When booking flights in connection with a trip to the Philippines I found myself unable to return to Vienna immediately because all the cheap seats were already taken. The fastest route back would have had me stay in Malaysia for three days awaiting a connection, so we decided that Christine would fly out from Vienna to join me and we should have a week's holiday. This is a report of where we went, what we did and what we saw in that time.
The long-awaited A Field Guide to the Birds of West Malaysia and Singapore by Allen Jeyarajasingam and Alan Pearson, announced for December 1998, is still not available at the time of writing (publication is scheduled for March 1999 but this is starting to look optimistic) so we once again were forced to make do with other books. We used:
Because our time in Malaysia was so limited we decided to hire a car rather than relying on Malaysia's excellent and cheap network of public transport. All the car-hire offices at the new and fancy Kuala Lumpur International Airport close around 9:00 in the evening, which was hardly ideal as my flight from Manila was scheduled to arrive an hour later, but by reserving a car through Budget it was possible to persuade someone to wait for me. The car cost RM 897,- for the week (the exchange rate was RM 3,76 per US$) and was well worth it for the time saved and the extra flexibility we had.
We met in Shah Alam, fairly close to the airport and very close to Taman Pertanian ('Agricultural Park'). We had booked a room in the De Palma Inn because we found the fax number on the Internet, and the place was reasonably priced. The room was clean and comfortable, and the breakfast - included in the price (RM 105,-) - good. (The hotel prices mentioned are all for two people in a double room.) We were only there for a night, heading off at lunchtime the following day to Fraser's Hill.
At Fraser's Hill we had reserved rooms for two nights in the Puncak Inn. When we arrived Christine went in to investigate and came back reporting an unacceptable level of wildlife in the bathroom (although she later admitted that this was a ruse to get me to agree to moving to the Resort, which she rather fancied!) so we went instead to the large and posh-looking Quest Resort (formerly the Merlin, I think), which was only about 100 yards along the road. Business was pretty slow there so they had a special offer on the room, which cost us only RM 99,- a night (including breakfast) - not much more than a room at the Puncak and a lot larger and better equipped.
We also stayed a single night at The Gap Resthouse. There is basically no other choice at The Gap but I'm not sure anybody would want one. The place has a lovely old colonial feeling to it, the rooms are large and comfortable, and there is plenty of hot water. The food is good and cheap. The only slight problem we experienced was in the morning, when the electricity was a little later coming on than expected, and we were uncertain whether we would have to do without it completely! The Resthouse costs RM 42,- per night.
From The Gap we drove via Ipoh (alas, without having time to stop at the famous Turtle Temple) and Lumut to Pulau Pangkor (Pangkor Island), where we stayed at the Seagull Beach Resort. We parked our car in the guarded car-park in Lumut (RM 6,- per day) and took the ferry over to the island. People on the ferry had approached us to try to persuade us to go somewhere else but we were happy with our choice. The Seagull had a clean bathroom (important to one of us) and reliable hot water, was located within 100 yards of the beach and was beautifully quiet. It cost RM 80,- a night, including breakfast. The owner was very friendly and helpful, taking us (free) on a quick sightseeing tour on our final morning and delivering us to the ferry back to the mainland.
For our final night we stayed in a chalet at the Kuala Selangor Taman Alam. Despite the lack of hot water and the noisy party of Malaysian schoolchildren (or students?) also staying there, the place cannot be praised too highly. For a start, it was right in the middle of the habitat. Furthermore, Rajan (the Centre's Manager) was extremely accommodating and allowed us to stay in the room way after the normal check-out time of 12:30. We finally handed the key back to him at 7:30! We paid RM 45,- for the chalet, which did not include breakfast.
