Peninsular Malaysia

9th-26th July 2007

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In 2005, we planned and booked a three week tour of Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo - but a week pre-departure, Julia fell off a ladder and broke her back. Trip cancelled! Two years on, we set out to slay the ghost, with a two week trip, this time just to western (i.e. Peninsular) Malaysia.

Monday 9th July

A nice change in that our flight didn't depart until late afternoon, so we took our time before catching the 1315 bus for Heathrow. And then, near disaster! An accident on the M3 south of Basingstoke closed the motorway both ways for an hour - dire premonitions of missing the flight... but we did get to T4 in time (albeit with the price to pay of separate seats on the plane), and breathed a sigh of relief…only for us to board the plane, which had arrived late, and be told that we had missed our slot and would be on the tarmac for an hour! This was getting bad - connecting flight due to leave from Schiphol for KL at 2100…

And sure enough, we missed it…grrr! KLM "swung" into action (rather slowly) and we were sent to the local Ibis airport hotel for the night - with the promise of a replacement flight tomorrow morning… double grrr… Typically bloody awful airport hotel, rubbish shuttle buses etc. The curse of Malaysia strikes again?

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Tuesday 10th July

Up at 0630 and after a big breakfast, we were back at Schiphol Airport (Egyptian Goose added to the Big Year List en route!), this time for the 0920 to Stockholm, of all places, to connect with a Malaysian Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur. The first step went fine, and we found the gate OK at Årlanda…only to be informed by the Malaysian staff that KLM had not confirmed our flight properly, so we were still only on standby! Oh no…the curse, the curse… Treble grrr…! Finally, after much distress and Julia simply wanting to go home, we fluked a couple of seats on the flight, and got aboard, only to find again that we were separated by acres of rows. Some neat shuffling and gentle persuasion got us together on an aisle, but sadly not far from some appalling children….and some very sweet, good-natured ones too, it has to be said.

The less said about the next 11 hours, the better - we left at 1320, and got in to KL at 0630 local time. Grim!

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Wednesday 11th July

KLIA was a wonder to behold - "the best airport in the world", allegedly, and I can see why people say so. We had a coffee, changed money, and then easily arranged a taxi to get us straight up to Fraser's Hill - planning to arrive there a day early, despite being a day late, if you see what I mean, given that we were unfortunately forced to abandon our "pre-extension" sidetrip to Kuala Selangor. The taxi was fine, and we dozed our way to the foot of the hills, where the switchbacks woke us up and made us feel travel-sick! Finally, in cloudy, cool conditions, we got to Fraser's Hill, and checked in at the Pine Resort at the east end of town - top floor of a big pile of apartments - we have three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a kitchen and a huge sitting room! No shortage of space…

First plan was a thee hour doze (easily accomplished), and we then dragged ourselves out for an orientation wander into the town - a delightful, well-kept little hill station, all very manageable and easy - great! And some good birds straight off too - Long-tailed Sibia, Silver-eared Mesia, Pacific Swallow, Black-throated Sunbird, Streaked Spiderhunter, Mountain Fulvetta, Javan Cuckoo-shrike, Little Pied Flycatcher, Chestnut-capped Laughing-thrush and Blue Whistling Thrush with young…plus a few monkeys too! And a Mountain Scops-owl singing after dark…

We fluked an encounter with the famous Mr Durai at his information office in town, and had a chat with a British birder called Sam Woods we met too - he's been here before, and is about to go off and lead a Tropical Birding tour in Borneo. Post a lightweights' dinner choice of fish and chips, we did a spot of shopping, and ambled slowly back along the trails and minor roads. Our bodies still think it's yesterday (or tomorrow) morning, and it'll probably be a bit grim tomorrow….but we're here, and we'll cope!

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Thursday 12th July

Not a bad night's sleep - interrupted by a couple of "wide-awake" sessions, plus Julia getting the alarm clock wrong again (see Poland, May 2007…) and getting up at 0410 thinking it was an hour later! Still, some spectacular moths by the lights, until the Long-tailed Sibias had most of them.

I finally woke up quite late (sun up c.0700), and we trudged down to breakfast - not great, but filling enough. Then out into the field for a lengthy morning along the Bishop's Trail. Lots of good stuff, but as usual in tropical forests, often quite slow going at times. The common birds are clearly Long-tailed Sibia, Mountain Fulvetta and Silver-eared Mesia, but we also scored with Green-billed Malkoha, Fire-tufted Barbet, Grey-chinned Minivet, Green Jay, male and female Large Niltava, Black-eared and White-browed Shrike-babbler, White-throated Fantail, Rufous-browed Flycatcher, Golden Babbler, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Black-and-Crimson Oriole, Mountain Imperial Pigeon and even a Blyth's Hawk-eagle.

It was still hardly hot, but we were quite tired by 1230 or so, and we took lunch in the strawberry farm opposite the mosque - strawberry juice all round plus a noodle dish and chocolate ice cream. Yum. We then did the inevitable over-borrowing of our stamina resources, wandered on towards Ye Olde Smokehouse, didn't see a lot, and got hot and bothered. So we trudged back home for another post jet-lag kip, before heading out once more at 1730 or so (after Yellow-vented Bulbul by the hotel) for a final thrash of the day on the Bishop's and Hammant Trails. Still pretty quiet in the woods, but we did finally nail down Lesser Shortwing on the trail by the stream, just above the golf course.

Dinner was taken in the Hillview Restaurant under Puncak Inn - more excellent Chinese food and a big, cold beer. We also managed to get in some shopping, including (amazingly) Rooibos tea, and walked home in the dark, grateful for the Petzl headtorch! A final surprise awaited us in the form of a highly confiding and showy Brown Wood Owl, right above the path in a pine tree by the hotel reception! Awesome photos secured…

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Friday 13th July

Up and ready at dawn, but then a very heavy shower passed through, and we had a rather pessimistic spell watching the rain! But it stopped, and we had breakfast on time, via a slightly tatty but impressive Atlas Moth. We met up with Durai at 0815, along with an Austrian couple (he was actually an ex-pat Brit), and Barry and Kristen Thomson (he an Orcadian) from California - all very international.

We set off down the New Road - quiet, cool and cloudy, with plenty of birds to see - highlights included Red-headed Trogon, Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Black-browed and Fire-tufted Barbets, Slaty-backed Forktail, Ochraceous, Mountain and Black-crested Bulbuls, Scarlet Minivet, the much wanted Sultan Tit, Everett's White-eye, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Green-billed and Red-billed Malkohas, Verditer, Hill Blue and Rufous-browed Flycatchers, Blue-winged Minla, White-bellied Yuhina, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker (sadly only a female…), Orange-bellied Leafbird and Crested Serpent-eagle - bird-packed and really good fun, despite having to turn round and slog our way back up the hill!

We were back by noon, and chilled out for a bit with cold drinks, raisin bread, garlic peanuts and dodgy liquorice fig rolls…

Post-snooze (getting into some excellent habits here), we trogged off once more, in very grey and gloomy (and cool) conditions, this time towards town (via Rufescent Prinia and a superb family party of Blue Nuthatches), and then uphill via the rather slippery Kindersley Trail, and on via Mager Road towards the gatehouse at the top of the Old Road. Rather few birds about (no great surprise given it felt like Scotland on a cool day!), but some quality in the shape of Blue-winged Minla, Green Jay, Little Spiderhunter and Barred Cuckoo-dove - plus some very dull Large-billed Crows! And we're starting to get our calls sorted out…to a certain extent!

Dinner tonight was at the rather overpriced and obsequiously staffed Shahzan Inn, and then we dropped in at the town centre for a quick shop, taxi arrangements with Durai, and a mini-Internet session. Lazy gits that we are, we even got driver Sammy to take us home!

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Saturday 14th July

A very long day today, after a night when neither of us had a lot of sleep, for some reason. We got picked up by Sammy at 0800, and he dropped us at the start of the Telecom Loop - thus avoiding a time-consuming walk through duff habitat. We were primed for high altitude specialities and constant waves of forest birds, but the reality was rather different - we saw rather few birds, and indeed no new ones at all - the highlights being just Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Blyth's Hawk-eagle, Rufous-browed Flycatcher, White-browed Flycatcher-shrike, Golden Babbler and Buff-throated Babbler (which admittedly we hadn't actually seen before, only heard). Rather deflated, we trudged down the hill, with a local dog in tow, and made our way across to the Mager Road, and down to the Upper Gate on the Old Road. It was by now after 1200, and we photographed a few Banded Langurs, and genned ourselves up for tomorrow's planned dawn run for the endemic Malayan Whistling-thrush.

While we checked out the gully, a bird wave materialised, containing Blue-winged Minla, Blue Nuthatch, both Chestnut-capped and Chestnut-crowned Laughing-thrushes, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Bronzed Drongo and various common forest birds. But what's that blue thrush-like bird? Surely not? Oh yes it was - a Malayan Whistling-thrush kicked out of the gully and started feeding in the low vegetation towards the back! Awesome - not least because it saves us getting up ridiculously early for naff views under the streetlight!

A celebratory lunch at the Hillview Restaurant followed (excellent prawns), and we felt new energy enter our legs. So we decided to stay out in the field, and headed off down the Jeriau Waterfall Road, past the Smokehouse and down into the forest, on a very steep, twisting road. We found ourselves another good flock, with Greater Yellownape, Speckled Piculet, Golden Babbler and various others, and saw yet more Banded Langurs - but we only heard the Siamang Gibbons Sam told us had been around earlier. Hope we catch up with them…

Still fired-up (if hot), we refreshed ourselves with strawberry juice and chocolate ice-cream, and after working the Hemmant Trail (Little Pied Flycatcher, Large Niltava), we overshot the hotel (now crawling with weekenders up from KL) and went on down the New Road (with Grey-throated Babbler new en route), hoping for hornbills over the lower forests, but not succeeding - though we did score with Slaty-backed Forktail, Ochraceous Bulbul, Black-browed Barbet, Rufescent Prinia, Black-crested Bulbul, Blyth's Hawk-eagle and a very confusing juvenile male Black-throated Sunbird!

Finally, we called it a day, and wearily trudged back up the hill to the hotel - over 10 miles of tramping today, and constant up and down - knackered. Sadly, the weekend resort atmosphere is in full swing as I writer, with obnoxious (and bad - Bee Gees, Osmonds, late Black Sabbath) music being played at some volume down at the restaurant. How will we get on? Watch this space…

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Sunday 15th July

Well, not too bad at all - they did stop the music at 2300 as promised. We woke up to the sound of more activity downstairs (but on schedule), and were regaled with a 200+ strong aerobics and Tai-Chi session before breakfast - we only just beat the locust-like plague descending on the buffet!

We escaped as swiftly as was decent, and walked across to town (via Chestnut-crowned Laughing-thrushes on the Shahzan Inn bird tables), and then on down the Old Road - traffic was very light, and we had a very pleasant 3½ hour stroll downhill. Birds were again at something of a premium, but with patience and persistence, we saw some good ones - Pygmy Blue Flycatcher, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Blue-winged Leafbird, Crimson-winged Woodpecker, and at the last stand of bamboo the much-anticipated and hoped-for Black Laughing-thrush - what a great bird! Also in the various flocks were Grey-chinned Minivet, Golden Babbler, Blue-winged Minla and all the commoner high altitude species. We also heard Gibbons hooting and whooping, but simply couldn't get to see them. A major invertebrate highlight was an evil-looking, eight-inch long centipede, with red legs and blue "anal appendages", with its head apparently stuck inside a large snail! Who would win? We didn't have time to wait and find out…

We finally emerged after eight kilometres at The Gap, managed to get a cup of tea out of the Resthouse staff, and sat down to watch the Black-crested Bulbuls, Magpie Robins and even another new species - Orange-bellied Flowerpecker. Sammy was there right on time to pick us up at 1300, and we drove back up the New Road in ever-increasing low cloud and rain, and returned to the town centre for lunch at the Hillview, whereupon the heavens opened and we sat happily watching the tropical downpour with beer and great Chinese food!

We did a spot of shopping, and then walked back in the now diminishing rain for that traditional siesta back at the ranch. The rain only stopped at about 1700, and Julia had had enough - but Simon (manic as ever) headed out for a walk down the New Road once more. Two new species gave poor views - Lesser Yellownape well down the road, and a fly-by Large Hawk-cuckoo. A Red-headed Trogon called unseen in the forest, and variety was provided by Orange-bellied Leafbird, Green-billed Malkoha, Ochraceous Bulbul, Black-browed Barbet, Slaty-backed Forktail, a smart male Flame-breasted Flowerpecker and still more Banded Langurs.

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Monday 16th July

A superb day! We got up extra early at 0600, skipped breakfast, and set off for the Jelai Highland Resort, where photographic opportunities were promised. No disappointment! This resort is renowned for attracting numerous insects to its lights overnight, and consequently stacks of birds a first light. We had loads of confiding species - Long-tailed Sibia and Chestnut-capped Laughing-thrush were the most numerous, but also present were White-throated Fantail, Verditer Flycatcher, Javan Cuckoo-shrike, Blue-winged Minla, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Mountain Fulvetta, Golden Babbler and others. Fantastic stuff.

We then trogged on up High Pines road - no great specialities, but still several nice flocks of montane species, plus both Mountain Imperial Pigeon and Little Cuckoo-dove, and Large Niltava. We decided against trying the very overgrown (4km long and one way!) High Pines trail, and instead dropped back down the hill to try our luck on the Bishop's Trail once more. We heard some gamebirds calling in the forest en route, but no luck in seeing them…

Instantly much better on the trail though, with a pair of Red-headed Trogons right above the trail, the male showing very well. Shortly afterwards, Simon glimpsed a wild pig (either Wild Boar or Bearded Pig) panicking away up the hill from a wallow, and almost instantly, we found a party of about 10 Malaysian Partridges grubbing about on the forest floor - very confidingly! Were they perhaps following the pig and finding food where it had grubbed up the mud?

