Camera-less in Hatteras
For a photographer, the little flashing empty battery symbol on your camera is akin to, and perhaps worse than, seeing the cherry reds of a cop car pull in behind you as you drive down the road. It’s a gut punch, made worse by the nagging knowledge that this all could have been avoided with a little bit of foresight. I got the sign as we cruised into the Gulf Stream on the first of two days offshore. The shearwaters were everywhere, kettling above schools of small tuna and spinning off of the front of small squalls scattered across the water. It was as birdy as I’d ever seen, and felt much closer to what I imagine a pelagic on the west coast is like rather than the comparatively dull affairs in the Atlantic.
I wanted some photos of these swirling birds. The light was weird and wonderful, peaking out from behind clouds periodically onto dark water. A Long-tailed Jaeger had just flown by, a lifer for me, and it was looking like it was going to be one of those days you spend the next dozen trips in wanting comparison to. I headed into the cabin, grabbed my camera, and flicked on the power switch.
Nothing but an empty battery.
I swore. Kicked myself for taking the spare out of my bag that morning (in my defense, it was really early and it sounded like a good idea), but quickly accepted this frustrating situation. After all, not much I can do about it. And now that I was one of the guys with the headsets, I had other things to concentrate on this time. After all, it’s not like I’m going to get a fantastic opportunity to photograph a Trindade Petrel, right?
The next shearwater flock contained a Trindade Petrel. Seconds after Brian Patteson spotted the bird a nasally whinny rang out from the speakers. Brian was attempting to call it in, and it worked. The bird immediately changed course and banked around the boat twice not more than 10 feet of the rail. It was completely mind-blowing. The image was seared into my brain for all time, but sadly not into my camera. (If you want to see photos of that bird, check out Steve Tucker’s from the same day).
As if that wasn’t enough, a White-tailed Tropicbird made a pass over the boat (but I already have passable photos of that one from a couple years ago). And as if that wasn’t enough, the Band-rumped Storm-Petrels put on a show, with multiple birds passing close to the boat in good light, a combination I’ve never had before. And the Red-necked Phalaropes, they too were frequent and close. Each one a red hot poker in my soul.
During one of the lulls I was chatting with Kate Sutherland, Brian’s first mate, lead chummer, and all around awesome person, and mentioned that I was certain our excellent luck had to do with my failure as a photographer when she mentioned she had a spare Canon battery kicking around. She found it for me and we immediately came across our second Trindade Petrel. It didn’t show like the first, but I managed one shot.
Not long after the rain started. It was time to go home.