On our first morning morning we drove the short distance from our hotel in Shah Alam to Taman Pertanian (Agricultural Park) to take advantage of the first few hours of daylight. Unfortunately the park does not open until 9:00 so we were reduced to standing around in the car-park watching fly-overs until then. By the time we were allowed in the day was heating up nicely, and bird activity was already starting to drop. Nevertheless, we spent about three hours in the park, generally keeping to the roads and simply looking to see what was perched up. The forested areas looked potentially interesting, and Bransbury gives an impressive list of species found there. We had relatively few target species and only two of these - Banded Kingfisher and Black-bellied Malkoha - were to be expected in the forest. We heard neither of them so decided not to spend time in the forest, preferring to head off earlier to Fraser's Hill. Despite the limited time at Taman Pertanian we did find a number of species that were seen nowhere else on the trip. Apart from Long-tailed Parakeet and Changeable Hawk-Eagle, which were our two main targets, the highlights were Black-headed, Red-eyed and Hairy-backed Bulbuls, Fiery Minivet and a very obliging pair of Hill Mynas. Pig-tailed Macaques (Macaca nemestrina) were common in the picnic area by Sungai dam, and a Plantain Squirrel (Callosciurus notatus) was seen running along the overhead wires by the entrance. I'm told by David Collinge that these are common throughout but don't think we saw any more on our trip ...
At the outset, I should probably mention that Fraser's Hill is well known for its leeches. We had heard from several people who had been there, and they recommend a variety of protective measures from wearing long trousers and tucking them into socks to spraying boots and all clothes with insecticide. Christine adopted the former approach while I preferred to pretend there were no leeches around and check my boots every ten to fifteen minutes to see if my assumption was correct. In the event we encountered remarkably few leeches: there were some by the rubbish tip on Fraser's Hill and a couple in the woods by the stream crossing on the Raub road from The Gap (see below) but none of them managed to clamber over my boots before being spotted and flicked off. It could hardly have been considered exceptionally dry while we were at Fraser's Hill, so perhaps we were just lucky or spent so little time in the forest (as opposed to along the roads) that we weren't bothered. The main message is that potential visitors should not be put off by the stories of leeches all over the place!
We reached the bottom of the Fraser's Hill road minutes after the gate was closed (at 3:40) so had to wait the full hour and twenty minutes to be allowed to drive up to the top. It was mid-afternoon, and the weather was hot, but a walk along the road gave us our first views of Dark-necked Tailorbird and both Black-crested and Ochraceous Bulbuls. Generally, though, things were very quiet. Stopping is not possible on the drive up to the top so our first real opportunity to look round came when we had parked the car in front of the Puncak Inn, where we had planned to stay for a couple of nights.
While Christine was busy inspecting bathrooms I was looking around in the rain. Long-tailed Sibias were common in the town centre and Streaked Spiderhunters were calling loudly. A Scarlet Sunbird was working the flowers on the tiny roundabout in front of the Puncak Inn and turned out to be the only one we saw on our entire trip. Fire-tufted Barbets and Chestnut-capped Laughingthrushes were calling, and it did not take us long to locate both of these species. A Brown Shrike was standing guard over a garden, and Magpie Robins were singing.
We had time before dusk for a quick walk along the road, where we had the chance to become familiar with some of the commoner species. The rain soon returned, however, and we were reduced to sheltering desperately under a tree and looking forward to the sunshine that the next day should bring. A lovely male Large Niltava provided entertainment. When the rain subsided enough for us to leave the tree we headed to Spices for dinner.
Perhaps the main reason for us to visit Fraser's Hill was the chance to see the endemic Malayan Whistling-Thrush, so at 6:30 the following morning we were in position by the gate waiting for the bird to put in an appearance. Sure enough, shortly after 7:00 a dark shape materialized on the road only about 30m from where we were standing and proceeded to fan its tail repeatedly while hopping to and fro. We watched it for about five minutes before it disappeared into a gully, not to be seen again (and then only briefly) until the following morning. I had hoped to see the bird in somewhat better light but perhaps I am simply being greedy. After half an hour or so we had seen our main target species and so could feel free to see what other birds we could find.
