Puffins and more...

Heading into this summer one trip/outing I was looking forward to was photographing the puffins in the Bonavista area. This is a trip I make annually but this year was different because my good buddy Brendan Kelly was coming along and it was actually his first time photographing puffins. I normally make this trip at the end of July but with July booked solid I had to move the trip to the end of June.

So 3:00 am Brendan and I were packing his Civic to the rafters with photography and camping gear. We were only staying one night so for two days the plan was to shot, shot and shot while living off sandwiches and protein bars (with only 48 hours to shoot who has time to go to a restaurant to eat? lol).

Conditions were looking promising in terms of weather and about 20mins outside of Elliston we bagged our first wildlife shots ..a young moose…


I mean what’s a road trip without a moose sighting right?..lol

Heading up to the main road with the puffin colony in our sights I could see the excitement in Brendan’s eyes. As excited as I was I also had the fear in the back of my mind that we just might not get to see the Puffins up close. See in Elliston the puffin colony is located about 20 yards or so off the mainland and with the size of the puffins it’s near impossible to get any decent shots of them from that distance. Under the right conditions and a little bit of luck the Puffins will land on the mainland providing some amazing photo ops.

I took Brendan along my usual walk towards the Puffin Colony which is along the cliffs edge allowing for some great photo ops of Black Guillemots. These little guys can be tricky to spot and before you spot them they have jumped from the cliffs edge and back out to sea. You have to approach the edge of the cliffs slowly looking ahead of you hoping to spot one and then plan you approach..peek your lens over the cliff side and nail your shots..here are a few from the morning session.


One interesting note which I noticed and have noticed on almost all my trips is that Guillemots are best seen in the morning along the cliffs. They seem to disappear out to sea in the afternoons.

After having our fill of Guillemots we began our ascent up the hill to the puffins. It’s always an intense moment as you reach the top and peer down to the colony hoping that the puffins are on the mainland…to our disappointment not one…they all seemed to be out at sea feeding..we sat for some time watching their flight path but it appeared the conditions were not promising.

We decided to head back down the trail to photograph what seemed to be a very cooperative American Pipit.  After a short session with him I came away with one of my fav Pipit shots..

Our plan now was to do some exploring and check out a location for puffins which I can not disclose (out of respect for the wishes of a fellow photographer). 

Shortly after arriving at this new location we spotted them. Puffins..small pockets of puffins spread out all along the cliffs. My excitement level hit the roof. It was Brendan’s chance to finally bag his first photo of a puffin. We began our approach on the first group…GONE...at the very sight of us they took flight out to sea. Clearly these puffins were not use to humans like the ones in Elliston. The next group we planned our approach very carefully…as we crested a small hill I heard the machine gun sound of Brendan’s camera go off and saw the smile on his face nearly wrap around his whole head..as he looked back to me his hand reached out and we exchanged a very quiet high five..he now had his first puffin images…for the next few hours we worked along the cliffs edge and the puffins began to ignore our presence. 


The morning session went by fast and it was time to set up camp.

To our disappointment the afternoon was a complete bust. The light got harsh, Guillemots were basically non-existent and the puffins in Elliston still seemed to have no interest in approaching the mainland. What Brendan and I could conclude was that it appears all the female puffins were in their burrows on eggs while the males were out feeding and gathering food for the females. With this being the cause our chances of photographing the puffins up close in Elliston went very low and not really worth spending our time waiting on.

That evening we went to Lancaster to scout the area for landscape ideas. The clouds looked promising for a sunset shot but as the day came closer to an end the clouds quickly disappeared and we were left with nothing but an empty sky (not the most interesting sunset opportunity). So we packed up our gear and headed back to the tent. We were both tired and knew we were in for a short but cold morning…forecast was for chance of frost..what the hell?...end of June and chance of frost…that’s Newfoundland for ya..lol.

With a 3:00am rise planned the night was short and even though it was cold it wasn’t as bad as I thought…I woke with the sudden urge to pee as the alarm went off. Before leaving the tent I said to Brendan..”That wasn’t too bad..not that cold”…upon my return it was as if my body came to life and the chili in my body was nothing I have ever felt before…I opened the tent door and said “Brendan..kkkaannn yoouuu ssssttart the kkarrrr?”…my teeth couldn’t stop chattering. Brendan threw me the keys, I grabbed my cereal and headed to the car..2 seconds later Brendan joined me chattering as well…

4:10am with back packs on we headed to our spots along the cliffs of Lancaster awaiting our fate…would the cloud formations be good? Color vibrant? Sun in the right place? Compositions nailed down?..I’ve become more and more excited about landscape photography over this past year and the anticipation of a sunrise or sunset is like no other. There are many many failures and disappointing shots made but boy when all the moons align you can really capture some magic. Here are my two fav shots from that morning. No saturation or vibrancy was added to these images..this is how the sunrise was..magical.


This sunrise capped off an amazing trip. Our time shooting seemed short but boy we came away with some great images in our eyes and a few good laughs.