Press & Review

West Malaysia Birding

By Mat Wilson and John Wilson on 16 June 2007

As part of a
recent trip to West Malaysia with my dad, I decided to return to
Langkawi for 4 days as my last visit had not included any serious
birding. I had been in contact withJunglewalla about the possibility of
seeing some of the rarer bird types on the island.

They had written back saying that they were hopeful that they could find the Hooded Oriole, Blue-winged Pitta, Plain-backed Sparrow, Brown-winged Kingfisher, Brown Boobook (Hawk Owl) and the recently discovered Mountain Hawk-Eagle, a bird from Thailand that had been found to be nesting on the archipelago. There had also been recent reports of Jerdon’s Baza and European Oriole, but they were only possibilities.

We stayed at the Berjaya resort on the western end of the island as it has some good rain-forest amongst the rooms and has easy access to the better birding areas.

We arranged for a morning (07:00 to 10:30) and evening session (17:00 – 22:00) with the guides and were met at the hotel at 07.30 on our first full day by Jimmy and Indra, and set off for the opposite end of the island to look for the Oriole. After 30 minutes driving we turned off down a tiny road and pulled up on the verge.

As soon as we alighted from the van, Indra said that he could hear the Oriole calling and after about 5 -10 minutes of searching (during which it stopped calling!) we saw the bird high up in a palm tree. Superb views of the bird (which was an immaculate male) were enjoyed, before he was joined by his mate and they gave us really close looks for about 15 minutes, before flying off into the distance. Olive-winged and Black-headed Bulbul, Orange-breasted Flowerpecker, White-fronted Kingfisher, Black-shouldered Kite, Brahminy Kite, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Greater Coucal, Blue-throated Bee-eater, and Crested Serpent Eagle all put on a show as well..

From the Oriole site (sworn to secrecy sorry), we were driven back towards Burau bay and stopped a rubber plantation near the road to Telok Datai. Once again as soon as we alighted from the van, we could hear the Pitta calling. I was amazed to find that the bird was 40 feet up a tree. I always imagined the Pitta as ground dwellers and had never thought to look above 6 foot for them before (not that I‘ve seen that many!) We had stunning views of 3 or maybe 4 different birds in the 30 minutes we were in the plantation, until it became clear that we were maybe a bit close to a nest site so we withdrew for roti and tea in a nearby roadside cafe. Good views of a Laced Woodpecker were had in the plantation as well.

Whilst we were there, Irshad Mobarak,  the ‘Legendary Jungle Wallah of Langkawi’ and owner of  Junglewalla, came by with an owl in a box. The bird had been found after flying into a window at the Datai hotel and was been taken to someone to care for it. After careful deliberation we decided that the bird was a Collared Scops Owl by virtue of the eye brows extending tip the tips of the horns.

Breakfast over we returned to the hotel and went for lunch.

At 2 o’clock we were asked if we would like to accompany the couple of Singaporean bird photographers who had been out with us in the morning, and then carry on with our own booking in the evening. We headed for various locations along the southwest coast around the airport to look for Oriental Pratincole and anything else that raised its head in the reed beds south of the airport and behind the newly constructed breakwater (good tidal pools here) We also for Plain-backed Sparrow in the rough ground between the terminal and the sea. Eventually we found one rather scruffy female sitting for all to see on a set of goal posts on a football field north of the airport.

The photographers amongst us has good shots of a Blue-throated Bee-Eater sitting on a lamp post along the airport perimeter road and we found a single Mongolian Plover on the tidal pool as well as Ruddy Breasted Crake.

In the evening after dropping the Singaporean couple back at the hotel, we headed for the mountain (Gunung Raya) in search of the elusive Mountain Hawk Eagle. First bird found on the road up to the summit was a very nice Chinese Goshawk who perched on top of a lamp post. Further on we had fleeting glimpses of both Wreathed and Great Hornbills coming back to the mountain to roost. About 6.5 km’s up the mountain we pulled over to the side as we could see hornbills in the trees on the other side of the valley and we witnessed one of the strangest sights I’ve ever seen whilst bird spotting.

A group of Wreathed Hornbill’s were fooling around in some bare trees when one of them dropped down and became wedged in a very acutely forked branch. The birds wings were one side of the fork and the feet and tail were the other side, with the feet pointing backwards. We watched for some 10 minutes as the bird struggled to get free itself, but it could lift itself out enough to get a purchase with its feet and seemed to be well and truly stuck. We were powerless to help as the tree was a long way up the slope through dense scrub, and we did not have a parang, and if we could have got to it, the bird was about 50 feet up it.

Numerous other Wreathed Hornbills gathered round and one particularly large male bird tried to assist the younger bird by flying up behind it and knocking into it, but it was not successful.

After a while the commotion aroused the interest of a large number of Great Hornbills who were loitering in the area, and they came over to investigate, and then drove the Wreathed Hornbills off and started to attack the trapped bird. Certainly one of the most bizarre birding incidents I’ve ever witnessed. Poor old Indra was getting quite upset by seeing the poor hornbill in such dire straits, but as I stated earlier we were powerless to do anything, and you have to ask whether it would have been ethically correct to interfere.

As light was fading and there was nothing we could do to help, we drove on up the mountain and successfully found the Mountain Hawk eagle about 8.5 – 9 kms up the summit road.

We drove back to the hotel in a somewhat sombre mood, which was a shame as the lads had found all our target birds (except the Brown-winged Kingfisher which we had seen at Kampong Klim and on the tidal pool behind the beach at the Berjaya, the day before) and deserved a huge pat on the back.

For anyone wishing to see the more unusual birds on Langkawi or anyone just wanting a good nature based day out, I would not hesitate to recommend the people at Junglewalla . They know their stuff and they also know a mean roti cafe for breakfast!

Mat Wilson :

I am the ‘Dad’ mentioned in Mat’s introduction, and I would like to endorse his praise for Jimmy and Indra. Their expertise and local knowledge of where to find the birds was invaluable, and the Black-Hooded Oriole stands out a mile, their being able to find on of the few pairs on the island, being truly remarkable. This was closely followed by the Mountain Hawk Eagle, which has only recently been acknowledged as existing in Langkawi. And finally I fully endorse Mat’s remarks on their choice of breakfast venue.

John Wilson: