Category Archives: Trip Report

Panti Forest – Birds and More.

Black-banded Squirrel

The Black-banded Squirrel resembles our Plantain Squirrel, but it is the only squirrel with a black band across its lower sides. No signs of the Giant Cream Squirrels which used to be a common sight.

70badf98-835a-4219-bbdb-dde46729c786

It had been sometime since I birded at Panti. So it was with great expectations when Lim Kim Keang suggested to pay the place a visit on 1st July. He brought along Veronica Foo, her husband Milton Tan and friend Patricia Tiang. My old birding buddies Jimmy Chew and Jimmy Lee made up the party. Group photo by Milton Tan (right)

 

The old entrance was blocked off and we had to use a new entrance to the Bunker Trail The calls of the Gibbons greeted us as we drove in. A Pig-tailed Macaque quietly moved back into the bushes as we drove by.

Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker
Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker

Rows of invasive Clidemia hirta or Koster’s Curse lined the sides of the trail. They were attracting many of the frugivorous species. Most of us got great eye level shots of the Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker (left), Blue-winged Leafbird and Cream-vented Bulbuls.

 

Blue-winged Leafbird

The Blue-winged Leafbird is the most common leafbird at Panti. 

We headed for the Temple trail and met up with Millie Cher and her friends there. This is where the Rufous-backed Kingfishers were nesting recently but we were told that the the chicks were killed by the ants. This trail turned out to be a very birdy stretch. Three Buff-necked Woodpeckers were busy picking up the Weaver ants below its nest.

_7011758

Female Buff-necked Woodpecker busy picking up the Weaver ants.

Earlier a pair of Checkered-throated Woodpeckers were foraging besides the trail giving us great views. The big bonus was this bathing beauty, a normally sulking Black-capped Babbler having splashing time in the open.

Checkered-throated Woodpecker

Black-capped Babbler

But Panti is not just about birds. The butterflies and dragonflies were also actively fluttering around. With the help of Kim Keang, we learnt to look for them under the leaves and along streams and shallow water puddles. We were not able to identify many of the dragonflies we saw.  It was easier for the butterflies. This lovely female Plush is uncommon in the lowland forests of Malaysia.

 

                      Dragonflies are especially attracted to the many forest water puddles                                         and streams at Panti.

                     The uncommon lowland forest female Sithon nedymond and the Malay                                     Viscount are among the many butterflies species found in Panti.

His eagle eyes spotted this tiny Water Scorpion in a small puddle of water. You can just see the water rings on the surface at the end of its tail which it used to breathe.

Water Scopion

One of the must stops is the first stream. The opening on the right is always very productive. We had the uncommon Finsch’s Bulbul (below) here.  Its small size and yellow throat are diagnostic. My first encounter with this bulbul was at the same place some 20 years ago!

_7011851

Finsch’s Bulbul, vulnerable to forest disturbance and loss.

Other bulbul species includes the Buff-vented and Hairy-backed ( below) with its distinctive yellow patch around the eyes.

Hairy-backed Bulbul

All birding trips to Panti have to end with a yummy lunch. Today it was at the Public Restaurant at Kota Tinggi town where they prepared a delectable assam Ma Yeow Yu ( Ikan Kurau) for us. It was great meeting Ding Li, Nam Siang and their friends there tucking in to their steamed river prawns after their trip to Mersing Forest. Many thanks for the great company and the laughter and sharing the good old stories of Panti.

Reference: Craig Robson. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South East Asia. Asia Books Company. Ltd.

 

Fraser’s Hill Revisited

_5310096

It was eight years since I last birded at Fraser’s Hill. So it was great to spend a few days there with the wife and get re-acquainted with the birds and the wildlife there this March.

 

A drive up to FH starts with a mandatory lunch at the must stop zi char stall at Kuala Kubu Bahru. It was the same as I remembered it eight years ago, nothing has changed right down to the cooling tea in a plastic bottle to the braised Ikan Kurau in Tofu, the most popular dish there. The grandma who took our orders was as cheerful as ever and treated us like her regulars. Maybe I spoke to her in Cantonese.

