’t long before we were heading inside and an early retirement for the evening.

Beach View

Day 4, Thursday, July 26th – The Whale Watch - Meeting Peter and Durlan of Day's Catch

We’d called Sea Watch Tours as directed the day before the first trip to receive any last minute instructions due to sea conditions or weather. Sea Watch Tours is owned and operated by Peter and Kenda Wilcox and I’d emailed and spoken with them several times when making the arrangements. Kenda indicated we should be at the pier in Seal Cove no later than 0745 that morning. I had everybody thinking we had to be there at 0730 just in case, but this wasn’t an issue as we were up early and ready in plenty of time.

We had coffee and bagels at the house and were ready to ride by 0700. The morning was fair and there was hardly any dew, none when compared to yesterday. It had the makings of a fine day with clear visibility. We fired up the Harleys and off we went heading south. Once we arrived at Seal Cove we looked to see if the Day’s Catch was berthed there, which it was. Peter & Durlan were in the process of moving the vessel to the pier where the passengers would board. We were the first people at the site but not for long; I began to wonder how many may be joining us for the whale watch. I was standing on the ramp taking some photographs of the area when we were directed to board, so stepped over the gunwale and found a place at the rear seat near the corner, hoping to keep an unobstructed line of sight to the water available. I'd just done a similar imaging trip at sea and had learned a few things about where one should try to be for photography, although on this vessel it didn’t make much difference I found. We stowed some of our belongings under the bench to get them out of the way as we waited. Soon enough the latecomers arrived, Captain Peter gave the mandatory speech about safety, lifejackets, etc. and we prepared to depart.

The sea was calm as we exited the protected shelter of the anchorage and looked around; we figured it would stay that way from what we could tell. Seasickness is always a concern on these trips, not necessarily for us but the group as a whole with nearly forty persons aboard. It didn’t look like today would be problematic and this turned out to be the case. It was a wonderful day all around with a calm sea.

Actually, this entire morning’s cruise was fairly spectacular and a fun time. We headed into the Bay of Fundy to seek whale pods while everyone enjoyed the view and relaxed. I was prepared to photograph any pelagic birds we came across and was using my 70~200mm F/2.8 extended at 2x, which provided a range of 140 to 400 millimeters while remaining stabilized. I’d read this lens works well with the 1.4X extender but the 2X presented a bit of a compromise, one I was willing to make at this point for the extra reach. There’s generally plenty of light at sea and shooting extended at f/5.6 should allow a more than ample shutter speed although a 400mm reach isn’t that great for birds not especially close to our location. This will provide you a decent image but not a large image scale if the subject is distant and small. The extender does slow down the autofocus function though and I’d have to see how this worked out.
Seal Cove

Day's Catch

Durlan Aboard Day's Catch As we traveled out it was my first opportunity to speak with Durlan Ingersoll, the mate and only other crewperson besides Peter. I later learned they’d been associated for a number of years and work the Day’s Catch during the summer and outside of tourist season together. Among his other duties, Durlan was serving as a guide and explaining to the passengers what everyone was viewing for birds and pointing out other things of interest that we passed. A Wilson’s Storm Petrel flew by and I believe Durlan heard me indicate what it was, much to his surprise probably... After this comment he and I really started talking about various subjects. I learned he is an avid birder and has a great interest in photography. He had his Canon camera and long lens on board and was every bit as interested in obtaining images as any of us were when his tasks permitted. We were sharing images soon enough and exchanging looks at our LCD screens on our cameras.

One of Kevin's 'snot-noses' can be viewed at right, a Wilson’s Storm Petrel. There are eight species of petrels in two main groups, Northern and Southern. All forage on prey captured on the surface of the water, generally while in flight. This petrel is widespread in our waters in summer and can often be found at sea performing a 'foot-pattering' action while feeding. This bird has a body length of just over seven inches and a wingspan of around eighteen inches. Not exactly an easy subject to photograph in flight. This capture was at 400mm, the longest reach I had available on the whale-tour. Wilson's Storm Petrel

Toronto Birders - Conferring over a Field Guide I learned from Durlan that the two ladies we’d passed yesterday viewing the bird at the church lot accompanied us on the whale watch today. He was excited as he explained the pair had documented the first sighting ever on Grand Manan of a Swallow-tailed Kite. I was appalled to know that I had an opportunity to document this sighting photographically and didn’t take the time to stop... I spoke with the ladies, in the area on a birding trip, and learned they hailed from Toronto. I inquired about their sighting and learned it had been posted as a rare bird alert and had generated a significant amount of interest. This Kite is a beautiful and graceful raptor with striking black & white plumage and a long, forked tail. The wingspan for an adult specimen is around fifty inches and they stand about twenty-two inches in height when perched, so these aren’t what I’d consider small bird whatsoever. I checked the church area every time I was went by and met Durlan there later hoping to make an observation of this elusive bird afterwards to no avail.

Linda had her camera and 70~300 DO IS lens mounted and both of us were shooting whatever came our way as we moved along the water. Many of the seabirds were perched on the water and as the vessel neared would move off or take flight providing fleeting opportunities to get some exposures. These birds were much the same we see in Maine, which makes sense after all. However, anytime one can get on the water provides opportunities to obtain photographs of these species that you simply cannot get otherwise on land no matter how common they may be. Once Durlan became aware I had an interest in seabirds he made a point to let me know about anything he spotted. He’d view from the passenger area as he moved around with his various tasks or when located on the roof of the cabin, where he used this higher vantage point to search for whales and aided Peter with directions in this effort.

