Peninsular Malaysia - March, 2007
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Our last four birding trips had been to the New World, and previous trips included Africa and also the Indian subcontinent. We thus had a craving for South-east Asia, and I had found the infrastructure and birding possibilities on Malaysian Borneo to have mouth watering potential on a family holiday there in 2005. This all pointed to a trip to Peninsular Malaysia, depending on the specific birding potential there. We thus paid a visit to one or two of the appropriate stands at the British Birdwatching Fair, and additional research made our decision for us. The location of the area throws up a blend of species from the Indian subcontinent, migrants from Northern and Eastern Asia, and new or larger exponents of families such as broadbills, babblers, bulbuls, pittas, etc.
The itinerary brought up some interesting ideas. In essence, we had a week, and it was obvious that the major site that had to be visited was Fraser's Hill, with its massive potential for hill species. Taman Negara caused us a bit of a problem. Some reports said that it had a good species list, but that the forest birding involved made it frustrating, and in some cases, disappointing. The view we took was that as well as the actual birds, we wanted a forest experience, and the outcome was that we were very happy with both the birds and the experience. There were also some other sites which reared their heads, such as the Genting and Cameron Highlands, but they offered a similar type of habitat to Fraser's Hill, so we opted for a look in to Kuala Selangor, and its coastal / mangrove opportunities. We found this blend to be perfect, and while our main goal is quality of birds and to enjoy what we see rather than size of list, we felt that about 190 species for a week in what is essentially forest birding is more than fulfilling. The location of the three sites also meant that there wasn't much traveling involved, with the longest journey being 3 hours from Fraser's Hill to Kuala Selangor.
Timing and weather
As with many equatorial locations, the concept of dry and wet seasons is more of a comparative statement than a factual one. February and March are more accurately termed the drier season, and this was the reason for our March trip. There is an argument for going a little later, say in May, since this is when many of the birds are singing making them easier to locate. However, although we were lucky with the rain, since it only actually poured during a few hours on our first day, and for an hour on the last afternoon, when it rains it rains torrentially, making birding either difficult or impossible. When we arrived at Fraser's Hill, we were informed that we were fortunate to have missed four days of this type of weather.
Another consideration here is the activity of the pests, namely mosquitoes and leaches. Mosquitoes were present during our visit, but presented a minor irritation. At Taman Negara, there are some Malaria transmitting beasts, and so prophylaxis with proguanil / chloroquine is advised. Leaches have the potential to be a major problem, particularly in the closed forests after rain. We came across birders who had numerous plasters on their bodies, since leach bites often include an anticoagulant, leaving a constant streaming of blood for some hours. We had invested in leach socks and sprayed them with 50% deet, which is a definite recommendation.
The flights we had were very near perfect. This is based on the fact that we used Amsterdam as a hub, which is a superbly efficient airport, and the flight times from Newcastle / Amsterdam / Kuala Lumpur meant that we arrived in Malaysia early morning (touch down at 7am, in the car at 8:15am, and at our first site at 11:40am), yet left just before midnight (giving us what amounted to an extra days birding on the last day!). KLM / Malaysia airlines also offered top class service, with the food on the latter being amongst the best I have experienced (includes Malaysian breakfast, which has to be tried if offered!). The airport is conveniently located well outside of the city of Kuala Lumpur, meaning that you do not have to taste the mayhem of city driving.
For car hire, we booked on the internet direct with National Car Rental. I aimed for a larger and well known international outlet for various reasons, and not many of those names that are worldwide operate in Malaysia. However, the price and package (including insurance) from National can be recommended. We were given an almost new Proton Wira 1.5L automatic which served our purposes beautifully. The roads in Malaysia are very well maintained, being almost pothole free, and the signposting is generally very good. Even the minor roads seem to be well maintained.
This reserve, which means "Nature Reserve" in Malay, is huge in area, and boasts a species list of around 350. It is set in the lowlands of central Malaysia, and the prime habitat is dense rainforest. This means that the birding can be quite sporadic and very tiring physically, but time spent here can be very rewarding. The reserve used to be accessible only by boat, but there is also now a road which can be used to gain access. However, I would strongly recommend staying the night before in Jerantut (leave the car here), booking the river and transfer to the jetty at the office within the sister hotel of the Hotel Sri Emas, and enjoy the birds and tranquility from the 12 seater motorised boat.
The accessible part of the reserve is at the confluence of the Tembeling and Tahan rivers. There are two choices of accommodation - the Mutiara Resort, which is situated within the reserve itself, or cheaper accommodation on the opposite bank of the river. Although more expensive, the former is situated within the prime birding area, with a good number of species within the grounds of the resort itself. At either end of the resort are entrances to the forest trails. The one at the western end leads to the Bumbun Tabing trail, which follows the course of the Tahan river. This can be very productive, although we didn't have the time to walk the 3km to the hide. The swimming area (Lubok Simpon) has good potential for viewing kingfishers. At the eastern end of the resort is the Bukit Teresek trail, which also branches off to the canopy walkway. We found this section to be both busy with tourists and also quiet for birds. However, on the route to Bukit Teresek is the Jenut Muda trail, which eventually joins up with the river walk. This is both quiet and also much better for birds. Leach socks are a very good idea on these trails. Between rooms 89 and 90 is the entrance to the Bumbun Tahan, or swamp hide. This is really worth spending some time at. You can sit for hours, often without any other people to disturb the peace, and watch many species come and go in the forest clearing that the hide overlooks.
Fraser's Hill (Bukit Fraser)
This has to be one of the prime birding areas in Peninsular Malaysia. It consists of a resort area within the highlands, set at just over 1000m. Thus, it offers a wide selection of highland species, without quite entering the montane habitat. The time when a rotating one way system used only one road up to the area seems to have passed, since the New Road up was in service during our visit. Temperatures are also a lot cooler than in Taman Negara and Kuala Selangor, although sun protection is still advised. We had read that the area is usually shrouded in mist, but we encountered little to trouble us, and were also lucky in missing the rain, which would render some of the trails tricky to negotiate.