 

I managed to get the Sunbird room at Stephen’s Place. Stephen and his wife took over Lady McNiece’s bungalow Buona Vista along Telecom’s Loop and turned it into a center for birders and naturalists. The main draw of staying here is that you get to meet visitors with similiar interest and the big moth screen that Stephen set up in his garden.  I am not a moth person but I cannot help photographing over 50 different moths there.

 

  Some of the hundreds of moth that were attracted by the light at Stephen’s                              Place. Click on the photos for the names.

We had a bonus in the form of a Malayan Palm Civet that came to feed at Stephen’s Place the mornings and evenings. Stephen and his son Adam had been nursing this civet cat after it was confiscated from an illegal owner. They have just released it back into the wild. They still put out some cat food in the garden for it as it adapts to life in the wild.

_5303763

“Stinky” the Malayan Civet still comes back to feed on the cat food put out by Stephen

Another reason for my visit is to see the Malayan Hill Partridges. This species was legendary hard to see. In fact you are lucky to hear them call below some gullies at the High Pines. But two years ago a family was found feeding outside the Richmond Bungalow. I found three partridges at 5 in the evening after three visits there.

 

Banded Leaf Monkey looks well fed while the Red-cheeked Ground Squirrel                              enjoys a left over papaya.

I first meet Durai 25 years ago when Kenneth Kee and I took three buses from Singapore to FH. The man don’t seem to age. It was great to catch up and see that he now has a shop at Shahzan Inn and making a good living doing something he enjoyed doing, showing the birds of FH to the overseas visitors.

 

 

Blue Nuthatch, Malayan Cuckooshrike with a praying mantis and the “Elvis”                          bird of FH, the much sought after Long-tailed Broadbill.

Birdlife today is a lot quieter than before, but it is still the premier montane forest birding destination in Malaysia. With patience, many of the uncommon species can be seen. For the first time visitors, common birds like the Silver-eared Mesias, Laughingthrushes, Streaked Spiderhunters, Mountain Bulbuls, Sibias and Sunbirds were enough to make them happy. I remembered the non stop bird waves with twenty plus species that we used to encounter at just about every bend. During the few days we were there, we encountered only two bird waves with less than ten species each.

 

I found the bird life along the new road going down was more diverse and active. The forest is more open and many of the lowland species can be found here. We got a Long-billed Spiderhunter, Blue-throated Barbets and Sultan Tits on the way down.

20170601_104335

The Gap Rest House is now an empty shell. Lets hope that this much loved bungalow will be restored to its former glory.

This could be my last visit to this wonderful hill station. Had many fond memories of the great time I spent there over the years. I hope that there will be no more big developments there and the FHDC spend some money to restore some of the old buildings and places back to its old glory. It was painful to find the Gap Rest House an empty shell. It was one of the must stay places for anyone visiting FH in the past.

 

 

The Lovely Couples of Fraser’s Hill.

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.

Rufous-browed Flycatchers

This pair of cute Rufous-browed Flycatchers can be photographed with a handphone.

Hill Partridges

A once impossible birds to see is now a matter of waiting at the right place.

_5310051

The call of the Fire-tufted Barbets is always welcoming for visitors to the Hill Forests.

_5310032

Long-tailed Sibias may not be that colorful but are still delightful birds to photograph.

_5303438

Bronze Drongos do not need the long rackets to stand out.

Glossy Swiftlets

I was told that there are two species of Glossy Swiftlets at Fraser’s Hill. This species will very soon be renamed.

Khao Yai Revisited

I first visited Khao Yai National Park in the mid 1990s in between my business trip there. Pat Komol was the one who took me there. The one sight I still remembered was a bare tree near the Visitor’s Center, all yellow, covered by Black-crested Bulbuls. There must be 200 of them. I have been back a few times to enjoy the great birding there. There were always new species to see like the Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo.

