Robin James Nature Photography: Blog en-us (C) Robin James 2024 (Robin James Nature Photography) Mon, 05 Feb 2024 05:41:00 GMT Mon, 05 Feb 2024 05:41:00 GMT Robin James Nature Photography: Blog 80 120 Maasai Mara, Kenya, December 2020 About a week after we returned home from our trip to Ol Pejeta and Lakes Elementaita and Naivasha (trip reports here and here respectively), we set off for our next family adventure - this time to the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

'The Mara' was a fairly obvious choice of destination for us early in our time here in Kenya - it is widely regarded as one of the great safari destinations and an excellent place to see a range of East African wildlife. After a little research, we decided to stay at 'Mara Explorers' - a cheap campsite situated just outside the Sekenani Gate. It was a nice campsite and served our needs perfectly. Unfortunately, the campsite has now closed down - nothing to do with us I hope! I should add that there is also a luxury lodge with same name - we definitely didn't stay there.

Having self-guided all of our trips in Kenya thus far, we decided to commission a guide to join us in our vehicle for this trip. Mara Explorers hooked us up with Kennedy (+254708134916 / +254790142718), an excellent guide - personable, knowledgeable and fun to have around. I normally prefer the freedom of not having a guide but in the Mara it is well worth it. Firstly, the area is large and can be disorientating for those that don't know it. Secondly the guides keep close contact with each other and can help navigate you to wildlife sightings - though this is a bit of a double-edged sword which I will get to later!

We drove straight to the campsite from our home outside Nairobi. It was a very straightforward drive on good roads - something that can't always be guaranteed in Kenya. It took about 5hrs in total. On arrival we set up our tent etc. and met Kennedy. He was keen to take us out and we didn't object. So we set off for a late afternoon safari about an hour after arriving.

It didn't take long after entering the Mara for us to have our first wildlife encounters. Initially these were close and quality encounters with familiar species:

Common ostrich (Struthio camelus)Common ostrich (Struthio camelus) Common eland (Taurotragus oryx)Common eland (Taurotragus oryx)

A nice new one for us on our first day us was meeting the first of many topi (Damaliscus lunatus jimela). These beautiful relatives of the more widespread hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) gather in large herds in the Mara and are easily seen:

Topi (Damaliscus lunatus)Topi (Damaliscus lunatus)

A treat for us on our first Mara venture was to bump into a group of no fewer than five cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). This particular group is quite famous here. Known as the 'Tano Bora' (roughly translating as 'Magnificent Five' in the Maa language, apparently), they are an all-male cheetah coalition. The relationships between them are a bit unclear (and vary according to different sources) but it is probable that at least a couple of them are directly related. I should add that, at the time of writing (a year on from this trip), the coalition has now (partly) separated - they are not a magnificent 'five' any more! Unlike many of our later cat sightings we had them all to ourselves - making for a truly excellent and memorable encounter.

When we saw them the light was fading fast. Our time with them was also limited as you have to be out of the reserve by a certain time. I had to bump the ISO quite high but I managed to take a few keepers to remember this amazing experience:

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

After a great first day we returned to the campsite and settled down for the night.

We set off again the next morning, leaving just before first light. Just indulge me for a moment whilst I make a comment for photographers who don't have experience in East Africa:

The 'golden hour' here is very brief. I would reckon that, on a clear day, you actually have about 20-30 minutes after sunrise before the sun is already quite high in the sky and creating harsh light. So, if you want to take beautiful golden hour portraits, you need to a) know exactly where the animals are so that, immediately as the reserve gates open, you can drive straight to them before the sun is too harsh or b) be accommodated inside the reserve such that the distance to the animals is short enough to make this possible or ideally c) both of these! Unfortunately, the lodges inside the reserve tend to be quite expensive, making golden hour access to animal sightings something of a luxury!

Our first sighting for the second day was a leopard (Panthera pardus) which was sleeping in a tree - a fairly typical leopard encounter! Unfortunately, we were not the only ones there, and this is the honest nature of most cat sightings in the Mara. Around the base of the tree were about 10 other vehicles, all jostling for the best spot. Amongst them were a few 'serious' photography vehicles who, we were told, were intending to camp there for the whole day. We stuck around for about 10 minutes but I really hate this sort of situation and was keen to move on and leave the leopard to it. I had encountered something similar with tiger safaris in India (read this blog post for details) and I wish it was something that was better controlled. The Mara supposedly has rules against the overcrowding sightings but, from our observations, they seem seldom enforced.

Anyway, here is the leopard - a gorgeous animal, sleeping peacefully:

Leopard (Panthera pardus)Leopard (Panthera pardus)

After moving on from the leopard I was keen that we just explored on our terms. I wasn't so keen on cat-hopping which seems to be the main way that most people experience the Mara. As we drove around the reserve that morning, we had some quality encounters with some stunning birds:

Grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum)Grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum) Harlequin quail (Coturnix delegorguei)Harlequin quail (Coturnix delegorguei) Harlequin quail (Coturnix delegorguei)Harlequin quail (Coturnix delegorguei)

Red-necked spurfowl (Francolinus afer)Red-necked spurfowl (Francolinus afer)

We were also very lucky with elephants (to be precise - African bush elephants - Loxodonta africana) this morning. At this time of year the herds of wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) for which the Mara is famous are over the Tanzanian border in the Serengeti. Apparently the elephants do not like the noise of the vast herds of wildebeest so, when the wildebeest are gone, the elephants are in! We had some really quality encounters with them and they are easy to see from a long distance, standing out from the homogenous sea of red oat grass (Themeda triandra) which characterises the Mara landscape:

African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana)African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana)African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana)

African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana)African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana)

Other mammal encounters that morning included occasional encounters with 'common' warthogs (Phacochoeros africanus) - a species which I mentioned in my last blog can be quite shy and hard to photograph well. We had a brief encounter with a family of fast-moving banded mongoose (Mungos mungo) as well as small groups of wildebeest (C. taurinus). Wildebeest were not super-abundant at this time and we just saw scattered individuals. Their (enormous) herds usually migrate to the Mara around July-August.

Common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)Common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) Banded mongoose (Mungos mungo)Banded mongoose (Mungos mungo) Common wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus)Common wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus)

Later that morning we had our second encounter with the Tano Bora cheetah coalition. It was the middle of the day so they were heading into some shade after, I presume, a failed hunt (they were all there and not covered in blood). We got really clear views of them, though the light at this time of day is particularly horrible!

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

Towards the end of that day we went to investigate a leopard sighting (yes, we reverted to cat-hopping), hoping for it to be less crowded than the morning's one. Alas, it was actually more crowded, as this particular sighting was of a mother leopard and its cub. Both were sat in a tree, the mother having recently killed an impala which it had brought up for them both to munch on. People did seem better behaved here and at least gave the leopards a decent radius from which we could all enjoy seeing these beautiful animals. On a couple of occasions the cub, whilst trying to eat part of the impala, dropped its meal and then jumped to the ground to retrieve it. The mother did this once as well (second photo below) and on each occasion it was met with audible joy from the audience:

Leopard (Panthera pardus)Leopard (Panthera pardus) Leopard (Panthera pardus)Leopard (Panthera pardus)

It was getting late at this stage so after spending a little time with the leopards we headed back to the campsite.

On the next morning we decided to go and investigate the Mara River. The river is best known for the crossings made by the wildebeest herds (though this only happens during the migration later in the year). We were just hoping to see some crocodiles and hippo. We had a few nice encounters along the way, such as this Coke's hartebeest / kongoni (Alcelaphus buselaphus):

Coke's hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus cokii)Coke's hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus cokii)

We had a great close encounter with a displaying male black-bellied bustard (Eupodotis melanogaster):

Black-bellied bustard (Eupodotis melanogaster)Black-bellied bustard (Eupodotis melanogaster)

My experience of vehicle-based safaris in Kenya is that they are not a great way to see reptiles, so you'll note that reptiles don't feature heavily in such reports of mine (but don't worry - there are plenty of reptiles to come in future foot-based ones!). On this drive we did see my first and only Mwanza flat-headed rock agama (Agama mwanzae) basking on a rock:

Mwanza flat-headed rock agama (Agama mwanzae)Mwanza flat-headed rock agama (Agama mwanzae)

As we approached the river, we had a succession of awesome encounters with lions (Panthera leo):

Lion (Panthera leo)Lion (Panthera leo) Lion (Panthera leo)Lion (Panthera leo) Lion (Panthera leo)Lion (Panthera leo) Lion (Panthera leo)Lion (Panthera leo)

We also passed by quite a lot of African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) - an animal that I've always struggled to take compelling photos of. However, I thought that this one posed nicely for us, even if it does look a bit grumpy (pulling its standard buffalo expression):

African buffalo (Syncerus caffer)African buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

After a pretty full-on few days, we decided that we needed a bit of a break so we headed back to the campsite at around midday and took the early afternoon off. As we sat eating our lunch, we noticed that a variety of small birds were coming to the lunch areas to feed on crumbs and scraps etc. So I got my camera out, lay on the ground and did my best to photograph them as they came and went:

Rufous sparrow (Passer rufocinctus)Rufous sparrow (Passer rufocinctus) Grey-capped social-weaver (Pseudonigrita arnaudi)Grey-capped social-weaver (Pseudonigrita arnaudi) D'Arnaud's barbet (Trachyphonus darnaudii)D'Arnaud's barbet (Trachyphonus darnaudii) Village weaver (Ploceus cucullatus)Village weaver (Ploceus cucullatus)

I'm not very good at sitting still and after a few hours of lazing at the campsite I was restless and keen to get back out exploring the reserve. I was also hoping to try and get some better photos of the animals in nicer light which was generally eluding me this trip. However, for various reasons we decided to make this one a short drive and only had one new sighting - a roadside encounter with a black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas). This individual had a short and stubby tail - I have no idea what happened to it - presumably a run-in with another predator:

Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas)Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas)

The next morning was the start of our last day in the Mara and we were getting a bit weary of spending so much time in the vehicle! Well...I could probably have hacked more but our kids were definitely reaching their limit! On our morning drive we had some nice encounters with a few new bird species:

African wattled lapwing (Vanellus senegallus)African wattled lapwing (Vanellus senegallus) Lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus)Lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus) White-browed coucal (Centropus superciliosus)White-browed coucal (Centropus superciliosus) Yellow-throated longclaw (Macronyx croceus)Yellow-throated longclaw (Macronyx croceus)

A great encounter was with a Speke's hinged tortoise (Kinixys spekii). This little chap was seen trundling along the ground while we had made a brief stop. Interestingly, its shell is cracked - possibly stepped on by an elephant or attacked by a strong-jawed predator:

Speke‘s hinged tortoise (Kinixys spekii)Speke‘s hinged tortoise (Kinixys spekii)

We headed back to the campsite early, as on the day before. In the early afternoon we decided to do a very touristy thing of visiting out a not-so-authentic Maasai village. Not really my cup of tea, and not particularly convincing, but it was interesting to learn about a genuinely fascinating culture. That afternoon and evening I did a bit of exploring around the campsite. I was hoping to find some reptiles alas I was unsuccessful. I did find a nice Peter's foam-nest frog (Chiromantis petersi), along with a nice (unidentified) wolf spider and a pretty little sleeping large orange tip butterfly (Colotis antevippe):

Peters’ foam-nest frog (Chiromantis petersi)Peters’ foam-nest frog (Chiromantis petersi) Wolf spider (Lycosidae)Wolf spider (Lycosidae) Large orange tip butterfly (Colotis antevippe)Large orange tip butterfly (Colotis antevippe)

The next morning we headed back home and had a quiet few months whilst we prepared for our next big adventure. We enjoyed our time in the Mara - it's a wonderful place and a terrific place to see a range of wildlife. However, as mentioned, the behaviour of people towards the cats does leave a lot to be desired and I hope that the Kenyan authorities start to take this seriously.



(Robin James Nature Photography) kenya kenya safari kenya wildlife kenya wildlife photography maasai mara masai robin james robin james nature photo robin james nature photography safari wildlife wildlife photography Mon, 13 Dec 2021 07:15:00 GMT
Lakes Elementaita and Naivasha, Kenya, December 2020 Announcement - prints now available!

All my photos are now available to purchase as prints. If you would like to buy any of the ones featured in this blog, click on the photo to be taken to the Photo Gallery from where you will see the option to buy it in various sizes and finishes. Thanks in advance for your support!

This post continues from where I left off in my previous one about Ol Pejeta Conservancy (which you can read here).

After leaving Ol Pejeta, we made our way down to Lake Naivasha where we planned to spend a few days before returning home to Nairobi for Christmas. This drive was, unfortunately, not straightforward and it took us far longer than the Google Maps prediction. For much of the route the actual road was under maintenance and for several hours we drove along the bumpiest, dustiest dirt track that we've ever encountered!

We do nearly all of our adventures as a family, so we usually have to balance grown-up stuff with kid-friendly stuff. Fortunately, there is sufficient overlap between those two to keep most of us entertained...most of the time. Large pink birds fit nicely in this overlap zone - no-one doesn't love flamingos! Our daughter is completely mad about these birds and so, after a bit of research, we decided to incorporate a brief trip to Lake Elementaita (sometimes spelled Elmentaita) on our way down.

The lakes of the Great Rift Valley are famous for large congregations of these birds, but the situation is a little complicated and ever-changing. Flamingos are highly specialised birds. The lesser flamingos (Phoeniconaias minor) that we were looking for in particular have a fondness for eating the blue-green algae which is found in soda (alkaline) lakes. They feed by wading and sieving the water with their beaks and therefore they need shallow water to be able to do this. As a result, the conditions needed for them to thrive are quite particular and certainly not commonly found. The flocks move around the region according to changes in conditions - notably the water levels which have risen in recent years. In case you were wondering, Naivasha is a freshwater lake and therefore cannot support flamingos, aside from the occasional vagrant.

Elementaita did not disappoint  - we were very lucky to be able to see good numbers of flamingos, as you can see in these photos:

Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)

I was hoping to be able to get close enough to take a clear portrait of an individual, but the flocks were some distance from the shoreline and my bird photography ability is limited by the fact that my longest lens is only 420mm with my teleconverter. Nonetheless, in the next photo you can see their distinctively shaped blackish-red bill (greater flamingos (P. ruber) have a black-tipped pink bill):

Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)

With a happy daughter, we then moved on to the southern edge of Lake Naivasha, a short drive down from Elementaita. We camped at a place called Carnelly's, widely recommended by friends here. It's a decent campsite and I have no particular reason to complain, but I don't quite get the fuss as people rave about the place. It does have a nice restaurant though. For those with children there's not a huge amount to explore, though an electronic fence does at least keep hippos out of the campsite. On later trips to Naivasha (we have been around half a dozen times now) we have stayed at a different place called Sanctuary Farm which we prefer. Details will follow in a later post.

Pottering along the shoreline of the lake yielded some interesting wildlife encounters. Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) were abundant in and around the vegetation:

Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)

Groups of vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) were easy to see, particularly around our campsite. I love monkeys of all sorts but people underestimate how hard it is to get nice photos of them! This is a juvenile:

Vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus)Vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus)

Here are a couple of other birds that we saw from the shore:

Giant kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima)Giant kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima) White-breasted cormorant (Phalacrocorax lucidus)White-breasted cormorant (Phalacrocorax lucidus)

On our last morning we went out for a short boat trip around the lake. From the boat it was a little easier to get closer to the birds without spooking them - they don't seem to be as bothered by a boat cruising up compared to when you approach on foot. Here are a few highlights:

Intermediate egret (Ardea intermedia)Intermediate egret (Ardea intermedia) African jacana (Actophilornis africanus)African jacana (Actophilornis africanus) Grey heron (Ardea cinerea)Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) Great egret (Ardea alba)Great egret (Ardea alba) Pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)Pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

A bird that we heard well (it has a distinctive shrill cry) but that I didn't photograph to my satisfaction is the African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer), which were usually perched high up in the trees. Someone told me that Naivasha supports the largest population of this species anywhere, but I do not know if this claim is correct. Here is the best photo that I could manage - you can see that by this point the African sun was already quite high, leading to harsh lighting:

African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)

We were hoping to get good views of hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius) on our trip. The challenge is that they spend most of their time in the water (particularly during the day time) so there isn't usually much to photograph! Here is a photo of one that we saw at the end of our trip:

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)

That marks the end of that particular trip, and therefore the end of this post!



(Robin James Nature Photography) elementaita elmentaita flamingo flamingos kenya kenya safari kenya wildlife kenya wildlife photography naivasha robin james robin james nature photo robin james nature photography safari wildlife wildlife photography Fri, 26 Nov 2021 14:00:00 GMT
Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya, December 2020 As I mentioned in my previous blog about Nairobi National Park (link here), following our arrival in Kenya we experienced something of a delay in obtaining my family's residency documents. In addition, it took me some time to find a half-decent car* and so we didn't get out of Nairobi until December 2020, despite arriving in the country in August.

The day before the Christmas holidays (just in time!) we received these much-awaited residency documents - and naturally we were keen to get out to see Kenya. There were so many places that we wanted to visit that it was difficult to know where to start. After some deliberating we settled on the world-famous Ol Pejeta Conservancy** as what we hoped would be a nice introduction to safariing in this beautiful country. To keep costs down, we invested in camping equipment and 'self-camped' (we didn't have the luggage space to bring our own gear from the UK). We bought all of this from Decathlon which has stores in Nairobi. If you are adventurous (and not a banker), self-camping with your own gear is a very cost-effective way of seeing Kenya.

The drive up to Ol Pejeta (in the county of Laikipia) took us about 5 hours. It would have been quicker had my new car not already began to present the first (of many) mechanical issues. On arrival at the conservancy we had about an hour's drive through it to reach our campsite. At the time, it was necessary to book the entire campsite and we settled for the 'Ewaso' campsite.

On the way, we had an amazing encounter with our first reticulated giraffes (Giraffa reticulata):

Reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata)Reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata)

Giraffe taxonomy is currently undergoing some revision, and a system recognising four species across Africa will likely become more widely adopted. Currently, the IUCN as well as most field guides refer to giraffes as being a single species.

Photographing giraffes is not easy - especially with prime lenses. They are one of few animals that often warrant the use of portrait orientation, however, in this photo I wanted to capture the whole family in their environment so I opted for landscape.

After locating the campsite and setting up camp we set out for an afternoon safari. Driving around the conservancy we occasionally encountered warthogs - sometimes individuals and sometimes quite large family groups:

Common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)Common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) Common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)Common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)

There are two species of warthog found in Africa and these are the 'common' species (Phacochoerus africanus). I have found them to be another quite tricky species to photograph as they are very shy. Typically, when they see you, you have a few seconds before they run away!

An easier photographic opportunity came when we encountered our first Defassa waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus defassa). We found two males close to a river. As their name suggests, these antelopes are usually found near to water.

Defassa waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus defassa)Defassa waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus defassa) Defassa waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus defassa)Defassa waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus defassa)  

We didn't encounter too many birds, but we did have a couple of close encounters with familiar species:

Rufous sparrow (Passer rufocinctus)Rufous sparrow (Passer rufocinctus)

Yellow-necked spurfowl (Francolinus leucoscepus)Yellow-necked spurfowl (Francolinus leucoscepus) Grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum)Grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum)

As the light fell, we started to realise that we had become fairly lost! On our convoluted drive back to the campsite, we had one more encounter with a remarkably un-phased Bright's gazelle (Nanger granti notata) before we (just) made it the campsite before dark and went to sleep:

Bright's gazelle (Nanger granti notata)Bright's gazelle (Nanger granti notata)

The next morning we set out on another drive around the conservancy. The highlight of the morning was our first encounter with a black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis):

Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

Black rhinos have a bit of a reputation for being ill-tempered. I would prefer to say that they just like a bit of personal space - which is fair enough! We were a good distance from this individual (photographed with a 300mm lens) and it didn't seem happy for us to be there - so we left it well-alone! In this photo you can see the hook-shaped lip which is one of the ways in which 'black' rhinos can be distinguished from the 'white' species (Ceratotherium simum).

You may note from the photos that the weather was distinctly different on both of these days. On the first day, it was heavily overcast - meaning that the light was soft and diffused but it was dark, requiring the use of a high ISO. On the second day it was completely clear which meant that after about 8:30am the sun was already high and very intense. After a year in Africa I have learned that the 'golden hour' here is only about 20mins long! On sunny days I usually put my camera away sometime between 8:30-9:00am - photos taken after this point generally look horrible, with harsh lighting.

With the light being harsh and the temperature climbing, during the late morning of the second day we decided to explore the 'other attractions' of Ol Pejeta. The conservancy has quite an unusual one in the form of a blind black rhino named 'Baraka'. Baraka is now completely dependent on humans and, under the careful supervision of his wards, can be fed by visitors. Once our daughter experienced this, it became a daily event during our stay there!

Baraka the blind black rhinocerosBaraka the blind black rhinoceros

A drive around the conservancy later that afternoon yielded one new encounter - a Jackson's hartebeest or lelwel (Alcelaphus buselaphus lelwel) - a rather endangered hartebeest subspecies:

Jackson's hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus lelwel)Jackson's hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus lelwel)

We also encountered a few more birds and late afternoon in particular seemed to be prime time to see male bustards displaying.

Blacksmith lapwing (Vanellus armatus)Blacksmith lapwing (Vanellus armatus) White-bellied bustard (Eupodotis senegalensis)White-bellied bustard (Eupodotis senegalensis)

The next morning I had pre-arranged to take my daughter to see the northern white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum cottoni). These are the last two surviving individuals of their subspecies and they are kept under close supervision in their own fenced enclosure. Relentless poaching for their horns (fuelled by political instability and civil conflict) has now rendered them extinct in the wild. Interestingly, white rhinos were never actually native to Kenya. The northern subspecies instead used to range across Chad, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Sudan.

The two remaining rhinos (named Najin and Fatu) are both females - the last male (Sudan) died in 2018. Prior to their life in Ol Pejeta they were living in a zoo in the Czech Republic. They were brought over in 2009 as part of an attempt to encourage them to breed, which they had failed to do whilst living in the zoo. In recent years, Ol Pejeta (and an international team of vets) has received worldwide attention for its attempts to carry out IVF using sperm from deceased males and egg cells from Najin and Fatu. Viable embryos have been created however neither Fatu or Najin are capable of being implanted and successfully gestating them. To produce a baby northern white rhino, a surrogate (southern white rhino) mother would have to be involved.

The plans for this continue, and updates can be obtained from Ol Pejeta's website ( Developments on this story also regularly feature in international news reports.

Meeting Fatu and Najin up close was a privilege, though a sad experience:

Northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) - NajinNorthern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) - Najin Northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) - FatuNorthern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) - Fatu

After saying goodbye to Najin and Fatu we went on another drive around the conservancy. A highlight of the morning was seeing two reticulated giraffes 'necking'. This is a curious behaviour where males establish their dominance hierarchies by lining up and hitting each other with their heads! It is quite a spectacle though many giraffes suffer injuries as a result.

Reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata)Reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata)

We also encountered a large herd of African buffalo (Syncerus caffer):

African buffalo (Syncerus caffer)African buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

A distant viewing of a mother and calf black rhino was another great encounter. In these photos you can see another issue with daytime safari photography - heat-haze, which makes it challenging to get sharp photos when photographing distant subjects:

Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

We are now very familiar with olive baboons (Papio anubis), and they are not everyone's favourite animal! I, however, am a fan, and this was also our first ever encounter with them. We particularly enjoyed watching the babies riding on their mothers - clearly an effective way to get around:

Olive baboon (Papio anubis)Olive baboon (Papio anubis) Olive baboon (Papio anubis)Olive baboon (Papio anubis)

Another first for us was an encounter with black-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas) - elegant but fast-moving canines:

Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas)Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas)

A few more encounters with now-familiar mammals followed...