We set off initially along the road to The Gap. The sky was clear and many birds were taking advantage of this to dry off after yesterday's shower. We quickly saw a good number of species that were to become familiar over the next few days. All were allowing good looks and thus proved relatively easy to identify although one is still puzzling me. It is entered in the full species list below as 'mystery warbler', which is how I recorded it at the time. My current thinking is that it was a juvenile Chestnut-crowned Warbler, which is more likely than the alternative of Grey-cheeked Warbler. A further discussion and a plea for help is given in the list below.
Returning to the town we saw our first Red-headed Trogons - a pair in the small gully by the gate - and our only Chestnut-crowned Laughing-Thrush, which was singing loudly from a half-concealed perch in somebody's garden three or four doors along. The people in the town seemed pretty friendly so we strolled round the side of the house for a better look and nobody minded.
Having paused for breakfast at the hotel we headed off on foot towards the Telekom Loop. We didn't actually reach the Loop itself thanks to a wrong turning somewhere but nevertheless enjoyed a pleasant stroll up the hill. How pleasant it really was can be gauged by the fact that we took the car on all subsequent excursions! Nevertheless, we did see a number of new species: highlights included a group of displaying Red-bearded Bee-eaters, male Mugimaki and Rufous-chested Flycatchers and a soaring Black Eagle. We also had good looks at a small flock of Grey-chinned Minivets that turned out to be the only ones we saw. The mammalian highlight was provided by several groups of Banded Langur (Presbytis melanopho) seen sitting in the roadside trees. By this point, however, the weather was looking less reliable, so we headed back towards the hotel, only to be caught by a spectacular storm from which we were only half-able to shelter under the eaves of a disused barn.
After a change of clothes we headed off in the car for the Bishop's Trail, hoping to find the entrance by the Playground mentioned in Bransbury's book. We stumbled along for a while without finding the trail (although a White-browed Shrike-babbler was nice compensation) and then gave up. Returning to the car we ran into Steve and Louise, an English semi-birdwatching couple, and offered to take them to the rubbish tip. Previous trip reports had suggested that this site is grossly overrated but we had decided to give it a go, and we were very pleased we did. The first bird we saw on arriving was a superb adult Blyth's Hawk-Eagle that took off from the face of the tip and perched obligingly in the large bare tree in the middle of the tip until the mobbing drongos succeeded in driving it away. In the meantime, of course, scope views had been enjoyed by all. We also saw a female (or two?) and then a male Siberian Thrush and were enjoying them when Mano, a local guide, arrived with a client who was desperate to see the species. We pointed them out, and Mano more than repaid us by indicating a male Rufous-browed Flycatcher that had so far escaped our attention. We also added Golden and Gray-throated Babblers, Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher, Verditer Flycatcher and a superb male Hill Blue Flycatcher and Inornate Warbler to our lists. Finally, a Long-tailed Broadbill was sitting in plain view in the bamboo by the entrance road.
By this time the rain had started again so we drove along to the waterfall, because Mano had told us that a family of Silver-breasted Broadbills was in residence there. We didn't find the birds but had a good look at the falls, which had been nicely topped up by the recent rain. It was twilight by the time we dropped Steve and Louise off at the Raub bungalow, where they were staying. Pete Saunders and his wife Lorraine appeared with Durai, the Assistant Education Officer at the WWF centre in Fraser's Hill, and we all agreed to go the following day for a walk down the new road to The Gap, still not opened for traffic due to subsidence. While we were chatting and arranging to meet for the Whistling-Thrush the next morning a Jungle Nightjar (or Grey Nightjar) appeared and flew around in plain view. Dinner in Spice's brought the day to a very pleasant end.
At 7:00 the next morning Steve, Pete and I were in position for the Whistling-Thrush, which came right on cue although more briefly and further away than the previous day. Still, endemic is endemic. We then drove to Ye Olde Smokehouse to meet Lorraine and Durai, picking up Christine and Louise on the way. A raucous call opposite came from a Green Magpie, which eventually revealed itself, before we headed on to the top of the new road.
