Monday, 18 August 2014

Birding near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia July 2014

Day 3, Monday 21st July 2014:

On the flight from Helsinki to Bankok, Mum and I both managed to get some sleep, not having to worry about food, since there were no vegetarian meals on board for us.  In Thailand, we did not have time to leave the airport, so we did a lot of sitting around reading, grabbing some Thai soup for breakfast, sleeping and doing our Finnish list. Next up: Kuala Lumpur (known as KL), Malaysia.


Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig multi-tasking in Bankok
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig
As we had a bit of sleep, we entered KL immigration feeling slightly refreshed.  That feeling quickly evaporated during the hour wait to get through.  I think most of the immigration officers were taking time off because of Ramadan, the month of fasting.
After that we went to collect our bags, thinking that they would have been out for ages by then.  However, we were wrong.  The status said that they had only jut started putting bags out.   So, after another hour of waiting with some other people who also didn’t have their bags either, we gave up and went to report that they were both missing.
Once we had filled in lots of forms and described our bags, we went to meet our guide for the next two days, Andrew Sebastian.  It was 4 pm by then and we were supposed to meet him at 2 pm.  Andrew was quite tall and looked Indian but with a load of heritages as well including Portuguese and Chinese.  It was the start of my understanding that Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures. 
As we turned up so late, our afternoon of birding had to be cancelled and all we had time to do was quickly go to Bukit Melawati, Kuala Salangor and bird there for half an hour.  There were two species of monkeys on the side of the road and on the lamp posts.  There were the cute and friendly  Silver-leafed Monkeys and the more vicious looking  Long-tailed Macaques, both of which were being fed by tourists.  Even though we only had a short time, we still managed to see Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Oriental Pied Hornbill and Pacific Swift.
We then checked into our hotel, had a quick Indian meal before going out for the evening owling, to try and see Buffy Fish Owl.  We tried for 2 hours in all the usual haunts with no luck, but heard a distant Oriental Scops Owl.  At one point, we saw something run into some long grass.  We all ran to where the “something” had been and Andrew pointed to some scat on the path. Andrew, who knows a lot about mammals, snakes as other reptiles, immediately called “Leopard Cat”.  We all turned to look in the direction that the animal had gone, in the long grass.  Andrew and the ranger who had come with us, both pointed their heavy duty torches in the direction of the cat, following it as it moved through.  Then, suddenly, and a bit expectantly we saw a Leopard Cat run out of the grass and across a path, giving us all fantastic views.  All thoughts of the owl were momentarily forgotten!
We then tried one last place and heard the owl calling.  Andrew went into the mangroves to try and call it in, when 10 minutes later the ranger saw it whilst standing a couple of metres away from us.  We were so frustrated that Mum and I surprised Andrew, by following him into the mangrove forest.  However, we still had no luck and eventually made it to bed at 11.00 pm, which in retrospect didn’t help our jetlag.

Day 4, Tuesday 22nd July 2014:

Our first full day of birding was a later start than we would have liked, but general lack of sleep had caught up with us.  We went to straight to Kuala Selangor Nature Reserve, to do some mangrove forest birding.  We climbed a couple of platforms for birding from, which Mum held onto tight, as they swayed a little.  I told myself that was the design and not a building flaw.  Despite getting there at 8.00 am, we still saw a load of birds including Sunda Pygmy and Laced Woodpeckers, Mangrove Blue Flycatcher and Brown-throated Sunbird which were all new for me.  Andrew was really good company and really looked after us, which was a lovely start to our trip.
Our next destination was to meet a local guide, Durai, in Bukit Fraser, a hill station great for birding, two hours from KL.  However, Andrew called him and said we were going to be late.  He then took us on a detour to Bukit Tinggi, another hill station, for a very special bird.  He explained that the Mountain Peacock-pheasant used to be an impossible to see bird, one of only four birds endemic to Peninsular Malaysia.  Then about six months ago, some photographers started feeding them mealworm in the same location.  I told him that the same thing had happened in South America with Antpittas and worked well.  
Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig birding at Bukit Tinggy, Malaysian Peninsular
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig and Andrew Sebastian birding
at Bukit Tinggy, Malaysian Peninsular
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig
Andrew then took us to the top of a trail and poured water onto the ground to make it sound like he was spreading food.  We then sat on some well positioned logs and waited for only 10 minutes, before they came in.  We saw a pair briefly cross the path before two young birds wandered about for some time, just in front of us.  I even managed to get a couple of photographs on my I-pod.
Mountain Peacock-pheasant, Bukit Tinggy, Malaysian Peninsular
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Mountain Peacock-pheasant, Bukit Tinggy, Malaysian Peninsular
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
On a high from our first endemic of the trip, Andrew took us to Bukit Fraser, for the next part of our trip.

