Follow in Nigel's Footsteps

Malaysia Field Trip 24 November - 03 December 2016

Participants: Roger Harris, Nigel Marven, Wilbur Goh, Azri Mohd Hussain, Andrew J. Sebastian (Fraser's Hill only).

The following is a compilation of posts made immediately after the trip had finished and were originally published individually on the main blog pages in the days and weeks that followed...

I've just been fortunate enough to accompany tv zoologist, producer, birder and fellow herper, Nigel Marven on a short tour to explore the diverse wildlife of Peninsular (West) Malaysia. Visiting a country that's so ecologically diverse with such esteemed company is a truly awesome experience and a great honour - thanks for the invite Nigel! The posts that follow will cover our week-long trip, starting with one of the oldest rainforests on earth, Taman Negara and finishing on the cooler montane slopes of Bukit Fraser (or Fraser's Hill) to the Northeast of Kuala Lumpur. Both are birding hot-spots and offer a wide variety of other wildlife too.

Malaysia
Malaysia is home to over 700 species of birds (not to mention it's wealth of mammals, plants, insects, reptiles and amphibians), below is a map to outline the area I've been visiting with Nigel. My trip was to Peninsular (West) Malaysia but Malaysia also occupies part of the island of Borneo to the east.

Map of Peninsular Malaysia.
Thailand and Cambodia to the north and Sumatra to the south. It sits in the South China Sea.
The two areas visited in Peninsular
Malaysia - Taman Negara and Fraser's Hill

Day 1: 23/24 November 2016
My journey started with a routine 13-hour flight from London to Kuala Lumpur (KL) with British Airways on one of their new Boeing 787 Dreamliner services, which got me in to KL around 15:50 local time (Malaysia is +8 hours GMT). I transferred to the comfortable surroundings of the Sama Sama Hotel (formerly the Pan Pacific), which is attached to the airport terminal by a glass walkway. I had my first Malaysian bird tick whilst walking through this walkway, a 1st winter Asian Glossy Starling, which appeared to have stunned itself against the glass wall.

1st winter Asian Glossy Starling, Kuala Lumpur. Taken on my smartphone.
It was from the hotel that I met up with Nigel and where we were due to meet our birding guide from Junglewalla Tours the following morning. But for now, it was time to rest and start getting use to the 30° heat and humidity. A bit of late afternoon birding from the window of my room yielded more new birds - a pair of White-throated Kingfishers, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Pacific Swallow and a nice mixed flock of Common and Javan Mynas.

Common Mynas were always a bit distant and not as common as
their Javan cousins.
A very distant White-throated Kingfisher in the hotel garden
 just before dusk
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Javan Myna, cheeky little birds.
Just a taste of what's to come...

Day 2: 25 November, 2016 - Taman Negara

An early start from the Sama Sama Hotel this morning.  We met our bird guide Wilbur Goh and his colleague Azri Mohd Hussain from Junglewalla Tours in the hotel lobby and set off for Taman Negara National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 5 hours drive to the northeast of Kuala Lumpur. Covering an area of more than 4000 km2. Taman Negara is lowland primary rain forest and is considered to be one of the world's oldest, estimated to have been here for 130 million years!

To reach our target we had to pass around Kuala Lumpur and avoid the morning rush hour (hence the early start). Two hours after skirting the city we made a quick breakfast stop for the best locally made Roti at a small roadside cafe, where Pacific Swallows,  Barn Swallows and unidentified swiftlets whizzed around overhead as we ate. From here we moved a short distance to the Krau Wildlife Reserve at Bukit Rengit where the birding began in earnest.

Upon arrival at the toll exit parking point I immediately had more bird ticks - a pair of beautiful Black-thighed Falconets closely followed by Pink-necked Pigeon, Spotted Dove and Oriental Magpie Robin.

The diminutive Black-thighed Falconet - not much bigger than a budgerigar
Black-thighed Falconet
A couple of miles further on we pulled over to the side of the road and added Black-naped Oriole and Crested Goshawk to a rapidly expanding list. A short distance on again we got out to walk a stretch of quiet road known for its good variety of species. It certainly didn't disappoint and we quickly added Blue-throated Bee-eater, Dark-throated Oriole, Crested Serpent Eagle, Purple-naped Spiderhunter, Crimson-winged Woodpecker, Gray and Buff Woodpecker, Ferruginous Babbler, Red-rumped Trogon and many more. The highlight though was undoubtedly the appearance of a female Banded Pitta, so bright it's amazing how it manages to stay hidden even at close range!

