In May 1997 I had a brief opportunity to do some birding in peninsular Malaysia on my to and from Brisbane, Australia. My itinerary was as follows:
4 May: Arrive Kuala Lumpur (KL) 06h00 after overnight flight
5 May: Early morning departure for Brisbane.
17 May: Arrive Kuala Lumpur late evening (21h30).
20 May: Depart for Johannesburg around midnight.
That gave me the best part of four days birding on may first ever visit to SE Asia. I had King's Birds of Southeast Asia and MacKinnon + Phillips's Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali, as well as a few pages copied from Bransbury's A Birdwatcher's Guide to Malaysia. The MacKinnon + Phillips guide was the most useful due to the good illustrations, although some peninsular races differed somewhat in plumage, and covered all but 46 (of which I saw 8) of the peninsular Malaysian species. The Bransbury book was also very helpful in deciding where to go, where to stay, etc.
4 May (Sunday): Arrived KL 06h00, left my suitcase at the left luggage office and immediately caught a taxi to Taman Pertanian on the outskirts of Shah Alam (about a 20-30 min ride). On the way I saw my first SE Asian bird, HOUSE CROW, in Shah Alam. Taman Pertanian is a sort of agricultural/recreational park which still has quite a large area of lowland rainforest. I chose this site over several others in the KL area based on the bird list in Bransbury's book and its proximity to the airport. I think it turned out to be an excellent choice and can thoroughly recommend it for a short stopover in KL.
I arrived there just as it was getting light enough to see birds, and long before the gates opened. However, in the first hour or so, just in the car park and walking along the forest edge outside the park itself I managed to identify OLIVE-BACKED SUNBIRD, JUNGLE MYNA, COMMON MYNA, MAGPIE ROBIN, YELLOW-VENTED BULBUL (probably the most common bird around), WHITE-THROATED KINGFISHER, BLUE-THROATED BEE-EATER, DARK-NECKED TAILORBIRD, RUFESCENT PRINIA, BLUE-WINGED LEAFBIRD, CRESTED SERPENT-EAGLE, BLUE-CROWNED HANGING-PARROT, BLACK-NAPED ORIOLE, WHITE-RUMPED SHAMA, LITTLE SPIDERHUNTER, LITTLE SWIFT, ASIAN GLOSSY STARLING and BLACK-THIGHED FALCONET (not to mention all the frustratingly unidentified fly-bys, glimpses and calls). Phew! With two hours in Malaysia and 15 lifers already under my belt, I paused to catch my breath.
I then started wandering slowly along some of the paths inside the park. In a small area of rice paddies I saw SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA and a female CINNAMON BITTERN, and some LONG-TAILED PARAKEETS flew over. The adjacent, relatively disturbed forest yielded good views of CREAM-VENTED, BLACK-HEADED and RED-EYED BULBULS, BUFF-RUMPED WOODPECKER and CHESTNUT-BREASTED MALKOHA. The GOLD-WHISKERED BARBET, although often heard, was incredibly difficult to see, sitting motionless in the canopy, and I only got one awkward view of its underparts. A BROWN BARBET provided a distant view, and I had a great view of a GREY-BREASTED SPIDERHUNTER feeding amongst banana flowers. I spent a bit of time around a small dam surrounded by dense forest, where I added STRIPED TIT-BABBLER, CHESTNUT-BELLIED and RAFFLES' MALKOHAS, CHECKER-THROATED, ORANGE-BACKED and BUFF-NECKED WOODPECKERS, COMMON TAILORBIRD and GREATER RACQUET-TAILED DRONGO. Flying over the water I saw GREY-RUMPED TREESWIFT, SILVER-RUMPED SWIFT, EDIBLE-NEST SWIFTLET, PACIFIC SWALLOW and a brief view of a CHANGEABLE HAWK-EAGLE. By this time it was mid-afternoon, stinking hot and humid, and the bird activity dropped to virtually zero. Back at the entrance to the park I added SCARLET-BACKED FLOWERPECKER and EURASIAN TREE SPARROW before setting off in search of a bus to KL.
Taman Pertanian was a good introduction to some lowland forest species and gave me a list of 45 species, including 39 lifers.
17/18 May (Sat/Sun): Arrived KL from Brisbane at 21h30, picked up my rental car from Hertz and immediately set off for Kuala Selangor (KS), a nature reserve on the west coast with ponds and mangroves. With only three days available I was torn between spending all my time at the famed Gap and Fraser's Hill (most peoples' advice) or spending some of it in a different habitat. I decided to spend a few early morning hours at Kuala Selangor before heading up to Fraser's Hill and was very glad I did, seeing 31 species which I saw nowhere else in Malaysia.
