View Full Version : Heading to Machias Seal island for Puffins

Ed Vatza
06-10-2008, 05:55 AM
Next Tuesday with Bold Coast Charters out of Cutler, Maine. Anyone out there who has done this trip? Any recommendations? Lenses? 400mm f/5.6 or is my 70-200 f/2.8 enough? How close is the blind to the birds? Should I take a monopod or is handheld the ticket? Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.

carole wiley
06-10-2008, 06:50 AM
Ed, I am heading out there the end of July, also with bold coast and would be interested in hearing about your experience. This is what I have learned. There is a book about photographing the Me. coast that says the 70-200 is good on the island. especially with the min focus distance as birds get close once you settle into the blinds (often running along the top). Not much room for tripods 3-4 people in a blind but maybe a bean bag if you have it. Longer lens to shoot birds on the rocks, maybe a TC. I can give you more info but I am at work at the moment and don't have the book with me. Someone on another forum also said the 70-200 would be an ideal length, longer for the staging area only. Good luck, hope to hear you had an excellent experience. I will check the info I have and get back to you tonight.

Axel Hildebrandt
06-10-2008, 07:45 AM
Sounds like a great trip. I was told that shorter lenses are sufficient in most cases. I might go up there, too, since I've never been to Machias. Please share your experiences when you get back.

I would also be interested if anyone knows other good places in Maine for puffins/razorbills. I went to Matinicus last year which was great but you have to stay on the boat.

john crookes
06-10-2008, 07:55 AM
When I was out there a couple of years ago I brought both of those lenses along also a wide angle for scenics and photographs while waiting for a blind. Look over the lighting and select the blind that gives you the best angle of light.

I did not bring a monopod and I am not sure if you are allowed one.

The Puffins will be close to the blind but the razorbills and Auks will be further away hence the need for a 400

Also when I was there I enlisted the help of a child that was not with a camera > I had him hold my flash off to the side from his port hole and aim it at the bird I was photographing n return I gave him a short lesson on Photographing and let him take a couple of pictures which I then emailed to him

He was quite proud of himself and I was able to get a flash fill on my sybjet



wear warm clothes even if it is warm inland as the island is in the North Atlasntic and can be extremley cold even in summer

you can always remove layers but it is hard to get rid of a chill if you do not have a outer layer to wear.

In June you will get a lot of birds getting their nest ready which are underground in the cracks of the rocks

Hopefully the Artic Terns will be back this year as they were not there last year
they can make great subjets as you are waiting for the blinds

Layton E Parham
06-10-2008, 11:59 AM
My wife and I will be taking this tour on July 21. Hope to see you there.
Any info will be greatly appreciated.
Layton and Lauren Parham, Palm Bay, Florida

PS; It would be nice if we had a BPN hat or something for ID.

Ed Vatza
06-11-2008, 04:20 AM
Thanks for all the tips and information folks. I really appreciate it. I am really looking forward this trip. I have been jealous for so long of many of the puffin close-ups that I have seen. Hopefully, now will be my turn. I hope the weather holds. Right now the long range forecast is for clouds and showers.

I am thinking I will have the 70-200 on my 30D and the 400 on my XT in order to save time with switching lenses. While I am thinking Puffins, I also hope to upgrading my Razorbill and Auk images. The Arctic Tern would be nice too.

I will let you know how it went when I return.

Roman Kurywczak
06-11-2008, 05:42 AM
Hi Ed,
Didn't notice this post till now. The terns mystyriously vanished off the island last year. Plenty of auks and mures and of course puffin. Your lens choices are good ones..........but I find myself using the 400 most often as isolating an individual can be tricky with the shorter focal lengths...or you aim down too much. the individual opening is roughly 8" x 8" so not too much ability to pan. Use the flash.even if it's a pop up as the Auks have a black hole for an eye! Have a great trip.

Ed Vatza
06-12-2008, 06:01 AM
Thanks for the tips Roman. I am looking for Puffins, Lupines and other wildflowers on this trip. I'll be sure to let you all know how it turned out.

Bob Malbon
06-13-2008, 12:09 PM
To add to this great list of ways to get the perfect capture here is my secret tip: As said be sure to get a blind at the right point of light, then get time at the end port hole because the birds will be flying in and you can get some killer flight captures. The noise you hear will be Puffin tap dancing on top of your blind 2 min. after you enter!!!
Have fun. Bold Coast is the BEST! Bob

Chris Hugosson
06-17-2008, 07:48 PM
Hello Ed,

I hope you had a great day at Machias Seal Island. I'm going there for the first time in the beginning of July. I've been checking out this website while dreaming of actually being there.
I believe the gentleman has worked on the island for several years. He's got plenty of Puffin headshots with 135mm and up.