The habitat around Krau holds a huge variety of species.
Black-naped Oriole: R. Harris
Ferruginous Babbler, a very confiding individual
Ferruginous Babbler: R. Harris 
White-rumped Shama - picked up by their noisy calls
Banded Pitta, female - very difficult to photograph as it moved unseen
across the jungle floor. Better binocular views thankfully.
Krau Wildlife Reserve
Red-billed Malkoha 
Subtle! This guy doesn't want visitors.
Nigel Marven and bird guide Wilbur Goh at Krau.
The fenced off area is set to hold tigers at some point in the future.
The journey to Taman Negara took another 3 hours. Instead of joining the tourist boat from Jerantut (which adds another 3 hours to the journey), we headed straight for Kuala Tahan by road, which sits opposite the Mutiara Resort across the Tembeling River. The journey was completed by a short river boat transfer but the day was far from over.
View across the Tembeling River from Kuala Tahan
The place to catch the river ferry.
A quick ferry ride and we were at the Mutiara
After settling into our chalets we reconvened to explore the trails close to the resort. Noisy Oriental Magpie Robins were everywhere and Asian Fairy Bluebirds moved between the trees. The Tahan hide and nearby boardwalks produced (among others) a stunning Black-and-red Broadbill, Long-billed Spiderhunter, Raffle's Malkoha, Grey-breasted Bulbul and Scarlet-rumped Trogon. The variety was added to by a troup of Long-tailed Macaques and a lovely Clouded Monitor which wandered through the resort grounds as we returned. What a day!


Inside my chalet - clean and comfortable, it even had air con!
The Tehan Hide, Mutiara Taman Negara
View from the Tahan Hide
Wilbur Goh, bird guide extraordinaire
for Junglewalla Tours
Just off the boardwalks, impenetrable jungle
Asian Fairy Bluebird - much more pretty if seen from above.
Black-and-red Broadbill, one of my favourite birds
Oriental Magpie Robin, female
Oriental Magpie Robin, female
The lowland rainforest is a hot and humid place, you don't stop sweating from the minute you leave your air conditioned room. Once you get your head around the fact that you are just going to be ringing wet with sweat the entire day you soon forget about it and get on with the task in hand. Back at the chalet a Clouded Monitor was scratching around looking for food and getting harassed by Long-tailed Macaques - the first reptile of the trip. Great way to round off a great day.

Clouded Monitor Varanus nebulosus
Clouded Monitor Varanus nebulosus

Clouded Monitor, Mutiara Taman Negara

Long-tailed Macaque
Long-tailed Macaque

Day 3, Taman Negara National Park - 26 November 2016

Map showing the area around the Mutiara Resort, Taman Negara
Every morning we were greeted by Oriental Magpie Robins,
easily the commonest bird.
Proper rainforest. The clouds could descend one minute
only to vanish again the next.
Everything near the river floats, even the restaurants.
After an early breakfast we set off south along the Tembeling River by boat to Pengkalan Belau, where we jumped ashore and joined the trail towards the Blau Hide. Before disembarking we had my first new bird of the day in the shape of a lone Black Hornbill, which perched just long enough for a poor photo record. 
Brief views of a Black Hornbill - 1st tick of the day!
Having rained heavily the night before the trails were muddy and it wasn't long before the leeches started emerging and our guide Wilbur was the first to find one on his lower leg. My spray had worked and I avoided being a meal - although not harmful the bite site itches and I counted myself lucky to avoid them. We were also extra fortunate to be the only people walking the trail that day as it had been recently closed and access had only been granted to the four of us.

Boat ride along the Tembeling River, Taman Negara

Although the birding was slow to begin with it soon started to pick up with species such as Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Raffles's and Black-bellied Malkoha, Yellow-bellied and Gray-cheeked Bulbul and the amazing Black-and-yellow Broadbill. However the bird we were all after (but didn't expect to see) was the Crested Jay. We had three of these magnificent birds, with there machine gun like calls and huge crests, flying around us and occasionally, though briefly, showing well - unusual for this notoriously difficult species. This wasn't the most difficult bird of the day though - that title goes to the Large Wren Babbler, a very elusive, skulker which took ages to show. All the more satisfying when you've seen it though.

