Malaysian Trip Report (long)

Subject: Malaysian Trip Report (long)
From: (John Leonard)
Date: Wed, 29 Apr 1998 14:50:23 +1000 (EST)
Summary: a successful trip with many common birds seen and one or two more
difficult ones, including one ?crippler?; 207 spp seen, with 179 lifters for
me. The low number of spp was due to:
1. Our not going to Taman Negara,
2. The unusually dry conditions prevailing,
3. My taking my 3-year old son along, which slowed me down a little


?Water Crisis?, ?Extreme Water Shortage? the papers were screaming as flew
into Kuala Lumpur. In fact they were screaming it in Malay and it wasn?t
until a few days later, when I unpacked my pocket Malay dictionary that I
realised this.

Kuala Lumpur late on a Friday night was a shock, like walking into a sauna
which had in it five or six spices and a bucket of sewage. ?There?s a smell
near my nose? said Sylvius, and proceeded to walk around with his hand over
his nose the whole time we were in KL. We knew that we couldn?t get into the
Gap Rest House until the Sunday night, so we spent the Saturday at the two
sites Bransbury recommends in KL, the University Campus, and the Lake
Gardens. The University campus is all right, and Rimba Ilmu (?the Forest of
Knowledge?) is nicer, and we saw lots of new things there, but nothing we
didn?t see again later, except Palm Swifts and a Pintail Snipe in the little
valley swamp at RI, but the Lake Gardens was pretty much a waste of time,
and neither of these sites is worth going to unless you?re stuck in KL for a

Arrived at the Gap we headed straight for the Bukit Fraser road and found
very little. In what was to a be a pattern for the whole trip we found that
the very dry conditions meant that the forests were very quiet, and that if
we could find a good vantage-point to sit and wait for birds to come to us
this was more productive. Of course we couldn?t help seeing the common
things of the middle-altitude forest at the Gap, but sitting at the Rest
House produced things that we never saw in the forest, such as:
Orange-bellied & Blue-winged Leafbirds
Asian Fairy Bluebird
Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot
Abbott?s Babbler
Grey-throated Babbler
Gold-whiskered Barbet
Wedge-tailed Pigeon
Orange-backed Woodpecker
Blue-rumped Parrot
Sultan Tit
Pale Blue Flycatcher
and there were also the Swifts and hirundines to sort out overhead (the
large Red-rumped Swallows, the ssp with brick-red underparts were
particularly handsome, as were the Brown Needletails and Silver-rumped Swifts).

I could also combine sitting outside with reading stories to Sylvius,
thought these were frequently interrupted: ?And Winnie the Pooh said to
Piglet... Wait is that a Barbet? No, it?s too small, must be a
Flycatcher...? ?Read, Daddy, read.? Sometimes a very short story took over
an hour to read.

We did also go for walks of course, but we found that the conventional
wisdom of early in the morning and again in the evening to be wrong. Dawn is
about 7.00 in Malaysia at this time of year, but for about an hour after
this the forest is very misty and gloomy and humid and your binoculars fog
up and it?s impossible to see colours properly; also there don?t seem to be
many birds around. From about 8.30, when the sun lowers the humidity, until
about 10.30 seems to be the busiest for birds. The mid-morning
(10.30-11.30) is good for raptors soaring in the warming air and at the Gap
we saw a pair of Crested Serpent-Eagles doing just that. From about midday
to 4, however, should not be ignored as everywhere we were there still
seemed to birds around at this time, even in the low lands, although evening
was busier?maybe it was the unusual conditions that made whatever birds
there were about busier in the afternoon than usual.

After two days we took the bus up the Hill and installed ourselves there.
Here we stayed for five days and went on all the usual walks, and saw the
common birds without any difficulties, the rarities were more difficult. The
Gap Road was very quiet and, except for breeding Silver-eared Mesias, a
White-browed Shrike-Babbler, and a Bushy-crested Hornbill I glimpsed, pretty
well birdless. The road down to the Waterfall at the back of the mountain
(going past the Rubbish Dump) was more productive, with several quite good
bird-waves, including goodies like Golden Babbler, Rufous-fronted Babbler,
Blue Nuthatch, Grey-headed Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Black-browed
Barbet, Greater Yellownape (a woodpecker) &c. The Dump itself was quiet, but
at the Waterfall we found two pairs of breeding Silver-breasted Boatbills.
Down this road I had Trogons answering my whistling, but none showed
themselves. Also down this road we saw a Colugo, an improbable looking animal.

We went one evening with Mr Durai the local bird-guide for a walk down the
New Road, which is still not open (as it?s only one lane it?s probably going
to be ?down? and the old road ?up?, or vice versa). Here we saw a Siamang
Gibbon, but the birds were thin on the ground with no Trogons and no
Hornbills. One good bird here was a Black-thighed Falconet.

