I was fortunate enough to make it onto an island full of puffins. I’d do it again. The problem is that it would be a very arduous trip. So for now, once was enough. It’s not just the birds. There is fog and lupines.
You need the whole experience. The shot one sees on the post card is of the lovable bird statically positioned. You can’t point your camera and not capture a zillion of these shots. So what is unique? Pondering, I fell back on my sports experience (tennis, Manny) and realized that “flying” was the ticket. Ninety percent of the time the puffins are standing around. The last bit is flying. There’s plenty but it is not easy to have the focus, focal length, and composition all working simultaneously for a bird in flight. On this one I had no lessons or advice. I just relied on experience and imagination. It was a one shot deal. There are other things I might do since I am more experienced now. It’s great that things change and make you want to get better.
You always remember the things that were hard to accomplish. This was a tough event for me. I had seen a poster or post card many years ago when we visited Maine on a bicycle trip. But I had never had an opportunity to see the birds. And it turns out that it is not easy. I read about a couple of places you could go to see puffins. On one boat trip you never got close enough to see more than a dot in your telephoto lens. That was no good at all. Then there was a boat trip out of Machias. It is way the hell up near the Canadian border and you really really have to want to be there. The boat goes out early in the morning and it doesn’t guarantee a landing on the island in bad weather. Twice!! Twice I made the six hour drive from my location in southern Maine. And twice I was unable to get any shots. The seas were too rough. I learned that as long as the boat was headed out and moving straight it was no problem for motion sickness. As soon as the boat stops, it begins to rock and roll with the waves, and then shortly afterward I feed the fish. It happened twice. And I paid good money to lose my breakfast. Third time is a charm, right? Yes! We got on the island. You have to go into a blind, which is setup to minimally impact on disturbing the birds. And of course I had neglected to bring my big telephoto along. Sometimes you just can’t win. But with what I had along, I filled up a memory card. I stayed until they pulled me out of the blind. Everyone was long done. I had just waited so long to get this opportunity it seemed a shame to not savor the moment. The action was in the birds flying. It’s not hard to get lots of images of puffins standing around looking cute. I got them flying around thanks to Manny who showed me the technique of applying actions sports photography to flying puffins. There’s always a shot you don’t get. That would be an image of a puffin holding fish in its mouth. No, there will not be a fourth trip.
There is a square in which someone attends the pigeons, leaving out food and water. Julia especially liked the flying pigeon. The pigeons took wing because a feral cat wandered through. Though emaciated, it made no effort to get a pigeon meal. The pigeons weren’t taking any chances.
The hard thing is getting birds in flight. If it was easy everyone would have great shots. And if you get them in flight, you’d like to see more than a dark dot on your image. Otherwise the big vultures and such are easy to capture when they sit and eat. No try catching birds in flight. It’s focus and shutter speed….and a bit of luck.
I suppose that when birds eat fish whole, it makes sense to them. Eagles tear their food apart. But this guy was going to swallow lunch in one gulp. He spent quite a while attempting to get this done. First the fish had to be turned head first. It doesn’t go down tail first easily. It (fish) kept flopping so it would be lost if the bird lost its grip. And there were other birds waiting just to grab this fish if there was any mistake. Yes, he did swallow it whole. Didn’t mom always say to ‘chew?’
I’m slowly working my way through pictures from my archives. I’ve got many thousands. It would intimidate the average person to know how many images, I’ve culled and then scanned (tens of thousands). I love penguins. They are still exotic to me. I have a wish to go to Antarctica and see them live and in person. Considering how many things on wish list have come true in my life, maybe it’s not entirely impossible. For instance, I’ve been up in a helicopter many times and I’ve learned to scuba dive. I did these things more than once. But it’s not near the top of the list and so I take shots of the penguins whenever I see them.
The title was also a movie with Goldie Hawn and Mel Gibson. Driving along in Costa Rica, the road was bumpy and dusty. Our driver suddenly stopped and beckoned. How he knew I was a photographer, or whether he was working for a better tip, I won’t know. But I got this nice shot and won’t forget his kindness.
We bicycled over a bridge to a road parallel to the Montauk Highway. There, behind the trees and hidden from view was a duck farm. We didn’t look threatening or like any sort of animal rights extremists. So, the migrant workers just smiled and let me wander around for a few minutes. I have been back only one more time. This looks pretty innocent. The barracks in the background held younger ducks/ducklings. I got to look in the window. I don’t recall anything upsetting. In the foreground of this enclosure [out of view] was a duck clearly ill and dying. What made this surreal was that the gathered group would one by one come over and peck at the dying duck as though to kill it. Ah… this is what Long Island duck dinner looks like in the raw…
There is a large lake upon which row boats are rented. People are constantly strolling the edges or picnicking along the banks. So, it’s a surprise to see an egret along the edge. If you can make it in New York, you’re tough. So this guy and I had a stare down. He didn’t back off. It’s a New York kind of attitude.
I am reminded of an old joke that starts with: A male and a female statue were given the gift of life. They promptly disappeared into the bushes. Emerging, the male said to the female, “Again?” And she replied, “Yes, …but this time you hold it while I shit on it.” And, yes, even in Saudi Arabia, there are plenty of pigeons.