Unfortunately the weather was foggy, and initially almost nothing could be seen. At times, however, the fog cleared and we were treated to a lovely view of the valley below. We walked more than half-way down the hill so the birds we saw represent a mixture of typical montane species (at Fraser's Hill) and the more lowland species found at The Gap. Despite the weather, we had a spectacular morning. Chief among the highlights were the four large hornbill species: we had scope views of feeding Rhinoceros, Great and Wreathed and wonderful overhead views of a pair of Helmeted Hornbills, looking positively prehistoric in the swirling mist. A pity that the Bushy-crested Hornbills didn't show themselves. We also had good looks at several barbet species, numerous woodpeckers and flycatchers, both Orange-bellied and (lower down) Blue-winged Leafbirds and Red-billed and Green-billed Malkohas. The new road fully lived up to its potential, and we would highly recommend anyone visiting Fraser's Hill to spend time walking along it, at least until it finally opens to traffic.
Pete, Lorraine and Durai wanted to have lunch, so the rest of us spent some time at the rubbish tip, although we saw nothing that we had not found there the previous afternoon and were treated to a fairly hard shower that caused us to retreat into the car for a while. Still, it helped damp down the smell from the tip face somewhat! It was nice to have further looks at the Blyth's Hawk-Eagle, the Siberian Thrushes and the Long-tailed Broadbill as well as several flycatchers. An Asian Paradise-Flycatcher had apparently been seen there until the day before we arrived but there were no more recent reports, and we failed to locate the bird.
At 4:00 we met up again with Pete and Durai for a brief walk along the Hemmant Trail, which runs behind the golf course. It was there that we ran into our first and only mixed-species feeding flock on Fraser's Hill, although we had by then seen most of the component species. Even so it was a thrill to be suddenly surrounded by so many birds and the flock did contain three species - Speckled Piculet, Black-eared Shrike-Babbler and Mountain Leaf-Warbler - that we had not yet seen on the trip. In case anybody cares, other species in the flock included Long-tailed Sibia, White-throated Fantail, Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Bronzed Drongo, Mountain Bulbul, Mountain Fulvetta, Golden Babbler, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Black-throated Sunbird, Mountain Tailorbird and Blue-winged Minla. There were probably more that I did not have the chance to identify or write down!
Even ignoring this one flock, the Hemmant Trail was interesting enough. We found nests of Streaked Wren-Babbler (containing two young) and Golden Babbler (still under construction) and heard a fairly distant Rusty-naped Pitta. Pete had a tape with him, and we were attempting to call the bird in when a very small but nevertheless extremely noisy motorbike pulled up and ruined any chances we might have had. The final bird we saw was a female Black-and-crimson Oriole that put in a welcome appearance minutes before we had to leave to drive down the hill.
By the time we left it was about 6:20 so we drove straight to the Gap Resthouse, taking Steve and Louise down with us. On arrival Christine and Louise checked in while Steve and I stood on the rear terrace and hoped for the Bat Hawk to put in an appearance. Despite the light drizzle the bird did not disappoint us, and we were treated to four impressively close fly-bys in the twilight. Dinner at the Resthouse provided a nice end to a very successful day.
