Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Amazing Bukit Fraser: Part 3 - The Finale

So, we were on our last day in Fraser's Hill and Christian, Jun, Jops and I were up early to try and find the Slaty-backed Forktail in a spot which Durai pointed out to us the night before. It was a cold, foggy morning, but thankfully no rain again =)

Waiting (and hoping!) that the forktail would show up

We waited some more, each of us walking in different directions. We found ourselves near the small stream by the road. Christian and Jops started reading aloud from the field guide where it said that the forktail had a metallic call. A second after the words left their lips, a distinct metallic call sounded from the stream! And, amazingly, two Slaty-backed Forktails flew onto the road from the stream!

Slaty-backed Forktail

We were thrilled to see two of them appear as if on cue! They walked continuously while foraging on the road. While we observed them, another bird popped up on the same spot on the road! What luck! It was a Malaysian Whistling Thrush!

As if to prove its identity, it started whistling!!

It was so cool watching the birds as they foraged on the ground, oblivious that they were being watched by four amazed birders.

Documentary shot of both species in one photo! Cool!

We were enjoying the great views of these two lifers when a car passed through, flushing them all away! The thrush stayed hidden in the bushes but the forktails came out again. But then, another vehicle passed and they flew further away into an adjacent road. We birded in the area for a while more but it wasn't so birdy, although we spotted a Little Cuckoo Dove in the area.

Little Cuckoo Dove

As we prepared to board the car, we heard the call of a Common Green Magpie. After a short while of scanning the trees, we were able to see it! Too bad it was too far for a good photo.

We drove back to the hotel to have breakfast and then met up with Durai for our last round of birding before we had to leave for the airport. We hit a birdy patch of roadside forest and saw some Lesser Racket-tail Drongo and some Greater Yellownapes! A mixed flock also flew in and out of the area. Durai then called our attention to a male and female Large Niltava sitting in a very dense area near the road.

The best shot I could muster of the Greater Yellownape

We moved on to another road and tried to look for Sultan Tits that Durai kept hearing. When the birds did not show, we walked back to our car when a loud call resonated from far away: a Rhinoceros Hornbill was calling! Sadly, the bird did not come any nearer to where we were, so we moved on. 

We spent the rest of our morning walking along this stretch of road and we were able to finally spot the beautiful Sultan Tits, who were very frisky and didn't stay long for any photos. Some of us were able to see the Black Laughing Thrush, but I wasn't able to see it. We were also wow-ed by a small but beautifully-marked Black-eared Shrike-Babbler and I was able to spot the Black-browed Barbet.

It was almost noon and we had to checkout of the hotel. As we were saying our goodbyes, three hornbills flew across the valley fronting our hotel. We said our goodbye to Durai and thanked him for showing us so many birds and wildlife in Fraser's Hill and for his time and excellent company =)

Group shot!
Christian, Jun, Durai, me, and Jops

We had our last lunch in Mimi Strawberry near the golf course and we drove up Radar Hill before we headed down to The Gap. In some grassy lots, we were able to tick off  some White-rumped Munias! We didn't see much but at The Gap, we had good views of some Black-browed Barbets and a Bronzed Drongo. As the rain started to fall, we got in our rented car and said goodbye to Fraser's Hill.

It was an awesome trip! I racked up 50 lifers and I know there was still a lot we missed seeing. I'm sure everyone in our group wants to go back and see more of the birds of Fraser's Hill. But for now, the pictures, field notes, and memories are enough. BUT! We'll definitely be back =)

Sunrise in front of our hotel, where the three hornbills flew across,
bidding us farewell... or, see you soon =)

The Amazing Bukit Fraser - Part 2

To continue our Bukit Fraser's adventure, we set out to bird along the road in front of our hotel. Just outside our hotel, the trees were busy with bird activity.

Roadside birding just by the Pine Resort Hotel

I was thrilled to see the Ochraceous Bulbul, with its funky beard, and also the Striped-throated Bulbul. We were also able to see a Bronzed Drongo and a bright blue Turquoise Flycatcher in the trees just beside our apartment building!

We walked further down the winding road and saw some more species in the trees by the roadside. Lots of Black-throated Sunbirds were foraging in the trees and one popped up just in front of me and stayed a while for a photo!

A very compliant male Black-throated Sunbird

We also spotted a Little Spiderhunter, a small flock of Blue-winged Minlas, and some Everett's White-eyes. Aside from the birds, we also spotted mammals! A cute Grey-bellied Squirrel stayed still long enough for a photo as it was having its breakfast.

