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Chasing Dwarfs, Stalking Kingfishers in Sepilok

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The Rainforest Discovery Centres (RDC) brilliant natural surroundings have made Sepilok the quintessence of tropical wilderness that brought into existence, a rare form of dedication for bird photography. In the third inception of the 3-day Borneo Bird Festival held annually, birdwatchers & bird photographers from all over the world had flocked to the quiet town to catch a glimpse of lifers, a term used for a rare bird sighting for the first time.
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View from atop the Canopy Walk!

The lush vegetation growing from natures little spaces in the recesses between gigantic trees have created an undiscovered paradise beckoning to be marvelled at. Despite the high humidity, bird enthusiasts endured the sweat to stake out the popular spots to wait for the elusive Ruddy Kingfisher & the colourful  little Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher measuring only about 8cm in size.
The festival in Sandakan was held over 14 – 16 October 2011. Guided bird tours by experienced guides who can tell you what bird it is just by the sound of its call, lectures by consultants in environmental protection institutes, authorities of wetlands, authors of bird books & photography experts who congregate for one purpose was made accessible to members of the public.There were workshops by craft-makers, painters etc. while birders staked out the hotspots where the Ruddy & the Dwarfs were initially spotted.
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Sabah Tourism’s counter of shirts & paraphernalia!
Exhibitors of the fair made up of societies, bird clubs, tour organiser, organisations of wildlife conservation, photographic & fieldscope gears and the Sabah Tourism Board. It was very well organised with the concerted effort of the Borneo Bird Club, Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Parks, North Borneo Safari Tours, bird guides, volunteers & the most substantial support from Sabah Tourism. It attracted approximately 4,000 people to the fair, notably, a veteran from Hong Kong aged 80 years who lugged around his 800mm prime lens to staked out 4 hours straight to get a shot of the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. His effort got him a special award for being the most dedicated senior veteran at the fair!
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Chan Pak from Hong Kong, receiving his special accolade from Cede Prudente for being the most senior birder on the field in this festival!

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North Borneo Safari showcasing their birding expeditions!

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Sandakan Photo’s booth coupling with Nikon as the main prize sponsor.

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Borneo Bird Club’s booth.

Other notable highlights was the honouring of the birding legends, my best friend Choo Tse Chien (bird photographer & guide), Lee Teck Seng (bird & nature guide) & another naturalist, Isnadil Mohd who all passed away within 48 hours of each other. The birding world was shaken with the loss of three fantastic birders who contributed much to the field & as such, a tribute was given at the welcoming dinner by Sabah Tourism to their parents who were present for the event. Chien was the reason I got into birding & I would have to live on & continue his legacy as The Wannabe.

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Tribute wall of Chien, Teck Seng & Isnadil.

Note:- Right after the Bird Festival, I headed to Sukau along Kinabatangan River & internet access here is limited. More stories & pictures will be uploaded when I have better internet connection when I get into Sandakan!

More on birding:- The Challenge of Bird Photography In The Rainforest of Borneo.


 

Category: Adventure, Birding, Event  Tags:  2 Comments

Why You Need A Tripod

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From L to R:- Me, Sree, Adrian, the late Chien, Kam Su, Alagan & Philip.

It comes a time when amateur photographers or those aspiring to go pro, make a decision to get a tripod to complement their setup. You may have asked yourself the same question everyone of us asked before acquiring our first, “Why do I need a tripod in the first place,” and “Why do I have to spend money getting a premium tripod when there are lots of tripods that are a fraction of the cost???” Let’s address these questions as we run through what, when, how, where & why you need one.

Why You Need A Tripod:-

  • You can’t take steady shots no matter how you hold your breath when you press the shutter button.
  • You want to take HDR photos – bracketed shots of over & under-exposed ones to be recombined in HDR softwares.
  • You want to do bird photography.
  • You want to shoot video & not want your motion pictures turn into a Blair Witch Project kinda production.
  • You have a giant setup.
  • You want to free your hands to eat/drink/talk on the phone while monitoring your subject.
  • You want to shoot from a vehicle/boat & need support for your gear.
  • You want to shoot remotely.
  • You don’t want to be called an amateur.
  • You want to rely on a support that’s not called ”˜a man.’
  • It doubles up as a defence weapon when confronted by thugs/wildlife/crazy neighbour/over-amorous monkeys in parks.

