Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Taman Negara, Malaysia August 2014

Our 6 ½ week trip to Borneo and Malaysia continued with a visit to Taman Negara National Park in the Pahang region of the Malaysian Peninsular. It is known as being one of the oldest rain forests in the world (though there are much older forests in Australia) We arrived from Brunei into Kuala Lumpur Airport at about 8.00 pm, flying Air Asia, the "Ryan Air of the East". Dad was really worried that we would be charged extra for our hand luggage, but they were really nice and much better than Ryan Air, so maybe they are the "Easy Jet" of the East instead.

From Kuala Lumpur we got a taxi to the small town of Jerantut, where we were staying the night. It was past midnight when we got to bed and then had to be up and ready for our taxi on to Taman Negara at 6.00 am. We were all exhausted in the taxi and I caught up on my sleep. When Dad visited Taman Negara in the early 1990's you could only drive part of the way and then had to get a long boat trip to get to Taman Negara itself. Now the forest was much more accessible with huge numbers of tourists visiting. We were worried about the number of people and the amount of disturbance, which was not ideal but OK. Away from the main trails, it was quite quiet.

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig Taman Negara, Malaysia
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

We were staying at the Woodlands Hotel in Kuala Tahan and met by our guide, Lee Kok Chung at the hotel at 8.00 am. He had driven from KL that morning, which seemed crazy until I remembered that Dad did that kind of journey all the time when we went twitching.

Our hotel was a 15 minute walk from the river, where you had to get a very short boat across to the steps leading up Mutiara Lodge (where there are now 100 chalets) and then the trails into Taman Negara. There were lots of boat restaurants on the river, virtually all were terrible. We did find one that was not too bad and at least did lovely smoothies, which we stuck to.

We managed to get to the forest for about 9.00 am, walking the network of boardwalks. These meant that you could walk the paths more quietly and the birds could still get around underneath. 

A Young Birder's experience

It was the 27th August 2014 and we saw some really amazing birds even on our first day. On one track Lee and I saw a Malaysian Peacock-pheasant just at the side of the path. Mum and Dad missed it and whilst Lee was looking, he realized that the bird had been sitting on a nest just a couple of feet from the boardwalk. So we moved away and after waiting for a bit, then returned for us all to see this beautiful endemic pheasant.

Malaysian Peacock-pheasant nest, Taman Negara, Malaysia
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig 

That day we also saw the beautiful Raffles and Red-billed Malkoha, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher and Purple-napped Sunbird.  Another great bird we saw was a Chestnut-capped Thrush which circled around us for ages, before showing itself.  We also saw a lovely Mouse Deer, the only one of our trip.

On our second day, we had more views of the Peacock-pheasant as well as the near threatened Crested Fireback, which we saw a male, female and young walking close by us on the boardwalk before flying into trees for dusk. 

Crested Fireback, Taman Negara, Malaysia
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig 

Crested Fireback, Taman Negara, Malaysia
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig 

During that day we also saw the near threatened Black-bellied Malkoha, Red-throated Barbet, Green Broadbill, Finsch’s Bulbul.  We also saw Chestnut-naped Forktail and a White-necked Babbler both in a gully, showing really well which was amazingly lucky.

The biggest birds of the day were the ridiculously hard to see, but fantastic target species, Garnet Pitta and Malaysian Rail Babbler.  The pitta was really skulky and hard to see. Dad and I saw it OK, but Mum saw it quite briefly.  Both birds were great but the Rail Babbler was notoriously hard to catch up with and so a massive relief to see. 

We also heard three Giant Pitta, one of the hardest pitta species to see, across the water on the opposite bank from us.  They called and called but frustratingly didn't move into view.  We got a boat to the opposite bank the next morning, but didn't hear anything at all.

Gould's Frogmouth, Taman Negara, Malaysia
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

We evening we did some night birding and saw another Buffy Fish Owl and eventually a Gould’s Frogmouth, which we eventually heard after a  few hours and then finally saw. I also managed to see a Large Frogmouth, but it was sitting on the same branch as a Buffy Fish Owl, so when I tried to point it out, no one realized I was pointing at a different bird! 

Back at the lodge there was a tame Malayan Tapier coming in for food. Despite the signs saying "do not touch the wild animals", loads of people still thought it was OK to stroke it. That's tourists for you.

Malayan Tapier, Taman Negara, Malaysia
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

After a late night because of night birding, we were still up early again the next morning. As well as our daily views of the Malaysian Peacock-pheasant on it’s nest, we saw the near threatened Black Magpie, Large Wren-babbler and Rufous-crowned Babbler. We also went into a hide, where we saw a fantastic Malaysian Hawk-cuckoo and also met a British birder who had done huge amounts of Malaysian birding and was there to catch up with a few species. He told us that he had seen a Malaysian-banded Pitta near the Blau Hide, so we decided to try for one there the next day.

Malaysian Hawk-cuckoo, Taman Negara, Malaysia
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

At this stage it was getting dark and so we moved on, doing more night birding, when we also saw a Reddish Scops Owl.

Reddish Scops Owl, Taman Negara, Malaysia
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

The following day was the 30th August 2014 and we got a boat upriver to the Blau Hide area. It was a great boat trip as the river was really fast moving with lots of rapids, getting us all soaked! We also went past an aboriginal village which was astonishing to see, as I did not realize that the local indigenous tribes were the same ethnicity as those in Australia. Now all that is left is three villages, where once there were probably lots covering the whole peninsular.

Lots of people stay the night in the Blau Hide, but Mum had read that large jungle rats come in at night looking for food, so there was no way we could have got her near there at night. During our boat trip there, we saw a White-handed Gibbon sitting up in a tree. We had already seen two Bornean Gibbon at Kinabatangan River, but this was a different species and apparently was really rare.

