Sunday 21 January 2018

West Malaysia - January 2018 : Part 3

Day 5: 10th January 2018

Hoiling decided to stay at Stephen's Place for the morning session, partly to get all the remaining moths on the moth trap, but also to enjoy the large collection of reference books Stephen had got. My dad and I followed Liew back to the supposed location of Marbled Wren-babbler to try one last time. They were once again a no show, but we did managed a nice flock of Black Laughingthrush, despite being a little far away this mysterious looking Laughingthrush gave quite decent views.

Black Laughingthrush

We headed down to Jeriau Waterfall hoping to find some Silver-breasted Broadbills, but it was still too early in the season, they are known to breed along the trail during their breeding season. A few Slaty-backed Forktails were the only birds we managed there. On our way back up towards Telecom Loop where we heard a Large Scimitar-babbler calling in the distance, a large flock of Long-tailed Broadbills also made an appearance.

Slaty-backed Forktail

Long-tailed Broadbill

We departed from Stephen's Place at around 10:30am. Overall we enjoyed our stay there very much and would recommend any naturalist or nature enthusiasts to stay there, not only was the quality of the lodge top-notch, the location was comfortable, quiet and relaxing, Stephen and were both friendly and welcoming. We would no doubt visit again if given the chance.

Wonderful spot at the living room overlooking the garden

Along the New Gap Road we encountered yet another large flock of Long-tailed Broadbills, the view was much better this time, plus it was nice that Hoiling got to catchup on this lifer for her. This comedic bird is certainly a species that no birders can get bored of.

Long-tailed Broadbill

A large bird wave kept us busy, other then the common birds, there were also a few Orange-bellied Leafbirds. A few Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrikes showed briefly, while a single male Verditer Flycatcher also made it onto our list.

Orange-bellied Leafbird - female

Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike - male

Verditer Flycatcher - male

A few Stripe-throated Bulbuls went through, their bright yellow throats made them easy to recognise out of all the brownish bulbuls. A flock of Sultan Tits came close for some very good views, close enough for me to even get a few good photographs, this had always been one of my favourite Tit species, having such dazzling crests and sharp looks. it is the only member in the monotypic genus Melanochlora. Further down we encountered a Blyth's Hawk Eagle which provided good inflight views.

Stripe-throated Bulbul

Sultan Tit - male

Blyth's Hawk Eagle

Down near the Gap, Liew gave the Rufous-bellied Swallow another try, but they were once again missing from the Gap Resthouse. Liew suggested that the bamboo forests around the area is good habitat for Bamboo Woodpeckers, it took a while but he managed to call a pair of these birds in, we got some really good views of the pair, first the female which perched motionlessly on a shoot of bamboo, the male later showed off it's bright red cap to us.

Bamboo Woodpecker - female

Bamboo Woodpecker - male

We had lunch near Raub then drove south east towards Krau Wildlife Reserve, our car followed Liew's along the way. Liew suddenly came to a halt along the main road and parked to one side, we followed him and got out of the car where he pointed to a small dot on top of a bare tree. On closer inspection that small dot turned out to be a Black-thighed Falconet! This species was one of my target bird of the trip, so it was great that Liew managed to find us one perched relatively low! This tiny raptor mainly hawks for flying insects from it's perch, of which it demonstrated to us perfectly as it suddenly took off and flew towards the other side of the road and back to it's perch again, where it already got a butterfly in it's talons.

Black-thighed Falconet

There was a slight drizzle when we arrived at Krau Wildlife Reserve, Liew decided that we should head into one of the stakeout known as the "magic log", the little patch within the forest is known as Bukit Rengit amongst birders. It was basically a matter of placing some meal worms around the log and see what turns up, according to Liew anything could turn up, from Rail Babblers, Giant Pittas, Garnet Pittas or Rufous-collared Kingfishers...First up were a pair of White-rumped Shamas, which seems to have learnt that the log is a good feeding ground. A pair of Black-capped Babblers also came past briefly, they have always been one of my favourite babblers, unlike most of the other similar sized babblers which often hops along, this species walks like a pipit.

White-rumped Shama - male

Black-capped Babbler

Grey-cheeked Bulbuls were quite nice to see, a few of these came along to feed. Hairy-backed Bulbuls also seems to be the regular species here. A small bird foraging along the forest floor attracted our attention, which turned turned out to be a Siberian Blue Robin, it's bluish hues and tail suggests that this is a 1st winter male.