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Birders at work.

When You Choose A Tripod:-

  • Select one that has the right height. If you are tall & the tripod is short, you end up bending in the wrong places & craning your neck to accommodate the camera rather than vice versa.
  • Determine the make. Manfrotto is the world leader company in the production and distribution of supports for photography and videography such as tripods, heads and monopods. And Manfrotto is Italian. Italians are sexy. So are the tripods they make. ? For some founding history, read here.
  • Quality over price. Determine a budget. A good rule is knowing how much your camera+flash+battery pack+lens cost. If you spent in excess of RM2,500 & above for your system, does it make sense to get an el-cheapo, flimsy/wobbly, sub-standard RM50 tripod that run the risk of collapsing & ruining your gear??? Surely not. Protect your investment & make a wise choice. My birding setup cost me RM10,000 & this is small compared to what the birdmasters spend on their gear. I’m the Wannabe birder so I can shoot with whatever I please but I do get the best with whatever I can afford. You don’t need a Gitzo if you are starting out & you don’t need to conform to the norms of society. I will show you equipment that are equally good but costs much less.
  • Determine your kind of travel, by road or by air. If you fly often, it would be good to get a light but sturdy tripod made of carbon fibre.
  • Determine the weight of your camera+lens+flash+ball head before you choose the right tripod for your system.

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Ian Liew & myself at Kuala Selangor Nature Park

Setting A Standard:-

  • Be creative. Paint your tripod. Put decals on. Make your tripod standout from the rest. If you are a birder like me, you ought to put camouflage tape instead.
  • Everyone thinks they ought to use to top range products but my Manfrotto 055 Nat Trekker (for birding) & Manfrotto Modo (for travelling) have served me so well. With the recent acquisition of Manfrotto 055CXPro4, I think I’m quite ready to become Manfrotto’s official fan.
  • Manfrotto is readily available locally & all spare parts too. I need not wait forever for a part to arrive from the other side of the world should anything go wrong.
  • Did I mention Italians are sexy?

Watch out for more posts on tripod usage as I begin the tour with My Selangor Story! Readers of Pummkin’s Pitch will get a special price on selected tripods so check back here often! (Visit my sponsors on the right of this blog.)

Racing For Birds in Frasers Hill

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Under the invitation of Travel Malaysia & Tourism Malaysia in Singapore, I attended the Bird Race two weekends ago in the company of avid birders & photographers comprising of 38 teams in a quest to spot & name the most number of species in the 1 & 1/2 day race up in Fraser’s Hill, Pahang. The event was celebrated with the presence of officials & councillors amidst vendors adding to the festivity with sale of bird identification books, embroidered patches, shirts, binoculars, digiscopes & headgear. I met someone whom I had been communicating with for the passed 4 years in the forums & later joined his group for the race that soon floored me.

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Panoramic shot using the inbuilt function on the Samsung NX100. Vendors at The International Bird Race 2011

The race started at noon & we proceeded to the usual birding spots to count the species & also procure ”˜photographic evidence.’ Jason, Andrew, Ron & Alven were using digiscopes, short name for digital camera-mounted-spotting scopes. They hail from the land below the wind, Sabah, our neighbouring state in Borneo, and they were bent on locating the Silver Breasted Broadbill, the Orange Breasted Trogon & Silver Eared Mesia, which are non-existent or scarce in their terrain. Playing the good host, I brought them to midway between Hemmant Trail & Bishop Trail, when I got plagued with a broken clamp on my tripod, a non-functioning Aperture Priority on my Olympus E1, slow buffering rates & tripod giving way. Upon Andrew’s suggestion, I shortened the third section of my tripod to make it two sections for all three legs, rendering a shorter tripod, a bent back & a craned neck. I was subjected to sitting on my birding chair & crossing the tripod legs over mine in order to get a better balance & stability to shoot any birds that land ahead of me. The picture below depicts how camouflage & proper equipment can make a big difference in the success of bird photography. Unfortunately, I haven’t got any NX lenses for birding. I am contemplating on getting an adapter to affix my current lens onto the NX100 but will be limited to manual focus only.

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The Sabahan birder team & the armchair birder!

Spotted the Female Large Niltava giving me her sexy pose near her place of residence. The Male came out while I was fiddling with my camera, hopped onto a milestone & stared squarely at me about 2 metres away. Before I could direct the lens at him, he fled. Sigh. Presenting you, his partner……

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Female Niltava.

