Archive for April, 2012
High-tech ‘homebrew’ video trail cam
A joint camera trap video program using a DXG 125r/1060/BF board-array video camera trap
Ron Davis DXG 125 video unit in a LBK elephant proof box
After seeing some of my posts, Ron Davis, a lawyer from Florida offered to send me an High Definition DXG 125R/BF board-array/IR/exchanger video unit housed in a Pelican 1060 (monster case) to put in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary where I’m presently doing a camera trap (presence/absense) survey. I gladly accepted the offer and waited patiently for the unit.
Machining elephant proof box
I have been running three Bushnell Trophy Cams (2009 & 2011 models) and was getting some amazing clips of large mammals like elephant, gaur, banteng, tiger and tapir plus other creatures at night, but also in broad daylight that was quite a surprise. I plan to share these videos with the forum soon. Most Asian animals are nocturnal for their own safety and have evolved this way due to centuries of human poaching pressure.
Drilling out LED ports on elephant proof box
However, as this World Heritage Site is being look after much better than any other protected area in Thailand, and its biodiversity is tops, wild creatures are beginning to feel more at ease about showing themselves during the day. It is a fact they will propagate and move freely in the day if undisturbed for the most part.
Video unit and elephant proof box before camouflage paint
I never have had a big Pelican 1060 and when it arrived in the post, my immediate reaction was it would be quite visible in the forest, and is also quite heavy with all the components including a 12v battery to run the array. However, I went to work building an elephant proof security box from aluminum.
Video unit and elephant proof and ‘Python’ locking cable ready for the field
I got my Tig-welder to make it up and did all the machining required. It was just in the outer limits of travel on the table of my small milling machine but it was OK. I had to do some juggling but I got it done using precision drilling with a center drill first followed by a drill bit, a hole-cutter and milling cutter. The LED ports took awhile to get all 12 finished.
I then painted it with a new camouflage technique for me. Using four colors (black primer coat, then khaki, army green and earth brown in conjunction with bamboo leaves (idea from my friend Chris Wemmer – the Camera Trap Codger), I painted the box in succession until I was satisfied. It looked pretty good to me and it certainly would blend in with the surrounding vegetation.
Ron Davis/LBK video unit at a waterhole in Huai Kha Khaeng
I made my monthly trip on April 15th to the sanctuary and the first night set the unit over a really bad smelling bag of rotten chicken (a previous bait and two weeks old)…whew! This was quite close to the ranger station I always stay at and early the next morning about 4am, I heard an Asiatic jackal barking close to the cam that could possibly mean a leopard. The bait was gone the next morning but I did not check the files deciding to wait.
I then moved it to a very productive water hole where it is now. When I return from Africa, I will be going straight in to check all my traps including this unit. Can’t wait to see what it has captured and will of course share any videos later on this website. I would like to thank Ron Davis for the use of his video unit and let’s see what it gets.
LBK ‘Clear-View’ trail camera project: Twin W7/1010/SSIs
Sony W7s in Pelican 1010 cases with Snapshotsniper SSI boards
In 2008 when I first began building digital trail cams, I used several different models of Sony, Nikon and Canon cameras but found the Sony W7 to be one of the best producing very good quality photographs, both day and night, with its Carl Zeiss lens set to ISO 400 in ‘program’ mode. I actually use a W7 for general photography while in the field and have come to like this model even though it’s a bit large for a digital compact compared to newer models.
W7/1010/SSI components ready for building
The W7s are robust cameras that use two AAs and are fairly quick for all-round use. The only drawback; they are tough to hack and a steady hand, good eyes and nerves of steel is needed to modify these as the connections are tiny..! Check out Camtrapper.com and Buckshot164’s video tutorial on the W5-7, or the W1 for that matter (similar camera).
By using the Pelican 1010, they are truly ‘pocket size’. I normally use two ‘Energizer Lithium’ batteries that can usually last a month or more. I bought 8 W7s and built camera traps around six of them but kept these two for a special job one day.
W7/1010/SSI cam #1
I sourced the clear Pelican cases and managed to get some of Gary’s last SnapShotSniper ‘Simple Sniper’ boards before he discontinued them. I also ordered the metal sensor mount for easier installation with epoxy. By laying the camera and the 9-volt battery in the deep end of the case and the sensor in the shallow end, everything just fits.
W7/1010/SSI cam #2
The build is straight forward, and no hole is cut in the case for the flash allowing the camera to shoot straight through. A lens snorkel and HPWA is used and there are no externals. I have tested most of the cameras in this ‘clear view’ series and the power of the flash is not cut down by the case.