Arriving at KS just after midnight, I slept in the car just inside the entrance gate. At dawn I set off on one of the trails and had a brief view of a LARGE-TAILED NIGHTJAR flying over (identified by its incessant chop-chop-chop call). At the first hide I was fortunate to see a single LESSER ADJUTANT, as well as CHINESE POND-HERON, WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN, GREY, LITTLE GREEN and PURPLE HERONS. The only other waterbird I saw was a single LITTLE EGRET, while a CRESTED SERPENT-EAGLE sat out in the open on a post. BRAHMINY KITES were abundant overhead, along with LARGE-BILLED and HOUSE CROWS, PACIFIC SWALLOW, EDIBLE-NEST SWIFT and ASIAN PALM-SWIFT. ABBOTT'S BABBLER and STRIPED TIT-BABBLER were common in the undergrowth, and COMMON KOELS were calling all over the place, but only offering rare views. A small group of RED JUNGLEFOWL foraging out in the open provided good views. Other species I saw while walking along the dykes between the ponds were COLLARED, WHITE-THROATED and a single STORK-BILLED KINGFISHER, BLUE-THROATED BEE-EATER, COMMON and ASHY TAILORBIRDS, YELLOW-BELLIED PRINIA, LITTLE SPIDERHUNTER, LACED WOODPECKER, COMMON GOLDENBACK, PINK-NECKED PIGEON, ZEBRA DOVE, OLIVE-BACKED and BROWN-THROATED SUNBIRDS, BLACK-NAPED ORIOLE, PIED FANTAIL, ASIAN GLOSSY STARLING, COMMON and JUNGLE MYNAS, YELLOW-VENTED BULBUL and COPPERSMITH BARBET, which responded immediately to an imitation of its call, much like the tinker-barbets of Africa. Along the edges of the mangroves on the seaward side of the ponds I saw ORIENTAL WHITE-EYE, COMMON IORA, PIED TRILLER, MANGROVE BLUE-FLYCATCHER and GOLDEN-BELLIED GERYGONE. On a short boardwalk into the mangroves I added MANGROVE WHISTLER, CHESTNUT-BELLIED MALKOHA and GREAT TIT. Unfortunately, the long boardwalk leading to the mudflats had been dismantled, so I saw no waders at all.
Total number of species seen in about 5 or 6 hours at Kuala Selangor was 48, including 24 lifers.
Then it was off to the Gap, about 1.5 - 2 hours away, adding DOLLARBIRD, BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE and RICHARD'S (PADDYFIELD?) PIPIT along the way.
The road from Kuala Kubu Bharu up to the Gap becomes progressively steeper and more winding, passing through some wonderful forest. I stopped along the way and spotted a small group of THICK-BILLED GREEN-PIGEONS motionless in the canopy above me. Another random stop gave me one of the most spectacular birds of the trip: a brief, but close-up view of a single GREAT HORNBILL. Other species I saw before reaching the Gap were BAR-WINGED FLYCATCHER-SHRIKE and STRIPE-THROATED and GREY-BELLIED BULBULS.
I arrived at the Gap resthouse in mid-afternoon to find it crawling with people. Fortunately they were day visitors who were just finishing Sunday lunch, and soon I was the only person left. I reserved a room for two nights at RM42 per night. Apparently this is the most affordable accommodation in the Fraser's Hill area and certainly worthwhile. From the front garden of the resthouse I saw in short succession three or four beautiful SULTAN TITS, several SCARLET MINIVETS and BLACK-CRESTED BULBULS, while GLOSSY and EDIBLE-NEST SWIFTLETS flew back and forth and STRIATED and PACIFIC SWALLOWS roosted on the buildings. Soon after checking in I went for a short walk along the road down the road leading east down to Raub. Close to the resthouse I saw an ORANGE-BELLIED LEAFBIRD, several BRONZED DRONGOS and a GREATER RACQUET-TAILED DRONGO. High up in a tree I had a fairly good view of a male ORANGE-BREASTED TROGON. GREY THROATED BABBLERS were common in the scrub along the roadside, but difficult to get good views of. Other sightings were GREY-HEADED FLYCATCHER and GREEN-BILLED MALKOHA. Then I came to a construction site, so I turned around and spent the last hour or two of daylight along the narrow road leading up to Fraser's Hill. OCHRACEOUS BULBULS were noisy and conspicuous and I also saw DARK-NECKED TAILORBIRD, YELLOW-BELLIED WARBLER, BLUE-CROWNED HANGING-PARROT and a party of BLACK LAUGHINGTHRUSHES. Then another couple of highlights: a magnificent male RED-HEADED TROGON which I watched for several minutes, and a pair of SILVER-BREASTED BROADBILLS. CRIMSON-WINGED WOODPECKER was added to the list and, in the fading light, LESSER CUCKOO-SHRIKE, MALAYSIAN HONEYGUIDE and VERDITER FLYCATCHER.