White-handed Gibbon, Taman Negara, Malaysia
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

It was amazing around this area, seeing the near-threatened Grey-headed Fish-Eagle, Blue-rumped Parrot, beautiful Rhinoceros Hornbill, Buff-necked Woodpecker and Dark-throated Oriole.  Our main target was Malaysian-banded Pitta, which took us almost an hour to track down after hearing one.  Eventually, we got amazing views of it hopping around on the ground, out in the open.

Today was particularly bad for leeches and we were having to pull them off every 20 minutes or so, but we were used to them by now and so it didn't seem so bad.

As we continued along the track, we heard a Garnet Pitta. This was the pitta that Mum had got poor views of and so it was great to get brilliant views of this beautiful and shy pitta. Dad located it about 20 feet up in a tree, right out in the open and managed to get us all onto it.

On the way back to our boat, our guide, Lee, walked off the path as he thought he heard something.  He then had a fantastic view of a Malaysian-banded Pitta fly out from the bushes.  Lee went to look more closely and discovered a nest with three eggs a metre off the ground. It was quite unbelievable but we quickly moved away to make sure that we did not cause any disturbance. 

Malaysian-banded Pitta nest, Taman Negara, Malaysia
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

For the last couple of weeks of our trip, Dad had been asking Mum to check her flight ticket for the date and times. Mum being Mum did not bother as she was sure that we were flying on the 1st September and arriving home the same day, as we were going backwards in time. Then a couple of days before we were due to leave, she looked at her spreadsheet which clearly said that we were flying home on 1st September 2014 and but not arriving back on Tuesday 2nd September. That was not good news, as I was getting my brace fitted on Tuesday 2nd September and it meant that I would have no time to get sorted for school. Travelling with Mum is always unpredictable.

On the plus side, we could all go to Bukit Tinggi to try and see the Malaysian Partridge (that we missed in Bukit Fraser) and the Mountain Peacock-pheasant for Dad. The plan was then that Dad could stay the night there and we could go on to KL to catch our flight home.

Then on the evening of the 30th August, Mum found our tickets and it turned out that she and I were flying the next afternoon, a day earlier than she had thought. So we made a new plan that we would all head back the next day after a morning of birding in Taman Negara.  We would drop off Dad somewhere he could easily get a taxi to Bukit Tinggi for the Mountain Peacock-pheasant and then on to Fraser’s Hill, to stay the night and meet our first guide, Andrew Sebastian, early the next morning to try and see the Malaysian Whistling-thrush and Malaysian Partridge.

So the next morning, on the 31st August, we had a few hours of birding in Taman Negara when we saw the Malaysian Peacock-pheasant again as well as Scarlet-rumped Trogan, Orange-backed Woodpecker and Black-throated Babbler which were all new for the trip.

Larvae of Net-winged beetles (Trilobite larvae), Taman Negara, Malaysia
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig 

Larvae of Net-winged beetles (Trilobite larvae), Taman Negara, Malaysia
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig 

Our time at Taman Negara had been really enjoyable particularly with our brilliant and talented guide, Lee. He knew the park and it’s birds really well. We had a missed a call from Andrew Sebastian on our last evening but Mum didn't get hold of him until we were in the car on our way back. Andrew said he had just heard of a site for the very rare Crestless Fireback, but unfortunately the gen was was too late for us!  Hopefully, next time.

We then set off for Kuala Lumpur Airport, dropping Dad on the way.

Dad did see a Mountain Peacock-pheasant disappearing into vegetation at Bukit Tinggy before getting a taxi to Bukit Fraser.  However, he could not stay in Bukit Fraser because it turned out to be a bank holiday and everywhere was full. He did then get to Bukit Fraser the next day hoping for a couple of days of birding. He saw endemic Malaysian Whistling-thrush and also the Malaysian Partridge that we had missed. It was a bit frustrating that we could not look for the Partridge because Mum had got our dates mixed up! We'll have to do a day trip to Fraser's Hill from KL airport, when we are transiting there at some point in the future.

Malaysian Whistling Thrush, Bukit Fraser, Malaysia
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig 

After that, Dad ended up having to bird on the back of a moped because Andrew’s car broke down. With everything stacked against him, he decided to give up and head off to meet our friend from the village, David Hewitt in Singapore, for a night out in Raffles Hotel.

Meanwhile, Lee dropped us at the airport, so that we were able to catch our flight to Singapore. Mum wanted to leave the airport to also visit Raffles Hotel, but I was worried we would miss our connecting flight so put my foot down and said no! During our journey back, we had quite a few hours in transit in Helsinki Airport, but found a Starbucks with fast wifi, which we stayed at for the whole time.

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig Helsinki Airport, Finland
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

On the plus side, we got home on the 1st September and I could get to my orthodontist appointment the next day to get my brace fitted (although Mum made us late – but that’s another story).

About the writer

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on Scilly
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

Mya-Rose Craig is a 12 year old young birder, conservationist, writer and speaker.    She is based near Bristol and writes the successful Birdgirl Blog, with posts about birding and conservation from around the world.  She has recently been listed with the singer songwriter George Ezra and actress Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones as one of Bristol's most influential young people.  Please like her Birdgirl Facebook Page and follow her on Birdgirl Twitter


  1. Leeches!
    Fabulous blog as ever Mya.Rose and as for your Mum's organisation skills, it brought back a memory of when my late wife organised the family holiday to Florida. We got to Sanford airport to find that the apartment was booked three days hence and there was no hire car. It's great reading your adventures Mya.Rose. All the best, Gary

    1. Thanks Gary, yes Mum says that there might be something in common between your wife and Mum??

  2. Mya-Rose, may I know how much to hire Mr Lee as a package?


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