Much of the birding can be done from the well maintained road system within the resort, including productive areas such as the Telekom loop and roads down to The Gap. The use of a car is also recommended, since the distance between the trails can be up to 2km. The trails seemed to be all open and negotiable during our visit, with none really challenging. Two extra recommendations are also worthwhile - the Julai Hotel is a must at first light, when 20-30 species visit the small car park in front of reception, and the waterfall an hour before dusk, when there are no tourists, and the possibility of Slaty-backed Forktail and Malaysian Whistling-thrush is high.
For those wanting some expert advice, or even some field guidance, Durai is a well known character at Fraser's Hill. He has an intimate knowledge of the area and its birds, and will guide birders while asking for nothing in return (hence a donation to the Information Centre where he is based is appropriate). His email address is email@example.com.
Many guides lump this with Fraser's Hill, since it is the area at the bottom of the 8km access roads to the resort. However, it does contain a different range of species to the former, since it is set at a lower altitude. It can be covered in two ways - staying at the Gap Resthouse which is now open again and apparently very cheap with good food, or driving down from Fraser's Hill. We did the latter, which gave the benefit of still being available to see the Gap birds, but also stirring up one or two nightjars in the car headlights on the return journey back up again. From The Gap, it is also worth walking up the Old and New roads, as well as along the main road towards Raub (which we did on the first day without seeing a great deal).
With the birding at Fraser's Hill being so good, we left late on the last full day to pigeonhole the last day for Kuala Selangor and the rice fields to the North, thinking that it would be very hot and offer a limited range of birds. We were pleasantly surprised to find that, although it was hotter here than other sites, it certainly wasn't unbearable, especially early morning when there was peak activity. In addition, the birding here, especially at the Kuala Selangor reserve, is stunning, and we could quite easily have spent a few days here. The reserve is located adjacent to the River Selangor, where is opens out into the sea at the Straight of Malacca. The entrance and visitor centre is much more modern than we expected (entrance fee 4 ringgits). The meat of the reserve consists of a circular loop, which encircles 2 lagoons, and has a large concrete tower hide overlooking the central one. The trees which lined the circular loop held a wide range of birds on our visit. From the path adjacent to the sea is a recently constructed concrete boardwalk through the mangroves, which is a must, since this is where the mangrove specialities such as Mangrove Blue-flycatcher and Pied Fantail can be seen. We also had four species of woodpecker from here.
About 15km north of Kuala Selangor is the rice fields area. We were possibly just a week or two too late for the bulk of the migrating raptors, so just looked around some of the small fields to the East of Tanjong Karang. These still produced some good birds, including White-breasted Woodswallow. However, to do this area properly, the larger fields around Sekinchan are the targets, but we decided to head back down to Kuala Selangor for a second visit given the time we had left. It has to be said that a car is almost a must for this site, since the rice fields can go on for some kilometres.
Hotel Sri Emas (Jerantut) www.taman-negara.com/contactus.htm
Jerantut is half an hour by bus from the jetty at Kuala Tembeling, where the boat leaves for Taman Negara. If the 9am transfer is taken, staying overnight at Jerantut is recommended. There seem to be a few hotels in the town, but this one is the most well known. At 30 ringgits for a room, it is very cheap and basic, but more than suitable for its needs. In addition, the sister hotel over the road, where we had our room, is also the location of the boat transfer booking office (although we had booked our river transfer on the internet with the Mutiara Taman Negara), where you can pay the low cost of the bus ride to the jetty (the bus leaves from outside of this building). The car can either be left outside of the hotel, or can be driven to the jetty and left there for a small fee.
Mutiara Taman Negara Resort www.malaysiaforestresorts.com/index.html
Although much cheaper accommodation is available in the village across the river (easily reached by on demand boats for 1 ringgit), we paid the extra for this more convenient location (price about 450 ringgits for 2 for one night, which included breakfast and an evening meal). The benefit is birding on the doorstep. We had a meal at one of the floating restaurants across the river, which was even cheaper than the low prices in the resort restaurant, although the cuisine is more Chinese than Malayasian and, to my mind, not as interesting. Accommodation is in the form of spacious cabins throughout, and all have impressive air conditioning. Beware of taking optics straight from this environment to the humid air outside in the morning, since condensation can be a problem.
Shahzan Inn (Fraser's Hill) www.journeymalaysia.com/highfrasershahzan.htm
There is a reasonable variety of accommodation around Fraser's Hill, with the Silverpark and Fraser's Pine Resort looking large and busy. The Puncak Inn still seems to be the budget option, and we were told that it has now rectified the moist bedding problem. However, we plumped for the slightly more middle class Shahzan, and weren't to be disappointed, especially at 125 ringgits per night including a hearty breakfast). The meals are also very good here, and again inexpensive. Since the hotel was mainly empty during our visit, we were allowed to check out late afternoon on our last day (5pm) giving us a chance to freshen up and pack before leaving for the next destination. A tip is to try to get a room on the 3rd floor, since there is a rear car park opening on to this level. Another option is the Jelai Hotel, which has the benefit of good birding in front of the reception each morning. However, the management seemed reluctant to cook food to the few guests there.
De Palma Inn (Kuala Selangor) www.depalmahotel.com/kuala_selangor.htm
There seem to be two options for Kuala Selangor - this hotel or the cabins within the reserve. The latter seemed to be much better kept than we had expected, and are situated at the head of the first of the trails. However, at 142 ringgits for 2 for one night (again including breakfast), and being only 5 minutes drive from the park entrance, the cabins of the De Palma are also a good choice. The curries in the restaurant are also recommended, and another bargain at 10 ringgits. As with all the other hotels used, the air conditioning adequately coped with the outside heat.
