Schoodic Peninsula

River Otter on the Schoodic Peninsula in Maine by Todd Henson

A mother and three young river otter on shore.

We were extraordinarily lucky on a drive through the Schoodic Peninsula portion of Acadia National Park in Maine. We pulled over at an area with a nice rocky beach facing the water on the right. On the other side of the road were trees, but just through the trees my father spotted a small body of water where a stream emptied. He noticed movement in the stream. Swimming down the stream was a mother river otter with three young. They swam so smoothly through the water, it was as if they were water themselves, just waves moving through the larger stream. This is the first time I can recall ever seeing an otter in the wild.

Two river otter swimming. The closer, darker one, is the mother. The other is a young otter.

Four river otter swimming. The mother has turned her head to look our way.

The otters made their way to the far bank of the stream where there was a small opening at water level. They swam through this opening and shortly afterwards came out from the brush to sun themselves in the grass at the top of the bank. Their fur was so coated in oil it made fascinating patterns with the water.  As soon as they were onshore they began stretching and playing, and then almost appeared ready to lay down and rest. But before long the mother took them back into the water.

Three river otter have gone through the darker opening at water level and are on shore. A fourth is still in the water.

The three river otter are now on shore, while the fourth is at the opening.

They swam closer towards the road. I had been speaking with another photographer who happened to be in the area when the otters arrived. He said they had seen the otter the day before, and that they had crossed the road towards the ocean. I moved away from the area he said they’d crossed, hoping to give them space to cross again, if they chose to. But instead they came towards the shore exactly where I was. I tried to stay quiet and still, and attempted to capture more images, but the tree branches were in the way, and they didn’t stay still for long. The mother peeked her head up right near the shore, perhaps 8 feet from us, and looked at those of us along the side of the road, then moved back out into the middle of the steam and began taking her young upstream, eventually disappearing around the corner.

Four river otter on shore, stretching and scratching.

This entire experience lasted only 6 or 7 minutes, and we were very fortunate to have seen them. I’m very pleased I was able to capture the images I did, though they aren’t as good as I would have liked. I was excited, and likely shaking, trying to follow their movements without causing too much noise or movement of my own. When we first noticed the otter I had my mid-range telephoto lens, a 70-200, on the camera, so that’s what I started with. After they came ashore I took the time to switch to my longer telephoto, a 200-400mm with a 1.4x teleconverter. This allowed me to zoom in closer to the otter in the latter shots. But it’s a heavy lens, so I might have compromised the sharpness at times through camera movement. My father brought over my tripod, so some of the images were shot from that.

Four river otter relaxing and sunning themselves on shore.

Looking at the images now, I wish I’d used a smaller aperture to get a little more depth of field for the group shots, where all the otter were playing or laying together on shore. My aperture was wide open with both lenses, so my depth of field was as shallow as possible with those lenses at that distance. Sometimes shallow depth of field is a nice thing, but in this case, with multiple animals in a group, more depth of field would have been helpful to try to keep all the animals in focus. In conjunction with stopping down the aperture I should have increased the ISO when I switched to the longer lens. This would have allowed me to use faster shutter speeds and lessen the chance of motion blur. I was shooting at ISO 400, which gave me shutter speeds around 1/2000 at f/2.8 with the 70-200, but only around 1/640 to 1/800 at f/5.6 on the 200-400mm with the 1.4x teleconverter.

Four river otter relaxing on shore.

I really wish we’d had more time with the river otter. But the longer we aimed our cameras into the trees the more people took notice of us and started coming over to see what was happening. The otters didn’t seem overly bothered by us while they were in the water or on the opposite shore, but they obviously didn’t like the idea of trying to cross the road to the bay with so many of us there. And larger groups of people sometimes cause problems, so it’s probably just as well the otter returned upstream when they did.

Mother river otter posing for the camera.

