Saturday, May 29, 2010

Penang - Gateway to Bird Watching in Northern Peninsular Malaysia.

Penang is easily accessible by air, sea and road through the Bayan Lepas International Airport, Swettenham Pier and North-South Expressway, respectively. Many travellers to Penang are particularly attracted by its local Penang food, Batu Ferringhi beach resorts, Balik Pulau durian, and George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site. Click on this LINK to find out more about Penang.

In recent years, Penang has also attracted many birders to visit the state for the wild bird sighting, particularly the resident Oriental Bay Owl, Chestnut-headed Bee-Eater and the migratory waterbirds.

Oriental Bay Owl in Penang (courtesy of Dr Chan A.L.). Owl is currently threatened by illegal hunting, due to a recently-emerging taste of owl meat in Asia. Click HERE to read the news.

In fact, many mangroves and rainforests in Penang are slowly disappearing due to the massive and unsustainable development in the past. Fortunately, there are many good birding stires still exist in Penang, mainly in the gardens, park, forest reserved, mangrove and costal area. The recommended birding sites in Penang are as follows:

Gardens and Parks:
1. Penang Botanic Gardens (click on these LINK1 LINK2 to find out more)
2. Youth Park
3. Relau Metropolitan Park

Chestnut-headed Bee-Eater in Penang

Lowland and Hill Forest:
4. Penang Hill, for hill and submontane forest birds with elevation of 735m. The highest peak is Western Hill with elevation of 833m.
5. Air Itam Dam, with elevation of 210m. Nearby sights include the Cheng Ji Chan Temple on Bukit Penara and Kek Lok Si Temple.
6. Penang National Park, Malaysian's smallest national park. (click on these LINK1 LINK2 LINK3 to find out more)
7. Teluk Bahang Forest Park (click on these LINK1 LINK2 to find out more)
8. Pulau Jerejak State Park (click on these LINK1 LINK2 to find out more)
9. Bukit Panchor State Park (click on these LINK1 LINK2 to find out more)
10. Bukit Mertajam Recreation Forest (click on these LINK1 LINK2 to find out more)

Mangrove, Shores and the Sea:
11. Kuala Sungai Pinang mangrove forest, Balik Pulau. A second entrance to Penang National Park. Click HERE for Balik Pulau rural map.
12. Northern coast, which includes Tanjung Tokong and Gurney Drive, for migratory waterbirds.
13. Coastal Highway, which includes the Jelutong Expressway and Bayan Lepas Expressway, for migratory waterbirds.
14. Teluk Air Tawar Mudflat and Kuala Muda coast. It is an Important Bird Area (IBA) recognized by the BirdLife International. Click on this LINK to find out more about the IBA.

Pacific Golden Plover in Penang

Open Areas and Freshwater Swamps:
15. Kampung Sungai Burung and Balik Pulau paddy field. (click HERE for Balik Pulau rural map)
16. Air Hitam Dalam Educational Park and nearby paddy fields.
17. Pulau Burung Landfill and Marshland, Nibong Tebal. Penang birders' heaven for waterbirds.

You can also follow the nature trails recommended by the book "Selected Nature Trails of Penang" by ForestExplorer, you may also be able to find some lowland rainforest birds along the nature trails.

Beyond Penang
You might also want to visit places beyond Penang to look for the unique montane and lowland rainforest wild birds, particularly the hornbills, trogons, broadbills and pittas. Bintang Range, Gunung Jerai and Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary are the recommended birding areas beyond Penang.

Bintang Range is an Important Bird Area recognized by BirdLife International. Gunung Bintang is one of the peaks lies within the northern part of Bintang Range, with elevation at 1862m. Here are the recommended birding sites on or nearby the Bintang Range:
1. Sungai Sedim Recreation Park. It is one of the popular birding localities at the foothill of the Gunung Bintang, the nearest town is Kulim, about half to an hour drive from Penang Bridge or Butterworth ferry terminal. 
2. Ulu Paip Recreation Park, near to Sungai Sedim Recreation Park.
3. Bukit Hijau Recreation Park, near to Sungai Sedim Recreation Park.
4. Bukit Larut (Maxwell's Hill) (visit these LINK1  LINK2 to find out more). Recommended site for montane forest birds, located at the southern part of the Bintang Range, with elevation of 1250m. It is about one hour drive from Penang to the foothill. 
5. Taiping Lake Garden and Burmese Pool, located at the foothill of Maxwell Hill. Kuala Setapang Mangrove Park, is the mangrove forests near to Taiping town, is worth visiting.

