I last visited Fraser’s Hill eight years ago. Not much have changed except that more and more buildings are left to rot. This was rather depressing. The overall weather is definitely warmer. Global warming or over development? Bird life was disappointing as well. We encountered only two mini bird waves during our three days there. We did not see some of the commoner birds like the Green Magpie and the Niltavas. The Cutias and the Brown Bullfinches had gone for good long ago. At least we got to see the endemic Malayan Partridges, a species that was legendary difficult to see and get to meet some lovely couples there.
This pair of cute Rufous-browed Flycatchers can be photographed with a handphone.
A once impossible birds to see is now a matter of waiting at the right place.
The call of the Fire-tufted Barbets is always welcoming for visitors to the Hill Forests.
Long-tailed Sibias may not be that colorful but are still delightful birds to photograph.
Bronze Drongos do not need the long rackets to stand out.
I was told that there are two species of Glossy Swiftlets at Fraser’s Hill. This species will very soon be renamed.
A good portion of Bidadari near the Mount Vernon side have been cleared and fenced up. A really sad and sorry sight. Fortunately the studio hillock and the forest facing Bartley Road are still intact. Last Friday Lim Kim Keang went down to Bidadari to see if any of the passerine migrants are still dropping by. They were!
The Albizias at Bidadari are very important in giving shelter and refuge for many of the returning migrants.
He saw an Eastern-crowned Warbler, an Asian Brown and a female Yellow-rumpedFlycatcher. Zacc was there to photographed a sizable flock of Daurian Starlings on a bare tree. Despite his best efforts inside a light room, he cannot find any with a chestnut cheek, Good try Zacc.
The next day Richard White had better luck. He came back with three more flycatchers. A juvenile Dark-sided, a Ferruginous affectionately dubbed “Iron Boy” and the globally threatened Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher. His shot of the day was a Malaysian Hawk Cuckoo, a non-breeding visitor.
When word got out, birders and photographers were out in force crisscrossing the forest looking for more migrants on Sunday. I went down and joined them to find out if the remaining green patch is still “birdable”. The HDB will leave the hillock untouched. Will this be big enough for the migrants to spend the winter here? I hope so.
The Tiger Shrikes, all juveniles and the Asian Paradise Flycatchers were every where. Invariably we were all asking if they are Amurs or Orientals. The split was recent and the literature are still being defined. But safe to say that the ones we saw are mostly migrants.
We added a first winter Crow-billed Drongo and an Arctic Warbler to the list on Sunday. This was a great start and I am sure we will be getting more dropping by in the coming weeks. Do pay Bidadari a visit before more trees and greenery are being cleared.
Reference: Yong Ding Li, Lim Kim Chuah and Lee Tiah Khee. A Naturalist Guide to the Birds of Singapore. John Beafoy Publishing Ltd. 2003.
Went for a morning ramble to the Peirce Reservoirs with my wife this National Day. It was quiet at the Lower Peirce Boardwalk with a few families out enjoying the nature. But the old Thompson was pretty crowded. Long Tailed Macaques were lining up by the side of the road waiting for handouts from the stream of cars passing by.
Good to see they were wearing the national colors to celebrate the nation’s birthday at the Lower Peirce Boardwalk.
This pair of GRT Drongo siblings were still unsure about themselves. They were looking around for their parents and kept calling out to be fed.
This Slender Squirrel was moving up and down the trunk of this tree rubbing its face on the bark. I think it is leaving its scent on this tree to mark its territory.
Over at the Upper Peirce Reservoir, I found a rare butterfly, the Suffused Flash, the best catch of the day. There were no flowering plants around and it stayed on the same leaf for a long time. This forest butterfly can be found at the Upper Seletar Reservoir as well.
A small bush behind the toilet has a parasite plant growing on it. The Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers love the berries of this plant. This male was at eye level and presented a great side profile for me to shoot. Earlier I saw another Flowerpecker, a juvenile Orange-bellied inside the Lower Peirce Forest.
In early 1997 a group of us (Alfred Chia, Kenneth Kee and others) trudged up Bukit Timah Hill at night to looked for the Barred Eagle Owl (Bubo sumatranus). This was my first attempt to try to see this rare owl which was believed to be resident in Singapore. Our attempts was a follow up to a record of an individual heard and seen close to the summit on November 1996 (Peter R. Kennerley in litt,1996)). Looking for owls at night with hand torches was not the most effective way of locating birds. We can only hope that it called, which would then lead us to its perch. It was not to be.
The Barred Eagle Owl was a former resident that was thought to have gone extinct (Lim K.S. 1992i). We received several reports of possibly the same owl at the Nee Soon Swamp forest from 1998 to 2008. It was placed in Category B for wild birds that were not recorded in the last 50 years. It has since been upgraded to Cat A based on a definitive record by Marcus Chua who photographed it on 17 Jan 2009 on Pulau Ubin (Lim K.S.).
On 11 Feb 2012, another group comprising of Alfred Chia, Albert Low, Lim Kim Keang, Lim Kim Chuah, Lim Kim Seng, Yong Ding Li and myself mounted a night owl hunt to the western part of Pulau Ubin to find the Brown Wood Owl ( Strix leptogrammica) and the Barred Eagle Owl. We had then received reports that students from the National University of Singapore photographed the Barred Eagle Owl near to the Outward Bound School area a few weeks back. Bashing around the forest in the dark without hearing any owl calls was frustrating to say the least. Another failure! (Although Kim Keang, Kim Chuah and I managed to see the Brown Wood Owl and its chick a few months earlier, thanks to Robert Teo’s alert).
