WEST MALAYSIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
West Malaysia: Day 1 Our West Malaysia birding tour begins this morning at Kuala Lumpur airport, from where we will drive to Kuala Selangor, situated on the west coast of West Malaysia, for an overnight stay. In the afternoon we will begin our exploration of the area. As dusk falls we should hear the rhythmic ‘chonking’ of Large-tailed Nightjar and pick one out on by its eyeshine, like blazing embers. A nocturnal foray here could turn up Buffy Fish Owl, Sunda Scops Owl and Brown Hawk-Owl.
West Malaysia: Day 2 During the morning we will continue to explore Kuala Selangor Nature Park, which protects extensive areas of mangroves and intertidal mudflats. Specialities here include Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, which is quite easy, and the brightly coloured Mangrove Pitta which is nowadays hard to find.
Amongst the many other species we may well encounter in this interesting area are Little and Great Egrets, Striated (or Little) Heron, Black-shouldered and Brahminy Kites, White-breasted Waterhen, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Peaceful Dove, Asian Koel, Greater Coucal, Germain’s Swiftlet, House Swift, White-throated and Collared Kingfishers, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Dollarbird, Coppersmith Barbet, Laced and Sunda Pygmy Woodpeckers, Common Flameback, House Swallow, Pied Triller, Common Iora, Yellow-vented and Olive-winged Bulbuls, Black-naped Oriole, House and Large-billed Crows, Abbott’s Babbler, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Golden-bellied Gerygone, Common and Ashy Tailorbirds, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Pied Fantail, Mangrove Whistler, Paddyfield Pipit, Asian Glossy Starling, Common and Javan Mynas, Brown-throated and Olive-backed Sunbirds, Oriental White-eye and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.
In addition, Silvered Leaf Monkeys are quite common here, and if we are lucky we will come across Lesser Adjutant, Red Junglefowl, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha or Little Bronze Cuckoo.
Later we will drive to Fraser’s Hill for a three nights stay. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration.
West Malaysia: Days 3-4 Fraser’s Hill is an attractive hill-station set amidst mature montane forest. From the highest point in the area (at about 1300m) 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 such as Taman Negara, consisting largely of montane forms. Major targets during our stay will include the endemic Malayan Whistling Thrush and Malayan Laughingthrush, as well as Fire-tufted Barbet, Black-and-crimson Oriole, Javan Cuckooshrike, Rufous-browed and Pygmy Blue Flycatchers, the handsome Black Laughingthrush and Blue Nuthatch. More difficult specialities, of which we will be lucky to see more than one or two, include the endemic Malayan Partridge, Ferruginous Partridge, the ultra-difficult Mountain Peacock-Pheasant, Yellow-vented Green Pigeon, the elusive Rusty-naped Pitta (easy to hear but a devil to see!) and Marbled Wren-Babbler.
The thickly vegetated treetops shelter larger species like Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Little Cuckoo-Dove, Green-billed Malkoha and Black-browed Barbet. Skulking in the understorey are more subtly-plumaged, though no less interesting birds, such as Streaked and Pygmy Wren-Babblers, and Lesser Shortwing. Long-tailed Broadbill and Green Magpie are amongst the more colourful forest inhabitants, though hard to see while hiding in the darker forest recesses will be Red-headed Trogon. 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 Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, Glossy Swiftlet, Asian Palm-Swift, Orange-breasted Trogon, the stunning Red-bearded Bee-eater, Speckled Piculet, Greater and Lesser Yellownapes, Grey-chinned Minivet, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Black-crested, Ochraceous and Mountain Bulbuls, Bronzed and Lesser Racket-tailed Drongos, the spectacular Sultan Tit, Large Scimitar Babbler, Buff-breasted, Golden and Grey-throated Babblers, Spectacled (or Chestnut-capped) Laughingthrush, Silver-eared Mesia, Blyth’s and Black-eared Shrike-babblers, Blue-winged Minla, Mountain Fulvetta, Long-tailed Sibia, White-bellied Erpornis, Slaty-backed Forktail, Yellow-bellied, Chestnut-crowned and Mountain Leaf Warblers, Mountain Tailorbird, White-throated Fantail, Everett’s White-eye, Black-throated Sunbird, Streaked Spiderhunter and Fire-breasted Flowerpecker.