For identification, "A field guide to the Birds of South-east Asia" by Craig Robson (New Holland) is probably the best.
In addition, "The Birds of Fraser's Hill" and "The Birds of Taman Negara" by Morten Strange have good quality photographs of the birds which can be expected at both sites, with additional tips on the areas to cover when there.
"A Birdwatcher's Guide to Malaysia" by John Bransbury (Waymark) is an excellent reference for the sites. It gives reasonable directions and good maps of the sites themselves, although some, such as that of Kuala Selangor, are now out of date.
We used two maps for getting around in the car. The Freytag and Berndt 1:600000 map of Malaysia is the better for driving between sites, but we also found the Periplus map of Peninsular Malaysia had a good road layout of the motorways around Kuala Lumpur.
The Gap Rest House and the Old Road Day 1
After what amounted to a possible record time from alighting from the aeroplane at about 7:10am and climbing into the driving seat of the hire car at 8:20am, we made good headway up the motorways past Kuala Lumpur and found our route fairly easily. There wasn't much of interest during the journey, apart from assorted Mynas which were passed in good numbers, a few Crows, and various hirundines which looked to be mainly Barn Swallows. As soon as we left the motorway and joined the smaller roads, the habitat became much more interesting, consisting of smaller winding roads through the hills, and we quickly noted Hill Myna at a reservoir only 3-4km from the initial turn off. The ascent was slow due to the winding roads, but was surrounded by lush hillsides, until we reached the first of the Holy Grails in the shape of The Gap Resthouse, which we were surprised to find open once more.
The birding around the rest house started off very well, with a pair of Black-crested Bulbuls playing in bushes across the road, and Oriental Magpie-robin singing just above. Pacific Swallows were constantly in and out of the eaves of the Resthouse, with one or two perched just above us. House Swifts were amongst the more numerous hirundines overhead. We didn't have much luck on a brief sortie to the rear of the building, so the decision was made to begin a trek up the Old Road towards Fraser's Hill. However, this move was greeted by the beginnings of what was to be torrential rain, leaving us with the decision to return to the shelter of the rest house terrace, watching anything that may pop up from there while waiting for the weather to improve.
We watched the rain fall with some venom for around 45 minutes, and despite there being very little avian activity during this time, it was a pleasure to be in such lush equatorial surroundings. We did spot Streaked Spiderhunter, which returned once or twice to an adjacent flowering tree. When the rain had subsided to a drizzle, we made our way down the main road for about half a kilometre, which was very quiet apart from some workmen at the base of the New Road. The only bird added here was Common Tailorbird. The decision was therefore made to head up the Old Road, which is now the one way descent from Fraser's Hill. This was again very quiet for the first kilometre, after which the bird life erupted in the form of a large bird wave. Copious Large Woodshrikes began the melee, then a couple of species of Drongo (Bronzed and Greater Racket-tailed), interspersed with views of Fiery Minivets, Sultan Tit, Chestnut-capped Laughing-thrush, and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike. The rain began to fall more heavily again, but this did not dissipate the birds. The drongos hung around for some time, with the Large Woodshrikes being a constant feature, and then some of the Bulbuls started to appear, with Ochraceous at first, followed by the initially confusing local race of Ashy, and White-headed putting in an appearance a little later. We ventured further afield (ie another 20 metres up the track) to find another wave of new species. This included Blue-winged Leafbird to add to an earlier Greater Leafbird, some White-bellied Yuhinas, a very confiding Sultan Tit, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrikes above, and a brief Lesser Cuckoo-shrike. More Chestnut-capped Laughing-thrushes and Common Tailorbird preceded Red-bearded Bee-eater and Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, with an impressive sunning action in the descending mist. By now the rain had started to subside again, leaving the air warm, humid, and totally overcast, with the mist gradually creeping in. We had now been in the same spot for over an hour.
Just when we had decided that the mist was getting the better of the birding, up sprung a treeful of Black-browed Barbet, Ashy Bulbul, and White-bellied Yuhina. This sparked off another half an hour in one spot. We tried unsuccessfully for better views of the trio through the mist, but calls from either side of the road and some patience found a couple of skulking Marbled Wren-babblers. This topped off an eventful half a kilometre of the Old Road, and even then we had subsequent views of Chestnut-breasted Malkoha and a few Minivets.
Jerantut to Taman Negara Day 2
The transfer bus from Jerantut to the Tembeling ferry eventually arrived at the hotel to pick us up. Stopping on the way to fill up with fuel, we arrived at the jetty 20 minutes late, which bore no significance at all since the boat just seems to leave when all have arrived. Of interest from the bus was a Chinese Pond-heron in a fowl litter laden stream in Jerantut. We had read reports that the 2½ hour boat journey upriver to Taman Negara was picturesque but relatively birdless, but this certainly wasn't our experience. Hirundines and Swifts were profuse, but we did also pick up some interesting species, some of which were new to us. Kingfishers, which would have been an odds on bet, had to be waited for, but we eventually picked up half a dozen White-breasted & 3 Black-capped Kingfishers. Many Bee-eaters were seen, but it took some time to pick up the chestnut cap and long tail streamers of Blue-throated. Perhaps prize of the journey was a single Crested Serpent-eagle, sitting motionless on a bare branch as we sped past. 4 or 5 Hornbills flew over, looking all dark, but no identifying marks could be attributed to them. Despite the many sand banks on the meanders of the river, we picked out only one wader - a Red-wattled Lapwing. Compared with the bus which can now be used for the transfer, the boat has to be the method of choice, due both to the birds which can be encountered, and also the experience itself.