In mid-January 2013, Anna Deasley with a British bird group videoed (Link) a Barred Eagle Owlin the daytime at the Central Catchment Forest near to the Tree Top Walk. This was followed shortly by a sighting by Yong Ding Li and others during a survey for mammals in the reserve two weeks later. Nevertheless, we had to go and check it out. It was like looking for a needle in the haystack. Another TKO!
Barred Eagle Owl along the Summit Path by Lee Li Er in 2014. She reported that the Drongos were seen attacking the owl as well.
Presently, the Bukit Timah Nature Reserves is partly closed for upgrading works but we were aware of sporadic reports of weekend visitors seeing a large owl, probably the Barred Eagle Owl, near the Visitors Center. On 30 March 2014, Lee Li Er and her husband were trekking up the summit path at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve when they heard the Greater Racket-tailed Drongos dive bombing a large owl. They did not realised at that time it was the rare Barred Eagle Owl. But it was not until a post by Kennie Pan on 8th Dec 2015 that the hunt for this elusive owl was over for many of the birders here. See Toh Wai Yew rushed down that late evening and found the owl perched high up inside the boarded area. Co-incidentally he also reported that the Drongos were attacking the owl as well. By an unfortunate twist of fate, I was taking to my grandson to the Clique de Soliel show “Totem” that same evening, and had to grind my teeth at this missed opportunity. Those who went down were rewarded with some decent shots. I went down first thing the next morning hoping that it will be using the same tree as a daytime roost. You got it. The guard told me that the owl has gone. Just like that, my fifth dip. This was a hard one to swallow. So close and yet so far away.
I was working on the Singapore Birds App at home on a late afternoon on 12 Jan 2016 when a message from See Toh Yew Wai popped up on my screen.”BEO at btnr same tree now“. I almost fell off my chair. This time, I tried not to drive beyond the sound barrier to get there as quickly as possible. See Toh had his lens pointed at a dark brown shape perched high up in the tree when I got there. At last, I was actually looking at a Barred Eagle Owl in Singapore. See Toh told me that he was about to go to the Hindhede Park side to check but decided to take a look at the same tree. He could not believe his eyes when he found the owl perched at almost the same position as the last sighting. The bonus is that I completed my owl list for Singapore with this sighting, thanks to See Toh’s prompt alert.
Ref: The Avifauna of Singapore. Lim Kim Seng. 2009. The Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia. Craig Robson 2000. Thanks for the additional information and editing from Yong Ding Li.
Excellent sub montane forests at the foothills of Janda Baik.
Those who drive up to Bukit Tinggi and Genting Highlands along the Karak Highway will be familiar with the turnoff at Genting Sempah to Janda Baik. The foothills along this stretch are dotted with resorts, rest houses and a large private estate of Tanarimba, rising up to 2,000 ft asl. A largely Chinese community is clustered at the Kg. Baru Bukit Tinggi where a few very good Malaysian style Zichar and Seafood restaurants served up great dishes at a fraction of the prices here. For me the must eat is the honey jackfruit from the corner restaurant. It is grown from their own farm and not available elsewhere. The numerous fruit stalls by the roadside sells fruits that are plucked ripened. Both the papayas and longangs we bought were very sweet and fresh.
My grandson enrolled in a weekend eco camp at Radiant Retreats nestled in a matured durian plantation. I followed them there to explore the birdlife around the foothills. I was quite surprised that the forests were in excellent condition. Gibbons can be heard almost daily. Though the density was not great but the diversity is much higher than Bukit Tinggi side. The presence of a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills at a fruiting fig indicates a good forest. The developers have been sensitive not to destroy the habitat. No highrise were allowed and the bungalows are well spread out. Most owners tried to retain if not improve on the greenery.
Birding from the car was easy, stopping at spots where mini bird waves and calls were seen or heard. The cooler and less humid weather makes it even more comfortable. These are some of the birds that I managed to photograph during the few days when I was there.
Rhinoceros Hornbill Male
Rhinoceros Hornbill Female
The more energetic can go for the one hour trek to the waterfall at Lata Carok. The water from the falls turned into a stream for rubber tubing at Santai Riverside. It was here that I photographed this beautiful Green Metalwing and Grey Sprite. The former is believed to be extinct in Singapore while the latter is uncommon, found only in a few locations.
Grey Sprite Male
Moths were everywhere at night but I was fascinated with this as it used the floor of our villa to camouflage itself. Appreciate ID from anyone.
I have not been to Genting Highlands for more than a decade and was keen to see what the place and birdlife was like. I was disappointed. It was a concrete jungle up there. It seems that they want to build a metropolis up at the top. The road up to the the telecom towers was quiet. I had to drive down to the Temple and Awana area to get to see some of the familiar montane species. I was quite happy with the birding at the compound of the temple. Some of the common species seen (below). A calling Whistling Thrush refused to show itself.
Striped Throated Bulbul
If you are tired of birding at Bukit Tinggi, this would be a good place to spend a day or two if you have nothing better to do. There are enough out door attractions for the rest of the family to do while you bird.
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.