Steve and I met at 6:45 the following morning and watched from the front terrace for Malaysian Eared-Nightjar but our luck seemed to have been exhausted the evening before, and we saw nothing except a dark shape that flew rapidly past and was probably the Bat Hawk. Perched up in a bare tree opposite was another (or the same?) Blyth's Hawk-Eagle and a single Wedge-tailed Pigeon, its characteristic shape allowing us to be confident of the identification despite the still poor light. As soon as the light was good enough for us to see we headed off up the Fraser's Hill road to see what we could find. The morning started with a bang as a large flock appeared almost immediately, although unfortunately fairly high up in the trees and not at all easy to see. A surprise constituent was a female Lesser Cuckoo-Shrike - the only one of the trip - and we also had good looks at a Blue Nuthatch that made up for the glimpses through the mist that we had 'enjoyed' the previous day. We also found a pair of Red-bearded Bee-Eaters that were 'catch up' birds for Steve and two female Red-headed Trogons. Shortly after 8:00 Pete and Lorraine arrived by taxi and we continued along the road together until about 9:30, when we returned to The Gap for breakfast. Highlights of the walk included a small party of Black Laughing-Thrushes, a female Orange-breasted Trogon (near the second gully), a Green-billed and a pair of Chestnut-breasted Malkohas and a very close White-browed Scimitar-Babbler that Lorraine spotted and Pete failed completely to see.
As expected, we were late for our breakfast appointment so had to hurry down the hill. Pete and Lorraine caught up with us later to say that they had seen a pair of Silver-breasted Broadbills on the way down. For us, a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills from the terrace while we were waiting for breakfast to be served was only scant compensation.
After breakfast we met up again with Durai and walked along the Raub road until about 1:00. The sky was clear, and the temperature was noticeably hotter, and the bird activity correspondingly lower than it had been on Fraser's Hill. Durai was hoping to find Dusky Broadbill on this stretch of road but we didn't see or hear any sign of one. An American birdwatcher we ran into reported both Silver-breasted Broadbill and Slaty-backed Forktail from the stream crossing, but we didn't see either of these species there. Luckily the forktail put in an appearance, however, flying along the road and disappearing into the undergrowth by the bottom of the new road to Fraser's Hill. It would have been nice to see it perched, but a good flight view is still a tick. Another highlight of the Raub road was a close and cooperative Rufous Piculet, apparently fairly rare this far south in Malaysia. A Stripe-throated Bulbul was a further welcome addition to the list just before Pete, Lorraine and Durai drove back up to Fraser's Hill and lunch at Spices.
The committed birdwatcher naturally foregoes lunch in favour of more time in the field. In this case, however, I had promised Christine a couple of days on Pulau Pangkor, so we were planning to leave by about 1:30. In view of my repeated failure to find the Silver-breasted Broadbills she kindly offered to allow me one further walk up the Fraser's Hill road. Steve came along as well and we headed straight for the patch of bamboo about 1km up the road (by a small stream) where Pete and Lorraine had seen the birds that morning. Sure enough, within minutes a party of four arrived and perched in plain view: an extremely attractive species, and one that it would have been a huge shame to have missed. On our return to The Gap a Grey-breasted Spiderhunter flew across the road and perched low down in the roadside flowers, thereby becoming our third species of spiderhunter of the day. Satisfied with what we had seen, we said goodbye to Steve and Louise (who were headed off to Pulau Tioman for four days on the beach) and drove to Pulau Pangkor.
We had hoped to arrive on Pulau Pangkor by early evening, but a combination of the extra time spent at The Gap and a wrong turning at Lumut meant that we caught the 7:30 ferry and so it was dark when we reached the island. We found a taxi to take us to our hotel, checked in and went for dinner at T.J.'s, which was very good indeed. A very fierce storm with spectacular lightning kept us longer at the restaurant than we had planned but we managed to return dry to the hotel.
We woke the next morning to the calls of Black-naped Orioles and I stuck my head out of the window to look for them and saw a tree full of Oriental Pied-Hornbills. These birds turned out to be very common in the town and not at all disturbed by humans - we saw them repeatedly and at very close range throughout our stay. Our time on the island was not intended for birdwatching (I had even left my scope with the car in Lumut!) so the hornbills were an unexpected bonus, as were the White-bellied Sea-Eagles that seemed to be in residence on a small offshore island and were often seen flying over the bay along with numerous Brahminy Kites. Swiftlets were also much in evidence, and we identified both Edible-nest and Asian Palm-Swift in addition to the abundant Glossy Swiftlets. Other notable sightings were a White-rumped Shama and an Oriental Pipit, that surprisingly was the only one we saw on the trip. We also saw our first Dollarbird of the trip and several bulbuls.