Once the gear had been stashed in the capacious cabin that we were to call home for the next two nights, we set off with the intention of exploring the resort area. It was immediately obvious that, despite the clouds, this location was much hotter than in the highlands yesterday. In addition, the birding was hard going to begin with, although this may also have been due to the starting time of around midday. Most of the species seen were in the canopy, and mainly consisted of a few species of Bulbuls, but we were happy to add Streak-throated and Black-headed to Yellow-vented Bulbul. Oriental Magpie-robin continued to be a ubiquitous feature. Scanning just above the roof line of the chalets, we did manage occasional sightings of Blue-crowned Hanging-parrot, and a little later, the only White-bellied Sea-eagle of the trip. The layout of the chalets lends itself to easier views of the birds, since the forest encircled the long stretch of cabins set adjacent to the river. However, it wasn't until we reached the reception area that we added a small group of Ashy Minivets. Fed by the thought of some of the mammals and birds illustrated on the large board next to reception, we trudged off to the location of the campsite, which consisted of a small clearing to the western end of the resort. Birding was at much the same doggedly slow pace here. As we sat and drank in the magnificence of the rain forest surrounding us for an hour or so, we picked up a small group of Rufous-fronted Babblers which frequented the area for some time. Amongst these was an Ochraceous Bulbul, proving surprisingly tricky at first until it was eventually pinned down. A stunning Crimson-winged Woodpecker appeared just behind the sitting Bulbul. A family of tourists which appeared at the entrance to the Bumbun Tabing trail reported seeing what sounded like a group of Firebacks or Pheasants along the trail. We took the decision to explore this option, and donned the uncomfortable but necessary leach socks. This move was proven positive when a Common Flameback appeared beside us only 100m or so into the forest, followed by a less obliging but no less stunning Black-and-red Broadbill, which was to be seen in the same location on the two subsequent days. Asian Fairy-bluebird followed, alighting in a tree directly above us, requiring neck breaking contortions.
There wasn't much else to report until we reached the river, where a much more obliging Ochraceous Bulbul welcomed our reaching the resort swimming spot. We had enjoyed a break at this initially peaceful haven, before a group of tourist boats hammered past breaking the tranquility. We were just about to leave when a Stork-billed Kingfisher skimmed by and landed about 100m downstream. During this time, one of the short tailed unmarked Babblers appeared next to us. We were fortunate enough to see this bird quite well, and also to make the decision of it being Abbott's Babbler, due to the unstreaked breast, and concolourous head to back. The return along the trail unearthed more Rufous-fronted Babblers, before again briefly picking out the Black-and-red Broadbill. Back at the campsite, the second Raffles's Malkoha was pinned down in the canopy, as well as Hairy-backed Bulbul, demonstrating its characteristic face markings. The afternoon was just about winding up when a pair of Black-thighed Falconets was homed in on, perched in a large bare tree to the rear of the camp site. We had expected to have to visit the local village to see these, making this a fortuitous encounter. In flight there is the possibility that they could lose themselves quite easily in a gathering of hirundines.
Taman Negara Day 3
Following a hearty curry breakfast at 7am, we had the full day in front of us to explore the forest tracks. We set off to look for the entrance to the Bukit Teresek trail at the eastern end of the resort, but ended up loitering at this location for about an hour, due to the constant avian traffic here. The taller trees to the rear held birds such as Chinese Pond-heron, a strange visage when perched about 30m up, a small flock of Daurian Starlings, numerous Blue-crowned Hanging-parrots, and a Golden-throated Barbet perched directly overhead. Some Green-pigeons were unfortunately too brief for identification. Chestnut-breasted Malkohas were a constant feature throughout the hour, and we had fun trying to sort out the Swifts overhead. With occasional good views, we eventually spotted the white vents of Needletails, and then tried to pick out the colours on the back. Most seemed to have the dark back of Brown-backed Needletail. Following the Malkohas to the river boundary, we picked up a single Asian Fairy-bluebird, leading to superb views of Crimson-winged Woodpecker. As yesterday, Bulbuls were common, adding Olive-winged to the growing list. A juvenile Cuckoo next to the river defied identification, being of the Banded Bay / Plaintive persuasion. A Coppersmith Barbet added to the earlier Golden-throated, which by coincidence was perched in the same tree.
Just as we were about to proceed to the forest, a group of 15 or so tourists with guide were milling around the entrance gate. Potential disaster! However, we leapfrogged past them, and immediately stirred up an Abbott's Babbler. We followed the course of the river for over 1½km until we reached the canopy walkway. This was a fairly intensive trudge to this point, and all we had to show for our efforts was a pair of Brown Fulvettas. Dark forest birding at its most difficult! The intention was then to traverse the canopy walkway, offering the potential of a new habitat for wildlife, but we were immediately put off by the crowds gathered and the amount of noise they were making, and so we cut off towards Buket Teresek. The initial climb was quite steep, and up until the junction with the Jenut Muda trail was festooned with noisy tourists.
The decision to then take the Jenut Muda trail proved to be an instant success. We encountered our first bird wave after only about 50m, which was initiated by Spotted Fantails and White-bellied Yuhina. It was also found to contain Asian Paradise-flycatchers, Large Woodshrike, and Arctic Warbler. We feasted on this for 15 minutes, walked a little further, and discovered Black-naped Monarch and Blue-winged Leafbird. It was hot and humid throughout, but some high potential semi open areas interspersed the darker canopy covered forest. Half way along the trail, we encountered a group of 2-3 large Woodpeckers, and one of the pecking birds was seen to be Orange-backed. The other 2 were Crimson-winged. A group of 2 male and 2 female Crested Firebacks then appeared on the path in front of us, seemingly totally unperturbed by our presence. More Blue-winged Leafbirds preceded a small group of Ferruginous Babblers next to a stream. Another benefit of this trail was that it was almost humanless, apart from one lone hiker who passed by late on. We eventually reached the junction with the Bumbun Tabing trail, deciding to take a break from the undulating and tree root festooned paths to sit by the river for a short time, made all the more pleasant by feeding Tickell's Blue-flycatcher.
