Bird Photography / Borneo / Macro-photography / Travel / Wildlife

Into the jungles of Sabah (Borneo)

16 Oct ’15

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How to summarize two and a half months of field biology and photography, hundreds of images and countless adventures into one blog post? I am afraid it is not going to be possible, but, I will do my best to pick the right images and write the appropriate words to describe what a life changing experience it was. Most of our time was spent at the SAFE project area where myself and three others worked as research assistants on a frog biodiversity research project. We did both day and night surveys and by being out so often the wildlife encounters were plentiful. The SAFE project area is not what you would expect rainforest to be in Borneo, at least not all of it. Some of the research conducted in the area is looking at the effects of logging and palm oil on biodiversity and trying to come up with better management practices for such industries, which are non-existent or not based on sound science yet in Borneo. A very topical and an important subject of conservation biology for this part of the world.

LFE_Panorama1

Some of the streams we surveyed had a great diversity of frogs (and other animals), much more than what I expected. The stream above was my favorite, that area of small waterfalls was so bucolic. Every time my camera was not in arm’s reach, I missed out on photographing something. I am glad for all the images I did capture as they will be my medium to talk to people about the work being done to preserve diversity in this part of the world. Also to show people all these wonderful species that live out of reach in the depths of the jungle. Below is a selection of my favorite frog photographs taken in this part of Borneo.

Short-snouted treefrog (Rhacophorus gauni). This is probably the favorite of my favorites! As in this image, they are quite often found on gingers (Zingiberaceae) that overhang the streams.

Rhacophorus gauni

Harlequin gliding frog (Rhacophorus pardalis). These frogs have extreme webbing of the toes and the fingers and additional skins flaps on their legs and arms to help them glide from tree to tree in the canopy.

Rhacophorus pardalis

Saffron-bellied frog (Chaperina fusca), the smallest frog that we saw, about 1.7cm. It has no webbing and is not found in the streams but rather hiding in the leaf litter alongside the streams. An interesting fact about these guys is that the yellow pigment on the belly can rub off, and as we found out, while not diminishing the colour on the belly it can leave yellow smudges on hands.

Chaperina fusca

Malaysian horned frog (Megophrys nasuta). The frog that always looks angry! This is another leaf litter specialist, adapted to life on the forest floor this guy’s colouration and sharp, angled outline helps him to avoid detection.

Megophrys nasuta

Black-spotted skipper (Staurois guttatus). The green jewel of the Bornean streams. One of the most common and abundant frogs from our survey sites. Having a species that you see over and over can make it difficult to get a good photo because you have so many opportunities that you end up not knowing which one is your favorite. This is my pick!

Staurois guttatus

Photographing frogs in the rainforest is never a walk in the park… One of the main issues is that being out at night with a headlight you are attracting 10000000 insects that hit you in the eyes, crawl into your ears and go crazy in your nose… Very nice! On top of all of that, you are trying not to slip and fall in the stream and drown your camera gear but, it is so worth it!

Here is a photo of me checking out an image I just took while out on the streams (screen capture of footage from Ellie Mackay)

nicolas_rakotopare_wildlife_photogrpahy

I love the freedom involved with being in a place where I can explore alone (i.e not being bound by opening hours of a park or having to be accompanied). I always try to support local guides when I can and it’s great to have local expertise but there is something exhilarating about grabbing my camera bag, my GPS, heading into the unknown and spending hours searching for wildlife. Below is a selection of wildlife, other than frogs, encountered during our long hours out in the field (or simply found around camp):

Bornean banded pitta (Pitta schwaneri). I learned the call of this bird quite early on in our stay as I heard it and caught a glimpse of one behind the camp kitchen. For over two months, I kept on hearing the call without ever getting within a good range for a photo. The last afternoon of our stay I heard it again, quite close and loud and decided to stay in the patch of scrub behind the camp until I found it! It took me half an hour of waiting patiently before it moved into my line of sight and it was only 10meters away! I got 4-5 images before it flew off, this is the best one.

Bornean banded pitta (Hydrornis schwaneri)

Black-and-yellow broadbill (Eurylaimus ochromalus). A very common bird but I could not get enough of seeing and hearing them. The field guide defines their call as “Distinctive, once heard never forgotten” and this is so true. It is the first bird I got a great view of through my binoculars thanks to Phil. This image shows a female black-and-yellow broadbill recognisable by the incomplete black chest collar.

Eurylaimus ochormalus 1O9A0574

Rufous piculet (Sasia abnormis) One of the smallest bird from the woodpecker family. He landed on that branch and seemed to realise that he was way to close to me, he looked up once or twice and disappeared as fast as he arrived.

RUfous piculet Sasia abnormis in Borneo

Common Mock Viper (Psammodynastes pulverulentus). Called mock viper because of the vaguely similar head shape to a true viper. We encountered this snake a few different times during our surveys and jungle walks. It was quite a pleasant snake to photograph, not aggressive at all, although I read it can be at times.

Common Mock Viper (Psammodynastes pulverulentus)

Bornean palm pit viper (Trimeresurus borneensis). An ambush predator if I ever saw one! It was so still it would be nearly impossible for a small mammal or a frog to notice it, but I suppose that’s the point. It’s always a little nerve-wracking to photograph venomous snakes, I had to get rather close to be able to capture the image I wanted, but I always made sure the camera was between the snake and my hands.

Trimeresurus Borneensis

Reticulated python (Python reticulatus) the world’s longest snake. At 2.5m, this was only a juvenile, this species of python can grow to be at least 6m with unconfirmed reports claiming it can grow even larger. We found him twice over several weeks at the same spot, the first time he slithered off into the vegetation and disappeared rather quickly. The second time, however, he must have decided that swimming upriver was a good escape route. This shot was difficult at he was swimming quite fast and I decided to use the headlights instead of the flash to get this type of exposure for the image.

Python reticulatus reticulated python

Gear

All the frog images were taken with the Canon EOS 7DmkII and the canon 100mm f/2.8 (Non-IS or USM version). I used the Canon 430ex and a diffuser off-camera to get a softer light. The bird images were taken with the 300mm f/2.8 L IS USM (including the canon 2x extender). The next articles will be about the time we spent traveling from Tawau back to Kota Kinabalu. We stopped at some rather cool wildlife places!

Check out our Borneo – Wildlife video below.

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Author

I am a nature photographer specialising in wildlife photography. I have a special passion for this type of photography which comes from my background as an ecologist & conservation biologist.