Special photographer-Ali Bernie Buga-ay

Ali
Bernie Buga-ay

Special Photographer
www.joysofbirding.com
Thailand

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Wildlife
photography is a passion driven by a lifestyle filled with outdoor adventures, exposing oneself to all of the natural elements while capturing moments in nature and the wildlife; being out there is no ordinary experience, one must be properly equipped.

To capture beautiful wildlife moments take a lot of time, planning, the right choice of outdoor equipment, the best photography equipment, discipline, and goals to finish with tasks to fulfil in order for one to achieve what has been perceived.

After carefully sorting out quality outdoor equipment and photography gear, I must also consider the tripod to use in the wild in which I have to carry every day on my shoulder or mounted on my camera backpack, also the one that can perform while exposed to different outdoor conditions like muddy locations, saltwater of the sea, when crossing rivers and lakes, extreme Southeast Asia summers, when exposed the horrible monsoon season, and finally sandy and dusty situations.
TRIPOD OF CHOICE
There is so much to explore in Thailand and the wildlife is unique to Southeast Asia. It's not like Africa, but yet this part of the world has its own beautiful creatures to capture in photographs or videos to tell unique stories and encourage conservation.

I have chosen the Fotopro TS-85C + Fotopro WH-30 combination in which I was delighted to use for good two years. Fotopro has never been a famous tripod brand for wildlife photography and there are a lot in the market in which one can choose from and I yet I decided to take this tripod and gimbal combination for several reasons; affordability, durability, and functionality. If I had to sell a kidney just to own one great and expensive tripod, then forget it. Fotopro professional tripods was the answer and for straight three years now, they have never disappointed me. I have used different Fotopro models then and up to now, from the smallest to the biggest tripod, Fotopro is high quality.
When Fotopro E9 came out from the workshop, for almost a year now, another fantastic experience that surpassed the latter. I received this unit before it was even taken to the Photokina 2018 in Germany; the design and build quality has been a complete joy to use. From Fotopro Artpod to Fotopro UFO series, X-Go Gecko to X-Go Max, Fotopro TS-85C to the Eagle Series like the Fotopro E9 and E6, this tripod company is world class quality and the product design are just getting better and better.
I don’t need to describe these fantastic Fotopro professional tripods, just allow me to tell some of my wildlife encounters using these tripods. The most beautiful thing about this modern time, wildlife photography and other genres of this industry, does not depend on main stream media anymore. Whatever magazine and TV advertised that came along with exciting wildlife photographs and documentaries social media got that covered giving everyone the chance and latitude to be on their own and present anything with all the freedom in the world. As everyone can own the best cameras in the world and create their own audience accordingly; people can now make fantastic original posts in photographs and videos taken directly from the wild. Thus, camera makers and camera accessory manufacturers are also free to enjoy profit from assorted wildlife enthusiasts, conservationists, photographers, which are active in their own localities. Now, here is some of my own stories.

CONSERVATION OF TERNS, TOYU KA BATO (three rock islands)
SIARGAO, PHILIPPINES

I was invited by Dr. Miguel David De Leon of Robert S. Kennedy Bird Conservancy (RSKBC), with Harry Miller, to pioneer the conservation of the Roseate Terns, Great Crested Terns, White Terns, Bridled Terns, Black-naped Terns, at Toyu ka Bato, Siargao.

Toyu ka Bato, means three rock islands, are made of solid coral reefs that created jagged islands jutting out of the southern Philippine Sea which is facing towards the Pacific Ocean. In April, these terns come to Siargao and somehow they have chosen Toyu ka Bato as there roosting and nesting place. As the terns come from other countries, Toyu ka Bato offers a perfect nesting and roosting place where fish is so abundant and the distance from the mainland is more than enough for them to be safe from human space conflict.

The problem is, humans know how to make boats; people from the mainland come during the low tide and gather the eggs for a seasonal delicacy. Tern eggs are not that tasty as the chicken’s, but the locals developed this seasonal traditional practice of gathering Tern eggs come April and May of each year.
Dr. Miguel David De Leon, who is a serious and a professional angler knew about this as he goes out fishing in Siargao each year. Siargao is famous for world class surfing and fishing. Miguel used the Terns as his guide to where he could find abundant proper fish to catch; as the terns would come in the middle of the ocean to circle around a feeding pots, the big fishes are also there and that’s where he would also go to cast and drop his lures.
Curious about the Terns, he finally asked his boatman if where these Terns are roosting. As soon as he knew the location, he discovered these three beautiful coral reefs and he kept coming to observe the Terns. He soon also discovered that the locals were gathering eggs to eat during the Tern migration to Siargao in which it raised a serious concern. If the locals continue to gather eggs from Toyu ka Bato, there will be not enough Terns to return to where they come from and also risk the chance that they will never be seen in Siargao anymore; thus, also threatens the game fishing industry of Siargao famous for. So he invited us to come over to document and count the number of Terns and kinds that has come during the season and then presented the facts to the local government to proclaim Toyu ka Bato islands are protected and no gathering of eggs is allowed.
THE BLACK PANTHER INITIATIVE
Last February 4, 2018 an Indochinese Leopard (Panthera pardus delacouri), black form, was killed in the jungle complex of Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary. Killed along with the Black Panther, was a Muntjac Deer and a Kalij Pheasant. Because of this horrible crime towards wildlife and other ongoing atrocities; my group Sevendays of Creation, of wildlife photographers decided to participate in this massive conservation effort that everyone should actually take part in saving the big cats of Thailand.

Since February of 2018, I started to visit Khao Laem National Park and Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary to get involved in this massive conservation effort of saving the Indochinese Leopard, black form. There are about 200 individuals left in the wild in Thailand and about 2000 individuals around the world from part of China to mainland Southeast Asia.

