Saturday, August 05, 2017

Newfoundland post #6: Witless Bay (back in sequence!)

My blog posts got out of order last week.  I was so excited about getting the Cape St. Mary pictures out there that I skipped the Witless Bay week. Truth be told, I think I wanted to give myself a little more time to work on the Witless Bay pictures. Anyway, here we are.

Witless Bay is a small community south of St. John's. It's within half an hour driving distance so I chose it for my third week stay. It's more commercial, or should I say 'less rural' than the other three places (Twillingate, Trinity, St. Bride's) so the place I stayed was not as scenic. However as I said, I had access to St. John's, as well as some other areas.

There are 3 communities next to each other, from North to South: Bay Bulls, Witless Bay and Mobile, three separate bays on the Eastern shore of Newfoundland. All three boast whale-watching tours (which you'll see in a minute). Bay Bulls is a bit larger and they've built a marine service centre there to support, among other things, commercial oil rigs. Did you know they haul oil drilling platforms in for service? There's one parked in the mouth of Bay Bulls called the "West Aquarius" which (I think) is normally in the Hibernia oil fields offshore. They light these guys up at night.

The oil rig is in the background.  In the foreground is a ship called "Ramfall Titan" which is a survey ship used to research drilling locations in the North Sea.
(Linda Cresswell, you were right: I needed to recompose this shot. Like it?)

I wanted to go out on a whale-watching tour. You can go on a large boat or a smaller one. I actually chose one of the smaller operators but they were full up, so I ended up going out on the Gatherall's boat. It's a two-hour tour and they take you out to "Bird Island", the Witless Bay Ecological Preserve" which is home to (according to them) almost a million seabirds. When we got close, it smelled like it!

But on the way there, just after passing the oil rig, sadly you have to pass through one of the most active whale areas in Newfoundland. Did I say "sadly"? Oops, I mis-spoke! The tour operators obviously know what to look for so we had several whale sightings enroute.

You'll typically see three behaviours of a humpbacked whale. First, they roll like this –they're feeding on schools of fish underwater. After a while you can tell if they're going to show their tail, which they do when they dive deeper.

These two shots are a second apart. Mr. Whale is on his way down a couple of hundred feet and doesn't reappear for several minutes.

Here's another shot, on an angle. I liked this image so much I decided to paint it 

This is an original oil painting on canvas that I made using the photo as a reference.  I chose to leave out the floating birds and I changed the cliff face. 

The third behaviour is "breaching" which is when they come head first out of the water to capture a giant mouthful of fish near the surface.  You saw pictures of 'mouth breaches' from the previous week's blog in the Trinity area but not here. Sometimes a 60 foot long humpback will drive his entire 80,000 pound body right out of the water! Unfortunately I never did get to see that, so it might be an excuse to come back to Newfoundland again!

We did get to the Ecological Preserve where we saw tons of Kittiwakes (big seagulls!), Murrs, Puffins, Guillemots, Terns, etc.

The Capelin were rolling on the beach at Middle Cove on Saturday. I missed it but the party was still going on the next day.

For those who don't know, the Capelin is a small fish and schools "roll" in onto beaches annually to spawn by the millions. The Capelin is a major source of food for whales who often help by herding the schools into areas where they can feed.

This is just the edge of a cloud of Capelin . The main school is so thickly packed the sea turns black (the sides of the fish are silver but the tops are black). 

Newfoundlanders like eating Capelin, either dried or cooked fresh (I don't. Salty fish with bones is not my favourite thing). But, I'm told, most of the Capelin are used for fertilizer or simply wasted.

Waiting for the Capelin to roll at Middle Cove, north of St. John's. It's an event! Newfoundlanders flock to the beaches by the thousands, they have huge parties and bonfires. 
When a school comes in, they're like a black cloud in the water. The fish are silvery on the sides but black on top. People catch them by wading out with nets or just scoop them up off the beach (that's the part I missed) by the bucketload.

This little guy hadn't seen Capelin before and his dad was trying to get him to pick one up and throw it in the bucket. "Ewww, I'm not touching that"!  Eventually he did and then got in the spirit of it.

