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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