The long walk to the Bumbun Tabing hide was scrapped for the ease of the Bumbun Tahan hide, located adjacent to the resort. This was held back a little due to a Spiderhunter rush, with initial Grey-breasted followed by a stationary Little, a male Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, and unidentified female Sunbird. Just behind was the impressive sight of Long-billed Spiderhunter feeding briefly. Another stop had to be made for our first Dollarbird. The Bumbun Tahan hide is only a 50m boardwalk away from the resort cabins, and is a two storey concrete hide looking on to a single tree positioned in the centre of a large clearing in the forest. Over the next couple of hours, quite a few impressive species were unearthed. Black-headed & Yellow-vented Bulbuls were the predominant resident, with Asian Fairy-bluebird almost as common (up to 7-8 at any one time). More impressive visitors to the tree included an Oriental Pied Hornbill feeding on the fruits, a handful of Thick-billed Green-pigeons, and a single White-breasted Kingfisher. 2 Black-and-red Broadbills together added to the first earlier in the day, with Hill Mynas regular visitors. From the edge of the jungle, we were surprisingly happy with the arrival of a chicken in the guise of wild Red Junglefowl.
We dragged ourselves away from the hide at 5pm, to cover the western end of the resort until dark. As time progressed, the clouds approached and the thunder began, but the rain staved off allowing us enough time for a stab at some extra birds. Looking over the river, the Blue-throated Bee-eaters which had been seen from the boat on arrival were landing on the wires across the water. The lack of tail streamers confused matters a little, but all were of this species. While studying them, a Spotted Dove flew in, and a Hornbill passed overhead. Perhaps best addition to the Bulbul tally was a pair of Straw-headed, which landed near us enough for a good examination of this scarce species. Following them led us on to a pair of mating Black-bellied Malkohas, and retreating to the front of the cabins we discovered a single female Dark-necked Tailorbird and 3-4 Black-naped Orioles constantly calling from the treetops.
Taman Negara Day 4
There had been torrential rain the previous evening and for most of the night, evidenced by the piles of sand and clay deposited on the paths throughout the resort. Passing an Emerald Dove plodding its way through the cabins, we went straight to the Bumbun Tahan hide, and spent 1½ hours there. Many of the previous resident familiars were there again, with a few House Swifts overhead, which also harboured a couple of Silver-rumped Needletails. Among the many more common Bulbuls were a few Streaked, which initially took some sorting out. The bare tree to the rear of the clearing held many Thick-billed Pigeons, but searching revealed a rather large Gold-whiskered Barbet. Blue-throated Bee-eaters joined the throng, as well as the late arrival of a male and female Little Green-pigeon, alongside a Blue-crowned Hanging-parrot.
We had a short stroll around the resort, where we found a sunning Raffles's Malkoha, and another nearby Chestnut-breasted Malkoha. A single Black-thighed Falconet was on a bare tree in the centre of the resort. Two decisions that we then made proved quite fruitful. The first was to go back to the Bumbun Tabing trail alongside the river, and the second was to don the ever attractive leach socks, since standing for some time did attract one or two of the little miscreants, possibly following last nights rain. After passing the regular site of the Black-and-red Broadbill, we chanced upon a Buff-necked Woodpecker. This landed briefly next to the footpath, but it also put us on to a pair of Green Broadbills, which frequented the vicinity for about quarter of an hour. This proved to be a very good spot, since we were also visited by a few Black-naped Monarchs and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos. While searching for the Black-and-red Broadbill, we picked up a very small, rufous and virtually tail-less skulker - a stunning Rufous Piculet. We were a little surprised by its habit of feeding more or less in the undergrowth. We did pop down to the river to look for Kingfishers, which we didn't find, and the water level looked to be about 20-30cm higher after the previous night's deluge. On the return, we successfully relocated the Black-and-red Broadbill, with a small group of Crested Firebacks ghosting out of the forest on to the path.
Last stop before departure from Taman Negara was at the Bumbun Tahan hide. It was now midday, very hot, and despite the array of common Bulbuls, variety was less than earlier in the morning, apart from the addition of Long-tailed Macaques playing around the central tree. We were just about to leave when a White-bellied Woodpecker was found edging its way up a bare tree to the rear of the clearing.
Jelai Hotel, Fraser's Hill Day 5
After the hard work we had invested at Taman Negara to see birds, the first two hours at Fraser's Hill was a bit of a shock to the system. We were at the car park of the Jelai Hotel before first light, and were lucky to be greeted by clear skies and dry weather - apparently the previous 4 days had been wet resulting in less birding opportunities. As the light of dawn improved, the car park, which is not particularly large, proved to be a Mecca for birds. This is a well known location for this with 20-30 species usually seen, which was probably more or less our personal tally. The cavalcade was initiated by Silver-eared Mesias and Mountain Fulvettas, with constant Long-tailed Sibias milling around. An early Green Magpie stayed just long enough to pinch the choicest of the scraps on the menu. Different species were added as we patrolled the tarmac, with the melee including Javan Woodshrike, feasting on large green cicadas, many sightings of Lesser Racket-tailed Drongos without tail streamers, restless Blue-winged Minlas, a very confiding male Mugimaki Flycatcher, Chestnut-crowned & -capped Laughing-thrushes, single elusive Golden Babbler, a much more confiding White-throated Fantail, almost constantly present Orange-bellied Leafbirds, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, and beautiful Verditer Flycatcher, shining iridescent in the early morning rays. Fork-tailed Swifts were added when looking overhead, as well as flyovers of a few Mountain Imperial-pigeons.
