Last year I headed up to the forests of Brasso Seco in Trinidad’s Northern Range for an overnight with the TTFNC. The combination of having lunch at home, the subsequent digestion period, taking my time on the road, getting distracted along the Arima-Blanchicheusse Road, plus taking the wrong turn at the village of Brasso Seco itself ensured that I got there just as the light was fading. The only reasonable sight was that of a Piratic Flycatcher (not complaining!) still trying to grab a last meal as the darkness swallowed all. To underscore how dark it was for the photographers out there, this photo was shot at 1/30 of a second. Generally the rule of thumb for shooting with long lenses is that your minimum shutter speed should be the inverse of your focal length. At a focal length of 400mm, that means my minimum shutter speed should ideally be 1/400 s. For those of you who know me personally, you’d know that I’ve never been a big fan of rules anyway 🙂
As darkness fell, copious insects flocked to the two moth traps set up by some of the club members. Moths of all sizes and shapes were the primary focus of these traps, however there were equal numbers of beetles, wasps and forest cockroaches as big as the palm of my hand. Strangely enough, those huge cockroaches never unsettled me as the urban versions do. Needless to say, I had more than enough fodder for my macro lens. Enough to experiment with some creative and moody lighting.
A cicada at close range borders on being deafening. Apart from its numerous “eyes” which I was told were basic photoreceptors – the most interesting part of this insect had to be its spring loaded mouthparts. To properly view this appendage though, you’d have to hold the insect and turn it over. I’ll pass on that, thank you very much.
Instead of going to bed in preparation for an early morning rousing, I decided to check the insect traps one last time. The same insects were in attendance, save for one addition. The absolute largest praying mantis I had ever seen. And it was hungry. The pure, unbridled brutality that forms the basis of a mantis’ existence never gets old. Within a couple of minutes, it snatched a paper wasp (around the size of a Jack Spaniard, i.e. ~1.5″) and immediately began consuming it. Sure it was still alive. Sure it was trying to escape. Sure it was flailing madly. Sure it was stabbing at anything within reach with its stinger. Nothing stopped that praying mantis. I think the wasp gave up some time after it had been dismembered. If you click on the picture and look carefully, you’ll be able to see the wasp’s stinger trying in vain to save itself.
The following morning there were slim pickings, visually at least. The forest was abuzz with life, but birds were being identified by their calls more than anything. Eventually, as the sun started to spill into the valley, I found this flowering tree – the name of which escapes me at the moment – that was being constantly attended to by a few different species of hummingbirds. I saw a couple photographers already snapping away, getting the golden morning light bathing the little jewels as they fed on nectar. It’s another rule of thumb, shoot with the sun at your back so your subject is well lit. Did I mention that I’m not a fan of rules? I decided to shoot directly into the sun. After capturing this Black-throated Mango as it exited the flower, I knew that the sweat and impending headache from squinting into the sun would be worth it.
My real target was a hummingbird in the flower, though. The backlight was making the flower itself look like it was on fire. When a White-necked Jacobin decided to fly in for a meal, I absolutely hit the jackpot, making one of the best images in my entire career as a wildlife photographer. This image, as well as the previous image of the praying mantis were featured on the BBC a few months later.
On the way out of the forest, as the heat intensified, we all directed our eyes upward to scan for soaring raptors. No disappointment was to be had, as this pair of Short-tailed Hawks circled and called to each other.