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Niltava feeding on a worm.

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Cuckoo Dove perched after feeding!

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Chestnut Capped Laughing Thrush feeding on moth.

Nesting sites & nests are almost a highly prized commodity worthy of secrecy & protection. Alven & I ventured to the spot where a Silver Breasted Broadbill’s nest was spotted & we virtually parked ourselves about 7 metres away from it. This specie is very clever, weaving & building a hanging nest from a suspended branch over a ravine where no humans could get to, nor wild animals apart from snakes. At 15 minute intervals, the parents would return singularly to feed the chicks in the nest. Each time people ventured to where we were, I swung into a pose & Alven had to pretend that he was shooting me instead to detract them from sighting the nest. Here, I managed to catch a glimpse of the chick but only see it properly in the pictures.

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The mummy (female) returning to feed chicks. Note the ”˜necklace’ she’s wearing.

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And the slightly larger male’s turn to feed chicks.

To get a proper shot of them, we had to stay put for over 2 hours. Even with my camera troubles, these record sightings of them are worth it. I can’t wait to get my hands on an NX lens for birding. With newer technology, I am sure to have the chance to improve on my shots. The Sabahans came out as 3rd Runner-Up in the pro category & received books & hamper plus cash vouchers & I got to take home a piece of my work, not in bird photography but in an expression of colours on fabric!

The batik painting that I completed in about 4 hours in between meals & shooting nature, sparked off a new hobby & reignited my passion for painting since I laid my brushes to rest after school.

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My next purchase would have to be a sturdier, carbon fibre tripod to support my equipment. The never-ending buying of gears is part & parcel of a lifelong pursuit of nice pictures. Until then, I’d have to be happy with being under-my-tripod-on-a-chair to track birds that fleet over with no fear of the camo-clad, clandestine meets with the feathered-kind.

Distinctively Different

So another birding opportunity arose when Philip & Chien planned their outing two months ago to the same place. I thought I had better be prepared or I’d get chided again by people who adhere strongly to some kind of bird code of conduct which no newbie would ever get to know if they had just gotten into the sport by sheer coincidence, chance or timing.

The second trip was a bit more organised. I drove up to Fraser’s Hill after work, following the instructions laden by my GPS for the heck of it but after I got to passed KKB town, the unit was telling me to make a U-turn & head 21km North East!!! Either there’s something wrong with my GPS or there’s something wrong with the maps installed. I got up there feeling so good about the thought of birding again the next morning. Met Chien & Daisy for dinner before retiring for the night.

The next morning, I put on all my camo gear & went straight out to expect my feathered friends. Right. Not only was it 5 degrees colder than the previous trip, it was misty & we couldn’t see much. Even our bird pictures were ‘fogged up.’ We trotted along the Telekom Loop to look for some elusive ‘Cutie’ that someone had spotted many moons ago. What it looked like, I don’t know. I was just tagging along. When you’ve been working, travelling & leading groups all year long, you would be happy just to follow & receive instructions for a change.

And so the tripods, bipods, monopod & quadropod came out. What on earth are bipods & quadropod??? Here is a picture of two tripods, two bipods & one quadropod……


Chien, ‘Bruno’ & Philip.

Just as fast as Bruno got into our group, Bruno got out of our group to join some passers-by. So I watched for the bird wave to come.

Chien: “Greater Racket-tailed Drongo! No, Lesser!!!”
*Philip swivels his Wimberly to the canopy…*
Chien: “Look, the female drongo is coming!”
*Philip fires away……….clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick!*
*Chien spots with his binoculars, high up in the trees…*
Chien: “The female is harassing the male!”
*pummkin’s holding onto tripod for balance as she laughs…*
Chien: “See? See? The female is hammering him, the drongo probably came home late last night.”
*pummkin is now showing more teeth than eyes….*
Chien: “Worse, he probably came home with a lipstick mark too!”
*pummkin & philip momentarily stops firing from inability to focus while listening to Chien’s rendition of bird behaviour*
Philip: “Oi, Chien, where did you pick up THIS laughing thrush from?”
*Philip laughs while looking at pummkin*

The company was great & I even inherited a camo foldable chair from Philip & Jodie! Thank you very much! While Daisy & Jodie were digiscoping, I was fiddling with my Olympus E500 to get the settings right since I got it two weeks ago. It’s no D2x quality nor does it have a 600mm prime to go along with it but it served me well with pictures that I would not be afraid to share with you. Until I decide between a Sigma 50-500mm & a digiscope with an OM mount, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do…!!