We are also likely to encounter at least one or two of the area’s more uncommon but widespread inhabitants, which include Rufous-bellied Eagle, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Dark Hawk-Cuckoo, Sunda Cuckoo, Collared Owlet, Wreathed and Great Hornbills, Bay Woodpecker, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Ashy Bulbul, Himalayan Cutia and Collared Babbler.
Amongst the local mammals, we can expect to see a variety of squirrels, as well as Banded Leaf Monkeys and, if we are lucky, a family of Siamangs. The latter are a large species of black gibbon, and their extraordinary vocalizations can frequently be heard echoing around the hills in the early mornings.
West Malaysia: Day 5 After spending the morning at Fraser’s Hill we will transfer to Bukit Tinggi for an overnight stay, arriving in time for some late afternoon birding. Our main reason for coming to this second ‘hill station’ is to look for the once-hard-to-see 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, we will have another opportunity to see some of the montane birds listed for Fraser’s Hill.
West Malaysia: Day 6 After some final birding at Bukit Tinggi, we will travel to Taman Negara National Park for a five nights stay. First we drive through forest and large areas of rubber and oil-palm plantations to Kuala Tembeling and then we shall travel by boat for nearly 60km upriver to the park’s headquarters and lodge at Kuala Tahan. Although we will not be able to identify many birds from the motorized longboats, the journey itself is an unforgettable experience. As we gradually leave civilization behind, we enter pristine rainforest.
West Malaysia: Days 7-10 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, so we shall concentrate on the more diverse lowlands. There are no roads inside the park, but an excellent network of trails allows access to many areas.
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. Woodpeckers are a typical example and we will be in with a good chance of seeing Rufous Piculet, Rufous, Crimson-winged, Checker-throated, Banded, Buff-rumped, Buff-necked, Great Slaty, White-bellied, Grey-capped, Maroon and Orange-backed Woodpeckers and also Greater Flameback. There is an equally wide variety of bulbuls, with likely species including Black-headed, Puff-backed, Stripe-throated, Cream-vented, Red-eyed, Spectacled, Grey-cheeked, Yellow-bellied, Hairy-backed, Buff-vented and Streaked Bulbuls.
Inside the forest, sounds are all-important. A host of babblers are found here, and we should see Black-capped, Short-tailed, Ferruginous, Moustached, Sooty-capped, Scaly-crowned, Rufous-crowned, Chestnut-rumped, Chestnut-winged and Black-throated Babblers, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler and Striped Wren-Babbler, and perhaps also Chestnut-backed Scimitar Babbler, Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler, Large Wren-Babbler and Brown Fulvetta.
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 Thick-billed, Little and Large Green Pigeons, Blue-rumped Parrot, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, Black, Oriental Pied and Rhinoceros Hornbills, Gold-whiskered, Red-throated, Yellow-crowned, Blue-eared and Brown Barbets, the gorgeous Green Broadbill (which seems to glow like an emerald amongst the leaves), and Yellow-breasted, Crimson-breasted and Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers.
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.
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 Blue-banded Kingfishers and listen for the beautiful melodious song of Straw-headed Bulbul. The smaller streams and rivulets support the striking White-crowned Forktail, as well as the more sombre White-chested and Horsfield’s Babblers.
