Sulawesi Macaques

At the end of 2012, I headed out to Tangkoko National Park in North Sulawesi, Indonesia with Rolf Steinmann and his beloved Alexa in order to spend 7 weeks in the jungle capturing the magical, cheeky, frequently-frustrating but endlessly loveable antics of the Sulawesi Macaque, also known as the Mohican Monkey.

I am the Mohican Monkey

‘Check me out; I am the Mohican Monkey!’

Like many species living in close proximity to man, the Sulawesi Macaque population has crashed in the last couple of decades. This film, an upcoming BBC Natural World, aims to look at the reasons behind this population decline and asks the question – are these the last of the mohican monkeys? Rolf and I, however, were assigned the rather more cheery task of capturing the behaviour and characters of these, most stylish of primates. December marks the onset of the rainy season and the magical morning mist.

OK. Maybe that was worth getting out of bed at 4 am for.

An effective antidote to a 4 am start.

It also marks the start of mango season and the monkeys, well, they eat a lot of mango. Initially this made our lives easy as, rather than roving far and wide, the macaques stayed in a relatively small area, making it a simple task to rejoin the group each day. However, after a short-while it became plain that it would be rather challenging to capture them doing much of anything else. Partly because, when they weren’t eating mango, they were getting to grips with the film equipment.

Sulawesi (1 of 1)

‘Can’t seem to get the exposure for some reason…’

That or sleeping…

Another hard afternoon in the jungle. What d'you mean it's only 10am?

‘Another hard afternoon in the jungle. What d’you mean it’s only 10am?’

Fortunately on this shoot we had the luxury of time. In wildlife shooting, time makes all the difference and slowly the boisterous, affected behaviours gave way to a more natural insight into the everyday lives of these monkeys.

Mmmm... tasty!

‘The full mohawk today, sir, or just an exuberant quiff?’

'Hey! No running, diving or bombing!'

‘Hey! No running, diving or bombing!’

The Alexa, as ever, performed flawlessly and really allowed us to make the most of the little light that made it down to the jungle floor; even then the aperture was pretty wide most of the time. The two stops that the doubler cost meant it was really only useable in the more open areas, however the scrub was so thick in most places that the doubler was only called for in the open areas anyway. The 30-300 was beautifully sharp and the image straight off the camera is mouthwateringly crisp and rich, the high bit depth yielding super silky tones through the shadows. Carrying a super 35mm camera, a full shooting days worth of batteries, a range of PL lenses and a fluid head through the jungle on the side of a steep volcano between a team of three is certainly a work out and we had some reservations going into it; the image delivered, however, certainly justifies the effort and I’m really looking forward to seeing the completed film this autumn. As usual, absolutely no problems with reliability, despite the heat and oppressive humidity. In fact I recall only one occasion when Rolf’s faith in the hardiness of German engineering wavered perceptibly.

'My turn!'

‘My turn!’

After seven weeks in the jungle it felt pretty strange to come back to the city. Even the smallest of things seemed alien. Still, perhaps that isn’t so different to the jungle…

'WTF is that?'

‘WTF is that?’

To check out a selection of images captured during our time in Sulawesi visit the Faunagraph gallery here:


A Barge Less Dived…

[embedit snippet=”roberts-barge-vimeo-video”]

Finding the Wreck

Almost a year ago Marcus and I headed out to check out some marks in the hope of finding something new to dive. Our plan to survey three or four sites that day was cut short by inclement weather, however the time we had yielded some success; the echo revealed something standing 3m proud of the seabed at a depth of eighty meters near to the first mark. We trawled backwards and forwards for an hour or so marking waypoints every time we got a hit, hoping to build up an idea of how big the thing might have been – this gave us an estimate of forty to fifty meters, although bouncing around in rough seas in a small rib didn’t give us too much confidence in the accuracy of the results! Old reports described Nevil Adkins and Tim Seed diving on ‘Robert’s Barge’ in a location and depth that seemed to match this site, although no position had been listed in the account. Was this the same barge? Or something new? Whatever it was, it certainly looked like it was worth a dive.

