Thursday, 22 December 2016

Day 8, Last day at Bukit Fraser...

Bukit Fraser - 1st December, 2016

Stephen's Place on the Telegraph Loop at Fraser's Hill is a special place. Nigel told me before-hand that it was and I can see why. Stephen Hogg started up the B&B a few years ago along with his wife Salmhia. Today they are ably assisted by their two young boys as well - Adam and Daniel. When you stay at Stephen's Place you really are staying in their home - sharing the comfy sofas with them, watching tv with them and eating delicious home-cooked meals at their dining room table, you are made to feel like part of the family. Prior to his life as a trailblazing B&B owner (B&B isn't a well known concept in Malaysia), he was a wildlife photographer, cameraman and film maker often called upon whenever filming in Southeast Asia was required. He's worked on any number of well known wildlife documentary series including Nigel's own 'Ten Deadliest Snakes -Malaysia', as well as for the BBC, ABC Australia and National Geographic to name but a few and is still one of the country's top wildlife photographers. The B&B only accepts like-minded people who are seriously interested in wildlife so you can always guarantee good conversation with the host and other guests. What more could you ask for? This is definitely the place to stay when visiting Fraser's Hill.

So it was our last full day to explore Fraser's Hill before leaving Malaysia. Nigel and I met up and set out early to make the most of the first few hours birding. We had already decided to walk the Telegraph Loop road - Stephen's Place sits at the top of this 4 km loop and just walking around the road can offer some of the best birding in Fraser's Hill. The weather was a little murky and intermittent rain showers swept through but they didn't last too long. Initially a little quiet, we soon started picking up little groups of Mountain Fulvettas moving noisily through the dense under-storey and a few calls we didn't recognise. It was wonderful having a guide but when you're thrown in at the deep end on your own, you soon learn to recognise birds as you see them. Luckily Nigel was more familiar with them than me and was very adept at identifying the commoner birds by call too.

The weather on Fraser's changes very rapidly.
Mountain Fulvetta, not an easy bird to photograph
Our list started to build and we soon added Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Golden Babbler, Long-tailed Sibia, Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush, Fire-tufted Barbet, Little Pied Flycatcher and another Rufous-browed Flycatcher.

Mountain Imperial Pigeon
After the first couple of waves it went quiet again and we continued to head down the loop. As we reached an open corner of the road a vista appeared allowing you to see for miles across the hillsides. A pair of Little Cuckoo Doves flitted around the top of a fruiting tree at eye level and a group of Siamang hollered and moved through the canopy about half-a-mile in front of us giving good views. Fraser's Hill is a very special place.

Little Cuckoo Dove
View from the Telegraph Loop

Enjoying the view and the Siamang below
Towards the bottom of the loop we saw a Crimson-winged Woodpecker before turning the corner and making our way back up to Stephen's Place for a late breakfast, we planned to walk the loop again later, As we approached the house a gorgeous male Mugimaki Flycatcher pitched up in the garden before disappearing as quickly as it had arrived and the 300 strong colony of Glossy Swiftlets that make Stephen's garage their home, came piling out to make the most of the insects brought out by the rain.

Glossy Swiftlets
Closer view

After our late breakfast I spent some time in the garden watching the Black-throated Sunbirds and was rewarded with a Mountain Tailorbird, Javan Cuckooshrike and Buff-breasted Babbler, then we got to see these beauties in Stephen's garden...

Oriental Vine Snake Ahaetulla prasina
Showing its horizontal pupil
Oriental Vine Snake Ahaetulla prasina
The markings on the neck appear when agitated
as it puffs its throat and neck out.
Oriental Vine Snake Ahaetulla prasina
As thin as your little finger, very delicate snake.
Oriental Vine Snake Ahaetulla prasina

Vine snakes are rear-fanged and mildly venomous Colubrids, unlikely to cause any major symptoms unless you were allergic to the venom. It would take some effort to envenomate a human, first getting a good hold on a hand or finger and then chewing on the bite site to get venom into the victim. Their normal prey consists of geckos and frogs.

You wouldn't really want to get bitten by this though, not deadly but it would spoil your day...a fantastic male Popeia fucata (synonym: Trimeresurus fucatus) or Siamese Peninsular Pitviper.

Siamese Peninsular Pitviper Popeia fucata, male
Siamese Peninsular Pitviper Popeia fucata, male
Siamese Peninsular Pitviper Popeia fucata, male
Below is the female, she lacks the well defined markings of the male but often has a white or pale lateral line instead. This one was pretty much as big as they get and she was grumpy too, perhaps because she was just completing her slough!