Buoyed up by our success (although the less said about the leeches after yesterday's rain the better), we emerged onto the road, and proceeded to be frustrated once more by calling gibbons! While scanning the distant canopy, however, we did pick up a dark-topped, white-underneath bird which had us flummoxed. Cuckoo? Large flycatcher? Julia finally solved the problem - raptor! It was a Black-thighed Falconet! Distant views, but pretty awesome once you saw what it was!

Still buzzing, we emerged onto the main road at the start of the Heermant Trail, where a high-pitched double whistle greeted us. Investigation quickly turned up another new species - Pygmy Wren-babbler! Superb stuff. The Heermant Trail was better than on any of other visits too - we finally worked out that many of the drongoes we have been seeing are actually Lesser Racket-tailed Drongoes - without rackets (shouldn't that be "racquets"? Not according to the bird book!) Also here was a large flock of small passerines - all the usual suspects, plus Blue Nuthatch and an excellent Mountain Leaf Warbler, quite a scarce bird at Fraser's Hill it seems. Julia also finally got good views of Rufous-winged Fulvetta and Buff-throated Babbler.

We emerged feeling pretty happy, and headed off to the Shahzan Inn for a late coffee, via a long (and final) chat with Sam about The Gap, Peru, PNG and New Caledonia. After that, and having changed money and done our postcards, it was lunchtime (really hard work, this), and once again the Hillview Restaurant did the business!

Recharged, we hiked off north to the Jeriau Waterfall road, and dropped slowly down the hill - again, lots of birds about! Highlights here included yet more flocks of forest birds, with a new species in the form of Yellow-bellied Warbler, and a Striated Swallow of the (probably splittable) rufous form badia by the rubbish dump - also Black-and-Crimson Oriole. We turned round after about 2km, and headed back uphill to a superb "Devonshire Cream Tea" (actually pretty authentic!) at the Ye Olde Smokehouse, where the Long-tailed Sibias also enjoyed their afternoon feed…

But we weren't done yet! The final stretch of road up to town produced a brief Striped Tit-babbler in the roadside bracken, and finally we worked out what an annoying stuttering whistling we had heard two days ago was - Golden Babbler.

The very last birds on the approach to the hotel were a Dark-necked Tailorbird feeding a juvenile - an excellent close to an action-packed and very enjoyable day - and just to repeat, we even had a CREAM TEA!

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Tuesday 17th July

Up at the normal time today, and down for breakfast. Durai turned up as arranged at 0800 (with a Bay Woodpecker calling unseen from the trees above the hotel), and we got into the car with Sammy for the drive down the Old Road. We stopped some 2km short of The Gap, and birded our way downhill for the last stretch. Once again, there were some disappointingly quiet passages, but we did pick up some excellent birds too, notably at least two Orange-breasted Trogons, Gold-whiskered Barbet, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (with rackets), Yellow-bellied Warbler, a brief Emerald Dove, a superb Red-bearded Bee-eater and a brief White-tailed Robin.

Once we hit The Gap, we headed west along the Kuala Kulu Bahan road for about another two kilometres - birds included White-bellied Yuhina, a superb pair of Maroon Woodpeckers, Ashy Bulbul, Pale Blue Flycatcher, more Gold-whiskered Barbets, Stripe-throated Tit-babbler, Sultan Tit and overhead a few Silver-rumped Needletails and a Blyth's Hawk-eagle. Sadly, still no Broadbills or Hornbills, though…

We trudged back along to the New Road in the growing heat, and trogged uphill, intending to get a lift - but virtually every car was full, and the others didn't stop! So we ended up doing perhaps 4km uphill in hot conditions, and eventually linking up with the bus at about 1430…hot and sticky! Inevitably, we crashed out back at our pad for a few hours, tired and pretty fazed…

Some time later, the cloud had descended, and we were still a bit "birded out" - so we decided to give it a rest completely this afternoon and just snooze and read! So much so that Julia didn't even leave the room. Simon went and got her a takeaway from the hotel restaurant - the nearest thing to room service! While this resort is fine, and the flat is MASSIVE, it's unutterably quiet and ghost-town like all week - we feel it just needs a bit of life, i.e. some other guests! Of course, at the weekend, we had far too much of that "good thing", when it was overrun - it's clearly run on a feast/famine basis.

Location wise, it's OK, if a bit distant from the town centre, but it is at least quiet, very close to the New Road, and pretty well-placed for the Heermant and Bishop's Trails. On balance, the Jerai Highland resort might possibly have been a better option, but then we'd have been at the top of an uphill road. The Shahzan Inn also would've been OK…the benefit of experience!

