Thursday, November 20, 2014

Malaysia in a rush

From Trichy in southern India I took a flight to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, to make my first appearance in South-East Asia. Wow, the humidity was a couple notches higher than what I had experienced in India, but such drastic changes are always welcomed and appreciated – a constant reminder that one is in a new and exciting place! My brother’s in-laws kindly put me up during my stay in the country’s capital, spoiling me with all sorts of treats before taking to the road again. My only concern was how to get out of bustling Kuala Lumpur on my bicycle, with all the intimidating highways crisscrossing the city centre. Before accepting any lifts offered, a little bit of internet surfing revealed a cycle (and motorcycle) route that takes one from Brickfields in the inner city to the port town of Klang. Besides having to keep an eye on the faster motorcycles zooming by, it was an absolute breeze getting out of the city. I made such good progress I managed to get into the countryside, sadly dominated by palm oil plantations, to find a spot for my first night of wild camping in Malaysia.

Camping in a palm oil plantation in Malaysia.

Typical roadside scene along Malaysia's west coast.

Since I was in a bit of a rush to reach Singapore to catch a booked flight to Cambodia, there was little time for birding, or even photography. I missed a great deal of good birds, even around Kuala Lumpur, so did not do justice to Malaysia's incredible birdlife. Even the popular birding location of Fraser’s Hill was not an option. But there is always a next time... Hence I had decided to make my way down the country’s west coast to make it easier to stay on schedule, rather than get distracted by the alluring forests and wild lands on the east coast.

A female Asian Glossy Starling; males have a blackish-green glossy plumage.

A night market near Port Dickson.

So my birding was done mainly from the roadside, and in a rush. This did not stop me from enjoying the ride though, and I took opportunities to take to the water on occasion, and visit a couple of birding sites along the way. The most dominant roadside birds included Yellow-vented Bulbul, Germain’s Swiftlet, Asian Glossy Starling, Black-nape Oriole, Dollarbird, Zebra Dove, White-throated Kingfisher, Javan Myna, Spotted Dove, Oriental Magpie Robin, and Asian Koel amongst others. Anyone with a little knowledge of Malaysia’s birds will see that I only managed to see the common species! I tried a little harder birding at Tanjung Tuan (also known as Cape Rachado) south of Port Dickson. This is a small peninsula jutting out into the Strait of Malacca, which separates Peninsular Malaysia from the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It was considered an ideal spot for a lighthouse as far back as the 16th century, with the current structure built in 1863. The lighthouse is surrounded by a small forest reserve, which is of particular interest to birders as it is the main migration passage for numerous raptor species on their northbound flight from Sumatra. Roughly between 40 000 and 70 000 raptors have been counted during the spring migration, with Oriental Honey-buzzard, Black Baza and Chinese Goshawk being the most numerous species. The peak migration period is in March, so I was too late to see any of the migration in action. Instead I was happy to explore the forest along the main path leading to the lighthouse, and some smaller forest paths.

Signage in the Tanjung Tuan Reserve.

The forest was rather quiet, picking up only the following: White-rumped Shama, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Olive-winged Bulbul, Red-eyed Bulbul, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Orange-headed Thrush, and an Emerald Dove strolling along the main pathway. I also spotted a Red Junglefowl, but was reluctant to tick it in case it was not a wild bird. As the day heated up, I enjoyed views of Collared Kingfishers from the pleasant waters at a small secluded beach, which I had all to myself. On my back to the entrance I had views of a confiding Ferruginous Flycatcher, a bird with a more rufous appearance compared to its relatives. Once outside the reserve I got a tip-off that camping was allowed on a nearby beach, so I headed that way to spend the last remaining hours of daylight. With my hammock pitched under some beach trees, I was free to take to the water again and watch the night approach. Real bliss. 

A typical Malaysian beach. Anyone keen for a swim?

Camping seems to be allowed on many beaches, something I did a few times. 

Back on the road again, I headed for the coastal city of Melaka (Malacca), but could not spare a moment to appreciate the history or culture of Malaysia’s oldest city. The city endured the control of three successive colonies since the 16th century, and since 2008 has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Part of Melaka, Malaysia's oldest city.

Mind the wildlife, in this case a Malayan Tapir.

Some additional roadside birds that made appearances on my way south included Brown Shrike, Brown-throated Sunbird, Terek Sandpiper and White-breasted Waterhen. The colours of the Blue-throated Bee-eater blew me away; the powder-blue throat and chestnut crown and nape make for a very unusual colour combination. Worth beholding at every opportunity.

