Last week saw a return to Khao Yai National Park for a quick visit. It has been sometime since I had visited Khao Yai and the forest was its rainy season radiant green best. Sadly the weather was not cooperating for photography on the first day and most of the day was a miserable washout with those awful grey skies that don’t work well with photographs.
On the second morning the still sodden skies were promising much more of the same so we abandoned our original plan and decided to have a hike and see what sign we could find. So we geared up and set off armed with a day’s supplies, and lightweight photo gear. This included the lightweight Nikon 300mm f/4E PF ED VR and the “plastic fantastic” 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II zoom for myself. Ed had gone for the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM and tripod – more flexible but more weight also.
About an hour into our day the weather started to improve, and the skies had brightened enough to allow a usable shutter speed/ISO combination on the forest floor. Time for another change of plan. You get few chances in the forest at this time of year and its best to take advantage of good weather/light whenever it appears. Makeshift blinds were quickly set and we settled into our respective hideaways at the limits of each other’s vision. I always find using blinds in Khao Yai to be not as relaxing as in other parks I normally frequent, due the high elephant numbers in the park. My senses are always alert listening for the sounds of the huge pachyderms and being ready to grab my gear and move out of their range quickly if they appear.
The weather and light ebbed from good to poor, from poor to good. Back and forth. There was peace and tranquility and but no large visitors in the 5 hours we waited in our self-imposed silence. Ed was surveyed by an inquisitive white handed gibbon – out of range for me to see it. I sat in silence for a full 5 hours not seeing any wildlife except butterflies passing down the brook opposite and leeches climbing the legs of my stool. And then I heard a small splash that did not match the babbling of the brook.
Suddenly, I saw a head appear from the water and quickly disappear again. I had to alter the direction I was facing and the lightweight Nikon 300 PF f/4 came into its own for at the moment I started to turn my body the head reappeared in the water. A lone smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata). It emerged from the brook and ran along the bank side for 4 seconds at the most before plunging back into the water – not to be seen again. A wonderful - if brief sighting.
In that 4 seconds, the lightness and maneuverability of the PF 300 lens had secured me 4 shots. Two sharp images out of four at 1/125, ISO 1600, f4 but I doubt another lens could have served me better. A longer or heavier lens and I would have struggled with finding the otter in frame, wasting valuable time. A shorter lens would have worked but would have forced me to crop the file – increasing visible noise at the ISO of 1600.
Altogether another great experience in Khao Yai National Park, and a great day for the abilities of the 300 PF.