19 May (Mon): Early the next morning I again walked along the Fraser's Hill road and had a very fruitful couple of hours. A single WHITE-RUMPED SHAMA sang in a clump of bamboo, and small groups of EVERETT'S WHITE-EYES and STRIPED TIT-BABBLERS were seen. Further on, in another patch of bamboo were two PIN-TAILED PARROTFINCHES, and I again saw the SILVER-BREASTED BROADBILLS, this time building a nest close to the roadside. A small fruiting tree attracted ASHY BULBULS and YELLOW-CROWNED, GOLD-WHISKERED and BLACK-BROWED BARBETS. Other species seen that morning were several LARGE WOODSHRIKES, FERRUGINOUS BABBLERS in the roadside scrub, CRESTED SERPENT-EAGLE, LONG-BILLED SPIDERHUNTER, YELLOW-VENTED FLOWERPECKER and a small group of WHITE-BELLIED YUHINAS.
I then drove the 8 km up to Fraser's Hill, where the first birds I saw, in the middle of the village, were a group of LONG-TAILED SIBIAS, the first of many. I immediately set off on a section of the Bishop's trail and soon ran into the first (and best) bird wave of the day. This was quite an experience, being suddenly surrounded by an amazing variety of weird and wonderful new birds. The ones I managed to pin down turned out to be fairly common bird wave species: MOUNTAIN FULVETTA, GREEN MAGPIE, BLUE NUTHATCH, CHESTNUT-CAPPED LAUGHINGTHRUSH, LESSER YELLOWNAPE, GREY-CHINNED MINIVET, MOUNTAIN TAILORBIRD, LESSER RACQUET-TAILED DRONGO, WHITE-THROATED FANTAIL and BLACK-EARED SHRIKE-BABBLER. Other birds seen along the Bishop's trail were RUFOUS-BROWED FLYCATCHER, STREAKED SPIDERHUNTER, EYE-BROWED WREN-BABBLER, many GOLDEN BABBLERS, FIRE-TUFTED BARBET, BLACK-THROATED SUNBIRD, MOUNTAIN LEAF-WARBLER, CHESTNUT-CROWNED WARBLER, BLUE-WINGED MINLA and FIRE-BREASTED FLOWERPECKER.
I then drove down to the waterfall a few km away. On the way, a brief stop at the rubbish dump gave me a sighting of the beautiful RED-BEARDED BEE-EATER. The walk down to the falls was not very productive, with the forest along the river all having been cleared, and only a flock of WHITE-RUMPED MUNIAS was seen. I did, however, get a brief 1-2 second view of a large, blackish-looking, thrush-shaped bird, which I think could only have been a MALAYAN WHISTLING-THRUSH, perched on a rock above the falls. Unfortunately it vanished into the undergrowth, never to be seen again. After that I went up to the High Pines, one of the highest places in the area, where I added LITTLE PIED FLYCATCHER, WEDGE-TAILED GREEN-PIGEON and a beautiful LARGE NILTAVA. The last species I saw on Fraser's Hill before heading back down to the Gap was a lovely male BLACK-AND-CRIMSON ORIOLE. Back at the Gap, there was just time for a short walk down the Kuala Kubu Bharu road at dusk. An unidentified nightjar was seen in flight, and the day ended on a high note with a nice view of a pair of BAT HAWKS flying overhead.
20 May (Tue): This was my last half day in Malaysia, and I again started it with a quick early morning walk along the Fraser's Hill road. The only new species I added to the list were BLUE-WINGED LEAFBIRD, BUFF-RUMPED WOODPECKER and two MOUNTAIN IMPERIAL-PIGEONS flying over. Also flying high overhead were several unidentified needletails. Then it was up to Fraser's Hill and another quick visit to the rubbish dump. This time I added GREATER YELLOWNAPE and a male ASIAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER, as well as a stunning close-up view of a BLYTH'S HAWK-EAGLE. A short walk along a section of Bishop's trail was fairly quiet, but yielded some of the bird-wave species which I had already seen, as well as several MOUNTAIN BULBULS. The sound of heavy wing-beats overhead alerted me to a flock of five or six WREATHED HORNBILLS flying over. I then spent my last hour or so searching for the strangely elusive SILVER-EARED MESIA, supposedly one of the most common and conspicuous birds in the area, but which had thus far eluded me. I walked along the edge of the golf course, managing to see two CHESTNUT-CROWNED LAUGHINGTHRUSHES in the undergrowth. Then, literally in my last 15 minutes at Fraser's Hill I had wonderful views of a group of lovely SILVER-EARED MESIAS at the start of the road down to the Gap. As so often happens, I then proceeded to see two more groups of them, one from the car on the way down the hill. Unfortunately it was now time to return to KL for my late evening flight back to Johannesburg.
My total list for the Gap and Fraser's Hill in about two days was 84 species, including 73 lifers. This brought my total for Malaysia, in about three-and-a-half days of birding, to 153 species, of which 138 were lifers.
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