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher in Sungai Sedim

Gunung Jerai is a limestone peak in southern Kedah with the highest peak of 1380m, located near to Gurun town, Kedah. The recommended birding sites in Gunung Jerai forest reserve area are listed as follows:
6. Sungai Teroi Recreational Forest is located within the slope of Gunung Jerai, the nearest town is Gurun.
7. Tupah Recreational Forest is located at the southern part of Gunung Jerai, the nearest town is Sungai Petani. Nearby sight is the Lembah Bujang Archeological Site (this archeological site should be gazetted as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites).
8. Batu Hampar Recreational Forest and Titi Hayuan Recreational Forest are located on the western slope of Gunung Jerai, the nearest town is Yan, near to the coast of Tanjung Dawai. Batu Hampar Recreational Forest is where I saw my lifer Black and Yellow Broadbill.

Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary is located in the Matang Coast, which is one of the Important Bird Area recognized by BirdLife International. Click HERE to find out more about the IBA.

Streaked Spiderhunter in Maxwell Hill

Malaysian's Northern Frontiers
If you are interested to spend more time and explore further to Malaysian's northern frontiers, here are the recommended birding sites:
1. Langkawi is located in the north-west, recommended sites are Gunung Raya and Gunung Mat Cincang. Click HERE to find out more about birding in Langkawi.
2. Perlis State Park located in the north, a transfrontier protected area together with the Thaleban National Park in Thailand.
3. Ulu Muda Forest Reserve is located in the north-east. It is an Important Bird Area recognized by BirdLife International (click on this LINK to find out more). Find out more from Earth Lodge at Ulu Muda.
4. Belum-Temengor Rainforest Complex in the east. It is an Important Bird Area recognized by BirdLife International (click on this LINK to find out more). Find out more from Belum Rainforest Resort.

Recommended Field Guides to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia:
1. A Field Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore by Allen Jeyarajasingam and Alan Pearson, is a recommended field guide to the birds of the Peninsular Malaysia.

2. Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia, by Craig Robson:

3. A Checklist of The Birds of Peninsular Malaysia, can be dowloaded HERE.
- or Click HERE to find out more about best birding sites in Malaysia. 

As a reminder, whenever you visit the birding spots as mentioned in this blog, please remember that the bird welfare first.

Last but not least, I hope that the current state government, tourism department and the perhilitan will be able to sustain the existing birding sites in a good condition, for current and the future generations to appreciate the wild birds.

Happy birding.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Birding in Sandakan, Sabah

I went to Sepilok, Sandakan, Sabah from 17 to 26 of May, and stayed at Sepilok Bread and BreakfastSepilok RDC (Rainforest Discovery Center) is one of the best birding localities in east Sabah, it is an annual event host for Borneo Bird FestivalSepilok RDC is part of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, which is recognized as one of the Important Bird Areas (IBA) by BirdLife International, Click HERE to find out more about the IBA.

I had my bird watching activities mainly at Sepilok RDC, and spent a day at Sandakan Batu Lima for the magnificent water bird, the Oriental Darter. I have many lifers in this birding trip, which include three endemic species (namely the Dusky Munia, White-crowned Shama (18-May), Black and Crimson Pitta (20-May) ), and one endemic sub-species of Oriental Magpie Robin (adamsi), but I missed the star bird of Sepilok, the Borneo Bristlehead. In Sabah, Kinabalu Park has the highest number of endemic species of birds, and they are mainly montane species.

