Isles of Shoals

I spent the last 7 days on a rocky, wave-swept island 9 -10 miles off the coast of New Hampshire. Star Island was host to a photography course that I signed on to attend with a friend from Virginia.

Arriving on a replica steamship from the Portsmouth dock, our first view of the Oceanic Hotel was impressive. The grand hotel with its expansive porch and boardwalk connected a number of smaller buildings arranged in a row. Once a popular 19th-century vacation resort, the non-profit Star Island Corporation has adapted the facility as a personal or family summer retreat and conference center.

People and groups came and went from the island all week. As newbies, the entire experience was a bit confusing to us. The closest thing that came to mind as I wandered the island was the Chautauqua Institution in New York.  We had to check our group’s chalkboard among several other groups’ chalkboards in the lobby that listed the day’s agenda. Name tags identified our group as photographers and other groups as poets, song writers, the mid-weekers, Plymouth NH 6th graders, watercolor artists, Granite State Marine Biology students, a paranormal group, lighthouse group, Unitarians, a yoga group, the New Hampshire Photography Club, and ISHRA (Isles of Shoals Historical and Research Association). We were still confused near week’s end as we stumbled into ISHRA’s annual group photo. “On three, say Cottage-D,” the photographer shouted. “Cottage-D,” we all chortled together. Just wait till they try to id the two interlopers in the midst of 30 illustrious ISHRA members. Folks, we are really sorry!

Our agenda and shower days

Our photography course was enjoyable under the tutelage of our learned instructor, Arnie. Four hours or more each day was spent in the classroom demystifying the digital camera, exploring the intricate camera settings, lighting, color, and numerous ways to compose photos. We had plenty of time for photographing spectacular sunrises, rainbows, sunsets, sea birds, ocean sprays, rocks, and quaint island cottages.

Watercolor artists at work

Reflection of our photography group

Visited in 1614 by Captain John Smith (he dubbed it ‘Smith’s Isles’ but the name didn’t stick), nine small islands make up the Isles of Shoals, some in Maine and others in New Hampshire. After exploring the dozens of paths and seaside boulders and cottages on Star Island, I saw early on that the islands really belong to the gulls, both Herring and Great Black-backed. They dominated every surface on the island and other islands we could see through our telephoto lenses. But we experienced cedar waxwings, tree swallows, warblers, vireos, sparrows, and more. We also found lots of shorebirds and water birds to identify. On Appledore Island, we were lucky enough to observe bird banders hard at work banding migratory songbirds.

Cedar Waxwing

A young gull stretching

Releasing a banded Philadelphia Vireo

All in all, I’d rate our experience a 10… in spite of the tight quarters we shared and the every-other-day-cistern-fed-slippery-hold the water on-showers. Finally home again and adjusting to cars, computers, telephone, television, and election prattle.

To read three excellent postings on a blog about our photography classes and information about the islands written by a classmate, Ray: click here.

13 thoughts on “Isles of Shoals

  1. Annie, you are so good at photography I am sure you could teach the course. As usual your photos are suberb. Any more? Did you do Yoga, too?


    • Cornell and UNH jointly operate the Shoals Marine Laboratory on Appledore and I was was excited for the opportunity to tour the facility. I can see why she loved the island and the opportunity to study there.


  2. Wonderful, Annie, both the trip and the photographs! We can see the Isle of Shoals from our house, and mark the seasons by how the light of the setting sun hits the lighthouse… I hope to learn to use my camera someday also 😉


  3. I am glad you explained the showers. I saw them in the blackboard photo and wondered if they were mandatory or they did it for you. This looks like a great place with a real hodgepodge of offerings, delightfully messy even. The island looks like a great place to photograph, and as a Virginian, you know what a treat it is to see a rocky coast.


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