Pair of Yellow-bellied Bulbuls
Greater Coucal
Greater Racquet-tailed Drongo
Difficult terrain to bird in. After a few days of this
you get lots of stiff necks.
Progress is not helped by this - rattan is a constant reminder
that you have to keep your eyes open on the trails or
you get a very nasty surprise.
Around 150ft tall these enormous trunks drive
straight up before leafy branches reach out from
the very tops.
Back at the Mutiara a quick look for the Crested Fireback at the campsite revealed a few Bulbuls and Spiderhunters but no fancy pheasant. This is supposed to be one of the best places to see this rare bird but it's so far eluded us. There were a few nice butterflies drinking from the path though:
Campsite at Mutiara Taman Negara
Fivebar Swordtail
Common Jay
Malayan Baron looking a bit worse for wear
Magpie Crow
In the afternoon we walked from the resort towards Lubok Simpon and added Spectacled and Gray-breasted Spiderhunters to the list along with Stripe-throated Bulbul, Sooty-Capped Babler, House Swift and Black-naped Monarch.

The boardwalk towards Lubok Simpon

A pair of Black and Red Broadbills hiding in the canopy
Lubok Simpon - Blue-banded Kingfisher territory.
Although it looked like a great spot, unfortunately there was still no Blue-banded Kingfisher to be seen.

Taman Negara National Park - 27 November, 2016

Day 4 of my trip to Malaysia with Nigel Marvin and we were off on a early morning boat trip northeast along the Sungai Tahan, a tributary river off the Tembeling River. Our aim was to see more great birds but we particularly wanted to catch up with the not-so-easy-to-see Blue-banded Kingfisher. We didn't have to wait long before a fly-by bird shot past and promptly vanished from sight. Hopefully we would catch up with it later. The Stork-billed Kingfisher on-the-other-hand was far more showy and gave fantastic views as we motored past, closely followed by our first good views of a Lesser Fish Eagle.

Stork-billed Kingfisher - a bird I've always wanted to see.
A shy Lesser Fish Eagle
Soon after the eagle our third species of kingfisher appeared - the stunning Black-capped Kingfisher. Would love to have got photos of it but it never settled for long, what a gorgeous bird it is though.

Trees arching across the river.
Wilbur in the front...
Nigel at the back, enjoying his birthday trip
Which just leaves me in the middle.
We travelled a little further and then put ashore so that we could walk the Tabing Trail to the bird hide. Maroon and Great Slaty Woodpeckers were heard but not seen as was a Banded Broadbill. More obliging were Green Iora, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, a pair of Olive-winged Bulbuls, Cream-vented Bulbul and the star of the morning, a male Tickell's Blue Flycatcher.

Note: It had rained in the night and the trail was very muddy. When it rained it really rained hard...


This way to the hide...
Tabing Trail, leech heaven after the rain.
Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, male

We headed back to the Mutiara for a celebratory Magnum (the ice-cream, not Champagne) and a quick lunch break. Less than 20 minutes into lunch Wilbur came knocking on our doors, he'd just seen a Crested Fireback on the boardwalk to the Tahan Hide! A few expletives later and I was running for the boardwalk. A bare-foot Nigel who'd been enjoying his lunch break when forced to scramble, wasn't far behind us but despite a thorough search of the boardwalk it had vanished back into the jungle. We decided to recoup and meet at the hide to continue with the afternoon's birding.

Giant Millipede - 12 inches long
Clouded Monitor Varanus nebulosus
Brown-throated Sunbird, female
Another circuit of the boardwalk was productive with a female Red-naped Trogon, Black and Red Broadbill, Grey-and-Buff Woodpecker, Chestnut-winged, Scaly-crowned and (a very elusive) Black-throated Babbler as well as a party of Bar-bellied Cuckooshrikes. We also picked up some beautiful butterflies and unusual insects.

