Posts Tagged ‘Thailand’
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.
Published in the Bangkok Post in the ‘Life’ section May 29, 2013.
Nikon remote flashes
Nikon SB-600 (middle), SB-800 (left) and SB-28 (right) remote flashes.
After installing and testing my D700 trail cam with several remote SB-28 flashes in the forest, it was apparent I needed another flash closer to the cam on the right side of the fallen tree to eliminate the shadow.
I had an old SB-600 that has been one of my mainstay flashes for some time and since I don’t shoot much flash now, thought I would regulate this one to camera trap duty.
SB-600 and SB-28 with Yongnuo Wireless flash triggers and ‘D’ cell externals.
I will be setting this flash with four brand-new ‘Enelope’ rechargeable batteries to see how long they will last on standby.
A Yongnue 602n wireless flash trigger and two ‘D’ cell externals is used and the assembly is housed in one of my ‘elephant proof’ aluminum boxes. I have now tested the ‘D’ cells and getting more than a month on stand-by…!
On this box, I beefed-up the ends and drilled and tapped for 10mm machine screws and set with epoxy to act as pivots, and a ‘L’ bracket on the bottom and a 1” x ¼” x 14” aluminum strap across the top of the log. I can aim the flash straight at the trail and lock it in place. A generic flash diffuser is shortened to about 1/4″ and then ‘Goop’ is applied after camouflage painting.
By using two or three 3” x 3/8” stainless lag bolts, the flash will be tight, and elephants or bears would have hard time breaking these flashes. However, a bear-tooth through the diffuser could be a problem. Of course the proof is in the pudding and we shall see because the big elephant herd will come through one day, and they will surely have a go at destroying the whole set…!
SB-800 with an extra AA battery pack (5 AA cells).
In this box, I can also use a Nikon SB-28 flash that has a great stand-by feature, and is fairly cheap and readily available on the second hand camera market. A SB-800/900 can also be used.
I’m also working on a couple of SB-800s that will have extra Nikon battery packs (5-AAs) set to remote plus the 6-pack. During testing, they work extremely well but are still not TTL. Still working on that. Hope this helps those who need some tough slave flashes for your DSLR trail cam.
SB-800 with Nikon 6-AA battery pack.
A neat trail cam: Sony P41/Snapshotsniper SS board/Pelican 1040/2 AA externals by Trails End
Last week, I visited my old buddy Suthad Sappu, a forest ranger in Kaeng Krachan National Park down in southwest Thailand along the border with Burma. We worked together along the Phetchaburi River deep in the interior of the park for some 10 years back during the 90s, and we got many tigers and leopards on camera trap plus loads of other cryptic creatures like elephant, tapir, gaur, bear (both species), fishing cat, banded palm civet, banded linsang and many more.
As we were chit chatting over dinner and drinks about our favorite subject, camera trapping, Suthad pulled out a very nice camera trap from his bag. It is a homebrew that was made up by ‘Trails End’ using a Sony P41/Snapshotsniper SS board/Pelican 1040/2 AA externals. It is very well built and looks new, and is unused. The case and eyebolts are dipped in a woodland type camouflage.
He says I can have it if I can get it working. Took me a few minutes with some fresh batteries and reset the date on the Sony. Flipped the toggle switch down and it fired up, and was working normally in a few minutes. I said thank you very much and smiled.
He has two more and I said I could get them going too. Does anybody know who ‘Trails End’ is and are they still in business? They certainly do very good work. I’ll be taking this cam along with a Bushnell Trophy Cam to India on April 3rd after tiger. The lodge I’m staying is reported to have leopards walking through the camp. Can’t wait to get there.
Some days are better than others….especially when a nice trail cam comes your way for free…!
Rare daytime footage of Asian Tapir
Tapir are considered living fossils as the genus has been traced back as far as Early Oligocene times. These remarkable mammals have been on the planet for about 40 million years. The first tapirs are named Miotapirus judging from fossil evidence found in North America. Tapiridae, a sub-family belong to the Order Perissodactyls, or odd-toed ungulates that goes back to the Late Paleocene 55 million years ago including rhinoceros-like creatures evolving in North America and eastern Asia from small animals similar to the first horses.
The Asian tapir Tapirus indicus, also called the Malayan tapir, is the only one native to Southeast Asia. It has an unmistakable black and white two-tone pattern distinguishing it from the other three tapir species of Central and South America. The Asian species is the largest, and is the only ‘Old World’ tapir with the females usually slightly larger than the males. They live in the rainforests of Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia and Sumatra.
This old male and female tapir visited this site more than once over two days. Most of the footage was captured by a Bushnell HD Trophy Cam, and the IR clip by a Ron Davis DXG 125v IR homebrew cam.
This series of camera trap images of a young tigress was collected in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary with a Sony W55 homebrew trail cam during May of this year. This particular tiger does not seem bothered by the flash and I have caught her several times prior to this set. Some animals don’t mind flash while others do. I have a tiger on video growling and back-tracking after seeing the red-LEDs on a Bushnell Trophy Cam. I tend to believe it all depends on the individual animal.
Note the wound on her left flank and ticks in her ears.
A new Sony W55 trail camera catches the big cats
On May 19th (my birthday) 2012, I decided to celebrate in the forest after returning to Thailand from a two-week photographic safari in Africa. It was once again a great trip to the Dark Continent and I managed to photograph the ‘Big Five’ (three times now) plus a multitude of other animals including some rare species like black-mane lion, black rhino, striped hyena, sable antelope and bush baby. I also got many other common animals like elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, warthogs and antelopes. I also managed to catch Mount Kilimanjaro when the clouds lifted. Kenya is absolutely one of the greatest natural spectacles on the planet and I look forward to returning next year.