The seabirds know when it's time to feast! 

Gratuitous shot of a girl in tight shorts netting Capelin.  

Hopefully I'll get another shot at seeing the 'main event' as the Capelin Roll moves around the coast. Certainly they're a big attraction for whales, so I'll be looking for it.

The best part of the week in the St. John's area was brought about by a fellow by the name of RAY MACKEY. I had been in touch with him earlier and Ray spent some time with Marie and Simone a month earlier (when the weather was a touch cooler!) and he took me under his wing and spent the better part of 3 days with me. Took me all kinds of places I would never have found and shared some photo tips with me from which I learned a lot! Ray is personable, articulate and probably one of the best photographers in Newfoundland. Visit his online gallery at It's REALLY worth seeing. If you ever go to Newfoundland, be sure to look him up.

Here are some of the places we shot together.

The Cape Spear Lighthouse. Actually, I was there myself when I took this shot... 

but Ray was there for this one and commented on the composition when I shot it. 

St. John's harbout, from a select spot on the way up to Signal Hill. We rushed to get there before the colour disappeared from the sky. 

"The Battery", shot from down in the harbour. Ray advised me on post-processing technique for one thing, pointing out how the muted light reflections on the cliff face enhanced the image.

Qidi Vidi from a hilltop overlooking the area that Ray took me to. It was a battle getting up there (and back down!) with my aching knees. But even worse were the mosquitoes: they were vicious! I thought I was used to them from where I live, but... one of them landed at the airport and thy pumped 500 gallons of av-gas into it before they figured out it wasn't an airplane!  

Using the techniques Ray taught me, here's the town of Petty Harbour in the Blue Hour. I got in trouble in this town. If you ever go there and you see a sign on a very steep hill that says words to the effect of, "no place to turn around on this road", don't drive up it.  

Parting Shots

That night I got back to Witless Bay and it was a clear night. I drove down to the beach and found that people had built a bonfire. I thought I'd give it a shot:

It was quite bright and there were some street lights, so I moved partly behind the embankment you see to get this starry night picture. 

But I wanted the Milky Way and it was to the South (the bonfire was to the East). So I drove as far as I could, then walked down a dark trail in high grass and bushes until I found this spot where I could shoot the stars with little light pollution.


One more blog to come, documenting the last days of my trip. I'll get it done in a few days.

PS: I will be printing some of these images. Contact me if you want a print. 

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Newfoundland Post #5: Cape St. Mary

Out of sequence. I thought I'd share this before getting back on track, a whole week's worth of story and pictures from Witless Bay to come.
Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve is one of the best and most accessible places in the world to see nesting seabirds. Problem is, it's foggy 200 days a year. The rest of the year, it's winter.
Here's a link to a good description. Take a minute to read it.

Here I am at Cape St. Mary, site of the famous Gannet colony ecological reserve. I spent two hours out there yesterday in the fog and a pouring rain so hard I think frogs might have drowned. It's a 1400m hike out to the "Rock" – 2000 steps on my fitbit in each direction (my doc would be happy!) – and everything I was wearing is still trying to dry. I bought an extra sweatshirt (as if I needed one, but it fits and it was on sale!). I 'crashed' at 9pm so here I am up and awake at 3am! Here's the story in a nutshell (what else is there to do at 3am?), even though I'm out of chronological sequence.

I checked into the Bird Island Resort — it's a motel/efficiency in St. Brides, just 4 km from the entrance to the reserve. Locals say that if the wind is from the SW, it will be foggy. It's from the SW. It's foggy. I hear the soothing sound of a foghorn in the distance every 30 seconds. Conditions are different between here and the reserve, but I didn't expect that much difference!

I plan to stay for a few days, maybe I can get some downtime from the endless travel, perhaps I can take out my oil paints again, only one picture so far this trip and it's not done.

Like many other Newfoundland communities, St. Bride's features a fishing port, a bunch of scattered houses and a convenience store that may or may not sell gas. Bird Island Resort is attached to one of those, and there's actually another 'motel' in town, and of course, the usual giant church. Groceries are, well, limited but they also have a bunch of chest freezers in the back with some frozen packaged goods and some meats. There's one restaurant where I had pan-fried fresh cod fillets last night.

