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Archive for June, 2013

Nikon D90 DSLR camera trap: Almost a year in the making

Wednesday, June 26, 2013 posted by Bruce 10:16 PM

A new DSLR camera trap

A Nikon D90 and battery pack with a 50mm ƒ 1.8, SB400 flash and a Yeticam board in a Plano 1460.

Last year in September, I made a post about a Nikon D90 with a 50mm ƒ1.8 lens and a SB-400 flash in conjunction with a Yeticam board in a Plano #1460 clear case.

It was in pieces at the time and sat on my bench until last month when I decided to finish it off. I have two sets but will test this one first to see the results. The SB-400 has four AA externals plus two in the flash for (six). I use either Lithiums or Enelopes.

D90 and an ‘Achiever’ slave flash in a Plano 1499.

The D90, battery pack and SB-400 sits nicely in the case but a relief hole was needed on the side to allow a little more room for the shutter cable. I found some ‘Meike N3’ electronic shutter release for Nikon (90 degree plug) and just cut the button off and attached the wires to a Yeti board. I used a piece of  ‘plastic tubing’ and a 10 Baht coin and ‘gooped’ it all in sealing the tube.

D90 in an aluminum ‘elephant proof’ box.

A 3” X 2.8” X 1/8” aluminum tube is used for the snorkel and a 77mm filter is gooped on. No other modifications are made to the case and everything fits perfectly. The Yeticam board is set in the vertical position and an EOS chip was installed.

Achiever slave flash and ‘AA’ externals.

A huge ‘elephant proof’ aluminum box was made up to protect the cam. As this one is really large, I had my welder attach a plate on top at a 45-degree angle to keep the jumbos at bay by not allowing them to get a grip on the top.

Nikon SB-26s with ‘C’ and ‘AA’ externals.

Four 3” X 3/8 stainless lag bolts set the cam tightly on a large tree and I can use two 10mm (3/8”) Python locking cables for extra security.

SB-26s and externals in ‘elephant proof’ boxes.

In the meantime, I added two Nikon SB-26s with 6-volt externals in ‘elephant proof’ aluminum boxes run as slaves. The flashes were modified to take straight 6-volt packs and plugged into the pos. and neg. pins as shown. Real Nikon battery packs cost a fortune. This is an alternative that works very well.

The ‘elephant proof’ boxes were made for the SB-26s that have flash diffusers gooped on the front and 40.5mm UV filters on the back in line with the light sensor.

SB-26s slaves showing diffuser and 40.5mm UV filter.

I also built a small ‘Achiever’ slave flash with 4-AA externals in a clear Plano 1499 case. An old 1020 ‘elephant proof’ box was recycled for this flash. This will be used depending on some locations.

D90 in an ‘elephant proof’ box ready for the field.

I look forward to setting this cam and slaves. I probably will put it close to where I was charged by that bull gaur.

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A Close Encounter: The saga of a charging bull gaur

Thursday, June 20, 2013 posted by Bruce 11:06 PM

Gaur: Thailand’s magnificent mega-fauna

A truly close call with the largest bovid in the world…!


A bull gaur camera trapped at the trail-head a week before about 100 meters from where I was charged. Probably the same old bull that tried to kill me…!!

About two weeks ago, I hit the jackpot out of all my 48 years in Thai forests. I was alone and it was raining in the Western Forest Complex. I had just set a Bushnell Trophy Cam set to video at a trail-head where I previously got a big bull gaur, a bull banteng, elephant, black leopard, wild dog, tapir, wild pig and barking deer.

As I was walking in to set a few more traps, I saw some fresh gaur tracks and judging from the size, noted it was a big mature bull. I went in a little bit more and decided to turn back as the bush was really thick and it was getting late.


A mature bull banteng on the trail.

I had gone about 50 meters and all of a sudden, a bull gaur no more than six meters away, snorted at me. I snorted back thinking he would run away. In the next moment, this huge beast punched through the bush with its head down in the classic position to hook bad people and throw me into the trees.

I saw the right horn base for a fraction of a second and it took me another fraction of a second to do the only thing possible and that was to drop down to the left flat on my stomach with my head down. The bull jumped over my legs and then circled around to do more business of trying to kill me.

What seemed like a lifetime, I heard him thrashing around breaking saplings and stamping on the ground some 10 to 15 meters away. A second charge was imminent and could be disastrous if he used his hooves to trample me. Only one thing would save me now.


Banteng bull close-up.

I quickly pulled out my pistol (.45-ACP ‘Para-Ordnance’ alloy frame), loaded it and let off a shot in the air all the while still lying down. After the report a few seconds later, the bull high-tailed it crashing off into the forest behind me. WOW, that was a close encounter and truly a heart-stopper. I stayed on the ground for quite awhile to make sure he was really gone.

