MALAYSIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Malaysia & Singapore: Day 1 Our tour starts this evening at Singapore where we will stay for two nights.
Malaysia & Singapore: Day 2 Singapore tends to be overlooked by birders but this small city-state holds some good birds.
One of our prime targets today will be the Critically Endangered and rather attractive Straw-headed Bulbul, a species that has been trapped to the verge of extinction because of its popularity as a cagebird. Singapore is now the last place with a reasonable surviving population of this mega-speciality.
Another good bird, and one that is surprisingly easy to see in Singapore, is Red-legged Crake. We will also visit a mangrove area to look for the brightly coloured Mangrove Pitta, a regional speciality. Singapore is also a good place for Buffy Fish Owl and often the birds are unafraid and allow a close approach as they live in proximity to people. Providing we have time, we will visit an area where Malaysian Plover can often be found.
During our time in Singapore, we will record numerous birds that are more widespread such as Red Junglefowl, Spotted and Zebra Doves, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Asian Koel, White-breasted Waterhen, Grey Heron, Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Oriental Dollarbird, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Stork-billed, White-throated and Collared Kingfishers, Common Flameback, Laced Woodpecker, Rose-ringed (or Ring-necked) and Red-breasted Parakeets, Black-naped Oriole, Common Iora, Malaysian Pied Fantail, Long-tailed Shrike, House Crow, Common, Dark-necked and Ashy Tailorbirds, Pacific Swallow, Yellow-vented and Olive-winged Bulbuls, Asian Glossy Starling, the introduced Javan Myna, Common Myna, Oriental Magpie-Robin, White-rumped Shama, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Brown-throated, Olive-backed, Copper-throated and Crimson Sunbirds, Eurasian Tree Sparrow and Paddyfield Pipit. (During the northern winter these are joined by Grey (or Black-bellied) Plover, Eurasian Whimbrel, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Brown Shrike, Barn Swallow and Arctic Warbler.)
Less common possibilities include Pied Imperial Pigeon, Yellow Bittern, Great-billed, Purple and Striated Herons, Great, Intermediate and Little Egrets, the endangered Chinese Egret, Little Bronze and Plaintive Cuckoos, Lineated Barbet, Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker, Golden-bellied Gerygone, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Swinhoe’s White-eye, Van Hasselt’s Sunbird and Scaly-breasted Munia. (Northern winter visitors include Pacific Golden Plover, Mongolian Sand Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank, Common Kingfisher, Ashy Minivet and Asian Brown Flycatcher.)
Malaysia & Singapore: Day 3 After some final birding in Singapore, we will take the express train across the causeway linking Singapore to the city of Johor Bahru in Malaysia and then continue by road to the nearby town of Kota Tinggi for a four nights stay.
Malaysia & Singapore: Days 4-6 Panti Bird Sanctuary (formerly known as Panti Forest Reserve) protects a large tract of mainly lowland dipterocarp and peat-swamp forest that was partly logged in the past but is now well regenerated.
Above all, we will be on the lookout at Panti for the unique Rail-babbler, the sole member of the family Eupetidae. This beautiful and mysterious species is notoriously shy and difficult to see, but Panti Forest offers a better chance than anywhere else of observing it, and our chances during a stay of this length are very high. As we walk along the reserve’s trails, we should hear the long mournful whistles that betray the presence of our quarry and then we will attempt to watch it stalking through the leaf litter like an elongated rail, or calling from a stump or low branch.
We will also be focussing on the localized and near-threatened Red-crowned Barbet and the uncommon and localized Black-and-white Bulbul, both of which Panti is well-known for. The very localized and uncommon Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon also occurs at Panti but the chances of an encounter are slim.