This pensive young lad was one of our shipmates for the morning.
A Young Shipmate

Greater Shearwater on the Ocean Linda and I did our best to react to the information to get some exposures. There were many people on the vessel for this trip and the field of view was obstructed often depending on where one happened to be located. This was a great time and we were clearly in the right area to see the many birds offered at sea in the bay. A lone Northern Fulmar flew by near the stern and was spotted by Durlan. I got the camera up for a few shots - I’d had a few opportunities to image fulmars (another ‘snot-nose’ according to Kevin) and had yet to obtain a close up and definitive photograph. We observed many Red-necked Phalaropes in groups flying in unison and resting on the water as we traveled along, although generally too far for a good shot with any detail. Linda and I discussed this and although they weren’t close at hand, we imaged into the groups often as the birds rocketed by at distance. From all the exposures we took of the phalaropes combined, not one achieved critical focus... some were close, really close, but not one was dead on and this was a disappointment to say the least. This is one type of shot on a quick moving group that autofocus doesn’t appear to handle well although the background has much to do with any chance of success.

We had Greater and Sooty Shearwater fly-bys, an occasional Razorbill on the water and we took photographs of all. A Common Loon rested on the sea close enough to get an exposure, which I did. One of the passengers appeared incredulous when I told her what this was. People think of loons primarily as freshwater birds as many are viewed in ponds and lakes inland. Many loons winter grouped with sea ducks in Maine waters and I see them often at places I frequent in cold weather. Sometimes Wilson’s Storm Petrels jetted by Day’s Catch & would come close enough to warrant attention. We took some images of these petrels, smaller than an American Robin, as they flew along quicker than banshees flitting about and on the water... There were many Black Guillemots around, same family as the Atlantic Puffin we'd come to photograph, and I’d imaged several examples of these around Grand Manan. This really was a great pelagic opportunity provided one had enough focal length to make it productive. Common Loon

Bird Images

Then there were the whales...Oh my! Sea Watch Tours guarantees whale sightings or you don’t pay for the tour – I believe Peter feels safe with this policy from what we could tell. There certainly were quite a few around but on this day they were all Finback (or simply Fin) Whales. Please don’t read this as a complaint – finbacks are elegant and spectacular - observing them was an outstanding experience. These whales are the second largest known, only the Blue grows larger and can obtain a length of around sixty to eighty feet. They are documented as the fastest of the great whales and can reach a peak speed of around 35 miles per hour. Finbacks are baleen whales, characterized by having baleen plates for filtering food from the water as opposed to their toothed cousins. Baleen whales are generally larger than toothed whales and the female baleens are larger than males. The baleen whale group comprises the largest of all living animal species and they have two blowholes which exhibit a ‘V’ shaped pattern when they blow. This blow can rise twenty feet more or less above the water so can be seen from a good distance away. They surface fairly horizontally and rarely raise their tails (flukes) above the water – we didn’t observe any flukes examples. They arch their backs in a graceful motion when diving and Durlan indicated the size of the calm water patch exhibited once they submerge has a direct relationship to the depth the whale intends to achieve. In other words – a large calm patch is an indicator that particular whale won’t be seen again for a bit... See what I mean – these whales are pretty amazing and a spectacular sight!

Finback Whales

Pair of Finbacks Now the bad news – Finback Whales along with many other whales species were decimated by hunting during the twentieth century and they are an endangered species. The estimated worldwide population of Finbacks is only seventy-five to one hundred thousand of these beautiful creatures.
This was a whale watch excursion and well attended by many. Trying to use a camera under these circumstances can be a bit of challenge. Everybody is on the lookout for whales and once some are spotted Peter would change direction to follow the pod. The direct result of a sighting was everybody moved to the rail in that direction and you couldn’t get a photograph through this group for love or money. If you happened to be on the wrong side of the vessel when a sighting was noted, you basically were out of luck. I’m not stating that the people were rude or inconsiderate with this comment, ‘enthusiastic’ would be more the correct word. If someone realized what you were doing they would make room for you to get a clear line of sight but there were many people in a small area in this event. The one time some whales moved in close, coming towards us perpendicularly and actually diving under the vessel, I never took even a single exposure - I was out of position and everybody was so excited that they stood on the benches to look over the heads of those at the rail and blocked my view entirely. I wasn’t especially comfortable standing on a bench with both hands on the camera, looking through the viewfinder as the boat lurched about, so didn’t jump up there as well. However, Linda did manage a few exposures and obtained the best whale shots of the day from our two cameras. We had many exposures in varying degrees of quality but certainly got enough ‘keepers’, a few which are posted here, to make this morning a terrific success. Finback Displaying Upper Jaw

Linda's Finback Images

There is an incident on this tour I thought was a bit out of the ordinary. Durlan was on the cabin roof and yelled down that there was some kind of migrant bird heading towards the vessel… We turned to look as this juvenile Downy Woodpecker tried to find a place to take a rest. This poor bird did all it could to clamp onto the one of the boat’s masts but found these too smooth and the bird gained little purchase. The woodpecker flew for a moment and then returned to try again. After multiple attempts it gave up and kept flying. We hoped it made landfall and didn’t drop into the sea, but as Durlan pointed out, this was how many of the species on the islands got there in the first place – through error, the wind blowing them off course, or just poor navigation. We knew this was a woodpecker but nobody at the time was certain which species. I had a series of shots on this bird and had the identification confirmed by Derek Lovitch of the Wild Bird Center of Yarmouth when we returned home. Derek is a font of birding knowledge and I often confer with him when I'm uncertain on sightings.

