Posts Tagged ‘Trail cameras’
One of the most beautiful of all the Asian wild cats
Once upon a time, the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) was found all over Thailand when some 75 percent of the country was covered in forest. At the end of WWII, the human population really began to explode and these magnificent biospheres were cut down for agriculture and settlement taking all the natural resources in its wake. Modern transportation, weapons and logging on a grand scale began to quickly shrink this once remarkable heritage.
Barely 20 percent forest cover is now surviving in an ever-shrinking wilderness. The clouded leopard has been exterminated primarily for its pelt and now survives in all but a few protected areas throughout the Kingdom. It is one of the most beautiful marked creatures in the world. The marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata), another wild feline is similar in coat pattern but smaller in size. Both of these cats have become extremely rare throughout their range.
In July of this year, I decided to make a trip down to Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary in southern Thailand in conjunction with Greg McCann and Habitat I.D. (NGO to monitor wildlife in Southeast Asia) to set some camera traps in the moist evergreen forest to see what was still thriving here. Three years ago, I did a camera trap and photographic survey of this protected area and got a marbled cat up on a ridgeline in the interior, plus a clouded leopard in a cave entrance at another location. I knew there was still good possibilities that I would get these cats again.
I decided to set my Nikon D90 DSLR trail cam along with a couple Bushnell Trophy Cams at this same location. Unfortunately, the hard-wired slave flashes were not working due to wiring problems and so left the cam with its single hot-shoe mounted Nikon SB-400 flash. I knew then if the cam caught any creature, I would get images with ‘eye-shine’ but decided to leave it anyway.
I have just returned from Khlong Saeng to collect the data from these cams. Imagine my surprise to see a clouded leopard on the D90’s card. It was an absolute joy to see this cat had passed the cam and even though the ‘eye-shine’ was there, the markings and beauty of this carnivore is truly remarkable. I have pulled the D90 and put a Canon 400D with three Nikon SB-28 slaves which was working very well when I left it. The Bushnell cams also recorded many other species and I will be doing a video post soon. Enjoy…!
A new/old Canon 400D: An easy DSLR in cost and production
Canon 400D with battery grip/Pelican 1150/Snapshot Sniper SSII board/Yongnuo wireless flash trigger plus two ‘D’ cell externals.
Back in march 2012, I built and posted my first DSLR trail cam around a Canon 400D with 18-55mm kit-lens and a Yeticam board (EOS chip) in an old recycled aluminum box I had made up for Minolta 800 si SLR film camera years ago.
I was using Yongnuo wireless flash triggers tripping three Canon 270EX flashes and it was working OK when I left it. Elephants bashed the thin-tube aluminum snorkel breaking the front glass, and then it rained. And that was that…!
Canon 400D in the box.
I then picked up a Canon 350D with the 18-55 kit-lens and got another Yeti board rebuilding the cam. The snorkel was busted again by the forest giants but it did not rain this time and I was able to get it going again with a new replacement glass (77mm UV filter) and an ‘elephant proof’ snorkel protector. This cam is presently working very close to where I camera trapped and was charged by a bull guar.
The 400D in an ‘elephant proof’ box.
I decided to buy a second-hand Canon 400D (Rebel XT-i) body only but this time went with a fixed Canon 50mm ƒ1.8 lens. I picked up a Pelican 1150 box and one of Snapshot Sniper SSII #5 boards and hooked it up with a Canon shutter release (button removed and it has a good 90-degree plug). A 77mm aluminum tube and filter is glued to the case with Goop. A Snapshot Sniper HPWA with a black Fresnel is used with the sniper board.
Canon 400D ready for the field.
The shutter release shielded wire is ground and white is shutter and red is power. The camera is set to ‘Continuous’ and the board to trail mode. I’m getting 5-6 frames per trip and can trip as many as four-five flashes at once. I have several different locations planned for this cam. With a Yongnuo 603C wireless flash trigger with two ‘D’ cell externals and everything fits nicely in the 1150.
Flashes to be used with the Canon 400D.
I have two recycled flashes (a Canon 270EX and a Nikon SB-28) that will make up the group. Another two Nikon SB-26s on ‘stand-by’ mode will also be put into service (one with four ‘C’ cells and one with four ‘D’ cells) to see how long the respective batteries will last. A special modification is made to the SB-26s to allow regular 6-volt 4-cell packs to be used. Another mod is to unhook the ribbon to the monitor after the flash has been set-up (mostly half-power). This will reduce power consumption on the SB-26s.
Nikon SB-26s: one with four ‘C’ cells and one with four ‘D’ cells.