Blue Pitta

Early this year, photos of the Blue Pittas were posted on Facebook by Sree and Millie Cher. This was enough for me to make a short trip up there with my wife in late February. The Blue Pitta is one of the more common resident species in Thailand. Khao Yai is one of the easiest place to see them at their stake outs. Kaeng Kra Charn and Khao Sok are the other national parks where they are locally common.

The old Don Muang Airport is the better airport to use. AirAsia flies there. I rented a car from the Eurocar and use goggle maps to get me to the Terrazzo Resort outside the park. It was an easy drive on Highway 1 and 2 and a new road to Pak Chong at the northern part of Khao Yai. Guide Rittichai who lives in Pak Chong knows the park like the back of his hand having been running tours there for over 20 years with his company Green Leaves Tours.

Puff-throated Babblers

We went for our target first thing next morning setting up our hide by 7 am. Puff-throated Babblers, White-rumped Shama, Orange-headed Thrush, Siberian Blue Robin and a Hainan Flycatcher entertained us. I was ready for a long wait based on the experience of my friends that came earlier. But Rittichai said that will not be long. Then without funfare the Blue Pitta appeared twice before 8 am. What a elation! Now we have the rest of the day to go and look for other species.

Siamese Fireback Male

Driving along the quiet forested roads in the morning, you are always on the look out for something surprising. This morning a male Siamese Fireback was our surprise. It stayed by the roadside and gave us a few wing flaps for good measure. It was a lifer that was not expected but most welcome.

Patch of Scandal Wood trees

Sandalwood Trees at the entrance to the Haew Narok Waterfall were infested by caterpillars.

_2276416

They in turned attracted the cuckoos. A few local bird photographers were already there when we reached the place, excitedly pointing out a friendly Orange-breasted Trogon perching nearby.

Violet Cuckoo

Violet Cuckoo Female

Both the male and female Violet Cuckoos were in a feeding frenzy. These are winter visitors to Thailand. I would not want to pass up shooting a deep purple male at eye level close up even though I have some shots taken at Jurong Eco Gardens a few years back.

Asian Emerald Cuckoo Female

A female Asian Emerald Cuckoo was spotted. We had only one record of this species in Singapore. So this is a good chance for me to get some shots.

Banded Broadbill Male

Just as we were about to leave, Rittichai heard the calls of the Banded Broadbill from the forest edge. Lucky for us it was curious and came out. I photographed this broadbill at Panti Forests in the 90s. It was the only available photo of this hard to find broadbill then and was used for a bird guide on birds of SEA. I had to wait almost 20 years to get my camera lens on it again. This unexpected find really made our day.

Limestone Wren Babbler

My second target for the trip is the Limestone Babbler. I saw this at Cuc Phong National Park more than 10 years back but was not able to photo it due to bad light and skittish behavior.

Limestone Krast at Saraburi 2

The limestone krasts at Saraburi has a small population and this is only an hour drive from Khao Yai. This particular babbler was a prize catch when it was first discovered on another part of Thailand. Its habitat is so unique among the bare limestone rockery where food sources seem non existent. How do they survived?

Finding the exact spot took Rittichai a bit of driving around but once we got to the place inside a wat, a short playback was enough to get these inquisitive babblers to show. You have to love their streaky brown and buff plumage. Mission accomplished and now we can concentrate on enjoying the rest of Khao Yai and all the new attractions that sprouted in the past few years and the food. Many thanks to Guide Rittichai for taking us around at such short notice.

Ref:  Boonsong Lekagui, Philip D. Round. The Birds of Thailand  1991.

 

 

The Orang Laut of Danga Bay

The original Orang Laut of Johor was said to have come from Singapore. Known as Orang Asli Seletar they settled in around Kampong Sungei Melayu and Sungei Temon of Southern Johor to escape the malaria infested Pulau Seletar many generations ago.

They are now facing an uncertain future as the mangrove forests surrounding their village is being reclaimed for high rise condominiums of the Waterfront City and the Danga Bay complex. 