Grey-bellied Squirrel

We also spotted a big group of monkeys moving through the trees. At first, we thought they were the siamangs, black gibbons native to Malaysia. But they turned out to be another species: White-thighed Leaf Monkeys!

White-thighed Monkeys on the move

We were hoping for some hornbills, but unfortunately none showed that morning. We headed out to The Gap and try to see more birds there. We ticked off a couple more lifers: Dark-throated Tailorbird and the handsome Black-crested Bulbul, before taking some souvenir photos and going for lunch.

Anna, Jessie, Jops, Jun, and Christian at the Fraser's Hill sign!

After lunch, the rain started. We drove back to the hotel to meet with Mr. Durai, the premier bird guide in Fraser's Hill. We waited until the rain slowed down to a steady drizzle and headed out for more birding. We also said goodbye to Anna and Jessie who were leaving early to meet up with family in Kuala Lumpur.

Jops, Durai, and Jun talking while we all waited for the rain to stop

Along the road, Durai pointed out some Monkey Cups (pitcher plants), which was cool because it was the first pitcher plant I've seen in the wild!




Durai asked us to pullover at one of the parking bays, and even in the light rain, we found ourselves looking at a handsome Rufous-browed Flycather, singing under some tangles near a stream! Cool!

Singing in the rain!

We heard a Common Green Magpie calling from the trees but didn't spot it. We made a quick stop at the Shazan Inn. We saw some fellow delegates from the 5th Asian Bird Fair in Langkawi who were photographing a male and female Little Pied Flycatcher pair which would come out in the open despite the steady rain.

This was the best shot I could get of the Little Pied Flycatcher in the rain

We moved on to another roadside spot and birded in the light rain. Even in the not-so-ideal weather, we saw some Wedge-tailed Green Pigeons, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Buff-bellied Flowerpecker, Mountain Fulvetta, and a lone Blue Nuthatch! As we were walking back to the car, Jops called our attention because he spotted a Red-headed Trogon! It was perched out in the open, under the falling rain! Cool!

The trogon flew further away and had its back to us, but came back to its
open perch after a few seconds
The rain made it soooo difficult to focus! This would have been an
awesome photo of an awesome bird!

The trogon soon flew away and as the rain started falling heavier, we took refuge in the car. We decided to call it a day and have dinner as the rain was getting stronger and the light was dwindling. After dinner, we thought it was back to the hotel for us, but Durai said he wanted to show us some spiders. Spiders?? Say what??

We drove in the night as the rain slowed to  drizzle. We parked at a bend in the road and followed Durai, shining his flashlight on the banks of the road.

Our small group following Durai in search of spiders at night

Honestly, I wasn't prepared for the awesome experience Durai was treating us to! He showed us a Trapdoor Spider inside it's trapdoor!!!

The trapdoor...
... and the spider that made it inside!

When the "tentacles" framing the trapdoor are triggered by movement, the spider lunges out of its lair in an ambush to get its prey. How cool is that?!

We left the Trapdoor Spider alone when it retreated further into its burrow, and Durai continued to scan the same area, this time for tarantulas! 

And tarantulas he did find!

After seeing the spiders, we dropped Durai near his home and returned to our hotel. Despite the rain, we did see a lot of birds and even got to see some really cool spiders! We still had one day left in Fraser's Hill and we once more prayed for good weather for the next day.

Part 3, the last one, coming up!

The Amazing Bukit Fraser - Part 1

I feel very lucky to have had a chance to bird in Bukit Fraser (bukit is the Bahasa Malaysia word for "hill") in Malaysia right after the 5th Asian Bird Fair in Langkawi. We've been hearing from our birder friends just how awesome the place is for birding and there we were!

Jops and I, together with our friends Jun, Christian, Anna, and Jessie, rented an Innova from the airport and were soon on the road to the state of Pahang where Fraser's Hill is located.

Jops drove us to Fraser's Hill, his first time to use a right-hand
drive vehicle!
Half-way to Fraser's Hill, we drove thru heavy downpour!

We got to the town of Kuala Kubu Bharu and thankfully, the rain stopped. We all got out to stretch our legs and stock up on drinks and munchies. Soon, we were on the road again.

The quiet town of Kuala Kubu Bharu

Fraser's Hill has an average altitude of 1,200masl and as we drove up the zigzag road, light rain began to fall and the mist started to cover the surrounding forest.

My view from my seat in the Innova.

I got a bit dizzy on the ride up, but when we got out of the car and the cool mountain air hit my face, I started feeling better immediately. We were booked at the Pine Resort Apartment Hotel and we got settled in quickly.