Travel to Malaysia via Helsinki, Finland

I am going to apologise now for my very, very late post. I have no reasons except that mum has been hogging my laptop every time we have had internet and I have had absolutely no time to write it.  But it is all in the past now, so let us forgive, forget and read.
Day 1, Saturday 19th July 2014:

We are not even in Malaysia yet and things have been going wrong:

1.   We let mum plan the trip;

2.   Dad went for a 3 week birding trip to West Papua and left us to get sorted;

3.   I let mum pack;

4.   A Malaysian Airplane had been shot down 2 days earlier, making our friends and family a little more nervous than usual; and

5.   We were leaving in two hours to get the coach from Bristol to Heathrow, to catch the plane, and mum still needed to pack the bags.

I think I have mentioned before that Mum is always late? Today was no exception.  When my big sister, Ayesha, arrived to give us a lift to the coach station, we were nowhere near packed.  Ayesha helped Mum chuck everything into two large holdalls. 
The following was the result of us leaving 30 minutes later than we were supposed to.  We raced to Bristol being driven by a stressed Ayesha with her children in the back, but then got stuck in traffic. After an agonising 20 minutes of crawling to the bus station, we were way too late to catch the coach.  
Mum went inside and confirmed that there was another coach we could catch to Heathrow. So we waited outside for a while before giving the kids big kisses.  Then, after insisting that the weight in the two bags be redistributed, Ayesha helped us to take all the bags inside and grabbed a seat for me.  Mum then went to get our tickets, but came back 5 minutes later looking “annoyed”.  Apparently the ticket person had told her all about the coach, but had forgotten to mention that it was sold out.
Luckily Ayesha had waited to check everything was OK and so we could get her to drive us over to the train station.  Mum went to get tickets but came back a few minutes later and told us we could get a train that left in 10 minutes. The problem? The platform was on the other side of the station and we couldn’t carry our bags up and down the steps in that time. Also, we would have to carry all our bags across Reading Station.
Then after 5 minutes of debating/time wasting as to whether Ayesha could drive us with the kids in tow, we decided to get a taxi. It was now almost 4 pm and we had to get there by 6pm for our 7.30 pm flight.  The taxi driver knocked a bit off the extortionate station fixed price, if we met him outside the station   He then drove like a mad man to get us to the airport with 10 minutes to spare.  He was worth his weight in gold.  He seemed a lot more worried about us missing our flight than Mum, who was fast asleep the whole journey! 
Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig relaxing CLOSE to Departure Gate
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig
As Mum booked our airline tickets really late, we had lots of flights to get to Malaysia. First Stop: Helsinki, Finland - not strictly en-route.

Day 2, Sunday 20th July 2014:

We arrived in Helsinki an hour late at 1 o’clock in the morning. The airport hotel that we booked had said they were going to send us a car.  So we waited, and waited, and waited, until we had enough and got a taxi. When we got to the hotel, we were told that the airport shuttle stopped at 1.00 am, but had not told us.  After all that, it was 2.15 am before I got to bed.

Later we got up at 3.30 am to get ready and meet our bird guide, Juha Lindsey, at 4 am. Or we tried to.  Mum was up until 3.00 am and I just refused to get up. But in the end we managed to get down there for 4.15 am. Mum and I then grabbed a quick breakfast before setting out.  It’s funny, breakfast at 4.15 am was strangely full.

We first drove to a forest close to the city and birded there for several hours. We unfortunately didn’t manage to see much because it was late July and most birds were post breeding and very quiet. We did hear a Black Woodpecker calling for some time, but unfortunately we didn’t see it (a shame as it would have been a new world bird for me). It was a bit weird walking through the forest, as it looks almost like one in the Highlands of Scotland. Also a lot of the birds were the same too, we saw plenty of blue tits, great tits and black birds.
That afternoon Juha took us to a ringing (banding) location near the coast, where we saw lots of birds, including Thrush Nightingale, Nightingale and Blyth’s Reed Warbler all within about 10 minutes of each other. That was really special, even if the birds were not new. Juha had an Icterine Warbler briefly which we didn’t see, which was another blow as it again would have been a lifer. It would be great go back at a better time of year and do some ringing of these fantastic birds.
Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig with Juha Lindsey, Helsinki, Finland
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig
We then had to leave early afternoon, to catch our plane to Thailand. Helsinki Airport was strange as they have a lot of passengers transiting through, but nothing to eat except sandwiches.  Mum finally managed to get me some chips in a sports bar, which was organised of her, as we our promised veggie food did not appear on our remaining flights.