We had been on bamboo rafts in the Periyar Lake most of the morning, and had gone on shore briefly to visit the night ranger’s encampment. I had been there several times previously, but today was different. We witnessed one of the greatest wonders of the natural world—a mother elephant and her calf (because of a mother’s aggressively defensive instincts, it is rare for humans to see this combo in the forest). It was too spectacular for words, and even photos are worth just a few thousand words—not nearly as much as it felt worth while there.
By midday we were back on the water, and the rush of seeing such a huge and intelligent creature bonding with its offspring was lingering, but passing. We landed for a bit of respite. As the rest of the group ate lunch and talked, I decided to renew that rush with a change of perspective: from charismatic megafauna to wily winged minifauna. I crouched on the parched rocks, squatted and staring at my camera’s viewfinder. I had been stalking my tiny target along the shore for almost 30 minutes, and had enough mud, pebbles, grass and dung on my knees to open eyes at a detergent expo.
My eyes strained to focus on the strangely camouflaged creatures I was hunting. Scanning the motionless terrain of the shoreline, I saw no movement except for the gentlest rippling of grass and the lake’s surface with the breeze. I got impatient and decided to draw them out of hiding. It wouldn’t take much – I lifted my foot and took a step forward, and there!
A bright blue-green dragonfly that had been surreptitiously clinging to a twig alighted, and began to zoom around.
I held my breath and made sure not to lose sight of it. It landed on a visible stick in a small patch of earth clear of grass. I waited for it to settle, and began inching forward. Not knowing how finicky this species was, I took rapid-fire photos as I advanced, manually guess-focusing the camera to capture details I wouldn’t see until later. I crept forward until I was inches from the insect, holding the camera at angles to get images that would be impossible for a human to see directly.
The best time to photograph animals, even insects, is usually in the early morning. The bad news for me was that it was early afternoon now, so the sun was high in the sky. Dragonflies are difficult to spot in such bright light. The good news: at this time of the day they are slow and lethargic. This allows unusually versatile insect photographing—entomotography?—due to their lazy inability to fly away even in the presence of my sometimes sharp movements.
Although I am currently short on resources for the accurate identification of any biological organisms on this side of the world, I will keep a list of interesting insect species I have observed, with as many entomotographs as possible.