Sevendays of Creation must participate and the effort was called the Black Panther Initiative. This initiative will try to evoke and remind people about our responsibilities towards nature as global warming, pollution, natural calamities are for real, affecting the planet and the people living in it.
Together with Infinity Plus, we visited Khao Laem National Park and Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, brought along with us some photography equipment to support the park rangers who are documenting the wildlife in the reserve. We think that it was not enough and we need to do something more in taking part in this conservation effort.
October 9, 2018: I returned to Khao Laem National Park and donated more equipment to be used in the wild and made arrangements about the possibilities of filming the Indochinese Leopard and other animals that can be found when I come for the next visit.
Last April 2019, this month was the most hectic. I planned to stay in the jungle of Khao Laem National Park for straight twenty days, only to go out to resupply. I knew it wasn’t easy, so I had to train physically for two months before the expedition, purchased new equipment, and looked for sponsors to support me with some necessities like food and jungle gear, enough memory cards, batteries and power banks to last the whole expedition. Fotopro sponsored my major expenses to complete my mission of finding the Indo Chinese Leopard (black form) and other animals. To find the Black Panther, one must be able to find other animals first before finding it. It is rare and the most difficult to find and I and my wife was able to see it briefly, for at least four seconds, then it walked in the jungle.

April 15, 2019: The expedition started, I travelled during the night to Phu Toie National Park which was 220 km, there I stayed for two days and rehearsed my equipment to be used at Khao Laem National Park. I had great bird species over there and the experience was amazing though it was hot like hell, the Thai summer is blistering hot.
I left Phu Toie National Park around 6:45 pm chased by a very heavy rain which threatened my exit as the dirt road was turning to be muddy and huge branches may fall on the road trapping me inside the national park. As soon as I got out I set my GPS to lead me to drive for 291 kilometres to Khao Laem National Park; for almost one full day, I stopped several times to rest an as it was night time. At a gas station in Kanchanaburi, I woke up and decided to take a shower and get something to eat before I chased more pavement. Instead of going to Khao Laem National Park I went straight to a gorgeous mountain Buddhist temple where some rare frogs are found at a stream flowing down a mountain as a waterfall, I stayed until almost midnight to find them as they only appear during that time.

It was very difficult to drive up there off road, the terrain was hard and lucky for me that there was no rain or else I could have been trapped there. I went out and got myself a room at Khao Laem National Park, backed up my photographs and footage in a portable hard drive and waited for the next day.

April 18, 2019: I woke up refreshed, I went to the national park headquarters to plan and decide on what to do, and we studied the map where the Indochinese Leopards could be found. We also decided if how many rangers would be helping us to carry all my photography equipment, food, camping needs.
April 19, 2019: We took a Toyota 4x4 up the winding mountain road with ten rangers fully loaded with guns, food supply, my five backpacks loaded with photography equipment, and with their own stuff. As we reached the entrance to the jungle, we were on foot for almost four hours, hiking up and down and finally we reached a mountain ridge where we were welcomed by Hornbills and Broadbills that came very close to us. We sat on the slope side and ate our lunch there. Later we walked down the slope to follow an animal path leading down to the stream where we setup a perch-and-hide to wait for the Indochinese Leopard to pass by and drink water. The location was confirmed and validated to be the drinking spot; I stayed in the hide for almost five days and restricted my movement, ate and slept inside, we were extremely careful not to become the prey of the animal we were hoping to find. Tigers, bears, and some other smaller cats are also known to be around, so we had to be in the hide during the day and just kept quiet as we waited.
For the past days we heard and seen nothing except for rare birds to find somewhere else, but I was not there for the birds and I did not want to make unnecessary movements just for the rarities in front of me as the Leopards and Tigers might be around. The only mammal that I saw was a Shrew. The predatory animals must have moved into the jungle complex of Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, following all their preys as they were also searching for food during that very hot summer.
I decided to go out of the jungle and maximize my summer vacation to cover more national parks to find other animals and thinking to return in October for another expedition, this time at Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary where the Indochinese Leopards (black form) are also found.

April 24, 2019: I was on the road again from Khao Laem National Park to Mae Wong National Park which was a full day’s drive of 470.5 kilometers; I had to stop and go and it would have been faster if I never had to slowdown for some road congestions caused by road constructions and narrow roads. The next day, I spent a full day staking out the elusive Rusty-naped Pitta, Malayan Peacock-pheasant, some Flycatcher and Fork-tails. I drove out during the night to Huai Kha Kaeng Wildlife Sanctuary for 116 kilometers but decided to stop at a cheap roadside homestay to recharge batteries, backup files, arrange stuff to get ready for the work ahead the next day.
April 26, 2019: At Huai Kha Kaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, I documented Bantengs, Eld’s Deer, Indian Hog Deer, Sambar Deer, and the Eurasian Wild Pig. I stayed up late until it was dark and drove back to Bangkok where I waited for two days for friends to come along with me to Koh Mun Nai in the province of Rayong which is 186 kilometers drive.

April 29, 2019: We were on a boat to the island to capture the rare migrant of a bird the Fairy Pitta. There were also the Blue-winged Pitta and Hooded Pitta, Japanese Flycatchers, the Tiger Shrike, and other birds for us to document. May 30, 2019: Commencing the season, I went back again to Huai Kha Kaeng Wildlife Sanctuary and stayed there until June 2, 2019 to document two Indochinese Leopard cubs and other animals.
There is so much to be done in terms of conservation in Southeast Asia and wildlife has been threatened by development, massive lands converted to farms, industry, pollution, wildlife trafficking and so on. It looks like that the efforts are not enough to save a lot of species at the brink of extinction, everyone concerned must try. Thank you so much Fotopro for all the help that you have extended to me for the sake of conservation.
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