de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2008). Malaysian Menagerie. Living. March-April 2008. Pages 36-37. Volume 03, Issue 04. ISSN 1800-0746.
Nature watching in Fraser’s Hill in the Malaysian highlands.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne goes birding at Fraser’s Hill
Someone should have told me that daybreak was at 7.00 am. I must have looked a bit foolish standing out in the car park, on my own in the dark at 6.00 am. Not that anyone would have seen me. The mist was as dense as a thick soup. If anyone was up they were in the kitchen, making the breakfast buffet of Mee Goreng, fried peanuts, bulls eye and other standard Malaysian culinary fare. The kitchen would have been a warmer bet, I thought as I shivered slightly in the cold.
I was hoping to witness one of Malaysia’s under-stated birding spectacles. The morning bird wave at the Jelai Highland Resort. The ‘resort’ is a small hotel set fairly high up in Fraser’s Hill. The area of Fraser’s Hill which has been developed is a miniature version of Nuwara Eliya. There are a few significant differences. The number of buildings are very small, there is much less rubbish strewn around, almost all of the buildings are old and quaint. Most importantly of all, it is set within pristine rainforest. I cannot think of a more fabulous site for birding in Asia. Its almost as if swathes of rainforest were juxtaposed on a small English village.
My wife Nirma and two daughters Maya and Amali continued to sleep whilst I silently suffered on my own. Nearly forty five minutes went by with only the rustle of leaves in mild wind. The mist swirled around occasionally giving me glimpses of trees silhouetted against a colourless sky. I had with me an excellent little book on the Birds of Frasers Hill by Morten Strange. According to this gem of a guide book, on a good morning one could see 20 to 30 species of birds. I was counting on him being right. The birds of Frasers Hill have got to know the Jelai Highland Resort for two reasons. Firstly, the resort’s lights act as moth traps and attract a good harvest of insects for them to feed on. Secondly, the resort puts out a few scraps of bread for those birds who have acquired a taste for bread.
A metallic clip clip announced the arrival of a Streaked Spiderhunter. It probed the flowers of an introduced Bottlebrush plant from Australia. It had a long down-curved beak which looks like a scimitar. It looked like a large scale version of the sunbirds which visit home gardens in the tropics. The minute hand crawled to the vertical and a faint light began to brighten up the dark sky from the east. A metallic protesting call came from overhead as a pair of Malaysian Cuckooshrikes announced the dawn of another day in the Malaysian Highlands. A beautiful repertoire of whistles, squeaks and belling calls came from the mid canopy. A Bronzed Drongo announced the morning bird wave was in progress. A lilting song of sweet notes and much flashing of white tails. A pair of courting White-spotted Faintails, a type of flycatcher.
A medley of churring, whinnying and whistles descended from the sky as a flock of birds with long tails arrived and flitted around. They seemed like an anxious party of shoppers who had arrived on the first day of the Christmas sale and were in a hurry to snap up the best bargains. These were the Long-tailed Sibias, best seen at Frasers Hill where they are one of the commonest birds. They soon made for the potted Bougainvillea confident of unearthing some bread crumbs. Joining them was a special bird from the Sunda region. The Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush. It can sing a series of musical bubbling notes. This morning it chose to take breakfast quietly. A large bird’s arrival caught my eye. It had a red beak and legs, a green body with a path of chestnut on the wings. A black mask across the face made it look like a highwayman. I had first seen a Green Magpie on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in South-east Asia. Mist had shrouded it in seconds, robbing me of a view of this incredible bird. Would it happen again?
This Green Magpie was habituated and soon descended landing on a small bush just a few feet away. It snapped up moths. A few hours later I watched another seizing a brightly coloured millipede which had rings of red. I soon found it hard to keep pace with the species which were turning up. Furtive Mountain Fulvettas, skulking Buff-breasted Warblers and Grey-throated Babblers and chipping Tailorbirds. From a nearby ridge I heard the whooping of a party of Gibbons. I knew it would be hoping for too much to catch up with them. But I expected to have better luck with finding a troop of another South-east Asian primate, the Long-tailed Macaque.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne is a corporate personality who is also a writer and photographer who popularizes wildlife. E-mail him at email@example.com to subscribe to his wildlife e-newsletter.