Bishop?s Trail is now well signposted, but rather difficult to walk owing to
tree-roots and mud (especially carrying a child). Birds were not abundant
here, but we did see some crackers, including a family party of four Large
Scimitar Babblers, a White-tailed Thrush, and, after much leg-work,  a
Streaked Wren-Babbler. Another jungle trail not to be ignored is the Hemmant
Trail, which goes into the bush just below Durai?s Nature Centre (near the
Mosque) and runs along above the Golf Course. Here we saw some very good
birds including Black and Crimson Oriole, Red-browed Flycatcher,
Chestnut-crowned Laughing-Thrush, Large Niltava and Large Scimitar Babbler.
There was also a very delicate little bird wave of Mountain Tailorbird,
Chestnut-crowned Warbler and Mountain Leaf-Warbler (all the yellows) and a
little later we saw an imm Banded Bay Cuckoo being fed by a Mountain Tailorbird.

The raptors we saw soaring were: Crested Honey-Buzzard, Blyth?s Hawk-eagle
and Black Eagle. There?s a very good place to see raptors soaring which is a
valley you overlook when you go up the hill from Durai?s Centre and round
the corner. At a mini roundabout you go left to the Waterfall Road and right
towards the Bishop?s Trail, but just in front of you is the valley, and
around midmorning was very good for raptors on all the days we were there.

My favourite birds up there were the Long-tailed Sibias and the
Chestnut-capped Laughing-thrush, both of which were very common, and the
most comic bird the Fire-tufted Barbet.

Then we caught the bus back to the Gap and spent one further night there. In
the afternoon we walked towards Raub; here the forest is more hacked about
and interspersed with grassland, but this means you can get better
long-distance views. Here we saw another Bushy-crested Hornbill, and then
coming back this amazing and colourful bird-wave:
Scarlet Minivet
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
Rufous Piculet
White-bellied Yuhina
Asian Paradise Flycatcher
plus 2 or 3 other spp I didn?t get a chance to identify.

That evening I was standing outside the Rest House watching dusk descend and
wondering whether to wait for Nightjars, or go and have dinner, when an
immature Bat Hawk flew rapidly over, had a go at a few bats, as if to prove
its identity, and then shot off down the valley. Gobsmacked is too mild a
term for what I felt.

One interesting feature of going the Highlands in the prevailing conditions
is that there seemed a number of spp up there which should really be lower
down. At the Gap we saw:
Bat Hawk
Orange-backed Woodpecker
Green Imperial Pigeon
Blue-rumped Parrot
which fitted this category, and at Bukit Fraser the following:
Maroon Woodpecker
Indian Cuckoo
Durai confirmed that he had seen several unusual spp on the Hill in the
recent past which seemed to be lowland birds being driven higher than their
usual range in the search for food.

Anyway, after the Bat Hawk anything else would have been anticlimax, except
perhaps a Trogon or another Hornbill, so we went off to Kuala Selangor on
the hot, steamy coast. We had been told that we would be eaten alive by
mosquitoes and suffocate overnight in our A-frame hut. The hut was pretty
clammy (and the monkeys were such a pest we had to eat in the hut with the
doors shut, which wasn?t pleasant), but the coast was so dry there were
almost no mosquitoes, not even in the mangroves (and the only leeches I got
in the entire trip were on Bishop?s Trail at Bukit Fraser).

However the dryness meant that birds were, again, a bit thin on the ground.
Most of the common birds were there, but there were few raptors. However the
Red Junglefowl (chooks) were easy to see. They were out on the main track at
all hours (people have suggested that they are difficult, well perhaps
hunger was driving them out, because we had great views). The roosters are
very handsome and have the upright carriage of the barnyard variety, but the
hens are very different from domestic hens, and are sort of elongated and
carry their heads lower. There were also several broods of ?chooklets? (as
Sylvius called them).

You can?t get to see any of the mudflats at KS any more, as the Mangrove
Boardwalk has washed away at the sea-ward end. But we cleaned up on the
herons, seeing Grey, Purple, Little, Chinese Pond, Great, Little and
Intermediate Egrets, and Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns. We had stunning views
of a Changeable Hawk-eagle (surely ?varied? would be a better name, I didn?t
see this one change while we were watching it). Kingfishers were good value
including our own Collared Kingfisher, and the huge Stork-billed. We also
saw Watercock and Slaty-breasted Rail. Good forest birds included Flyeater
(a gerygone), Striped Tit-babbler, Green Iora, Arctic Warbler (sic), Great
Tit, various Woodpeckers, and the Forest Wagtail. This is a Monticilla
wagtail (N. Hemisphere, wag tail up and down), but unlike all its relatives
wags its tail from side to side, but only tentatively, as though it knows
it?s wrong (perhaps the gene for tail-wagging got into the ancestral Forest
Wagtail DNA sideways?)