They now irked out a living tendering their mussel farms at the bay as the fishing along the Straits of Johor is impacted by the reclamation to build Forest City, another mega residential development near the second link.  ( Source: Leong Kwok Peng)

During a recent jointed NSS and MNS Johor recce trip to explore the mangrove forests at Southern Johor, we get to meet the families and watch their way of life. Here are some images of these forgotten group sidelined by progress and the march of time.

_c183547

The mussel farm with the Kampong Melayu village in the background. Lesser Sand Plovers used the floating drums as high tide roost.

_c172972
Scrapping green mussels from the barrel. This is the main source of income of the Orang Asli at Kampong Melayu.
Orang Asli women cleaning mussels.
Hard at work cleaning green mussels under the hot sun, this Orang Asli women still has a smile for us. 
The Orang Asli Village directly linked to the jetty.
The Orang Asli Village is built right next to the jetty. 

20161217_184900

The children are still not used to strangers to their village.

_c173246

He is only four and is already helping his dad out on the boat with us. What will his future be like?

20161217_172947

Helping us to take a group photo on the reclaimed land, these Orang Asli men must find ways to secure the future for the next generation.

20161217_081738

The kampong gathering place for the Orang Aslis living at this village. Vincent Chow (right) in long sleeves, the Chairman of MNS Johor is helping these Orang Asli fight for their ancestral home and land.

The NSS Bird Group wish to thank Vincent Chow and Simon Siow of MNS Johor for organising and hosting this trip for us and their first class hospitality. 

Danum Valley Adventures. Part 2 (Birds).

In the four days of birding at Danum Valley, we seen and heard a total of 111 species, including six Borneo endemics collectively. This is slightly more than one third of the 300 species recorded here. I was happy with my eight lifers but disappointed that we dipped on our No 1 target Giant Pitta. It, the Fairy Pitta and the Borneo Banded Pitta were heard calling at several places but just refused to show. Baiting is not allowed in Danum Valley.

Blue-headed Pitta

We actually had a great start when we got the endemic Blue-headed Pitta, a male at that, on the very first morning. This was after exhausting trek in humid conditions and leech infested trails. I think this has to be one of the most beautiful pittas around. As with most pittas in the lowland rain forests, it is difficult to get good views through the dense undergrowth. So I am happy with this blurred record shot. This sighting went some way to compensate for missing out on the Giant.

 

pa200927

Ju Lin was the only one who had good views of this Black and Crimson Pitta in the day. The rest of us had to wait for the night walk. The local guide found it sleeping on a thin branch by the side of the trail just above our heads. Without eyelids they sleep with their eyes open. The light did not seem to bother them at all. Seeing a pitta in the wild within touching distance was unreal. We saw another one on the way back. If only it was a Giant.

pa200967

This sleeping Scarlet-rumped Trogon (right) did not want to be disturbed at all. Looks like a headless trogon with its head buried in its body

Diard's TrogonThis female Diard’s Trogon (above) was very cooperative but refused to turn around for a front view. On other days we would have been excited to see a trogon in the forest, but this sighting was more of a distraction for us.

pa200900pa201020

Night walks would not be complete with seeing the nocturnal birds. Andrew heard the call of the Gould’s Frogmouth and we all cupped our ears trying to pinpoint its location . We swept our lights across the trees and branches in the direction of the calls. But it was like looking for a ghost. Our guide had the sense to scramble down a slope. He found it sitting nicely on a open vine. We were super excited and gave out a collective sigh of relief. Another lifer down for me. One the way out, the guide showed us the resident Brown Wood Owl, sitting smugly on its favorite perch. This was not expected but most welcome sighting. What a great end to a night’s work.

Crested Fireback

 

We got this Crested Fireback during a night drive. This male roost high up in the tree canopy with its mate nearby. This is the North Borneo race nobilis, where the male has a deep maroon belly. The rufa race has a dark blue underpart and can be found in Sumatra, South Tenasserim, Thailand and East Malaysia. I wish I can see it in its full splendor in the day.