Robin explores the well encrusted bow of Robert's Barge

Almost a year passed until this April when I put a plan together with some other members of the Ras Al Hamra Sub Aqua Club to head out and dive the site Marcus and I had located previously. Despite being favoured with very respectable visibility during the descent, towards the seabed it became a bit milky and so we were at nearly 70m before the outline of an open pipe barge, completely empty and sitting upright on the silty seabed, loomed into existence below us. Any ambiguity as to whether the site was the same one dived by Nevil and Tim was definitively dispelled as they’d left a can with an inscription attached to a ladder at the stern.

Welcome to Robert's Barge

Tim and Nevil’s claim on the wreck: ‘Welcome to Robert’s Barge. First dived Wednesday 9th May 2001 by Nevil Adkins and Tim Seed’.

The site is small (smaller than the echo suggested) and dark but eerily beautiful. Sunk forty years previously and having only been dived once to date (to the best of our knowledge) it was also well colonised and undisturbed. Given the depth we only had a brief bottom time to get the shots for the video, which is correspondingly short, but I’m sure you’ll agree has a haunting beauty.

Hopefully we’ll have more to report before too long; as the saying so nearly goes ‘there are plenty more marks in the sea’. 🙂

P.S. Apologies for the quality of the stills in this post – they are frame grabs from the video footage.


Hi all. I have been exceedingly busy over the past couple of months so haven’t had any time at all to update my blog. I’ve got a bit of time to consolidate now though so I’ll be putting up some posts I’ve been meaning to get up for a while over the next couple of weeks detailing some Indonesian monkey business, 17th-century castaways sparring with Bedouin, a film premiere and a short wreck video. Keep your eyes peeled!

Wadi Tiwi to Wadi Bani Khalid – E35 – Oman Mountain Club

Last week I finally managed to get out and do the Wadi Tiwi to Wadi Bani Khalid trek with the Oman Mountain Club. It’s a pretty easy walk, if long, with stunning views at every turn along the way. Doing it this way takes you from the seaward facing Wadi Tiwi, up and across the Eastern Hajar mountains and back down to the Northern Edge of the Wahiba Sands through the scenic Wadi Bani Khalid. The ascent starts immediately with a relatively steep climb out of Wadi Tiwi, revealing the lush plantations around Saymah at the head of the wadi.

Plantations in Wadi Tiwi

Plantations in Wadi Tiwi

From there on, the donkey path wends its way slowly upwards through some wonderful, isolated gullies towards the plateau on top. We were lucky enough to spot a mountain gazelle (gazella gazella muscatensis) in one such area, however it started immediately having seen us and sprang away in a deft display of agility and disregard for the precipitous fall below. Reaching the plateau the trekking path runs alongside a newly built graded road coming up from Qalhat which enables vehicle support and a more comfortable overnight camp if desired. Sleeping outside at just over 2000m, I found the night to be surprisingly cold at the start of November and was glad of my down sleeping bag. After a chilly start the next morning, a short further climb takes you to the top of the ridge and the highest point of the trek. On a clear day it is possible to see both the golden sands of the Wahiba ahead and the azure blue of the Gulf of Oman behind you from the top of this ridge. The view of Wadi Bani Khalid from above is breathtaking.

Descending into Wadi Bani Khalid

Descending into Wadi Bani Khalid

After a long but gentle descent we were relieved to finally arrive at the tranquil pools of Wadi Bani Khalid. A swim in the cool spring water was the perfect restorative after a couple of long days on the mountain.  The signpost at the start of the walk lists the walk as 28km long, however we measured 41km end to end with our GPS. The GPS also showed the net ascent on day 1 was approximately 1900m from the start point at an altitude of 150m to the campsite beneath the ridge at 2050m. The highest point reached the following day was 2150m.

The walk

The walk

Many thanks to Abdullah Al Muqimi and the Oman Mountain Club for organising the trek. Also a report on the hiking route is being prepared for The Week national newspaper so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Autumn Light

Autumn Light

Autumn Light

The light is pretty stunning at the moment. And the UK has weather!