Chocolate Soldier butterfly
The very pretty Red Harlequin
A pair of unusual Lantern Bugs
Pyrops pyrorhynchus
Red-naped Trogon, female
Unusual Trilobite Beetle, 2 inches long
Enormous winged tree seed - bigger than the average Sycamore!

Asian Elephant footprint. Saw plenty of damage where
they'd been and heard them in the distance but never saw one.
Grey-and-Buff Woodpecker

We decided to head along a different trail towards the Canopy Walkway (unfortunately closed while we were there), passing huge stands of Bamboo and giant trees along the way. This route yielded a pair of Buff-necked Woodpeckers, Abbott's and Gray-cheeked Babblers and a small flock of Brown Barbets. On the return leg we also lucked-in on a Greater Mouse Deer close to the path but too shy for a photo and a female Purple-naped Spiderhunter, who wasn't shy at all.

Bamboo thicket on the Canopy Walkway trail.
Me next to a giant Tetrameles nudiflora.
The roots form enormous buttresses around the base.
Poor record shot of the female Buff-necked Woodpecker
Purple-naped Spiderhunter, female.
She was happily bathing in the hollowed out stump
about 5ft away from us.
As the light started to fade we headed back to the resort for an early dinner so that we could join a night safari. Nigel had read about one from a previous trip report and Azri and Wilbur made short work of setting us up with a trip for 8:30pm that evening. We had to meet the vehicle back across the Tembeling River in Kuala Tahan so we took a river boat across for MYR1:00 each (about 20p) and boarded a Toyota pickup.

With the four of us in the back and a guy on the roof operating a large spotlight, we set off to various locations around the outskirts of the town. First stop was for a pair of Barn Owls closely followed by a Common Civet and then a Slow Loris! Things were looking good - none of us had expected too much from this but we were pleasantly surprised. As the vehicle did a U-turn to move off, a Leopard Cat could be seen sitting a bout 5 meters away just staring at us! It suddenly realised that it was in the spotlight and ran off into the scrub. By the end of the evening we had amassed 2 Leopard Cats, 2 Slow Loris, 2 Red Giant Flying Squirrels and a number of Savannah Nightjars, who seemed to prefer the rocky banks close to the road.

Savannah Nightjar
Savannah Nightjar

What a great way to finish the day.

Day 5, Taman Negara National Park - 28 November 2016

Day 5 of my Malaysian birding/herping trip with the great Nigel Marven (@Nigelmarven). We decided to take to the water once again today in the hope of seeing the Blue-banded Kingfisher and once more headed north along the Sungai Tahan river before drifting back with the current to Kuala Tahan. Within minutes we had a tantalising fly-by bird heading in the opposite direction, now we wanted to get one perched up. Unlike the showy Stork-billed Kingfisher the Blue-banded was more of a skulker, sitting underneath overhanging canopy within a meter of the water surface. It wasn't going to be easy.

Stork-billed Kingfisher - if only they were all this obliging!
In better light today.
We soon started to rack up the species list with another Lesser Fish-Eagle, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Raffles's and Red-billed Malkohas, Gray-rumped Treeswift, Whiskered Treeswift, Blue-throated Bee-eaters, Small Spiderhunter, White-chester Babbler, Black Magpie and the ever decreasing Straw-headed Bulbul, frequently collected for the pet trade.

Straw-headed Bulbul
As we ventured further upriver we started to get feeding parties of Gray-rumped and Whiskered Treeswifts. Although they didn't settle close enough for a good photo the Whiskered Treeswifts were just incredible to look at - yet another bird I've always wanted to see.

Whiskered Treeswift, Taman Negara
Short 12 second video of Whiskered Treeswift

Nigel and Azri enjoying the tranquillity of the river.
Wilbur pointing out a group of Bulbuls, Sunbirds and Spiderhunters 
feeding on the flowering tree to the right.
Long-billed Spiderhunter

Our attention turned to the river bank when Wilbur heard a male Rufous-chested Flycatcher calling to our left. This absolutely stunning little bird put in the briefest of appearances and although I manged great views for about 10 seconds, Nigel missed out because the bird was obscured by foliage from his position in the boat! Despite trying desperately to see it again, it remained calling from thick cover never to re-emerge. Fingers crossed we would find another.