However, the agreement was that we should go swimming and snorkelling rather than birdwatching so I passed up on the rainforest that covers the island's interior (although if, as Christine hopes, we visit the island again I shall certain spend some time here as it looks in good condition and promises good numbers of lowland species) and instead swam and snorkelled. The coral reef is damaged in large parts by thoughtless anchoring of boats, but there are still some good stretches, and the water was both pleasantly warm and clear, so the snorkelling was very enjoyable. I didn't keep a fish list but would estimate that we saw at least forty species, including several brightly coloured beasts that were almost as good as the birds. In summary, I think this island represents an easily accessible destination for those interested in swimming and other beach activities while still offering enough to keep even a moderately hard-core birdwatcher happy for a few days. I won't be sorry if we do go there again.
We had planned to spend a full morning on the island before driving to Kuala Selangor, but heavy rain forced us to reconsider, and we left around 11:00. Ironically, as we were returning across the island to the ferry the sun came out and it looked like being a glorious day ...
Because of the early departure from Pulau Pangkor we had time to stop for lunch on the way to Kuala Selangor and behave like real dudes for a change. It was surprisingly enjoyable! The drive along the coast was otherwise memorable only for the large numbers of White-throated Kingfishers on the roadside wires and for the single pair of Black-shouldered Kites, which were the only ones we saw on our entire trip.
We arrived at Kuala Selangor around 3:30, checked into our chalet and went for a walk around the lake. The day had clearly been hot, but temperatures were just coming down to an acceptable level, and bird activity was starting to pick up. In the next hour or so we added nearly thirty species to our trip list, including a Stork-billed Kingfisher, a Black Baza that floated gently overhead, a small flock of Ashy Minivets perched in a bare tree, Cinnamon and Yellow Bitterns and several herons. Ashy Tailorbirds and Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds were common and conspicuous, and a Mountain Imperial-Pigeon was perched prominently, making up for the lousy flight views of a big pigeon that we had on Fraser's Hill. The only mammals we could identify were Silvered Leaf-monkey (Trachypithecus cristatus) and Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis): I should make more of an effort with the squirrels!
At dusk we went to Kuantan to see the fireflies (highly recommended, by the way) before rounding off a day with our first satay dinner of the holiday in Kuala Selangor. The by now expected heavy rain was no inconvenience and promised a good morning's birdwatching on our final day.
The next morning saw me in the mangroves at dawn hoping to see both Mangrove Pitta and Mangrove Blue Flycatcher. Large-tailed Nightjars were common on the walk along the dam to the mangrove boardwalk. From the boardwalk I soon saw Sulphur-bellied Gerygone, which was abundant, and several Arctic Warblers, but the Mangrove Blue Flycatcher kept me waiting much longer before a glorious male put on a wonderful show at pretty near the close-focussing limit of my binoculars. There seemed to be neither sight nor sound of the pitta, though, so I left the boardwalk and turned onto the dam. Immediately a bright blue, thrush-sized bird hopped away into the edge of the mangroves. Was this perhaps the Mangrove Pitta? I couldn't be sure, and no amount of waiting or whistling would bring the bird back into view. Frustrating though it was, I admitted defeat after about half an hour and moved on.
I soon recovered from the disappointment as numerous birds were perched prominently and drying off after the downpour of the previous evening. Both Laced Woodpecker and Common Goldenback were well seen and a flock of Oriental White-Eyes were moving noisily along the edge of the mangroves. A single Great Tit was with them, surprisingly skulking and hard to see. By this time it was after 9:00, and I was unsure whether to go and rouse Christine or to continue seeing what I could find on my own. The decision was taken for me when a group of eight Smooth Otters (Lutra perspicillata) ran across the path in front of me, pausing to stand on their hind legs and survey their surroundings. I hurried back to fetch Christine but the otters had disappeared by the time we returned. We walked back to our chalet through the woods (Trail D), where the mosquitoes were almost unbearable and birds extremely scarce, although we did see a lovely close Abbott's Babbler and a group of three Red Junglefowl (yes, chickens).