Wifi is iffy, it doesn't work on the table in the room but it does on the edge of the bed, where I am right now. They won't admit it. The housekeeper's teenaged daughter knows, but they won't listen to her. The room faces West, right on the ocean. Beautiful sunsets, they tell me (ha!). Here it is during a clear moment:

(all of these next shots are unedited, just so you get a feel. Straight out of the camera, the D5500 with my 17-35 wide angle mounted) 

When I turned around, this is what I saw. This is the town of St. Brides, or at least the port – there's more behind me. 

The roads here are awful. In fact they fit perfectly with the title I'm going to use for the Blurb book, which I also used when I was here 11 years ago: "The Path of Least Potholes". More on that later. It's a bone-jarring 4km drive to the entrance of the reserve and then their driveway is 13km of nice pavement, except for the odd dip that can get you airborne if you drive too fast. Then you arrive at the visitor centre:

No joke, this is from 50 feet away. Something should have told me what I was in for! 

About half an hour later I arrived at "The Rock". As I said, it's 1.4km, a pretty easy trail for those who actually have knees, and it didn't actually start raining until I was halfway out there. FWIW, my goretex Cabela's jacket did its thing. Jeans, on the other hand, aren't waterproof. My feet were soaked inside my waterproof hiking boots from the water running down into my socks. When you reach the "Rock", here's what you see (again, SOOC):

There are thousands of Gannets. More on the surrounding cliff walls. Hope I get another look at it in better weather! 

I was carrying both cameras: the D5500 with the 17-35 wide angle on it on a neck strap under my jacket, and the D800 slung over my shoulder on the BlackRapid strap, hanging down at my side with the 70-200 mounted. I actually added the 1.7x telextender while I was out there in the rain. No simple feat.

Here's an image with that lens. Not retouched. 

I did work on one image, two frames after that one. Lightroom's DeHaze slider is magic.

Some sort of Gannet lovemaking behaviour. I'll find out more when I get back to the reserve in the next couple of days. 

This is a pretty tight crop, so I can't make a large print from it. Hopefully if it clears up a bit, I can come back with the 600mm and shoot some closer shots. It's not weatherproof enough in this rain, though.

More to come, of course!

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Newfoundland Post #4 – Trinity

I've been telling people I'd consider moving to Newfoundland. Certainly, the price of real estate is right, at least outside the major cities. The scenery is awesome, if you like the outdoors and the ocean is your thing, this is the place to be.

Yesterday, in Bonavista, I talked with several people with that in mind. I talked with the owner of this house right on the end of the peninsula, his back yard abuts the ocean and he's a few minutes from downtown.

The owner moved here from Ontario — the Peterborough./Lindsay area, in fact — about 10 years ago. Loves it, wouldn't go back.  He told me that a property like this would sell for around $150,000, although he would want more for his because he doesn't want to sell and had done extensive renovations.

In fact this area is a "heritage area" and most of the houses have been brought up to high standards, inside and out. I'm standing with my back to the ocean in the back yard of the house next door. It's even bigger and the owner has lived there a long time. He says he's 78, won't move, and his son, who is a high school math teacher (I met him: he looks like he's 25 but he's 50!) He will retire in a couple of years and will eventually live there.

The house to my right is owned by the hospital corporation and is used as a residence for doctors and their families, as is the one across the street. Both of those houses are new and upgraded, and would go for more money, although a house across the street would be less because of the land value.

This is a Google Earth shot from in front of the same house. The blue house is out of the picture to the right (although it was white when Google shot it)). The one on the left is the doctor's house. We're looking Northwest at the ocean. The town of Bonavista is behind us. If you're interested, click this link and you can zoom out to see exactly where I was. 

So the town has a modern hospital, two (!) grocery stores, a quaint and beautiful downtown area, a population of about 3500 (I would have thought it was more. But there are no high-rises or apartments here!), the people are super-friendly,  the scenery is spectacular. High speed internet, I had 5-bars phone service right there... here's a shot just down the street:

My new blog header photo! 