Hairy Woodpecker at Sea Juvenile Hairy Woodpecker

Whale Back The whale watch endeavor had us back to Seal Cove around 1130 hours, so we had quite a bit of the day remaining. The first order of business was to find some lunch as everyone was hungry. We'd had a scant breakfast & didn’t take anything along in the way of food on the sea tour. We broke down and stowed the camera gear and headed the scoots north on Route 776. We wanted to check in with the ferry staff to get the scoop on what was required when we planned to leave on Saturday and the Area 38 Restaurant was right next to this facility. We ordered lunch and talked with the staff at the restaurant as we waited. Afterwards Kevin and I walked over to the ferry ticket counter just as another group was asking the same questions we had. We learned that you can make a reservation and pay the day before the proposed trip. Once the clerk found out we were on motorcycles she quickly informed us not to worry about it. We learned the ticket fee was $31.50 (CD) per bike and couple; she said the day we were leaving to present the payment receipt, they’d stamp it and that was all that was required. We stopped in the next day in our travels and purchased the tickets.

We discussed what, if anything we wished to do with the balance of the afternoon. Collectively we decided to head back to the house and take it easy for the balance of the day. Once we returned to The Whistler’s we went about various tasks and among other activities, I did the dishes remaining in the kitchen. Loretta and Linda appeared to think this was pretty funny and Loretta ran to get her camera – guess she thought this was worth documenting. Finback Blowhole

Return to The Whistler's

Doing the dishes turned out to be a good thing because as I looked out the window over the sink, I viewed a Bald Eagle fly overhead. I ran outside to make certain I was seeing what I thought I did and yes, high up was an eagle scanning the area. Shortly after the first sighting, another eagle appeared overhead... Once I was through in the kitchen I went out to the Harley, unpacked & set up the camera, 500mm lens and tripod just in case another flyby occurred. After a time it did but the birds were much higher, really far away in this pass. I lined up and took several shots to at least exhibit they were in the area near where we stayed.

High Flying Bald Eagle Eagle Overhead

Our Crew Minus One - Loretta, Kevin & Linda I started to keep the tripod set up, ready to shoot when we were at home. We didn’t hang around the yard a great deal as we had quite a few things scheduled, but there was activity from time to time that warranted a potential photograph. A beautiful Cedar Waxwing landed in one of the trees next to the driveway one evening and there were quite a few sparrows around; once a pair of warblers landed in the same tree – enough activity that while we were there I figured I may as well be prepared.

Linda and Loretta discussed the flower garden at the house next door. Linda is an avid gardener and keeps the grounds at home vibrant and full of color during warm weather. I like this as many varied insects, birds, butterflies, etc., visit and I’m often conducting photography on the various subjects including the beautiful flowers as they bloom. What I didn’t know is that Loretta also has a more than casual interest in flowers and plantings. She appeared most adept at naming the various plantings around and enjoyed checking out the local flowers and plant life. I made a mental note to show her some of the many flower shots, macro and otherwise I’d collected around the yard from Linda’s efforts when we had an opportunity.

Partial View of the Next Door Garden

Whenever I was out on he road I made a point to investigate the church and an area near the little league field where a pair of eagles were known to hang out. Durlan had mentioned where to find these eagles on the whale tour. They’d been spotted frequently while the ball games were underway. The four of us took a ride to purchase some dinner fixings and visited both of these places while out. The ball field's back fence isn’t far from the ocean and we were able to bring the bikes down and park near the drop off going down to the water. We had a look around as Linda got the binoculars out for a closer investigation. There were some Common Eiders, Cormorants and a few other birds around but they weren’t close and no eagles could be spotted. After a time we moved on to the church hoping for a Kite sighting. A cursory inspection overhead and in the trees yielded nothing so we went about our business. Grilled chicken sandwiches with Monterrey Jack cheese and salad comprised tonight’s menu. Water View from The Whister's

Critter Views Around Home

Kevin on the Road Back at The Whistler’s everybody did whatever they wished as we’d decided to stay in the balance of the day. There was a dollar store within walking distance and Kevin and Loretta decided to head over and check it out while I sat outside near the camera and took it easy. After a time they returned and when I inquired about what they may have purchased, they pulled out several kite kits and commenced to do some assembly. The kits had the usual stuff and included 150 feet of line and a plastic tail. There was enough wind and soon they were trying to launch these as Linda and I had a few pops and watched the scene unfold.

'Scooter Trash' on Grand Manan - There goes the neighborhood...

Not long afterwards both kites were in the air and they were chatting about what to do to get them higher, which kite was the best, ruled supreme, etc. and mostly trying to keep them out of the neighborhood trees. Kevin made some modifications and got his kite up to the extent of the available line. I believe he was pretty pleased with himself. Linda and I laughed as the two ‘battle hardened’ Harley veterans giggled and ran around while kite flying. She said I should get a camera and document this proceeding and I did so. After a time Kevin’s kite, ‘Wilson’, (named in honor of the ‘companion’ in the Tom Hank’s movie, “Cast Away’) was tied off and floating valiantly in the heavens. Soon Loretta’s kite was up and secured as the four of us were lounging about enjoying our down time when disaster struck...

