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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Peninsular Malaysia

2019 Narrative

Our tour of Malaysia is designed to cover a variety of habitats thus allowing us to observe a range of the exciting birds and other wildlife of this tropical region. The rainforests of the Greater Sundas –Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra –are the oldest in the world. And the Malay Peninsula is cloaked in incredible, lush Sundaic rainforests where the diversity of Asian birdlife reaches its zenith. They are also the most dense and humid, which means birding here can be a real challenge! Despite this, the rewards make it all worthwhile with some of the most beautiful and exotic birds on earth found in the region –many of them seen well on our tour. Other highlights of any trip to Southeast Asia should be the fabulous food, varied and exotic cultures, terrific people and general atmosphere, and I think we sampled all of these aspects very well. Malaysia is a terrific country to travel in – it’s buoyant and relatively wealthy and has moved towards a pluralist culture based on a vibrant and interesting fusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous cultures and customs.

We started off in the mangroves of Selangor, just north of Kuala Lumpur (known throughout Asia as KL), in search of a number of species that are only found in this habitat. While we enjoyed great looks at Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, Mangrove Whistler, and Copper-throated Sunbird, the Mangrove Pitta proved to be too recalcitrant for us this year! We moved on to the small town of Kuala Selangor though, and we first birded on a local hill known as Bukit Melawati where we found Lineated and Coppersmith Barbets, Laced Woodpecker and troops of Silvered Leaf-Monkeys with their beautiful, bright orange babies. An undoubted highlight of our short stay in this area was a night drive that yielded four species of owl in the space of an hour or so – Barn Owl, Buffy Fish-Owl, Spotted Wood-Owl and, best of all, a very imperious Dusky Eagle-Owl!

Next, we headed up to Fraser’s Hill. During the colonial era the British escaped from the heat of the lowlands to Fraser’s Hill and the atmosphere is still one of laid-back relaxation. The pace of life is much more sedate than down in the lowlands. The cooler climate provides a very welcome contrast to the steamy rainforests below. Up here at 1300 meters (4,265 feet) the avifauna differs markedly from that of the lowlands. Here we came to grips with some of the montane species including the bizarre Fire-tufted Barbet, Red-headed Trogon and Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush. This is where we first encountered the bewildering but exciting mixed feeding flocks that characterize the Asian montane habitats. With fast-moving flocks composed of Checker-throated Woodpecker, Bar-bellied Cuckooshrike, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, Blue-winged Minla, Mountain Fulvetta, Black-and-crimson Oriole, White-throated Fantail, Sultan Tit, and Golden Babbler, it’s hard to know which way to look! Walking along the trails allowed us to view some beautiful montane forest as well as some of its birds including Common Green Magpie, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Pygmy Cupwing, and Lesser Shortwing. An early morning stakeout for the endemic Malaysian Whistling Thrush was a great success with prolonged, close views. Down at the Jeriau Waterfall, we found fabulous Black Laughingthrushes, as well as cooperative Slaty-backed Forktails. Elsewhere we found such beauties as Long-tailed Broadbill, Malaysian Laughingthrush, Black-throated Sunbird and Large Niltava. An afternoon walk down on the lower Raub Road was very productive with a different set of species including cute Black-thighed Falconets and Fiery Minivets, but the highlight was definitely a pair of rare Bamboo Woodpeckers. 

From the cool of Fraser’s Hill, we headed down into the steamy lowlands first to Kerau where we had our first encounters with the birds of the tropical rainforests. A Rufous-collared Kingfisher – a shy lower-story denizen of shady forest – put in a welcome appearance, as did Red-billed Malkoha (the showiest of a very showy group), Diard’s Trogon, and a fabulous pair of Wreathed Hornbills. That afternoon we turned northwards to Merapoh in Taman Negara National Park and spent an afternoon and morning exploring the forests along an open dirt road. Our main target, the stunning Garnet Pitta, performed perfectly with some other welcome distractions in the form of Large Wren-Babbler, Sooty Barbet, White-bellied Woodpecker, Black Magpie, and many others.

 

A rather long and windy road trip (with stops for lunch, a broken-down vehicle – quickly replaced, and Durian) took us to the jetty for our short boat hop over the river to Taman Negara –Malaysia’s largest national park. The next few days saw us searching this spectacular lowland rainforest and its waterways for glimpses of the secretive and marvelous wildlife to be found here. A morning sampan trip up the Sungai Tahan (River) was one of the high points of our trip. Not only did we enjoy the stunningly beautiful riparian rainforest but had some great looks of a number of sought-after species including the impressive Stork-billed Kingfisher, Lesser Fish-Eagle, Black-and-red Broadbill, Brown-backed Needletails, and the gorgeous but zippy Blue-banded Kingfisher. In a clearing, we had Rufous-bellied Eagle, Wrinkled Hornbill, Whisked Treeswifts, and Green Ioras. The Swamp Loop and other trails near our accommodation repaid numerous visits with great views of Crested Fireback, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Rufous-winged Philentoma and Black-capped Babbler amongst others. More explorations of various trails in the area rewarded us with outstanding views of Buff-rumped, Buff-necked, and Great Slaty Woodpeckers. Some fruiting trees in the vicinity of the resort also provided plenty of entertainment with lots of pigeons, hornbills, barbets, and bulbuls. Taman Negara can be pretty hard work, but we weren’t complaining. The undoubted highlight of our stay here was an amazing Malaysian Rail-Babbler, though. Not only does it have a family to itself, but it is just a sensational bird!

We finished off our journey through the peninsula with a short stay at Bukit Tinggi. Although our luck ran out when it came to the hoped-for Mountain Peacock-Pheasant, we did have many more great sightings here including Gold-whiskered Barbet, Dark-throated Oriole, Grey-bellied Bulbul, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, and Pale Blue-Flycatcher. On our way back to KL we made a final stop at another nearby site to finish off with a flourish in the form of Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Dusky Broadbill, Hair-crested Drongo, Tickell’s Blue-Flycatcher and the improbable Long-billed Spiderhunter

The remarkable diversity of the forests of this part of the world is simply astounding and new discoveries await us every time we venture out. After many years of birding and exploration in Malaysia, I still find many new and wonderful discoveries on every visit. Even little things like beetle larvae or a gliding Draco lizard captivate me such that I find this one of the most exciting places on earth. And what a privilege for a Malaysian Rail-babbler or a Garnet Pitta to let us glimpse them as they go about their secretive business! Two of many exceptionally remarkable birds.

Thanks to you all for your great company and excellent birding skills. I hope to see you all again soon!

Susan Myers
September 2019

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