Other species of interest we may well encounter at Panti, or in the surrounding area, include Great Argus (only likely to be heard), Little Green Pigeon, Raffles’s, Red-billed, Chestnut-bellied and Black-bellied Malkohas, Malaysian Eared Nightjar, Whiskered Treeswift, Diard’s Trogon, the stunning Red-bearded Bee-eater, Oriental Dwarf and Banded Kingfishers, Yellow-crowned and Sooty Barbets, Banded, Checker-throated and Crimson-winged Woodpeckers, Blue-rumped Parrot, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, Green, Black-and-red and Dusky Broadbills, Rufous-winged Philentoma, Green Iora, Fiery Minivet, Dark-throated Oriole, Black-headed, Grey-bellied, Puff-backed, Cream-vented, Asian Red-eyed, Spectacled, Yellow-bellied, Hairy-backed, Buff-vented and Streaked Bulbuls, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler, Grey-headed, Chestnut-rumped, Moustached, Ferruginous and Malayan Black-capped Babblers, Greater Green and Lesser Green Leafbirds, Yellow-breasted and Crimson-breasted Flowerpeckers, Plain and Red-throated Sunbirds and Thick-billed, Spectacled, Yellow-eared and Grey-breasted Spiderhunters
More widespread species often seen at Panti include Crested Serpent Eagle, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Common Emerald Dove, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Germain’s Swiftlet, Blue-eared Barbet (the Malay Peninsula and Bornean forms are sometimes split as Black-eared Barbet), White-bellied and Rufous Woodpeckers, White-bellied Erpornis, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Large-billed Crow, Pin-striped Tit-babbler, White-crowned Forktail, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Common Hill Myna, Blue-winged Leafbird, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker and Ruby-cheeked and Purple-naped Sunbirds.
More uncommon species at Panti, a few of which we could encounter during our visit, include Crested (or Oriental) Honey Buzzard, Crested Goshawk, Violet Cuckoo, Cinnamon-rumped Trogon, Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Bushy-crested Hornbill, Orange-backed Woodpecker, Scaly-crowned and Grey-breasted Babblers, Rufous-tailed Shama, Grey-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker and Long-billed Spiderhunter.
Mammals are likely to include Lar (or White-handed) Gibbon, Crab-eating (or Long-tailed) Macaque, Banded Langur, Wild Boar, Black-striped and Slender Squirrels and perhaps Sunda Pig-tailed Macaque and Plantain Squirrel.
Malaysia & Singapore: Day 7 After some final birding at Panti we will head northwards through West Malaysia to Fraser’s Hill for a three nights stay.
Malaysia & Singapore: Days 8-9 Fraser’s Hill is an attractive hill station set amidst mature montane forest. From the highest point in the area (at about 1300m or 4300ft) there is a breathtaking vista of forested hills stretching away as far as the eye can see. Trails run into the forest but in fact, the low density of development means that many species can actually be found along the roads.
The avifauna here is strikingly different from that of West Malaysian lowland forest areas, consisting largely of montane forms. Major targets during our stay will include no fewer than four Malay Peninsula endemics – Malayan Partridge (easy to hear, more difficult to see), Rufous-bellied Swallow, Malayan Whistling Thrush and Malayan Laughingthrush. Other important specialities include Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, Fire-tufted Barbet, the elusive Rusty-naped Pitta (sometimes heard but a devil to see!), Black-and-crimson Oriole, Rufous-browed and Pygmy Flycatchers, the tricky Marbled Wren-Babbler, the handsome Black and Chestnut-capped Laughingthrushes (restricted to the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra), the restricted-range Hume’s White-eye and Blue Nuthatch. If we are lucky, we will encounter the patchily-distributed Yellow-vented Green Pigeon.
The thickly vegetated treetops shelter larger species like Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Little Cuckoo-Dove, Golden-whiskered and Red-throated Barbets, the restricted-range Black-browed Barbet (found only in the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra) and the handsome Banded Broadbill. Skulking in the understorey are more subtly plumaged, though no less interesting birds, such as Streaked Wren-Babbler, Pygmy Cupwing and Lesser Shortwing. Long-tailed Broadbill and Common Green Magpie are amongst the more colourful forest inhabitants, though hard to see while hiding in the darker forest recesses will be stunning Red-headed and Orange-breasted Trogons. An excellent variety of more widespread flycatchers occur, with Verditer, Little Pied and Hill Blue Flycatchers, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher and Large Niltava all possible.
Other species that we are likely to encounter include Plume-toed Swiftlet, Red-throated Barbet, Speckled Piculet, Greater and Lesser Yellownapes, Maroon Woodpecker, Large Cuckooshrike, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Grey-chinned Minivet, Blyth’s and Black-eared Shrike-babblers, Black-crested, Scaly-breasted, Ochraceous and Mountain Bulbuls, White-throated Fantail, Bronzed and Lesser Racket-tailed Drongos, the spectacular Sultan Tit, Large Scimitar Babbler, Buff-breasted, Golden and Grey-throated Babblers, Silver-eared Mesia, Blue-winged Minla, Mountain Fulvetta, Long-tailed Sibia, Slaty-backed Forktail, Yellow-bellied and Chestnut-crowned Warblers, Mountain Tailorbird, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Black-throated Sunbird and Streaked and Little Spiderhunters.