Ed Vatza
06-22-2008, 04:56 PM
Hey Chris,

Just got back home from Acadia this afternoon. We spent the week in Bar Harbor and drove up to Cutler for the trip. No easy feat given the trip left at 0700 and it is a good solid two hour drive. So we were up at 0300 and on the road at 0400.

First off, the Tuesday trip was cancelled due to bad weather so we re-scheduled for Thursday. We went out Thursday in some pretty thick fog. We couldn't really see much along the way and when we dropped anchor off of Machias, you couldn't even see the island and when we got off the skiff on the island, the boat was nowhere to be seen out in the fog. Quite interesting! :eek:

There are four blinds on the island and each can (barely) accommodate four people. We were fortunate that there were only 13 people on the Thursday trip. Total time on the island is very limited. We had around an hour and 15 minutes. Fortunately with 13 people, we could all be in the blinds the whole time. The previous day, there were 24 people and they went into the blinds in shifts. While one group was in the blinds, the other was waiting in the picnic area. After however long, they switched.

The puffins get very, very close. You could easily fill a frame with a 200mm lens (I was using a 70-200 f/2.8L IS) and do close ups with a 400mm (I had the 400mm f/5.6). The Razorbills were a little bit farther off but still close enough to get good shots with both lenses. The Murres were farther off and the 400 came in handy there.

I believe I met Ralph. There are only a couple of folks on the island and one was a serious photographer. We spoke with him at length as we waited to return to the boat.

I will have to go through the images more closely but I think (hope) I have several Puffin images that may be worthy of posting. The Razorbills, I am not sure of. That dark sunken eye is incredibly difficult (at least for me) to make pop in the images. We shall see.

Anyway, enjoy.

Axel Hildebrandt
06-22-2008, 05:24 PM
I'm sorry you didn't have better luck with the weather and hope some of the images will turn out well. Let's see some of them in the forum.

Ed Vatza
06-23-2008, 05:19 AM
Its all good Axel. The weather was less than ideal all week but we still got in a lot of hiking, birding, photography and, of course, eating. It was another nice vacation in Bar Harbor/Acadia. We are already planning for next June and another visit to Machias Seal Island.

Grady Weed
06-23-2008, 12:42 PM
I have been 4 times to the Island with John Norton, who just passed away. It is a good idea to bring 2 cameras with a different focal length lens for each. Keep it mounted and do not take them off if at all possible. The blinds are small hold four and and have small openings. Leave the mono pod or tripod on the boat, no room in the blind with four people. The blind is made of plywood and the puffins will tap dance so loud it might just distract you. It will be the most delightful trip of your life.

Axel, if you go, bring the best prime you have and a 100-400 for zooms, possibly a teleconverter if you have good light. Hope for overcast skies or muted. You get 1 to 1 1/2 hour in the blind. It will go by very fast. Focus on one species at a time. Very important.

For anyone who wants more information than be written in a e-mail, call me at 207-625-3370. I will glad to help you. Check out the trip forum. Roman is going soon, and doing lighthouses along the way. Sounds like a great time.

Don LaVange
08-20-2008, 11:31 AM
Next Tuesday with Bold Coast Charters out of Cutler, Maine. Anyone out there who has done this trip? Any recommendations? Lenses? 400mm f/5.6 or is my 70-200 f/2.8 enough? How close is the blind to the birds? Should I take a monopod or is handheld the ticket? Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.

I can't believe summer is almost over! I did two trips with Bold Coast out of Cutler, ME this year. Both fantastic. I brought my 70-200, 16-35 and 500. The 500 was great for those distant shots you like to grab and the 16-35 shows the vast numbers of birds.

Once I was alone in a blind and another time I was with 3 other people. The holes from which you shoot are small so panning to get BIF shots is rare. I think twice a year is perfect.

Ed Vatza
08-24-2008, 09:00 PM
We seem to visit Bar Harbor/Acadia every year, Don. We drove up to Cutler early in the morning and were back in Bar Harbor well before dinner. We've already booked Bar Harbor for next June and will be doing the Bold Coast trip once again. It was really great. But I really wish I could have on of those blinds to just my wife and myself. :D I know what your thinking! :o This year there were four of us and that was just too many.

We also hope to get up to Millinocket for a moose safari.