In fact on these builds as an experiment, I’ve installed a flash diffuser (cut from a Nikon SB26 flash diffuser) to cut back on harsh light sometimes caused by the factory flash. This idea came from an Olympus ‘dive housing’ for their U-700 digital compact shown here. My main objective with camera trapping is close frame filling shots that really show wildlife and the diffuser just softens the flash.
Olympus U-700 digital camera in an Olympus dive housing with a flash diffuser
A couple of aluminum boxes protect the W7s/1010s and a ‘Python’ 5/16” locking cable is used plus small ‘shark teeth’ are welded on the back to lock the cams in place on a tree. Holes are drilled to accommodate two lag bolts but these will not be used where I’m going, but later when I deploy these cams in the field here in Thailand. I have made-up one with 3D camouflage pattern and the other with 4-color camouflage paint job using fern leaves.
Completed trail cams ready for the field
I have built these two for my yearly African photographic trip that is coming up on May the 1st for two weeks. I will be going to Kenya once again, but this time will be visiting the great Amboseli (close to Mount Kilimanjaro) and Tsavo (East and West) national parks plus Shimba Hills Wildlife Sanctuary (especially after sable) and finally close out the safari at Nairobi National Park.
I hope to slip them in depending on local restrictions and laws, plus available wildlife and forests in the hotels and resorts where I will be staying on the fringes of the protected areas. In most reserves in Kenya, one is not allowed to leave the safari vehicle at any time or place other than in the hotels, and heavy fines can be incurred by the driver/guide (more than a $1,000 US dollars) if they are caught. It seems unjust but some people have already been maimed and even killed by this reckless behavior.
Detail of the drilled and taped box
In 2010, I slipped a trail cam in the bush and got a beautiful shot of a giraffe in Samburu National Park and then in 2011, got several shots of the rare bushbuck (both male and female), an African mongoose and a large-spotted genet plus a night patrol ranger with a .458 Winchester M70 express rifle at Siana Springs Tent Lodge near the Masai Mara Game Reserve. It was a neat experience.
Sony W7s and Sony S600 trail cams: ‘Python’ locking cable and camouflage sleeves.
These two Sony W7s and another Sony S600 are some of my smallest trail cams and just right to take with me while flying abroad. Being little, they are easily carried in my baggage and set-up will be quick. I will post any pictures at a later date.
Capturing wildlife by camera trap while out on photographic safari
Reticulated giraffe in Samburu National Reserve: A lucky capture..!
In September 2010, I went on a photographic safari to Kenya’s protected areas including the Masai Mara National Reserve during the annual wildlife crossings at the Mara River, and then on to Lake Nakuru National Park and Samburu National Reserve. It was difficult to set trail cameras as the laws are very strict about leaving the vehicle while out on safari.
Finally, on the next to the last day, I got a quick chance to slip a camera in the bush off a dirt track by the river in Samburu. After three hours, my guide and driver said we had to retrieve the cam. Low and behold, a giraffe had passed the Sony P43/Bigfoot/1040/’C’ externals. It was a fluke and the shot shown here was the best of two. The lowdown set really enhances this very tall even-toed ungulate.
A rare male bushbuck during late afternoon in Siana Springs Tented Camp near the Masai Mara National Reserve
Then in August 2011, I was back in Kenya for another 12-day trip and the first three days was spent at Siana Springs Tented Camp next to the great Masai Mara reserve. The amazing thing about this place was the bushbuck, a very rare antelope, is found on the grounds. I asked for permission and set out three traps. After a couple of nights, a Sony S600/1020/SS1 trapped a ‘male bushbuck’, an African mongoose and a large-spotted genet. On another cam, I got a female bushbuck.
Male bushbuck camera trapped at night on the grounds of Siana Springs
On my older P43/Bigfoot/1040 with ‘C’ cell externals, I trapped a night patrol ranger as he passed by showing his boots, long coat and rifle….amazingly, it is a pre-64 Winchester Model 70 Supergrade in .458 Magnum ‘African’ model with express sights and a beautiful select walnut stock. What a rifle to have out on night patrol?
