I had been in the northern mountain range of Trinidad for four days already and I kept hearing about Caroni Swamp and the roosting of the scarlet ibises. I had seen illustrations of the birds on flags, the Trinidad and Tobago coat of arms and promotional materials, but I had never seen a scarlet ibis in person before. Also, I must admit, it was not on my target species list for that assignment. I had flown to Trinidad to see the lekking (*Ed. note – competitive mating display) of the white-bearded manikin and to search for the tropical screech owl, but I just kept hearing about this roosting site so finally on day five I decided to go there.
I rented a small boat and the guide took me through the dense mangroves tunnels. There were snakes and a variety of birds all the way to the open space, where I could finally see the sky. As the sun went down, we got closer to the roosting site, but we were not allowed to get very close and stayed maybe 100 meters away. I had set my tripod on the boat with a big lens, the Canon 500mm f/4, and my 1D Mark IV. I handheld my 5D Mark III with the Canon 70-200mm 2.8 II lens, as well. Then I waited.
I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen! First, a few great egrets and little blue herons flew above us without impressing me much, but suddenly these bright, intense, vermilion birds started to arrive from everywhere and landed in the same spot. They looked like flying fruits or flowers. As they kept coming, noise started to build and there was a lot of activity happening all at the same time and in every direction. It was overwhelming. I knew my timeframe was limited due to lighting conditions so I had to act fast. I started to shoot the flying birds and to switch between my two cameras. I shot probably about 300 images in under 30 minutes, but still I was missing a shot that made me feel I had something unique… something memorable. Then, in an instant that can only be described as cliché serendipity, I saw a great egret land right in the middle of the red and green turmoil that was the roosting site. I looked trough the viewfinder and started to compose the frame. It looked like a Christmas tree or a very noisy flower garden. The white plumage of the egret had given me an interesting point to compose around and I was very happy with the results.
Once I saw the image in my screen I was surprised how bright the red was so I actually desaturated the image a bit and slightly cropped from the bottom to make it more panoramic. Some images are made by skill, some are made by luck, but this one was mostly about being in the right place, in the right time, while taking advantage of it. – Mario Davalos P.
Equipment and settings: Canon EOS 1D Mark IV camera, Canon EF 500mm f/4L telephoto lens, Gitzo GT3531LSV Series 3 Carbon 6x 3 Section G-Lock Systematic Video Tripod, Wimberley head – 1/125th @ f/4 – ISO 1600