Birding the traditional Peninsular Malaysia Route

By Andrew Sebastian
July 2018

It was a brilliantly warm afternoon when Waldy Brouwer from Holland and I begun our 8 day bird and nature adventure . First stop was my old stomping ground – Kuala Selangor and the paddy fields of Sekincan.

Paddy field was first, taking full advantage of the clear sunny evening. To our dismay, clouds of smoke and haze filled the evening air as the farmers set their dried fields on fire in preparation of the next planting cycle. It’s amazing that while we point our fingers at Indonesia for our hazy weather, we somehow overlook our very own backyard. Anyway, we did manage to record a few ‘regulars’ namely the Watercock, White-breasted Wood-swallows and Cattle egrets. We ended the night on a good note with the ever dependable Buffy Fish Owl at Kuala Selangor Nature Park (KSNP).

The next morning, we hit KSNP early and were blessed with a good mix of birds, starting with the Barred Eagle Owl (the largely odd daytime owl!), 3 of its woodpeckers (Laced, Common and the Brown-capped), Abbot’s Babbler, Pied Fantail, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Purple & Grey Herons, Pied Triller, Great Tit etc.

On route to Fraser’s Hill, we decided to take a quick detour to visit Bagan Sungai Buloh with the chance for the Milky Stork and/or Lesser Adjutants. We got a good bag of 5 Lesser Adjutants and a couple of Great Egrets for our trouble – a good end to the Kuala Selangor leg of our trip. 52 species were recorded for this leg.

We arrived early evening at the lower Gap gate and decided to bird the area first. As a welcome to Fraser’s Hill, a pair of Rhinoceros hornbills, Silvered breasted Broadbills and the Rufous Piculet gave us good looks and although the Bathawk gave us a miss, we were happy to end the evening and drive up the old road after watching the fantastic display of 5 Malaysian-eared Nightjars fly and vocalize along the valley. At the car park of Shahzan Inn, we were pleasantly surprised to have the Brown Wood Owl sit out and gave us good looks! Thanks to the every trusty Durai who pointed it out for us as we said our hellos. They must be in cahoots!!

The next two days at Fraser’s Hill was great. Good weather and confiding birds. Although troubled with more signs of land clearing from the Raub area, we recorded gems such as the Red-headed Trogons (every day & walk, almost), Long Tailed Broadbill, Large Niltava, Lesser Shortwing, Lesser and Greater Yellownape, Chequer-throated Woodpecker, Blue Nuthatch, Slaty backed Forktail, Sultan Tit, Bat Hawk etc. Although the best experience was waiting an hour and finally getting a pair of the Blue Whistling Thrush (yes, we tried but failed to get on the Malayan on the upper gate!) at Jeriau, the highlight was when we walked past and looked down an eroded section at Telekom Loop and joked that the Rusty-naped Pitta will hop out in the open..and guess what – it called almost immediately and lying down on the roadside, we called and watched it hop out in the open, at the base of the erosion. We believe that there was a pair present but only the female showed herself. We high fived, thanked the birding gods (and pitta) and moved on to our next chapter of an already amazing trip, with 73 species recorded for the area.

Three hours plus later we arrive on our final destination for the next 3 nights, Kuala Tahan, Taman Negara. Throwing our bags into our rooms at the ‘posh’ Mutiara, we hit the nearby trails. Very dry but the Black-thighed Falconet, White-rumped Shama and Grey-rumped Treeswifts were among our first birds. From the Tahan hide, we got our first glimpses and views of Sambar deers, an individual Barking Deer even, Black and Red Broadbills, Red-bearded Bee-eater and a flock of Large Green Pigeons, preening itself on the very tops of a Tualang tree.

Over the course of the next day, we spent our time mostly along the nearby trails, picking up fairly nice birds including Green Broadbills, 4 types of woodpeckers (Crimson-winged, Buff-necked, Buff-rumped and Orange-backed), Cinnamon-backed Trogon and amazing displays of babbler numbers including the Short-tailed, Chestnut-winged, Ferruginous, Black-capped, Sooty-capped, Moustached, White-chested and Black-capped. The highlight of the trails (Swamp Loop, Forest Loop and Lubok Simpon) were getting the Malaysian Rail Babbler, who was very vocal at the swamp loop, the Crested Fireback who stood in the middle of the Tahan Trail and did not allow us to pass (a good scenario) and the great views of the Crested Wood Partridge who made our day, all 5 of them 1 adult male, 2 females (why not) and 2 juveniles.

The best part of our trip and by far the most amazing morning session was our trip downstream to the Yong and Blau hides. It rained the night before after a dry spell of almost 3 weeks and it was our luck to get all the hungry leeches ready for us the next morning, but what a small price to pay as it turned out.

Our first gem off the jetty and 100m into the trail was the Garnet Pitta, conveniently vocal followed by the Diard’s Trogon who seemed unusually shy. Along the trail about 100m before Blau, we were stopped by the Great Argus, first the male, followed by 2 females. We watched in amazement from 30m as its long tail disappeared from our sights. We literally took a few steps and right next to us was the Large Wren Babbler, vocal and very inquisitive. It stood in a clump of bamboos, vocalized and gave us good views for a few minutes, simply amazing. While waiting for the boat at the riverside, we enjoyed the view and got views of a few familiar friends, namely the Blue-eared Kingfisher, White-bellied Munia and Blue-throated Bee-eaters.

As luck would it, the rain continued to pour that evening again and this time, it did not seem to stop! That same night, a pair of recent-released Malayan Tapirs wandered into the compound of Mutiara, just perfect as we packed up and left for Kuala Lumpur the very next day with fond memories and (self proclaimed) great list of birds, mammals and experience of Malaysia’s natural heritage.

We listed 66 birds for Taman Negara which gave us a total of 196 birds…not a bad day at the office.

Taking nothing but some bad photographs and leaving nothing by bootprints !
Reported by Andrew Sebastian