Grey-cheeked Bulbul

Hairy-backed Bulbul

Siberian Blue Robin - 1st winter male

A Hooded Pitta came onto the log, it showed well shortly before heavy downpour sets in that we have to hurry back to our car over 100m down the road! Luckily I had a raincoat for my camera, whereas I got completely soaked. Seeing that the weather was not likely going to improve shortly, Liew decided it was best to bird in the car. We heard a Banded Kingfisher calling somewhere in the forest but it just wouldn't show curse with this species continues to haunt me. At around the same area we found a few fruiting trees with a lot of bird activities, although the rain made it hard to observe, we managed to find a few Asian Fairy Bluebirds, whereas I saw a Gold-whiskered Barbet. Liew found a Malaysian Honeyguide amongst one of the trees, but it was too quick and flew off before any of us caught even a glimpse...

Hooded Pitta

Asian Fairy Bluebird - male

Not the weather nor our luck improved, so all we could do is to call it a day and hope that the weather improves by tomorrow morning. We arrived at our hotel near Bukit Tinggi around 6:30pm, as we were getting our luggages out I noticed a Bulbul perched on the roof of our hotel, I looked through my bins and commented to Liew "Do you get Sooty-headed Bulbuls here?", he looked a little confused at first, but it was clear what the bird was when we all looked through our binoculars. Liew explained that this is out of their natural range, although they often get released or escaped birds in Malaysia, there's also a feral population in Singapore. The yellow vents on this bird suggests it to be of subspecies thais.

Sooty-headed Bulbul - thais

Day 6: 11th January 2018

We woke up at 3am in the morning, Liew wanted us to try for the Blyth's Frogmouth at a location he knows before dawn. To our surprise and delight, the sky was clear and we could see the stars! We arrived to the location where Liew played a recording to hopefully get a response from the Frogmouths. Things were rather quiet at first, only insects and frogs chorused with the sound from the recording. Around fifteen minutes in we started getting responses from an actual bird nearby! It felt like forever but the bird came in closer and closer, until Liew suddenly exclaimed "Found it!".

Blyth's Frogmouth - female

Frogmouths certainly have a slight mysterious air to them, they are not owls nor are they nightjars, their large eyes and wide and flat bill gives them a permanent cheeky smile. They are certainly some of the most exciting birds to see for birders in the wild! My only previous experience with Frogmouths was a Tawny Frogmouth in Australia, and that was very memorable. The small brownish bird later flew and gave us a good look at it's underside, Liew suggested that the "rufous morph" should be the female, with lovely white scales on the front of it's breast. We located another bird soon after that is the "white morph" which is likely to be a male.

Blyth's Frogmouth - female

Blyth's Frogmouth - male

Feeling pretty pleased to have gotten the Blyth's Frogmouth, we celebrated with breakfast of muffins and canned coffee. Next, we headed towards the Mountain Peacock Pheasant stakeout passing the Japanese Tea House. From there it was a short walk onto a forest track and out into an opening, where a blind had been setup. It was still very dark when we first arrived, we were later joined by a few Chinese bird photographers as well. This location of the Mountain Peacock Pheasant is quite well known, and is likely to be the easiest place on earth to see this vulnerable endemic. First bird to arrive though was an Ochraceous Bulbul.

Ochraceous Bulbul

Soon after, the star bird of Bukit Tinggi arrives! A female Mountain Peacock Pheasant along with two chicks entered the "stage", the two chicks constantly following their mother around, obviously still have not a clue how to find food for themselves.

Mountain Peacock Pheasant - female with chicks

A male soon followed in, it looks similar to the female but overall larger and have more conspicuous bluish green dots on it's tail and back. While feeding was definitely the primary objective for the female, the male seems to have other things in mind...As it started to trot around the female, constantly fanning out it's feathers to make itself seems bigger, trying to show off it's best side...whatever it was doing, it was not working, the female simply was either not impressed or not interested. Seeing how it already got two chicks following her around, I am sure she is not looking for another partner right now!

Mountain Peacock Pheasant - courtship

The female and the chicks left soon after they have had their fill, leaving the lone male at the feeding station. Seeing that it did not impress any females today, the male obligingly took some time feeding. The Mountain Peacock Pheasant used to be one of the most elusive species to find in Malaysia, thanks to these feeding station visiting birders have a very high chance in seeing this magnificent bird. However, they are now listed as a vulnerable species, with continued destruction of their natural habitats in their limited range, the population is likely to get more and more fragmented.

Mountain Peacock Pheasant - male

Bukit Tinggi is also known for a good place to see the Ferruginous Partridge. We were fortunate to have up to three of these absolutely stunning partridges entering the feeding station. Certainly one of the most beautiful partridge species out there, with mesmerising patterns on their neck, back and wings. The overall population size of these partridge species can be difficult to quantify as they are so hard to encounter while out in the field, but with ongoing habitat loss in it's range this partridge's population trend is likely to be decreasing like many other partridges, it's now listed as near threatened on the red list.