Pine Resort in the day time

The rain was steadily falling but when we heard a Collared Owlet calling from the trees across our hotel, we donned our jackets and went out to search for it. Unfortunately, this owl is quite difficult to see and we learned later on that we had a better chance seeing it in the day time! We did see an Asian Giant Toad though, which was cool!

Birders in the drizzly night, looking for an owl...
... and spotting a giant toad instead!

We called it a night and prayed for better weather conditions the following day. Our prayers were heard! We woke to clear skies and no rain! We boarded our rented car and headed to the abandoned Jelai Hotel, which is a popular birding site in Fraser's Hill.

And Jelai did not disappoint! After just a few minutes waiting, birds started coming in from all sides! Spiderhunters, sunbirds, mesias, bulbuls, minivets! It was a dizzying birding blur in a very good way! =)

There were a lot of birds feeding on the flowering
Bottle Brush Trees around the hotel. 
The first bird we saw was my most-wanted on the trip:
Streaked Spiderhunter
The Streaked Spiderhunters were joined by Black-throated Sunbirds, all of them busy feeding on the red brush-like flowers. Then came the bigger birds! The Long-tailed Sibias came in flocks and flew among the trees. It's a pity I couldn't get sharp photos through the early morning mist, but I'm still happy with what I got =)

Long-tailed Sibias, common birds in Fraser's Hill

Then a huge flock of birds came in and perched very close to our group! Too close for our cameras and binoculars that we had to back up a few steps to view and photograph them properly! We would encounter them throughout our birding there =)


Chestnut-capped Laughing Thrush
A male Grey-chinned Minivet posed on a fern for me =) 

I wandered a bit to the entrance of the driveway, and a couple of birds flew in the Bottle Brush Tree in front of me: Silver-eared Mesias!! They were big! I thought they were the size of tailorbirds, but they were pretty big! I called to my friends to see the Mesias until they flew away into the trees.

My only shot of the Silver-eared Mesias. I'll try to get a better shot
the next time I get to visit Bukit Fraser!

We turned our attention to a deep, resonating call which seemed to be coming from inside the abandoned hotel. Owl??? The boys wanted to inspect the hotel (I didn't! Too many zombie movies...) but they decided to prop Jun up the ledge so he could peep inside an open door. 




As Jun was inspecting the area slowly, we were able to spot a pair of Mountain Imperial Pigeons perched on a tree faaaaaaaar away. The pigeons were HUGE, so it was easy to spot and identify them. Suddenly, Jun announced he had found the bird making the deep call: it was huge and right in front of him! It turned out to be another Mountain Imperial Pigeon, seated on a nest of twigs.

Mountain Imperial Pigeon on its nest

After everyone spotted the pigeon, we decided to leave Jelai and head back to the hotel to have breakfast. I was also able to tick off: White-throated Fantail, Mountain Leaf Warbler, and Mountain Bulbul in the Jelai parking lot.

That first dose of Bukit Fraser birding gave us such a rush and we knew there was so much more to see! Part 2 coming up!

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Wonderful Wildlife of Langkawi

It was such a bonus that the venue of the recently concluded 5th Asian Bird Fair in Langkawi, Malaysia was such a birdy place! Not only the Oriental Village in the Geopark itself, but also our hotel!

I got my first lifer in our hotel, the Alia Residence Business Resort, just after breakfast on the first day of the bird fair. Some Common Mynas (which were indeed very common there) were feeding on the lawn beside the pool. I was able to snap a few shots before boarding the bus!

Common Myna

All the participants were shuttled to the Geopark in a bus and as soon as we disembarked, we spotted a pair of Spectacled Langurs (or Dusky Leaf Monkeys)! They were feeding nonchalantly on a tree in the parking lot, much to my delight and of the other participants as well!


Spectacled Langur
This is one monkey I can really call cute! =)

I had to tear myself away from the monkey as we all had to setup our booths! The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines' (WBCP) booth was located beside a big tree and as we were setting up, sunbirds came to forage above us! We saw Olive-backed Sunbirds and Brown-throated Sunbirds!

When the booth was all set-up, Andrew S. approached us and, since we weren't on booth duty yet, gave us directions to a place where we could go bird and try to find the Brown-winged Kingfisher. Within a few minutes, Jun, Christian, Jops and I were on a short trail just adjacent to the fair grounds. The trail had a small stream running along one side and a fenced construction site on the other side. 


Jops and Christian on the trail

Not so far in the trail, we spotted a small flock of Greater Racket-tail Drongos. These are beautiful glossy black birds with long rackets on their tails! They flew gracefully from one side of the trail to the other, their long tails flowing behind them

Greater Racket-tail Dorngo
Quite challenging to photograph it showing its rackets very clearly

The drongos were flying very close to a small group of Spectacled Langurs. We later found out that these two species really go together, warning each other of nearby threats, particularly raptors. Cool!