Seeing these river otter, which I was told is a rare experience, reminded me of a CreativeLive class I purchased and watched, called The Art of Wildlife Photography, taught by Tom Mangelsen, a master at wildlife photography. He was with students along the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park. It was a very similar experience to ours, though he knew there were otters in that area and did hope to see them, but didn’t expect to. As it turned out, though, they were able to watch and photograph a large family of 8 or 9 otter as they swam, fished, and pulled the fish up on the shore to eat. I saw his excitement while watching that class, and now my father and I know some of what he was feeling, having had our own opportunity to view and photograph river otter in their environment. It’s not something I’ll forget anytime soon. I hope one day I’ll get another chance to photograph these remarkable animals, and perhaps capture some better images to share.

The resources below contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

Resources From My Library

CreativeLive: The Art of Wildlife Photography with Tom Mangelsen

The Art of Wildlife Photography  with Tom Mangelsen . Image credit: CreativeLive

The Art of Wildlife Photography with Tom Mangelsen. Image credit: CreativeLive

As mentioned above, the CreativeLive class The Art of Wildlife Photography with Tom Mangelsen is a great resource if you’re becoming serious about wildlife photography and want to learn from one of the best. It was a 2-day class with almost 11 and a half hours of video, both in studio in front of a group of students, and in the field in various locations showing how he approaches subjects and talking you through how he shoots. I purchased this class back in 2014, and I think it’s time I watched it again. Each time I rewatch these types of classes I’m able to pick up more, and there’s always more to learn.

Captured: Lessons from Behind the Lens of a Legendary Wildlife Photographer by Moose Peterson

And for the book lovers there’s Moose Peterson’s book, Captured: Lessons from Behind the Lens of a Legendary Wildlife Photographer. I’ve really enjoyed this book. It’s more than just lessons, it’s stories from Moose’s life on how he got where he is and what it is that drives him. He’s passionate about the wildlife, not just the photography, and I think that’s very important. The book is very easy to read. Moose has written it in a very conversational tone. It’s as if he’s right there in person telling you his stories. A recommended read for any budding wildlife photographer.

10 Maine Lighthouses near Portland and Acadia National Park by Todd Henson

Maine is known for many things, one of which is its lighthouses. I recently visited Maine with my father. We were primarily in the region of Acadia National Park, but also visited the Portland area. I’ve never been all that drawn to lighthouses, but I’ve also not seen all that many. I had planned to photograph both the Portland Head Light and the Bass Harbor Head Light, two of the more well known lighthouses. These are iconic locations, so I figured I’d try to create my own images of them. But the more we saw the more I found myself drawn to lighthouses, and the more we sought them out. In the end I photographed 10 lighthouses along the coast of Maine.

1. Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light, in Maine, with rocky shore and view of Ram Island Ledge Light on an island in the bay

Perhaps the best known lighthouse in Maine is the Portland Head Light, located within Fort Williams State Park in Cape Elizabeth, just south of Portland. The lighthouse is the oldest in Maine and is still in operation. You can watch the light constantly rotate, flashing every few seconds. You can walk up to the lighthouse and the buildings around it, which include a small gift shop. Fort Williams State Park has a number of trails along the coast that give different views of the lighthouse and other sights. Look into the bay and you can also see the Ram Island Ledge Light. We were fortunate to have some interesting clouds in the sky during this visit. Other days were completely cloud free.

This photograph of Portland Head Light is available for purchase as wall art or on a variety of products.

2. Ram Island Ledge Light

Ram Island Ledge Light, in Maine, with white sailboat in foreground

Ram Island Ledge Light is at the entrance of the Portland Harbor and is visible from Fort Williams State Park and Portland Head Light. It sits on a rocky island in the bay. I was lucky to capture an image of it with a white sailboat passing by in the foreground.

3. Portland Breakwater (Bug) Light

Portland Breakwater (Bug) Light, in South Portland, Maine, with distant view of Fort Gorges to the left in the bay

Portland Breakwater Light, also called Bug Light for its small size, is located on shore at the entrance to Portland Harbor in Bug Light Park, South Portland. It’s at the end of a small rock walkway with a black fence. You can walk right up to and around the lighthouse. There are memorial stones along the length of the walkway. Bug Light is no longer in active use. From Bug Light Park you can see both Fort Gorges in the bay and Spring Point Ledge Light further along the shore.