In all my years in the forest, I have never been this close to a gaur or had the experience of a charging bull. No telling if this old bovid had been shot and wounded previously by poachers, and that he really hated humans. Or was he just an old guy with a bad temper and considered me a threat when I barked back at him. I will never really know how close I came to instant death…!

Many a Thai hunter has been killed by gaur because they froze in their tracks and just stood there not reacting in time. I have read in several books that the only way to avert death is to drop flat on all fours with your head down, or to have a very large caliber rifle (minimum .458 caliber) on ready. I had a Nikon D7000 and a 70-300 VR lens. I was lucky to be packing a sidearm..!!


A black leopard close-up.

How did I react so fast and survive? I have one man to thank. He is my dear old friend Gordon Young, author of the book ‘Tracks of an Intruder’, a classic tome about hunting in northern Thailand in the 1950s. He talks about the evasive action needed in this urgent situation in a chapter about a man-killer bull gaur in Mae Salak in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. I certainly thought of him right after this…!

I feel extremely lucky to have survived this attack and it was absolutely the most exciting experience that I have ever had, bar none! I have been two meters away from a black leopard just outside my blind, and that did not even hold a candle to this charging solitary bull. I certainly did not have time to take a photo.

Maybe being born under the star ‘Taurus’ (May 19th) had something to do with it, or maybe the ‘good old spirits’ of the Thai forests took care of me and pushed me down at the right moment. This incident surely has me thanking my lucky star.


Asian wild dog pack out hunting.

Gaur are wild forest ox and the largest bovid in the world standing 1.7 meters at the shoulder weighing close to a ton for mature bulls with a distinctive dorsal ridge and a large dewlap, forming a very powerful appearance. Cows are only about 10cm shorter in height, but are more lightly built and weigh 150 kilograms less.

These beasts have stout limbs with white or yellow stockings from the knee to the hoof. The tail is long and the tip is tufted to ward-off biting insects. Newborns are a light golden color, but soon darken to coffee or reddish brown. Old bulls and cows are jet black but south of the Istamas of Kra, some take on a reddish hue.

All bovine share common features, such as strong defensive horns that never shed on males and females, as well as teeth and four-chambered stomachs adapted to chewing and digesting grass. Their long legs and two-toed feet are designed for fast running and agile leaping to escape predators. They are gregarious animals, staying in herds of six to 20, or more. A large herd of 50 was recorded in Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary but that was a long time ago.


Wild boar in the morning.

Due to their formidable size and power, gaur has few natural enemies. Tiger, leopard and Asian wild dog packs occasionally attack unguarded calves or unhealthy animals, but only the tiger has been reported to kill a full-grown adult. Man is their most dangerous adversary.

These herbivores graze on grass but also browse edible shrubs, leaves and fallen fruit, and usually feed through the night. They also visit mineral licks to supplement their diet. During the day, they rest-up in deep shade.

A male muntjac (barking deer) with a serious wound on its hind quarter.

Gaur still survive in some protected areas but are in serious decline. It is now estimated that maybe 1000 remain in Thailand. However, some reserves where gaur are breeding in fairly good numbers allowing them to actually increase in number if there is adequate protection.

These enormous beasts live in herds but also become solitary, primarily the males. But I have also seen and photographed several mature females by themselves. Mineral deposits play a very important role in the lives of these wild cattle as does thick forests and steep mountainous terrain with abundant water resources. Their future depends whether they are protected to the fullest extent. Unfortunately, their beautifully curved horns are highly sought after by poachers and people who covet trophies.

A unarmed researcher a day before the big gaur passed by.

Budgets, better funding, more rangers and personnel are needed now. Transparency is a must with the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries so money is used properly and efficiently, and corruption stamped out completely. Now that will be a tough nut to crack. It is hoped this draconian situation will change, so the Kingdom’s natural heritage and the majestic gaur will continue to survive in today’s world.

Additional photos of gaur:

My first encounter with a bull gaur some 15 years ago.

The older bull being chased by a younger one.

Another old bull gaur at a waterhole.

A single gaur cow at a mineral deposit.

Gaur herd including a bull, cows and three calves.

A gaur herd including two banteng in Kui Buri National Park.

A bull gaur track on the right and cow track above.



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A Black Leopard in Broad Daylight

Saturday, June 1, 2013 posted by Bruce 6:07 AM

A rare encounter: A black cat appears deep in the interior of the Western Forest Complex

My first black leopard in the late afternoon sun showing its spots some 15 years ago.

It is late April in the forests of the Western Forest Complex, one of my favorite places in Thailand. The first rains have come and doused the dangerous forest fires that spread throughout the area during the dry hot season starting in March and ending in May.

As usual, I’m setting-up camera traps at a hot-springs (mineral deposit) not far from a ranger station some 50 kilometers deep in the interior accessible only by a dirt road.

This natural seep is visited by all the large mammals including tiger, leopard, elephants, gaur, banteng, tapir, sambar and many other smaller creatures, and provides excellent opportunities for some great animal shots.