Suddenly, Jops announced that he had spotted the kingfisher! The four of us stood side-by-side, peering into an opening in the foliage by the banks of the stream, and looked at a big kingfisher with a yellow head and bright orange bill. There was some debate until later that day on whether the bird had blue wings or brown! But later on, as a larger group went back to the trail to find it, it was confirmed to be the Brown-winged Kingfisher.

Also seen on the trail was a Pond Heron, which would fly over the stream and perch conspicuously before flying off again.

Pond Heron

We headed back to the fair grounds and participated in the different activities going on. In the afternoon, it was Christian, Jops and my turn to man the WBCP booth. I was seated in the booth and as I was talking to Christian, who was standing, I saw a huge bird fly overhead! Oriental Pied Hornbill! This had most of us running (and leaving the booth unmanned for a few seconds!) towards the wire fence overlooking the other side of the road where a pair of hornbills decided to have their afternoon snack! How awesome was that?!

Oriental Pied Hornbill feeding on fruits

After quite a while, the hornbills eventually retreated to the denser part of the trees to rest. When the hornbill-induced excitement died down, we weren't left bird-less. A Brahminy Kite decided to soar overhead. It was like that during the bird fair in Langkawi. Sometimes, it was a White-bellied Sea Eagle flying over the booths! And true to their name, the Common Mynas were indeed a common sighting in the Geopark =)

More Common Mynas on the roof of one of the stores near the booth

On the second day of the bird fair, most WBCP members were shuttled in a van and we made a quick stopover en route to the Geopark to tick off the handsomely-colored Red-wattled Lapwings. They were just standing on a grassy field near the road!

Red-wattled Lapwing

I didn't participate in the ABF's mini-bird race as I accompanied Katherine, a new friend I met from the Malaysian Nature Society, to the trail because we both wanted to see the the Brown-winged Kingfisher. We reached the end of the trail, but didn't see the bird. We did see some Monitor Lizards and even an Oriental Whip Snake! Thank you, Katherine, for warning me about it!


Monitor Lizard
Oriental Whip Snake

The only birds we saw were the Greater Racket-tail Drongos and a huge group of Long-tailed Macaques blocking our way as we headed back out! We had to hold on to some sticks as we passed them, "just in case."

That's like 1/4 of the whole group that blocked our way!

We exited the trail and went back to our respective booths (Katherine was doing face painting!) Jops and I attended the International Ecotourism Forum and I gave a short talk as representative of the WBCP. Afterwards, we walked back to the booths and birded in the surrounding area. 

Near the creek, we saw some Spotted Doves, a Striated Heron, and another lifer: Red-eyed Bulbul! I sat on the edge of the small open area and one of the shop owners sat beside me and we started chatting about the birds she sees there. I asked about the Brown-winged Kingfisher and she told me in detail how she would observe it fishing for food and then perching on the tree beside us every afternoon. Wow! I still had a chance to see and photograph it!

We explored a little more of the area and saw a Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker and an Orange-bellied Flowerpecker on a low aratiles tree,

Docu-shot of the Orange-bellied Flowerpecker

When the flowerpecker flew off, we heard the kingfisher! It was by the stream! After some searching, we spotted the handsome Brown-winged Kingfisher, perched out in the open, obliging us excited birdwatchers =)


One of the highlights of the 5th ABF!

It was such a great thing to see the kingfisher so close to the fair grounds allowing almost all the delegates to see and photograph it! I was also very happy that Katherine got to see it too after our dip earlier that day =)

After the rush of the bird fair and the birding that accompanied it, it was time to relax a bit in our hotel. The mudflats just behind the hotel had lots of Lesser Sand Plovers and Striated Herons! Among the birds were huuuge mudskippers!

Just one of the many, huge mudskippers! =)

There was also a number of noisy Black-naped Orioles and a solo White-throated Kingfisher that came in while we were having our leisurely breakfast.

White-throated Kingfisher,
quite different from what we have here in the Philippines

As another added bonus, a couple of Oriental Pied Hornbills also flew in while we were having our breakfast. We got to show them to the other guests of the hotel who were having their breakfast too =)

The hornbills didn't come out into the open for a good photo,
but they stayed for quite some time =)

Soon, it was time to leave Langkawi. It was great discovering the wildlife during the three days we spent there and we still have so much to see! It's a great reason to go back again =)

Next stop: Fraser's Hill!!!