Mudflats and mangroves along Malaysia's coast.

A typical fruit stall by the roadside, where I often bought goodies.

I had plans of visiting a birding site near Kota Tinggi in the south of the country, but somehow got my directions corrupted. Instead I found myself at the entrance to the Kota Tinggi Waterfall Resort, a popular weekend getaway for locals. Too crowded for my liking, I backed-up a little to a nice quiet spot a little further downstream, but not after first sampling some tasty street food sold near the resort entrance. So instead of doing any serious birding, I ended up lazing about in the stream to escape from the heat and humidity. At least I did manage to spot a new species from my watery position, a Grey and Buff Woodpecker working its way along the branches of the over-hanging trees. Little Spiderhunter, Blue-winged Leafbird, and Common Tailorbird were also about, views which were accompanied by the far-carrying calls of a group Lar Gibbon. A primate with its main distribution in western South-East Asia, it is typically more often heard than seen – it would be some time before I saw my first one.

Local food sold near the entrance to the Kota Tinggi Waterfall Resort.

The stream below the Kota Tinggi Waterfall.

My time in Malaysia was running to an end, and so I reluctantly left to complete the final stretch to Singapore. The palm oil plantations that covered the landscape in every direction were a bleak sight compared to the pristine forest I had left behind. The palm oil jungle was later replaced by concrete jungle as I entered the metropolis of Johor Bahru, the last Malaysian frontier before reaching Singapore.

Highway between Kota Tinggi and Johor Bahru; palm oil plantations on the left.

There was one birding site in Singapore that I could afford to visit during my tight schedule, and that was the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in the north west of the country. After crossing the causeway from Malaysia I headed straight for the reserve, 130 hectares of mangroves and some smaller fresh water wetlands. The reserve is home to not only an impressive variety of birds (many migratory), but also the Estuarine Crocodile, Smooth-coated Otter, Mudskipper, and an wild assortment of fish and plant species. Boardwalks and trails provide access to much of the reserve, making it possible to spend hours walking about. And that is just what I did. I was eager to explore the entire reserve, so took to walking all the pathways that were open to the public. I spent an afternoon and morning here, marveling at the views attainable from the watch tower and boardwalks. The typical weather of Singapore prevailed, characterised by the occasional and unpredictable heavy rain shower. While the rain may have dampened things in more than one way, I managed to see a few species, a highlight being a pair of Copper-throated Sunbirds building their nest only metres from the mangrove boardwalk. The male was rather hard to see in good light under the mangrove canopy, but the female gave better views. Another sunbird ticked was the Olive-backed Sunbird, a rather more common species. 

Rain pouring down on the mangroves of the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

A female Copper-throated Sunbird in the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

A Mudskipper chilling in the sun.

A male Olive-backed Sunbird.

The mudflats held waders, including Whimbrel, Common Greenshank and Redshank, as well as herons such as Grey Heron, Great and Little Egret. From the watch tower I tried to identify the small flock of storks foraging far below. Both Painted (Near Threatened) and Milky Storks (Endangered) have been recorded in the reserve, as well as hybrids. There was so much variation in the plumages that I was left completely baffled as to their identity. It had been a while since I was unable to positively identify such a large bird! A soaring White-bellied Sea-eagle provided some consolation! 

Keep a look out for Estuarine crocodiles.

The mangrove boardwalk.

Late afternoon in the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, with a view of Malaysia.

A White-bellied Sea-eagle soaring over the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

My brother’s in-laws had kindly arranged a place for me to stay with friends in Singapore, so after enjoying the tranquility of Sungei Buloh, I headed into the city centre of the island country. Rie and Yuki very generously hosted me in their skyrise apartment, and treated me to traditional Japanese food, including Sushi for breakfast. My short stay in Singapore was completed after meeting up with Christian, whom I had last seen in Berlin nearly a year ago when I visited Ute and her family. It was great catching up on news during the intervening year, while enjoying Singaporean food at a sidewalk restaurant. The next day I was on a flight to Cambodia to meet up with another old friend…  

A view over the metropolis of Singapore.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Next CWB update coming soon!

Dear CWB Readers

Apologies for my silence, it has been a while since I published anything on my blog. This situation will be rectified in the very near future!

In the meantime please take a look at Eirik Grønningsæter´s Big Year Norway blog page at

He is nearing the end of his Big Year to break the record of 310 species, and recently passed the 300 mark with a Richard´s Pipit. Good luck!

Best regards