Final evening note: a Wild Boar came down to raid the bins outside tonight - only to be seen off by the local moggies!

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Wednesday 18th July

We woke this morning, after rain in the night, to near zero visibility! So we took our time having breakfast, and then sauntered down the New Road, whereupon we saw a few bits and pieces (Orange-bellied Leafbird, Slaty-backed Forktail, various Bulbuls, Grey Wagtail new for the trip etc.), and then hit yet more dense cloud and drizzle! Thinking better of our endeavour, we trudged back up again, to find the weather much more tolerable at the top of the hill.

We birded around the hotel and golf course for a while, had coffee, juice and a pancake at the Shahzan Inn (nice Pacific Swallows on the wire outside), and then dropped a couple of kilometres down the Old Road and back up again - lots of good views of the birds with which we are now familiar, but nothing new - excellent views of a young Blyth's Hawk-eagle were the highlight.

Lunch was taken in the now traditional style at the Hill View, and we dropped by at Durai's office to say goodbye and make a small contribution. He has been an excellent guide, a great source of information and help, and dare we say it, a good friend for our week's stay at Fraser's Hill - he is highly recommended.

On the way back we had decent photographic opportunities with the same Blyth's Hawk-eagle, Javan Cuckoo-shrike and Streaked Spiderhunter, and also had our second sighting of Paddyfield Pipit. Back at the ranch, the clouds gathered once more, and while we dozed a little, an almighty battle broke out in the heavens, with vast claps of thunder, torrential rain and once again zero visibility - no problem, we were safely tucked up inside!

With the rain still pouring down, we arranged a ride with Kiri from the front desk to take us to Ye Olde Smokehouse for dinner, where we had a vast, slap-up gastro-pub style meal - complete with bread and butter pudding and custard and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. We enjoyed having a chat with a couple up from Singapore on a short break, inspected a stunning suite for future reference, and rolled home stuffed and happy…

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Thursday 19th July

Our final morning in Fraser's Hill, and a very relaxed one at that. The rain had cleared the air to leave an absolutely beautiful morning, which we enjoyed to the full before taking a late breakfast, and meeting up with Sammy for the long drive to Taman Negara. Durai had one last surprise for us - we dropped by at his office to find a Rufous-browed Flycatcher perched on his office clock, giving point blank views! Nice!

Finally, it was time to go, and we swooped down the hill, with Sammy at the wheel and his friend (confusingly also Sammy) in the passenger seats - somewhere past Raub, we dropped off to the dulcet tones of the two of them chatting with animation in what we think was Tamil!

But we did see Zebra Dove and Common Mynah en route, plus an Emerald Dove for Julia. After about 2½ hours, we reached the small jetty town of Kuala Tembeling, where Durai had set us up with the excellent Rosni, a local agent who looked after us beautifully, arranging all the boat tickets and permits for us. We sat and waited, having said goodbye to the two Sammys, and picked up a few new birds around the jetty - Asian Glossy Starling, an extremely smart Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, Coppersmith Barbet and White-throated Kingfisher.

Finally, at about 1415, it was our turn onto a boat - and there followed a rather uncomfortable two and a bit hour journey upstream on the quite swollen River Tembeling - behind the world's smelliest English tourist, alas. We did have a few good birds to take our minds off things, however - quite a few Blue-throated Bee-eaters, a Crested Serpent-eagle and best of all, a pair of Wreathed Hornbills high over the canopy.

At 1630 or so, after a sharp rainstorm, we got to Kuala Tahan at last, and when the boat stopped, we realised how hot and sticky it really was! We checked in at the dudishly flash (and rather comfy) Mutiara Resort, lightweights that we are, and settled in for a while. Simon then decided (characteristically) that it was time to go for an explore, and he checked out the camp facilities, before heading for a wander not 20 yards down the boardwalk towards Bumbun (=hide) Tahan. First bird - GARNET PITTA! A sprint back to get Julia, and within 10 minutes we were back o site - but of course it declined to show again…maybe tomorrow? We did spend some time in the area of the hide however, and saw some top birds - Dollarbird overhead, a pair of Black-thighed Falconets, two Black-bellied Malkohas, a Drongo-cuckoo and a Black Magpie, no less! And the icing on the cake came on the way back, when back at the Pitta spot, we detected movement - and it turned out to be an incredibly small Mouse Deer!

Pretty satisfied (although divorce is of course on the cards for that Pitta…), we took a boat over to the floating restaurants and stuffed our faces in the now traditional fashion, and now we sit sweltering in our room, willing the fan to do its work!