Common zebra (Equus quagga)Common zebra (Equus quagga) Common eland (Taurotragus oryx)Common eland (Taurotragus oryx) Thomson's gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii)Thomson's gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii) did some great encounters with some stunning birds:

Greater blue-eared starling (Lamprotornis chalybaeus)Greater blue-eared starling (Lamprotornis chalybaeus) Crowned lapwing (Vanellus coronatus)Crowned lapwing (Vanellus coronatus) Kori bustard (Ardeotis kori)Kori bustard (Ardeotis kori)

A great ending to this day was our first ever encounter with African bush elephants (Loxodonta africana). It was a distant encounter, so I decided to try to be a little 'creative' with my photos!

African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana)African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana)African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana)

The next morning was our last for this part of the trip. When driving out of the conservancy, we had a great encounter with a pair of male Bright's gazelles duelling over females. I took hundreds of photos, but these are my favourites:

Bright's gazelle (Nanger granti notata)Bright's gazelle (Nanger granti notata) Bright's gazelle (Nanger granti notata)Bright's gazelle (Nanger granti notata)

Ol Pejeta's leaving present was one last (but close) encounter with a bull (male) elephant:

African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana)African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana)

That marked the end of our first proper adventure here in Kenya. From there we headed on to Lakes Elementaita and Naivasha - details to follow in my next post!



*Cars in Kenya are all imported and taxed at something close to 100%. This means that they are all insanely expensive. In addition, not many people here seem to value the necessity of maintaining them. Adding to that that the dire state of many of the roads, you have a perfect cocktail of over-priced and generally shoddy cars. Just my observation...

**I have only heard this term used here - it refers to what is basically a privately-owned nature reserve. Many of them appear to be former agricultural ranches or hunting reserves

(Robin James Nature Photography) kenya kenya safari kenya wildlife kenya wildlife photography northern white rhino ol pejeta ol pejeta conservancy ol pejeta safari rhino robin james robin james nature photo safari wildlife wildlife photography Thu, 28 Oct 2021 17:29:51 GMT
Nairobi National Park, Kenya This is probably my most belated post ever - I started writing this after my first visit to Nairobi National Park (NNP) over a year ago! I could reel off a whole host of feeble excuses...but I'll spare you that!

I mentioned in my previous post (which you can read here) that, following our arrival in Kenya in August 2020, we were unable to do any travelling for quite some time. This was largely due to a prolonged delay with my family obtaining their Kenyan residency (which they only received in December!). The price of doing anything here as a non-resident is painfully high - far beyond the means of a mere teacher! So, I mostly kept my interest in wildlife photography alive by photographing the garden wildlife either with my camera trap or with my macro lens. say that we were totally deprived of the safari experience would not be entirely accurate. One great thing about Nairobi is that it has a national park right outside the city, and actually - it's really quite a wonderful place. Traffic-depending, the entrance gate is a mere 45min drive away from where I live and it is home to an impressive selection of East African wildlife. I have managed to visit six times so far and this post acts as a summary of all of my visits to date. I will no doubt add to this post over time!

It's probably fair to say that most people come to Africa on safari to see large mammals, and NNP is a good place to see a decent number of them. The only significant absentees for most people will be elephants, which are not present in the park. So, on to the mammals:


In my opinion the rhinos are the star attractions of NNP. Rhinos are so heavily poached across Africa (and, historically, in Asia) resulting in the fact that there are not that many places where they are easy to see. NNP is, however, a great place to see them. Here there are both southern white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum simum) and black rhinos (Diceros bicornis) and I have been fortunate to see rhinos on four of my six visits.

Interestingly, southern white rhinos are not indigenous to Kenya - their native range is southern Africa (as their name would suggest!). By the end of the 19th century they had been hunted so extensively that they were thought to be extinct in the wild, until a small population was found in South Africa. Focused conservation efforts (involving translocations to other African countries such as Kenya) saw their numbers rebound tremendously.

White rhinos, being grazers, tend to be generally easier to see and on my first visit, I had excellent views of a group of three - two adults and a calf - grazing contentedly in the plains:

White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)

White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)

I only saw black rhinos on my fourth visit - and they were trotting in the wrong direction...and rather far away. So no photos came from the encounter - but in a later post I will share my black rhino photos from Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia.

Time for the understatement of the century - big cats are popular here. They seem to be firmly at the top of most people's safari must-see lists. Indeed, most professional photographers here seem to make a living out of this popularity - put the term 'fine art wildlife photography' into a search engine and you will see for yourself*. Their popularity is also evident in the field by the fact that virtually every wild big cat in Kenya seems to spend its life surrounded by what my wife calls a 'jumble' of jeeps. Anyway, small rant complete.

Online literature states that NNP possesses the full range of African big cats (lions, leopard and cheetah). I have not personally been lucky with leopards (though I have seen photos proving that they are definitely there) or cheetah, but I can certainly vouch that lions can be seen there. On my first visit, we were very fortunate to observe a pride of no fewer than 10 lions (all females and their cubs). They were lazing about quite prominently on a rocky area near to a small lake. Writing this a year into my time in Kenya I have learned that this is a fairly typical daytime lion sighting! This made it quite easy to photograph them from the road. We watched them for about half an hour during which they would occasionally get up, strike a dramatic pose, and then lie down somewhere else:

Lion (Panthera leo)Lion (Panthera leo) Lion (Panthera leo)Lion (Panthera leo) Lion (Panthera leo)Lion (Panthera leo)

Driving out of NNP towards the end of our first visit, we had a rather surreal experience when we drove alongside another lioness sat on one of the signposts. These are quite large stone structures, and they all bear some kind of message / warning at the top. She was definitely  trying to tell us something!

Lion (Panthera leo)Lion (Panthera leo)

My second and third visits were devoid of cat encounters, but on my fourth I finally got to see a male lion. He was sat in the grass in a fairly remote part of the park and quite a distance away from the road. I decided to break out my 1.4x teleconverter to photograph him - something I have been quite reluctant to do of late**. You will note that he has a bad eye (a cataract presumably?), making him rather distinctive in appearance. Apparently he is named 'Kitili' - in fact all of NNP's lions seem to be celebrities...

Lion (Panthera leo)Lion (Panthera leo)

Continuing with the theme of large mammals, we have been very lucky with giraffes (Giraffa spp.) on every visit. I love giraffes - they are just one of the strangest animals out there and I never tire of seeing them. The ones found at NNP are of the Maasai species (Giraffa tippelskirchi). Although not yet fully adopted, a system treating giraffes as four separate species (rather than one) is starting to become more widely accepted and it's what I will be using.

I will say though - they are a tricky animal to photograph! Being so tall, they make for a rare use of portrait orientation and they always seem to be a less than ideal distance away. Note to anyone thinking of coming here on safari - a zoom lens is your friend! I regret my move to a full set of prime lenses on basically every safari trip - my gear is now so full of dust from constant lens and body swaps. A new 70-200mm f/2.8 is firmly back on my Christmas list...

Maasai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi)Maasai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi)

Maasai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi)Maasai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi)

I would normally delete photos like the next one - but sometimes a photobomb actually improves a photo. In this case, I realised that there was something special in having the world's largest bird intruding on a photo of the world's tallest animal:

Maasai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi)Maasai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi)

Staying with ungulates (hoofed mammals) but taking a step-down in size, NNP is a good place to see and photograph a range of 'common' plains species. First up is the beautiful impala (Aepyceros melampus), most easily distinguished by the males' lyre-shaped horns, but also from their reddish fur:

Impala (Aepyceros melampus)Impala (Aepyceros melampus) Impala (Aepyceros melampus)Impala (Aepyceros melampus) Impala (Aepyceros melampus)Impala (Aepyceros melampus)

There are plains zebra (Equus quagga) - one of Kenya's two zebra species. I wouldn't describe them as being particularly abundant at NNP, often you may have to do a bit of searching to find them (based on my experience):

Common zebra (Equus quagga)Common zebra (Equus quagga) Common zebra (Equus quagga)Common zebra (Equus quagga)

On a couple of occasions I have encountered common eland (Taurotragus oryx), huge and impressive antelopes. The males in particular generally seem quite happy to stand there and be photographed:

Common eland (Taurotragus oryx)Common eland (Taurotragus oryx)

The next species is one that I have seen only a handful of times at NNP, although they are quite easy to see elsewhere in the region. The Thomson's gazelle (Eudorcas thomsoni, affectionately known as 'Tommies') are rather cute little gazelles which seem to be quite shy. The ones that I have encountered have all bolted quickly when they sensed me taking an interest in them, making photographing them a challenge:

Thomson's gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii)Thomson's gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii)

Next up are Grant's gazelle (Nanger granti) which, in the books, look quite similar to the 'Tommies' mentioned above. These two species seem to regularly occur in mixed herds though when you see them side-by-side they are visibly quite different. Grant's gazelle are a fair bit bigger and don't have the same neatly defined black stripe down the sides (though for the latter there is some variability across the region, with some subspecies/species (don't get me started) having dark patches here).

Grant's gazelle (Nanger granti)Grant's gazelle (Nanger granti)

Next up is the African buffalo (Syncercus caffer). These animals gather in large herds and are relatively easy to spot at NNP. However, taking a 'compelling' photo of an animal that (to many people) is 'just a cow' remains a mission that I have yet to accomplish! The babies are cute though...

African buffalo (Syncerus caffer)African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) African buffalo (Syncerus caffer)African buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

This next one is rather interesting. In the first draft of this post I had this down as a bohor reedbuck (Redunca redunca). However, the animal was subsequently re-identified as being a Chanler's mountain reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula chanleri), a highly endangered subspecies of the mountain reedbuck:

Chanler's mountain reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula chanleri)Chanler's mountain reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula chanleri)

For comparison - this is a bohor reedbuck (Redunca redunca):

Bohor reedbuck (Redunca redunca)Bohor reedbuck (Redunca redunca)

The next species goes by many names. Across Africa, this variable species is generally known as the 'hartebeest' (Alcelaphus buselaphus). The particular variety in this area is the subspecies A. b. cokii - 'Coke's hartebeest' or 'kongoni'. With their long, flat faces and curiously-curved horns I think they are rather distinctive animals:

Coke's hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus cokii)Coke's hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus cokii)

From one 'beest' to another - 'common' wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) are best known from the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem but NNP has the occasional herd or, like this one, a lost individual!

Common wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus)Common wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus)

It took me three visits to NNP before I discovered that there were hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius) there. We sat watching a group of them for quite some time during our first sighting. The photo below highlights our most entertaining experience - watching a young hippo having a piggyback on its mother! Hippo-watching, as we discovered, requires quite some patience - they spend most of their time partially or wholly submerged, just periodically re-appearing for breath with a hard-to-miss snort! Only once (in Amboseli National Park), have I seen a hippo out of the water.

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)

It also took three visits to NNP for me to see my first 'common' warthog. These animals are actually not at all hard to find in the region, though they can be tricky to photograph. They are shy and usually run before you get close enough to take a photo.

Common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)Common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) Common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)Common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)

I have seen three primate species in NNP - vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus), Syke's monkeys (Cercopithecus albogularis) and olive baboons (Papio anubis). Vervet monkeys are fairly easy to see (though not to photograph) and Syke's I only saw once - in my most recent trip. Olive baboons are probably the easiest photographic subjects - as they frequent the picnic stops where you are permitted to exit your vehicle. The one shown below was briefly standing on its hind legs, making for an interesting portrait:

Olive baboon (Papio anubis)Olive baboon (Papio anubis)

It is unusual that the 'mammals' sections of my write-ups take up such a large proportion, but things are different here in Africa!

Anyway, now I move on to the 'reptiles' section, which is disappointingly short. One of the things about going on safari over here is that you are typically not allowed to step out of your vehicle for probably quite obvious reasons. The down-side of that is that it is very hard to pay attention to the smaller animals that inhabit the landscape. I must have driven past countless snakes and lizards that I simply didn't see. I hope before long to visit somewhere where it is possible to explore on foot and make up for this!


I have only had a couple of reptile encounters at NNP. On my fourth visit I was surprised to see this large leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) amble out of the grass and cross the road right in front of me. Interestingly, they are not indigenous to this area - the ground has historically been too cold for their eggs to hatch. It is possible that climate change is now allowing them to breed in the area. This one has probably been relocated from elsewhere and released here:

Leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)Leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)

My four-year old daughter has joined me on three of my six visits to NNP. Her attention span is fairly short (as you'd expect for a small child) so her interest in the experience is a bit variable, but when she is paying attention her spotting skills can match that of most experienced safari guide! I was driving along on our third visit when she suddenly and excitedly yelled 'lizard!'. When I stopped, we released that she had spotted this male Kenya red-headed rock agama (Agama lionotus) which was displaying on a rock:

Kenya red-headed rock agama (Agama lionotus)Kenya red-headed rock agama (Agama lionotus)

The one other reptile that you can normally see at NNP is the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus). There are usually a few basking on the edges of the numerous bodies of water around the park. I have, sadly, yet to photograph them well enough to feature here! I shall add them if I manage to...

That's already it for reptiles, so now I'll move on to the birds.


The official bird list for the park is rather impressive, so it probably goes without saying that on any visit you will see many. I will first highlight a few special encounters before sharing a gallery of the rest.

On my fourth visit to NNP, we saw a number of black-shouldered kites (Elanus caeruleus) early in the morning. We noticed that one of them had perched in a tree by the roadside so we cruised up for a closer look. When we got near to it, a gruesome scene materialised - it had taken some kind of rodent and decapitated it, and was proceeding to eat its head whole!

Black-shouldered kite (Elanus caeruleus)Black-shouldered kite (Elanus caeruleus)

Common ostriches (Struthio camelus) are usually fairly visible in the park. Even though they may look a little like a bush (please see the bottom photo as a good example!), there are not that many other animals which are so distinctly black as the adult males so you can usually spot them quite easily from a distance. According to the Helm 'Birds of East Africa' field guide, Somali ostriches (Struthio molybdophanes) were also introduced to NNP in the 1970s though I have not seen them there myself.

Common ostrich (Struthio camelus)Common ostrich (Struthio camelus) Common ostrich (Struthio camelus)Common ostrich (Struthio camelus) Common ostrich (Struthio camelus)Common ostrich (Struthio camelus) Common ostrich (Struthio camelus)Common ostrich (Struthio camelus) Common ostrich (Struthio camelus)Common ostrich (Struthio camelus) Common ostrich (Struthio camelus)Common ostrich (Struthio camelus)

Everywhere that I have lived there has always been something that I have seen frequently, and yet never managed to photograph satisfactorily. Here in Kenya there are numerous candidates for that position but occupying the top spot would have to be the helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris). These birds are everywhere here, and yet, just impossible to photograph compellingly! I suppose as a fairly fat bird they are pretty easy prey for a range of predators and so have evolved shyness as a defence strategy - making them hard to get close to. They are also constantly on the move. I think I will leave Kenya before I have managed to take a photo of them that I am happy with!

Helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris)Helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris)

One of the birds that I was particularly keen to see here was the very distinctive hamerkop (Scopus umbretta). It turns out that they are not that difficult to find - but they are very cool birds, and worth appreciating! Their nests (the largest of any bird in Africa) are also an amazing site to behold.

Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)

A big highlight for me came on my fifth visit to NNP, where I finally got to see my first African vultures - specifically the Critically Endangered African white-backed vultures (Gyps africanus). Sadly, vultures in this region are  widely persecuted, with many being poisoned - in particular because their presence in the sky can give away the activities of poachers. They are really wonderful creatures - as well as being fundamentally interesting birds they provide valuable ecosystem services by removing (potentially diseased) animal carcasses from the landscape.

White-backed vulture (Gyps africanus)White-backed vulture (Gyps africanus) White-backed vulture (Gyps africanus)White-backed vulture (Gyps africanus)

Needless to say, in my numerous visits to NNP I have racked up quite a collection of bird photos - the remainder of which I will just share as a gallery below:

Little bee-eater (Merops pusillus)Little bee-eater (Merops pusillus) White-bellied bustard (Eupodotis senegalensis)White-bellied bustard (Eupodotis senegalensis)

Long-tailed fiscal (Lanius cabanisi)Long-tailed fiscal (Lanius cabanisi) Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) Sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus)Sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus)

Great egret (Ardea alba)Great egret (Ardea alba)

African spoonbill (Platalea alba)African spoonbill (Platalea alba)

Spur-winged lapwing (Vanellus spinosus)Spur-winged lapwing (Vanellus spinosus) Malachite kingfisher (Corythornis cristatus)Malachite kingfisher (Corythornis cristatus)

Common waxbill (Estrilda astrild)Common waxbill (Estrilda astrild) African gray flycatcher (Bradornis microrhynchus)African gray flycatcher (Bradornis microrhynchus) Rufous-naped lark (Mirafra africana)Rufous-naped lark (Mirafra africana) White-faced whistling-duck (Dendrocygna viduata)White-faced whistling-duck (Dendrocygna viduata) Pin-tailed whydah (Vidua macroura)Pin-tailed whydah (Vidua macroura) Grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum)Grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum) Three-banded plover (Charadrius tricollaris)Three-banded plover (Charadrius tricollaris) Rufous sparrow (Passer rufocinctus)Rufous sparrow (Passer rufocinctus) Rufous sparrow (Passer rufocinctus)Rufous sparrow (Passer rufocinctus) Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus)Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus) Shelley's francolin (Scleroptila shelleyi)Shelley's francolin (Scleroptila shelleyi) Common greenshank (Tringa nebularia)Common greenshank (Tringa nebularia) Black-headed heron (Ardea melanocephala)Black-headed heron (Ardea melanocephala) Yellow-billed oxpecker (Buphagus africanus)Yellow-billed oxpecker (Buphagus africanus) Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis)Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) Red-rumped swallow (Cecropis daurica)Red-rumped swallow (Cecropis daurica) African open-billed stork (Anastomus lamelligerus)African open-billed stork (Anastomus lamelligerus)

White-winged widowbird (Euplectes albonotatus)White-winged widowbird (Euplectes albonotatus) Purple grenadier (Granatina ianthinogaster)Purple grenadier (Granatina ianthinogaster) Yellow-necked spurfowl (Francolinus leucoscepus)Yellow-necked spurfowl (Francolinus leucoscepus) Namaqua dove (Oena capensis)Namaqua dove (Oena capensis)

That's it for now - hopefully it will take me less than a year to put together my next blog post!



*Me and my friends coined and make regular use of the term 'cat spam' to describe this...

**I've been increasingly frustrated with my photos taken with my 1.4X teleconverter. I think it might be because, on safari, I am always photographing from a vehicle and, with the vibrations from the engine, with the teleconverter on there is considerable camera shake. Though I turn the engine off when waiting for an extended period, if I did so whenever I took a photo I would probably kill the car battery. Not something that you particularly want to do when surrounded by lions...

(Robin James Nature Photography) kenya kenya safari kenya wildlife kenya wildlife photography lion nairobi nairobi national park nairobi national park safari rhino robin james robin james nature photo safari wildlife wildlife photography Wed, 06 Oct 2021 14:44:28 GMT
Garden macro photography part II: Kenya This post follows on from my previous one (which you can read here) about how I kept (relatively) sane during lockdown in the UK by taking macro photos of garden wildlife.

In August 2020 my family and I moved to Kenya for me to take up a new job just outside of Nairobi. As exciting as moving to Kenya sounds, we were not for some time able to do any kind of travel within the country. The safaris that the country is famous for were frustratingly close yet actually far beyond our reach and means!*

So, to satisfy my need to photograph stuff, I continued, as I had in the UK, to photograph whatever I could find in the garden.

Now, by garden, I should probably explain - I am quite fortunate in that my position here comes with a house. Our particular house is already surrounded by a large and well-vegetated garden. This 'immediate' garden is, however, a little ill-defined but it is contiguous with the wider school campus (which is also spacious and rich in plants). So when I say 'my garden' I am being a little loose with the term. It refers to what is really quite a large expanse of land.

In terms of equipment, I am still using the same setup that I moved to around a year ago: either a Nikon D810 or D500 body, a Tamron 90mm f/2.8 lens and a Nikon SB700 flashgun mounted on the camera hotshoe. The biggest development for me has been the creation of a 'semi-DIY' diffuser (I went through the development of this in my previous post here. Nothing has changed with the setup, though I have got more adept at setting it up quickly, something that was a bit of a hindrance initially). At present, I am very happy with it - learning to properly diffuse lighting has made, I think, a huge improvement to my macro images. I would strongly encourage anyone interested in macro photography to figure out a system for doing so early on.

One other important development for me which I didn't share in my last post is that I have stopped faffing around quite so much with the settings on my camera when taking macro images. I have found that putting the camera in manual mode with a shutter speed of 1/250s, an aperture of f/16 and an ISO of 400 is a pretty good one-size-fits-all configuration that works for most situations. The one variable that I do have to change according to the situation is the flash output, and I do this manually, anywhere from 1/8 - 1/32 power depending on the situation and how close I am to the subject. This has been working really well, especially during my many nocturnal forays. The downside of keeping to this configuration during the daytime is that it virtually guarantees a black background - which is something that may or may not be desirable. If I want a bit of colour and light in the background (only applicable in the daytime) then I usually lengthen the shutter speed, normally only up to about 1/100s. Any longer and I find some blurring tends to ensue.

There is just one disclaimer (you could call it an excuse) that I will make before I get to the photos. Despite the fact that Kenya is well-travelled by zoologists, naturalists, wildlife photographers etc., I get the feeling that the smaller animals of the region have been largely overlooked. There is an abundance of literature and field guides etc. on mammals, birds and (to a lesser extent) reptiles and amphibians. However, there is little when it comes to insects and other arthropods. Consequently, I have struggled to ID many of the smaller animals that I have encountered. I would be delighted if anyone reading this could help with identifying and unknown species (you can contact me using this link).

On to the photos!

One night, I stumbled across this wolf spider outside my house:

Wolf spider (Lycosidae)Wolf spider (Lycosidae)

On close inspection, I was amazed to observe that it was carrying a number of its young on its abdomen. Subsequent research revealed to me that this is a distinctive behaviour for this group of spiders.

When it came to taking the photo, I wanted to replicate the 'face-on' portrait style that I started doing back in the UK. In my opinion this usually works well for spiders. However, at the distance needed for a frame-filling photo like this, even with small apertures, the depth of field was very shallow and not deep enough to have the eyes of the mother spider in sharp focus as well as the detail of the young on its abdomen. And so began my first ever attempt at 'focus stacking'.

As mentioned briefly above, often with macro photography, the depth of field is very shallow. This is often a desired effect, allowing you to draw attention to a particular feature of the subject. However, there are times when it's actually quite annoying as, like in this situation, the important features might extend some way throughout the image. Or maybe the depth of field is just too small and the photo just looks blurry. This is where focus stacking is your friend - and it's far simpler than I had realised.

Focus stacking requires you to take a series of photos, with the region of focus moving through the image with each consecutive photo taken (manual focus is essential for this). You can either move the camera physically forward or backward as you take the series of photos, or keep the camera still and turn the focus ring as you 'fire away'. I have experimented with both methods, and haven't really settled on one being obviously better than the other. When you have taken enough photos, you then use software on the computer to blend them together, with the software combining all the bits in sharp focus to make a single image with much more in focus than would otherwise be achievable. I won't go in to the exact process (since detailed instructions are easy to find with an internet search) but it's pretty straightforward to do on Adobe Photoshop. I did try the free trial of some dedicated software called Helicon Focus which was very good. However it was too expensive for me to purchase for a rather niche piece of software.