First one kite then the other broke free of their earthly constraints and flew unfettered into the wind. The line securing Wilson must have hung up on a tree or something downwind because the kite remained in plain view flying as high as the line would allow. Wilson stayed in that position for the balance of the day and long into the night. We checked often to learn if the kite was still airborne and it was. When I got up the next morning and went out at 0600 hours – Wilson, along with the wind, was gone - never to be seen again. Later we heard a rumor that a fair sized Swallow-tailed Kite had been observed shredding a plastic kite in a nearby tree; but as stated, this was only a rumor... Kevin Searching for Wilson...

The Kite Adventure

Kevin Aboard Day's Catch - Have You Seen This Man? It had been another outstanding day… We dined, drank and kicked back into the evening. As the sky darkened first Jupiter and then the plethora of stars appeared and shown brightly over Grand Manan. To match the day, the night was every bit as beautiful as well. Unfortunately, with the darkness came the mosquitoes and it wasn’t long before we relocated indoors to the comforts of The Whistler’s. After the excitement of the day and the kite flying episode everyone was ready for an early evening.

About the image at left... While on board Day’s Catch returning to Seal Cove at the end of the whale watch, I looked over at Kevin sitting on a hatch. I pointed this out to Linda, who said I really should sneak over and get a photograph as we were convinced he was asleep. However, he was awake enough to sense we were up to no good and this image was the end result. And yes, he’s the smartest one in his family…

Day 5, Friday, July 27th – A Morning Off & Machias Seal Island

Yesterday we’d check onboard Day’s Catch about what time to report for the run to Machias Seal Island. We learned that we had to be at the pier no later than 1245 for a 1300 departure. This news gave us a free morning to do whatever we wished.

I was up early and outside by 0600 hours. After checking on ‘Wilson’ I decided to go back to bed for a bit to let the sun get up some and re-emerged before 0800. Kevin was up and outside in the chairs enjoying the peace and quite. I poured a cup of coffee and joined him for a time. I asked Kevin if he’d like to take a ride to check out the usual bird haunts I’d been frequenting and he declined. I packed a few things, got ready to ride and went off on a brief tour. I didn’t find any eagles, sea ducks or the Swallow-tailed Kite in my travels; just the many ever present Black Ducks flocked up by the marsh although I did spot a Snowy Egret while there. I was always surprised about how few people I’d see when riding and walking around on these trips. At times its almost like one has a great deal of the island available without others around to intrude on the solitude. This morning was no exception; I didn’t see anyone as I made the various stops. With this inspection completed, I returned to The Whistlers to learn what everyone else was up to.

I set up the camera/tripod on the yard ‘just in case’ and I was in this process Kevin came out, stating he was going to the car wash to wash his scoot and pick up some laundry detergent. Linda and I hung around, had some more coffee and enjoyed this fine morning.

Kevin returned and when the four of us were gathered we had breakfast and discussed the coming day and the trip to MSI. We elected to hang around and not do anything significant away from the house before leaving to meet the boat, so I went into the yard to see if any birds may come around to image and enjoyed the gorgeous morning. We all packed early to have the bikes prepared when the time came to head to Seal Cove. I was pleased to know that the MSI run was today, the primary reason for this journey, but on the other hand I recognized this also marked the end of our tenure on Grand Manan. Tomorrow was Saturday and we’d be traveling back to reality...
Herring Gull & Reflection

Day's Catch Off MSI Shortly after noon we grabbed our helmets – most of you probably know Canada has a national helmet law so you don’t go anywhere without headgear unlike Maine or New Hampshire where these are optional – and we got on the road. We were early as usual and Durlan and Peter were hanging out near the pier talking. I asked it would be okay for us to stow our gear now instead of holding on to everything as we waited; permission was granted to go onboard.

Unlike the numerous passengers on the whale watch tour, only a small group is allowed to visit Machias Seal Island at one time so the Day’s Catch wouldn’t be nearly as active in that regard. The Canadian Wildlife Service monitors the situation and allows two groups of fifteen each on the island six days a week, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. These visits from the public only occur near the end of June through the end of August when the Alcids are nesting, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. Durlan indicated it is a privilege to visit Machias Seal Island – I absolutely agree with him in this statement. Of the many places I’ve visited and various things I’ve done in my life, this trip today ranks right up with the best of my experiences and I was indeed honored to participate in this journey.

Soon the thirteen or fifteen other passengers came along. Some would not go on the island but participated in a boat tour Peter offers around it viewing the birds at sea and flying about. With all present we put out of Seal Cove and to sea. I had a chance to speak with Durlan as we traveled. He said we wouldn’t see many pelagic birds on our route to MSI and not to expect it would be like yesterday. Same with whales; we may see a few Minke & perhaps a porpoise or two but probably nothing larger. ‘Oh, by the way’ he said, ‘did I tell you we ran into some Humpbacks this morning on the whale watch and I got some shots?’ I asked him to show me his camera and reviewed the photographs from the morning... They were outstanding in every regard and I was more than just a little jealous. He had all the fluke shots I was supposed to have obtained and the close up shots I wanted of these magnificent creatures... I won’t add exactly what I told him to this account but he had an exceptional group of images – good for you Durlan. It just goes to show that life is often arbitrated by chance and one just never knows... I'd been just twenty-four hours early for my group of Humpback shots. Loretta & Kevin Reviewing Durlan's Humpback Images

There are a few things about this article that differ from the others I’ve written for my website. Mainly, I’m using some photographs that I didn’t take myself. Linda and I have been together for many years so this is to be expected. However, this next photo template is unique… I’m certain you are aware a whale’s tail is referred to as the animal’s flukes, right? Below are three Humpback Whale photographs taken by Durlan Ingersoll from Day’s Catch the morning of the day we sailed to MSI; these are flukes images. I asked him to forward several as his work was/is terrific and I wished to see the larger versions. I am honored to display Durlan’s images in our vacation account because he was instrumental in several outstanding days of our week and aided in making our time on Grand Manan exceptional. These images are used with his permission.