Here’s what I shot with an Olympus E500 & 40-150mm & sometimes firing the FL36. Apart from the first thrush, every picture was cropped.


Chestnut Capped Laughing Thrush – Garrulax mitratus – hahaha! Got the name right this time!


Another one in the golden light….


Long-Tailed Sibia – ]Heterophasia picaoides


Javan Cuckooshrike – Coracina striata, it announces its’ arrival pretty loudly.


Flycatcher – which species it belonged to, I dunno. It was too small to see!


Mountain Bulbul – very showy this one. Almost at eye level.

Until this wannabe develop some length & reach, pummkin will remain a wannabe, bringing a part of God’s first creations to you.

Category: Adventure, Birding  Tags: ,  3 Comments

Distinguishable Differences

Last Friday night, I followed the birders to Frasers Hill & watched the masters at work. Sleeping at 1am & rising at 6am, I was so amazed at their dedication to be the first worms to bait the early birds. Here, I failed miserably to take pictures, resigned to the pavement & coffee station & watched. Dont get me wrong, I wasnt unhappy not being able to take pictures, I was just plotting how I can be a successful WANNABE!

Firstly, I have to learn the names of the birds so that I can rattle off as well as Chien when I see birds coming, or knows what on earth hes talking about when he sees them coming first!!!! Theyre everywhere!

Secondly, I have to wear camouflage. (Done. Ive gotten my spaghetti straps & hipster pants as Jason had suggested. Even got a sleeveless hooded camo jacket to go with it.) A support team has to be inconspicuous & stealth….just like the masters.

Thirdly, I must get over the shock & horror of Phil being able to eat anything under the sun or the fact that he would suggest eating them or catapulting them off trees or shooting a bow at anything with hoofs. Mention a hornbill & hell tell you they are not tasty! And to hear Chien add, Did you suck out the horn off its head too?!?!? Ohmigosh, a conservationists nightmare……Phil can be described aptly by two words, ABSOLUTELY ABO. (Short for aborigines/aboriginal). Hes great to be around though, he kept me awake with all these edible suggestions when I was on the verge of collapsing into slumber on my monopod.

Lastly, one must have the ability to laugh at oneself when you do everything for the first time. Heres an example of the differences:

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The Pro (Chien)

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The Abo (Phil)

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Wannabe! (pummkin)

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Cannot Be…

The birds are everywhere, sometimes you hear them but you dont see them. When you see them, you cant find them in your viewfinder. When you finally see through your viewfinder, the bird is so small, you squint & pray that your focus will lock on. Then they flee…….this is so frustrating……

You remember names but dont remember the sequence. Get corrected by Chien many times. You retreat to the coffee station & tell yourself to take a tea break. Then you hear a shriek, somewhat like bird with a sore throat. All you can manage to shout out is Tok tok tok! Thats a tok tok tok! When the surroundings cold, your brain freezes momentarily out of excitement, you say whatever that comes to mind. Woodpecker is non-existent in my vocabulary then. Just tok tok tok. A result of seeing too many PM threads of this name. An Indo Chinese Cuckoo Shrike becomes an Indian Chinese Cuckoo Bird to me. Soon, I was just pointing up in the sky shouting, Big Bird! Big Bird!

Here are some of my attempts but of course, no where near the pros. I stress that Ill stay as a Wannabe & stick to shooting micro underwater stuff, something which Im good at.

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Tok Tok Tok…..dont know what kind. Ask Chien.

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Forgetful Bird…….think its called Amnesia.

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Some kind of thrush…….no, its not a disease.

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Racket Tailed Drongo…….this one I know coz it makes a lot of noise outside my apartment every morning.

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Phil being powered up by Tenaga!

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The Real McCoys

Phil will be joining Philip this weekend & Philip is coming again in December, hopefully Chien can make it. Im going to set up the coffee station proper, be like a Yau Chin Tai-Tai (a rich man’s wife), sit down & wait for the birds to come before I lift my finger to shoot.