It's a two minute walk to "Neil's Yard" Café and Crêperie

Neil's from London, England, been here since 2011. The building itself is a heritage building owned by the city but leased to him. 

Mmmm, Cheesecake and Café Americano. If I moved there, I'd have to get them to do a chocolate version. 

There's only one drawback mentioned by everyone I talked to.


You have to be prepared for it, they all said. The rumours of 30 foot snowbanks are greatly exaggerated and the snow clearing is first class. It doesn't get as cold as we get at home. The big rock seawall keeps the ocean at bay. But it's just a little bit WINDY. Houses are all built to take it, some solid, some designed to go with the flow. Neil told me the North wind off the ocean last winter peaked at 155 kph. That's 100 miles an hour, folks. Is that a hurricane shelter at the back of the blue house up above?

Twillingate is a bit smaller (pop. 2250) but it's much more weather-friendly and its only industry is tourism. Similar prices...

I suppose one could buy a less fancy home and just use it as a summer property. Hmmm.

There still be icebergs here. But a local told me that this is probably the last of it.

I used Topaz Impression to "paint" this one much like Georgia O'Keeffe might have. Although, I doubt she would have aligned the horizon with the top of the building. Getting more sophisticated in my old age. I might try my hand at painting this scene in oil. This is on the way to Cape Bonavista lighthouse. 

I think that's one of the icebergs we visited on board the Zodiac the other day. The sea was a lot rougher then!

This isn't the same one I was on. Ours was bigger, as I posted last time. Shot from the lighthouse. 

There be WHALES here!

And I thought shooting icebergs was addictive. I'll post more whale pictures in the next blog, because I saw more down in the Bay Bulls area, but here are a couple of shots:

One of my first glimpses of these monsters, from the shore in English Harbour, near Trinity. This is a humpback whale, they grow to something around 50 feet (15 meter) in length. The whales were circling, driving a school of capelin into a bay where they could feed. 

And feed they did, coming headfirst out of the water (it's called "broaching", massive mouth agape.  

Passengers on this Zodiac were treated with a whale broaching right next to their boat. These pictures were all shot from the shore. 

I took my leave of the Trinity/Bonavista area and headed south to Witless Bay, just below St. John's.

I like to venture off the main road. In this case, I drove toward "Little Heart's Ease" on a peninsula in Trinity Bay and I kept going until the last little outport on the end, called "Southport". 

Colourful house abound in Newfoundland, with the ubiquitous fishing boat. A bit off the beaten track, even for me! 

Next post, from Witless Bay, south of  St. Johns. Stay tuned!

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Saturday, July 08, 2017

Newfoundland post #3

When last I left off, I was wrapping up my week in Twillingate. I had packed the car in preparation for a morning departure, had dinner with Trudy and started back to my place, telling her, "I'm cold and tired. Just going to chill for the evening". Couldn't do it. There was the most amazing sunset and I drove down through the town to where I could see across the harbour. Here's what I saw:

I took over 200 pictures. I'll let you know when I've gone through them and chosen my favourite! I was in front of someone's house when I shot this. Imagine looking out at a scene like this from your window. I wonder if the house is for sale...

On the way back to my place, I decided to do a "blue hour" shot from a hilltop overlooking Main Street.

So much for skipping the evening shoot and going to bed. 

I did get underway in the morning. I drove the loop through Musgrave Harbour and Cape Freels (because I could) before hitting Gambo and the TCH (Trans Canada Highway, to you folks from 'away') on the way to Trinity. The first couple of hours was boring, through forested road, even though I strayed onto back roads to see if there was anything interesting to see. 

By the way, my photo book from 2006 was called, "The Path of Least Potholes". You don't drive in your lane in Newfoundland. You follow the Path... and beware of the black potholes. They're black because you can't see the bottoms. They can eat your car.

I stopped in Deadman's Cove to shoot a salmon stream (not a great photo) and talk to a fisherman who bemoaned the fact that the cold weather this winter has delayed the return of the salmon. A little further was Lumsden, where I ventured as far as i could before dropping the car in a crater.