We continued up river to the Kelah Sanctuary, a research and conservation centre for the rare Kelah fish or Malaysian mahseer as it is also know. More Crested Treeswifts settled on the opposite bank and a huge Malayan Water Monitor, about 5ft long, made its way ashore just across from our boat.

Malayan Water Monitor Varanus salvator, a five foot monster!
Malayan Water Monitor Varanus salvator
From the Kelah Sanctuary we continued further up river to our final destination, Lata Berkoh where we pulled ashore and walked a little way along the trail northwards. We were rewarded almost immediately with another female Banded Pitta, the most incredible little birds.
Pitt-stop. Waiting for the Banded Pitta to show.
Photo credit: Junglewalla Tours
Banded Pitta, female
Our boatmen on this particular trip were excellent. They really understood our needs and went out of their way to help us find the birds - worthy of a large tip!

Contemplating the journey back, one of our boatmen.
Me on the bank at Lata Berkoh
The water is stained with tanin, hence the tea-brown colour.
Nigel chilling in the beautiful wilderness, what
a great spot this was...
...Good enough for a dip in fact. Mr Marven taking a refreshing
swim - sensible given how hot it was.
Left to right: Wilbur Goh, Nigel Marven, Roger Harris
On the way back we added Abbott's Babbler, Red-eyed Bulbul and again had fly-by Blue-banded Kingfishers on two occasions.

After a quick lunch we hit the trail to Lubok Simpon once again in the hope of getting the Kingfisher from the shore and also (still hoping) for the rare Crested Fireback. At the campsite we picked up Spectacled Bulbul, Buff-vented Bulbul and Scaly-crowned Babbler. Lubok Simpon didn't hold the sought after Blue-banded Kingfisher so we pushed on further passing a deceased and partly eaten Reticulated Python - a sad sight to see. About half-a-mile further on we hit a bird wave, which delivered a pair of Diard's Trogons, Red-naped Trogon, Checker-throated Woodpecker, Greater Raquet-tailed Drongo and a pair of spectacular Orange-backed Woodpeckers.

Dilapidated building in the jungle
Diard's Trogon, male
Diard's Trogon, male
If only this had snapped into focus...
Diard's Trogon, male
Diard's Trogon, female

Orange-backed Woodpecker, male
Red-naped Trogon, female
Cream-vented Bulbul
Gray-bellied Bulbul, very smart...for a Bulbul
Gray-bellied Bulbul
Abbott's Babbler
Spectacled Bulbul
Worth noting that Malaysia has over 1000 species of butterflies! We saw quite a few during our time there, including several enormous Common Birdwings but alas it was the smaller butterflies that sat still for the camera.
Dark Grass-Brown
Common Posy, male spp  moorei
Yellow Glassy Tiger
On the return journey we had brief views of a rather stunning Maroon Woodpecker and a number of Scaly-crowned Babblers. As we reached the resort we decided we had nothing to loose by walking the boardwalk back towards the Tahan Hide before calling it a day. Boy are we glad we did...

Crested Fireback, male
At last! Not one but four (two pairs) of Crested Firebacks on the boardwalk. The beautiful male (above) demonstrating why it got its name.

Both males and one of the females.
Close up of one of the males. 
What an amazing find on our last evening in Taman Negara, this place certainly delivers wildlife by the bucket-load.

Day 6, Taman Negara to Bukit Fraser - 29 November 2016

A shorter post as most of the day was spent travelling.

We got up really early this morning (4:30 am). Wilbur was keen to take us to look for Owls and Frogmouths on the trail to Lubok Simpon and I was certainly up for that too. We heard a Sunda Scops before entering an area of jungle just off the campsite but owls were otherwise thin on the ground. We stopped and turned our lights off and in the inky darkness we could hear our first Frogmouth, a Blyth's (split from Javan), calling close by. It eventually got closer and as we turned our lights on it we had great views although not particularly easy to photograph.

Blyth's Frogmouth...just
After an hour we headed for breakfast so that we had time to pack before our last attempt to see Blue-banded Kingfisher. This involved an extra boat trip back along the same stretch of river we had travelled yesterday but alas, in the drizzle that had started to descend, we saw little other than another flyby bird and a very wary Black-capped Kingfisher. We did get another male Rufous-chested Flycatcher though and this time we all had good views. Our guide Wilbur was luckier from the front of the boat with a flying Blue-winged Pitta closely followed by a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo - sadly too brief for anyone else to pick them up.

