Storytime 17

Back in the early nineties, a couple of years after moving into North Carolina, I took my first trip alone out to the Outer Banks – I’d been once before with my cousin, a weekend camping trip, but this time around I was intent on doing some ‘serious’ photography, which at that time was still being done with an Olympus OM-10 and a variety of second-hand lenses. My workhorse was a 75-260mm zoom, which represented a long reach for me at the time – the purchase of my first modern camera, a Canon Elan IIe, was still a couple of years away, but at this point I was in the process of deciding that I’d like to pursue photography as a career (mind you, it’s still not a ‘career’ now, in most senses of the word since it’s not paying all the bills, but I can’t call it a hobby either. Some day, someone will come up with an appropriate term.)

One particular draw was all the different species that inhabit only the seaside areas. For the first seven years of my life, my exposure to the ocean had been Atlantic City, NJ, back before the casinos moved in – think Coney Island, kind of deal. Then for nearly twenty years in central NY, I had no access to the beach or ocean at all. So the Outer Banks represented this almost-exotic region to me, and among the subjects that I was pursuing were the brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis.) Huge and yet leisurely, often seen gliding along effortlessly in their multi-toned plumage, I wanted some nice detail shots, which despite the wonderful reach of the 75-260 (snort,) I wasn’t getting at the distances I was normally seeing them from. I would spot them crossing the road as I was driving along Route 12, the single road that runs the length of the greater part of the Outer Banks, and find a place to stop the car and try to spot where they’d been heading, hoping they might have landed near the water’s edge or something. Generally, I saw no sign of them when I crossed the primary dune – in the time it took me to get out there, they’d moved on, likely following the air currents over the wave tops and cruising along the beach, as is their typical habit. On occasion, I saw them well offshore, sometimes floating in small groups, sometimes diving into the water after a choice meal. It was frustrating, but I never expected it to be easy, and if it was easy, what would be the charm in the resulting images?

And then, I spotted the entrance to the Hatteras Marina, and decided to check it out and see what kind of photographic opportunities it held – perhaps I’d get some picturesque shrimp netting boats alongside the dock, or maybe just a nice scenic bay area. I wasn’t thinking pelicans, really, because I expected them to be shy, avoiding the people that would be therein. So it came as a little bit of culture shock to find that pelicans were not only plentiful there, they were considered almost as vermin – they were attracted by the live bait, and the subsequent catches and post-subsequent fish entrails, that accompanied a harbor catering to fishing trips. I could practically walk up to them, and it wasn’t too difficult to find various vantages that showed them off, including this one. Shot on print film (probably Kodak Gold 400,) with the so-so Olympus lenses, it lacked the qualities that I would later demand from my slides and, further off, digital images, but it still decorated my walls for a few years.

row of brown pelicans Pelecanus occidentalis atop pilings in Hatteras Marina, NC