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Havens For Migratory Birds in Malaysia

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Bird-watching in Malaysia is an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Apart from the 460 resident bird species in the country, there are also more than 50 migratory species that can be spotted from August to April each year. They sojourn in several areas in the country that have habitats suitable for roosting, nesting and feeding. One such popular stopover point is Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary.

Covering 380 hectares, Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary stretches over more than 20 kilometres of mudflats along the coastline of Perak State from Pulau Kalumpang, near the Sungei Gula estuary, to Sungei Burung. The sanctuary is part of Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve which spans 40,151 hectares. Annually, Kuala Gula plays host to more than 200,000 avian visitors from more than 50 species. Some of them come from as far Siberia, Mongolia and Russia.

At Kuala Gula, which has a visitor’s centre run by the Wildlife and National Parks Department, bird-watchers can charter a four-passenger boat for four hours at RM100. Eight air-conditioned chalets are also available. The number of visitors to Kuala Gula has increased so dramatically over the recent years that at Kuala Kurai, eight kilometres north, enterprising villagers have also become boat operators for bird-watching tours.

As the boat takes you out of the muddy Sungei Gula estuary, macaques and smooth otters are sighted in the mangrove forests, while waders and shorebirds such as night herons, egrets, greenshanks, marsh sandpipers, lesser adjutant storks and milky storks are seen in abundance on the mudflats. The heads of the birds bob up and down in search of crabs, small fish, snails and crustaceans. To take in the spectacular sight of a copper sunset, ask the boatman to stop at the observation hide in the river at dusk.

A side attraction at Kuala Gula is the fishing village of Bagan Gula which also cultivates cockles and prawns. Horseshoe crabs and mantis prawns are the unusual crustaceans often trawled up by the fishermen – try to see them when the fishermen return from sea and are sorting the catch.

Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary is 38 kilometres from Taiping via the Kamunting exit of the North-South Expressway. After exiting the highway, travel to Kg. Selinsing and proceed to Kuala Gula. To book accommodation; please contact the Wildlife and National Parks Department at 05-7277207.

Apart from Kuala Gula, Kuala Selangor Nature Park in Selangor State is another area that attracts large numbers of migratory birds. Having an artificial lake in its centre, the park covers 200 hectares of secondary forests and 95 hectares of mangrove forests. It is managed by the Malaysian Nature Society, and there are four marked trails leading to interesting places. More than 100,000 birds representing more than 30 species come here annually. Some stop for just a few days before continuing their journey to Australia and Indonesia while others spend their entire winter vacation in the lush wetlands habitats.

From the Visitor’s Centre, one can take a 550-metre hike down along the Egrets Trail leading to an elevated bird hide at the edge of the lake. This is an excellent base to spot the nests of milky storks. Langur Trail, which is the longest at 1100 metres, leads through strangling figs and coastal vegetation to a raised boardwalk that reaches to the mudflats in the Straits of Malacca. During your 80-minute tramp through this trail, you will frequently encounter squirrels, silver-leafed monkeys and long-tailed macaques in the secondary forest. Further ahead, if you are armed with lots of patience, silence and binoculars, you can spot plovers, bee-eaters, herons and kingfishers searching for mollusks, worms and snails in mangrove habitat. There are also the Macaque and Eagle Trails that are 436 and 988 metres respectively.

Modest chalets are found at the Visitor’s Centre (tel: 03-8892294). Overlooking the park are the ancient cannons of Altingsburg Fort, perched atop Bukit Melawati (Melawati Hill). Inside the fort, an ancient execution block casts an eerie silence that is punctuated by the hooting and chatter of silver-leaf monkeys and long-tailed macaques in the surrounding tall trees. Kuala Selangor Nature Park is situated one kilometre south of Kuala Selangor; the latter is only 65 km north of Kuala Lumpur.

Down south in Malacca State, Tanjung Tuan Forest Reserve offers a unique birding experience. From March to April each year, raptors such as crested honey buzzard, black baza, Japanese sparrowhawk, Chinese goshawk and grey-faced buzzard swoop and soar in the skies of this forest reserve. After having spent the Northern Hemisphere winter in Indonesia, they return northward but make a stopover here as this is where the Straits of Malacca is narrowest.

“The flight from Sumatra exhausts the birds,” says Kamal Yusof, an amateur ornithologist, “so they come in low, giving bird-watchers a chance to see them up close.” He adds that over a four-day period last year, he and a group of friends managed to count more than 2,000 birds.

The 93 hectares of Tanjung Tuan Forest Reserve covers a promontory that juts into the Straits of Malacca, and includes its offshore areas. Walking trails and vantage points provide excellent opportunities to see the raptors, which include resident species such as brahminy kite and white-bellied sea eagle. Visitors may also chance upon civets, dusky leaf monkeys, squirrels and monitor lizards moving stealthily in the lowland dipterocarp and Seraya forests. On a clear day, feast in the panoramic view of Pulau Rupat in the horizon, only 38 km away in Indonesia.

Malaysia’s oldest lighthouse – originally constructed by the Portuguese — also stands at Tanjung Tuan, and was rebuilt by the British in 1821. In the waters off the promontory, the shipwrecks of ancient Portuguese and Dutch ships recall the fierce battles fought between these colonialists for control of Malacca. According to legend, Parameswara, the founder of Malacca, was buried at the summit of Tanjung Tuan, and that Hang Tuah, a legendary warrior, left his footprint in a rock somewhere in the reserve. To get to Tanjung Tuan, take a 15-kilometre drive south of Port Dickson along the coastal road.

Paya Indah Wetlands Sanctuary is one of the most easily accessible bird sanctuaries in the country. Located only 50 km from Kuala Lumpur, it covers more than 3,000 hectares of former peat swamp forests and includes several lakes with thriving lotus plants and elephant grass. These habitats have proved irresistible to species like purple heron, purple swamphen, cotton pygmy goose, egret, bulbul and whistling teal, which add colour and activity to the environs.

Bird-watching is only one of the attractions in Paya Indah – it is an ideal family vacation spot. Located at the entrance to the park, Exploration Centre contains an array of interactive exhibits on a range of subjects. The Palm Garden has been planted with more than 1,000 palms from 83 species. Kayaking, canoeing and horse-riding can also be enjoyed. Visitors wishing to see the most of the wetland in the shortest time can rent mountain bikes. More than 30 chalets provide overnight retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Getting to Paya Indah via the LDP Highway requires going into Dengkil and then heading in the direction towards Banting. On the other hand, if you are travelling on the ELITE Highway, you need to head in the direction towards Dengkil.

In the north of West Malaysia, Timah Tasoh Lake is also home to winged guests. Covering 13 sq. kilometres, Timah Tasoh Lake lies 15 kilometres from Kangar, the capital of Perlis State. The lake is the first fresh-water body that migratory birds come upon in Peninsular Malaysia. The WWF Malaysia and Malaysian Nature Society have recorded more than 140 species of birds that are either temporary or permanent residents. Among the rare species observed are the black-winged stilt and narcissus flycatcher. Easily identified by its black bill and red legs, the black-winged stilt prefers deeper waters. The Nakawan Range forms a majestic backdrop the lake.

The journey to Malaysia by thousands of migratory birds annually is made without fanfare but for those in the know, the migratory season offers unlimited birding opportunities.

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Source by Paik-Leong Ewe

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