Category: Adventure, Birding, Event  Tags: ,  6 Comments

Peacock’s Pride


Since I got here, I noticed the peacocks had been roaming freely. The feathers are all stacked to make the patterns homogenous & uniformed. It’s like someone’s work of art on these birds as no two are alike. And they moult. I’d developed a favourite pastime of collecting their feathers, long, short & fluffy. Some of these are sitting between the pages of my Bible.
Bookmark

And with every find, I chuckle with glee, knowing that I’m competing with the rest of the resort staff who are also vying for this prized possession. Hahaha! The moulting process enables them to grow newer & more elaborate feathers. So the existing feathers make way when their time is up. What a splendid process. I have feathers all over my room now.

The Deck

Divers who come here, ask me how I can move from bustling KL city to a laidback idyllic island living. A girl friend whom I had met briefly before, was surprised to find me here too. I tell them that I am adjusting but the pace is still the same for me. The only thing I have to contend with is the non-availability of the usual convenience of midnight dining at mamak stalls. And the friends who would be awake to be there for you. Diver friends call me to give me encouragement & the inspiration to write. I needed it. Thank you, Eng Hoo, for believing in me in this occasionally lonely place. Then I told them of the birds that visit me are not the usual kind nowadays. I have three eagles atop the tallest trees in the jungle behind me, peacocks all around me & a rooster that likes to chill out at my balcony. Then the common mynahs will squeak when the monitor lizard emerges from below my chalet. The two dogs from the neighbours will roam into our place & I have access to so many pets in a gigantic marine aquarium that houses fearless Sergeant Majors & Cleaner Wrasses!! Ok, so I miss church & fellowship but I also get to meet people from all walks of life. We have had stories from a freight forwarder who transported dolphins to the Singapore Underwater World from Thailand. The whole operation was an intensive-care affair. Then we have the host of the Survivor series coming here to go diving with us. Shortly after, I met Erhling Wahlgren, former Mr. Universe! Who needs the city?

My Daily Visitor

So I have prided myself above the average city slicker (that I was) to come to this island & operate the dive centre with an equally if not more, proud city slicker of Singapore, my dive manager, Sam. Gene, a long time friend & fellow instructor, laughed himself silly when he found out. He didn’t think I could manage the compressor breakdown (if any) or the equipment breakdown (heaven forbids…) & asked me how I was going to manage them. Kaseng, my associate/godfather/guardian, interjected with “she’ll pick up her phone & call for help!” Swanky! That’s why I hired Sam. Life is never going to be the same again. When I made arrangements to cook our own meals, a friend enroute here kindly fulfilled my groceries request. Well, chocolates aren’t exactly groceries but they are my happy food. I got succulent grapes, a 300 thread count per square inch pillowcase & bonito flakes among others, to add onto my feel good therapy! Is he going to be the charming prince who rescues the princess from being marooned? I don’t feel marooned but it’s nice to make believe that I live in a fantasy once in awhile. Castle in a faraway land, an army of guards & servants. A tyrant king guided by an evil prime minister. And me? Stuck in the garden with my Golden Retriever & hornbill. Of course, ideally it should be pet tiger & a macaw but I’m being a bit realistic here. It would be better if this prince believed in Christ & walk in His ways. Maybe he was sent to be a distraction from the better things to come? Maybe he’s been sent by a competitor who’s got high stakes on a bet between themselves. Whatever it is, the last thing on my mind is to let a bet get in the way of friendship if friendship is what the friend is after. If the bet is really what this friend wants to win, then he would have lost the opportunity of my friendship.

The Beach

Relationships used to take up much of my time & effort as I’d placed so much emphasis on them. After going through life being single, I think I have an idea of what my soul mate would be. He will have to look like a peacock to impress me, drop life’s burdens no matter how much significance they hold like the moulting feathers, be ready to accept the period of looking bald & incomplete until the new feathers with greater magnificence grow out to replace the old. He must be monogamous like the macaws too. Tall order. Well, they say nothing is impossible with God. Just as He had arranged all the feathers to a pattern, numbered the hairs on our heads, letting a Godly man find me is like discovering my peacock feathers. Not knowing which peacock had dropped its’ feathers, chancing upon it is already an excitement. How the feather got there would be the adventure I’d live to tell my descendants, hopefully, in my garden full of flowers, hornbills & macaws, a Golden Retriever & God.

Category: Birding, Personal  Tags: ,  Leave a Comment