 

Boreon Bristlehead

 

Every birder’s dream bird when birding in the Borneo Rain Forest had to be this rare endemic Borneo Bristlehead. I missed this at Tabin few years back. So when Andrew heard the call and whispered “Bristlehead” we were all transfixed. He found it high up in the canopy.  The sight of its flaming head was enough fir us to jump for joy. A lousy record shot is better than no shots. A mega lifer for me. Now I can afford to wait for a better eye level view some day.

pa211116The Striped Wren Babbler is a real skulker in thick undergrowth and palm thickets. I was lucky to find this “window” for a clear shot. Surprisingly it perched there for some time singing away instead of its usual behavior of moving around non stop. Earlier we ticked the rarer endemic Black-throated Babbler, a super lifer for all of us. Unfortunately, no shots.

Chestnut-necklaced Partridge through the undergrowth.
Chestnut-necklaced Partridge through the undergrowth.

Partridges is another family of birds that are notoriously hard to see in the thick forest floor. They are very shy and confining. The Chestnut-necklaced Partridge was one of our target birds. Andrew recognized it’s melodious clear whistle and tracked it as it moved across the forest floor. We were really happy for some open but brief views when it crossed the trail. Most times, we were lucky for partial views like this photo. On Borneo it is restricted to Sabah and locally common. This was also a lifer for all of us.

 

 

 

pa221294pa180078

 

These two song birds have evolved in North Borneo. The Magpie Robin (left) has a all black belly. This sub species pluto  is found in E. Java and N and E Borneo. But it has yet to be split unlike the White-browed Shama (right). The White-Browed is endemic to NE Borneo. Except for the white brow it looks like the White-rumped Shama and even sings like it. This particular shama can be found every morning around the field center and easy to shoot.

Our thanks to Andrew Siani for getting these endemics and lifers for us.

Reference:

John MacKinnon & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali. Oxford Press 1993.  

Craig Robson. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia.Asia Books Co. Ltd 2000. 

Danum Valley Adventures-in Search of the Giant. 17th October 2016.

We booked our trip to the Danum Valley Conservation Area a year ago right after Tai Ping Ling’s successful hunt for the Giant Pitta in October 2015. The DV Field Center is a two hours drive from Lahad Datu, the nearest town. As there are no direct flights from Singapore to Lahad Datu, we had to stop over at Kota Kinabalu for a night.

20161017_094128

All smiles at the start of the Borneo adventures. At Kota Kinabalu airport about to board the MAS Wings turboprop plane for the 55 minutes hop to Lahad Datu. Alan OwYong, Goh Yue Yun, Alfred Chia and Tan Julin. 

Cropped Forest outside Danum

The logged forest buffering the Danum Valley Conservation Area. 

20161017_141458

The 438 sq km conservation area was suggested by the WWF Malaysia in 1976 . Yayasan Sabah Foundation agreed to conserve it as National Park in 1980. The DV Field Center is on the fringe of the area. Further in is the more luxurious and expensive Borneo Rainforest Lodge.

20161017_132023

A herd of over 20 Borneo Pygmy Elephants blocked our way to the field center. A great start to our trip. We did not see any elephants inside the conservation area during the whole of our stay. 

Danum Field Center from the air

The Field Center where we stayed. Food was as good as can be expected in such a remote place. The rooms are clean and comfortable at night even without aircon. Power cut off at midnight so charging of batteries had to be done early.

20161020_143607

The viewing veranda and dinning area at the field center. A great place to watch wildlife coming through. This is where I photographed the endemic Bornean Gibbon and child swinging by. Free wifi available but too low for surfing. Signals for mobile phone is sporadic at best.  

20161017_174042

Leech socks are a must but they will not prevent leeches from getting in. I got beaten behind my head and under my armpits, Alfred in his nipples and the rest at more respectable parts of the body. 

20161018_075126

The Segama River and the surrounding the dipterocarp pristine forests in front of the Field Center.

20161020_153409

Andrew Siani our guide for the trip about to cross over to the Waterfall trail to look for our pittas on the first morning. Everyone was looking clean, fresh and full of expectations.