Back in May I joined several of my USGS colleagues for a twelve-hour pelagic out of San Diego in search, we dared dream, of an albatross… Since first arriving in Southern California just over three years ago, I’ve become increasingly determined to see an albatross and to that end I’ve taken more and longer pelagic cruises in the hopes of running across a passing albatross far beyond the offing of SoCal. In May, on perhaps my 11th or 12th trip, I felt my destiny within reach as we embarked on a 12-hour trip to areas where boobies and albatrosses wander. As has become routine, we began by breaking through rivulets of shearwaters just beyond the mouth of San Diego harbor. In this case, mainly Sooty, but also Pink-footed and Black-vented Shearwaters in their hundreds winged northward fore and aft of the boat. The calm seas suggested no portension of the especially challenging day that I would face… And so, not especially long into our twelve-hour-long tour, I puked. Thankfully, I maintained my dignity and composure, was able to prepare by removing my hat and binoculars, and kept the spectacle to a minimum. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that “less-drowsy” Dramamine, but maybe it just hadn’t kicked in yet. I had some popcorn to settle my stomach. Not long after, while standing toward the front of the boat and scanning the horizon, I excused myself and puked a second time over the back of the boat. Again, I maintained my dignity and kept the act discrete, but I was a bit more annoyed this time. Somebody gave me a handful of ginger candies to settle my stomach. More good birds passed the boat here and there. Eventually, a South Polar Skua flew past with ample warning from the team of guides and gave a very close and clear view. And then I puked. Now I am really annoyed! A kindly older man gave me some of his homemade ginger tea, guaranteed to settle my stomach. Around this time, like a cocksure adversary, the Less-Drowsy Dramamine began to reveal its true nature and I began to feel drowsy and then I passed out. And then I woke up and puked! I drank some fizzy soda to finally settle my stomach. My former dignified puking had taken a turn at this stage. I was more punch-drunk, or even drug-drunk from the Dramamine. In a state of delirium, I roamed the decks of the boat and imagined the astonishment of my company at this messy phantom stalking and pacing. I took frequent breaks to sit and rest my eyes but my inner-turmoil prevented any such thing. I was terribly fatigued. ALBATROSS! Destiny had met me at last and I mustered all my focus to stand up, get my camera, wander to a railing and lean on it, and photograph the magnificent beast flying toward the boat and then sitting on the water a mere chum-throw away. My life changed somehow, so incredibly powerful was the presence of this bird, the Black-footed Albatross, wheeling around and displaying its incredible grace. A true marvel! And then I puked and then I drank some pure water to prevent dehydration and then I passed out. And then I woke up and I puked. I couldn’t keep clear water down!?! Seriously? This was beyond ridiculous! Curse you Dramamine! I was beyond complete disbelief and in a quiet, internal rage, but I was too weak to stand or sit upright. Hours passed, first quickly and then slowly. I lost track of all happenings on the boat, hearing only murmuring and the occasional yell. A Red-billed Tropicbird was sighted ahead and landed in plain sight. I lifted my head and dropped it again and closed my eyes. Later, two Jaegers engaged in a dogfight meters from me behind the boat, but by that point my head was too heavy to lift and, upon opening my eyes, I could only see blurry silhouettes passing in front of the sun’s indistinct and blinding visage. Unable to lift my gaze or even focus my eyes, I gave up, cursed the damned Less-Drowsy Dramamine villain that had devoured me completely, and closed my eyes again. As the boat finally pulled into the harbor, the evil sorcery that the Less-Drowsy Dramamine had practiced become powerless, the spell instantaneously broken! I woke up, stood up, and was reminded of the life I lived before Less-Drowsy Dramamine had taken me prisoner into a hellish nightmare world where men hear tell of fantastic birds but lack the eyes to see them. I was free at last to return to the dock with Elegant Terns and Cormorants in tow. We landed and went out for pizza and beer. What a trip! Here are some birds:
- Spring, Salton, SoCal, and a Ruff!
- Shearwater Weekend and Guest Photographer Babe Lee Miller