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Friday 20th July

Up at 0630 and straight into breakfast at 0700 - slap-up buffet style saddlebacking all round. Once we'd handed in some laundry (real softy stuff, this…), we hit the trails by 0730. We did check for the Pitta (as I suspect we will all week), but soon headed off north-east along the riverside, aiming for the Jenut Muda trail up and over the side of the hill.

Although it wasn't too hot at first, the sky was overcast, and the humidity was absolutely stifling - after about a mile we were completely drenched and hating our pastime for bringing us here! But the power of the obsessive birder took over, and we ploughed on, past the canopy walkway and up the hill - which was even tougher going.

Birds were slow coming at first, as usual in any tropical forest, but eventually we did have such sub-goodies as Stripe-throated and Grey-cheeked Bulbuls, Black-capped, Sooty-capped and Rufous-crowned Babblers, Striped Wren-babbler, Thick-billed Flowerpecker, Asian Paradise Flycatcher and so on.

But there were some outstanding birds too - notably a small party of Crested Partridges (missed by most birders, it seems), White-capped Forktail, Green Broadbill (a Broadbill at last!) and no fewer than two new Trogon species - the exquisite Diard's and Scarlet-rumped.

Also, we could tantalisingly hear Great Argus in the distance on several occasions ("oh-WOW!"), along with at least one hornbill sp. and various other astonishing noises which simply defied identification. Mammal interest was provided by various small squirrels and a couple of Sunda Giant Squirrels.

By now it was noon, and getting very hot and rather quiet - though pleasantly less humid! So we route-marched it back to base, for cold drinks and cool showers.

Post lunch, we took an hour or two out in the heat of the day, and then once again the heavens opened, if only briefly. After an hour of enjoying nature's air-con, we saddled up once more at about 1700, for a brief exploration of the eastern end of the resort and the adjacent forest. Birds were again frustratingly tough to see, but we did score with Grey-rumped Treeswift overhead and a few more Grey-cheeked Bulbuls.

We finished the day down at the Tahan hide once more (still no Garnet Pitta…), where a Red Muntjac emerged from the trees and visited the salt lick blocks in the clearings. A small party of Pink-necked Green Pigeons sat high in a dead tree, and some of the same birds as yesterday - Black-thighed Falconet, White-breasted Kingfisher and Black Magpie, but there were also some Silver-rumped Needletails over the trees, a few Hill Mynahs flew in, and best of all, three superb Oriental Pied Hornbills flapped over the canopy towards dusk.

After a light meal in our room, we optimistically turned up for the advertised night walk - maximum 14 people, so we thought it might be worthwhile. Except the Resort had contrived to book at least 10 groups of 14 people for the same route - so it was simply absurd - no hope of seeing anything bar the odd stick insect, spider and luminous mushroom. We bailed out in disgust - and successfully negotiated our money back! Bed by 2200 after all…

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Saturday 21st July

Same routine - up for 0700 breakfast and then out on the Tahan River trail northwards out of the resort. Once again, fiendishly humid and sticky - utterly uncomfortable, and by 0730 we were drenched in sweat once again!

Again, the birds were slow in coming at times, but again, it was really worth it! Brown Fulvetta, Black-capped Babbler and White-rumped Shama were repeats, but everything else was new - Plaintive Cuckoo, three Crested Firebacks swiftly across the trail, a superb (and much wanted) Great Slaty Woodpecker high in the trees, the Sunda endemic Spotted Fantail, Dark-throated Oriole, Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker, Raffles's Malkoha, Black-headed Bulbul, Chestnut-rumped Babbler, Black-winged Flycatcher Shrike, Black-naped Monarch, Greater Green Leafbird and a small covey of Black Partridges.

The finally reached the Tabing hide after about 2½ hours of slow walking, and sat there resting and watching for about half an hour - no mammals apart from squirrels - hardly a surprise given it was mid-morning!

The way back was pretty tortuous and even more bird-free than the way there (although the list above is a composite!), but the very last tree before we emerged at the campsite produced two excellent lifers - Banded Woodpecker, and better still, a simply unbelievable pair of Black-and-Red Broadbills, doing a very tolerable impersonation of Helmet Vangas (not that we've seen one of those yet…)

Finally, we emerged to chilled water and air-con - aaaaaahhhh!