As I was going through a few of my camera traps changing out cards and batteries, I decided to have a quick look at a 2GB card that was in one of my cams.

A black leopard in mid-afternoon camera trapped on a trail to the hotspring.

Imagine my surprise to see a shot of a ‘black leopard’ in mid-afternoon walking up a trail shown in the story. Other denizens caught in this series include elephant, tapir, sambar, wild pig and muntjac (barking deer) over a month period back in February of this year. The leopard was truly a bonus and I had actually closed out the program with this cam.

This black leopard brought back fond memories of this place more than 15 years ago. I was sitting in a tree blind up by the hot springs when a black leopard walked out into the open about 4pm and posed for me at several places for over the next hour.

Those were in the old days of slide film, and I did not know how good the shots were until the film was processed. A few images are shown here from that lucky sequence many years ago. The sun was low and the black leopard showing its spots is one of my best wildlife photographs ever.

Posing on a fallen tree at the beginning of my career of wildlife photography.

Sometimes things happen in succession that boggles the mind. On May 6th, I posted the  ‘black leopard’ camera trap image on my website. The next day I left Bangkok very early in the morning and arrived at the hot springs. I was back to reset camera traps, and this time to sit at the base of the old tree for some through-the-lens work. Who knows what might show-up.

Resting in the late afternoon and scoping out the area for prey, May 2013.

This black cat stayed for about 10 minutes.

A rare carnivore still surviving in Thailand.

Another once in a lifetime encounter as it leaves the mineral deposit.

I was with my good friend Sarawut Sawkhamkhet, a Thai wildlife photographer. We arrived and set-up a temporary blind about 3pm. The weather was warm and balmy with nice clear-blue skies.

At 5:45pm, the unthinkable happened! A ‘black leopard’ appeared out of the forest near the springs and walked over for a drink, and then disappeared for a short while. Then this magnificent creature came back and flopped down on all fours twitching its tail looking straight at us and staying for about 10 minutes before going back in the forest where it had come from.

The leopard (Panthera pardus) described by Linnaeus in 1758 is the second largest cat in Thailand. Once upon a time, leopards could be found in most forests of the Kingdom. These felines are still surviving quite well in protected areas in the West, and many forests in the South. The central, eastern and northeastern regions have no reports of leopard for long time now.

Pound for pound, the leopard can take on some seriously large animals several times its size. The leopard is closely related to the jaguar of South America. Both have a spotted coat pattern and incidence of ‘melanism’ or black phase. Many people have a misconception about the black leopard (also known as the black panther) as a separate species but in fact, it is the same as the yellow phased leopard.

The present distribution of the leopard is restricted to Asia Minor, India, Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, Tibet, China, Siberia, and Africa. Fossils of leopards have been found in Pleistocene deposits throughout Europe, the Middle East, Java, and Africa, some 1.5 million years old, indicating the leopard arrived after the tiger which has been around for about two million years.

These secretive cats are mainly nocturnal but in some localities, they are active in the day too. Their populations and ranges are difficult to determine but radio tracking of collared animals has shed new light on their movements and areas they live in.

Sighting a leopard in Asia is extremely difficult, and even catching a rare glimpse of this very essential top predator is tough due to its solitary and stealthy behavior. However, luck can sometimes play an important part in viewing the leopard and I feel lucky to have seen and photographed them on quite a few occasions.

My most thrilling or heart stopping adventure with a black leopard happened in Huai Kha Khaeng about five years ago while I was sitting up on a bluff overlooking the river. A photographic blind was erected on the rock-face about 20 meters up with a small trail that enabled me to get into the hide. The sun was bright and the weather was warm during the dry season.

About 9am, several monks down by the river passed on but did not see the camouflaged structure as they went their way. After that, I came down for lunch and set some camera traps at a mineral deposit nearby. At 2pm, I settled back in the blind and began a vigil of the river. I started to feel a bit groggy as the sun was beating down on my position. I moved my camera in to save it from the direct sunlight.

All of a sudden, I was startled by a guttural growl outside the enclosure. I stood up peering out the window and came face to face with a huge round black head and yellow eyes about two meters away that penetrated my soul. My first instinct reaction; it was a big black dog. But that quickly changed as the creature stared intently at me before bounding down the trail it had come up. The big cat was gone in a split second. Of course there was not enough time to get any photographs. The incident surely is etched in my memory.

Without doubt, the future of the leopard depends on one thing only – the complete protection of the remaining forests where they live. If the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries remain intact with a high number of prey species, the big cats will survive. But if over-development, poaching and encroachment are allowed to continue, the large cats will eventually disappear.

Unfortunately, too much time and money is wasted by too many organizations talking about saving wildlife and their habitats, with very little actually being done. Human population growth will eventually destroy most wild places. Only true protection by some dedicated people will slow the destruction of nature’s precious wildlife and wilderness areas. It is hoped the leopard, and the tiger, will continue to survive as they have for millions of years.

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