Durlan's Humpback Images

Machias Seal Island & Fulfillment of the Goal

Razobill Auks in Flight The journey out was over an hour and Durlan was correct; compared to yesterday not much was available in the way of birds to image. The passengers were spread out on the vessel and enjoying the trip; it was another beautiful day in the bay. Soon enough through the distant overcast the island hove into view. Durlan talked with everyone and indicated what was required, what to expect and the plan to go about getting on shore. I’m certain Captain Peter and Durlan have done all this so many times previously its like being on auto-pilot, but for us ‘first timers’ their efficiency, professionalism and conscientious attitudes provided all with a secure feeling as they started shuttling passengers to MSI. We had to wear life preservers in this transit; this fact in my case was not particularly enjoyable as they are quite an impediment to movement. And I’m sure they had to scrounge around to find a 2X that would fit around me...

Facilities on Machias Seal Island

Once out of the skiff we were met by the Canadian Wildlife Service Warden and one of the lighthouse keepers. These two along with Durlan kept a tight reign on the group and they issued instructions about various things as we walked the boardwalk to a deck area. Durlan indicated when you walk along the boardwalk nobody is to take photographs – he was looking right at me when he said this so I must have worried him somewhat or perhaps he knew I would show no mercy on my memory cards with so many wonderful subjects close at hand – because at times chicks hang around the walkway and they don’t want anybody to step on one while not paying attention. This appeared to be a rule specified towards tern chicks, but in the last two years the tern population has vacated the island. Nobody knows exactly why but I gathered it was a significant concern to all involved. Peter Shuttling Passengers to MSI

Typical Observation Blinds At the deck area Durlan explained the process that would occur next. The gist of this was we were to be escorted to one of the blinds in groups of four or so. Because the birds react, generally by taking flight and doing a skedaddle when the blinds are approached, the staff tries to keep invasive actions to a minimum. One point this entails for visitors is a rule that you cannot leave the blind and later re-enter it. If you step out, you’re supposed to go directly back to the deck area and wait. I thought this rule simple enough; actually I couldn’t understand short of a medical emergency or an unmitigated disaster in some form why anyone would want to come out unless they had to... The four in our party were assigned a blind and Durlan indicated he’d selected one for us with good light to image. We were in the left blind behind the lighthouse and I noticed many others spread out at various locations that could be observed from near the deck. From what I was seeing, it didn't appear to matter where they placed you - there were multitudes of birds everywhere flying, swimming, standing, squawking, preening – this island was unbelievable and I was duly impressed.

Durlan told us to be on the lookout for Murres with ‘bridal veil’ markings, a white eye ring and white line running from the eye towards the back of the head. Same species, just a different look and we found later these birds were quite striking.

Now let me inform you, all this was truly outstanding and I was a happy individual... Our blind was large enough for four and constructed of wood with perhaps ten small shuttered openings around twelve inches square as observation ports. We were told to not open the end wall ports as a bird may fly in and get injured. As we each selected, opened an observation port and looked out I thought I’d died and gone to heaven... The sight was absolutely incredible as I raised my camera and took several rapid test shots. This was so I could have a look at the histogram to make any required adjustments for the lighting – I always shoot with the histogram right adjusted to capture as much information as possible. I asked Linda to review her settings as well in the event they needed to be tweaked. Atlantic Puffin on Machias Seal Island

Typical Observation Blinds After that we went to it... I shot the first Four gigabyte card full, nearly three hundred images in RAW format, about as fast as I could identify a subject and compose the shot, stopping only briefly at times to try to check the read-out. Checking the settings wasn’t simple as it was bright outside and dark inside the blind and I had to use glasses.

After a few minutes we conferred among our group and changed positions so we could view from different points. We got this down quickly enough and having Ms. Loretta and Kevin with us proved a real boon as they could serve as spotters while we had our eye to the viewfinder. We discussed looking for puffins flying in from the ocean with a beak full of Sand-lances (sandlances) for their young. These fish are sometime referred to as ‘sand-eels’ although they aren’t related to true eels and are named for their habit of burrowing into sand to avoid tidal currents. Most of the birds weren’t doing much that could be considered exciting and seeking out those with fish makes a more interesting photograph, plus it was fun. Loretta became quite adept at spotting and alerting us pursuant to incoming subjects of interest. Kevin was no slouch either with this as he scanned with binoculars we carried along. We worked together as a team which made our all too short time in the blinds that much more productive.