Siamese Peninsular Pitviper Popeia  fucata, female
Siamese Peninsular Pitviper Popeia  fucata, female
Siamese Peninsular Pitviper Popeia  fucata, female
Portrait of the above snake.
Siamese Peninsular Pitviper Popeia  fucata, female
They are quick to strike and have a surprisingly long reach, so you have to be a bit cautious when getting photos. They have relatively long fangs which can deliver venom deep into the hand/digit (being mostly arboreal they are more likely to be encountered on branches or foliage waiting for prey and hence it's usually the hands that get bitten). Their venom is primarily haemotoxic, destroying components of the blood and causing local swelling and pain. There is often blistering and secondary infection can result in gangrene and the loss of the effected finger or thumb.

Also in the garden were several noisy Streaked Spiderhunters too.

Streaked Spiderhunter
Streaked Spiderhunter

On our second lap of the Loop we added a few extra species including this lovely male Orange-bellied Leafbird, Verditer Flycatcher a nice Speckled Piculet and a White-throated Fantail doing what they do best.

Orange-bellied Leafbird, male
Rain-drenched Verditer Flycatcher
White-throated Fantail - poor record shot
Oriental Magpie Robin, female
Also found this unusual Polydesmida Flatback Millipede - an amazing little creature.

Flatback Millipede

Striped Blue Crow on its last legs.

We finished our second lap and headed back to the house for dinner. We wanted to make the most of our last day and Stephen was taking us out for more rarities later along with his son Adam.

We set out once more just after 8pm. Now dark, it was time to try and find a real Fraser's Hill speciality...Coremiocnemis hoggi, a fantastic tarantula named in honour of Stephen Hogg, who spent years studying, photographing and filming this previously unknown species. To be more precise Stephen and his wife spent two years travelling three-times-a-week between Kuala Lumpur (where they were living at the time) and Fraser's Hill, where they would spend the entire night studying the spiders before the two-hour drive back to KL in time for work! That's dedication for you. To see them properly they have to be tricked out of their burrows by imitating insect prey walking close by - this is where Adam comes into his own - he's chief spider tickler.

Coremiocnemis hoggi - best ID feature are the hairy back legs.

This is a sizeable spider which would fill the palm of your hand. We found about a dozen or more but sadly they are becoming rarer as they are regularly dug out of their burrows to be collected and sold as pets - as a species we are truly greedy and abhorrent at times! Even rarer though (and sadly for the same reason) is this incredible Trap-door Spider...

Adam deftly unveiling a Trap-door Spider
These are declining fast and there is currently no enforceable protection to help them. Both of these particular spiders appeared on Nigel's '10 Deadliest Snakes' programme (season two) about Malaysia as well as Sir David Attenborough's Life in the Undergrowth series (season 1, episode 3).

Short video (no sound)

We weren't quite finished though. As Stephen and Adam left us to our own devices, Nigel and I continued on in search of snakes. Unfortunately we didn't get lucky with snakes but we did find a couple of nice large millipedes.

Millipede sp. Fraser's Hill
A rare and beautiful Malaysian Jewel Centipede (Scolopendra)
Unfortunately these are also taken and sold as pets
reaching crazy prices on the open market.
Back at Stephen's Place the moth trap was running and there were many species present on the large sheet. Stephen has recorded over 2,800 species just in his garden!! This beauty stood out though, by literally overshadowing the rest.

Silk moth sp.
Silk moth sp. with hand for comparison
With that, our Malaysian adventure was over. After a few hours sleep we were driven back to Kuala Lumpur International Airport by one of Stephen's neighbours and off our separate ways. What a great trip we had.

I'd highly recommend Craghoppers Nosilife clothing, which helped to keep me bite free throughout the entire trip, Lifesystem repellants and sun lotion and of course my trusty Nikon P900 which could be relied on for any situation. My thanks also to Wilbur Goh and Andrew Sebastian who are both superb bird guides and I would highly recommend either of them to anyone planning a visit to Malaysia.

I must also mention the great Nigel Marven for inviting me along - if you haven't checked out Nigel's website yet you really should. You can also follow him on Twitter @NigelMarven and keep an eye out for his shows on Eden Channel and National Geographic. Nigel's next series of Ten Deadliest Snakes starts in the New Year on Nat Geo Wild.

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