The Canon 400D (300, 350 or 450Ds) are not that big or expensive. There is plenty of room for a pipe through and Python locking cable. It will shoot in ‘Raw’ mode that will allow some latitude in post-processing.
As usual, I have made up an elephant proof aluminum box that will be bolted to a tree with three 3”x 3/8” stainless lag bolts from inside the box plus two 10mm Python cables. The front cover is bolted to the box using six 10mm power-torque machine screws. The flashes are in aluminum boxes with 8mm power-torque machine screws bolted to trees with the same lag bolts and Python locking cables for security.
A Canon 400D with an adapter for Nikon 50mm ƒ1.4 lens.
I have another 400D that will be getting the same treatment except I have an adapter to use an old Nikon 50 ƒ1.4 manual lens. We will see what the difference is in using a plastic lens versus a glass lens. I’ll put my money on the glass out-preforming the plastic…!!
Cost of materials – cost can vary:
Canon 400D………………………………………………….. about $150 (used)
Battery pack grip……………………………………………… about $32 (new)
Canon fixed lens 50ƒ1.8 ……………………………… about $80-90 (used)
Canon Shutter release……………………………………………….. $13 (used)
Pelican 1150 case……………..……………………………………….. $30 (new)
Yonguo 603c flash triggers (a pair)……………………………… $33 (new)
Snapshot Sniper SSII board (#5 chip) & HPWA Fresnel.. $50 (new)
Total cost: about $398 plus labor and essentials (Goop, extra cam battery, drill bits, soldering tools, etc).
Hope this will give some of you camera trappers out there an incentive to build a DSLR…! The cost for some cams is not that expensive and the Canon 400D is a good choice for a first cam.
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…!
‘D’ cells in place.
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.
Indochinese tiger in Huai Kha Khaeng
Last year in March 2012, I did a post on a DSLR Canon 400D with three wireless Canon 270 flashes (http://camtrapper.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=5369). After months of failure, wrong settings and bad luck, I was at wit’s end. I set the cam in the forest but it would only work for a day or two and go dead. After consultations with TRLcam, I finally got the settings right. Then an elephant bashed in the snorkel and rainwater destroyed the cam, board and flash trigger. It was a mess and that Canon is now in my camera graveyard…!
Elephants on the trail
Fortunately, I had another Canon, a 350D that was working well with a Yeticam board with an EOS chip I got from Mark at Yeticam.com. As both cameras are about the same size, the slightly smaller one fits perfectly in the aluminum box with a Canon 18-55mm lens. All new components were replaced and I finally set the cam on my ‘new trail’ on Feb.3 and got back to it on March 31st.
Imagine my surprise when I viewed the files and saw a tiger had passed and two flashes worked. I also got elephant, gaur and black bear but not before an elephant bashed the snorkel again. Fortunately, it did not rain this time and the cam and components are fine. Amazingly, the cam took some 500 images but most are black because of no flash power that had run out about two weeks into the stint.
It’s back to the drawing board on the snorkel and increased battery packs (2 ‘C’ or ‘D’ cells) for the flashes. Due to the extremely dry season and forest fire, I have just pulled all my cams until the first rains arrive.
Busted camera damaged by elephants
I agree with TRLcam and a few others that a new forum should be set-up for DSLR camera traps as they are truly in a class of their own. Enjoy.
DSLR Canon 350D set-up
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.
Trail Camera catches hyena, waterbuck, impala and baboon
Sony S600 trail camera at a stream in Tsavo (West) National Park
Before I departed for my annual safari to Kenya during May of this year, I decided to take my trusty Sony S600 trail cam with a Snapshotsniper SSII board in a Pelican 1010 case hoping to put it out in the field.
Stream in the interior of Tsavo (West) National Park
It is small and I knew I could depend on it to catch some interesting wildlife shots. Prior to trapping my ‘ghost leopard’ in Tsavo (East) with this cam, I visited Tsavo (West) National Park, southern Kenya.
Camera trapper testing S600 trail cam
One day while out on a ‘game drive’, my driver/guide Patrick Mjoroge and I stopped for a pit stop near a bend in a small stream close to the road deep in the interior. I got out to stretch my legs and walked on down to have a look around. There was a large group of baboons nearby and they were headed our way.
Waterbuck passing the cam on the first night
There were several trees next to what looked like a game trail by the little waterway so I quickly set-up the S600 using a ‘Python’ locking cable with my camouflage sleeves in conjunction with a ‘Snapshotsniper’ Pelican case locking bracket. I threw down some salami, meat and bread from dinner the previous night as bait. It was worth a try. We departed and left the cam for an overnight soak.