Okay - Here Comes Some Puffins


Atlantic Puffin Views

Before actually getting into the blind I’d conferred with others who had visited the island to learn what to expect, starting with Peter when I first contacted Sea Watch Tours. Again the concern was to ascertain Linda and I had the optimum lens set when the time came to image. Most indicated this wasn’t really an issue as the birds where close in to the blind locations. This would lead one to think a short focal length set up would be desired, however I wasn’t certain... Durlan had taken the time to do some blind photography recently while conducting the tours from Day’s Catch, so I had an opportunity to review everything with him – it was clear to me we spoke the same language photographically and I was most interested in his viewpoint.

What he told me was to be prepared for distance shots and he recommended carrying a lens that would serve to get a larger image scale on the Common Murres. The Puffins and Razorbills hang out together sometimes close to the blinds. The order from our experience indicates the Puffins were most likely to be right next to the blind (or on top of it) followed by a zone with a Puffin/Razorbill mix, although the Razorbills also get close in at times, followed by a mix of the three with the Common Murres furthest away. The Murres didn’t come close to our blind and stayed in a distant area, representing the furthest point from where were imaging. Durlan nailed the situation from my perspective and I was ready.
Razorbill on Machias Seal Island

Razorbill Auk The longest focal length I had on the vessel was what I carried into the blind, the 70~200 f/2.8L lens with both the 1.4X and 2x extenders. Because I’d been set up on Day’s catch with the 2x extender on this lens, this gave me a range of 140 to 400 millimeters shooting with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 when wide open. I always want more reach and my 500mm f/4L would have proven outstanding plus it can be extended to 700mm, but in the end result, the combination I had available proved nearly ideal. Following up on Durlan’s comments proved auspicious in this case. No Puffin was so close that I couldn’t achieve focus. I’m a fan of high resolution head shots in any event and if I couldn’t capture the entire bird this was okay with me as there were ample opportunities for full bird images otherwise. Everybody obtains the same type of images from the blinds probably as the subjects are always similar. I can’t speak for the many others who have done so but can comment unequivocally that we are more than pleased with the images we took away from our blind on Machias Seal Island.

Linda was cranking out shots on her Canon 30d with the 70~300 DO IS lens. This combination is terrific as well, lightweight, short and with an acceptable reach and a conversion factor due to the sensor size being less than full frame. Her collection of images is great and I believe she is pleased with what she came back with as well. She has a good eye photographically and overall has better than excellent vision. I’m an experienced observer of the night sky and although I need reading glasses these days due to my age, have a good handle on spotting birds and sky objects from doing it over time. Focusing telescopes and cameras through them in the night sky is an experience issue and one I’m proficient with. I can focus a 6X7 centimeter film camera on a telescope at night and almost never miss critical focus – nowadays CCD cameras are focused at the computer with a digital readout so this skill isn’t require as much. However, Linda has the eyes for locating dim objects and often is the first to spot obscure subjects when we’re in the field.

Now Some Razorbills


Razorbill Auk Views

I indicated to her that it was unlikely we would shoot all the compact flash cards we had to capacity so when we got into the blind she didn’t have to hold back... She installed an Eight gigabyte card in her camera at the start of this week, enough for just over a thousand images and she used this one card all week. Her camera with a smaller sensor doesn’t produce a file as large as mine, which benefits the count of the number of images on a given card. She nearly filled her one card in our travels but it proved sufficient for the timeframe.

One device we carried in the pack on this trip was my Epson P-2000 multimedia storage drive, a forty gigabyte portable hard drive that can copy/download a compact flash card from the camera. At night I’d backed up the cards from earlier in the week until I filled the memory on the P-2000. The viewing screen is larger than on the camera and it allows one to delete images that clearly aren’t usable to make more space. Because we weren’t visiting MSI until the last full day on Grand Manan, my concern was we wouldn’t have ample space on the available cards. By creating a back up, if this situation arose I would re-format the used cards and re-employ them when the time came. This circumstance never did occur and we returned with the expended cards (and back up intact) with room to spare.
Common Murre

Common Murre Group Including a 'Bridal Veil' with Fish As we laughed, talked, took photographs and enjoyed our visit in the blind the time flew by. I suppose we did this for nearly and hour but it appeared to be around fifteen minutes to me. Some of our party situated in a blind to our right exited before the end of the session. The girls could see them walking back towards the buildings and the birds reacted with the disruption. Durlan had indicated that sometimes they split the session into two parts when the visitors would swap blinds to offer a different viewing location to the groups. When he came by and said it was time to leave I thought this was the case, but our time had been utilized in this one blind and we were heading back to the deck. We did as directed and started back with mixed feelings. I felt like a youngster at the end of my first great day at Disneyworld - we’d visited one of the finest amusement parks in the world as we know it...

Later that evening as I reviewed the image cards from the day I took time to summarize in my notes the image count for our time on Machias Seal Island. Between both our cameras I was surprised by this total – we’d taken one thousand, two hundred and sixty-two photographs on four compact flash cards.

Followed by Some Common Murre Images

Common Murre Images

Common Murre Views

Our party assembled back at the loading area and soon Peter returned with the skiff to shuttle us back aboard. I thanked the biologist and lighthouse crewman, shook their hands and thanked them for allowing us to share their environment even for a brief stay. I spoke with Durlan as we waited, he had a fair idea about what we’d just experienced and wanted to see what I thought. While we were in the blinds he’d been imaging Puffins coming in from seaward with fish in their beaks. As I was one of the last to depart during the shuttle process I too did some of this but time was all too short and soon we were gathered on Day’s Catch. Somebody joked with Durlan asking if seeing Puffins was like the whale watch – guaranteed sightings or you don’t pay for the trip... He laughed and said, ‘Yes, but on the other hand, each Puffin viewed will cost you $.35.’ Seeing how there are perhaps 10,000 Puffins on MSI this subject was quickly dropped.

