Clowns of the Sea

Machias Seal Island has been on a list of destinations I have wanted to visit for several years. I was fortunate enough to take a trip there this month, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. You wouldn’t think there would be much to see with an area less than twenty acres, but like they say, big things can come in small packages. If you are nature photographer or birder this amazing bird sanctuary is a must see. It is home to a variety of seabirds such as Razorbills, Common Murres, Arctic Terns, Eiders and the stars of the show – Atlantic Puffins.

Machias Seal Island

Machias Seal Island

Seal island is located approximately 16 km (10 miles) southeast of Cutler Maine and approximately 19 km (12 miles) southwest Grand Manan in the Bay of Fundy. Between late May and mid-August there are two companies that run boat tours to the island, one from Grand Manan and one out of Cutler Maine. My wife and I took the tour from Maine due to a conflict with the departure time for the ferry to Grand Manan. Either location requires an overnight stay the day before because the tours leave between 6:30 and 8:00am local time.

Left, Right and Centre

“Left, Right and Centre”

For those who have been whale watching or on other sightseeing tours there is always the fear of not seeing anything. That is not the case here unless it’s because of fog. Our boat launched about 7:30 am, and we were fortunate all aspects of the weather cooperated. The bay was smooth and the fog lifted before reaching the end of our 45 minute cruise. The anticipation was high as we all caught a glimpse of the manned lighthouse and saw puffins in flight over the water towards their sanctuary.

Atlantic Puffin

Atlantic Puffin

Once in sight of the island it didn’t take long for the action to begin with seals sunbathing and bouncing on the rocks as well as the seabirds coming and going like bees from a hive. We taxied ashore and gathered by the lighthouse keepers and awaiting our instructions. We were split up into groups of four or five and taken to a blind to spend the next hour and a half. Normally I might be a little claustrophobic but that 90 minutes felt more like ten. The birds posed and played for the cameras like they were on stage. One other photographer said it was almost like it was cheating being so close to the action. You quickly see where their nickname comes from as their personality truly shines – clowns for sure.

Waddling Circus

“Waddling Circus”

Puffins are not an endangered species but their numbers are monitored closely now around the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy due to their popularity with hunters until the late 1800’s for their meat, eggs and feathers. With their smaller numbers in past years it left them exposed to other seabirds like gulls taking over their habitat. The decline of herring as a food source in recent years is also a concern, as is a reduced rate of reproduction. Puffins only lay one egg each year and don’t mate until about age five. Organizations like the Canadian Wildlife Service, University of New Brunswick and the Audubon Society are all studying and working to protect Puffins and the other native seabirds.

Feathers in a Flap

“Feathers in a Flap”

I’ve never been on a safari but I assume you would experience a similar affection for the animals you photograph there. Once you see firsthand how fragile an animal and their habitat are, it really changes the way you look at that particular creature and the actions we can have; both positive and negative.

 

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Trap Door

My wife and I rented a cottage in Seal Cove on Grand Manan in April of 1994, but the weather prevented us from exploring the area. Earlier this month the weather was much better and my family was able to get out and see the area and to meet some of the locals. Seal Cove provides one of the nicest beaches on the whole island, but for me it was the colourful architecture of this old fishing community that I enjoyed the most.

Fishing plays a large part in the lives of those who live on Grand Manan. Herring Fishing along with Lobster fishing and harvesting dulse have been a way of life for many generations. These buildings were built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and their design, creative use of color provided an abundance of photographic subjects. I love the way the builders incorporated the sides of the lobster traps next to the red door. This might be my favourite photograph from the trip.

"Trap Door"

“Trap Door”

A Second Honeymoon (With Kids)

In April of 1994 my wife and I took our first trip to Grand Manan, the largest of the Fundy Isles. This past week we returned for the first time since our honeymoon but now as a family of five. We rented a cottage in North Head along the beach in Flaggs Cove. Being almost 20 years since our last visit we spent most of our time touring the Island’s coastline, visiting lighthouses and beaches with our kids.

