The least visited part of Taman Negara is the NW entrance at Merapoh. This is also the start of the climb to Gunong Tahan, the highest mountain of Peninsula Malaysia. The nearest town is at Gua Musang, 26 km from the Park HQ. Ping Ling organised this 4 days trip to look for the pittas and frogmouths. Together with Alfred Chia, Goh Yue Yun and Tan Ju Lin, we drove up from Kuala Lumpur via the Karak Highway turning off at Bentong.
We stayed at the Mines Inn, a clean and comfortable budget hotel with free wifi. Rooms with twin beds cost RM90 per night. There is a 24 hours 7-Eleven next door for any late necessities. Across the road KFC and a Malay Roti Cania shop are also open all day and night. This is where we had our breakfast and take away lunch. Dinner was at Kim Kee Restaurant just off the main road. They had a great menu serving typical Malaysian Chinese home cooked fare. Their menu was extensive with a few signature dishes. I highly recommend this place. The Secret Recipe down the road was a treat as the cakes here cost a third of what you pay in Singapore. So it is worth staying in town and drive to the park in the morning.
The park grounds are good for birding if the fig trees are fruiting. We were lucky and got half of our birds here. The best was a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills feeding there together with the Black Hornbills on the second morning. Frogmouths were reported nesting in the trees above the bridge but we were late and they must have left. Look out for the White-chested Babbler walking below the bridge. The main birding track is the first 2 km paved road from the bridge.
We had our Garnet Pitta on the right side on the first morning. Further down there were two “feeding stations” where we think the photographers got the shots of the Banded Pittas. Unfortunately we did not even hear them calling. Rufous and Scaly-crowned and Ferruginous Babblers can be found along this stretch. This was also where the Crestless Fireback made a dash across the road. This is our bird of the trip which I missed.
We hired the park’s 4WD to take us to the Kelah Sanctuary about 14 km inside. This is where they hand fed the protected Kelah and Mahseers, something all visitors do.
The Kelah is an expensive table fish in many of the restaurants in town. They only live in clear running mountain streams and feed on fruits.
We found out that the last one kilometer stretch to the sanctuary was a good place to bird.This is where we encountered a few decent bird waves with species like Rufous-winged Philentoma, Buff-rumped Woodpeckers, Scarlet-rumped Trogon and Pale-blue Flycatcher. In all we saw 92 species and heard another 27 making a total of 119 species.
But Merapoh is not just about birds. The park is noted for its mammals, plants and butterflies. We had 13 non avian species comprised of three squirrels, two monkeys, a gibbon, barking deer and a herd of domesticated Bantengs. I photographed a rare Palm King and the Purple Duke, the only species of its genus in Malaysia. Many thanks to my birding kakis for the great company and a very enjoyable trip.