Hyena on the first night eating the bait
The next morning, we returned to the stream to check on the cam and for a boxed breakfast packed by the hotel consisting of two hard-boiled eggs, some bacon, sausage, bread, butter and jam, an apple, some juice and water. It was better than nothing but my mandate was to leave at dawn for early morning light, and since we were at least thirty kilometers away from the hotel, breakfast was out of the question.
Baboons caught on the second afternoon
The bread was not that good and the bacon was cold and greasy, so I decided to top-up the bait left the previous afternoon and left the cam out for one more night. No one could see the set-up from the road and I knew it was safe.
The same hyena the second night
The next morning as we were leaving the park to go further east, we headed straight to the stream to pick-up the cam. As I scrolled through the images, it was evident the bait had worked extremely well. A hyena visited the first night and ate everything except the salami (weird), and then came again the next night for the bacon and bread. I was extremely happy when I also saw a waterbuck, impala and baboon walking past the cam.
Impala passing the cam on the second day
Wherever there are baboons, there are leopards. I vowed that if I ever return to this place, I’ll bring one of my DSLR camera traps plus a small video-unit like a Bushnell Trophy Cam or one of my homebrew video units. Success is always sweet and I hope everyone enjoys this set-up.
‘A Needle in a Haystack’: A Sony S600 catches a leopard eating prey
Sometimes, things happen that are unexplainable and spooky. That goes for the following story. I have just returned from Africa and while on safari, was able to slip two camera traps in the bush (a Sony S600 and W7) at several locations. But the weirdest setup was in Tsavo East National Park in Southern Kenya not far from the infamous ‘Man-eaters of Tsavo’ site.
To get a perspective of how huge this place really is (Tsavo – East and West) is the largest national park in the world at more than 43,000 square kilometers (the size of Wales, Israel and New Jersey). Finding a leopard is like finding the proverbial ‘needle in a haystack’.
Leopard’s prey: A wild cat and a black-backed jackal
One morning as my companion, driver and guide Patrick Mjoroge and I were out on a game drive (as they are known), he spotted two leopard kills hanging in a tree by the side of the road. We stopped and saw a wild cat wedged on top of a jackal in the branches, and both ‘dead as door nails’.
Sony S600/1010/SSII camera trap on the ground at the leopard tree
The big cat for a later meal stashed these two small predators and so we waited for a while but in vain. Then it dawned on me: why not just throw my S600/SSII/1010 on the ground in a hollow piece of dead wood pointed up at the big tree. It was worth a shot! Later that day, we drove by several times but the leopard was no-where to be seen.
A full-size image of the African leopard in a tree eating its prey
The carrion was still there so I decided to let it soak overnight until the next morning thinking the carnivore might come at night to eat its prize. I took a few shots of the hanging dead and the set-up, and we departed quickly not wanting to hang around obviously. The leopard on the ground is extremely fast and I was not sure how close it might be waiting, and we might just turn into dinner.
Bright and early the next morning, we drove directly to the tree and found the two kills gone. A small tree branch had fallen right in front of the cam and I thought I had missed the cat for sure. As I scanned through the images, I could see nothing but a large leg in several frames. A giraffe had almost stepped on the cam before we arrived and I could see its head up close to where the kills had been. I was a bit disappointed.
Giraffe at the leopard’s tree
Then, I decided to scroll through again and noticed one frame was darker just before the giraffe shots. I zoomed in and almost jumped out of the truck. Low and behold, I saw spots in the crotch of the tree and then saw the leopard’s head looking down towards the cam with the jackal in its mouth. The big cat had visited late in the afternoon and the background sky was nice and blue. I was speechless for a few moments until I could talk again.
Giraffe very close to the S600
I began jumping up and down in the back until Patrick told me to calm down. I showed him the shot and we both began celebrating this remarkable camera trap event. It definitely was worth several rounds of drinks or ‘sundowners’ as they are known in Africa later at the bar in the tented-camp.
Leopard close-up eating the jackal
Weird is an under-statement and the ‘spirits of the wild’ had answered my wishes. I have cropped and enhanced the leopard shot so it can be seen quite clearly. Remarkable is all I can say and the little S600 did a herculean job of catching a ghost!
More set-ups to follow: The S600 also traps hyena, baboon, impala, waterbuck, and the W7 catches elephant plus a bushbaby in a hotel bar getting the largest and one of the smallest mammals found in Africa. It was an amazing trip to the ‘Dark Continent’ as it was known in the old days, and hope everyone enjoys these camera trap photographs.
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.
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