We decided to take the car from the hotel to the start of the loop, and this proved to be a very sound move, since the winding road to this point is quite long and mostly uphill. The tarmac road which forms the loop offers a very pleasant walk, with very little in the way of gradients to climb, running through broken forest with some good views of the surrounding hills. First birds were some of the familiar species from the morning, including Little Cuckoo-dove, Silver-eared Mesia, copious Mountain Fulvettas, until we stumbled across our first new bird of the walk in the form of Little Pied Flycatcher. A pair of Fiery Minivets were found just before a small barred concrete building at the side of the road, which gave a home to hundreds of Black-nest Swiftlets. They were difficult to identify at first, despite being on their nests, but the dark rump and feathered legs pinned them down as the local race. We diverted off the loop up a small access road to one of the hotels, which is where we saw the best bird wave of the location. First were a couple of Chestnut-capped Laughing-thrushes, followed by Golden Babblers and Mountain Fulvettas, probable Grey-chinned Minivets, preceding two species of Shrike-babbler (initially a poorly marked Black-eared, and then a White-browed, which stayed around for a short while). A few Silver-eared Mesias were intermixed. Back on the loop, a female Mugimaki Flycatcher hanging around in a ravine preceded a male just above us, with close Sultan Tit overhead. Looking down into what appeared to be a private garden, we had superb views of a dapper Rufous-browed Flycatcher, which shone warm brown when caught in the rays of the sun, contrasting with its shining white throat. This or another individual was subsequently spotted in the foliage next to the road. Compared to the heat and high humidity of Taman Negara, the conditions here were much more temperate, with little or no humidity.
This is the first of the trails which we tackled in the area, and was reputed to be fairly wide and flat, which was exactly what we found for most of its length. The birding was reasonably quiet, but did start well with a pair of Large Niltavas. Mountain Fulvettas were the predominant species as usual, but we did also add female Mugimaki Flycatcher, another Rufous-browed Flycatcher, and White-throated Fantail. A further male Large Niltava greeted us at the end of the trail.
We thought that the walk back along Jalan Lady Maxwell Drive to the car would then be purely functional, but the birds here were even better than on the trail. After about 100m, we picked up some large birds flying into an overhead canopy, which proved to be 5-6 Fire-tufted Barbets, which seemed to be feeding on fruits which we failed to pick out. They were eventually joined by a brace of Black-browed Barbets, one calling characteristically regularly. 2-3 Little Pied Flycatchers were in trees adjacent to these. We crossed an excellent bird wave a little further on, started by Black-eared Shrike-babbler, which stopped is in our tracks. Other members of the group were Long-tailed Sibias, Chestnut-crowned Laughing-thrush, Rufous-capped Warbler, a stunning Speckled Piculet, racket tail-less Lesser Racket-tailed Drongos, and a couple of Golden Babblers.
Just as we passed the beginning of the Hemmant's Trail again in the car, we passed a couple of Belgian birders encountered earlier. They informed us that they had been watching an adult Lesser Shortwing feeding a juvenile, and it took no persuasion for them to take us to the spot. The adult was eventually located after about 20 minutes, being generally quiet and most definitely skulking.
The last stop of the day was to be the waterfall, stopping off at the rubbish tip which appeared barren at this time. We were at the waterfall car park by about 6pm, and we meandered along the tarmac path to the site of the huts to find a pair of Slaty-backed Forktails feeding unconcernedly in the stream. Our progress towards the waterfall unearthed subsequent sightings of the Forktails. As we headed back to the footbridge near to the original location of the Forktails, we heard what we presumed to be the call of a Whistling-thrush, and did eventually track down a Malayan Whistling-thrush. This was quite a jumpy bird, giving us only 3 very brief views.
Jelai Hotel Day 6
Arriving here before first light again, more of yesterdays menu was again on offer. As expected, there was the addition of one or two new species, first of which was Grey-throated Babbler, which was a very active and difficult bird to pin down. Two individuals fed voraciously at ground level in the corner of the car park for 5 minutes, with Golden Babbler here again. A pair of Black-and-crimson Orioles spent more time here, compared to an almost fly-through yesterday. The Mugimaki Flycatcher was replaced by Little Pied Flycatcher in the same bush this morning. The noisiest guests were again Streaked Spiderhunters and Orange-bellied Leafbirds, and most obvious species Long-tailed Sibias. One of the local monkeys bounded past us, with another noisy pair in the trees on the opposite side of the road, showing mid to light grey body, darkish tail, and blackish eyebrows - a Banded Leaf-monkey. A huge raptor passed over, but was seen too poorly to even guess at identification. Just as we were about to leave, the Little Pied Flycatcher put in a much more prolonged appearance, and a slow amble back to the reception found a single male Fire-chested Flowerpecker feeding on the flowering bush adorning the entrance to the hotel.
The New Road
After breakfast, we chose the walk down the first 3km or so of the New Road. The car was parked at the no entry signs signifying the one way system, next to Fraser's Pine Resort. The new tarmac flows through open forest, offering occasional vistas of the valley below. The weather during the walk was very pleasant, with an earlier promise of searing heat subsiding to a cloudy sky with a lingering threat of rain. We had expected raptors and Hornbills in good numbers, but we only saw one of each (Black Eagle and Great Hornbill overhead). The walk is good for Barbets, with many calling throughout. They did prove difficult to see, but a few small groups were pinned down, with only Black-browed being identified. A few smaller Barbets were too elusive to identify. We did encounter one or two small bird waves passing through, which included Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, a Grey-chinned Minivet, Verditer Flycatcher and Sultan Tit. Also noticeable was the fact that we started to turn up Bulbul species once again, despite the fact that they seemed to be absent in the Fraser's Hill resort area. Predominant were Black-crested, but we also found some elusive Ochraeous Bulbuls, as well as one or two Stripe-throated Bulbuls. Bronzed Drongos were a regular feature. Of the birding highlights along the New Road, an early Slaty-backed Forktail was amongst the first and most unexpected, found under the first bridge down from where we parked the car. We were also taken aback by a showy Banded Woodpecker, pecking at the trunk of a dead tree for some time. A Black Laughing-thrush appeared in an adjacent bush. Another species of note was Hill Prinia - we saw two separate and very elusive birds.