I was really happy with my first attempt. In fact, the experience was a bit of a eureka moment for me and I have used it countless times since. Here is a gallery of more spider face portraits, all of which are focus stacked (hovering your cursor over the image tells you how many images each one is formed from):

Bark spider (Caerostris sexcuspidata)Bark spider (Caerostris sexcuspidata)Stacked from 11 images. Method=C (S=4) Wafer-lid trapdoor spider (Cyrtaucheniidae)Wafer-lid trapdoor spider (Cyrtaucheniidae)Stacked from 13 images. Method=C (S=4) Wafer-lid trapdoor spider (Cyrtaucheniidae)Wafer-lid trapdoor spider (Cyrtaucheniidae)Stacked from 29 images. Method=B (R=8,S=4) Wafer-lid trapdoor spider (Cyrtaucheniidae)Wafer-lid trapdoor spider (Cyrtaucheniidae)Stacked from 18 images. Method=C (S=4) Wall crab spider Selenopidae)Wall crab spider Selenopidae)Stacked from 12 images. Method=B (R=8,S=4)

Jumping spider (Salticidae)Jumping spider (Salticidae)

Focus stacking is only possible when the subject remains still enough for you take multiple photos, this is actually quite a rare scenario with wild and living animals (many macro photos out there are of dead animals). Here are a few more spider face portraits which are just from single photographs (not focus stacked), either because the spiders were too fast-moving or because I thought a single photo looked better:

Jumping spider (Salticinae)Jumping spider (Salticinae) Adanson's house jumper (Hasarius adansoni)Adanson's house jumper (Hasarius adansoni) SpiderSpider Rain spider (Palystes sp.)Rain spider (Palystes sp.)

Kilimanjaro mustard baboon spider (Pterinochilus chordatus)Kilimanjaro mustard baboon spider (Pterinochilus chordatus)

Sometimes the face-on angle doesn't work or it isn't physically possible to obtain. All of the previously shown spiders were found running around on the ground / walls / rocks etc. If I find a spider on a web I would never remove it for a photo (since doing so could potentially damage its web).

So here are some other spider photos, from when the face-on angle was not possible or I felt it didn't work:

Kilimanjaro mustard baboon spider (Pterinochilus chordatus)Kilimanjaro mustard baboon spider (Pterinochilus chordatus) Orbweaver spider (Araneinae)Orbweaver spider (Araneinae) Orbweaver spider (Argiope sp.)Orbweaver spider (Argiope sp.)

Moving on from spiders...

One night walk around the site yielded a huge and very impressive centipede. Experts tell me that it is the aptly-named 'giant African centipede' (Ethmostigmus trigonopodus). I knew it was going to be difficult to photograph but I had an idea which I thought I would try (which I learned from a keen Australian herper that I met in Bali). Some skittish animals, when provided with cover, will hide under it and then remain motionless. This behaviour can be utilised to photograph them when it otherwise seems impossible. For the 'cover' I scrounged a large jar lid which I placed on top of a rock next to the centipede. The centipede went headfirst under the jar lid with the rest of its (long) body following. I waited for a couple of minutes before gently removing the jar lid using my small snake hook. When I did, the centipede was sat there, completely still and calm. This allowed me to take photos - something that was never going to happen with it moving around. I managed a focus stack face portrait (why not!) as well as some full-body shots in order to get an ID:

African giant centipede (Ethmostigmus trigonopodus)African giant centipede (Ethmostigmus trigonopodus)Stacked from 20 images. Method=B (R=8,S=4) African giant centipede (Ethmostigmus trigonopodus)African giant centipede (Ethmostigmus trigonopodus)

I have long been fascinated with mantises but have found them quite hard to photograph well. In our garden we have had a few African 'giant' mantises (Sphodromantis sp.) and there are a few photos below. The first is an adult, the second an immature intermediate stage (no wings yet) and the third was a (tiny) nymph. The fourth is a different species which I am told is the Tanzanian ground mantis (Tarachodes afzelli). With the second photo I made a rare use of my Laowa 15mm f/4 wide-angle macro lens. I still find it really hard to use and mantises, in particular, seem to love climbing up on to the diffuser!

African mantis (Sphodromantis sp.)African mantis (Sphodromantis sp.) African mantis (Sphodromantis sp.)African mantis (Sphodromantis sp.) African mantis (Sphodromantis sp.)African mantis (Sphodromantis sp.) Tanzanian ground mantis (Tarachodes afzelli)Tanzanian ground mantis (Tarachodes afzelli)

I will end this post with a series of other (largely unidentified) miscellaneous insects from the garden. Hopefully it's quite a good showcase for the diversity of insect life that can be found in gardens in this part of the world - enjoy!

Assassin bug (Rhynocoris segmentarius)Assassin bug (Rhynocoris segmentarius) Blue (Polyommatinae)Blue (Polyommatinae) Bush brown (Bicyclus sp.)Bush brown (Bicyclus sp.) Carder bee (Anthidium sp.)Carder bee (Anthidium sp.) Carpenter bee (Xylocopa sp.)Carpenter bee (Xylocopa sp.) CaterpillarCaterpillar Click beetle (Elateridae)Click beetle (Elateridae) Damselfly (Pseudagrion sp.)Damselfly (Pseudagrion sp.) Fragile buff (Baliochila fragilis)Fragile buff (Baliochila fragilis) Giant twig wilter (Petascelis remipes)Giant twig wilter (Petascelis remipes) Hunchback cockroach (Deropeltis sp.)Hunchback cockroach (Deropeltis sp.) Lily weevil (Brachycerus sp.)Lily weevil (Brachycerus sp.) African giant water bug (Lethocerus cordofanus)African giant water bug (Lethocerus cordofanus) Shield bug (Pentatomidae)Shield bug (Pentatomidae) Slender burnished brass moth (Thysanoplusia orichalcea)Slender burnished brass moth (Thysanoplusia orichalcea) Spider cricket (Phalangopsidae)Spider cricket (Phalangopsidae) Stick grasshopper (Truxalis sp.)Stick grasshopper (Truxalis sp.) Water scorpion (Laccotrephes sp.)Water scorpion (Laccotrephes sp.)

African stick mantis (Popa spurca)African stick mantis (Popa spurca)

Cherry spot moth (Diaphone eumela)Cherry spot moth (Diaphone eumela)



*The tourist (non-resident) prices for doing anything in Kenya are completely insane. Fortunately for us, the resident rates are much more sensible, but we did not receive our residency paperwork until December!

(Robin James Nature Photography) beetle focus stack focus stacking kenya kenya wildlife kenya wildlife photography macro macro photography robin james robin james nature photo spider wildlife wildlife photography Fri, 08 Jan 2021 18:17:57 GMT
Garden macro photography part I: the UK Whilst locked down in the UK, as well as dabbling with camera traps (post about it here), I also spent some time working on my macro photography in the garden. I was fortunate to return to the UK in late spring / early summer, so there were quite a few 6-8 legged subjects around to practice with.

Just a note on gear first: until quite recently, I had been using a Nissin MF18 ringflash for all of my macro photography. I do think that it's a great bit of kit - mine always worked reliably and provided a decent light output. However, the light always looked a little 'flat' (i.e. boring). It is slightly diffused (though less so than some online reviews claim) but I really struggled when photographing anything remotely reflective. Though it varies a bit, most insects and many snakes are quite reflective  so this is more of an issue than you may expect. I found it to be particularly problematic while photographing the myriad of (shiny and black) beetles that I encountered in Borneo last year (post about the trip here). The other issue that I had was that the ringflash was quite an awkward shape and it was difficult to fit in my camera bag; I often decided against packing it and I missed out on a lot of macro opportunities as a result.

Though I had been reading about properly diffusing macro light for ages, I never actually got around to exploring it myself until late last year, prior to my short trip to Dubai (post here). I borrowed from some ideas I found online and constructed a diffuser which incorporated an on-camera external flash, a reflective panel (a large Rogue Flashbender) and some thin sheets of foam (I used foam intended for lining kitchen drawers, purchased from the ever-handy Rp25,000 (~£1) store 'Daiso'). The flashgun was angled forward with the Flashbender fitted above (and parallel to) the lens. The foam was then flimsily attached to the front end of the Flashbender and even more flimsily attached to the lens barrel. I tried various ways to attach it and eventually settled on a circular piece of plastic that went around the lens. Connections between all the components were made with pieces of velcro tape so that it could be disassembled. It was a bit of a 'MacGyver' job - functional but not very pretty.

After field-testing the diffuser in Dubai, I was really impressed by the following:

  • Importantly, it worked - in my opinion the light produced was very soft, really enhancing the look of images taken. Plus, I was finally able to properly light shiny things!
  • I no longer needed to take out my ringflash - instead I just needed my regular flashgun (which is always in my camera bag anyway)

However, I did also find a few new issues:

  • My diffuser setup, when attached, is really bulky, meaning that in most cases I have to leave it disassembled in my bag until a photo opportunity presents itself. It is not really practical to wander around carrying it except in quite open terrain with abundant subjects. I've yet to find myself in this situation!
  • It took me ages to set up and assemble - sometimes the photographic opportunity had passed by the time I had it set up ready
  • It is really easy to snag on foliage - I ripped the foam sheets several times

After this trip, I felt satisfied that the improved light quality was enough to outweigh these issues so I sold the MF18 ringflash. I was, however, still keen to improve the design.

Shortly after I returned to the UK (in March) I decided to construct an improved version. I kept the same basic design, with the same flash-mounted reflector panel connected to the flashgun, connected via velcro to the main diffuser. The difference between this version and the previous one is that the diffuser is now a large sheet of frosted plastic (from an A4 ringbinder) with 3 thin sheets of foam stacked and attached with velcro patches (my original thinking was that I could vary the number of foam sheets used, although so far I've just kept all 3 attached). Where the diffuser attaches to the lens barrel, an elastic band wraps it around, providing a concave surface to wrap the light around the subject. Due to the rigidity of the frosted plastic this design is significantly more durable than my first version and it is also a lot quicker to assemble. It also slides neatly into the laptop compartment of my camera bag (an F-stop Tilopa). It is still bulky, but I think this is probably unavoidable in order to obtain well-diffused light. Overall, it's a big improvement over my first attempt!

This is what the whole diffuser looks like when attached to my camera:

DIY flash diffuserDIY flash diffuser

That's almost it about gear. The one other thing I would add at this point is that I've started making more use of my full-frame camera body (a Nikon D810) which was otherwise starting to get a bit neglected. I have two camera bodies - in addition to the D810 I also have a crop-sensor D500 and I'm now starting to find both bodies useful for macro, in the following situations:

- For larger macro subjects (anything over about an inch), the image quality from the D810 is just generally better so it's my preferred body. However, for anything smaller than that, at the minimum focus distance of my macro lens (a Tamron 90mm f/2.8) the subject is usually quite small in the frame and cropping becomes essential

- For smaller macro subjects (anything smaller than about an inch), the 1.5x crop factor of the D500 means that I can get the subject larger in the frame, so this becomes my preferred body

We were fortunate to spend the UK's initial period of lockdown in Devon in the SW of England with a small garden available to us. This meant that I had quite a few opportunities to test the diffuser out and 'get my eye back in' for macro photography.

To start with, below are two images of (shiny and black) beetles found in the garden - excellent tests of the diffuser's ability! My ringflash would have struggled to light these. They are a black oil beetle (Meloe proscarabaeus) and a lesser stag beetle (Dorcus parallelipedus):

Black oil beetle (Meloe proscarabaeus)Black oil beetle (Meloe proscarabaeus) Lesser stag beetle (Dorcus parallelipipedus)Lesser stag beetle (Dorcus parallelipipedus)

I'm really pleased with how well the diffuser lit them softly and evenly, and they were big enough that I could get them full-frame on my D810.

A much harder test came when the next beetle -  a rose chafer (Cetonia aurata) - appeared in the garden. It landed on a flower in direct sunlight, in the middle of the day. With the white petals in the frame, plus the beetle's carapace being highly reflective, this was a real exposure challenge. I still used the flash to balance the light, but I had to underexpose quite a bit to avoid horrific blown-out highlights:

Rose chafer (Cetonia aurata)Rose chafer (Cetonia aurata)

The previous photo was my first proper attempt at a face-on insect portrait, something that I dabbled quite a lot with over the following months.

Right, less technical photography talk now and more entomology! The next beetle is a spotted longhorn (Rutpela maculata):

Spotted longhorn (Rutpela maculata)Spotted longhorn (Rutpela maculata)

One corner of the garden harboured an impressive diversity of bug species (Hemipterans, bugs in the technical sense) and I enjoyed photographing and learning about them. Here are a couple of different species to start with (note - though it looks like a contrived scene, the hairy shield bug (Dolycoris baccarum) in the second photo was just in front of a red flower):

Dock bug (Coreus marginatus)Dock bug (Coreus marginatus) Hairy shield bug (Dolycoris baccarum) nymphHairy shield bug (Dolycoris baccarum) nymph

On a silver birch tree in this corner of the garden, I noticed a few aggregations of parent bug (Elasmucha grisea) nymphs. If you look closely at the image below, you will see that a few of the nymphs have small white objects on them. Apparently parent bugs are parasitised by the specialised tachinid fly Subclytia rotundiventris, so presumably these objects are eggs from that species.

Parent bug (Elasmucha grisea)Parent bug (Elasmucha grisea)

I returned to this birch tree regularly. These aggregations seemed to periodically move leaf but I was interested to keep checking their progress. The image below was taken a few days after the one above - here you can see different stages of the species' life cycle as the nymphs progressed into adulthood:

Parent bug (Elasmucha grisea)Parent bug (Elasmucha grisea)

Back to beetles - the same tree was also full of harlequin ladybirds (Harmonia axyridis). This is an invasive species in the UK, and sadly the only ladybird that I ever saw in the garden. What I did find interesting from a biological perspective was that, by checking enough leaves on the tree, I could observe most stages of the species' life cycle. Here are some photos of larvae:

Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) larvaHarlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) larva Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) larvaHarlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) larva

This is a pupa, the hardened case in which the larva metamorphoses into an adult:

Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) pupaHarlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) pupa

This is an adult (imago) ladybird that has quite recently emerged from its pupa:

Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis)Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis)

Next are a couple more photos of adult ladybirds. You can see that this species is highly variable in appearance. It can most readily be distinguished from native species by the white triangle on its head.

Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis)Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis)Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis)

Quite early on in our time in Devon I found this crab spider (Misumena vatia) hidden in the garden undergrowth. It was the first and only time that I had seen this species here and I will admit that I was a little surprised to see such a tropical-looking spider in the UK:

Crab spider (Misumena vatia)Crab spider (Misumena vatia)

Often overlooked (and much maligned), there is quite a range of fly species in the UK. Though they are often skittish and can be hard to photograph, I think they can make quite interesting photographic subjects. Here are a couple of species that I managed to get photos of:

Suillia affinisSuillia affinis Dull four-spined legionnaire (Chorisops tibialis)Dull four-spined legionnaire (Chorisops tibialis)

These were my last macro photos from the garden in Devon. In August we briefly moved back to my family home in the North of England, whilst awaiting our flights to Kenya. I was set to publish this post when we moved there (as I'd not seen anything interesting) but in our last couple of days I chanced across a couple of new subjects - so there's a little more to share!

While doing some sorting out in the garage, it was hard to miss a large spider's web taking up quite a large space in one corner. On closer inspection, it was the creation of 'daddy long legs spiders' (Pholcus phalangioides), and there were actually quite a lot of them! I did a little research about the species which I thought it prudent to share:

There's apparently a common misconception that this non-native species is dangerous (it isn't). It also seems that other misconceptions have been confused with it and with those of the crane flies, and it's all got quite muddled in the public mind (probably because in the UK crane flies are also known as 'daddy long legs'!) The most notable belief is that it (and / or crane flies) have the most potent venom in the animal kingdom but cannot inject their venom. This is untrue for both types of animal. This belief once featured on an episode of Mythbusters - and was debunked - so QED!

A portrait of one of these interesting spiders is below:

Daddy long legs spider (Pholcus phalangioides)Daddy long legs spider (Pholcus phalangioides)

Unlike the tropics, the UK is not blessed with a wealth of amphibian diversity. However, I enjoy encountering and photographing even the 'common' species. Whilst doing some gardening work for my parents I came across a toad (Bufo bufo). After a quick photo shoot, I re-homed it into the garden pond. It was a cheery looking thing!

Common toad (Bufo bufo)Common toad (Bufo bufo)

The final photograph for this post is another spider 'portrait'. This giant house spider (Eratigena sp.) was actually trapped in the bathtub, but I moved it to the more photogenic garden for a quick photoshoot before letting it run free in the wild:

Giant house spider (Eratigena sp.)Giant house spider (Eratigena sp.)

That's almost it for this post. I was pleased to have trialled the new diffuser and incorporated it permanently into my camera bag, photographed some cool things and to get more practice with macro photography. Along with camera trapping, it helped to keep me sane throughout lockdown - what felt like a lifetime!

In the original draft of this post, at this point I wrote: "Lets hope East Africa provides yet more interesting subjects to learn about and photograph!". Well, since I am actually finalising the post after already being in Kenya for 4 months, you only need to head over to the Kenya wildlife photo album to decide for yourself if it is delivering!

Further details to come in part 2...



(Robin James Nature Photography) beetle british wildlife british wildlife photography devon devon wildlife devon wildlife photography DIY diffuser macro macro diffuser macro photography robin james robin james nature photo spider uk wildlife uk wildlife photography wildlife wildlife photography Sat, 26 Dec 2020 20:08:22 GMT
Wildlife camera traps (trail cameras and DSLR camera traps) I've spent a lot of time experimenting with camera traps over the last few months. Given the current world situation I have no trips to write about - so instead I thought I would take this opportunity to share my experiences with this fun and exciting type of photography.

My experiences with camera trapping started a few years ago when I got my hands on a trail camera. I chose to get a Bushnell 'NatureView HD' - though I'd been eyeing one up for some time, I'll admit that it was something of an impulse purchase that I made after being impressed by a sales demo!

Bushnell NatureView HD Trail CameraBushnell NatureView HD Trail Camera

For those who aren't familiar with them, trail cameras are self-contained devices which typically consist of a passive infra-red (PIR) sensor (like those used in home security systems) which is connected to  a small camera. When the sensor detects something, the camera is triggered to take a photo or video, capturing whatever is in front. My model of trail camera has both a daytime and a nighttime mode. The daytime mode is fairly straightforward and works as I have just described. The nighttime mode makes use of infrared 'no-glow' LED lights which illuminate the scene but in a wavelength which is invisible to most animals. This means that they can be photographed or filmed in complete darkness, but without being disturbed by a visible flash. There is a small downside to this mode - the images or videos taken at night are only recorded in black and white.

I first tested out my trail camera in my parents' garden in Cheshire, which is quite large and surrounded by extensive countryside. After leaving it out for a few weeks I had recorded some fascinating footage of the local badgers as well as one brief appearance of a fox. I soon realised that although the camera records good video footage, the photo quality is fairly poor (certainly by modern standards). To be honest, trail cameras are terrific bits of kit for observing wildlife and excellent pieces of scientific equipment, but not much good for 'serious' photography.

Here's one of my first clips of a pair of badgers (taken using one of the close-up lenses that the Bushnell Natureview HD comes with):

Badger in Cheshire

As time went on my desire to enter the world of 'serious' camera trap photography grew, so I started reading up on what I needed in order to use my DSLR as a camera trap. I already had a flashgun and some radio flash triggers so, to get myself going, all that I needed was a sensor and some means of getting it to trigger my camera's shutter. After a little online research I came across an affordable option which is the Cactus LV5. This is a laser trigger consisting of two parts: a laser emitter and a detector. You also then need a receiver which connects to the camera and this communicates wirelessly with the laser trigger. The idea is to position the beam across where you expect an animal to walk and when it breaks the beam, the laser trigger sends a signal to the receiver unit connected to the camera and the camera takes a photo.

This photo of some badgers out on the prowl was an early attempt of mine with this setup:

European badger (Meles meles)European badger (Meles meles)

Trail camera footage had shown me when and where the badgers came each night (I should emphasise that trail cameras are invaluable for recce'ing potential sites and subjects for DSLR camera traps). For the above photo I set the beam across the garden and placed some peanuts in the middle, slightly on the nearside of the beam. This way the badgers would trigger the camera en route to the food, rather than with their heads buried in the grass, 'snuffling' as badgers do! I had my flashgun positioned on the left-hand side, mounted on a light stand and connected to the camera wirelessly via Meyin RF-624 radio triggers. As I had hoped, the badgers came out in the late evening, triggered the camera, ate the peanuts and then headed off for the night. I saw the flash go off through a window so I knew when to head out and bring everything inside again. None of the setup was weatherproof so I wasn't going to risk leaving it out all night!

Despite an early success, this was actually the only half-decent photo that I ever managed to take with this setup. I had two main problems:

One - with a laser trigger you have to know exactly where the subject is going to be in order to position the beam, and setting up the emitter and detector units is fiddly. It's also really hard to see where the laser is shining.

Two - I grew concerned about the risk of exposing the animals' eyes to the laser beam. The laser also frequently appears in the photo as a bright red dot (on the above photo, the raw image showed the laser shining on the badger's body, which I have cloned out in post-production).

Mainly due to concerns over the latter, I decided to sell the laser trigger setup - and that was the end of my DSLR camera trap efforts for another 3 years!

In the meantime, I moved to Bali, taking my trail camera with me. Early on in my time there I set it up in our rented villa's garden, my mind full of the expectation of recording footage of all manner of tropical creatures. Collecting it in after two weeks in the garden I obtained footage of about a dozen domestic cats but not a single other animal. No wild animals at all! Consequently, I did not pursue camera trapping further during my time on the island.

During this period I did, however, take the trail camera on a trip to Borneo (you can read about the trip here) where I was delighted to obtain photos and videos of range of species but - most notably - wild Bornean pygmy elephants. Here is my favourite clip:

Bornean pygmy elephants and Bornean bearded pigs in Deramakot, Sabah, Malaysia

Otherwise, my trail camera largely sat collecting dust for the best part of two years. I didn't feel the desire or opportunity to get back into DSLR camera trap photography at all during this time.

In March 2020 (during the COVID-19 crisis) circumstances necessitated our sudden return to the UK. We ended up basing ourselves in Devon in the Southwest of England. With all of the disruption to our lives and with a newborn baby to look after, it was a month or so before I even touched my camera again.

We are very lucky to have access to a small garden here and one day - on a whim - I decided to set up my trail camera in it. I left it out for a couple of days before checking and, when I did, I was amazed that, in addition to the usual hours of footage of domestic cats, I had also recorded footage of two badgers and two foxes which took it in turns to visit the garden each night.

This is the badger that we see most often - we have named it 'Square':

Badger in Sidmouth, Devon

This is the other badger, larger and greyer in appearance - we have named it 'Peanut':

Badger in Sidmouth, Devon

I still haven't worked out the relationship between the two of them -  I quite often record footage of both of them out at the same time:

Badgers in Sidmouth, Devon

This is the adult fox that we see most frequently. You will see that it appears to be suffering from sarcoptic mange*, making it easy to identify:

Fox in Sidmouth, Devon

This is the other adult fox, a less frequent but still regular visitor to our garden. In this clip there is also a cub which only ever appeared once in my footage (I am not sure what came of it):

Foxes in Sidmouth, Devon

With the discovery of all this life in the garden I decided that I would make it my goal to get properly into DSLR camera trap photography. In particular, I was very keen to get some photographs of the foxes - animals which are widely persecuted in the UK and animals which I am very fond of.

The first bit of kit that I needed to get this project going was a new sensor. With my previous concerns over the use of lasers, the other main option available to me was to use a PIR sensor. These function just like the one built in to my trail camera but are specifically designed to trigger DSLR shutters. I opted for a sensor made by a UK-based company called Camtraptions. It is a wireless model which comes in a robust and weatherproof housing with a range of modes and settings:

Camtraptions PIR sensorCamtraptions PIR sensor

The sensor unit is well-made, straightforward to use and does the job perfectly. After a couple of initial experiments, I did however come across a few hurdles with other aspects of my rig.