We are also likely to encounter a few of the area’s more uncommon inhabitants, which include Rufous-bellied and Black Eagles, Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Green-billed Malkoha, Dark Hawk-Cuckoo, Sunda Cuckoo, Collared Owlet, Mountain Scops Owl, Barred Eagle-Owl, House Swift, Wreathed and Great Hornbills, Bay and Bamboo Woodpeckers, Ashy Bulbul, Mountain Leaf Warbler, Himalayan Cutia, Collared Babbler, Chestnut-naped Forktail and Pin-tailed Parrotfinch.
Amongst the local mammals, we can expect to see Grey-breasted, Pallas’s and Himalayan Striped Squirrels as well as Dusky Langur and, if we are lucky, a family of Siamangs. The latter is a large species of black gibbon, and their extraordinary vocalizations can frequently be heard echoing around the hills in the early mornings.
Malaysia & Singapore: Day 10 After spending much of the day at Fraser’s Hill, we will transfer to Bukit Tinggi for a two nights stay.
Malaysia & Singapore: Day 11 Our main reason for coming to this second ‘hill station’ is to look for the once-hard-to-see endemic Mountain Peacock-Pheasant, which has now become regularly observed at Bukit Tinggi thanks to bird photographers leaving food for them!
As well as this magnificent pheasant and the attractive Ferruginous Partridge (generally a hard bird to see but one which also comes out regularly for treats at Bukit Tinggi), we will have another opportunity to see some of the montane birds listed for Fraser’s Hill. In addition, we have good chances of encounters with Blyth’s Frogmouth, Bushy-crested Hornbill, Olive-backed, Grey-and-buff and Buff-rumped Woodpeckers, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Cinereous Bulbul and Brown Fulvetta.
Malaysia & Singapore: Day 12 After some final birding at Bukit Tinggi, you will be transferred to Kuala Lumpur International Airport where our tour ends this afternoon.
TAMAN NEGARA EXTENSION
Taman Negara: Day 1 From Bukit Tinggi we will travel to Kuala Tahan in Taman Negara National Park for a five nights stay. First, we drive through tracts of forest and large areas of rubber and oil palm plantations before travelling through the pristine rainforest inside the park.
Taman Negara: Days 2-5 Taman Negara is Malaysia’s foremost national park, protecting over 4300 square kilometres of virgin tropical rainforest extending from the lowlands to the highlands. The upland areas of the park are very hard to reach, and much more accessible at places like Fraser’s Hill and Bukit Tinggi, so there are no problems as regards concentrating on the faunistically more diverse lowlands. There are no roads inside the park, beyond the resort area of Kuala Tahan, but an excellent network of trails allows access to many areas.
Taman Negara is undoubtedly one of the two best places in the entire region for seeing the greatest diversity of Sundaic lowland rainforest birds (the other is Danum Valley in Sabah in the Malaysian part of Borneo). Many of these Sundaic species occur widely in the region, being found in the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo, but some are more range-restricted and it is these specialities that we will be concentrating on.
Two species that occur in Taman Negara are wholly restricted to the Malay Peninsula; Malayan Peacock Pheasant and Malayan Crested Argus. The Malayan Crested Argus is an extreme rarity and has hardly been recorded in recent times, but the Malayan Peacock-Pheasant occurs more widely and is regularly heard around Kuala Tahan. Seeing one is more tricky, but with a stay of this length, we do have a reasonable chance of an encounter.
Easier-to-find range-restricted specialities include Malayan Black Magpie (which is generally easier to see in the Malay Peninsula than in Sumatra, the only other place it occurs) and the fabulous Malayan Crested Fireback. The latter is a beautiful pheasant restricted to the Malay Peninsula and parts of Sumatra. Kuala Tahan at Taman Negara is absolutely the place to see this usually very shy bird as around here they are quite used to people and appear on some of the trails early or late in the day.
We will no doubt hear the frustratingly hard-to-locate call of the Garnet Pitta and we should eventually be able to track down this gem of the forest glowing in the shadows as it calls from a low perch. Another pitta we can expect to find here is the lovely Malayan Banded Pitta, a species restricted to the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, but sometimes it can be tricky to see as opposed to hear.
Malaysian Honeyguide is a widespread Sundaic species that has a very patchy distribution and is hard to see anywhere, but Kuala Tahan is a place where we have seen it from time to time.