Previous experience had told us that there is little point in struggling around Kuala Selangor in the midday heat so we decided to spend some time elsewhere. An obvious choice would have been the nearby Tengi Estuary to add some waders to our trip list but Christine expressed a strong preference to going instead for a comfortable lunch. I couldn't imagine seeing any 'new' waders on the estuary and faced with the choice between padding my trip list and keeping my wife happy chose the honourable course. Lunch at a Chinese fish-restaurant on the N bank of the river was in fact extremely pleasant.
The main site for tourists in Kuala Selangor is Bukit Melawati, a large hill overlooking the reserve and featuring a lighthouse and an old ruined fort. We spent a couple of hours in the early afternoon looking around, admittedly hoping to stumble into the Buffy Fish-Owl that supposedly roosts up there. We had no luck and so decided to try for the bird at dusk along the road from the reserve to Bukit Melawati, where Rajan says he sees it occasionally. Unfortunately it was by then raining very hard indeed, and there was no chance of seeing anything at all so we managed to complete the entire trip without seeing a single owl (the Collared Scops-Owls are no longer using the nest box by the old visitors' centre in the reserve, and Rajan had no tips on where to find them). A good reason to return.
Despite our failure to find the owl, Bukit Melawati proved a very pleasant diversion. Lineated Barbets have taken up residence there, and we saw several, including one bird entering and leaving a nest-hole (in one of the trees opposite the public toilets). We also saw our only Pied Triller of the trip and had a closer look at the White-bellied Sea-Eagle watching over the nest at the top of the taller mast on the hill. Both Silvered Leaf-monkey (Presbytis cristata) and Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis) were abundant and confiding, although the two species did not always seem to get on well together.
We spent the next hour or so chatting to Rajan, the park manager, who, like Durai at Fraser's Hill, is very worried about the possible impact of the new dam due to be built in the area. An environmental impact assessment has stated that there will be no negative effects on the Kuala Selangor reserve or on the firefly breeding areas, but there are doubts over how impartially the assessment was prepared. It seems highly unlikely that the mangrove system at Kuala Selangor will not be adversely affected by blocking the main source of fresh water to the area. Perhaps the most disturbing feature is that the dam is not actually needed: Malaysia does not suffer from a shortage of water although nearly 40% of treated water is lost from the system due to leaks in the pipes! Rajan and Durai both feel strongly that more money should be spent repairing the existing facilities and less on expensive and potentially damaging new projects. It should also be mentioned that construction of the dam will destroy an Orang Asli village, forcing the government to resettle these indigenous people at considerable expense and no doubt inconvenience to the people concerned.
Another topic of concern was the plight of the Milky Stork. Apparently this species is now extirpated from Cambodia and highly threatened on its breeding grounds in Thailand, so the last remaining stronghold is at Kuala Gula in Malaysia. A small number of birds have been taken to Kuala Selangor in an attempt to breed them in captivity. The cage can be seen from the main dam by turning right at the junction.
We also naturally discussed with Rajan what birds we could still hope to see at Kuala Selangor, and he told us that two Lesser Adjutants were still present - he couldn't see how we had overlooked them the previous day. In our defence we could only suggest that we had been unpacking our luggage when the birds flew in, and that by the time we returned to the lake they had already settled in to a roost where they were no longer visible. Rajan kindly offered to let us keep our chalet until we had looked again for the Adjutants. He also suggested where we could hope to find Forest Wagtail, but unfortunately the area was very close to the camp, which was fairly noisy as a result of a group of students on a mangrove ecology course. We didn't find the birds. The only other species Rajan mentioned as being around that we had not seen was Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, but as I had seen a pair on my previous visit to the reserve I decided it was not worth the time to try to track these down in the mangroves.