Proper lighting is an essential element of a DSLR camera trap setup and in most cases this requires the use of artificial light. Initially, the only flash that I owned was a Nissin Di700 flashgun which I had been using for over 5 years. It had been a great workhorse flash in all that time, surviving numerous trips to the jungle and still going strong despite me having dropped it countless times. However, I soon discovered that this flash has serious limitations for using in a camera trap.

One - it only stays ready to fire for 2 minutes after which it enters a standby mode. If the PIR sensor is triggered while the flash is in this mode, the camera immediately takes a photo however the flash is not ready, meaning I get a dark (or totally black if taken at night) photo. The sound of the camera shutter is usually enough to scare the foxes off, so even if I set the camera to take a series of photos, the fox is gone by the time the second photo (with flash) is taken. The video below shows this happening:

Fox in Sidmouth, Devon

Two - the flash also has a really annoying feature whereby after an hour of disuse, it switches off completely and then cannot be woken up by the camera. This means that (assuming an animal hasn't triggered it) each hour I had to go out and set it off manually to keep it awake. The regular disturbance by me was undoubtedly putting off the animals from coming out into the garden.

This was the only photo that I got in the first use of my new setup - and it's not the quality portrait that I was hoping for. By the time the flash had woken up the fox had scarpered. I also didn't have things set up quite right - it's noisy, there's motion blur in the fox's head, and it's just generally not that nice of a photo:

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)

The second problem I encountered was that although the sensor is weatherproof and I could cover up my flashes with plastic bags, my (rather expensive) camera itself is not weatherproof. I certainly wasn't going to risk leaving it out overnight with the UK weather!

To get around these issues, I realised that I needed to invest in a better flashgun and also some kind of protective housing for my camera. For the former, I purchased a Nikon SB-28 flashgun on eBay. This is an older (manual) model which has one particular feature making it great for camera traps - even on standby mode, it stays ready to fire as soon as the camera tells it to. It does not switch off and, in theory, can stay ready to fire in the field for weeks at a time. The limiting factor is usually just the life of the batteries in it.

Nikon SB-28Nikon SB-28

Later on, I purchased a second SB-28 as well as some adjustable arms that I could use for mounting the flashguns. I got these from eBay along with the necessary attachments. The arms are by a company called SmallRig and they are well-made, strong and versatile:

Nikon SB-28Nikon SB-28

Annoyingly, I also learned that my TTL radio triggers (Meyin RF-624s, bought when I lived in Malaysia) were incompatible with these flashguns so I had to make an additional purchase of a transmitter and two receivers to make everything work. For these, I also purchased models made by Camtraptions. Theirs are non-TTL but, to be honest, you really need to set everything manually anyway.

The final hurdle to overcome was how I could protect my camera from the elements, allowing me to leave the setup out overnight. I debated long and hard about buying anything else as at this point I had already spent more than I wanted, but in the end I decided my camera was valuable enough to warrant looking after. I managed to sell some other gear in order to fund these purchases. With visions of using this setup when I move to Kenya, I decided to also purchase a protective housing from Camtraptions.

Camtraptions housingCamtraptions housing

Finally, I needed something to store all this gear in and carry it around. I came across this bag online - a 'tactical response bag' by a company called Condor. It's designed for the military (or military enthusiasts), but it's perfect for the job and fits all of my camera trap equipment:

Condor tactical response bagCondor tactical response bag

Once I had everything I needed I set to work. At first, I experimented quite a bit - flitting from one arrangement to another. It is quite hard to know how to set everything up as there are so many different variables - camera shutter speed, ISO and aperture, lens focus point, flash output and position (with two separate flashguns), sensor program, position of the 'bait' (a handful of peanuts) etc. - so there was a lot of trial-and-error. It is also a bit tricky to set things up in daylight for photos that will mostly be taken during the night.

I spent the next few months primarily trying to photograph the foxes, but largely failing (more on that later in the post). I did, however, find the badgers to be much more obliging and over the summer I managed to accumulate a range of photos of them. The garden itself wasn't particularly photogenic so instead of attempting to take any kind of 'environmental' photos, I opted instead to get some  straightforward animal portraits. For the most part I used my Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 lens since most camera trappers out there seemed to be using wide-angles. The camera housing has interchangeable lens barrels but I only bought one size - big enough to fit either my 24-70 at 24mm or my 90mm f/2.8 macro lens. At 24mm my wide-angle gives a generously wide field of view which increased the chances of the badgers being in the photo. The down-side is that they had to be quite close to the camera to be large enough in the frame for the photos to work. At first I was nervous about putting the peanuts too close to the camera as I didn't want the badgers to knock it over but as time went on I got a bit braver.

This photo was one of my first efforts, taken with a single flash (before I had bought another):

European badger (Meles meles)European badger (Meles meles)

The next one was one of the first taken with a two-flash setup. Although the photo above has a little more 'mood' to it, I definitely prefer the balanced look that two flashes give.

European badger (Meles meles)European badger (Meles meles)

For both of the above photos, I had the camera, in its housing, on a tripod.  One of the best 'rules' for compelling photos is to be at eye-level with the animal so I wanted to position it as low as possible. I set the tripod to be as far down as it would go - unfortunately my tripod legs don't lock into place like this but you can still splay the legs out. It's a bit ungainly, but I discovered that if you put weight (I used bricks) on the legs then it's all fairly secure. Even so, with the tripod head and the housing, the camera is still around 10" off the ground - not as low as would be desirable.

For the next set of photos I placed the camera (in its housing) directly on the ground, which gives a better perspective. There is a major drawback to this however - the housing door hinges downwards, so placing it directly on the ground like this makes it hard to set up. You have to pick the whole housing up to access the camera inside it and this can affect the framing of the photo and the focal point etc. Still, with a bit of trial and error I did manage some ground-level photos of the badgers:

European badger (Meles meles)European badger (Meles meles) European badger (Meles meles)European badger (Meles meles)

A bit later on in this project, I tried using my 90mm lens instead of my 24-70mm. Again, this was really set up for the fox, but it was impossible to keep the badgers away! With this lens, even at small apertures the depth of field is small so it required really careful setup with the sensor to get the right part of the animal (the eyes) in focus. One big advantage of using this lens instead is that I could set the camera up much further away from the trigger point - giving less chance of the badgers knocking it over! I got some more portraits of the badgers with this setup:

European badger (Meles meles)European badger (Meles meles) European badger (Meles meles)European badger (Meles meles)

Throughout this time I continued to hope that one of the foxes might make an appearance to be photographed. Whenever I set up my DSLR camera trap, I also set up my trail camera overlooking it (partly to observe and learn from mistakes but it was also because I was a little paranoid about someone thieving my expensive camera gear, and I wanted it to be surveilled). The trail camera would regularly record one of the foxes visiting the garden - but it almost never seemed to venture into the trigger area for the DSLR camera trap. This photo shows a rare appearance:

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)

At a casual glance this photo may seem acceptable - but unfortunately the fox is behind the focal plane that I had set, meaning that it is completely out of focus. Both foxes, being typical rural foxes, are very wary. They are probably used to being shot at or harassed and so they would dart at the slightest sound from the camera shutter or flash, then not come again back on the same night.

It seemed initially that, at best, I had one chance to photograph a fox per night. But after several consecutive days of failure (for varying reasons) they then seemed to stop coming completely. Feeling rather sad and disappointed, I decided to stop putting out the DSLR camera trap setup. I did, however, keep my trail camera up and running and after about a week with no loud DSLR 'mirror-slaps' or bright flashes, the foxes returned again.

So, I gave it another go with the DSLR camera trap. The foxes continued to visit - but the trail camera now recorded them eyeing up the setup and showed them clearly and deliberately avoiding it! This seemed to happen no matter where I positioned it. At this point I just gave up - feeling well and truly outwitted...

Fox in Sidmouth, Devon

I may have given up with the foxes but I didn't give up on camera trapping. At some point, on a trip to the garden shed I noticed that a hole had appeared in a bag of bird seed that I was storing there. There was also a hole in one of the shed walls. It seemed probable that rodents of some variety were coming in and eating the bird seed - and so I had found my new photographic subject!

I removed the bird seed from the shed, and put some of it, plus a few peanuts, in an overturned flowerpot on a shelf. I set up my camera trap (with just a single flash at first) to see exactly what was coming. It was the first time I had used my macro lens with the camera trap so I wasn't expecting to have much luck. As the shed is enclosed I didn't bother to set up the housing. This made it much simpler than setting everything up outside.

I was delighted to obtain this photo on the first night, showing that the visitor was a little wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus). I named him 'Walter'.

Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

After this initial success I decided to get a bit creative with the flowerpot and to see what sorts of images I could create. Walter was refreshingly obliging and came night after night and, with a variety of lenses and lighting setups, I was able to come up with quite a range of images of him. Many photos caught him as he was investigating the flowerpot or about to climb in. This was one of my early favourites (though it bothered me that his tail was cut out of the frame!):

Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

After a couple of nights I decided that the photo would look better with a second flash to fill in the shadows, so I set my second flash up as well. I was really pleased when I managed to obtain a similar photo with the whole tail in the frame and also with better lighting:

Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

I was using my 90mm macro lens for these images, which (even with a small aperture) gives a very narrow depth of field when used at such close distances. This means that not all of the photos were 'keepers' since I had no control over which angle Walter came in at. However, occasionally I got lucky. This photo shows him darting away with one of the peanuts:

Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

This one shows him reaching inside:

Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

I then had the idea of setting up the camera a little closer to get a photo of Walter peering over the top of the flowerpot. I had to select the focus area very carefully to ensure I would get his head in focus. I had hoped that he would peer over straight-on to the camera, but he didn't oblige. Even so, I was pleased with the ensuing result:

Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

After a couple of nights I felt that I had achieved what I wanted, so I took a bit of a break while I thought about what to do next. In general I'm really happy with these photos, but my main issue with them is that they give you no real sense of the environment. If you didn't know better you might assume that they were taken in a studio with a pet or a trained animal, and not in an actual shed with a wild mouse. You'll have to take my word for it - I'm a strong believer in the importance of integrity in wildlife photography.

I began to develop an idea in my head for an 'environmental' shot that showed Walter clearly in the shed. For this photo I decided to use my Laowa 15mm f/4 wide-angle macro lens. This lens is tricky to use at the best of times but was the ideal choice for this idea. I placed my camera on the floor of the shed, and arranged various tools, flowerpots etc. so that the image looked more balanced. This was the result after one night:

Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

I felt it was close to what I was aiming for, but not quite. It certainly showed Walter in his favourite environment though! One issue was that on my Nikon D810 this lens was a bit too wide-angle, and the flowerpot had to be so close to the lens that it was almost touching it. Despite the aperture being set to f/16, the depth of field is still quite shallow (by now you'll note this to be a recurring problem!). This again meant that I had to be rather lucky with Walter's position in order to have him in focus. So I started using my Nikon D500 instead of my D810 as this was a bit more forgiving. For some reason, I then encountered another problem whereby my D500 wasn't waking up the flashes properly. To make it work I had to use a mode on the PIR sensor which wakes the flashes up before triggering the shot. On this mode there is however a noticeable delay in the triggering but at least the shot is always properly lit. After a couple of attempts, I got some keepers. This is my favourite one, showing Walter surveying his 'kingdom'!

Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

Well, that sums up my experiences of camera trapping so far. It's been challenging (and at times frustrating) but also immensely rewarding when it works. It's certainly kept me (vaguely) sane throughout the period of lockdown here in the UK!

At the point of writing (21/07/20), I have one more week here in Devon. The DSLR camera trap is currently out in the garden and I'm still holding out the hope that one of the foxes will show themselves! If so, I'll update this post.

UPDATE (25/07/20)

Well, in true wildlife documentary form - in my last few days in Devon the larger fox finally made an in-focus appearance! It's still not the photo I was hoping for (its tail is cut off) but it'll do!

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)

UPDATE 2 (04/08/20)

I really should have waited a few weeks before publishing this post! For the last week I've been in Cheshire at my parents' house. Naturally I couldn't resist putting my trail camera out in the garden - after all, this is where my camera trapping experiences began!

After just one night, my trail camera had recorded some footage of the badgers (of course), plus the usual cats, but also, to my delight - a fox! I was quick to set up the DSLR camera trap the next night and I couldn't believe my luck when I saw that these photos had been taken:

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)

After 4 months of trying, I'm now happy to declare 'mission complete' - I can finally add red fox (Vulpes vulpes) to my 'satisfactorily photographed' list!

I also got a couple of other bonus pictures, like this 'profile pic' of one of the Cheshire badgers:

European badger (Meles meles)European badger (Meles meles)

Plus this one - with the fox 'photobombing' the badger!:

European badger (Meles meles)European badger (Meles meles)

I'm due to fly to Kenya in a few weeks, so hopefully I'll be able to continue experimenting with some more exotic species! To end this post - my favourite out-take from the 'shed photography sessions':

Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)



*I sent off for some treatment for this from the National Fox Welfare Society and they kindly sent some to us for free. I was intrigued and quite skeptical that the treatment is labelled as a 'homeopathic potion'. They are adamant that it is effective so we will see!

(Robin James Nature Photography) badger british wildlife british wildlife photography camera trap camera trapping camtraptions devon devon wildlife devon wildlife photography dslr camera trap fox robin james robin james nature photo trail camera uk wildlife uk wildlife photography wildlife wildlife photography wood mouse Tue, 21 Jul 2020 09:01:07 GMT
Further adventures with snakes and filming Deadly 60 in Bali This is a long overdue follow-up to my earlier post about Bali's snakes and herping in Bali.

During my two years in Bali I built up a good relationship with the folks over at Bali Reptile Rescue (BRR). Through a combination of this relationship, my own research and personal field experience, I was able to develop a decent working knowledge of the snakes of Bali. Eventually I gained enough confidence to start lending my hand to rescues, and this post is intended as a brief account of these experiences. Please note that as I was mainly focused on the rescues, most of these encounters went un-photographed - you'll just have to believe me!

My first rescue was of a reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus) which had been reported in a tall tree outside someone's property. The call from BRR's Rani came in the early hours of the morning. We arrived to find a large crowd gathered around the base of the tree, with a lot of hysterical shouting and flailing of long bamboo canes. About 20 minutes after our arrival, as we deliberated over how to safely retrieve the python, it decided that it had had enough and started making its way down towards the ground of its own volition. The huge (2-3m) long snake came down the tree right next to me so I was in a good position to take hold and secure it, ready for Rani to bag it up to be released far from people. I managed to take hold of the snake without any real fuss and that's about all I have to report. As my first rescue, I couldn't believe how smoothly it went!

The following weeks saw me move on to my first venomous snake rescue - a Javan spitting cobra (Naja sputatrix) that was lurking in an expat's villa in Sanur. Spitting cobras are venomous so I was rather more wary this time, but after some well-coordinated teamwork with the villa residents, I was able to safely retrieve it without injury to myself or the snake. The rescue operation involved cutting off its possible escape routes and potential new hiding places, donning appropriate safety gear (in this case a diving mask!), and then me performing a swift 'hook and box' maneuver. Copious amounts of gaffer tape and a few air holes secured its temporary box home while it awaited release.

Another python rescue came next and this one, unfortunately, did not go smoothly. The snake was in another expat's villa, and the residents were worried that it had eaten their pet kitten. When I eventually found the snake, it was coiled up about 8 feet high in a tree on the edge of their property. I could just about reach it (I am 6'4" tall) but the snake was in a really awkward position, securely coiled around several branches. Getting it out of the tree was quite a wrestling match! Naturally it didn't like being handled and I struggled to manage the rescue with the same slickness that I had managed previously. I eventually managed to wrangle it down, however at one point it managed to get the better of me and chomped down on the back of my left hand. Detaching it was really hard - pythons have lots of small, sharp teeth and highly flexible jaws, so once I finally manage to free my hand I was left with a messy wound which took considerable time to heal. To make things worse, the residents found their kitten, dead, the next morning (killed but not eaten). The python was released unharmed.

I learned my lesson after that, and a subsequent python rescue a few weeks later went much more smoothly. It had taken up residence in a gap between some roofing panels in a traditional Balinese house. I was able  to climb up to it using a ladder and retrieved it without any dramas. I took my camera this time so (for the first time) I was able to photograph this beautiful (and huge!) individual following its release. Having been fairly docile before, by this point it was (understandably) pretty grumpy so I didn't bother it too much:

Reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus)Reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus)

Subsequent rescues were, thankfully, largely uneventful - such as this one of an Asian vine snake (Ahaetulla prasina) which I rescued from a friend's garden:

Me and an Asian vine snake (Ahaeulla prasina)Me and an Asian vine snake (Ahaeulla prasina)

Unfortunately, their cat had got to it before I arrived and it was injured (you can see the kink in its body about halfway down) so I'm not sure what its survival chances would have been like following release.

The same friend and colleague also called me back a few weeks later to retrieve this little Oriental wolf snake (Lycodon capucinus) from his garden:


A few more local rescues followed, however there is little extra to report - by this point I had got the hang of it and it became a bit more routine!

The real highlight of my herpetological adventures in Bali came late last year when I got the opportunity to help BRR film some sequences for the children's BBC wildlife programme 'Deadly 60' with Steve Backshall.

The filming window was very brief (just one night and one day) and it was the final part of the filming team's trip to SE Asia. They came to the main island of Bali after spending time in Borneo and Nusa Penida, one of the smaller islands off the coast of Bali. The species of interest for them for the first night was the yellow-lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina). This is an example of the species that I photographed a few nights before the filming:

Yellow-lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina)Yellow-lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina)

A good location for finding this species was a particular stretch of beach very close to where I lived. Overall, the night's filming went really smoothly and it only took a little bit of searching to find a suitable snake. Gung Adi and I found a male krait early on but it slipped away into the rocks quite quickly (taking with it our chance for TV limelight!). Anyway, the males are quite small so it probably wouldn't have made for great TV! After about half an hour of scouring the beach, Agus found a large female and he, Steve and the team managed to film the sequence that they wanted. The team were delighted - apparently it's rarely that easy! The whole thing only took about an hour in total. This sequence subsequently became part of the main 'Bali' episode, along with some other sequences they had shot elsewhere on the island.

Here's a 'behind the scenes' phone photo of Steve and Agus with the sea krait:

Filming sea kraits in Bali with Agus, Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 teamFilming sea kraits in Bali with Agus, Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 team

Here's one of me and Steve:

Me and Steve BackshallMe and Steve Backshall

The next day was focused on the work of BRR and, in particular, their work with rescuing and releasing king cobras. These sequences didn't feature in the main Bali episode but instead were used in the final 'Unseen' episode, from about 17minutes onwards. Most of the sequence about king cobras was shot at BRR's main base of operations but during the filming, there were also two rescue calls - adding something to the drama of it all. One of these calls was about a reticulated python spotted outside someone's property. This callout features heavily in the episode, and to cut a long story short it was a tricky one*! I didn't have much of a role on this day (I'll just say I was 'in support'!), but I can be spotted by eagle-eyed viewers in a couple of panning shots...

Here's a 'behind the scenes' phone photo from the filming at the rescue centre:

Filming king cobras in Bali with Ray, Agus Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 teamFilming king cobras in Bali with Ray, Agus Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 team

For UK viewers, at the point of writing the episodes can be viewed on BBC iPlayer at these links, though these will probably expire soon:

'Bali' episode

'Unseen' episode

It was a real honour and privilege to get this opportunity, and an experience that I will never forget. Sadly this marks the end of my snake-related adventures in Bali as the global COVID-19 situation forced me to leave in March 2020.

Let's hope my future life in Kenya (hopefully starting in August) provides experiences to match!

Bali Reptile Rescue with Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 teamBali Reptile Rescue with Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 team

Bali Reptile Rescue with Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 teamBali Reptile Rescue with Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 team



*For those who can't watch BBC iPlayer (it only works within the UK) the python was about 12 feet up in a tree, overhanging a murky and dubious-looking river! Getting to it was quite a feat...

(Robin James Nature Photography) bali bali herping bali king cobra bali reptile rescue bali snake bali snakes bali wildlife bali wildlife photography BBC BRR deadly 60 herping herping in bali indonesia indonesia wildlife photography king cobra king cobra bali robin james robin james nature photo snake snakes in bali snakes of bali steve backshall wildlife wildlife of indonesia wildlife photography Sat, 13 Jun 2020 17:10:47 GMT
Peninsular Malaysia (Cameron Highlands and Fraser's Hill) 30th Dec 2019 - 4th Jan 2020 This trip started off, as many of my trips do, as a recce for an upcoming school trip. My involvement with the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award gives me good justification to get out and about to find good locations to take students on expeditions.

My wife and I lived in Malaysia from 2013-2015. During this time we visited the Cameron Highlands several times and so I knew it to be a good area for DofE expedition purposes. The trails are good, there is plenty to see, the climate is mild and you are never really that far from civilisation (not something that I personally desire but it's an important consideration for school trips). There is also no requirement there to use a guide*, allowing us to give the students the freedom and independence the DofE programme encourages.

I arrived in Tanah Rata late on 30th December, after quite a long drive up from Kuala Lumpur International Airport. That was after a long flight from the UK, so naturally I was pretty shattered. Nonetheless, I arrived eager to make the most of my time there so, after checking in, I headed out to see if I could find any wildlife. About half an hour into my walk the fatigue kicked in. I soon realised what a poor decision I had made and, sensibly, I went straight back to bed!

The next morning I set out to recce the trails that I would later use for the expedition. I first opted for a trail which leads up to the summit of Gunung Jasar. The start of the trail isn't particularly inspiring (as part of the forest there has recently been cleared) but it improves fast. Most of it is nice-looking jungle like this (photo taken here but on a previous trip):

Cameron Highlands JungleCameron Highlands Jungle

Along the trail I came across my first interesting zoological encounter, a Robinson's forest dragon (Malayodracon robinsonsii) on the side of a tree:

Robinson's forest dragon (Malayodracon robinsonii)Robinson's forest dragon (Malayodracon robinsonii)

It doesn't take too long to reach the top of Gunung Jasar where there are good views (phone photo - I didn't pack a wide lens!):

Gunung Jasar ViewGunung Jasar View

When I was last here (5 years ago) we heard siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus) calling across the hills. It is a magical and uplifting sound. I was very sad that this time the hills were quiet.

After enjoying the view I descended Gunung Jasar via a dirt road which followed some electrical cables (possibly Trail 6 - I'm not sure, it wasn't very 'trail-like'...) which ends up in the Bharat tea estate (another phone photo):

Bharat Tea PlantationBharat Tea Plantation

The tea plantation was interesting (tea and the associated 'agrotourism' is a big deal in the Cameron Highlands) but otherwise this part of the walk wasn't great. The worst bit was the walk along the busy and winding road back into Tanah Rata.

After lunch I thought I might as well get the other day of the school expedition recce'd as well - if I could do it in one day the kids couldn't really complain about doing it over two! For this I chose to walk Trails 5 then 6, ending at the Forestry department (which is also where the campsite that we'll be using is). About half-way through this walk there is a rain shelter (I should  say 'was' - it's currently a pile of rubble). Whilst I was having a rest stop, I heard some distinctly primate-like activity up in the trees. After a lot of waiting, watching and listening I caught sight of a troop of white-thighed surilis (Presbytis siamensis). They were distant and viciously backlit so were something of a challenge to photograph:

White-thighed surili (Presbytis siamensis)White-thighed surili (Presbytis siamensis)

After completing my recce, my work was done so I went back to my hotel. That evening (which was new year's eve!) I was keen to try again to see some nocturnal creatures so I went on a short walk around the area. I came across a few of these poisonous rock frogs (Odorrana hosii), by a river just outside town:

Poisonous rock frog (Odorrana hosii)Poisonous rock frog (Odorrana hosii)

There were also good numbers of some species of torrent frog, but they had a habit of hiding in inaccessible places so I didn't manage to get a photo.