Flaggs Cove, Grand Manan Ferry heading towards the Swallowtail Lighthouse and then onto Black Harbour

Flaggs Cove- The Grand Manan Ferry heading towards the Swallowtail Lighthouse and then onto Blacks Harbour on the main land of New Brunswick

The first evening we arrived we headed to Pettes Cove and the Swallowtail Lighthouse before heading back to the cottage and to bed.

Hole In The Wall - Whale Cove

Hole In The Wall – Whale Cove

Day two took us to Northern Head and the famous Hole-in-the-Wall.

Southern Head Cliffs - It was foggy but you could tell it was a long way down

Southern Head Cliffs – It was foggy but you could tell it was a long way down

On day three of our trip we travelled down route 776 to the Southern Head, Seal Cove and Anchorage Park. It was quite foggy in the morning so the view wasn’t what we hoped for but you could still make the outline of the 100- 200 foot cliffs to the bay in several places.

One of the local in Anchorage Park

One of the locals in Anchorage Park

White Head and Grand Harbour was the destination on day four before heading home again on the ferry.

White Head Island just off Grand Manan

White Head Island just off Grand Manan

An Abandoned Lighthouse on Ross Island

An Abandoned Lighthouse on Ross Island

I was anxiously awaiting the trip back to Grand Manan, and it didn’t disappoint. If you are planning a trip to the East Coast I’d suggest you add Grand Manan to your must see list of things to do.

The Fundy Isles – Grand Manan

The goal is not to change your subjects, but for the subject to change the photographer.  ~Author Unknown

It was April 1994, the day after my wedding that my wife and I left for our honeymoon on Grand Manan. This was my first visit to any of the Fundy Isles. It was also on this trip that my infatuation for photography began.  I had lived next to the Bay of Fundy my entire life, but I had never left the mainland. Sometimes, I look back and regret that I didn’t spend more time traveling around the area I grew up in.  I was unaware of where I lived and what magnificent wonders were so close to home for me.

With my very first camera, a Minolta X370 and Magnicon 70-200 4.5-5.6 lens, I was set to go.  With little knowledge of photography or Grand Manan we set off from Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick for our week long adventure. The ferry ride in itself is part of the adventure.  The Bay can be merciless to those with weak stomachs, as one poor young fellow demonstrated for us in the cafeteria.

The ferry as is looked arriving to Grand Manan in 1994.

Our ocean front cottage provided an incredible view and beach access. The beach also presented an unusual introduction to one of our fisherman neighbors while we were there.  Apparently, April is a slow fishing month so golf (while wearing hip waders) is a favorite pastime on the island. The beach looked like it had been invaded by sea turtles that left their eggs. My wife and I introduced ourselves and played caddy for a while, collecting golf balls and then returning them to our mariner friend.

One of the sand traps the local golfers play through on Grand Manan

The real reason to go to Grand Manan, besides April golf, is the scenery and wildlife. Oh, and of course the famous Grand Manan dulse.  There is no shortage of subjects on this tiny island; the whales, birds, lighthouses, wildflowers, beaches or the famous Hole in the Wall.  Grand Manan is also the gateway to Machias Seal Island, the southernmost breeding site for the North Atlantic Puffin. (Seal Island is next on my bucket list). This island of approximately 2500 people is only 24 km long by 11 km wide but like the other two Fundy Isles there is no shortage of subjects, and beauty abounds everywhere.

It is a magnificent view for many of the residents.

I know that the photographs included here don’t do justice for what Grand Manan has to offer, but as I looked through my portfolio, it was an intriguing time of reflection on my first visit to the island.  I found it interesting to see what inspired me 18 years ago and how my photography has changed. I would encourage you to do the same and look back over your photographs from 10, 20, or maybe 30 years ago, if you are old enough. How has your photography changed? How you have changed? Perhaps, like I did when viewing my photographs of Grand Manan, you’ll desire to go back somewhere familiar again, or feel encouraged by how far you have come.