Post a deeply unhealthy snack lunch, Simon took a snooze, whereupon Julia risked immediate divorce by going briefly into the field, and sure enough returned having seen Rufus-tailed Shama! Not a Pitta, but all the same…

We eventually drummed up the energy to head out into the field once more, choosing the Swamp Loop trail behind the hotel. Almost at once, we had a pair of very obliging Crested Firebacks. Other than that we saw a couple of Black Magpies and Spectacled Bulbul, but other than that just a few leeches. Half an hour in the Tahan hide with James, our new vulcanologist friend, and some very keen young Swedish kids, and we saw a few more bits and bobs - Silver-rumped Needletail, Hill Mynah, Blue-rumped Hanging-parrot, Dollarbird, Changeable Hawk-eagle, Thick-billed Green Pigeon and best of all, a pair of very high-flying Rhinoceros Hornbills.

A dusk watch over at Kuala Tahan village failed to produce the hoped-for Bat Hawk - so we sought solace in the form of yet another excellent Chinese meal by the river, and returned home shattered but happy once more.

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Sunday 22nd July

Same routine, and out by 0730, this time heading for the Belau and Yong trails/hides, over the river to the Park HQ and then south along the Tembeling River. The first section was incredibly steep and treacherous, and we almost gave up! But it got much flatter (if no less muddy and leech-infested), and we ended up doing the whole trail there and back - we half-planned to get a boat from the far ferry, but nothing came by in 15 minutes of speculative waiting, so we simply turned round and did the whole trail in reverse! 7 hours of sore feet, aching legs and constant checks for unwelcome molluscs…

Bird wise, it was numerically really rather poor, but as usual, there was some very great quality to make up for the plain lack of numbers! We had an excellent Crested Fireback on the trail, a Little Spiderhunter was by one of the hides, more Rufous-crowned Babblers, and Julia got back Black-crested Bulbul, but new ones were Purple-naped Sunbird, Buff-vented Bulbul, Black-throated Babbler (a really smart skulker), Chestnut-winged Babbler, great views of a pair of Blue-rumped Parrots, and best of all an absolutely superb Malayan Peacock-pheasant right on the trail. Right back at the Park HQ, when we were at the very limit of our combined endurance, a Rufous-backed (=Oriental Dwarf) Kingfisher flashed tantalisingly across the trail.

What an epic! We returned to the resort looking like cryptozoological humanoid throwbacks emerging from the primeval forest - but that was nothing that cold drinks and a shower couldn't fix!

Post siesta, we wandered down to the far end of the resort and finally found a half decent fruiting tree - and sure enough, there were four Oriental Pied Hornbills in it! Also around here were a couple of Dollarbirds on the wires and a Black Magpie, plus assorted Bulbuls.

We spent the last hour of light at the Tahan hide once again - presumably the same Common Muntjac came out to the salt licks, and we saw much the same birds, plus two Red-and-Black Broadbills (Julia also had a Green Broadbill by the start of the trail) and an adult Plaintive Cuckoo. Pretty shattered, we had a quick Chinese over the river, and then crawled home for an early night!

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Monday 23rd July

Time to cover some of the same ground again, and given that it had been the best trail last time, we chose the Jenut Muda trail - and it was dire! We saw perhaps a dozen birds all morning, despite lots of sitting and waiting, following of calls and so on. An hour at the well-known Great Argus spot was rewarded with nothing more than a couple of Crested Partridges and a leech bite, and the long haul up to the top of Bukit Teresek turned up just a single Silver-rumped Needletail! We did hear the Argus calling, of course…but no sightings to be had.

The descent was also bird-free for long stretches, and only along the very last stretch of the trail back to the resort did we get some quality - first a Malayan Peacock-pheasant right by the track, and then a truly superb Chestnut-breasted Malkoha - in the first tree inside the resort grounds. Huh! So much for rainforest birding…

We had lunch (vast), and then Simon nipped over the river to do the internet thing and to book up tonight's night safari and tomorrow's boat trip - all very easy and straightforward!

We spent the late afternoon around the fruiting trees again - no Hornbills this time, but Asian Glossy Starling, Coppersmith Barbet, Little Green and Thick-billed Green Pigeons, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker and Red-eyed Bulbul instead.

Simon went to the hide for half an hour - tactical error by Julia, as some nice birds showed up - Golden-throated Barbet and Orange-backed Woodpecker were new, plus a stunning female Orange-breasted Trogon very close to the hide, and perhaps surprisingly (at this altitude) a pair of Mountain Imperial Pigeons overhead.

After another abortive bat hawk attempt at dusk, we ate yet another excellent meal at the Family Restaurant, and then went down to the LBK Restaurant to meet up with our night safari trip. Eight of us piled into the back of a 4WD, and a rather good guide called Eddie sat on top of the cab with his spotlight.

We drove maybe 10km out of town to a depressingly extensive oil palm plantation - it had been virgin forest as recently as 20 years ago… Nevertheless, Eddie was confident we'd find some things to see in there, and he wasn't wrong - Leopard Cat, Common Palm Civet, two Brown-backed Snakes, Common Tailorbird and White-breasted Kingfisher, plus a perched Malaysian Eared Nightjar in an open area en route. An excellent return, and quite a contrast to the dismal night walk of a few nights ago!

