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.


  1. Hi Boon Yu, good addition to you blog site. This is indeed a useful guide to those who are not familiar with Penang and the northern states.

  2. A very comprehensive account of Penang indeed. Well done.

  3. Thanks Mark, glad to hear that it is useful to you.
    I came out with this idea after I had a conversation in the car with you, Wai Kong, Bee Cheng and her hubby in Sandakan, about Penang hawker food and Oriental Bay Owl... haha. So, I have to blog, if not I cannot sleep coz I think too much.

  4. Hi YC, thanks for the comment. Hope this blog also useful to most Singaporean birders.