Written by Nityasa Namaskari (BNF’s Field Coordinator KHDTK Mungku Baru)
Yuyus and Adit from the BNF drone team (accompanied by me) were assigned to map the Education Forest, using the quadcopter drone, near the village of Mungku Baru (4,910 hectares) nestled in the Rungan Landscape. The task was simple, fly the quadcopter from base camp to take continuous aerial photographs of four transects 1-2 kilometres away from camp.
This was our first attempt at mapping the forest from the air, so we could compare the aerial photos with the data we have from satellite imagery and our habitat analysis on the ground to get an accurate representation of the mosaic nature of the area. This was also a trial run to see whether or not we could spot and identify orangutan nests. Since this was the first time Yuyus and Adit have flown a quadcopter in the middle of the forest, they had to experiment and get used to the dense canopy of the forest first.
On the first day, we discovered it was impossible to fly from our camp to the end of the transect (Camp Transect) as it was too far for the range of the drone. Being surrounded by trees reduced the signal strength of the drone, so our team had to go to the midpoint of the Transect Camp for the drone to reach the end.
The drone successfully took pictures of the transect from the start to the end, but when we got back to the village to check on the laptop, the images were just slightly off. Yuyus and Adit were not satisfied with the results. After much deliberation, we decided to redo the transect if we had the time.
On the second day, we went to an open area on the furthest transect (East Transect). But right after the drone reached the top of the canopy, the forest decided that it needed to be rehydrated. Adit quickly lowered the drone and protected it from the rain. We all headed for cover and went straight back to base camp. Unfortunately, the rain continued until the evening so we couldn’t do any more work that day.
Since we only had two days left on this field trip, we were determined to finish two transects today because they were closeby (South Transect and Camp Transect). Yuyus and Adit decided to bring a laptop to camp to check the images on the spot. We even had extra help carrying the heavy equipment to the forest. It took us about four hours to do the two transects. After knowing that the mapping of the two transects was successful, we went back to the village relieved and happy. Only two more to go!
We did the remaining transects (East Transect and North Transect) on the last day. Flying the drone on the last two transects went smoothly and it only took us about two hours. After checking on the laptop, we were glad that the images came out nicely. We finally mapped out all the transects! We even had another battery to use, so Yuyus played around with the drone to take videos of camp and our journey home.
It may not sound like it was, but the trip was exhausting. Every day we walked at least 6 kilometres. The transects had a lot of fallen trees which required us to climb over or under, testing our leg joints and muscles. But now we’re just glad that we returned to BNF HQ with good results. The photos will be processed by Adit to produce an orthophoto (geometrically-corrected photo) using a special program. The orthophotos will then be stitched together to see what the canopy of each transect looks like.
The drone team is now more confident flying in the forest with the quadcopter. Because we want to know more about this complex mosaic forest, our next mission is to use a fixed-wing drone to map out the forest cover of the whole Rungan Landsape.