On the first day of my visit to RDC, I was greeted by the Dusky Munia, it is a common bird in Sandakan, but endemic species in Borneo.
Dusky Munia

White-crowned Shama, it is also a common bird at Sepilok RDC.
The adult and the Juvenile White-crowned Shama

Black and Crimson Pitta, I saw it twice in Kingfisher Trail but the digiscoped picture is not clear, it is therefore not shown here. Its call is similar to Garnet Pitta but slightly more prolonged, click HERE to listen to the recorded call. (coming soon)

The subspecies endemic of the Oriental Magpie Robin (adamsi) is a common bird at Sepilok RDC.
Oriental Magpie Robin

Other non-endemic lifers are the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (Black-backed), Orange-backed Woodpecker, Buff-necked Woodpecker, Rufous Piculet, Gray-capped Woodpecker, Banded Broadbill, Oriental Darter, Jambu Fruit-Dove, White-bellied Woodswallow, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, White-chested Babbler, Short-tailed Babler and Black-capped Babbler.

In fact, Sepilok is rich in Piciformes, Coraciiformes, Trogonidae, Eurylaimidae and Pittidae. I spotted ten species of Piciformes (nine species of woodpeckers, a Brown Barbet), thirteen Coraciiforms (four types of Hornbills, seven species of Kingfishers, Blue-throated Bee-eater, and Dollarbird), one species of Trogon, three species of Broadbills and one species of Pitta.

Click on the following links to find out more:
Oriental Darters in Sandakan
Buffy Fish-Owl in Sepilok 
Hornbills in Sepilok
Kingfishers and Allies in Sepilok 
Woodpeckers and Allies in Sepilok
Diard's Trogon in Sepilok
Broadbills in Sepilok
Corvidans and Passeridans in Sepilok

Ashy Tailorbird, one of the common birds at Sepilok RDC.

Ashy Tailorbird

Happy Birding and Digiscoping!

Oriental Darters in Sandakan.

Oriental Darter is lifer in Sandakan, it is an interesting waterbird that I have ever seen. They are really magnificent birds that not only can fly, but can also swim and dive into the water effectively. I spotted nine Oriental Darters at the same spot in Batu Lima, Sandakan. I spent whole day (20-May) there to observe their interesting behavior.

let's take a closer look of the darters, from the front view, to side and back view. Do you notice that they have a pair of wings with very shinny and beautiful feathers:

Darter is a good swimmer and a good diver, it can dive in the water for minutes, it swims only with its head and long neck emerge out from the water, like a snake swimming in the water. View the video clip HERE. (will be uploaded soon)

Due to the wet feathers after the dive, the darter couldn't effectively fly out from the water. In order to come out from the water, the bird has to slowly crawl up the river band to reach a safe spot. Once it reaches the safe spot, it would then spread its wings under the sun to keep their feathers dry.

warning call from the darter:

Three darters spread their wings under the shed of a coconut tree, and not necessary must be directly under the sun. The purpose of spreading their wings is obviously to drain the excessive water out from their feathers.

Another lifer on that day was a beautiful White-bellied Woodswallow. It is one of the common birds in Sandakan. 
White-bellied Woodswallow

Besides the Oriental Darter and Woodswallow, I also spotted four species of raptors in Batu Lima, Sandakan, namely the Changeable Hawk-Eagle, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle and Brahminy Kite, but I only managed to digiscope three species of raptors except the Crested Serpent Eagle.

Changeable Hawk-Eagle, black morph.

White-bellied Sea Eagle, juvenile.

The sea eagle can turn its head 180 degree to have a better view of me

A beautiful Brahminy Kite

Click HERE if you would like to go back to the main blog of Birding in Sandakan, Sabah.

Buffy Fish-Owl in Sabah.

Buffy Fish-Owl was the only nocturnal bird that I spotted in Sabah and digiscoped during the day time, and I saw two of them. I didn't go out for owling at night, because I was really tired after spend the whole day for birding, only the call of the Oriental Bay Owl was recorded at night.

Buffy Fish-Owl (ketupa ketupa).

Is the owl really look like a mad scientist?

One day, I'm going to look like the owl, with the round round eyes staring hard at you...

Owl is currently threatened by illegal hunting, due to a recently-emerging taste of owl meat in Asia. Therefore, the recorded call of the Oriental Bay Owl in Sepilok would not be uploaded. Click HERE to read the news.

