The Great Puffin Photo Challenge

Yesterday we took a “puffin tour” — a boat ride that took us several miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. Our destination was Seal Island, where we hoped to find puffins, and seals, and any other marine creatures or birds that might care to drop by. It was a beautiful day and a very enjoyable ride. We saw puffins galore, lots of seals, cormorants, sun fish, and even a few porpoises.  One person on the boat claimed to see a whale in the distance, too.

But puffins, really, were the reason for the excursion.  Puffins are cute little birds that look somewhat like a cross between a penguin and a parrot.  But here’s the thing about puffins: they’re pretty much impossible for the amateur nature photographer to capture. They float and bob on the ocean water, looking simply like indistinct black spots on the sun-dappled waves, as the photo above reflects. The water shots therefore don’t exactly make for striking pictures.  And when the puffins decide to fly, they take off very fast, beating their wings as rapidly as hummingbirds, and stay low to the water, skimming its surface. They’re notoriously shy, too, and scatter when a boat gets too close — so no close-ups. You might take hundreds of photos and be lucky to find one, like the one below, that gives even a reasonably decent look at a puffin in flight.

Seals, too, aren’t exactly easy to photograph. Yesterday they were in the water, looking at us, rather than lounging on the rocks and inviting a photo shoot. And seal heads popping out of the water to gander at a boat basically look like more black spots on the waves. 

Fortunately, the cormorants of Seal Island were willing to perch on the rocks and give us a chance to take a snapshot. They were far away, and they may not be as cute as those adorable puffins, but at least they stand still.

The puffin tour was fun and interesting, and the whole experience gave me a new appreciation for National Geographic photographers.

A Cowtown No Longer

Columbus has been getting some very good press these days.  The latest is an article in National Geographic entitled “Why All the Cool Kids Love Columbus, Ohio.”  And that article even gives a shout-out to Gay Street, where I’ve worked for more than 30 years.

The National Geographic article points out what others have noted:  Columbus is a young city with an interesting mix of people from lots of different places, the arts scene is vibrant, it has some great neighborhoods, it’s open to new business ideas . . . and it has good craft beers.  You’ll also hear people talk about how downtown Columbus is starting to take off, and how the Columbus restaurant scene is improving — all of which is true.

sept_kahiki-life-sml-300dpiThe kudos that are coming Columbus’ way are a far cry from the 1970s, when Columbus was called a “cowtown” . . . and the name seemed apt.  In those days, it was hard to find any ethnic food in Columbus — except for the ersatz Polynesian cuisine, often served with a Flaming Volcano drink, at the fabled Kahiki — and the city was really a pretty boring place.  Back then, the Short North was almost a skid row neighborhood, German Village was dodgy at best, and people sipped fire-brewed Stroh’s beer rather than those tasty craft options.  When Kish and I graduated from Ohio State at the end of the ’70s, we decided to shake off the dust of Columbus and hit the road, and we really weren’t thinking about coming back.

A few years later we changed our minds, and come back we did.  And since our return in the mid-80s we’ve seen a tremendous change in CBus in many ways.  Some of it is due to solid governmental administration, some of it is due to enlightened leading citizens, but a lot of it is due to the fact that Columbus is home to lots of friendly, interesting people who aren’t afraid to do some different things and take some risks now and then.

For those of us who knew Columbus during the “cowtown” days, the transformation of our city has been a pretty amazing thing.  I’m glad to see Columbus is getting some buzz.