We got back at about 2300, and hailed a late boat home - to bed tired but happy!

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Tuesday 24th July

Our ninth (official) wedding anniversary, and we had decided to give ourselves a bit of a break from jungle slog this morning - and that turned out to be a good decision bird wise!

Our boat arrived to pick us up at 0730, and we were soon whizzing up the Tahan River, past the Tabing Hide and through several small shoals and rapids. After about 4 or 5km, we stopped, turned off the engine and drifted slowly back downstream, birding along the way. We also stopped at Bumbun Cheggers Plays Pop (sorry, I mean "Chegar Anjing") en route for a few minutes, certainly long enough for Simon to slip on some wet steps and come crashing down, smacking elbow, lower back and lower leg - no serious damage, but both a bit painful and very embarrassing!

Still, back to the birds - lots to see for a change. We had Stork-billed and Blue-banded Kingfishers, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Silver-rumped Needletail, Red-eyed, Straw-headed and Olive-winged Bulbuls, Lesser Fish Eagle. Abbott's and White-chested Babblers, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Black-bellied, Chestnut-breasted and Chestnut-bellied Malkohas, Malaysian Blue Flycatcher, Dollarbird, Checker-throated Woodpecker and Long-billed Spiderhunter - pretty good for a couple of hours sat on your behind in a nice cool boat!

The end of term feeling continued over lunch and the early afternoon, when we just did some loafing and birding around the garden - most frustrating was a large Needletail which whistled past twice, but simply refused to show any features - presumably Brown-backed Needletail, but sadly UTVs... The highlights were actually from our balcony, where a family party of Blue-winged Leafbirds and three Fiery Minivets worked their way through the trees.

The evening session was predictable and yet very pleasant - the Tahan hide turned up "the" Red Muntjac, plus Rufous Woodpecker and Greater Coucal, and Crested Partridge and Changeable Hawk-eagle heard. It was also good to finish the "proper birding" phase of the trip with some proper birders - a bloke called Bram from Belgium, a young Hungaro-Australian woman called Judit and her partner James, a South African. All very cosmopolitan.

We decided to splurge on a massive buffet meal at the resort for our last night in Malaysia, and set off in our best attire (ahem) at 1945. On the way, a black shape appeared overhead - BAT HAWK! A stunning and very exciting icing on the cake, celebrated appropriately with what was indeed a vast blowout meal.

See photo page here

Wednesday 25th July

A slight change to our routine this morning, with a pre-breakfast walk to the Tahan hide - not a great deal about, but we did finally pin down the Brown-backed Needletail which had slipped through our grasp yesterday.

After a hearty breakfast (Green Broadbill and Golden-bellied Gerygone in the trees by the restaurant), it was time to check out, and we crossed the river to catch our boat from the LBK restaurant. The run downriver was significantly faster than the upstream leg (1 hour 40 mins), and we saw some good birds en route - more Brown-backed Needletails, another (or the same?) pair of Wreathed Hornbills, two Crested Jays, seven Long-tailed Parakeets and several Straw-headed Bulbuls.

At Tembeling jetty, we met up once more with Rosni, and he put us in what was in truth a rather rubbish taxi - a 1980 Nissan heap - which did not provide the most comfortable ride back to KLIA! The driver was also fractionally wayward and more chatty (in appalling English than we wanted), so we unsubtly donned MP3 players and dozed. We didn't miss a lot en route - it's almost completely depressing palm oil plantations…

On arriving in Kuala Lumpur, we perked up a bit, and picked up a few new birds - Striated Heron over the dual-carriageway, White-vented Mynah, House Crow and even the exciting Feral Pigeon - and ticked off the Petronas Towers in central KL.

We arrived at the airport at 1430 or so, and bedded down (in Julia's case, literally!) for a lengthy wait for the flight - at 2315! We simply couldn't face the trawl into KL for just a few hours meandering - we'll shop here! I type this final entry from Malaysia while logged on to KLIA's free WiFi system - this really is a damn good airport! And there was a Grey Heron flying past the terminal a few minutes ago…

We finally boarded our KLM flight for a 2315 departure, and arrived in Amsterdam 12 hours later, at 0530 local time - breakfast was scoffed, and now we sit on the tarmac ready for the short hop back to Heathrow. We are beyond tired!

And the plane was an hour late leaving Amseterdam - luckily, this did not affect our onward connection, and we finally reached home shortly after 1400, having taken exactly 36 hours door-to-door from Taman Negara. Epic!

See photo page here


Simon Woolley

August 2007