Other typical forest and edge species that we will search for include Crested (or Oriental) Honey Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle, Black-thighed Falconet, Crested Fireback, Common Emerald Dove, Long-tailed Parakeet, Banded Bay and Plaintive Cuckoos, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, Black-bellied, Raffles’s, Red-billed and Chestnut-breasted Malkohas, Silver-rumped and Brown-backed Needletails, Grey-rumped and Whiskered Treeswifts, Red-naped, Diard’s and Scarlet-rumped Trogons, Banded Kingfisher, Black-and-red, Banded and Dusky Broadbills, the striking Black-and-yellow Broadbill, the attractive Malayan Banded Pitta, Bar-winged and Black-winged Flycatcher-shrikes, Lesser Cuckooshrike, Large Woodshrike, Scarlet Minivet, Green Iora, Greater Green, Lesser Green and Blue-winged Leafbirds, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Dark-throated Oriole, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Black Magpie, the bizarre Crested Jay, White-rumped Shama, Dark-necked and Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds, Rufous-chested and Tickell’s Blue Flycatchers, Rufous-winged and Maroon-breasted Philentomas, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Hill Myna, Plain, Red-throated, Ruby-cheeked and Purple-naped Sunbirds, and Little, Spectacled, Yellow-eared and Grey-breasted Spiderhunters.
Now that it has been placed in its own family, the strange and shy Rail-babbler is of huge interest to visiting birders. We have a moderate chance of seeing one here at Taman Negara, but the odds of seeing this much-wanted speciality are much better at Panti Forest.
Although we shall hear the loud calls of the Great Argus every day, for 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!
We should come across a few of Taman Negara’s other shy or more uncommon inhabitants, which include Lesser Fish Eagle, the extraordinary Crested Partridge, Malayan Peacock-Pheasant, Jambu Fruit Dove, Rufous-collared Kingfisher, White-crowned and Wrinkled Hornbills, Malaysian Honeyguide, Grey-and-buff Woodpecker, Scaly-breasted and Black-and-white Bulbuls, Fiery Minivet, White-necked Babbler, Rufous-tailed Shama, Grey-chested Jungle and Malaysian Blue Flycatchers, Spotted Fantail and Long-billed Spiderhunter.
As evening descends we may 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 with luck we will find Reddish Scops Owl and perhaps even one of the more difficult species such as Gould’s or Javan Frogmouths.
A wide variety of mammals occur in Taman Negara but, apart from Crab-eating Macaque and a variety of squirrels, most are rather retiring. However, we should encounter Wild Boar and perhaps Lesser Mouse-Deer.
West Malaysia: Day 11 After some early morning birding at Taman Negara we will return by boat to Kuala Tembeling and then head southwards to the tip of the Malay Peninsula, where Malaysia and Singapore meet, for a three nights stay at Kota Tinggi.
West Malaysia: Days 12-13 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 which is now well regenerated. The avifauna is quite similar to that of Taman Negara, but being largely secondary forest there are differences.
Above all, we will be on the lookout 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 very localized Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon, the near-threatened Red-crowned Barbet and the uncommon Black-and-white Bulbul, all of which Panti is well-known for.
Other species we may well encounter at Panti, or in the surrounding area, include Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Violet Cuckoo, the splendid Barred Eagle-Owl, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Grey-and-buff Woodpecker, Bar-bellied Cuckooshrike and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch.
Less common or less often observed species we could encounter at Panti include White-bellied Sea Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Red Junglefowl, Great Argus (only likely to be heard), Jambu Fruit Dove, Malaysian Hawk-Cuckoo, Indian Cuckoo, Lesser Coucal, Gould’s Frogmouth, Cinnamon-rumped Trogon, Black-capped Kingfisher, Bushy-crested Hornbill, Grey-bellied Bulbul, Rufous-fronted, Grey-breasted and Grey-headed Babblers, Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler, Large Wren-Babbler, Crimson Sunbird, Thick-billed Spiderhunter and Scaly-breasted Munia. If we are exceptionally lucky we will come across Crested Partridge or Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker.
Providing the habitat survives ongoing development, we will also visit a mangrove area to look for Mangrove Pitta, assuming we failed to see one at Kuala Selangor.
West Malaysia: Day 14 After a final morning at Panti, we will return to Kuala Lumpur airport where our tour ends this evening.