Could this be an ad for Subaru? A lot more attention to detail than you think went into this shot. And are those icebergs? You bet, and we're not done with them yet! 

Another Subaru shot.   

Moving right along, I came to a town called "Newtown" because Trudy told me not to miss it.

Iconic picture, or what? These towns all have their well maintained, beautiful churches. Newtown has new housing developments and is a gorgeous place.  Pretty far from the main stream, though.

It is a beautiful little town, though. 

Next stop, Trinity. When I got there, it was almost dark, and a thick fog had run in from the sea. I tried without success to get a shot. I also tried to buy groceries... Gas station/convenience store was all she wrote. Found the essentials, and bought more groceries the next day in Bonavista where they had a real store.

Despite taking my time the next morning settling in, the day turned into an eventful one. First I headed for Elliston and the Puffin Viewing Site.  Here are a few shots

Puffin Portrait. If you want to know how this puffin was enticed to come to the mainland side of the viewing area, you'll have to be a subscriber to my blog (click the newsletter icon at upper right. No spam will come your way). 

I managed some birds in flight. These guys are very fast and deceptive so I didn't get all the shots I wanted, so I'll have to go back again. 
By the way I met Hartmut and his wife Eva from Berlin. I had first met them in Twillingate. They're here for an extended stay and Hartmut takes brilliant pictures with his Sony equipment. After carrying 40 pounds of gear out to the puffin site and later on the boat I'm about to tell you about, I'm sorely tempted...

That's Hartmut in the green jacket and blue cap.  

The viewing area is about a 500m walk from the road. Some serious photographers are there: if you search for a puffin holding a lily in its beak, that lady on the blanket (a photographer from Toronto whose name escapes me) took it a few years ago. 

I also saw this cormorant fly by. There are tons of other birds there. 

The Puffins all took a lunch break around noon. I hung around for a couple more hours with just sporadic sightings, then took my leave. I drove to Bonavista to get some groceries, then I got sidetracked...

I chatted with Bob, who runs Discovery Sea Adventure Tours and decided to join his 5:00 pm tour. "Which of those big beautiful boats is yours, Bob?"

This one. A Zodiac with some serious horsepower on the back. I should have known better. Oh, well, it did say "Adventure"! I was sitting on that bench up front. There were 8 passengers on board, plus Bob.

They fitted us into thousand dollar floater suits. As if that would have made a difference if we tumbled into the sea five miles offshore. Why is it that when you give someone your camera, they always cut your feet off? 

Seriously. Captain Bob said, after we came in, "I didn't expect it to be that windy and rough...". Folks, 2m swells, at times we leapt off the crest of one wave onto the next but usually we came crashing down in the troughs, getting negative Gee's and spine crushing impact when we landed. Next time I'll choose a different seat. And take a smaller camera.

OK, I'm cheating. I did NOT shoot this picture from the boat.
Picture these seas only twice as high, with whitecaps. 

And you thought I was done with icebergs. Hah! He estimated this one was 70-80m high. You get a different perspective when you're up close and personal. 

And here's another perspective! Same iceberg 

My logic was flawed. I was thinking that we'd get close to some birds, so I wanted the long reach of the Tamron 600mm on the crop sensor body. But you CANNOT handhold that and track anything when you're on a moving Zodiak, even when you're out of the big waves. And i thought, for whales, my 70-200 on my D800 would be good. Next time I'll stick with that and put the little kit lens on the D5500. Besides, the D800/70-200 combo is more weatherproof. And it did get wet. Salt water, too!

I did get this shot of a puffin from the water. With the long lens. Not good enough for printing, but OK for posting online. I'll have to do some painting on it if I want to print it. 

The Bonavista lighthouse from sea. I'll shoot it again from land in a few days 

Parting Shot

Trinity, Newfoundland by moonlight.
I hope you enjoy these "Blue Hour" shots as much as I do. 

A few more days here in Trinity. Exploring landscapes and seascapes. Visiting the Lighthouse and "Dungeons" in Bonavista. Back to the Puffin site. Hopefully the Capelin will be rolling (look it up!) and I'll get some whale shots. Onward!

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