There were plenty of spiders like this huntsman (Heteropoda sp.):

Huntsman spider (Heteropoda sp.)Huntsman spider (Heteropoda sp.)

I also found this curious-looking cockroach nymph from the Epilamprinae subfamily:

Cockroach nymph (Epilamprinae)Cockroach nymph (Epilamprinae)

Sadly, that was all that I about had the energy for after a pretty tiring few days of travel and trekking, so I called it quits early and went to bed.

The next morning (happy new year!) I checked out of the hotel and started out towards Fraser's Hill (Bukit Fraser). I knew that I couldn't check in to my accommodation until late afternoon so I decided to build in a few stops along the way.

Since reading Alfred Russel Wallace's great book 'The Malay Archipelago', my favourite butterfly has always been the Rajah Brooke's birdwing (Trogonoptera brookiana). Animals with a connection to Wallace are always special to me so I am on a mission to try and seek them out. This species was named by him after his friend James Brooke, the 'White Rajah' of Sarawak. This morning I wanted to check out a few sites where they could be seen to try and photograph them.

The first site was a 'recreational forest' called Kuala Woh, near the bottom of the main Cameron Highlands road. This site gets good write-ups by butterfly enthusiasts in blogs and online reports etc. Sadly, I had no luck and except for a fleeting encounter with an unidentified raptor I didn't see anything at all.

I then travelled onwards to an alternative location that I had visited 5 years ago. This spot is fairly close to the town of Gopeng, next to an Orang Asli village called Kampung Ulu Geroh. On arrival I parked up and wandered around until I easily found about half a dozen T. brookiana 'puddling' at what I assume was a mineral lick. They are quite conspicuous butterflies. They are also quite jittery, but after about half an hour of waiting for them to settle I managed to get photos of one individual:

Rajah Brooke's birdwing (Trogonoptera brookiana)Rajah Brooke's birdwing (Trogonoptera brookiana)

They are truly a beautiful butterfly. Last time I was here I saw greater numbers, but I may have just come at the wrong time - it was late morning by the time I got there. The area is very limited in size and boxed-in by plantations so I'm not really sure how healthy the population is. During my time with the butterflies I also managed to get bitten by leeches on both my hands! As I write this, nearly two months afterwards, the bites still bother me...

Anyway, happy with my butterfly success I then continued on to Fraser's Hill - the main focus of the trip. It was a straightforward drive and I enjoyed the drive up 'the gap' in particular. Upon arriving at the hill station I still had some time to fill before I could check in so I did some wandering around, managing a few observations.

My wife and I coined some new terms on our previous visits to Fraser's Hill. 'Birding' and 'herping' already exist as established pursuits but we decided that Fraser's Hill was a hotspot for 'squirrelling'. There are loads of squirrels there and a good diversity of species. We also coined a term for a new occupational health condition called 'squirrelneck' - a strain caused by spending too long looking up at squirrels in trees!

A Pallas' (a.k.a. red-bellied) squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus) was my first squirrel species of this trip:

Pallas' squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus)Pallas' squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus)

Another interesting finding at this point was this parallel-spined spiny orbweaver spider (Gasteracantha diardi) which had spun its web across the road. There were plenty of cars so I'm not quite sure how its web remained intact.

Parallel-spined spiny orbweaver (Gasteracantha diardi)Parallel-spined spiny orbweaver (Gasteracantha diardi)

Later that afternoon I checked into my accommodation, a lodge called Stephen's Place. The lodge is well-positioned on 'Telekom loop' and is a great base for naturalists. It helps that the owner (Stephen Hogg) is an ex-BBC wildlife cameraman and that his son is a multiple award winner in the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. I spent three days and nights there and they were very productive.

Shortly into my first nighttime excursion I found this slender-legged horned frog (Megophrys longipes):

Slender-legged horned frog (Megophrys longipes)Slender-legged horned frog (Megophrys longipes)

The frog was hiding in a drain by the side of the road and to be honest I have no idea how I managed to see it - you can see how good its camouflage is! I crawled into and lay down in the drain to get the eye-level angle that I wanted. When I got up after I'd finished taking photos, a large reed snake (Calamaria sp.) suddenly appeared underneath me - it  must have been there the whole time! Note to myself to check for this sort of thing in the future.

The night was quite slow after this and I went for about 4 hours without any sightings at all. However, just before I turned in I had an amazing encounter with a family of no fewer than five masked palm civets (Paguma larvata), though you will have to take my word for it as it went unphotographed! They were running along a telegraph cable in a procession and I couldn't for the life of me focus on them in the dark...

When I got back to my accommodation, the owner had set up a white sheet with some lights on. It was covered with a huge diversity of moths, cicadas, mantises, beetles and other insects. Here are the highlights from the first night:

MantisMantis Hawkmoth (Ambulyx sp.)Hawkmoth (Ambulyx sp.) Hawkmoth (Hippotion sp.)Hawkmoth (Hippotion sp.) Mango hawkmoth (Amplypterus panopus)Mango hawkmoth (Amplypterus panopus) Dark-based gliding hawkmoth (Ambulyx substrigilis)Dark-based gliding hawkmoth (Ambulyx substrigilis) Asota productaAsota producta

The next morning was extremely foggy. I didn't know at this point but in fact, the fog was to continue for the rest of my time there. This presented me with a few problems - wildlife was harder to see and, unless I could get within about a few metres of it, almost impossible to photograph. I was quite frustrated because one of my targets was the aforementioned siamang - an animal that I have often heard but never seen. Siamang can only really be located when they start singing and they only do this when it is sunny. Once again, I missed them on this trip. Oh well.

Instead, I decided to spend most of the morning in the garden photographing birds. It was amazing just how many species could be seen in a relatively small area:

Mountain bulbul (Ixos mcclellandii)Mountain bulbul (Ixos mcclellandii) Verditer flycatcher (Eumyias thalassinus)Verditer flycatcher (Eumyias thalassinus) Black-throated sunbird (Aethopyga saturata)Black-throated sunbird (Aethopyga saturata) Black-throated sunbird (Aethopyga saturata)Black-throated sunbird (Aethopyga saturata) Chestnut-capped laughingthrush (Ianthocincla mitrata)Chestnut-capped laughingthrush (Ianthocincla mitrata) Mountain fulvetta (Alcippe peracensis)Mountain fulvetta (Alcippe peracensis) Silver eared mesia (Leiothrix argentauris)Silver eared mesia (Leiothrix argentauris) Black-browed barbet (Psilopogon oorti)Black-browed barbet (Psilopogon oorti) Streaked spiderhunter (Arachnothera magna)Streaked spiderhunter (Arachnothera magna) White-throated fantail (Rhipidura albicollis)White-throated fantail (Rhipidura albicollis)

I should say that (due to the fog) most of these photos have been substantially 'dehazed' using the tool in Adobe Lightroom. The barbet photo was the only one on which this tool was ineffective, so on this photo you can see the reality of the weather conditions there!

The next night was another slow one and I only managed a couple of notable sightings. The first was this huge Malayan jungle nymph (Heteropteryx dilatata). As soon as I got close to it, it adopted a defensive posture which I swear is an imitation of a scorpion:

Malayan jungle nymph (Heteropteryx dilatata)Malayan jungle nymph (Heteropteryx dilatata)

Later that night I encountered a small Siamese peninsular pit viper (Trimeresurus sabahi fucatus apparently though pit viper taxonomy seems to change by the hour). I did something very stupid while photographing this beautiful snake - at one point I put my camera (with a bulky flash diffuser) down on top of my bag. My camera then fell off the bag and landed with a clatter on the road, breaking the autofocus on my macro lens. I'm still not sure if my camera / lens is also damaged in other ways too. Anyway, I did manage to use manual focus to photograph the snake:

Siamese peninsula pitviper (Trimeresurus sabahi fucatus)Siamese peninsula pitviper (Trimeresurus sabahi fucatus)

After returning to my accommodation I had another session with the moths and other insect life that had been attracted to the lights and the white sheet. There was an entirely new collection to photograph:

Anisoneura alucoAnisoneura aluco Ambulyx canescensAmbulyx canescens Pogonopygia nigralbataPogonopygia nigralbata Dull forest hawkmoth (Acosmeryx pseudonaga)Dull forest hawkmoth (Acosmeryx pseudonaga) Common striped hawkmoth (Marumba cristata)Common striped hawkmoth (Marumba cristata) MothMoth May beetle (Phyllophaga sp.)May beetle (Phyllophaga sp.) Longhorn beetle (Moechotypa sp.)Longhorn beetle (Moechotypa sp.) CicadaCicada

The next morning I had the same problem as the previous one. Fog, fog and more fog - so again I sat in the garden. This time, the morning session was good for some squirrelling, with two squirrel species seen at close quarters along with a common treeshrew (Tupaia glis):

Pallas' squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus)Pallas' squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus) Asian red-cheeked squirrel (Dremomys rufigenis)Asian red-cheeked squirrel (Dremomys rufigenis) Common treeshrew (Tupaia glis)Common treeshrew (Tupaia glis)

The morning was also once again good for birds. I saw all of the same species as yesterday plus a few new ones:

Mugimaki flycatcher (Ficedula mugimaki)Mugimaki flycatcher (Ficedula mugimaki) Long-tailed sibia (Heterophasia picaoides)Long-tailed sibia (Heterophasia picaoides) Little pied flycatcher (Ficedula westermanni)Little pied flycatcher (Ficedula westermanni)

After an hour or so in the garden I headed down into the main centre of Fraser's Hill to see if there was less fog there. It was a slight improvement...but not much! I first checked out the bishop's trail, reputedly a good spot for siamang. No siamang, although there was a troop of white-thighed surilis sat in the trees outside the trail entrance (or exit). If only it hadn't been so foggy they would have made for some excellent photos - they were so much less shy than the ones I encountered earlier in the Cameron Highlands! I trekked the whole trail (its quite short) and saw or heard nothing else except a healthy population of leeches.

After a bit of trotting around town I did eventually spot a few additional bird species:

Oriental magpie robin (Copsychus saularis)Oriental magpie robin (Copsychus saularis) Large niltava (Niltava grandis)Large niltava (Niltava grandis) Lesser racket-tailed drongo (Dicrurus remifer)Lesser racket-tailed drongo (Dicrurus remifer) Red-headed trogon (Harpactes erythrocephalus)Red-headed trogon (Harpactes erythrocephalus)

I also added another new species to my squirrelling list - a grey-bellied squirrel (Callosciurus caniceps):

Grey-bellied squirrel (Callosciurus caniceps)Grey-bellied squirrel (Callosciurus caniceps)

A troop of the ubiquitous long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis, a.k.a. the 'jungle mafia') was also present in the centre of town, including this individual who looked like it had barely survived a fight:

Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis)Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis)

In the afternoon I went on a brief stroll down to the Jeriau waterfall. I wouldn't rate it - the waterfall isn't that pretty and I didn't see much there. My only encounter was with this juvenile Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator):

Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator)Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator)

This was my last night in Fraser's Hill and it ended on a real high for me. Stephen (the owner of my accommodation) very kindly lent me a thermal imaging camera - a bit of kit way beyond my own budget! Though it took some getting used to, using this gave me a bit of an edge and I finally got to see my 'holy grail' species - the Sunda slow loris (Nycticebus coucang):

Sunda slow loris (Nycticebus coucang)Sunda slow loris (Nycticebus coucang)

You may notice something quite strange about its eyes - the apparent 'lasers' firing out of them are due to my camera flash, first reflected from its eyes then further reflected and scattered by the dense fog. The fog is otherwise not apparent as once again I have used Adobe Lightroom's 'dehaze' tool. Unfortunately it's beyond my skills in Lightroom to fix this optical effect. I didn't bother the loris for too long, only taking a couple of photos (ethical note - my flash was on low power and the photo was taken from a good distance. The above photo is cropped and taken at 420mm on a crop-sensor camera). He seemed largely unbothered by my presence and was happily licking sap off the side of the tree. This was a wonderful encounter that left me very happy indeed.

I also spotted some plume-toed swiftlets (Collocalia affinis) in a disused garage:

Plume-toed swiftlet (Collocalia affinis)Plume-toed swiftlet (Collocalia affinis)

Before turning in for the night, one final check of the white sheet / light setup yielded some interesting new species:

Erebus caprimulgusErebus caprimulgus Lappet moth (Kunugia basidiscata)Lappet moth (Kunugia basidiscata) Longhorn beetleLonghorn beetle Malaysian moon moth (Actias maenas)Malaysian moon moth (Actias maenas) Yellow underwing (Thyas coronata)Yellow underwing (Thyas coronata) MothMoth Lichen moth (Cyana sp.)Lichen moth (Cyana sp.) Dull double-bristled hawkmoth (Meganoton nyctiphanes)Dull double-bristled hawkmoth (Meganoton nyctiphanes)

The drive down from Fraser's Hill gave me one last encounter - a troop of southern pig-tailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina) by the roadside. As I approached them (with the windows down), foolishly hoping for a photograph - a huge (and rather ripped) male ran up to the car and thrust his arm through the window! I managed to close the window (without hurting the macaque) and, as I drove past, seeing several of them sprinting after me, decided to abandon that particular photo opportunity!

In all, it was a great trip. Even though I missed out on the siamang, I finally got to see my all-time favourite species (I'm on 3 loris species now) so I left very happy. I'm sure I'll be back again.



*'The right to roam' (a privilege that we have in the UK) doesn't exist here. In Bali it is particularly bad - areas that would be good for trekking are 'managed' to a large extent. Would-be adventurers and naturalists are generally coerced into using guides at high prices even if they are not needed or wanted. I have heard it said that guides are a 'legal requirement' but I am not entirely convinced.

(Robin James Nature Photography) cameron highlands fraser's hill loris malaysia malaysia wildlife malaysia wildlife photography malaysian wildlife moth robin james robin james nature photo slow loris stephen's place wildlife wildlife photography Sat, 15 Feb 2020 12:46:12 GMT
Dubai (United Arab Emirates) 1-4th November 2019 In November 2019 I went on a short trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates for a work training course. From what I had read and heard, I had a feeling that Dubai was probably not going to be my cup of tea - for a start the place isn't exactly renowned or marketed as a wildlife destination. However, I wasn't sure if the opportunity to photograph desert animals would ever come my way again so I was keen to make the most of the opportunity.

I managed to get some information about wildlife watching there in advance of my trip and it wasn't particularly encouraging. It transpired that November wasn't really a good time of year for reptiles (too cold) and I was told that mammals were just generally hard to see there. Either way, I thought I would give it a go so I decided to hire a car so that I had the freedom to get out of the city and do some exploring (in the little free time I had when I wasn't on the course).

Arriving in the early hours of the morning, I picked up my rental car and (after some trouble figuring out how to get out of the airport and then the city) made my way down to an area of man-made lakes south of Dubai itself. From the map it looked like a good spot so I was keen to do some exploring. In wasn't a fruitful night or morning - the area was absolutely chock-full of happy campers / fishers making loads of noise and I didn't feel entirely comfortable wandering around with my camera gear - in truth I had hoped for somewhere a little more remote!

After a long morning sat in the car (in the dark), the sun eventually came up and life began to appear. Birds were fairly abundant but very wary - it was challenging to get close to anything, even using the car as a hide. I managed a couple of photos, but nothing too special:

Grey francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus)Grey francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus)

Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

I was really hoping to see and photograph some mammals on the trip, but sadly I didn't have much luck. At one point, I got rather excited when I caught a glimpse of some Arabian gazelle (Gazella arabica), not too far from where I was. I ventured out of the car with my camera and tried to sneak up on them using the dunes as cover...but when I next caught sight of them they were already on the horizon!

It would have really made the trip for me to have seen an Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx). This animal is very special, having been formerly declared 'Extinct in the Wild' then subsequently saved due to a successful captive breeding programme. I knew that they (admittedly semi-wild / domesticated animals) could be found in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve but trips there seemed to be extortionately priced, and the 'safaris' advertised online seemed to have a strange lack of focus on wildlife watching. I had been given the impression that they could also be found in the area that I planned to explore, but I didn't manage to see any.

I was very fortunate in one regard - one of the people that I had spoken to online before my trip was going to be in town from my second day onwards, and he offered to show me round some locations where he had seen reptiles. On the night he arrived, we drove to a patch of desert somewhere just outside of the city and explored for a few hours. My associate was excellent at finding reptiles and I'm very grateful for his help, for which he asked for nothing in return.

The highlight of the night for me was seeing these two Arabian horned vipers (Cerastes gasperettii) in the sand:

Arabian horned viper (Cerastes gasperettii)Arabian horned viper (Cerastes gasperettii)

Arabian horned viper (Cerastes gasperettii)Arabian horned viper (Cerastes gasperettii)

They were very different to the vipers that I have grown accustomed to seeing in the tropics, and I was delighted to see them.

I'm not sure if it's obvious from these photos, but prior to this trip I made a change to my macro lighting setup. For the last couple of years I've been using a ringflash (Nissin MF18) for all my macro photography. I've generally found it to be an excellent bit of kit for straightforward 'documentation' photography...which is mostly what I do. However, in a lot of situations the lighting is a bit boring and it's quite bulky to have in my camera bag. I've also been keen to experiment with properly diffused lighting, so I thought I would have a go at doing what a lot of macro photographers do and make my own diffuser. So I did - using my standard flashgun, a reflector and some thin foam sheets.

After my first attempt on this trip I'm a little on the fence about it. The pros of the setup are that I think the light is nice and diffused, and I only need to take one flashgun out with me. The cons are that, when attached to the camera, the thing is quite big, clumsy and flimsy, and at the minute it takes me forever to get it set up! Time will tell if it's going to work out!

Back to the wildlife! We also saw numerous geckos, again very different in appearance and habits to the geckos that I've seen in SE Asia:

Middle Eastern short-fingered gecko (Stenodactylus doriae)Middle Eastern short-fingered gecko (Stenodactylus doriae) Southern tuberculated gecko (Bunopus tuberculatus)Southern tuberculated gecko (Bunopus tuberculatus) Arabian short-fingered gecko (Trigonodactylus arabicus)Arabian short-fingered gecko (Trigonodactylus arabicus)

There wasn't too much insect life when we were there, but I managed to get a photo of this Arabian darkling beetle (Pimelia arabica) - we saw quite a few, but they usually had their heads buried in the sand!:

Arabian darkling beetle (Pimelia arabica)Arabian darkling beetle (Pimelia arabica)

The next night we went on a very long drive out of the city to a 'wadi' (the Arabic term for a valley) where we had hoped to see some more snake species and possibly some mammals. It was a very adventurous drive, but sadly we put a lot more in than we got out! Despite hours of driving and several more hours clambering over rocks and wading through rivers, we saw very little. No snakes or mammals at all.

What we did see was a lot of Arabian toads (Sclerophrys arabica). I didn't know the species until I looked it up after the trip. In fact, the ones I saw all looked quite different and I spent ages with them, wrongly thinking that I was photographing several different species!:

Arabian toad (Sclerophrys arabica)Arabian toad (Sclerophrys arabica)

Arabian toad (Sclerophrys arabica)Arabian toad (Sclerophrys arabica)

We also saw another new gecko species (a Banded ground gecko Trachydactylus hajarensis) which was a nice bonus:

Banded ground gecko (Trachydactylus hajarensis)Banded ground gecko (Trachydactylus hajarensis)

In all, I found the trip interesting and I'm pleased that I got to see a few desert species. Dubai's not somewhere that I'd go out of my way to explore again, nor somewhere I would rave about to wildlife lovers, but if you have a layover for a flight there then there's some interesting stuff to see outside of the city.

It's also probably more productive at a different time of year, if you have the luxury of choice!



(Robin James Nature Photography) desert desert wildlife dubai dubai wildlife dubai wildlife photography gecko horned viper nature photography robin james robin james nature photo uae united arab emirates wildlife wildlife photography Sat, 08 Feb 2020 15:48:11 GMT
Borneo (Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Malaysia) July and September 2019 This is the second of 2 posts covering 2 trips that I made to Sabah in Malaysian Borneo this year. My previous post ended as I left Deramakot Forest Reserve for the Kinabatangan river area.

July 2019

After leaving Deramakot I transferred to Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp which is situated on an ox-bow lake just by the Kinabatangan river. The jungle camp is a truly fantastic place, a small establishment run by a dedicated and hardworking team of nature-lovers. On a previous trip to the river I stayed at the better-known 'Uncle Tan's' further down the river, which I enjoyed, but not nearly as much. Tanjung Bulat is well-managed by Afiq, and my guide for the trip was the dedicated, knowledgable and keen-eyed Joey.

Boat trips are the main activity in the Kinabatangan river area, with good sightings of animals possible direct from the boat*.

Daytime boat trips yielded some excellent sightings of wild Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), such as this impressive male:

Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)

The curious-looking Borneo endemic proboscis monkeys (Nasalis larvatus) were numerous in the area. They could be seen moving through the trees around the jungle camp itself, sometimes in quite large groups. However, getting good photos was difficult - the ones I saw tended to hide in the darker areas of forest:

Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus)Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus)

Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus)Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus)

There were great bird viewing opportunities by the riverside. Here are a couple of daytime bird highlights:

Collared kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris)Collared kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) Crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela)Crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela)

We also went out on the boat at night, and this yielded some great viewing opportunities of a huge 5-metre saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) that inhabits the ox-bow lake:

Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)

We also had great sightings of buffy fish-owls (Ketupa ketupu, some 10 or so seen in one night) and various sleeping birds:

Buffy fish owl (Ketupa ketupu)Buffy fish owl (Ketupa ketupu) Stork-billed kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis)Stork-billed kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis) Black-and-red broadbill (Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos)Black-and-red broadbill (Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos)

The jungle camp itself was impressively alive and I had excellent wildlife encounters within the camp grounds. This Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator) was constantly patrolling the local area, presumably scavenging for whatever it could find:

Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator)Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator)

Joey did a great impression of the song of the white-crowned shama (Copsychus stricklandii) and was able to tempt this one out into a clearing:

White-crowned shama (Copsychus stricklandii)White-crowned shama (Copsychus stricklandii)

This least pygmy squirrel (Exilisciurus exilis) - seen in the trees outside my accommodation - was a challenge to photograph - tiny and lightning-fast!:

Least pygmy squirrel (Exilisciurus exilis)Least pygmy squirrel (Exilisciurus exilis)

From the smallest to the biggest - this cream-coloured giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis) was seen only a short distance away from the pygmy squirrel. It always annoys me when I can't get the whole animal in the photo, but with a prime lens I couldn't zoom out, and 'foot zoom' wasn't possible here...

Cream-coloured giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis)Cream-coloured giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis)

Malay civets (Viverra tangalunga) were frequently encountered in Deramakot, but despite this I didn't manage to get anything approaching a decent photo. At Tanjung Bulat I got lucky - as there are resident ones! They slept during the day but came out and became quite bold during late evening. They were easy to see in the spaces underneath the buildings:

Malay civet (Viverra tangalunga)Malay civet (Viverra tangalunga)

This Borneo skink (Dasia vittata) lived outside my room and kept me company throughout my stay:

Borneo skink (Dasia vittata)Borneo skink (Dasia vittata)

That was my last sighting at Tanjung Bulat for this visit but there is more to come later in this post as - 2 months later - I returned! For a school trip, mind, but obviously I still packed my camera!

