R, D & F stands for Rain, Drizzle and Fog. This is an expression used by John Blackmore, a Newfoundlander, whom I met many years ago at a stained glass workshop given by Robert Jekyll.
It is the perfect description for the first two days of my first 3-day workshop on Bonaventure Island. It soaked through my, supposedly, waterproof coat and made my first day up at the colony guite cold and miserable, except for the gannets, that is!
We met at 4:45 am for a 5 am departure in a large zodiac for a trip around Bonaventure Island for images of the cliffs and, hopefully, for flying birds and seals.
Northern Gannets, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Razorbills and Common Murres make up most of the nesting birds in the many eroded niches along the high cliffs. They look like so many ants in an aquarium colony. Many birds roost along the the cliffs as well as nest making it impossible to estimate the numbers.
After landing at the warf and eating “lunch” we packed up and headed for the colony. About a third of the way up I started to smell the wonderful fresh scent of the balsam trees along the trail. The last third of the trail still smelled of balsam with the added scent of fish. It wasn’t an unpleasant fishy smell, just pervasive.
Bunchberry was just coming into bloom and Spring Beauties were in full bloom making the area about three weeks behind Muskoka for the season.
The view of the colony from the head of the trail is overwhelming! Gannets everywhere! On the ground making their calls and in the air flying in every direction and out over the sea. There is a building where the Parks Officer of the day has an office along with a small hallway where one can get out of the rain. There are picnic tables and benches inside a roped barrier. The colony takes up every other possible space. Sixty-five thousand breeding pairs is an awful lot of birds. That doesn’t take into account the thousands of unmated birds and the thousands of other seabirds that nest along the cliffs.
Chris Dodds’ goal is to help his participants get the best possible images, while maximizing the weather conditions at the colony. Having visited the colony most years over the last twenty years he has a good understanding of the birds’ activity associated with the weather. The fog helps to isolate birds against a foggy background and lots of wind means the birds will be flying. No horizons to worry about. Chris’ suggestion is to use your 70-200 lens, hand-held for flight shots. Even though you may have a new 500 lens you are dying to try out that isn’t the best use of the conditions.
The gannets fly so close to you that close-ups in flight are more than possible.
Here at home I attempted to photograph Great-crested Flycatchers at their nest box at my friend, Ed’s, but they had, literally, flown the coop. I was told that the House Wrens I intended to work on this week had done the same thing. I did have the consolation of photographing both Yellow and Showy Lady’s Slippers.
The Yellow Ladies Slippers were past their best days and this one required a bit of Photoshop Cosmetic Surgery but at least I didn’t have to drive to the Bruce Peninsula to get it!