Other interesting sightings were the huge monitor lizards that cruise the
waterways, with their front legs tucked behind their backs, Duke of
Edinburgh style. They are probably the reason for the strange lack of  ducks
on these wetlands. We also saw Smooth Otters, absolutely huge animals, about
Labrador size, seemingly.

A trip to Bukit Malawati just outside the reserve one afternoon produced a
Lineated Barbet.

Our plan for the last few days of the trip was to go back to KL, hire a car
and visit a couple of sites of remnant lowland rain forest around KL (the
forest at Kuala Selangor is secondary scrub). We picked up our car (a Proton
Saga, sorry Dr Mohattir, but Protons are not very good cars if this is
typical specimen; underpowered, difficult to steer, bits kept on dropping
off, like the driver?s side window which collapsed into the door when I
tried to operate the electric windows. ?Proton,? I though to myself as we
were grinding up hills in seconds, ?Large mass, no energy?).

Anyway, we arrived at Templer Park, recommended by Bransbury, well, we
couldn?t find the nature trail at all, and the rest didn?t look very
promising. So we went on the Gombak Valley. This was better, but is obvious
about to be overtaken by rubbish, and then by development, unless the
development gets there first. We stopped at the few spots and saw some good
birds, such as Bamboo Woodpecker, Green-rumped Treeswift, Blue-eared Barbet,
but there was nowhere to spend a long time, no trails, nowhere except
roadsides. So we pushed on to the Genting Highlands. The least said about
this Disney-world the better, all the trails Bransbury mentions seem to have
disappeared, and the Awana Forest Trail can now only be visited with a
?forest-guide? (for a fee), according to the hotel reception. The only
things worth noting were the Japanese Sparrowhawk we saw from above, from
the Cable Car (a concession to Sylvius), and the pathetic fragments of upper
montane forest still clinging to the upper slopes around the Telekom Tower.

So we needed somewhere to go for the last two days to see a few more lowland
spp. We drove inland and south to Pasoh Forest Reserve, a fragment of
unlogged forest within a logged forest, hidden amongst Palm-nut plantations.
This reserve is a great and very valuable place, and said to contain many
rarities, but even at the best of times birding here can?t be easy, but now
it was just deadly?there was absolutely nothing about. Evidently the drought
was affecting things down here even more then in the highlands (the whole
trip we didn?t see a single Pitta, no rain=no snails=no Pittas). However we
managed to see a few things, mostly by a sort of Taoist birdwatching,
patiently waiting in the clearing for birds to come to us, thus we saw Black
and Yellow Broadbill, Raffles? and Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Black Magpie
and White-rumped Shama. The second day I ventured again into the forest and
was rewarded with a Red-naped Trogon perched low down (when I told Sylvius
about this he said ?You know I?m really bored with Trogons, Daddy?). 

And that was it, more or less, we headed back to KL, once more down Gombak
Valley, where are a little roadside quarry (overgrown) about 300 metres
below the Field Studies Centre on the other side of the road we saw a
Chestnut-naped Forktail, which was a nice way to round off the trip.

One further thing to note was that spot-lighting was a bit of a flop, every
night we planned to go Sylvius was too tired, or it rained. Durai had warned
us that owls and things were not calling, and indeed the only nocturnal
birds we saw were one Grey Nightjar on Bukit Fraser, and a Malaysian Eared
Nightjar at the Gap. Also on Bukit Fraser we saw the world?s largest moth,
the Atlas Moth, the size of a very large dinner-plate. At Pasoh we saw a
flying squirrel gliding, cute.

Anyway we had a great time, didn?t spend very much money, and didn?t get
sick, or have very many difficulties. Malaysia is a very easy country to get
about and bird-watch in, and I?ll certainly be back, sometime, and get up to
Taman Negara. As well as all the birds the other wildlife is spectacular; we
saw 5 species of monkey, four squirrels, a Colugo, a flying squirrel, a
Siamang, otters &c. Insect life is amazing with colourful butterflies, huge
beetles, giant millipedes. As for reptiles we saw various lizards, including
a ?flying? lizard in action, and a land tortoise. And there?s the variety
and interest of the vegetation. Oh, and I?ll just mention the bulbuls. Every
time you turn around in Malaysia, seemingly, there?s another species of
bulbul to identify, they?re like sparrows, only they come in many different


John Leonard (Dr),
PO Box 243,
Woden, ACT 2606

'He look for righteousness, and behold, bloodshed;
He looked for justice, and behold, a cry.'
                                                         the 1st Isaiah

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