Ferruginous Partridge

Rain sets in quite early and we were forced to take shelter at the botanic garden. Little did we know at that moment that this was the beginning of a very very long shower that will last for the rest of our trip. We waited at the plant nursery which used to be good for birds, it had not been the same since the park's authority decided to leave the lights off at night, which means all the moths that were previously attracted at night were no more, therefore the birds doesn't come here to feed anymore. We waited under the shelter of the glass roof, hoping the weather may clear up soon after. Only a Tiger Shrike came in to accompany us. It was pretty painful to just sit there, not knowing when the weather will improve. After two hours the weather remained the same, so Liew thought we should just go to the car and head for an early lunch.

Tiger Shrike

On the way out we saw a few birds as well. A raptor perched on the roadside which turned out to be an Eastern Buzzard, obviously not going anywhere in this pouring rain...A few Whiskered Treeswifts were seen along the road as well, we stopped for a better look in the terrible weather, my last encounter with this species was at Danum Valley in Sabah, so it's nice to refresh my memories on this stunning species.

Eastern Buzzard

Whiskered Treeswift - male

Whiskered Treeswift - female

Most birds become less active in such conditions, often they will just find a perch and sit there, as was the case of a Black-headed Bulbul and a single Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot which both decided to just sit on a tree motionlessly.

Black-headed Bulbul

Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot

We lunched at an old Chinese restaurant named Yik Kee located at the small town of Karak, it's been opened for more then sixty years. The food there was excellent and certainly cheered us up in such dreadful weather.

We waited a little while longer for the rain to slow and drove back towards Bukit Rengit. Despite the weather a pair of Black Hornbills greeted us as we arrived, a good start I thought. Rain turned into drizzle and we thought we may give the magic log a try. The light at the magic log was actually better then the day before. We were once again greeted by a pair of White-rumped Shamas, followed by A few Yellow-bellied Bulbuls and Hairy-backed Bulbuls.

Black Hornbill - female left, male right

White-rumped Shama - male

Yellow-bellied Bulbul

Hairy-backed Bulbul

The Hooded Pitta returned once again, this time I was able to get some much better shots of the bird, although I must admit that even it looked a bit scruffy in such wet conditions. My previous experiences with Hooded Pittas had been from Sabah, where the subspecies mulleri have a completely black crown. Two former race novaeguineae and rosenbergii had been split in recent years, and it's likely that mulleri maybe split from nominate race sordida in the near future, although personally I find the nominate race slightly more attractive as they have a reddish brown crown.

Hooded Pitta

No other birds appeared at the magic log, guess the magic doesn't happen in the wet. So, we headed back out to the road, hoping to find the Banded Kingfisher that was calling the day before. Along the main road we spotted a Dark-throated Oriole, a small bird wave with Spectacled Bulbuls, Dark-throated Tailorbirds and a few common lowland species such as Green Ioras, although the conditions weren't the best for photography. A raptor on a nearby tree turned out to be a miserable looking Crested Goshawk.

Dark-throated Oriole

Spectacled Bulbul

Dark-throated Tailorbird


We wanted to get back to the area where Liew saw the Malaysian Honeyguide, as we didn't want to get too far away from the car, Liew parked the car outside a fenced entrance to a rubber tree plantation. Weather worsened once again which diminished our chances of finding any birds, let alone Honeyguide! As we decided to head off again, we found our car stuck in the mud! The ground must have soften after the heavy downpour and the car wouldn't budge even when two of us tried pushing from behind. Luckily, Liew managed to find two rangers having lunch at the restaurant nearby and they winched us out with their pick up truck, not before we were covered in mud!

Stuck in mud...

The exciting incident provided nearly an hour of excursion, we decided afterwards that we should just stick to the car. That was probably a better choice considering how the weather did not improve one bit. We managed to add quite a few species from the car, including a pair of Common Flameback, the female showed particularly well.

Common Flameback - female

Hoiling spotted a female Oriental Pied Hornbill hiding under a rain shelter, I guess even the birds needed a break from all the rain. I felt a bit sorry that we disturbed it from it's dry shelter and it flew to a nearby tree.

Oriental Pied Hornbill - female

I told Liew that I had yet to see a Red Junglefowl in the wild, of which he could hardly believe! He stated that he knows a place where we may likely see a few and drove us there. We spotted two chicken like birds taking shelter under the garage, standing next to a pair of plastic sandals...Liew stated that these are not domesticated, but simply Red Junglefowls that have gotten used to living around people, the grey skinny legs certainly suggests that this is no domestic chicken. I would take this record as my first, but still hoping to see a male in a more "wild" setting.

Red Junglefowl - not the most "wild" individual

Nothing particularly interesting were added afterwards, we only saw a few Greater Racket-tailed Drongos perched out in the open despite the pouring rain. A Hill Myna just before we hit the highway was our last bird of the day. It was still raining when we returned to our hotel and shows no sign of stopping...Liew stated that the weather forecast predicts some improvement for tomorrow's weather, although we were all sceptical about it going to bed...

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo

Hill Myna

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