When the temperature had dropped sufficiently to make birdwatching a feasible proposition we set off again along the dam. Almost immediately we saw the Lesser Adjutants, perched unmissably on the top of a bare tree. How could we have overlooked them the day before? We then ran into Steve, who had persuaded Louise to abandon Pulau Tioman a day early so that they could visit Kuala Selangor (the following day but he was taking an advance look). While strolling back along the dam together we spotted a distant Watercock so clambered up the nearby tower for a better look. After a few anxious moments the bird appeared in an open channel and walked around in plain view for at least five minutes - the last species recorded on the trip. Satisfied, we returned to our chalet, on the way watching a single Smooth Otter in the gully on the left. Christine had missed this on our last visit as well as in the morning and was very pleased finally to see one. We then said goodbye once again to Steve, had a final satay dinner and drove back to the airport through the pouring rain, eager for the long wait for our flight to Vienna.
We had an extremely pleasurable time in Malaysia, which we would not hesitate to recommend to anybody as a holiday destination. The people are friendly and relaxed, there are not the problems with street beggars that marred our trips to India, for example, the roads are good, and the public transport is excellent (although we didn't use it much this time). On this trip we were fortunate to meet a few very personable birdwatchers, who accompanied us on several of our walks (especially at Fraser's Hill) and were a lot of fun. Steve and Louise (whose surnames we don't know) and Pete and Lorraine Saunders added a lot to our enjoyment on our trip. Finally, I should like to thank David Collinge for helping me to identify the only squirrel we looked at closely.
We were extremely pleased to have made the acquaintance of Durai at Fraser's Hill and Rajan at Kuala Selangor, both extremely likeable and remarkably well informed: we learned a great deal by chatting to them. We would encourage any birdwatcher visiting these area to get in touch with them. Their addresses are:
Asst. Education Officer
Fraser's Hill Nature Education Centre
49000 Fraser's Hill
Pahang darul Makmur
Tel / Fax 09-362-2517
M. Rasainthiran (Rajan)
Kuala Selangor Nature Park
45000 Kuala Selangor
Selangor Darul Ehsan
Mystery Warbler - Seicercus sp.
a small warbler seen well on the road to The Gap from Fraser's Hill has so far defied positive identification. At the time I wrote (without consulting a field guide): "Mystery leaf-warbler, similar in size to Yellow-bellied. Head entirely grey with prominent white eyering. Upperparts greenish with prominent single yellowish wing-bar (on greater coverts?). Underparts seemingly uniformly yellow. Song jangling and fairly brief. From form and structure probably a Seicercus. Behaviour: gleaning fairly actively from branches in mid-level of tree and occasionally undertaking short sallies. Observed at around eye-level (looking down from road) for several minutes on road to The Gap, fairly near the Gate at the top. Monday 8 March, 7:20 a.m. Weather warm and sunny after heavy rain the evening before and into the night, light conditions perfect." When I wrote "Head entirely grey" I meant the cheeks and crown - the throat and chin appeared yellow. The closest match I can find to this description is a Gray-cheeked Warbler (Seicercus poliogenys) although this species shows an incomplete eye-ring, broken at the top (which I didn't notice but in retrospect I'm not sure that the eyering was unbroken). I did not see either the pale chin or the dark supercilium and lateral crown stripe, but I have been told by a far more experienced observer that the crown stripes are not as prominent as illustrated while the pale chin is hard to see in the field except in summer, when the plumage is worn. The species is listed as a rare winter visitor to Thailand, and I have no reference to any records from Malaysia. In short, the bird could have been a Grey-cheeked Warbler, but without any field experience of the species it is difficult to be sure. Another very experienced observed has suggested a pre-juvenile Chestnut-crowned Warbler, which certainly seems more likely on the basis of the location. Nevertheless, I should welcome further comments, especially if anybody knows of any records of Grey-cheeked Warbler in Malaysia.
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