For a week during the summer of 2014 I had the opportunity to bring my wife and kids for our first true vacation at a seaside cottage (and what a beautiful one it was!!) along Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton island.
We rented a van, packed up, and headed out on the road trip towards the Maritimes. This was not a photography trip per say, more of a well-deserved family vacation, but it was hard to resist not packing up the photography gear when going to an area like this, especially knowing there would perhaps be some early morning time that I could take on the beach while the family was still sleeping!
As luck would have it, our road trip heading there coincided with hurricane Albert touching land in the Canadian Maritimes. Our second day of travelling, across New Brunswick, was through this hurricane with pounding rain and gale-force winds making for some “white-knuckle” driving conditions. No worries as we were not in danger, with the worst of the storm being quite further away. It was still an experience though. We stopped in Halifax for the night and by next morning the rain had stopped but the gale winds persisted. Another fun drive for the last leg to Cape Breton. The sun was out by the time we arrived but in the distance we could see the storm formation on its way out back to sea.
Within an hour of unpacking, the kids, having gone exploring the ocean, came back running to the cottage to excitedly tell us to come to the beach RIGHT AWAY!!! They would not say what it was they wanted to show but they were all extremely giddy (all four of them!). When we arrived at the beach (a short 30 second fast-paced walk) we were astonished to see what was a fish-laden shoreline, with more coming in with every wave. And this as far as the eye can see. Mackerels, still alive, littering the beach! See the short video below to see a small glimpse of what we witnessed:
The locals, some having lived their whole lives there, had never seem anything like it. I was proud to proclaim to them that we had only been here for about an hour or so 🙂 By the way, if you’ve never eaten mackerel before you are missing out…and ours were the freshest ever…picked straight out of the sea with our bare hands, prepared, cleaned, cooked on the BBQ and eaten within an hour.
Anyway, what does a road trip through a hurricane and fish washing up on shore have to do with gulls you must be asking?…..
Herring Gull eating Mackerel, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/2500s., f/5.6, ISO 800.
For the next two days Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls were feasting on the school of mackerels that had stayed close to shore. The local fishermen explained that the mackerels normally were much further out in the ocean, and the only explanation to the rare phenomenon must have been the passing through of Hurricane Albert causing disturbance or a change in water temperature to force the fish (and a whole whack of jellyfish too) close to shore and washing up in the waves. The action was non-stop, furious, and quite entertaining to watch and photograph. It was difficult deciding which way to point the lens.
Many struggles with fish seemingly too large to swallow (but still somehow managing to gulp them down), hits and misses, and squabbles and chases among individuals for the best piece of the pie were witnessed and photographed. Even my family enjoyed the show as all this was happening right at the beach, easy to see without the use of binoculars.
Great Black-backed Gull eating mackerel, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/800s., f/5.6, ISO 800.
Great Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull Fighting for mackerel, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/1250s., f/5.6, ISO 800.
After the vacation was over I had hundreds of fascinating images of this feeding frenzy to review, and many were good to great ones….but one in particular stood out from the rest, in my opinion. This Great Black-backed Gull leaping up from a wave, catch in its mouth, water drops flying, was the clear winner of the series in my mind. To me everything came together for this image.
Great Black-backed Gull, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/2500s., f/5.6, ISO 800.
Video is flagged as private so I cannot access it
How about now?
Sorry for the late reply. I can access it now.
That is indeed alot of fish!
Thanks for confirming! I had uploaded the video but then did not hit “publish”. It was quite a scene (sight and sound).
You made the most of an amazing natural history event. Those gull shots rock! Did you post any of them on BPN?
It was quite memorable that is for sure. I’m certain I posted two of the images on BPN at the time. The last one for sure, and perhaps the first.
Thank you Dan for sharing the story with us. These images are awesome.
Thank you very much Krishna!