Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Postcards from Cape St. Mary's

Cape St. Mary's 1While I liked some of the shots of the seabirds that I took on the whale-watching tour I did with Anne and Zoey, nothing struck me as being a keeper. I wanted to try my hand at bird shots again, so I rented a 300 mm f2.8 telephoto lens from Lens Lenders and headed out to the Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve.

I last visited Cape St. Mary's in 1981. Back then, there were thousands upon thousands of Northern Gannets, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Common Murres, Thick-billed Murres, Razorbills, and Black Guillemots nesting on the appropriately named Bird Rock. I didn't think their numbers would have diminished in the last 31 years, and since Bird Rock is just a stone's throw from the cliffs of Cape St. Mary's, I thought it would be a great place to photograph birds.

My trip got off to a good start when just outside Colinet I spied these two brave flowers. Rebels, they were. Nonconformists. They had left the crowd behind and were striking out on their own. The image, which I call "Colouring Outside the Lines", should go well in a series with a similar guardrail and flowers shot I took last year on the Tilton Barrens.

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The only issue in planning a trip to Cape St. Mary's is the fog. It is unpredictable and can roll in on a moment's notice. As I drove down Route 92 through North Harbour, which fittingly is just across the water from North Harbour South, I saw the wind picking up and the fog rolling in. It was not a pretty sight.

Cape St. Mary's 10

Still, I thought, maybe the wind is just right and there will not be any fog down at the Cape. But when I turned down the road to the Visitors' Centre, the road disappeared into a bank of the thick, heavy, pea-soup variety of fog.

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Having come all this way, I decided to try and shoot anyway. The trail from the Visitors' Centre to Bird Rock was a strip of mowed grass.

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It was ingenious, really, for helping people navigate in fog. All you had to do was look at the grass at your feet to know where you were. If you were in tall grass, you had wandered off the trail and needed to look for the short grass. The short grass was only found in two places: the grass that park staff had mowed to make the trail, and the grass the wind had stunted along the edge of the cliff. If you were on the short grass, you were either on the trail (and therefore safe) or were on the stunted grass (and therefore doomed). Either way, the park staff didn't have to come look for you because if you were on the trail you were not lost, and if you were at the bottom of the cliff then you were the Coast Guard's problem and not theirs.

I left most of my gear in the car and took two cameras, one on each shoulder. One camera had my 200mm lens and the other had the rented 300mm lens. It's a good thing I didn't take anything else, because the lenses could have been used as a ship's ballast. I felt like I was training to replace Atlas. I was buckle-kneed and bent over so much that my nose was barely off the ground. I could have auditioned as an extra in The Hobbit, had it still been filming. But every problem represents an opportunity, and as I walked along the trail with my nose barely off the ground, I could see water rapidly condensing on the plants.

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As I walked along I knew I was getting close because I could hear, and smell, Bird Rock even though I couldn't see it. Suddenly, the grass gave way to stone as I arrived safely at the viewpoint across from Bird Rock. Having survived the short grass navigation paradox, I was now alarmed to see bright warning signs nailed to the cliff. The signs' message was simple: any fool silly enough to come out here in the fog, is on his own. Or at least that's how my acrophobic and vertigo-prone mind translated the words.

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Well, when it comes to taking photographs, I am both foolish and silly, so indeed I did try to take photos in the fog. Try is the operative word, for I could barely see the birds even though they were only a few meters away from me. The fog hid the cliffs behind the birds and reduced the contrast so much that it was very difficult just to focus the behemoth of a lens I was using, let alone make a good composition.

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I mentioned I could smell and hear Bird Rock long before I could see it. It wasn't until I was shooting the birds flying around Bird Rock that I realized the importance of the smell and the sound: they are Mother Nature's instrument landing system for the birds on final approach.

Cape St. Mary's 1

Many of my images from Newfoundland are available to purchase as fine art prints from my web gallery.

If you would like to read some of my other posts about Newfoundland, click here and use the "Older" and "Newer" links at the bottom to scroll through the posts.

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