After Tanjung Bulat, en route to Sepilok, I made a quick stop at Gomantong caves as many people seem to get lucky there with orangutans and maroon langurs (Presbytis rubicunda). I, however, did not, and saw nothing at all! Never mind...

On my very last day I went for one more trip to the Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC) and - wow - was it worth it! First off, a couple of new reptilian sightings:

Bartlett's flying dragon (Draco cornutus)Bartlett's flying dragon (Draco cornutus) Skink (Scincidae)Skink (Scincidae)

Second, some great sightings of some familiar birds:

Greater coucal (Centropus sinensis)Greater coucal (Centropus sinensis) Olive-backed sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis)Olive-backed sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) Ashy tailorbird (Orthotomus ruficeps)Ashy tailorbird (Orthotomus ruficeps)

Third, a couple of intimate encounters with mammal species that had otherwise eluded me so far this trip:

Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina)Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina) Prevost's squirrel (Callosciurus prevostii)Prevost's squirrel (Callosciurus prevostii)

Finally - after dark, as the ultimate climax for my trip - a super close encounter with my all-time favourite animal - the slow loris! And not just one, but 3 Philippine slow lorises (Nycticebus menagensis). It looked like a small family group (note - I could only fit 2 of them in this photo):

Philippine slow loris (Nycticebus menagensis)Philippine slow loris (Nycticebus menagensis)

Naturally, I left Borneo super-happy after so many amazing wildlife encounters...but also because I knew I was coming back in 2 months!

September 2019

I returned to Sabah for the second time in 2019 for a school Biology trip. This time I was accompanied by 2 colleagues and 18 of my students and the Borneo part of the trip was only 4D / 3N in total. Once again, we were looked after by Afiq and Joey who did a great job.

At Tanjung Bulat I was pleased to be acquainted with a few familiar faces around the camp:

Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator)Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator) Malay civet (Viverra tangalunga)Malay civet (Viverra tangalunga)

Daytime boat trips were even more productive than they were for my earlier trip, particularly for primates:

Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis)Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) Maroon langur (Presbytis rubicunda)Maroon langur (Presbytis rubicunda) Silvered langur (Trachypithecus cristatus)Silvered langur (Trachypithecus cristatus)

There seemed to be many more blue-eared kingfishers (Alcedo meninting) this time round, such as this one underneath the jungle camp dining area:

Blue-eared kingfisher (Alcedo meninting)Blue-eared kingfisher (Alcedo meninting)

This trip involved activities done on foot as well as boat-based ones. Trekking during the day and at night yielded some interesting encounters:

Stick insect (Phasmatodea)Stick insect (Phasmatodea) Pill millipede (Oniscomorpha)Pill millipede (Oniscomorpha) Hooded pitta (Pitta sordida)Hooded pitta (Pitta sordida) Oriental dwarf kingfisher (Ceyx erithaca)Oriental dwarf kingfisher (Ceyx erithaca) Blue-eared kingfisher (Alcedo meninting)Blue-eared kingfisher (Alcedo meninting)

Night-time boat trips in the ox-bow lake produced even more close encounters with impressive saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porusus):

Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)

On our final day we transferred to Sepilok to do the touristy stuff. A bonus of this was a close encounter with southern pig-tailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina) at the Bornean sun bear centre, along with a couple of extra wild animal sightings around town:

Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina)Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina) Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina)Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina) Plantain squirrel (Callosciurus notatus)Plantain squirrel (Callosciurus notatus) White-breasted waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)White-breasted waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)

That night, we did a night walk at the RDC which yielded some great close encounters.

It's fairly guaranteed there that (at dusk) you will see red giant flying squirrels (Petaurista petaurista) emerging from nest boxes, climbing up trees and gliding away. The light at this time of the evening is minimal so this is a high ISO (and therefore noisy) image:

Red giant flying squirrel (Petaurista petaurista)Red giant flying squirrel (Petaurista petaurista)

The real highlight of the night for me was seeing 3 spiny terrapins (Heosemys spinosa) trotting around the forest floor (only 2 of them photographed):

Spiny terrapin (Heosemys spinosa)Spiny terrapin (Heosemys spinosa) Spiny terrapin (Heosemys spinosa)Spiny terrapin (Heosemys spinosa)

This juvenile Bornean keeled pit viper (Tropidolaemus subannulatus) was also a nice bonus to end the trip with:

Bornean keeled pit viper (Tropidolaemus subannulatus)Bornean keeled pit viper (Tropidolaemus subannulatus)

This marks the end of my 9th trip to Borneo - obviously I'll be back sometime to make it a round 10!




*The unfortunate truth behind the ease of sightings at the Kinabatangan is that the riverine forest is actually quite thin and, with a sea of oil palm behind, the animals don't really have much forest to hide in. Quite sad really.

(Robin James Nature Photography) adventure alternative adventure alternative borneo borneo borneo mammal watching borneo mammals borneo wildlife borneo wildlife photography jungle camp kinabatangan malaysia orangutan proboscis monkey robin james robin james nature photo sabah tanjung bulat wildlife wildlife of borneo wildlife photography Sun, 29 Sep 2019 14:15:41 GMT
Borneo (Deramakot, Sabah, Malaysia) July 2019 This is the first of 2 posts covering 2 trips that I was lucky to make to Sabah in Malaysian Borneo this year.

The first trip (in July) involved spending 8 days / 7 nights in Deramakot forest reserve, 3 days / 2 nights by the Kinabatangan river plus a night either side in the Sepilok area. I'll start by saying that I was a strange mixture of excited and anxious about this trip - though it was my 8th trip to Borneo I had not been back since 2016 and my previous trip (to the Danum Valley) had been something of an expensive disappointment. It's safe to say that this trip certainly made up for that!

Both these trips were organised through Adventure Alternative Borneo. I would highly recommend them, in particular their guide Mike Gordon for his knowledge, spotting ability and tireless dedication. I would also give a massive thumbs up to Afiq and Joey at Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp by the Kinabatangan for their warm hospitality, dedication and expertise. Information about them and the jungle camp experience will follow in my next post.

Prior to arriving in Borneo I had one full day in KL. This was mainly for me to check out a few locations for an upcoming school trip, however I did manage to fit in a quick visit to the Putrajaya wetlands. I used this opportunity to dust off my camera gear and check it was all in order. These wetlands are an interesting place with decent populations of herons, storks and monitor lizards (amongst other things). In terms of photography it's not great though - I couldn't get remotely close to anything, suggesting that the animals there are wary of people. Quite sensible. I made a few sightings which are below, though there was nothing too exciting. The pelicans there are introduced, but they are still cool birds:

Hubner's wasp moth (Amata huebneri)Hubner's wasp moth (Amata huebneri) Plantain squirrel (Callosciurus notatus)Plantain squirrel (Callosciurus notatus) Painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala)Painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala) Great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus)Great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) Great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus)Great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) Domestic pigeon (Columba livia domestica)Domestic pigeon (Columba livia domestica)

My first day in Borneo was spent in the (touristy) area of Sepilok, where I had to wait a day before transferring to Deramakot. Since I had already visited this area before, I eschewed the orangutan and sun bear centres in favour of the rainforest discovery centre (RDC), somewhere I missed last time around. I feel that the name makes it sound a little tame but in fact it is a terrific place - a lovely patch of rainforest with great wildlife opportunities. The canopy walkways and observations towers are probably the best I have seen in the region.

At the RDC I met up with one of the people that was to be joining me in Deramakot and together we explored the forest.

About 10 minutes in I had my first encounter with a tractor millipede (family Platyrhacidae). I wanted to get my eye in for macro photography so I spent quite a while photographing it. I wasn't to know at this point that by the end of my trip I would see hundreds of them!:

Tractor millipede (Platyrhacidae)Tractor millipede (Platyrhacidae)

During our morning stroll we had a couple of brief encounters with forest birds, but with the temperature rising fast sightings were generally few and far between:

Crimson-winged woodpecker (Picus puniceus)Crimson-winged woodpecker (Picus puniceus) Rufous-collared kingfisher (Actenoides concretus)Rufous-collared kingfisher (Actenoides concretus)

A nice early bonus was seeing a young Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), though almost certainly one of the 'semi-wild' ones that roam in the area and obtain food from the nearby centre:

Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)

That evening, we went on a guided night walk at the RDC. This turned out to be a great decision, with numerous interesting sightings. An early one was this super-photogenic lantern bug (Pyrops whiteheadi):

Lantern bug (Pyrops whiteheadi)Lantern bug (Pyrops whiteheadi)

We also encountered a curious huntsman spider. There was lots of excitement when we were informed that it was the recently described David Bowie spider (Heteropoda davidbowie) but subsequent research revealed this ID to be incorrect. It is in fact the much less catchily-named Thelcticopis orichalcea. It's still a funky spider though:

Huntsman spider (Thelcticopis orichalcea)Huntsman spider (Thelcticopis orichalcea)

Towards the end of the evening we caught a brief glimpse of a Sunda stink badger (Mydaus javanensis), however I didn't manage to get a photo.

For me, the most exciting observation of the evening was my first ever slow loris - an animal that I had waited years to see in the wild. It was high up and well-concealed so a photo eluded me at this point, but it still made for a fantastic start to the trip!

The next day we set off for Deramakot. This involved a stop at the small town of Telupid where we met up with Mike and the other members of the group. On the way we saw the first of many oriental darters (Anhinga melanogaster), this one posing near a body of water:

Oriental darter (Anhinga melanogaster)Oriental darter (Anhinga melanogaster)

After a couple of hours driving we arrived at our comfortable accommodation in Deramakot and settled in. Deramakot is an interesting place - the forest is managed by Sabah Forestry and is selectively logged. A logging concession may sound like an odd place to go wildlife watching but the management of the area comes with some positives. The principal one is that the area has not simply been razed and converted into an oil palm plantation like much of the rest of Borneo. The other is that the logging roads make the forest accessible for wildlife watching. Using these roads you can cover large distances in a vehicle, increasing the chances of seeing rare and shy animals.

Over the next 8 days and 7 nights we followed a particular routine each day. We would set out late afternoon / early evening and drive along the roads, keeping our eyes out for wildlife on the way. This turned out to be a highly effective method for seeing wildlife as - even though we visited the same areas night after night - each time we would see something different.

During the daytime I would occasionally head out on foot and explore the trails around the forestry headquarters. This yielded some interesting findings. In hindsight I wish I had got out more however the late nights quickly took their toll!

At night, the various lights around the headquarters attracted a huge array of insect / invertebrate life. It was particularly fruitful to investigate the walls of the huts in the early mornings for a fantastic selection of moths, cicadas, beetles, mantises etc. This was made even better by the use of a UV light bulb and a white sheet set up by one of my companions.

Over the 8 days, we saw so much wildlife that rather than give a chronological account of each day I will instead highlight our sightings by type of animal.


The mammals are the main reason people have started flocking to Deramakot in recent years, and for this group of animals it truly did not disappoint. The highlight of the trip was an encounter with a male Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi borneensis). The experience was really quite surreal - Mike initially saw it as it had almost finished crossing the road in front of us and most of us only caught a fleeting glimpse. We stopped and waited for some time and it briefly reappeared to the side of our vehicle before disappearing for what felt like an age. It was obviously aware of us but it did not seem to be overly phased by our presence.

Over the next hour or so it played a strange game of hide and seek with us. A few times we drove back along the road, to see it reappear and disappear sporadically. It was clear that it preferred to travel along the roads but when it got close it disappeared into the thicket by the road and then reappeared further along. I tried my best to get photos but didn't manage anything noteworthy - we had agreed not to use flash so I was at ISO 12,800 and an utterly suboptimal shutter speed of around 1/125s. Anyway, what an experience - and at least I got a record shot!:

Bornean clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi borneensis)Bornean clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi borneensis)

It really was a great trip for cats. Maybe not so much in terms of numbers of species (Borneo has 5, we saw 2 of them) but in addition to the clouded leopard we saw an astonishing number of Sunda leopard cats (Prionailurus javanensis). People may not believe me, but we reckoned at least 10 most nights, with a trip total of around 80-100! Some were more obliging than others but, with this many encounters, I had ample opportunities to photograph them:

Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis)Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis) Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis)Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis)

Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis)Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis)
Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis)Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis)

After reading so much about their plight, never in my life did I think I would ever get to see a pangolin, never mind the critically endangered Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica). On this trip I still can't believe myself when I say that we saw 2 separate individuals! The first was a large individual which was just crossing the road in front of us:

Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica)Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica)

The second (!) pangolin encounter was another great sighting by Mike. This individual was already in the vegetation by the roadside, and it quickly disappeared up a small tree. We could only get a glimpse of it through all the foliage, but still what an amazing and lucky sighting!:

Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica)Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica)

We saw a good selection of civet species throughout the trip. Early on we encountered a species named in my book as the Bornean striped palm civet (Arctogalidia stigmatica). Some taxonomists apparently dispute the validity of the Bornean population being split from the small-toothed palm civet (Arctogalidia trivirgata) but anyway - whatever it is - its a cool-looking civet with an insanely long tail:

Bornean striped palm civet (Arctogalidia stigmatica)Bornean striped palm civet (Arctogalidia stigmatica)

Due to the arboreal habits of most civets, our sightings were usually quite distant, but occasionally we had really close encounters right by the roadside, like with this island palm civet (Paradoxurus philippinensis):

Island palm civet (Paradoxurus philippinensis)Island palm civet (Paradoxurus philippinensis)

We also had regular encounters with the mainly terrestrial Malay civets (Viverra tangalunga), but decent photo opportunities of this species only came later for me at the Kinabatangan so I'll share those photos in my next post. We also had encounters with a banded civet (Hemigalus derbyanus) and a pair of otter civets (Cynogale bennettii) but the encounters were over before I could even raise my camera!

We saw fewer sambar deer (Rusa unicolor) than I had expected (they were abundant at the Danum Valley), but we did have one or two clear sightings such as this one of a mother and its young:

Sambar deer (Rusa unicolor)Sambar deer (Rusa unicolor)

We also saw some Bornean yellow muntjac (Muntiacus atherodes) but a photo eluded me.

Mousedeer were about but skittish, tending to hide in the vegetation. I believe this is a lesser mousedeer (Tragulus kanchil) - but as the identifying features (notably the throat fur pattern) are partially obscured I can't be 100% certain:

Lesser mousedeer (Tragulus kanchil)Lesser mousedeer (Tragulus kanchil)

Sunda colugos (Galeopterus variegatus - fascinating and bizarre gliding mammals) were fairly numerous in Deramakot:

Sunda colugo (Galeopterus variegatus)Sunda colugo (Galeopterus variegatus)

We met Bornean pygmy elephants regularly, at least once each night. However, every encounter looked like this (!):

Borneo pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis)Borneo pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis)

It was great to see them, but I'll admit to being a bit sad that we didn't have any daytime encounters, so this is good as the photos get (note - no flash used, the light is from the jeep)!

I don't normally give much attention to bats, but we had some good encounters around Deramakot. Here are some highlights:

Diadem roundleaf bat (Hipposideros diadema)Diadem roundleaf bat (Hipposideros diadema)

Horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus sp.)Horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus sp.)

Trefoil horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus trifoliatus)Trefoil horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus trifoliatus)

This next curious creature is a moonrat (Echinosorex gymnura), a mammal that has such a powerful and off-putting odour that it doesn't even bother with camouflage! Sadly its face was mostly obscured...but at least you can see its unique colour scheme:

Moonrat (Echinosorex gymnura)Moonrat (Echinosorex gymnura)

Encounters with orangutan in Deramakot were relatively rare but it didn't matter - I had good sightings later on by the Kinabatangan. Gibbons were heard but not seen (by me at least). We did see a good number of my favourite animal the slow loris - but still, decent photos had to wait!

Other mammals that were seen but not photographed were numerous Thomas's and red giant flying squirrels (Aeromys thomasi and Petaurista petaurista). They were always very far away and very high up in the trees. We may also have seen other flying squirrel species but they are difficult to ID from a distance so I'm not sure. On one drive there was an excellent encounter with a Malayan porcupine (Hystrix bracyhura) but it was distant so I didn't raise my camera.

I left my camera trap by a salt lick for around a week. When I looked at the photos and footage, I was delighted to see photos of Bornean bearded pigs (Sus barbatus), an animal I have seen many times in Borneo but one which eluded me in person this time. One video also showed a small family group of elephants chasing them away from the salt lick!:

Bornean bearded pig (Sus barbatus)Bornean bearded pig (Sus barbatus)


We had an agreed focus on mammals on this trip however I was pleased that the group shared my interest in all forms of wildlife. At my request, Mike helped me and a couple of others to investigate several frog ponds around the forest reserve and these yielded various species. I was particularly pleased to see my first ever Wallace's flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus), a species described by and named after my hero Alfred Russel Wallace. These are the highlights:

Wallace's flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus)Wallace's flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus) Wallace's flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus)Wallace's flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus)

Dark-eared tree frog (Polypedates macrotis)Dark-eared tree frog (Polypedates macrotis)

Common green frog (Hylarana erythraea)Common green frog (Hylarana erythraea)

File-eared tree frog (Polypedates otilophus)File-eared tree frog (Polypedates otilophus)

Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis) Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)


The jeep-based nature of the trip meant that the trip had less of a herpetological focus than some of my trips have had this year. However, we still had a few interesting encounters.

Snake-wise, an encounter with a large reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus) went unphotographed, but I have already been very lucky with this species over the years!

Shortly after the excitement of the second pangolin subsided, I noticed this small snake just behind our jeep, believed to be a Samarinda reed snake (Calamaria hilleniusi):

Samarinda reed snake (Calamaria hilleniusi)Samarinda reed snake (Calamaria hilleniusi)

We spotted this striped dwarf treesnake (Lycodon tristrigatus) whilst we were out on a night drive as it had just emerged from a tree hollow:

Striped dwarf treesnake (Lycodon tristrigatus)Striped dwarf treesnake (Lycodon tristrigatus)

My attempts to photograph this dusky wolf snake (Lycodon albofuscus) in its entirety proved fruitless, so I had to settle for a head shot. It was very long and very active!:

Dusky wolf snake (Lycodon albofuscus)Dusky wolf snake (Lycodon albofuscus)

I didn't see many lizards, however a short walk along a trail around the forestry headquarters yielded a pair of sleeping Bornean anglehead lizards (Gonocephalus borneensis). The first (a male) was a particularly vivid red with an amazing crest:

Borneo anglehead lizard (Gonocephalus borneensis)Borneo anglehead lizard (Gonocephalus borneensis)

Borneo anglehead lizard (Gonocephalus borneensis)Borneo anglehead lizard (Gonocephalus borneensis)

I saw my first ever roughneck monitors (Varanus rudicollis), halfway up a tree in the reserve:

Roughneck monitor lizard (Varanus rudicollis)Roughneck monitor lizard (Varanus rudicollis)

The final reptile from Deramakot was this small, currently unidentified skink:

Skink (Scincidae)Skink (Scincidae)


Birds didn't receive too much of our attention on this trip but we all appreciated good sightings. Since we were out in the dark a lot we had some fantastic sightings of owls...

Barred eagle-owl (Bubo sumatranus)Barred eagle-owl (Bubo sumatranus)

Brown wood owl (Strix leptogrammica)Brown wood owl (Strix leptogrammica)

Buffy fish owl (Ketupa ketupu)Buffy fish owl (Ketupa ketupu) Oriental bay owl (Phodilus badius)Oriental bay owl (Phodilus badius)

...and during the night drives we also occasionally saw sleeping birds:

Yellow-bellied prinia (Prinia flaviventris)Yellow-bellied prinia (Prinia flaviventris) Oriental pied hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris)Oriental pied hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris)

During the day we saw many whiskered treeswift (Hemiprocne comata) - they always seemed refreshingly obliging and photogenic:

Whiskered treeswift (Hemiprocne comata)Whiskered treeswift (Hemiprocne comata) Whiskered treeswift (Hemiprocne comata)Whiskered treeswift (Hemiprocne comata)

There were some birds of prey about during the day, particularly Wallace's hawk-eagles (Nisaetus nanus) which we saw a few times. However, they were always too far away so I didn't bother to photograph them. The only species that I photographed was this crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela):

Crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela)Crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela)

I also got to see a flock of the much sought-after Bornean endemic species the Bornean bristlehead (Pityriasis gymnocephala) but my photo is so distant the bird itself is only about 10 pixels!

Insects, spiders and other invertebrates:

Wow, this is where Deramakot really surprised me - I couldn't believe how productive it was for this group of animals! I think I pretty much saw all of the giant insects that I read about as a child, plus a huge variety of species I hadn't previously heard of! I'll start with the beetles. The first one was one of only a few attempts I made with my new 15mm wide-angle macro lens:

Atlas beetle (Chalcosoma sp.)Atlas beetle (Chalcosoma sp.) Atlas beetle (Chalcosoma sp.)Atlas beetle (Chalcosoma sp.) Rhinoceros beetle (Dynastinae)Rhinoceros beetle (Dynastinae) Rhinoceros beetle (Dynastinae)Rhinoceros beetle (Dynastinae) Stag beetle (Odontolabis sp.)Stag beetle (Odontolabis sp.)
Stag beetle (Odontolabis sp.)Stag beetle (Odontolabis sp.) Stag beetle (Cyclommatus canaliculatus)Stag beetle (Cyclommatus canaliculatus) Wallace's cyriopalus beetle (Cyriopalus wallacei)Wallace's cyriopalus beetle (Cyriopalus wallacei) Sal borer (Hoplocerambyx spinicornis)Sal borer (Hoplocerambyx spinicornis) Violin beetle (Mormolyce phyllodes)Violin beetle (Mormolyce phyllodes) Trilobite beetle (Platerodrilus sp.)Trilobite beetle (Platerodrilus sp.)

The moth life of Deramakot was also incredible, with a staggering array of species. In particular, seeing 3 huge atlas moths (Attacus atlas) was a real highlight:

Atlas moth (Attacus atlas)Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) Acosmeryx anceusAcosmeryx anceus Ambulyx canescensAmbulyx canescens Cechenena helopsCechenena helops Ischyja infernaIschyja inferna Lappet moth (Trabala ganesha)Lappet moth (Trabala ganesha) Marumba tigrinaMarumba tigrina Swallowtail Moth (Lyssa menoetius)Swallowtail Moth (Lyssa menoetius) Antheraea helferiAntheraea helferi Black looper (Hyposidra talaca)Black looper (Hyposidra talaca)

The butterfly life was good but, as always, they were difficult to photograph and I didn't make too much of an effort with them on this trip!:

Common bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon)Common bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon) Common jay (Graphium doson)Common jay (Graphium doson) Malayan birdwing (Troides amphrysus)Malayan birdwing (Troides amphrysus)

There were various mantids around the reserve, with an orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) a bark mantis (Theopompa sp.) and a dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys sp.) demonstrating particularly amazing camouflage:

Mantis (Mantodea)Mantis (Mantodea) Bark mantis (Theopompa sp.)Bark mantis (Theopompa sp.) Mantis (Mantodea)Mantis (Mantodea) Orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus)Orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) Dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys truncata)Dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys truncata)

Cicadas are usually heard but not seen, but the lights around the buildings attracted some giants for some great photographic opportunities. The first one on the left below was almost as big as my hand!:

Cicada (Pomponia pendleburyi)Cicada (Pomponia pendleburyi) Cicada (Cicadidae)Cicada (Cicadidae) Cicada (Cicadidae)Cicada (Cicadidae) Cicada (Cicadidae)Cicada (Cicadidae)

There were some interesting orthopterans (grasshoppers, crickets, katydids etc.):

Bush cricket (Zulpha perlaria)Bush cricket (Zulpha perlaria) Grasshopper (Orthoptera)Grasshopper (Orthoptera) Katydid (Xantia borneensis)Katydid (Xantia borneensis)

In the forest itself I encountered a few stick insects (Phasmatodea)...

