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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Peninsular Malaysia

2023 Narrative

Kuala Selangor

We kicked off our birding explorations just north of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, at Kuala Selangor – a famous birding area known for its mudflats, mangroves and coastal scrub. After catching up with some of the more common, open country birds (Lesser Coucal, Asian Koel, White-throated Kingfisher, Coppersmith Barbet, Common Flameback, and so on) we headed to the mangroves for our main target in this area, the Mangrove Pitta. Our patience was rewarded as this hulking pitta with its enormous bill (specially adapted for crushing mangrove crabs) came into view. This excellent bird was greeted with lots of oohs and aahs!

After a particularly tasty lunch at our favorite riverside restaurant, we continued our birding at various locations in the Kuala Selangor area. Some of our other notable sightings included Lesser Adjutant storks at the Pantai Jeram mudflats, Baya Weavers and White-headed Munias at the Barat Laut ricefields, Lineated Barbet at Bukit Melawati, and a fabulous nesting pair of Crested Goshawks at our hotel.

Fraser’s Hill

We were all very excited to arrive at our next destination, the legendary birding destination of Fraser’s Hill. The next three days were simply a birding feast of the highest order! As we explored the quiet backroads of this lovely area, we came across so many great birds that it would take too long to list them all here. Some of the many highlights included many sightings of the bizarre Fire-tufted Barbet, gorgeous Long-tailed Broadbills, the world’s best-looking nuthatch – the Blue Nuthatch, incredibly confiding Lesser Shortwings (nothing lesser about this bird!), a great look at the remarkable Helmeted Hornbill, wonderful Sultan Tits, and many many more.

Taman Negara

As a complete contrast to the cool climes of the mountains, we next headed down to the steamy lowlands of the Malaysian tropical lowlands. Our destination, Taman Negara is the largest national park in the country covering an area of well over 4,000 square kilometres and the ancient rainforests it protects are estimated to be over 130 million years old. We birded many different areas in this outstanding reserve, including the gardens of our excellent lodge, as well as the Swamp Loop trail, the Blau and Yong Hides trails, and the Lubok Simpon trail. On one afternoon we took a boat trip up the lovely Tahan River - enormous rainforest trees covered in ferns and orchids bend over the river providing shade and habitat for a myriad of birds, insects and so many other animals. On the Swamp Trail we were all thrilled to find a very fine male Malayan Crested Fireback pheasant foraging just next to the boardwalk. We were able to watch and photograph this remarkable bird for quite some time before we moved on to find Olive-backed Woodpeckers, Black-throated Babblers, Scarlet-rumped Trogons and other very exciting rainforest denizens. We went twice to the Blau and Yong Hides trail, taking a short but very fun boat ride to the trailhead, then making a short climb up the riverbank before entering the forest to try for some of the more difficult birds that favour the denser jungle areas. Our persistence and patience rewarded us with views of some of these, including Crested Shrikejay, Black Magpie, Red-naped Trogon, Bushy-crested Hornbill, Malaysian Rail-babbler, and maybe best of all, the stunning Malayan Banded-Pitta.

Spending time in the gardens of our resort was also very rewarding, with sightings of Black-bellied Malkohas, Rhinoceros Hornbills, Black-and-yellow Broadbills, Green Broadbill, many different bulbuls and babblers, as well as Asian Fairy-bluebirds and Purple-naped Spiderhunters to name only a few. Our relaxing (yet exciting!) boat trip along the Tahan River also turned up some excellent birds, namely a Malaysian Blue-banded Kingfisher, one of the hardest kingfishers to find in Asia, the increasingly endangered Straw-headed Bulbul and the strictly riparian White-chested Babbler. Taking our leave of Taman Negara, we crossed back over the Tembeling River to Kuala Tahan, met up with our popular and very helpful driver, Steven, and then birded our way out of the rainforest, stopping for Black-thighed Falconets, Grey-bellied Bulbuls, and Baya Weavers along the way.

Bukit Tinggi

Bukit Tinggi means “High Hill” in English and it sure was nice to be in cooler climes again. But the real star of the show here might just have been our crazy accommodation! The Colmer Castle must be one of the strangest hotels in the world…

But our rooms were very comfortable and the hotel, which is surrounded by a huge expanse of beautiful hill forest, put us in a perfect location to enjoy some really special birding. Birding along the quiet roads and around the so-called Japanese Garden was very productive with neat sightings of Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, Buff-rumped Woodpeckers, Whiskered Treeswifts, Wreathed Hornbill, Scaly-breasted Bulbul, and usual cohort of awesome Malaysian babblers, bulbuls, sunbirds, barbets and more. The main attraction was our stakeout for the Mountain Peacock-Pheasants though. This splendid bird is almost impossible to observe anywhere other than at this excellent hide, which also attracts Ochraceous Bulbuls, White-rumped Shamas and the rather poorly named Himalayan Striped Squirrel. This was a most fitting end to a very enjoyable and rewarding tour.

Thank you everyone for your excellent and enjoyable company. I’d also like to especially thank Lee Kok Chung for his outstanding birding skills and guidance throughout the tour. Steven, our driver, also deserves a shoutout for his friendly and helpful service and for his choice of restaurants!

Susan Myers, August 2023

Updated: n/a