The Old Road
After 2 sightings of Black Eagle from The Gap Resthouse, we set off once again on the Old Road incline. This was very hard going for the first 2km or so, with barely a bird to be seen or heard, apart from the odd Black-crested Bulbul. From then on, the walk became very rewarding, since we picked up singles and small groups of birds from then on. A Black laughing-thrush on the ascent was added to by a pair on the descent, being constantly on the move as they fed their way alongside the road. The first bird wave included 4 Grey-chinned Minivets, a couple of Orange-bellied Leafbirds, a Blue-winged Leafbird, and Verditer Flycatcher. Barbets were heard regularly as we climbed, and again proved elusive. Singles of Black-browed and Gold-whiskered Barbet were seen well, the latter feeding on a tree festooned with small red fruits. A small Flycatcher which obliged by feeding from a single bare tree was relatively easily identified as Siberian (or Dark-sided as it is known locally), demonstrating the dark breast sides and undertail covert edges. We also followed up the muted drumming of a smallish Woodpecker, whose location was masked to a greater extent by the raucous noise from a cicada, but was eventually located in the thick of the vegetation pecking at a bamboo stem - Bamboo Woodpecker had been found! Some of the Bulbuls were at first a little mystifying, but we eventually recognised them as more of the local race of Ashy Bulbul.
The Gap Rest House
We arrived here at about 6:30pm, pulled up a couple of chairs on the front terrace, ordered a couple of coffees, and lazily birded from chairs until dark. One of the target species was Bat Hawk, but we confidently expected one or two other birds as well. After the usual Black-crested Bulbuls and a couple of dapper Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, a pair of Asian Fairy Bluebirds landed some way in front of us, with the male performing aerobatics as he caught insects high up in the air. Three birds which landed in the tree opposite were quickly whittled down to one, which hung around long enough to reveal itself as Dusky Broadbill. As the light began to fade, we thought we had picked up Bat Hawk, but this turned out to be 3 Large-tailed Nightjars, silhouetted beautifully against the darkening evening sky. Last birding incident was well into darkness, when the slow drive back up the New Road highlighted two Nightjars in the beam of the car, the first flying off quickly, but the second, a Savannah Nightjar, posing for some time on the road in front of us.
Jelai Hotel Day 7
Back again to the Jelai Hotel for the third day in a row, and we were greeted this morning with a fairly high mist which proved no impedance to the birding. The variety of birds was predictably much the same as we had seen the previous two days, and no new species were recorded. Black-and-crimson Orioles were much more obliging, staying around a lot longer than the brief appearances already shown, even stopping to feed on insects close to. In a similar vein, the Green Magpie considerably extended its visit, being seen on and off for about half an hour. We had seen Everett's White-eye on the Telekom Loop, but three birds here were our first for the hotel, as was an Arctic Warbler. On cue at 9am, the Fire-chested Flowerpecker again put in an appearance, this time feeding on different bushes from yesterday.
The post breakfast task was to tackle the Bishop's Trail, and for this we decided to park at the mosque and approach via the Hemmant's Trail once more. This was another good decision, since the trail was a lot more lively than on yesterdays visit. Black-throated Sunbird was immediately before the entrance, with a couple of poorly marked Black-eared Shrike-babblers and Mountain Fulvettas a few metres into the walk. One or two small bird waves passed through, notably containing more Black-eared Shrike-babblers, Grey-throated Babblers, Golden Babblers, and the ubiquitous Mountain Fulvettas. White-throated Fantails were putting on a bit of a show - one at each end of the trail - and a single male Large Niltava was at the centre of the trail. A Little Pied Flycatcher was perched briefly on the golf course edge. There was no sign of the Lesser Shortwing seen the previous day, but this was a very brief stop.
We crossed over Jalan Lady Maxwell Drive to enter the Bishop's Trail, exiting about 1½km later at the Muar Cottage. This is probably the easiest direction to take, since the first few hundred metres is much more manicured, and despite having some short steep spots, there are ropes and even (artificial) tree stumps to help the climbing. As we progressed towards the junction with the Maxwell Trail, the slopes became a little steeper, and the path wilder and narrower. Yet the trail wasn't nearly as challenging or enclosed as we had expected. The tactic was to find open areas or streams and stay at these for some time to wait for the birds. We didn't encounter any bird waves in the 3 hours it took to cover the walk, which overall was very productive. Prizes we claimed were Red-headed Trogon, and brief Blue Nuthatch, which were both species we had wanted to see. The first of 2 separate Rufous-browed Flycatchers was very approachable, which may have been due to the possible presence of a nest. We sat at the first stream for some time and picked up Mugimaki Flycatcher, along with 2-3 Mountain Bulbuls. 2 Fire-tufted Barbets passed through. All this was to the backdrop of calling Gibbons, enhancing the truly equatorial experience.
Fraser's Hill rubbish tip
Since the hotel management had been accommodating enough to allow us to check out in the late afternoon, no doubt aided by the hotel being mainly empty, we had time to visit the tip before departing Fraser's Hill. This is one of the intrigues of birding, where paradoxically a seemingly unwelcoming site can be good for birds. On arrival, we immediately picked out a pair of Lesser Yellownapes, exchanging nest duty in a large bare tree. A Blue Nuthatch made two visits on a smaller bare tree to the windward edge of the tip. A Fiery Minivet and Black-browed Barbet were later additions.