The boat trip over, we packed our gear into the ferry boat and headed back across the Tembeling River to Kuala Tahan to start the journey to Bukit Fraser. As good timing would have it, it was now raining quite steadily and continued to do so for the rest of the four-hour journey. At least we didn't feel that we were missing out on valuable birding/herping time in the car.

Bukit Fraser...

Bukit Fraser (or Fraser's Hill as it is also known - named after Scottish gold prospector Louis James Fraser), is a hill station located about 2 hours NNW of Kuala Lumpur. It's altitude makes it considerably cooler than the steamy lowland regions of Taman Negara and KL, which makes it a popular retreat with both local and international visitors. It also happens to be a great place for birding and hosts the annual Fraser's Hill International Bird Race. Indeed 298 species have been recorded in the vicinity including some very scarce endemics. Reptiles are present too with several good snakes possible.

We arrived in Bukit Fraser around 3:30pm having driven the long and tortuous road which ascends from The Gap to the small Hill Station. If this doesn't leave you feeling queasy, nothing will.

Just outside the town we met up with our new guide Andrew Sebastian from Jungelwalla and said our goodbyes to Wilbur and Azri, who'd been such great company for the last 5 days.

Bukit Fraser is a charming retreat in the central Highlands
One of the larger hotels in the town centre
Back to front: Myself, Nigel Marven and Andrew Sebastian
in front of the Fraser's Hill clock.
Our first bird - a Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo to greet us followed by a family group of six rare endemic Malayan (Campbell's Hill) Partridge.

Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo
Malayan Partridges...in the rain
As we watched the partridges we also had Black and Crimson Oriole and the first Fire-tufted Barbet. By now the rain was coming down quite steadily, the light was fading and so we headed for the Shahzan Inn where we were spending our first night. We picked up a small troupe of White-thighed Langurs on route as they munched happily on somebody's garden hedge.

White-thighed Langur
Streaked Spiderhunters flitted noisily around the flowers in the border of our hotel as did Oriental Magie Robins and Black-throated Sunbirds gave close views too. Tomorrow we were meeting Andrew early in the hope of seeing another rare endemic.

Day 7, Bukit Fraser - 30 November, 2016

We're up at first light today and foregoing breakfast we headed straight to the Malayan Whistling Thrush site. The first bird to make an appearance was a Mountain Imperial Pigeon. It was almost dark when I took the photo so surprised anything could be salvaged from it.

Mountain Imperial Pigeon
Then a whistle from Andrew - he and Nigel were watching our target bird. Sure enough a male Malayan Whistling Thrush was feeding on the side of the road about 40 meters away, unfortunately the light was too poor to even attempt a photo so I enjoyed binocular views instead. A great start to the day!

Next it was on to the old abandoned Jalai Resort on the outskirts of town. It use to be a successful resort and popular with birders because their bright outdoor lights use to attract moths and insects, which attracted the birds each morning for a free feast.

This is how the reception looked a few years back...
The reception area now.
Unfortunately it closed some year back over a dispute between the owners of the resort and the land owners. Today it is getting overgrown but the visiting photographers still put out fruit and meal worms for the birds, so getting photos is easy. It's also supposed to be a good place for snakes, including Cave Racers inside the building, but I searched it pretty thoroughly and had no luck on that front.

First to take advantage of the food are the Chestnut-capped Laughingthrushes - beautiful birds.

Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush
Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush
Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush
Who are then joined by the Long-tailed Sibias.

Long-tailed Sibia
Long-tailed Sibia
Then this stunning little chap flew in to see what all the fuss was about...

Little Pied Flycatcher
This Little Pied Flycatcher was so tame, Nigel even managed a full-frame photo on his mobile!

Are you ready for your close-up?
What a bird! The Little Pied Flycatcher
Little Pied Flycatcher, male
Little Pied Flycatcher
Little Pied Flycatcher, female

And then the wonderful Fire-tufted Barbet...what a lovely bird.