4. Spring Point Ledge Light

Spring Point Ledge Light, in South Portland, Maine, with view of Fort Gorges and white sailboat in the bay

Spring Point Ledge Light is very close to Bug Light, near the Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. It is located at the end of a long rocky walkway. You can walk out to and around the lighthouse, though it is not smooth walking, and can be a little nerve racking in a strong wind. I watched as some folks turned around before reaching the lighthouse. We watched people fishing along the rocks at the base of the lighthouse. For the image, I liked how the rocky walkway leads directly to the lighthouse. I waited until the white sailboat was visible and not obscured by the rocks, and made sure Fort Gorges, on the left, was in the frame for a little added interest and context.

5 and 6. Cape Elizabeth Light (Two Lights)

The Eastern Tower of Cape Elizabeth Light (Two Lights), in Maine, seen from rocky shore

The Western Tower of Cape Elizabeth Light (Two Lights), in Maine, seen from the grounds of a restaurant

Cape Elizabeth Light is home to two lighthouses known as Two Lights, located in Cape Elizabeth near Two Lights State Park, just south of Portland. The eastern tower is still active, but the western tower is now privately owned. I viewed the western tower from the grounds of a local restaurant, and the eastern tower from the rocky shore just beyond the restaurant. For the eastern tower image, I positioned the yellow foliage between the rocks and the trees to add a little more interest and draw the eye from the rocks up to the lighthouse. For the western tower image I liked the juxtaposition of the lighthouse with the “Thank You Please Come Again” sign from the restaurant.

The photograph of the Eastern Tower of Cape Elizabeth Light is available for purchase as wall art or on a variety of products.

7. Bass Harbor Head Light

Bass Harbor Head Light, in Acadia National Park, Maine

Bass Harbor Head Light is within Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island not far from the village of Bass Harbor. The lighthouse is still in active use but tourists can walk up to the lighthouse, and along a trail to stairs that head down to the rocky shoreline to get different views. I wasn’t able to get good views from the rocky shoreline this trip. Parking is very limited and this is a popular spot.

8. Egg Rock Light

Egg Rock Light on an island in Frenchman Bay, Maine, viewed from overlook in Acadia National Park

Egg Rock Light is on an island in Frenchman Bay, and has a different look than most of the other lighthouses. The lighthouse, itself, is in a tower within the keeper’s house, so it looks like a large house with the light tower at the top. We viewed the lighthouse from Acadia National Park on a drizzly day. Visibility went in and out as drizzle or fog moved through the area. To get a closer view of the lighthouse I used my 200mm lens with a 2x teleconverter.

9. Winter Harbor Light

Winter Harbor Light, on Mark Island, Maine, seen from rocky coast of the Schoodic Peninsula portion of Acadia National Park

Winter Harbor Light is located on Mark Island, not far from the town of Winter Harbor. It’s visible from several locations along the coast in the Schoodic Peninsula portion of Acadia National Park. Winter Harbor Light is no longer in active use and is privately owned. This view of the island was at quite a distance, so I used my longest lens (400mm) with a 1.4x teleconverter to get in closer.

10. Prospect Harbor Point Light

Prospect Harbor Light, Maine, with fishing boats in Inner Harbor, viewed from the shore of Prospect Harbor

Prospect Harbor Point Light is located on Prospect Harbor Point, which is a point that extends into Prospect Harbor, separating Sand Cove from Inner Harbor. It’s no longer possible to visit the grounds of the lighthouse, but it is visible from a couple locations. The photo was taken from across Inner Harbor along the shore of Prospect Harbor. I found a location where I could get down to water level, held the camera close to the water and used a wide aperture to give me a shallow depth of field, blurring out the foreground water. I like the effect this gives.

The resources below contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.