Back on Day’s Catch Peter asked what I thought about the island – what can one say really, I told him it was absolutely spectacular and one of the finest experiences of my adult life. He stated that it was indeed a ‘special place’. I already knew that I’d be returning at some future time and would be in contact with Sea Watch Tours again. As a matter of fact, it anyone reading this account has any inclination to enjoy a visit to Machias Seal Island, I cannot recommend Peter’s services and Sea Watch Tours enough. You won’t be disappointed with the results or the experience.
Linda Imaged this Inbound Puffin

A Mix of Puffins, Murres & Razorbills

Peter cranked up the vessel and we got underway. Not far from MSI is another small hunk of rock in the ocean that Durlan indicated was North Island. We cruised around it to look at the many seals lying around the ledge. Peter indicated these were a mix of Harbor and Gray Seals and there were many in all different sizes and colors. This too was a spectacular sight and we were shooting away with our cameras during the time we had. We were close enough to use an individual seal for a focus point in lieu of photographing into the group and we got some nice results from this effort.


Lazy Day on the Rock Shortly afterwards we were heading back to Seal Cove and the end of the sea tour. Like the trip outbound the passengers spread out and enjoyed being on the water. Many of the younger folks were in the cabin seated at the table and talking. We reviewed images from the island on our cameras and I showed several that looked like ‘keepers’ to some of our shipmates. From what I could see on the LCD I was really pleased and looked forward to downloading the cards to my digital lab computer to view the shots at one hundred percent size. I gave my website card to a family from England stating that if they emailed me I’d send them a puffin print as a remembrance of our time.

Kevin and I looked into the operations area of the bridge and were duly impressed with the array of instrumentation Peter was utilizing on board. The Day’s Catch has a 500 horsepower Volvo-Pentax diesel and an electronics array that would delight even a diehard NASA scientist from what I could tell.

Visibility was thwarted by fog as we returned and we wondered what the day was like on Grand Manan. The fog remained as we made landfall at Southwest Head but by the time the vessel tied up, the weather was similar to what we’d experienced the last few days, hot and sunny. The primary purpose of our journey was behind us now and soon we’d be running for home after a wonderful and great week...

We were ready for some dinner and decided to return to the Area 38 Restaurant near the ferry terminal. As we missed lunch we decided to dine out and not cook at home so when we returned to The Whistler’s we could relax. Before returning we stopped to join Durlan and another birder at the church. He’d received a telephone call while at sea that the infamous Swallow-tailed Kite had been spotted in the area at 1400 hours that afternoon. We joined the expedition to see if it could be found. As had been the case for several days, the bird was nowhere to be seen after a careful check of the surrounding area and Durlan was still searching when we left.
Curious Critters

This was our last night on Grand Manan and differed in that we had to prepare and pack for the ride out in the morning. Over dinner we’d decided to travel back to Portland directly as Kevin thought he may have to leave on a work trip on Sunday and he wished to return home. The washer/dryer at the house was put to work and some laundry done so the clothes could be packed clean. All the miscellaneous items from the week were put in order so when the time came the packing process would be simplified. Everybody went about their various tasks; I updated my notes and looked at the images on the camera for a bit longer. It was an early evening for all us as we thought about tomorrow...

Savannah Sparrow on Machias Seal Island

Day 6, Saturday, July 28th – Grand Manan to Portland, Maine – The Journey Concludes

At the Ferry Terminal

MSI Birds We were up and having coffee before 0800. The fog that had rolled in last evening remained into sunrise and everything was soaked to greet the new day. We had several hours to go before we had to pack and our experience indicated that by 1100 hours or before no fog would remain.

Kevin cooked up some scrambled eggs and we finished up most of the grocery items remaining from the last days. Everyone showered and packed and commenced final preparations. We enjoyed the foggy morning and the balance of our time on Grand Manan.

Soon enough we loaded the motorcycles, checked the loads and prepared to head north to greet the ferry. At the drive in window at the ferry building, the clerk stamped our receipts and told us where to put the bikes for the loading process. We were the first vehicles there but were soon joined by others - various types of cars, RV’s, trucks and minivans. Everybody always appears to be in a good mood and we waited and visited for a time until the ferry, Grand Manan V could be seen rounding into the slip. We even had a beautiful Newfoundland dog, Georgia, to guard our bikes in the interim.

The crewman told Kevin and I to get ready as we’d be the first to go onboard. Down the ramp we went and in a matter of minutes the bikes were tied down and secured for the ninety minute passage back to the mainland. It was foggy with poor visibility at sea so Linda and I didn’t do much with the cameras on this passage and soon kicked back to relax and enjoy the passage.