Please stop killing and eating our adorable owls.  请停止杀害和食用这些可爱的猫头鹰.

Click HERE if you would like to go back to the main blog of Birding in Sandakan, Sabah.

Hornbills in Sepilok, Sabah.

There are eight species of hornbills in Sabah, but I only spotted four species in Sepilok, they are the Rhinoceros, Oriental Pied, Black and Bushy-crested. The Oriental Pied and Black Hornbills are the most common in Sepilok, you can even see it at the Sepilok B&B.

The Oriental Pied Hornbill is the most common hornbill in South-east Asia, you can find it in Borneo, Singapore, Peninsular Malaysia and Thailand. Singapore has successfully re-introduced the Oriental Pied Hornbills, check out HERE to find out more.

The male Oriental Pied Hornbill

A juvenile Oriental Pied Hornbill

The juvenile Oriental Pied Hornbill with its parents

The Black Hornbill, is also one of the common hornbills in Sepilok, it is very easy to distinguish them by their call, its call is very similar to the motorbike engine sound. Black Hornbill is very interesting hornbill, it has two variants, with and without the white strip over the eyes to nape.

The male Black Hornbill without white strip over the eyes to nape:

The male variant, with white strip over the eyes to nape:

The female Black Hornbill without white strip over the eyes to nape:

The female variant, with white strip over the eyes to nape:

Bushy Crested Hornbill is not so common in Sepilok. I saw it once, there were three of them foraging food on the canopy. They are the only hornbill with no white in plumage.

The male Bushy Crested Hornbill

The female Bushy Crested Hornbill

The last species of hornbill I spotted was the male Rhinoceros Hornbill. This species of hornbill is always by itself, and is a shy hornbill. Here is the picture of the hornbill:
Rhinoceros Hornbill

Click HERE if you would like to go back to the main blog of Birding in Sandakan, Sabah.

Kingfisher and its allies in Sepilok, Sabah.

I spotted seven species of Kingfisher and its allies (Blue-throated Bee-eater and the Dollarbird) in Sepilok. The kingfishers that I spotted were the Rufous-collared Kingfisher, White-collared Kingfisher, Ruddy Kingfisher, Blue-eared Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Banded Kingfisher and Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher.

Rufous-collared Kingfisher, I spotted both male and female, and also the juvenile, but didn't able to digiscope the female. I noticed that the male was the one responsible to take care and feed the juvenile, the male would always trying to attract my attention. I found the juvenile always like to hide in the bush, stay alert and quiet.

Adult male (back view, front view and side view):
Juvenile Rufous-collared Kingfisher:

Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (Black-backed Kingfisher, Ceyx erithacus)is the most common kingfisher at the Kingfisher Trail in Sepilok, if you are lucky, you can spot it at the natural bird bath and the man-made pond.

Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher with side view, front view and back view:

Banded Kingfisher is rare and most quiet kingfisher, I was lucky to spot this female Banded Kingfisher at the Kingfisher Trail.

In Sepilok, Blue-eared Kingfisher and Ruddy Kingfisher are the most difficult to spot and digiscope. Blue-eared is small in size, prefers shady places, and very alert, I therefore have to stay far from the kingfisher and decide the right combination of shuttle speed and aperture to be used to digiscope the Kingfisher. Ruddy Kingfisher is a shy bird, I saw the kingfisher flew across the trail once but did not manage to digiscope it.

Blue-eared Kingfisher:

White-collared Kingfisher is the most noisy kingfisher, and it is very common at the Sepilok B&B:

Stork-billed Kingfisher, one of the common kingfishers, can be seen at the lake in Sepilok RDC:

Kingfisher's allies, the Blue-throated Bee-eater, the only Bee-eater I spotted in Sepilok at the Kingfisher Trail.

Adult Blue-throated Bee-eater:

Juvenile Blue-throated Bee-eater:

The Dollarbird, one of the common birds in Sepilok RDC.

Click HERE if you would like to go back to the main blog of Birding in Sandakan, Sabah.