Stick insect (Phasmatodea)Stick insect (Phasmatodea) Stick insect (Phasmatodea)Stick insect (Phasmatodea)

...and some bugs (Hemiptera - bugs in the technical sense!)...

Bug (Hemiptera)Bug (Hemiptera) Bug (Hemiptera)Bug (Hemiptera)

...and some other miscellaneous insects:

Cockroach (Blattodea)Cockroach (Blattodea) Crimson dropwing (Trithemis aurora)Crimson dropwing (Trithemis aurora) Orange skimmer (Orthetrum testaceum)Orange skimmer (Orthetrum testaceum)

Deramakot's final gift to me was a fascinating selection of arachnids - spiders, scorpions, whip scorpions etc. The most interesting find from within this group is a currently undescribed species of spiny orb weaver (Gasteracantha sp.):

Spiny orb-weaver (Gasteracantha sp.)Spiny orb-weaver (Gasteracantha sp.) Orange huntsman spider (Olios simoni)Orange huntsman spider (Olios simoni) Huntsman spider (Heteropoda sp.)Huntsman spider (Heteropoda sp.) Whip scorpion (Uropygi)Whip scorpion (Uropygi) Scorpion exuviaScorpion exuvia Spider (Araneae)Spider (Araneae)

That wraps it up for the unbelievably productive Deramakot part of the trip! After Deramakot I then transferred to Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp for 3 days and 2 nights - that will be covered in my next post!



(Robin James Nature Photography) adventure alternative adventure alternative borneo borneo borneo mammal watching borneo mammals borneo wildlife borneo wildlife photography clouded leopard deramakot malaysia mammal moth orangutan pangolin robin james robin james nature photo sabah wildlife wildlife of borneo wildlife photography Wed, 25 Sep 2019 11:20:54 GMT
Sri Lanka 14-23rd March 2019 Immediately after my visit to India (see my previous blog post) I travelled to the island of Sri Lanka for more wildlife encounters. I flew direct from New Delhi to Colombo where I was reunited with my wife and our daughter who flew there from Bali.

Whereas my trip to India was organised through a tour company, our Sri Lanka trip was all done independently - we hired a car and drove ourselves. Despite what I had read online, I found driving in Sri Lanka perfectly civilised. I had booked our hotels in advance and had also tried to pre-arrange safaris etc. but I realised on arrival that there was really no need!

Our first destination was the seaside town of Mirissa on the south coast where we stayed at 'Wayside Guesthouse'. Due to our late flights, we had to drive through the night and arrived at our hotel at around 2am - much to the surprise of the hotel staff who assumed we were a no-show (despite my emails informing them of our expected arrival time...). We were brought to Mirissa for one reason only - whales! I had long wanted to go whale-watching, and Mirissa is special because the whales that can be reliably seen there are the largest animal that has ever existed on the planet - the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus).

After conducting some online research we chose a company called 'Raja and the Whales'. The trip was expensive at $52 per adult (apparently the government have recently added a hefty tax to the activity) but they were a decent enough operator and they certainly looked after us - providing various foods and refreshments throughout the trip, and a good narrative of events as they transpired. We saw numerous whales and our daughter in particular loved the experience, despite one instance of seasickness! I didn't get my camera out for this one - after a bad experience from a dolphin-watching trip in Bali I decided it wasn't worth the risk to my equipment.

A quick note on ethics - I agree with several other blogs / reports on the issue of these sorts of trips and I think we will not undertake this sort of activity any more. On both dolphin- and whale-watching trips that we have been on we have witnessed the overcrowding and chasing of animals which is definitely not good for them. We were fortunate that our chosen operators conducted themselves well but everyone that goes contributes in some way. Until these activities are properly regulated then it is impossible to say that going along doesn't have some impact.

After spending the evening in Mirissa (one day there was enough!) we set off for a lodge on the outskirts of Yala National Park. We stayed in the vicinity of the small town of Katagarama at a rather eccentric place called 'Humbhaha Jungle Eco Resort'. Strangely (to me), we were the only people staying there that had any interest in wildlife - the others were all apparently there for religious / spiritual reasons - and seemed a bit perplexed that we weren't...

As with the whale-watching, I had my reservations about visiting Yala because of reports describing large numbers of jeeps. We thought we would give it the benefit of the doubt anyway and were really glad that we did. I'm not sure if we were just there in the low season or if the Katagarama entry to the park is just quieter - but we saw hardly any other people. I would say we saw 3 or 4 other jeeps on each safari.

In general, the wildlife was abundant and spectacular. The big draw of the park are the Sri Lankan leopards (Panthera pardus kotiya) and they did not disappoint - 20 minutes into our very first safari we chanced across one in a clearing and had a very intimate encounter:

Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya)Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya)

We had a few more sightings of leopards at Yala - but none quite as close (or in the open) as this!

The other stars of the show at Yala were the Sri Lankan elephants (Elephas maximus maximus) - the island's subspecies of the Asian elephant. Here we saw one small herd with a few youngsters in tow:

Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus)Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus)

Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus)Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus)

We saw two different species of primate - firstly tufted gray langurs (Semnopithecus priam) which we saw throughout the park:

Tufted gray langur (Semnopithecus priam)Tufted gray langur (Semnopithecus priam)

Secondly, toque macaques (Macaca sinica), which we only saw at a picnic spot at the edge of the park:

Toque macaque (Macaca sinica)Toque macaque (Macaca sinica)

In terms of other mammals, we saw a few ruddy mongoose (Herpestes smithii):

Ruddy mongoose (Herpestes smithii)Ruddy mongoose (Herpestes smithii)

As the evening drew in, we saw increasing numbers of Indian hare (Lepus nigricollis), like this one in deep vegetation:

Indian hare (Lepus nigricollis)Indian hare (Lepus nigricollis)

Next up is the reptile life, though there's not too much to report here! We saw just one species at Yala - mugger crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris). First an impressive adult:

Mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris)Mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris)

And later on, a juvenile:

Mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris)Mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris)

The bird life at Yala was amazing and almost warrants a post of its own. We saw a huge diversity of species in our 2 days there. Starting with the birds of prey, we had at least 5 encounters with changeable hawk-eagles (Nisaetus cirrhatus). These birds truly live up to the 'changeable' description - each one looked different:

Changeable hawk-eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus)Changeable hawk-eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus)

We had several encounters with crested serpent eagles (Spilornis cheela), a species I have been lucky to see throughout Asia:

Crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela)Crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela)

We saw one grey-headed fish eagle (Haliaeetus ichthyaetus):

Grey-headed fish eagle (Haliaeetus ichthyaetus)Grey-headed fish eagle (Haliaeetus ichthyaetus)

There was an impressive variety of storks, including the painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala)...

Painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala)Painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala)

...the lesser adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus)...

Lesser adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus)Lesser adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus)

...the woolly-necked stork (Ciconia episcopus)...

Woolly-necked stork (Ciconia episcopus)Woolly-necked stork (Ciconia episcopus)

...and finally the Eurasian spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia). It looks like the one in the foreground may have had a recent run-in with a predator:

Eurasian spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)Eurasian spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

There were also two species of lapwing: red-wattled (Vanellus indicus)...

Red-wattled lapwing (Vanellus indicus)Red-wattled lapwing (Vanellus indicus)

...and yellow-wattled (Vanellus malabaricus):

Yellow-wattled lapwing (Vanellus malabaricus)Yellow-wattled lapwing (Vanellus malabaricus)

We saw 3 of the 4 species of bee-eater that are found in Sri Lanka. The most frequently encountered was the beautiful little green bee-eater (Merops orientalis):

Green bee-eater (Merops orientalis)Green bee-eater (Merops orientalis)

We saw a single blue-tailed bee-eater (Merops philippinus)...

Blue-tailed bee-eater (Merops philippinus)Blue-tailed bee-eater (Merops philippinus)

...and also a single chestnut-headed bee-eater (Merops leschenaulti) - this one actually in the grounds of our accommodation:

Chestnut-headed bee-eater (Merops leschenaulti)Chestnut-headed bee-eater (Merops leschenaulti)

Other birds included one little cormorant (Microcarbo niger), drying its wings in a characteristic cormorant pose...

Little cormorant (Microcarbo niger)Little cormorant (Microcarbo niger) brown shrike (Lanius cristatus)...

Brown shrike (Lanius cristatus)Brown shrike (Lanius cristatus)

...a rather distant sighting of two Malabar pied hornbills (Anthracoceros coronatus)... 

Malabar pied hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus)Malabar pied hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus)

...and a white-browed bulbul (Pycnonotus luteolus):

White-browed bulbul (Pycnonotus luteolus)White-browed bulbul (Pycnonotus luteolus)

After Yala we then began our journey onwards to Udawalawe national park.

On the way I had to stop the car to help an Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) cross the road. Please note I only photographed it after I had moved it to safety!:

Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans)Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans)

I chose Udawalawe national park as as our next stop as it sounded like our best bet for seeing elephants, which were not otherwise guaranteed elsewhere. Obviously we did see them at Yala but I wasn't to know that when planning the trip! To be honest, Udawalawe really wasn't a highlight - there were plenty of elephants but the place felt like a bit of a theme park and was crowded with jeeps.

The best thing about our visit was that our accommodation (Bright Sun Safari Hotel) was superb, easily the best of our trip. The hotel was immaculately presented and the service, organisation, food and well, everything - was excellent.

The park itself seemed to be covered in some kind of invasive plant species and didn't look to be in ecologically good shape. Apart from the elephants we didn't see much, but we did see a Bengal monitor (Varanus bengalensis) hiding in a tree - the drivers / guides called these 'land' monitors, presumably to distinguish them from water monitors which also exist there:

Bengal monitor (Varanus bengalensis)Bengal monitor (Varanus bengalensis)

After Udawalawe we headed further north up to Sigiriya. This was partly to break up the long drive to Wilpattu but also because I had heard that it was a good destination for spotlighting for nocturnal wildlife. On the evening of our arrival I went out on a spotlighting drive with a local naturalist. Unfortunately, it was a full moon and this meant that the drive was almost completely fruitless. After about 3 hours we had seen absolutely nothing - very disappointing! Eventually we saw one Jerdon's nightjar (Caprimulgus atripennis) - the first sign of life - calling from a perch:

Jerdon's nightjar (Caprimulgus atripennis)Jerdon's nightjar (Caprimulgus atripennis)

Just as we were about to head back, we finally saw a bit of eye-shine and to my delight, it was my target species - a gray slender loris (Loris lydekkerianus). Lorises have been my favourite animal ever since I learnt of their existence so this sighting was very special to me!:

Gray slender loris (Loris lydekkerianus)Gray slender loris (Loris lydekkerianus)

The next morning we headed out to the base of the Sigiriya rock fortress. We were debating whether our not we would manage the climb with our 2-year old daughter, but after pottering around the area we decided it probably wasn't going to happen! The high price of admission also put us off, so we thought we'd save it for our next trip there. After a couple of hours exploring some of the archaeological sites around the base we got back in the car and drove onwards to Wilpattu national park.

I had originally intended to spend 3 full days at Wilpattu, as it seems widely described as the jewel in Sri Lanka's wildlife crown. Unfortunately for us, our experience couldn't have been further from this!

We arrived at our accommodation (Thimbirewewa Ecoresort) to a very puzzled reception - despite the fact that I booked it months prior through Agoda they did not seem to be expecting us! There was no-one else staying there so they honoured our booking anyway. We had a few communication issues with the staff there but we discussed the safaris that we wanted to do and it appeared that all was understood. That afternoon, we got ourselves ready to go on safari but 20 minutes after the agreed time, no-one had yet come to collect us. When I finally managed to locate the 'ecoresort' staff they managed to find a driver who came for us...however by this point we had missed almost an hour of our (expensive) safari. Not a great start! At least there was an oriental garden lizard (Calotes versicolor) outside the lodge to keep me occupied while we waited:

Oriental garden lizard (Calotes versicolor)Oriental garden lizard (Calotes versicolor)

Our safari started off well - with an early sighting of a sloth bear (Melursus ursinus). The bear was sleeping in thick vegetation so it wasn't a photo op...but it was a nice encounter anyway!

We also had a very close encounter with another leopard - it crossed the road right next to our jeep.

In terms of other wildlife, we really saw very little. It was a real contrast to our experience of Yala where we saw animals almost constantly. The only species of note was the Sri Lankan junglefowl (Gallus lafayetti) - the national bird of Sri Lanka. We saw these at Yala as well, but had better photographic opportunities at Wilpattu:

Sri Lankan junglefowl (Gallus lafayettii)Sri Lankan junglefowl (Gallus lafayettii)

We had arranged another safari for the next day but decided to change our plans and leave early. Due to a combination of the poor organisation of our accommodation, the fact that we saw very little wildlife and a nice bonus that I started coming down with some kind of fever we headed back down to Colombo early.

This gave us 1 1/2 days to see a little of the city which was pleasant enough - we all enjoyed the shopping opportunities and some creature comforts after 9 days on the road and on safari!

In all, the trip started off superbly, then petered out a little for us... Sri Lanka is definitely worth a second visit however - for a start there's a huge diversity of reptile life which I made little effort to see!



(Robin James Nature Photography) blue whale elephant leopard mirissa photography robin james robin james nature photo safari sigiriya sri lanka sri lanka safari sri lanka wildlife sri lanka wildlife photography sri lankan leopard sri lankan wildlife udawalawe wildlife wildlife photography wilpattu yala Sun, 12 May 2019 09:16:47 GMT
India 6-14th March 2019 I had long wanted to see a tiger in the wild. My wife and I made several attempts to see them whilst living in Nepal, but unfortunately none of them were successful (for tigers at least). In fact, it doesn't require too much research before you realise that, nowadays, the only real chance to see one is by going to India. India therefore rapidly climbed to the top of my bucket list and I decided I would go there during my end of term holidays in March.

I decided that independent travel probably wasn't going to work for this trip, mainly due to the permit system in operation in India's tiger reserves. Word is that the permits often sell out within hours of becoming available, and go up for sale long before their date. During my initial planning I emailed several tour operators and got some (fairly eye-watering) quotes for the trip. In the end, I went with a company called Nature Safari India ( They were helpful, communicative, and the price - though still high by my standards - was more reasonable than the others. If you go on a tiger safari in India it seems you have to be prepared to stump up a fair amount of cash, particularly if you are a solo traveller like I was.

I flew to New Delhi via Singapore and spent a night in the city. I didn't see much of New Delhi as I stayed in a hotel in the airport area. The bit that I saw was very modern and very different from the other parts of India that I visited. The next day I took an internal flight to Jabalpur before transferring overland to Bandhavgarh national park where I stayed at 'Tiger's Den'. It is a wonderful lodge with attentive staff and superb food. My guide and driver Sanjay was friendly and a great spotter of wildlife.

Bandhavgarh national park has one of (if not the) highest densities of tigers in India, so it is considered a good place to see them. It definitely did not disappoint, and in the 5 safaris I did I saw a total of 7 different individuals! Here are a few photos of them:

Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)

Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)

One of the challenges that I encountered with taking photos on this trip was the difficulty/inability to get at eye-level with the animals, which is one of the best ways to make a wildlife photograph compelling. You are (quite sensibly) forbidden from dismounting the jeeps within the parks so all photos are taken from 2-3m above ground. Sometimes the animals are on an incline so it's ok, but often they are not. The tiger in the first photo was actually in a ditch so I had no choice but to 'shoot' downhill.

The second major challenge was (and I hesitate to say it but)...other people! Bandhavgarh was truly swarming with jeeps. Apparently it was particularly bad when I was there because one of the zones was closed (apparently due to a herd of wild elephants). This meant that all the 'traffic' from that zone was forced into the others, increasing the density of jeeps in each zone. Wherever there was a tiger...there were literally dozens of other jeeps, with everyone jostling for the best spot. I'd be lying if I said it didn't detract from the experience...but I suppose I contributed to it as much as everyone else...

(Note - Kanha was much more civilised so maybe it's just Bandhavgarh).

Other mammal life in Bandhavgarh included many chital / spotted deer (Axis axis):

Chital (Axis axis)Chital (Axis axis)

Chital (Axis axis) and black drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus)Chital (Axis axis) and black drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus)

Chital (Axis axis)Chital (Axis axis)

There was the occasional sambar (Rusa unicolor) - the males were particularly impressive but always in deep and dark forest cover:

Sambar (Rusa unicolor) - adult female and juvenilesSambar (Rusa unicolor) - adult female and juveniles

Sambar (Rusa unicolor) - maleSambar (Rusa unicolor) - male - a very high ISO image!

I also saw a few nilgai / blue bull antelope (Boselaphus tragocamelus) in Bandhavgarh. Like the sambar, the males are particularly large and impressive. This is a young male - adult males have much darker fur and are more stocky:

Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus)Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus)

I saw a few Indian muntjac / barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak)- generally a very shy species that's difficult to get close to:

Indian muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak)Indian muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak)

An unexpected but very pleasant encounter was a very distant sighting of an Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca), lying in a tree:

Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca)Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca)

Throughout the national park were northern plains gray langurs (Semnopithecus entellus) which tended to hang around in quite large groups:

Northern plains gray langur (Semnopithecus entellus)Northern plains gray langur (Semnopithecus entellus)

Bird life in Bandhavgarh was plentiful. These jungle babblers (Argya striata) kept us company wherever we were:

Jungle babbler (Argya striata)Jungle babbler (Argya striata)

I also saw many of these cute little green bee-eaters (Merops orientalis) throughout my trip:

Green bee-eater (Merops orientalis)Green bee-eater (Merops orientalis)

Red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) were often sighted, though they are very shy and were a challenge to photograph. This species is the ancestor of the domestic chicken:

Red junglefowl (Gallus gallus)Red junglefowl (Gallus gallus)

Whilst staking out a possible tiger location one day, we were pleased to see quite a large family of these cute jungle bush-quails (Perdicula asiatica) appear from out of the grass where they had been completely hidden:

Jungle bush quail (Perdicula asiatica)Jungle bush quail (Perdicula asiatica)

The most frequently sighted birds of prey (I hate the word 'common' - nothing is 'common' in the modern world!) were crested serpent eagles (Spilornis cheela) like this one, surveying its kingdom:

Crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela)Crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela)

After Bandhavgarh I transferred to Kanha national park, also in the state of Madhya Pradesh but about 4 hours away by road. In Kanha I stayed at 'Chitvan Jungle Lodge' where, just like at Tiger's Den, I was well-fed and looked after. My guide (also called Sanjay) was brilliant - dedicated, knowledgable and good at spotting wildlife.

Though the ecology of Kanha is similar to Bandhavgarh, the look of the terrain and the way in which it is managed is completely different. It is much more open, with sweeping grasslands and, from my experience, a rather more laid-back approach to tiger sightings. Bandhavgarh was a bit tiger-crazy!

Kanha was, however, still excellent for tiger sightings. I saw 3 individuals in my 6 safaris there. Though I saw fewer than at Bandhavgarh, the sightings were much more intimate - for example this one (note I didn't have time to change lenses and my main lens, being a prime lens, does not zoom out!):

Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)

We had another very close encounter for which I was, again, unprepared! I didn't get a shot of this one until it had settled down for a nice cool bath though:

Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)

I had seen golden jackals (Canis aureus) at Bandhavgarh but at Kanha I had some wonderfully close encounters with these beautiful wild canids:

Golden jackal (Canis aureus)Golden jackal (Canis aureus)

Golden jackal (Canis aureus)Golden jackal (Canis aureus)

Like Bandhavgarh (and much of the Indian subcontinent) the most frequently encountered species of deer in Kanha was the chital / spotted deer (Axis axis) (with bonus cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis):

Chital (Axis axis)Chital (Axis axis)

There were Eurasian wild boar (Sus scrofa) throughout both parks as well. The first photo shows a lone male and the second shows an them 'hanging out' with a chital and a jackal!:

Eurasian wild boar (Sus scrofa)Eurasian wild boar (Sus scrofa)

Chital (Axis axis), Eurasian wild boar (Sus scrofa) and golden jackal (Canis aureus)Chital (Axis axis), Eurasian wild boar (Sus scrofa) and golden jackal (Canis aureus)

Kanha is particularly famous as the stronghold of the hard-ground barasingha / southern swamp deer (Rucervus duvaucelli branderi), an impressive subspecies of swamp deer that we saw numerous times in the grasslands:

Hard ground barasingha (Rucervus duvaucelii  branderi)Hard ground barasingha (Rucervus duvaucelii branderi)

Kanha also has a small population of blackbuck antelope (Antilope cervicapra), though we only saw one male and one female from a long distance away (the photos are heavily cropped):

Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) - maleBlackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) - male

Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) - femaleBlackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) - female

One of the most impressive species that I saw in both national parks was the gaur / Indian bison (Bos gaurus). These animals are the largest extant bovine and they are built like tanks!:

Gaur (Bos gaurus)Gaur (Bos gaurus)

The birdlife in Kanha was as good, if not better, than at Bandhavgarh. I saw most of the species already mentioned and a few more, including this red-naped ibis (Pseudibis papillosa), braving (and possibly feeding on) a large swarm of bees:

Red-naped ibis (Pseudibis papillosa)Red-naped ibis (Pseudibis papillosa)

We encountered at least half a dozen shikra (Accipiter badius), a pretty little bird of prey. Only this one stayed still long enough for a photo - its red iris suggests that it is a male:

Shikra (Accipiter badius)Shikra (Accipiter badius)

Sleeping peacefully in a tree at one point was a pair of Indian scops owls (Otus bakkamoena):

Indian scops owl (Otus bakkamoena)Indian scops owl (Otus bakkamoena)

Sleeping peacefully in a different tree was a pair of spotted owlets (Athena brama), a species that we are familiar with from Nepal - a pair used to sit outside our house, calling at night!:

Spotted owlet (Athene brama)Spotted owlet (Athene brama)

There were a few little cormorants (Microcarbo niger), sat near bodies of water, such as this one:

Little cormorant (Microcarbo niger)Little cormorant (Microcarbo niger)

Last but certainly not least, there were Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus, peacocks to most people!) throughout both national parks. These conspicuous birds are pretty hard to miss! I was delighted that on my last day in Kanha a male was displaying close enough to the track that I could get a photo. An amazing spectacle:

Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus)Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus)

After departing from Kanha I then transferred to Raipur airport and flew to New Delhi to spend another night near the airport. The next day I flew onwards to Sri Lanka to meet up with my family and start the second part of my trip - report on that trip to come!

So that about rounds up my trip to India, an amazing place and I'll definitely be back some day. The only significant sighting that I've not mentioned is that of two sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) which I saw on my last day in Bandhavgarh. Unfortunately, it was way too dark and the only photo that I managed is so dreadfully blurry and noisy that there is no point in posting! Still - it was great to get face-to-face with Baloo!



(Robin James Nature Photography) bandhavgarh barasingha bengal tiger india india wildlife india wildlife photography indian wildlife kanha leopard nature safari india robin james robin james nature photo safari tiger tiger photography tiger safari wildlife wildlife photography Sun, 28 Apr 2019 07:34:10 GMT
Bali's snakes and herping in Bali with Bali Reptile Rescue According to 'Reptiles and Amphibians of Bali' by Ruchira Somaweera there are 76 species of reptile that live on Bali, with 43 of those being snakes. Bali is also quite densely populated (particularly in the south where I live) with most of the land either cultivated or built upon. It is therefore a reality that snakes and humans come into contact with each other quite frequently here.

Many people are very afraid of snakes, and as a result they are often killed on sight. Bali is fortunate to have a dedicated group of people called 'Bali Reptile Rescue' (BRR) - an organisation that provide a free 24-hour reptile rescue and removal service. I have had the pleasure of going out with them several times and their dedication, knowledge and compassion is highly commendable. It is a difficult thing to balance both the welfare of people and that of the snakes (and sometimes other wildlife).