When we arrived at Black’s Harbour we had the bikes un-strapped and ready to depart in short order. When it was our time as directed, up the ramp we went and shortly afterwards we were on Route 1 heading towards St. Stephen and the border. Neither scoot had a great deal of fuel as we were waiting to get to the mainland, probably into Calais after the border before topping off. It’s only about thirty miles, but a bit more than halfway through the trip my reserve light came on. I discussed the situation with Linda and said if we come to a gas station I was definitely going to stop. On the fuel injected Harleys it’s not a good idea to procrastinate when the reserve light displays. We found a rather unique station with gas, a restaurant and a general store that turned out to be great for our needs. We were in St. Stephen and not far from downtown.
Grand Manan V Ready to Load

Black's Harbor After a great lunch we started for the border and a few brief minutes ran directly into the horrendous line of cars that appear to be the norm when trying to cross into the United States. It was hot, uncomfortably so sitting in line and we soon started stripping down. We learned that the average time to complete the trek across the bridge was three hours. It was warm enough that we were concerned about the bikes so we shut down between the short trips to close up the traffic gaps – moving a car length, perhaps two far too infrequently. A fellow walked over and told us we may wish to investigate the second crossing several miles from this one. He provided some generic directions and we broke out of the line and turned right to parallel the river for a time. We didn’t go nearly far enough apparently and when we turned back towards the river, re-joined the line but much further ahead of where we were. We figured this knocked several hours off the wait.

There was a group of school kids selling water to their captive audience while we waited in line. I talked to one of the dads about their planned trip to Greece and asked about the traffic situation. He said Friday through Sunday in summer are always like what we were experiencing today. The weekdays aren’t as bad on the wait, but anytime in the summer can be brutal trying to re-enter the United States. There were only two booths open on the U.S. side of the border and every car in that line had to stop at one or the other.

The two scoots ended up at both booths at almost the same time. We were asked to show identifications and if we’d purchased anything in Canada. After these cursory questions we were on our way and out of the tie up completely. Working as a Customs Agent in the summertime must be a trying experience I thought. I’m certain they have enough staff so one can take a break, but it’s endless traffic one vehicle after the next non-stop all day – it must rather grueling I would imagine...

Calais is the eighth busiest U.S.-Canadian Border Crossing and with a population of around 4,000 is the largest city in Washington County. I can just imagine what the other crossings must be like this time of year.

We elected to try a change of scenery from the trip into Canada deciding to run Route 9, known as the Airline, the ninety or so miles towards Bangor. We then selected an excellent route towards home paralleling the main highway so we wouldn’t be riding at a high speed clip allowing us to enjoy the scenery until we got around Augusta. From there we picked up Route 295 following the coast into Portland. It was a fine day and a scenic ride and soon enough we were on 295 and the last leg heading home.

Kevin and Loretta made short time of getting their bike in the trailer and got ready to roll. Everybody talked for a few minutes, shared some hugs & goodbyes and then they were off to New Hampshire and home. Our trip was officially over...
Black's Harbour View

Photographing Atlantic Puffins via Harley-Davidson

The Aftermath

End of Our Candian Run This trip originated with my primary goal in mind of obtaining some photographs of Atlantic Puffins. In this regard it was absolutely successful. It went well beyond this however and everything about our days was truly outstanding. When making plans with other people involved and using our far too precious vacation time, there is always an element of risk involved that someone won't be satisfied with the end result. I’m pleased to report that I came out of this looking like a hero as far as I can tell. Our group appeared to have thoroughly enjoyed each segment of our vacation and we integrated seamlessly in all aspects. Several days after our return, Linda thanked me for taking her to see the puffins and Grand Manan. This was most gratifying because I recognized that all of us shared this wonderful & special time in the same light.

We have always found the people of Canada to be gracious to their visitors and helpful always. We have noted little difference in the attitudes of the folks of the Atlantic Maritimes when compared to New Englanders in general or Maine people in particular. Except for crossing the border, the Canadian Maritimes are much like home in my view. Heading north from Portland means fewer people, often more wide open country and good riding. I would definitely offer my personal recommendation for all the businesses mentioned in this article and believe my traveling companions would concur. If you decide to visit Grand Manan they will make you feel welcomed and make the trip worthwhile. We thank all the people involved in making our time in Canada exceptional. And I/we would clearly return the courtesy... Any of you that I invited to visit us in Maine would be made most welcome. This was not simply an idle comment to be polite...

At the time of this writing it’s been multiple weeks since our July trip. Everyone is back to work and into the everyday tasks that take up so much of our time and energy. This trip wasn’t about riding per se, where we located on an island and remained there the bulk of the time. I believe the entire trip consisted of 821 miles on the road all in all. Grand Manan is not a far stretch from our home waters.

Because I was unable to carry my laptop computer along with the camera and other gear on my Harley, even the simplest photographic review and the start of a written account had to wait until I returned home. I prefer to work on my home system anyway which is optimized for image processing. And we came back with many photographs... I’ve spent untold hours and many spare moments writing this account and preparing images for upload. As is my practice when I can’t travel with a laptop, I kept notes in longhand in a notebook. These notes comprise the basis of the details contained in this article and of course, the photographs do much to recall people, places and things during the week in a numerical event order.

In closing I’d like to acknowledge our traveling crew - Linda, Loretta and Kevin. You guys helped to make this a memorable week and I had a terrific time with great company. My compliments and finest regards to all you road-dogs...

August 2007

A note about the photography...All images in this account are by the author unless otherwise credited. Any images viewed that are digitally framed and labeled have been added to my collection of works for sale. These are displayed when at shows and events either packaged on foam core, professionally framed or ArtiPlaq™ mounted as a final for purchase. The web versions are nice, but a full resolution print significantly enhances the beauty of these images; all are ©2007 Photography by Kirk M. Rogers - any reproduction, publication or transmission of this content without the written consent of the author is prohibited. Please contact me should you have an interest in obtaining any of the images.

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