There is a fantastic variety of fauna and flora within the park and many bird families reach their greatest diversity in rainforests such as this. For anyone who has not been birding in primary Sundaic lowland rainforest before, there is going to be a mass of new birds!
Woodpeckers are a typical example and we will be in with a good chance of seeing Rufous Piculet, Buff-rumped, Buff-necked, Great Slaty and Orange-backed Woodpeckers and also Greater Flameback.
There is an equally wide variety of bulbuls, with likely species including Finsch’s and Grey-cheeked Bulbuls. There is even another chance of encountering the critically endangered Straw-headed Bulbul, a bird with a beautiful melodious song that has been trapped out over much of its range, although we will most likely have seen this species in Singapore.
Inside the forest, sounds are all-important. A host of babblers are found here, and as well as some species we are likely to have seen at Panti we should see Short-tailed, Sooty-capped, Scaly-crowned, Rufous-crowned, Chestnut-winged and Black-throated Babblers, Large and Striped Wren-Babblers and perhaps also Sunda Scimitar Babbler.
One of the best ways of seeing large numbers of species is to find a fruiting tree and wait nearby as fruit-eating birds fly in to reap the forest’s bounty. The park’s wide variety of frugivores include Large Green Pigeon, Black and Wrinkled Hornbills, the huge and impressive Rhinoceros Hornbill, Golden-whiskered Barbet, the gorgeous Green Broadbill (which seems to glow like an emerald amongst the leaves) and the striking Black-and-yellow Broadbill.
The park is well-watered and the variously sized rivers and streams provide niche habitats for a variety of more striking species. Along the larger waterways, we will watch for resting Stork-billed and Malayan Blue-banded Kingfishers. The smaller streams and rivulets support the striking White-crowned Forktail as well as White-chested Babbler.
Other typical forest and edge species that we will search for include Lesser Fish Eagle, Black-thighed Falconet, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Silver-rumped and Brown-backed Needletails, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Red-naped and Scarlet-rumped Trogons, Banded and Rufous-collared Kingfishers, Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Lesser and Bar-bellied Cuckooshrikes, Large Woodshrike, Scarlet Minivet, the bizarre Crested Jayshrike (now a monotypic bird family), Rufous-chested Flycatcher, Malaysian and Indochinese Blue Flycatchers, Maroon-breasted Philentoma, Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher and Black-naped Monarch.
Although we shall hear the loud calls of the Great Argus every day, most of the time one has to be very fortunate to catch even a glimpse of this huge but elusive pheasant, but from time to time a male becomes habituated to the presence of people and will stand guard over its dancing ground seemingly oblivious to one’s presence! Or we might just get lucky and see one walk across a trail.
As evening descends we should hear the distinctive whistles of Malaysian Eared Nightjars and watch them as they patrol the darkening skies around the headquarters. We will venture out in search of other nightbirds and we should find Reddish Scops Owl and perhaps Sunda Scops Owl. We could even encounter one or two of the more difficult species, which include Oriental Bay Owl and Gould’s, Large and Blyth’s Frogmouths.
We should also come across a number of additional shy or uncommon inhabitants of Taman Negara, which include the extraordinary Crested Partridge, Jambu Fruit Dove, Long-tailed Parakeet, Short-toed Coucal, Banded Bay and Rusty-breasted Cuckoos, Moustached Hawk-Cuckoo, Cinnamon-rumped Trogon, White-crowned and Helmeted Hornbills, Grey-and-buff Woodpecker, White-necked Babbler, Rufous-tailed Shama, Grey-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Spotted Fantail, Temminck’s Sunbird and Long-billed Spiderhunter. Rail-babbler also occurs here but is hard to see. The very scarce Malayan Crestless Fireback (found only in the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra) occurs in the area and we have recorded it on rare occasions.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that the more time that you spend in lowland Sundaic rainforest the more gaps you fill in the long list of Sundaic lowland birds. We are sure to see some birds listed for Panti Forest, but which we missed there, during our time at Taman Negara.
A wide variety of mammals occur in Taman Negara but, apart from Crab-eating (or Long-tailed) Macaque and a variety of squirrels, most are rather retiring. However, we should encounter Wild Boar and perhaps Silvered Langur and Lesser Oriental Chevrotain (or Lesser Mouse-Deer) or Southern Red Muntjac.
Taman Negara: Day 6 After some final birding at Taman Negara, we will head for Kuala Lumpur international airport where our tour ends in the late afternoon or early evening.