Night patrol ranger with a .458 Winchester M70 ‘African’ model. A rare firearm left over from the old days of hunting safaris
Some rich American hunter left this rifle with the old boy who was previously a tracker and guide for safari hunters in days gone by. I use to be a gunsmith and built many rifles from old shot-out Model 70s and Mauser 98s. I felt a bit of nostalgia, as this was my favorite caliber and I used a .458 Model 70 when I hunted with a gun here in Thailand but that was 25 years ago, and is another story. I’m still a hunter at heart, just switched from Winchester to Nikon, Minolta, Canon and Sony.
Female bushbuck along a trail on the grounds at Siana Springs
I’m off to Kenya once again on May 1st armed with my big Nikon D3s and a new Nikon 200-400 VR II telephoto lens. I will also be taking three camera traps and hopefully I will be able to set a few cams here and there as I know some tented camps usually have wildlife running around the grounds…plus the guards…..hmmmm!
White-tailed mongoose, a common carnivore
Large-spotted genet, another common predator
These three cams are the ones I’m taking with me to Kenya. The two in the back are Sony W7s in Pelican 1010 cases with Snapshotsniper SS1 control boards, and one in front is a Sony S600 in a Pelican 1010 with a SS1 control board. These cams are small and light, and easily packed in my luggage. I hope I can set them up…..that is the big question??
Camera traps ready for Africa
Thailand’s amazing forest with some beautiful, elusive and rare Asian creatures
Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary is situated in central western Thailand, and is a World Heritage Site. It is the top protected area in the Kingdom. In January 2012, I began a camera trap program to determine the status of wildlife found here. In just a short two months, all the large mammals including elephant, gaur, banteng, tapir, tiger, leopard and many others have been caught by ‘homebrew’ digital camera traps set at various mineral deposits, water holes and game trails situated in the interior of the sanctuary. I have ten trail cams working through till March 31st, 2012. These are the best series. The following photos shows this amazing biodiversity, and this place is truly worthy of its ‘World Heritage Site’ status.
Set-up Number 1: A S600/1010/SSI was set above a water hole close to a ranger station. This cam turned out the most wildlife photos over a two month period. This mineral deposit and waterhole is visited daily by many animals and is one of the best in the sanctuary.
A Sony S600/Pelican 1010/SSI in an ‘Elephant proof ‘ box with a ‘Python’ locking cable
Mature female tiger
Tiger follow-up shot
Young tusker elephant in a herd
Mature gaur bull
Mature banteng bull
Younger banteng bulls
Mature banteng cow
Banteng cow close-up
Set-up Number 2: Another S600/1010/SSI was set close to the ranger station and a bag of large rotten fish heads was strung up to prevent being taken by a scavenger like a water monitor. Amazingly, a leopard and a big wild boar, both scavengers, came to the bait. The bag can be seen in the boar picture. Boy did it smell..!
S600/1010/SSI in ‘elephant proof’ box with python locking cable.
Leopard male in the stream attracted by the ‘fish head’ bait.
Wild boar hoping for some carrion.
A crab-eating mongoose in the stream after the bait had been cut down.
Set-up Number 3: An old Sony S600/1040/BFOutdoors/2 ‘C’ cell externals in an ‘elephant proof’ box and ‘Python’ locking cable with 3D camouflage was used to catch this tiger mother and her cub (also caught by Bushnell Trophy Cam video twenty meters away). Other shots collected from this cam were deer at night not included here.
Sony S600 in a Pelican 1040 and BFOutdoors board with 2 ‘C’ cell externals
Tiger mother caught close to Subkaow mineral deposit and water hole
‘Eye of a tiger’ as this young cub has a chew on the cam…remarkable shot…!
Set-up Number 4: An older S600 with a Yeticam board in a 2nd generation LBK aluminum boxed cam plus tools for installation. Tiger, tapir and a sambar stag came along this trail about a day’s walk from the ranger station I stay at. This site will be covered by long-range cams with ‘C’ and ‘D’ cell externals for a three-four month period during the rainy season.
Old 2nd generation LBK trail cam in an ‘elephant proof’
housing firmly bolted to a tree with a ‘Python cable and 2 lag bolts.
Rear-end of a tiger along a game trail
Asian tapir at night
Tapir up-close and checking out the cam
‘Eye of a tapir’….not as dramatic as a tiger’s eye..but OK for government work..!
A mature sambar stag, Thailand’s largest cervid
Note: I still have more then ten trail cams working here at the moment including my new Canon DSLR 400D with three wireless flashes, and two of my new W55s. I will also be setting up a homebrew video very soon. I surely will be posting many more camera trap photos of this truly wonderful and magical wildlife sanctuary in the near future.