Grand Manan and the Atlantic Puffin

I think I will take this blog in a new direction. I already have facebook, twitter, and instagram for the day to day stuff, so I've decided to use this space to dive a bit deeper into my projects, travels, and assignments. Instead of simply posting photographs, I would like to tell more of the story and a little about the techniques that I use and my creative process. It's going to be more of a journal. Because I call myself a "photojournalist", it only makes sense. Thank you for reading!

Atlantic Puffin Portrait, Machias Seal Island

Atlantic Puffin Portrait, Machias Seal Island

GRAND MANAN

Grand Manan is an island off the coast of mainland New Brunswick, Canada. It is accessible only by ferry from Blacks Harbour. The ride can be quite bumpy as the vessel bobs over restless Atlantic waves. On days when the sea is relatively calm, one can watch whales and seabirds from the deck. The ride is two hours long, but the ferry is equipped with padded booths and a large kitchen that serves up hot plates pilled high with french fries and other comfort food. These comforts can make it a cozy experience. After munching on a mountain of fries, simply stretch out on one of the twin bed-sized booths and sleep the last hour of the trip away (unless you're seasick).

The ferry docks at North Head, the most developed "town" on the island. The island itself is only seventeen miles long with one major road. The west side is characterized by dense spruce and birch forest that sit atop hundred foot cliffs that drop precariously into the crashing waves of the Bay of Fundy. The occasional meadow or pond interrupts the blanket of dark woods. The eastern side of the island is flatter with soft sand beaches that gradually slope into the Atlantic. When the tide is low, smooth black stones are exposed. I like to place these stones in the foreground of a composition and capture the drama of the waves splashing through and over them.

Seal Cove Beach, Grand Manan

Seal Cove Beach, Grand Manan

Daisies in a coastal meadow near Southwest Head, Grand Manan

Daisies in a coastal meadow near Southwest Head, Grand Manan

I have had the privilege to visit this sparsely populated island three times. My father-in-law owns a 150 year old house in Seal Cove on the southeast part of the island. The house and the area have a lot of history and character. The big industry on Grand Manan is fishing. Tough economic times and the dangers of open ocean fishing have driven many young Grand Mananers to seek employment on the mainland. I may be mistaken, but I think Seal Cove has the most traditional fish smoking sheds anywhere on the island. These are structures that were used to smoke salmon and herring and house supplies for fisherman. Most are unused, abandoned, and falling apart, but you can still smell smoke from the occasional operational fish shed along the short path from the old house to the beach. Though the island is depressed economically, locals always seem to be in high spirits. For example, a nice day is never simply a nice day, it's a "heck of a nice day!" Tourism is becoming the major industry in the maritimes. On Grand Manan, that means wildlife tours.

Grand Mananers celebrate Canada Day by greasing up a pole and riding a barrel to the end of it to capture a flag. Whether you grab the flag or not, you still plunge into the water, which can be very cold even in summer.

Grand Mananers celebrate Canada Day by greasing up a pole and riding a barrel to the end of it to capture a flag. Whether you grab the flag or not, you still plunge into the water, which can be very cold even in summer.

One of the better kept fish smoking sheds in Seal Cove

One of the better kept fish smoking sheds in Seal Cove

Fish Shed Window, Seal Cove

Fish Shed Window, Seal Cove

THE ATLANTIC PUFFIN

There are several outfitters and guides on Grand Manan that take tourists directly to the wildlife by boat. The Bay of Fundy is rich in wildlife diversity and attracts people from all over the world to see whales, seals, and the ever popular Atlantic Puffins. Puffins congregate on Machias Seal Island (claimed by both Maine and Canada) during the summer to mate. Machias is located south of Grand Manan's main island. Puffin pairs mate for life and build nests under rocks. Once the chicks are raised, adults fly out to sea where they stay until the next summer. The Atlantic Puffin populations were once quite low, but they are now making a big comeback from Eastern Canada to Scotland. Icelanders actually hunt and eat these little guys (I have yet to experience the delicacy).

Photographing these little clown-like seabirds on Machias is actually quite easy. When you hop off the dory and onto shore you are hurried to one of several plywood blinds that look (and smell) like outhouses. From the blind you can view the birds (hundreds of them) through small windows. I had a 300mm lens with me and barely used it. Most of my puffin shots were made in the 50-200mm range. Though it was mostly foggy that day, there was still enough light to shoot at speeds of around 1250th at f8 or f11 at low ISOs. You don't have to worry about getting close either, the birds even perch on top of the blinds. You can hear their little feet pitter-pattering on the roof above you as they prepare for lift off.

Atlantic Puffin taking flight, Machias Seal Island

Atlantic Puffin taking flight, Machias Seal Island

Razorbill Auks also frequent Machias Seal Island

Razorbill Auks also frequent Machias Seal Island

LIGHTHOUSES

Grand Manan provides endless photographic opportunities. The landscape and wildflowers are enough to make the trip (and ferry ride) worth it. The island's coast is also dotted with lighthouses. Just like the fish smoking sheds, some are abandoned and some are operating. One of my favorite subjects is the Ross Island Lighthouse. During low tide you can actually walk to Ross Island over dry rocks until you come to a trail. I don't remember how long the hike down that muddy trail through dense spruce was, but it felt like it took half a day. In reality and under less muddy circumstances, it was probably only a 15-20 minute hike. The lighthouse is abandoned, weathered, and falling to pieces, which makes it a very interesting subject. After a couple hours photographing the area, my wife and I had to quicken our pace through the wilderness and dash across the rocks as they began to sink into the rising tide.

Currently, the house that my father-in-law owns is being rented long-term. So, I don't know when I'll be returning to the island. I have several travel plans for 2016 (Sweden, Boston, the NC coast, and Iceland) and it's looking like 2017 may be just as busy, but I hope a visit to Grand Manan isn't too far in the future. One photo op with puffins is not enough!

Ross Island Lighthouse in evening light

Ross Island Lighthouse in evening light

High cliffs and sunset at Southwest Head, Grand Manan

High cliffs and sunset at Southwest Head, Grand Manan

(c) 2016 Jon Reaves Photography. All rights reserved.