Fire-tufted Barbet
Showing its 'fire-tuft', a real beauty.
Fire-tufted Barbet
Fire-tufted Barbet

As if it had all been run to a script the Siver-eared Mesias then moved in for the finale. They are just a riot of colour.

Silver-eared Mesia
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, male

We left the Jalai and moved on to the Hemmant Trail situated above the town's golf course (and named after the course designer, Frank Hemmant) to look for bird waves, checking a regular spot for Rufous-browed Flycatcher on route. Unfortunately the flycatcher (which always shows apparently) wasn't showing, so we continued to the trail.

The muddy trail descended through some trees and edged around a ravine. White-thighed Langaurs sat in the trees at eye level and a cracking Black and Crimson Oriole called from the trees above. Nigel turned to speak to me and just as we started to move forward again, I looked to my right and noticed a magnificent little green pitviper draped off a branch about 4 ft away. I initially thought it was a Cameron Highlands Pitviper (Trimeresurus nebularis) as it was quite bright in colour and devoid of lateral body markings, it had a bluish tinge to the skin between the scales too. 

Trimeresurus Sp - probably T. fucatus
Trimeresurus Sp - probably T. fucatus
Trimeresurus Sp - probably T. fucatus
Trimeresurus Sp - probably T. fucatus
Me with the Trim Sp.
Closer inspection, what a beaut! (the snake, not me).
Nigel Marven photographing this lovely snake
Pleased to see such a beautiful little pitviper

I've since learned that the yellow eye colour leans more towards imeresurus fucatus or Siamese Peninsular Pitviper, which is the only other pitviper found in the area. This is presumably a young female without any sign of lateral lines or other markings. The Trimeresurus genus are a notoriously difficult group that have undergone many (often controversial) changes and splits over the last decade and it's always good to keep learning. What a magnificent pitviper and one of the highlights of the morning for me!

The trails are certainly well marked.
The fun was far from over. Walking in the opposite direction we picked up a small flock of Blue-winged Minlas and then a bird waved swept through depositing three stunning Sultan Tits, a Blue Nuthatch - a stunningly pretty little bird and one that Nigel had particulalrly wanted to catch up with, a pair of Grey-chinned Minivets and a Black-browed Barbet. We hardly knew where to look first!

Sultan Tit, male eating spiderlings
Grey-chinned Minivet, male - pity I didn't
get him with his head turned, in cahoots with the Sultan Tit me thinks!
A tiny Inornate Blue

We moved on again after the bird wave died away, this time heading to the Bishop Trail where we picked up a foraging party of Everett's Whiteyes and listened to the rhythmical sound of a troupe of Siamang just out of sight in the near distance. The start of their call has an almost percussive like quality to it - amazing! You may have to turn the volume up...

 

Heading a little way along the Bishop Trail we were surprised to see a pair of these giant weevils. They were easily the largest weevils I've ever seen - quite amazing to look at. You can get a scale of the size when seen next to Nigel.

Giant weevil Sp.
Giant weevil - would love to find out which species this is.
It was now lunchtime and we headed back towards town, stopping off once more for the Rufous-browed Flycatcher. This time we struck gold and this pretty little bird performed well for us.

Rufous-browed Flycatcher
It was back to the Shazan for lunch, stopping on the way to see the resident Slaty-back Forktails that nest by the road.

Slaty-backed Forktail
Slaty-backed Forktail, this one a bit darker.
At the Shazan we had great views of this lovely Lesser Yellownape (rodgeri form specific to Peninsular Malaysia) and a cracking male Black-throated Sunbird.

Lesser Yellownape, Fraser's Hill
Lesser Yellownape, Fraser's Hill
Black-throated Sunbird, male
Black-throated Sunbird, male
After lunch Andrew drove us back out of town to try and see some Pitcher Plants that Nigel had seen on his last visit here in early 2015. Try as we might we couldn't locate them and it took a call from Andrew to another local guide to pinpoint them for us. But before we even had time to look at them the same guide arrived on his moped to say there was a Large Niltava perched a short distance up the road. And what a beautiful bird it was.

Large Niltava, male
Large Niltava, male

Back down the road once more and this time we found a few Pitcher Plants, though most were a little bit past their best. We also found some beautiful Bamboo Orchids growing close by.

