Stalking Seabirds in an Offshore Kayak


Mu-43 Top Veteran
May 15, 2017
Alaska/New Zealand
I haven't been out in the kayak for a long while. A shop to finish and a salmon season to make ready had kept me quite busy. I'd managed to get a couple local trips in the outboard powered skiff, but hadn't been able to get close enough to shoot anything better than mediocre at best. I woke yesterday reasonably caught up on my projects. With a good marine weather forecast, I stuffed my EM1.1 and 300 Pro into a dry bag and hopped into my 16' kayak for a 1/2 hour paddle offshore to a nearby seabird rookery. As I approached the island, the sheer number of airborne flyers made me wish I had worn a hat! Gulls waged a constant two-and-fro on their nesting cliffs and murres streamed overhead like incoming fighters. I spotted a pair of guillimots nearby and went to investigate.
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Fortunately the seas were calm, something that I need when shooting out of a 21" wide kayak. I paddled further down the cliffs, unsuccessfully attempting to capture murres as they streamed rapidly overhead. There are pretty murre pictures and there are colorful murre pictures and then there's the ones I got...
Looking for an easier target, I spotted something that couldn't fly.
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Many sea otter hang in the kelp beds near the island. This one is special as it has 5 legs--or perhaps one belongs to the baby she's packing on her chest.
I soon noticed was that this was home to more than otters . The flies and the smell of guano constantly reminded me I was now down wind from an island with a lot of nesting birds.
On these trips I'll attempt anything that comes my way, but what I was really after was puffins. I soon spotted a pair. I've never been able to get close enough to these guys in a skiff. This was my first attempt in a kayak and I hoped that my lower profile and quiet propulsion would help.
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Experienced bird photographers @macro, @Phocal, etc., have stressed the need to get close to the subject if you want detail. These shots are the best--and closest--puffin shots I have gotten.
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My next shot was taken as a local tour boat drove near. Its rainbow colors are reflected in the calm waters and blend with the puffins own artwork.
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While the bird was not too concerned with me, as long as I moved slowly and obliquely, and it really wasn't too bothered by the large tour vessel who was a ways off, it did get nervous being between us and eventually departed for a bit of less crowded ocean.
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I continued with my usual unspectacular success in obtaining a sharp photo of a flying murre. By the time I spot an incoming bird (no one likes a bird butt), locate the rapidly approaching speedball in the viewfinder, manage to track it w/o loosing the focus totally, press the shutter button, and all w/o dropping my EM1 and 300 Pro into 200 fathoms of saltwater, my hit rate is somewhat south of the border. In fact, if anyone needs a bunch of almost-sharp murre pictures, or beautiful background scenic shots with OOF murre sized blobs in the foreground , hurry and call me quick before I erase about 97% of what I've taken.
With camera card once again filled with potential erasers, I began the paddle homeward. Rounding the final corner of the island, I again spotted a pair of guillimots, perhaps the same as before. With an earlier decent photo already in the bag, I decided to see just how close I could get w/o making the feeding birds nervous. I have found that the best way to accomplish this is to move slowly towards the birds, but not straight at them. One nice thing about a kayak is that they can glide so far after you stop paddling as long as you can keep them going in the direction you are aiming for. The other special feature about shooting from a platform where your derriere is below the waterline is the unique angle of view.
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This combined with the natural movement of the water can create a pretty special photo.
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Mission accomplished, I left the pair to feed in peace. While working the guillimots, I'd spotted a bird nearby that I couldn't initially identify. Closer now, it resolved into a Pellagic cormorant.
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On overcast days, these fish-eaters are often a drab brown/black. But get them in the right light--Oh Boy!
The colorful cormorant was the final bird I met on my outing, and I now pointed my bow towards our home in Shelter Cove.
However... Jackie Chan gets to air his bloopers at the end of his shows so why not I?
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If Mr. Dumbo hadn't been so focused on wringing the maximum sharpness out of the EM1.1, he wouldn't have been locked in single-point CDAF e-shutter, and would have had an easy PDAF all-points mechanical shot at the flyer as it rose over its sitting compadre. I did not bother to run this one through DXO.
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Mu-43 Top Veteran
Jan 22, 2012
New Zealand
Real Name
Awww heck !! Those are just stunning shots. I wish we had them here and especially Puffins. One of the most gorgeous birds IMO. Something I would love to get to see, it's posts like this where we get to see birds we don't have, is just a huge bonus in my book. .

When you can get close like that ...... well look at the details. Wonderful to see and the last shot ;) well that looks fairly normal unfortunately Eric :) How many thousands would you like. Ha. Jan's favourite will be the Otters.

All the best and top shots for sure.

Nov 6, 2017
Thessaly, Greece
Dang, you had me on that first sentence!:laugh:
well artisticly it is really great because it captures the slightly fuzzy fleeing feel of the moment but if someone uses their absolute photographic purity criteria, there can be complains about the not 100% sharp eyeball of the fleeing bird - I would give you the grand prize but I guess others will award you the silver medal

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