Kuala Selangor Day 8
We had thought that this was to be a fill in stop on the last day in Malaysia, but the reality was quite the opposite. This is an absolute must see site on any itinerary, offering a new variety of birds from the inland habitats, many in profusion and very close proximity. Much work seems to have been put in around the reserve, since reports as recent as 2002 mentioned that the mangrove boardwalk was no more. Conversely, the mangroves have been provided with a new concrete walkway, with railings showing more wear than their recent construction would suggest. The hides have also been renewed, with the central lagoon being dominated by a concrete observation tower. Two high wooden towers greet the entrance to the mangroves, overlooking the second lagoon. Our loop consisted of an initial visit to the central tower, followed by a clockwise walk, taking in the mangroves. The short walk from the reception to the bridge over the water was quiet when we arrived just after 7am, but the birds sprang into action once we had crossed this bridge, with brief Rufous-chested Flycatcher and singing Common Iora amongst the first. A Sunbird proved to be male Ruby-cheeked. The central lagoon was very quiet, so we ventured around the grassy track. New birds constantly appeared, with many Pink-necked Pigeons, Black-naped Orioles, perched Brahminy Kites, and Ashy Tailorbirds adding to the White-breasted Waterhens avoiding the troops of Long-tailed Macaques.
The mangroves proved as good if not even better. We had four species of Woodpecker along the boardwalk, all showing well, from the small Brown-capped Pygmy, a trio of obliging Laced Woodpeckers which stayed in the same tree for some time, up to Common & Greater Flamebacks. Sounds were dominated by Collared Kingfishers, with at least 6-7 raucously calling throughout the mangroves, and this was to be the only place that they were seen. One pair seemed to be nesting in the hole of a dead tree. The only other Kingfishers of note were two Black-capped which were more distant. At the apex of the mangrove loop, we also had hidden views of Crested Serpent-eagle, perched almost on the shore side of the trees to the calls of Mangrove Blue-flycatcher. Pied Fantails showed very briefly, along with the washed out local race of Great Tit.
New birds continued as we left the mangrove walk. A very obliging Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker fed unconcernedly on the same flowering tree for some time. A Little Bronze-cuckoo alighted on branches adjacent to the Flowerpecker, eventually calling before departing. Turning the corner of the walk revealed a pair of singing Ashy Tailorbirds, while a superb Greater Coucal flew into view on the opposite side of the dyke, landing in the open. Black-naped Oriole was just along from this. As we were completing the loop, we stirred up two birds from the path, one a dove, the other a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, landing in a bush opposite briefly before flying further in. As we approached the bridge once again at the end of the loop, a Yellow-bellied Prinia was singing overhead. Two Olive-backed Sunbirds were also in this area. A third and less brightly coloured species of Sunbird was seen on the loop - 2 individual Plain-throated Sunbirds. We spent a little more time in the concrete tower looking over the central lagoon, which seemed to hold a lot of promise, but apart from a couple of irritating Macaques which insisted on climbing the stairs trying no doubt to steal from us, it held only Common Sandpipers and a few mixed herons. Just as we were about to leave the tower, a group of 4 Ashy Minivets landed in the canopy beneath us.
On the track back to the visitor centre, which is only about 100m long, we found a pair of Barred Eagle-owls. Unfortunately, they landed within the very dense foliage, but could be picked out quite well in the telescope. They landed next to each other, and at one point were preening one another. There was also a small group of Silver Leaf-monkeys here, showing characteristic whitish crests and ear tufts.
Small rice fields
Over an hour was spent driving around only the small rice fields, about 13km North of Kuala Selangor. These are particularly reputed for raptors, but we were possibly just a little late for this passage. Despite being named the small rice fields, they are nonetheless very extensive, leaving us to drive a couple of the main roads and one or two of the lesser roads. Many water channels crossed the fields as well as following the main roads, giving excellent cover for hiding herons. Almost as soon as we arrived, we found one of the specialities of the area - White-breasted Woodswallows. There were also small numbers of Nutmeg Mannikins, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, and Brown Shrikes. The second Coucal of the day - a much drabber Lesser Coucal - was briefly in the rice plants. The area seemed infested with Common Mynas, along with one or two Javan Mynas. While we did see some egrets, they were far from numerous. Commonest were Chinese Pond-herons, looking immaculate in maroon breeding dress.
We could have spent
more time at the rice fields and also headed up to the larger rice fields near
to Sekinchan, but decided against this in favour of a return to Kuala Selangor,
following a good morning there. This move wasn't to disappoint. Overall, the
birds in the afternoon were much quieter than during our earlier visit, and the
day ended as the trip had begun with rain, thankfully less torrential than at
The Gap Resthouse. We paid a cursory greeting to one of the Barred Eagle-owls,
still in the same place as we had left it, crossed the bridge, and after a
short visit to the tower hide, quickly found a very obliging Tiger Shrike. This
was much more of a skulker than its Red-backed cousin. A pair of Abbott's
Babblers was on the opposite side of the grassy track. The mangrove loop was
also a lot quieter, holding only two of the four Woodpeckers, but we did find
the nest of the Brown-capped Woodpeckers, with both birds in attendance. As the
rain started to fall, a Crested Goshawk flew over before departing towards the
sea. We spent a short time under the protection of the tower hide from the rain,
but it was as quiet as before for birds, apart from a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo
which landed in a bush on a small island within the central lagoon. Also here
were a pair of Common Ioras, and a pair of wet and bedraggled Blue-throated
Bee-eaters to the rear.