A male leopard caught by a Sony W55 homebrew trail camera trap
However, there are still a few wild places in Thailand that harbor many magnificent Asian creatures such as tiger, leopard, elephant, gaur, banteng plus many other mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and plant species. Huai Kha Khaeng is one of the top wildlife sanctuaries in Southeast Asia, and the world for that matter.
Leopard caught again checking out the camera
To get there, it takes about five hours by vehicle from Bangkok and is tucked away in the forested mountains of central-western Thailand in Uthai Thani province. I have written many stories about this place and its wildlife, and it never fails to live up to its status as a ‘World Heritage Site’ but this time it turned out even better than my wildest dreams.
A young female tiger caught by the Sony w55 trail cam
My birthday wish to catch a tiger and leopard up-close with one of my camera traps was granted by the ‘spirits of the forest’ and all the hard work building the cams, setting them up, waiting while they soaked and then the pain-staking collection was truly worthwhile.
My favorite shot of this young tiger
Arriving early in the morning, I got everything ready and went out to check the cams. One location has been extremely productive and had been very lucky catching tiger and leopard almost every time (three months in a row). When I went through the photos on my new Sony W55/SSII/1020/3 AA externals, I could not resist shouting out loud with one big hurrah. A leopard had stopped at the cam for a few shots and a night later, a tiger posed for a whole series of close-ups from the low-down set-up. I was speechless for a few seconds.
Check-out the ticks and markings on the right ear
Remember this tiger eye and ear
This game trail is situated deep in the protected area and many animals use it to get to a mineral lick and waterhole. The balance of nature is in full force here and ‘eat or be eaten’ carries on everyday. There is a fallen tree right across the trail about 500 meters from the dirt road some 15 kilometers in the sanctuary.
More ticks and note the wound on the left shoulder
Both of these big cats jump this log as they hunt for prey but usually a few days or two apart. The leopard is a very mature male but the tiger is a young female that seems to may have finally left her mother. I have a close-up shot of this same cat captured together in March and identified it as the same tiger two months ago by markings on the right ear. What a coincidence!
Stripe-pattern on right side used to identify this cat
All I can say is: this has been the best birthday in many moons and I know that my prayers are really answered from time to time. It is hoped this young tiger will continue to live out its life in safety and carry on its legacy as the world’s largest cat. Huai Kha Khaeng is truly a remarkable place and I have not even scratched the surface of this amazing wilderness!
New camera trap gets a leopard and tiger first time out
Sony W55 in Otter 2000 case with a Snapshotsniper SSII board and 3 AA externals
The feeling of accomplishment is the best part of building a ‘homebrew’ trail camera and then sharing the photos with others. I am extremely lucky to be working in a place that is one of the top tiger reserves in the world, and is extremely productive for camera trapping. It is not only the tigers, but also other predators like leopard, wild dog and jackal, and their prey species such as deer, pig and wild cattle that makes Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary truly special.
A leopard caught by the Sony W55 camera trap
When I first built this unit, I had one fallen tree across a trail in mind and it proved to be the right choice. I designed the cam to slip the 10mm ‘Python’ locking cable around the horizontal log. One of the first animals to jump over was a mature male leopard several nights after the setup. This frame filling shot is what I was hoping for.
Leopard caught again as it went down the trail
Several nights later, a tiger went over and the W55 caught its rear end as it disappeared down the trail. A female muntjac (barking deer) was also caught. This was after only a 15-day soak and shows the tremendous biodiversity of this amazing place. This unit definitely worked as designed: to scout a game trail with a low-down set-up.
Tiger caught going down game trail several nights later
The next order of business now is to build a Nikon ML-3 ‘active-infrared’ controlled SLR Nikon F5 film camera using Fuji Provia 400 ISO slide film, and a Nikon D2x DSLR and both can fire five shots a second in ‘continuous mode’ with several wireless SB600s or SB28s. These two cameras are my old prime camera bodies that I have kept over the years (they were really expensive), and I have resurrected them for this project. The Nikon D2x is now in the Nikon shop for an overhaul but will be finished real soon.
Female muntjac (barking deer) caught by the camera trap
My main objective is to catch the cats making the jump. I will eventually be installing both units close together on either side of this log about a meter or so away from the trail. The sensors need to be slightly angled away so as to activate them a bit early. Both cameras will be using an 18-35mm wide-angle lens (the zoom setting of the lens will be adjusted when installed) and that should help to catch these quick-acting animals. The units have to be precise and fast, and fire off a good string of shots with several flashes.
Muntjac spooked by the camera’s flash
The only negative aspect with active infrared at night; the first shot will not trip the flash but follow up shots will be OK. But I can also hard wire a flash for each cam with a sync-cable in conjunction with the wireless flashes and that should be enough. I will also experiment with a ‘passive infrared’ system that can wake-up the flashes in time for the shot. However, this is a hit and miss situation whereas active infrared is usually spot on and will trip immediately after the beam is broken.
The system will be modular so sensors and camera are separate, and they will be ‘plug and play’ units. That’s the plan anyway for this absolutely amazing wildlife game trail. I have all the parts ready; just finding time to put it all together is the next trick.
Got a very busy schedule with a trip to Africa and the States for the next couple of months. But I will be getting the SLR and DSLR camera traps up and running shortly after getting back to Thailand, and of course will post the builds. Most important: they have to be ‘elephant proof’ but I have that covered as usual.
Posted from Tsavo National Park, southern Kenya, Africa
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.
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.