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Butter Coffee & Drunken Noodles in Banting

Banting is a town near Port Klang that bridges coastal areas like Morib & Tanjung Sepat. On our way to Tanjung Sepat, one stopover that you should not miss is the Banting Butter Brew coffee & Rice Wine Mee Sua, situated side by side at a row of government-owned shoplot. The coffee brew has a legacy of 60 years, left behind by the keeper’s father of Hainanese descent. The specialty black coffee is brewed & then a dollop of butter is added to give it a creamy taste. They serve the usual fare of toast with kaya (coconut & egg jam) & butter & half boiled eggs throughout the day.

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Beside this shop is Wo Jia Restaurant & I ordered their special Rice Wine Mee Sua, vermicelli noodles in rice wine soup served with an egg poached inside. It was absolutely divine as the wine in the hot soup brought out the flavour of the vermicelli & egg. My friend ordered a Pumpkin Pan Mee, hand-pinched noodle with pumpkin in soup.

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This row of shoplot is located near the bus stop & parallel to a huge monsoon drain. Perhaps the authorities should look into beautifying the area that hosts delectable street food along this entire row of shops. The outdoor seating beneath the big trees is quite a pleasant experience. We forget that when we live in & around concrete jungles. I got the shopkeeper to relate his thoughts to my friend who could speak Mandarin so if you speak the language too, do watch the video!!!
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Banting Butter Brew is in a shoplot called Sin Guan Huat & right beside it is Wo Jia Restaurant. My entire meal for two only costs less than RM15.00. Unbelievable but true. You have got to try it yourself to see what value you are getting. You can find them on Foursquare or at the coordinates here:- N2.810275, E101.502419. Make this your definite stopover as the trade of his butter brew is dying since his son has indicated no interest in continuing his business. The very few heritage trades of Hainanese left in Selangor”¦”¦

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The Challenge of Bird Photography In The Rainforest of Borneo

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Panorama shot of the trails within the Sepilok Forest Reserve.

Pictures do not tell a thousand words when the eye of the beholder does not know the behaviour nor the habitat of the bird the picture was taken in. The level of effort corresponds with the level of commitment to obtain the shot given the probability of  most conditions that are not favourable to photographers. With a very small window of opportunity in the thick foliage of Sepilok jungle, you have a few seconds to respond to adjusting your lens to frame the bird & get it into focus before firing the shutter.

Most times, you need to be up early & light is usually not favourable to you. Making the best of these situations, you either use fill-in flash on 2nd curtain sync or bump up the ISO to the max, depending on how capable your camera is. Pictures shown here are the exact lighting conditions without any adjustments.

Venue:- Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok Forest Reserve, Sandakan, Sabah.
Heat & Humidity – This place must be the most awesome creation of tropical foliage in the rainforest of Sandakan but having so much thick cover, the humidity can reach well above 90% on an average day. It’s almost like the foliage on the canopy had trapped a massive amount of moisture for the life below that lingering inside is like a mist-cooker, you would be melting without even moving an inch. Lugging your gear with you & walking in the trails can cause you to be drenched wet with perspiration within your first half hour into your excursion. Solution: Get a Cobber, an expandable water-activated gel tube scarf to tie around your neck, cooling your carotid nerves as the day gets hot & hotter. Wear quick-dry & light attire to wick off moisture & sweat.

Hilly Terrain  – Be prepared to trek uphill as well as downhill. Carrying your mounted tripod if you have a 400mm lens or above would test your stamina & endurance but that’s just the beginning. Your essentials are almost always needed on an expedition like this so add it on to what you will be carrying on your photo backpack. Apart from carrying the right bag, an airtight/moisture-tight container is recommended for your batteries, memory cards & any peripherals which you think might be subjected to the humid air. A mini trolley would be an ideal partner for your bag & tripod as walking to the hotspots (spots with rare bird sightings) from one location to another can really drain you. Bring a 1.5litre bottle of water to rehydrate. You would not want to move from your spot for water only to discover from your birding buddies later that the bird landed, courted, fed & possibly mated when you were gone.

Wet Ground – Bring a foldable chair. Camouflaged preferred. I had to resort to sitting on the ground with my Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod shortened to fit into the little window. Alternatively, bring a small piece of spongy, exercise mat to sit on. Wear shoes with traction. I had my Timberlands Chocorua Trail on & it has served me well for the last 6 years.

Here are the shots, unedited, a few of them just cropped to give you clarity.

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In this picture, there is a hole in the tree. What we didn’t know was that this hole, is a secret bathtub for the birds!!! Note the twigs & branches obstructing the view.
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Close up shot of the bird bath…..
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And I managed to capture a Leaf Bird! I took videos of this bird & will upload them when I have better internet connection!

Updated! Video of secret bird bath!
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See the full frame picture……
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….and this section here where I pointed my lens!
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Here the bird sits quietly as it hunts for food. And a twig was in my way! Grrrr…..!
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Sometimes, you get lucky. There were two Kingfishers in this shot! Unfortunately, they were too far in even for my 500mm lens’ reach.
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To get a shot of the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (8cm in size only & this male was in a feeding courtship!), there was only one window around the leaves.

 

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This is the ‘window.’ The blurred parts of the picture are leaves obstructing my view.
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See the leaves again?
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Courtship in action! I gotta find a male who would feed me too! LOL!
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I think marriage is on the way…….yay! (Chan Pak, the HK veteran birder, eventually got the mating shot of these OD KF!)

 

The jungle is filled with sounds of bugs & birds. We were so engrossed with the little Dwarfs that we missed the big red Trogon behind us. The Diard’s Trogon has a red chest but always remain hidden with its back facing us so any opportunity to take a frontal shot is a shot in the dark…..

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See what I mean??? Obscured, I managed to get an ID shot of its chest.

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Still obscured despite me shifting position & angle.

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Getting a little frontal shot is still not considered good enough for any birdmasters, who will never show shots like these.

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Finally after a strained neck, a twisted back & wobbly legs from contorting myself to get the shots, I got the Diard’s Trogon!

My foray into bird photography in 2006, was attributed by my best friend, Chien, (who passed away on the 24 August 2011) when he talked to me about how he got those waders by staking out in the water to wait for the right moment. His pictures are astounding. His passion was even more infectious. He was born to teach & by sharing what he knows, he had enlarged his circle of influence to emulate what he did. And everyone enjoyed doing what he taught us to do, birding & learning about the habitat of birds to get the right time & capture the right shots. He had been a great friend & I am a product of emulating what he did with bird photography. I will share with you my discovery along the way just as Chien was so enthusiastic about sharing his discoveries when he was alive. Whatever challenges in bird photography that comes my way, his teachings would always echo in my head.

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Nature’s umbrella In the jungle – even the yam leaves are taller than I am!

The people behind the Borneo Bird Festival were fantastic & the resort I stayed in (Sepilok Jungle Resort) gave me a lot of opportunities to shoot birds in their compound. Being appointed as one of the judges in the Bird Photography Contest of the Festival, I want to thank the organisers for that honour & opportunity although it blew my cover as The Wannabe, I still think I do better stalking & reporting in my profession! Make Sepilok Forest Reserve as your next birding destination & be thrilled!

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A Sunbird in natural lighting.

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.)