On my first trip out with Adi from BRR I was also accompanied by a colleague (it was her first ever herping experience!). It was a highly successful trip and we came across numerous snakes of various species, several of which I had never encountered before. The most abundant was the painted bronzeback (Dendrelaphis pictus), of which we saw at least a dozen. It may be common, but it is a nightmare to photograph! 'Thrashy' is the best description that I can give. When photographing snakes I like to try and include the whole animal in the photo but I realised early on this was unlikely to happen with this species. This was one of my first attempts:

We also encountered several oriental vine snakes (Ahaetulla prasina). A beautiful species that is widespread in SE Asia - I have already seen them in Penang and the Perhentian islands in Malaysia. Their colour can be quite variable but the ones we saw were bright green. These two photos show the same individual:

Towards the end of the trip we also saw a large Indochinese rat snake (Ptyas korros). Due to its size, this species is often mistaken for a king cobra and is regularly killed as a result:

Indochinese rat snake (Ptyas korros)Indochinese rat snake (Ptyas korros)

One of my favourite encounters this evening was with a mangrove cat snake (Boiga dendrophila). A beautiful species, but challenging to photograph due to its black colouration:

We also came across a few other (non-snake) animals, such as this maned forest lizard (Bronchocela jubata) - one of the few agamid lizards found in Bali:

Maned forest lizard (Bronchocela jubata)Maned forest lizard (Bronchocela jubata)

...and this Asian grass lizard (Takydromus sexlineatus):

Asian grass lizard (Takydromus sexlineatus)Asian grass lizard (Takydromus sexlineatus)

My second trip with BRR was a trip to West Bali with the hope of seeing a wild king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah). I was joined on this trip by Chris, Richard and Paul, all keen snake enthusiasts from across the world. We were led by Shinta and Agus from BRR. The first snake we came across on the trip was an Indonesian spitting cobra (Naja sputatrix), a highly venomous species so-called for its habit of spitting its venom. This one slithered away quickly but I did manage to snap a quick profile shot:

Not long after, we encountered an impressively large reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus). I have been lucky to see a number of individuals of this species across SE Asia. This beautiful individual had a distinctively yellow head:

Reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus)Reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus)

During the day we also encountered my Bali snake photography nemesis the painted bronzeback (Dendrelaphis pictus). Once again I tried to get full body photos and had a little more success than earlier attempts, though nothing to write home about!:

Painted bronzeback (Dendrelaphis pictus)Painted bronzeback (Dendrelaphis pictus) Painted bronzeback (Dendrelaphis pictus)Painted bronzeback (Dendrelaphis pictus)

The afternoon ended with no king cobra sightings but I was nonetheless very pleased with these daytime encounters. That evening we went out again. Early on I came across my first white-lipped island pit viper (Trimeresurus insularis), a highly venomous but spectacularly pretty species:

We also encountered several more oriental vine snakes (Ahaetulla prasina), with this individual being a less vivid green than the ones I encountered on my first herping trip in Bali:

An interesting encounter (for me) was my first close encounter with a tokay gecko (Gekko gecko). I have encountered dozens of these before in various places across the region, but never face-to-face like this. They are a highly vocal species with a very distinctive call (which sounds a bit like "to-kay" or "geck-o"). On an evening walk around Bali you will almost certainly hear one somewhere. We have one living in our house and our daughter has a love-hate relationship with it!:

Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko)Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko)

The final encounter of the evening was with my second ever Indochinese rat snake (Ptyas korros), spotted thanks to Shinta's highly perceptive eyesight:

Indochinese rat snake (Ptyas korros)Indochinese rat snake (Ptyas korros)

We went out the next morning for one final attempt at finding a king cobra. We spent most of the morning walking along a river bed, scrambling over boulders and criss-crossing the river several times. Finally, we found our prize - a huge king cobra sunning itself on a rock. I really did not expect that we would actually find one, nor did I expect to have such fantastic photographic opportunities. It also only occurred to me afterwards that in the span of 24hrs we had seen the world's longest snake species (reticulated python) and the longest venomous snake (king cobra):

King cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)King cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)

It was always going to be impossible to improve on the king cobra trip but a subsequent herping trip with Agus from BRR yielded a few new species and a few improved photo opportunities for previously encountered species. Firstly, I had a second encounter with a mangrove cat snake (Boiga dendrophila), finally managing a full body photo (though still struggling with the challenge of properly lighting a black snake):

Mangrove snake (Boiga dendrophila)Mangrove snake (Boiga dendrophila)

Agus had a few rescued snakes to release so I captured photos of them before they returned to live in the wild. This one is a dog-toothed cat snake (Boiga cynodon):

Dog-toothed cat snake (Boiga cynodon)Dog-toothed cat snake (Boiga cynodon)

This one is a yellow-striped racer (Coelognathus flavolineatus). He didn't really want to be photographed so I didn't push it too hard!:

I also saw a couple more maned forest lizards (Bronchocela jubata) including this one:

Maned forest lizard (Bronchocela jubata)Maned forest lizard (Bronchocela jubata)

That's it for snakes...but I'll just add a few other miscellaneous herpetological observations I've made on the island so far...

On a trip to the NW of Bali I had several more close encounters with tokay geckos. Our visit to the area (being during the rainy season) also coincided with huge swarms of flying termites taking to the air and I had an interesting 'photobomb' by one of them:

Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko)Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko)

Going back in time...before we sorted out our own place my work put us up somewhere with enough vegetation that it attracted a small menagerie of wildlife, such as this common gliding lizard (Draco volans):

Common gliding lizard (Draco volans)Common gliding lizard (Draco volans)

...this paddy field frog (Fejervarya limnocharis):

Paddy field frog (Fejervarya limnocharis)Paddy field frog (Fejervarya limnocharis)

...the occasional common sun skink (Eutropis multifasciata) - two separate encounters with a juvenile and an adult respectively:

Common sun skink (Eutropis multifasciata)Common sun skink (Eutropis multifasciata) Common sun skink (Eutropis multifasciata)Common sun skink (Eutropis multifasciata)

...and flat-tailed house geckos (Hemidactylus platyurus):

Flat-tailed house gecko (Hemidactylus platyurus)Flat-tailed house gecko (Hemidactylus platyurus)

My final photo for this post is one that is potentially quite interesting. On a short trip within Sanur I chanced across a lizard that I have seen many times across the region (the changeable lizard, Calotes versicolor). At first I thought nothing of the observation but a little research revealed that it didn't show up as being known from Bali. When I posted the photo online I was contacted by an expert and informed that the species has, as far as we know, not previously been recorded here. I contacted Nick Baker of and he put together a short-note publication of the find which can be seen at Fairly interesting at least! Anyway, here's the photo:

Changeable lizard (Calotes versicolor)Changeable lizard (Calotes versicolor)

As a final note - Bali Reptile Rescue provide a free, 24hr reptile removal and rescue service and information can be found on their website I very much look forward to many more successful trips out with them.



(Robin James Nature Photography) bali bali herping bali king cobra bali reptile rescue bali snake bali snakes bali wildlife bali wildlife photography BRR herping herping in bali indonesia indonesia wildlife photography king cobra king cobra bali robin james robin james nature photo snake snakes in bali snakes of bali wildlife wildlife of indonesia wildlife photography Sat, 13 Apr 2019 07:54:36 GMT
Sulawesi: 17-20th October 2018 My second trip in October (immediately after Sumatra) was a short trip to the island of Sulawesi, also part of modern-day Indonesia. The island has a fascinating natural history and had long been on my wish-list, particularly since reading so much about it in Alfred Russel Wallace's The Malay Archipelago. I actually started planning this trip almost as soon as I accepted my job in Bali.

I had originally hoped to spend longer exploring the island but I soon ran into a few obstacles (in particular, ludicrous quotes from guides and tour companies) and decided to make it a short one instead. My wife and daughter also joined me this time - it was our 2 year old's first experience of the jungle!

We flew from Bali to Manado in the far northeast of the island. We then transferred to Tangkoko, staying just outside the national park itself. The 4 hour drive was interesting and for a change there was no oil palm to be seen. Instead the scenery along the drive was quite varied (though still largely cultivated) so I actually enjoyed it.

We stayed at a lodge called 'Tangkoko Hill' which was recommended to us by a friend. There were a few similar lodges scattered around but there's not really much choice in the area. The reception from the owner of our lodge was a bit frosty (he didn't show much interest in us), but the other staff made up for that. In general we were well looked-after and certainly well-fed. Our daughter was basically adopted by the owner's family!

After unpacking and settling in, I set off for an afternoon / early evening trip into the national park with a local guide called 'Julian', provided by the lodge. Julian was a very knowledgeable guide and was good at spotting wildlife. The main target for the evening was the spectral tarsier (Tarsius tarsier), a small species of primate. They were not hard to spot - it actually felt too easy! Tangkoko has a road going most of the way in, and some quite clear signs that lead to a fig tree, inside which reside a family of tarsiers. We waited until just before nightfall after which they emerged from the tree. I was a bit unsure about whether or not I would take a photo as the use of flash was necessary by the time they had emerged. I decided that I would but I limited myself to 2 shots and positioned myself a good distance away. These are the photos that I took:

Spectral tarsier (Tarsier tarsius)Spectral tarsier (Tarsier tarsius)


Spectral tarsier (Tarsier tarsius)Spectral tarsier (Tarsier tarsius)

I also saw the first owl of the trip - a Minahassa masked owl (Tyto inexspectata) sat in a tree:

Minahassa masked owl (Tyto inexspectata)Minahassa masked owl (Tyto inexspectata)

The next morning we headed back into the forest early in search of Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra). We encountered a troop within about 10 minutes, heading away from the beach and into the forest. There was very little light in the forest, making photographing these fast-moving monkeys quite challenging:

Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)

Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)

After spending about half an hour with the monkeys we continued on in search of other animals. One of my favourite encounters was with a knobbed hornbill (Rhyticeros cassidix), a very impressive endemic Sulawesi bird:

Knobbed hornbill (Rhyticeros cassidix)Knobbed hornbill (Rhyticeros cassidix)

This male was slowly making his way towards a tree which housed a female. When breeding, female hornbills seal themselves inside tree cavities and rely on the male to bring them and their chicks food. Amazing!

We also encountered a trio of ochre-bellied hawk owls (Ninox ochracea) sat in a tree:

Ochre-bellied hawk owl (Ninox ochracea)Ochre-bellied hawk owl (Ninox ochracea)

One animal that was very high on my 'must-see' list was the Sulawesi bear cuscus (Ailurops ursinus). These curious creatures are marsupials - a group of animals that start to appear in SE Asia once you cross the 'Wallace line'. We saw a few in Tangkoko, but unfortunately they were very high up in the canopy and I only managed one photo:

Sulawesi bear cuscus (Ailurops ursinus)Sulawesi bear cuscus (Ailurops ursinus)

We weren't really focussing on the herpetofauna so I only came across one reptile - this littoral whiptail-skink (Emoia atrocostata):

Littoral whiptail-skink (Emoia atrocostata)Littoral whiptail-skink (Emoia atrocostata)


We also chanced across a lilac kingfisher (Cittura cyanotis), which was so compliant that I was convinced it had been strapped to the tree...

Lilac kingfisher (Cittura cyanotis)Lilac kingfisher (Cittura cyanotis)

The next morning we went out again in search of the macaques. As yesterday, the light was tricky and I didn't quite get the photo I was hoping for! I did have one interesting encounter though - my guide told me that this is Naruto - the famous 'selfie monkey' who was at the heart of an animal rights / copyright dispute started by PETA:

Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra) - Naruto the famous selfie monkey (?)

I'll have to take Julian's word for it that this was the actual monkey...

We also encountered a Celebes dwarf squirrel (Prosciurillus murinus) on the way out of the park:

Celebes dwarf squirrel (Prosciurillus murinus)Celebes dwarf squirrel (Prosciurillus murinus)

Afterwards we headed back to our accommodation ready to transfer back to the airport.

Whilst we were waiting for our transport a troop of macaques broke into the lodge grounds in search of fruit, granting me a few bonus images!:

Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra) Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra) Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra) Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)Sulawesi crested macaque (Macaca nigra)

These unexpected bonus photos have since become my favourite photos from the trip, even if they're slightly let down by the setting of the slightly unnatural-looking hotel grounds.

My final photos of the trip were of a pair of Sulawesi lined gliding lizards (Draco spilonotus) on a tree in the lodge grounds:

Sulawesi lined gliding lizard (Draco spilonotus) - maleSulawesi lined gliding lizard (Draco spilonotus) - male Sulawesi lined gliding lizard (Draco spilonotus) - femaleSulawesi lined gliding lizard (Draco spilonotus) - female

Another short but sweet trip and I'd love to go back to Sulawesi if I get the chance - there's plenty more to see!

(Robin James Nature Photography) bear cuscus indonesia indonesia wildlife photography knobbed hornbill robin james robin james nature photo spectral tarsier sulawesi sulawesi crested macaque sulawesi wildlife tangkoko tangkoko wildlife tarsier wildlife wildlife of indonesia wildlife of sulawesi wildlife photography Thu, 28 Feb 2019 12:45:22 GMT
Sumatra: 13-16th October 2018 In October 2018 I went on a very short visit to Gunung Leuser National Park in northern Sumatra. The trip was intended as a recce for a school trip due for December, however the tragic Lion Air crash on 29th October lead to the school trip being subsequently cancelled. The trip itself was brief but incredible - I can't believe how much I saw in just 3 days!

My flight was from Bali to Medan via Kuala Lumpur. Due to my first flight being delayed by 2 hours I actually missed my connection in KL and had to spend the night at the airport. The generous staff at AirAsia even made me pay for an alternative flight the next morning...a good start to the trip!

I then had a 5hr drive to my destination of Bukit Lawang in Gunung Leuser National Park. I had booked the 3D/2N camping trip through a company called 'Local Guides' and I was met on arrival by the company's chief guide known as 'Jungle Edie'. He who explained a few things to me and introduced me to 'Adi' who was my guide throughout the trip.

After filling up my water bottle and donning my leech socks (which actually weren't needed!) we then set off for the forest. The first part of the walk was through some rubber plantations and almost straight away we saw our first mammals of the trip - small groups of silvery lutung (Trachypithecus cristatus) and Thomas's langur (Presbytis thomasi). I have seen silvery lutung several times before (in Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia) so I didn't make too much of an effort to get photos. They were also rather distant. The Thomas's langurs got more of my attention - they are endemic to Sumatra and I hadn't seen them before - so I spent quite a bit of time trying to get photos of them. I later realised as the trip went on that they are locally quite common so got some better shots later on. These are the photos I took at this point:

Silvered langur (Trachypithecus cristatus)Silvered langur (Trachypithecus cristatus) Thomas's langur (Presbytis thomasi)Thomas's langur (Presbytis thomasi)

As mentioned, these sightings were fairly distant so I just focused on getting some 'nice' portraits (aka 'guide book photos'!). The challenge with these sorts of monkeys is that their tails are very long - getting the whole animal in one photo isn't always easy!

After spending about half an hour with them we said farewell and headed off in search of the big draw of the area - Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii). Basically all of the orangutans that you encounter in the area are rehabilitated. They are free-living but whether you consider them 'wild' or not depends on your own definition. 'Semi wild' seemed the be term used by the guides. Either way - they are amazing creatures to watch and we saw a few early on in this trip. The 'truly wild' orangutans keep to themselves and tend to hide deeper in the national park.

One early encounter was with a mother and its baby (NB - presumably born there so surely at least that counts as 'wild'?!):

Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)

This was one of the few times in my experience of wildlife photography where the subject was actually too close! I was using my 300mm prime lens at this point and I was so excited by the whole experience that I completely forgot that I even had any other lenses...eventually I remembered that I also had my 90mm macro so I managed a photo with the whole orangutan (why on earth did I sell my 70-200mm...!):

Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)

Most of the rest of the day was spent trekking around with the occasional orangutan sighting. During our lunch stop we had another encounter with a Thomas's langur. This individual sat quite close to us (probably waiting to pounce on some scraps of food) so I managed to get a couple of closer-up portrait photos. By not trying to include the tail in these ones I managed to capture much more detail than before:

Thomas's langur (Presbytis thomasi)Thomas's langur (Presbytis thomasi) Thomas's langur (Presbytis thomasi)Thomas's langur (Presbytis thomasi)

After that we headed on to the first campsite. On the way we came across the first of many lizards - a juvenile great anglehead (Gonocephalus grandis):

Malayan crested lizard (Gonocephalus grandis)Malayan crested lizard (Gonocephalus grandis)

The campsite itself was by a small river and it was in a really serene and beautiful area of forest. Despite the limited cooking facilities the cook managed to provide an amazing meal.

When the sun set I went on a short but fruitful night walk. These are some of my findings, all from within about 50 yards of the campsite:

Whip scorpion (Order uropygi)Whip scorpion (Order uropygi) Malayan crested lizard (Gonocephalus grandis)Malayan crested lizard (Gonocephalus grandis)

Chalcorana parvaccolaChalcorana parvaccola GrasshopperGrasshopper Huntsman spider (Heteropoda sp.)Huntsman spider (Heteropoda sp.)

Borneo river toad (Phrynoidis juxtasper)Borneo river toad (Phrynoidis juxtasper) GrasshopperGrasshopper Sumatran torrent frog (Huia sumatrana)Sumatran torrent frog (Huia sumatrana)

The next morning we got up, had breakfast then set off in search of more wildlife. The focus for the morning was on seeing gibbons which had been heard calling somewhere in the forest. We climbed a very steep hill (I should probably have already mentioned that Bukit Lawang is very hilly!) to get a good vantage point. On the way up we stumbled across this beautiful little twin-barred tree snake (Chrysopelea pelias), posed as you see it right by the trail:

Banded flying snake (Chrysopelea pelias)Banded flying snake (Chrysopelea pelias)

...and another lizard, this one a Sumatran forest dragon (Gonocephalus beyschlagi):

Sumatra forest dragon (Gonocephalus beyschlagi)Sumatra forest dragon (Gonocephalus beyschlagi)

Within about 10 minutes of reaching the top of the hill we saw the gibbons - a group of at least 3 lar gibbons (Hylobates lar) moving through the trees in front of us. I just about managed one photo - though even this was a real challenge - they were quite distant, fast moving and nearly always backlit by the sun!

Lar gibbon (Hylobates lar)Lar gibbon (Hylobates lar)

After about 20 minutes the gibbons moved on and we headed back down another steep hill. The next few hours were a case of 'punctuated equilibrium' - long periods of nothing but slogging up and down hills punctuated by sudden periods of drama when orangutans seemed to appear out of nowhere - making the guides quite nervous! Our lunch stop was interrupted by the arrival of 'Mina' - one of the resident orangutans who seems to like posing (I later discovered many other people have taken almost the same photo of her so she clearly likes doing this):

Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)

The afternoon was fairly quiet and there no additional animal sightings of note. After several more hours of slogging up and down hills we arrived at the next campsite. This one was quite a bit bigger but also by a river and a small waterfall. There were numerous water monitors (Varanus salvator) patrolling up and down the river but that didn't put anyone off from bathing in it!

Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator)Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator)

Once again, the area in the immediate vicinity of the campsite was fairly 'alive'. There was an orangutan that hung out just outside (though it kept disappearing whenever I got my camera out so I have no photos of it!) and that ubiquitous Southeast Asian species - the long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis). As usual, these monkeys provided plenty of entertainment for everyone with their antics which included dive-bombing in the river and trying to steal everyone's food!

Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis)Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis)

There were quite a few squirrels running around on the trees within the campsite. These are two that I managed to get photos of:

Slender squirrel (Sundasciurus tenuis)Slender squirrel (Sundasciurus tenuis) Prevost's squirrel (Callosciurus prevostii)Prevost's squirrel (Callosciurus prevostii)

The river was also very rich in insect life and I spent a bit of time dusting off my macro lens to photograph some damselflies:

Aristocypha fenestrellaAristocypha fenestrella Stream glory (Neurobasis chinensis)Stream glory (Neurobasis chinensis) Heliocypha biforataHeliocypha biforata

After dinner, I went on a short night walk around the campsite though it was generally fairly fruitless, only yielding one interesting find - a large female Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri):

Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)

...and a few insects such as this one:


The next morning we packed up, had breakfast and set off in search of one final 'target species' - the Siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus). Like yesterday, they had been heard singing (whooping?) in the distant forest so we slogged up a big hill in search. This day, however, we were not in luck and didn't manage to spot any. Quite frustrating as I have heard them numerous times before in the Cameron Highlands and Fraser's Hill in Peninsular Malaysia but sightings of them have eluded me each time! In fact, all I saw that morning was one butterfly:

Powdered baron (Euthalia monina)Powdered baron (Euthalia monina)

In the late morning we 'tubed' down the Bohorok river back to Bukit Lawang itself where I checked in to my hotel. Feeling a little restless, and keen to see more wildlife after an unproductive morning, I found the contact details of a local wildlife expert called 'Bobi' who put me in touch with the excellent snake guide 'Ipul'. Ipul took me on a nocturnal tour of the local area where I saw more snakes than I could possibly have imagined. I also saw various frog species and three civets. The most common snake species was the Wagler's pit viper (referred to locally as 'moon snake') and I saw pretty much every variety in which they come. These are the highlights:

Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)

Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) Rough-sided frog (Pulchrana glandulosa)Rough-sided frog (Pulchrana glandulosa) Speckle-headed whipsnake (Ahaetulla fasciolata)Speckle-headed whipsnake (Ahaetulla fasciolata) Common Southeast Asian tree frog (Polypedates leucomystax)Common Southeast Asian tree frog (Polypedates leucomystax) Keeled slug snake (Pareas carinatus)Keeled slug snake (Pareas carinatus) Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) Striped bronzeback (Dendrelaphis caudolineatus)Striped bronzeback (Dendrelaphis caudolineatus) Banded swamp snake (Homalopsis buccata)Banded swamp snake (Homalopsis buccata) Changeable lizard (Calotes versicolor)Changeable lizard (Calotes versicolor) Fejervarya spFejervarya sp Painted bronzeback (Dendrelaphis pictus)Painted bronzeback (Dendrelaphis pictus) Specklebelly keelback (Rhabdophis chrysargos)Specklebelly keelback (Rhabdophis chrysargos)

I was very sad to leave Sumatra after an incredibly productive but all-too-short trip but I had also booked a trip to Sulawesi straight after so couldn't stay around any longer.

I missed out on the siamang and, apparently there is also a decent chance of seeing my 'holy grail' species - the Sunda slow loris (Nycticebus coucang) - so I will definitely be back soon!


(Robin James Nature Photography) bukit lawang gibbon gunung leuser herping bukit lawang herping sumatra indonesia indonesia wildlife indonesia wildlife photography local guides local guides sumatra orangutan robin james robin james nature photo sumatra sumatra wildlife sumatra wildlife photography sumatran orangutan wildlife wildlife of indonesia wildlife of sumatra wildlife photography Wed, 06 Feb 2019 13:46:36 GMT
First blog post - website now live! Hello and welcome to the first blog post for my website!

This site is basically an online portfolio of my wildlife/nature photographs. What started off as a passing interest 5 years ago has now grown into quite a serious hobby.

The website has been populated with some of my most recent photographs - I hope that you enjoy them!

The photo below is one of my most recent ones from a trip to Bali Barat National Park - a Savanna nighjar (Caprimulgus affinis).


Savanna nightjar (Caprimulgus affinis)Savanna nightjar (Caprimulgus affinis)


(Robin James Nature Photography) nature photography robin james robin james nature photo savanna nightjar wildlife wildlife photography Thu, 03 Jan 2019 11:07:08 GMT