Bamboo Orchid
Pitcher Plants, Fraser's Hill

From here we set off to drive the new road all the way down to The Gap. Until relatively recently Fraser's Hill only had a single narrow road and you could only travel up (or down) at certain times of the day. When the 'new' road opened some years ago, it became a one-way system - the old road to go up and the new road to come down. We were heading down and were joined for the afternoon by Azlina Binti Mokhtar, Director of the Town Planning Department for Hulu Selangor District Council, who was keen to meet Nigel. She was also a birder and photographer so great to have some extra eyes.

Left to right: Nigel Marvem, Andrew Sebastian (foreground)
Me (background), Azlina and Azlina's driver.
Amazing Tree Ferns tower overhead

Pristine mountain rainforest
We stopped to take a photo of the tree ferns and as chance would have it, a magnificent Black Eagle soared overhead and away out of sight.

Black Eagle
This tatty Malayan Lacewing was the only one I saw but it was still an eye-catching butterfly.

Malayan Lacewing
Further down the road we had a nice mixed flock of around a dozen Eye-browed Thrushes with the odd Golden Babbler thrown in for good measure, a Black-thighed Falconet and this little chap...what appears to be a *Grey-streaked Flycatcher (see footnote below). Hopefully we will receive confirmation on this from our Malaysian friends in the not-too-distant future.

Dark-sided Flycatcher.

Dark-sided Flycatcher

Towards the bottom of the road we stopped again and Andrew bagged 'spot of the day' when he somehow latched on to a Siamang hanging from the branches of a tree about a mile away!

Full zoom on the P900 and you can just about see it!
He deserved a medal for spotting that.

Much closer was this Crested Serpent Eagle while lower down in the canopy we saw more Asian Fairy Bluebirds.

Crested Serpent Eagle
The last leg with our bird guide Andrew was to head back up into Fraser's Hill where he would drop us off at the renown Stephen's Place, a B&B operated by expat Stephen Hogg, his wife Salmia and their two young boys. On the way up we did of course stop for a pair of flying Wreathed Hornbills and as we did another bird wave went across the road, this time containing a distant Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Everett's White-eye and Mountain Fulvetta. A Banded Kingfisher called from the trees but never emerged sadly. 

We'd had a completely amazing day and Andrew had introduced us to some of the great birding that Fraser's Hill has to offer. But for now it was time to meet Stephen Hogg and his family. Andrew would be back later that evening to take us looking for Mountain Scops Owls (which we heard but didn't see) and tomorrow, we would be on our own.


* Grey-streaked Flycatcher
I received some very helpful responses to my request for ID confirmation of what was initially thought o be a possible Grey-streaked Flycatcher. Both Brown-streaked and Dark-sided (by Wilbur Goh) were other suggestions put forward and after careful consideration I've decided to go with Dark-sided Flycatcher for the following reasons:

1. This bird shows quite cold brown tones compared to images I've studied of Brown-streaked and it also became clear that Brown-streaked has a much shorter primary projection than this bird. The additional video grabs show this feature well and the primary projection on our bird is much longer than expected on Brown-streaked.

1. Dark-sided Flycatcher
2. Dark-sided Flycatcher

Below is a Brown-streaked Flycatcher from the Internet (sorry whoever took the photo - there was no credit with it!). The primary projection is much shorter:

Brown-streaked Flycatcher  (author unknown)

Another grab from the video definitely shows hints of darker centres to the under-tail coverts too, a feature of Dark-sided Flycatcher.
3. Dark-sided Flycatcher - under-tail coverts
As such I'm happy to go with Dark-sided Flycatcher on this bird.

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 Salmia. 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 Trimeresurus fucatus or Siamese Peninsular Pitviper.

Siamese Peninsular Pitviper Trimeresurus fucatus, male
This specimen lacks the postocular markings found
on some males.
Siamese Peninsular Pitviper Trimeresurus fucatus, male
Siamese Peninsular Pitviper Trimeresurus fucatus, 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 Trimeresurus fucatusfemale
Siamese Peninsular Pitviper Trimeresurus fucatusfemale
Siamese Peninsular Pitviper Trimeresurus fucatusfemale
Portrait of the above snake.
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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