Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
On the far bank, the Mutiara
Chalets at the Mutiara Resort
The floating restaurants
Big Tree, Taman Negara
Taman Negara, Peninsular Malaysia - June 10-16 2007
Paul Jones - Ottawa, Canada - pauljodiATmagma.ca
My wife and I spent seven days in this vast and famous park, birding the area around the Mutiara Resort at Kuala Tahan. The trails and facilities were good, the climate never oppressive and each foray into the spectacular lowland forest offered new and interesting sightings. Our total species count was 116. Highlights included Great Argus, Malaysian Peacock-Pheasant, Jambu Fruit-Dove, White-Crowned Hornbill, Banded Pitta, Garnet Pitta and White-necked Babbler.
Taman Negara (which translates as “National Park”) protects 4,343 square kilometres of forest in peninsular Malaysia. The park´s main entrance point is Kuala Tahan, a burgeoning community at the confluence of the Tahan and Tembeling Rivers. Although much of Taman Negara is true wilderness, Kuala Tahan is an exception. Agricultural land edges up to the park boundary here and the noise of tour groups and boat traffic fills the air. As one pushes a little deeper into the park, the sounds of civilization drop away and the serenity of the forest begins to prevail.
Getting There - Kuala Tahan is now accessible by paved road, but we took the traditional route -- a four hour bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Tembeling and from there a three hour boat ride up the Tembeling River to Kuala Tahan and the steps of the Mutiara Resort. The bus tickets cost 50 Malaysian Ringgit (RM) per person and the boat was RM35 each. Transit was booked through the resort and unfolded without a hitch. A luxury coach departs each morning at nine from the Mutiara Crowne Plaza in Kuala Lumpur, reaching Kuala Tembeling at one in the afternoon. At the visitors centre in Kuala Tembeling we purchased park entrance (RM1) and camera permits (RM5), enjoyed lunch at the centre’s small restaurant and caught the boat for the final leg of the journey. Although this route is very pleasant, it might be quicker to take a taxi or mini-bus from Kuala Lumpur directly to Kuala Tahan.
Accommodations - We stayed five nights at the Mutiara Resort, a sprawling facility located in the park along the north bank of the Tembeling River. The resort is pleasant, with well-kept grounds, spacious, clean chalets and an attentive, English-speaking staff (English is widely spoken in Malaysia, so we never had any communication problems at the resort or in our wider travels). Although pricy by Malaysian standards (our package cost RM380 per night), the resort’s location within the park allows convenient 24-hour access both to the trails and to your room (to store gear and to have a mid-day shower or a nap). In addition to chalets, the Mutiara offers less expensive dormitory accommodation and a secluded campground.
We also spent one night deeper in the park at a bumbun (hide), a rudimentary chalet raised high above ground and situated near a salt lick to increase the chances of seeing large mammals. Permits to overnight at the hides can be purchased at the park information office at the resort and cost RM5 per person.
Additional accommodations are available across the river from the resort, ranging from basic chalets to fancier hotel rooms. Park access is a short RM1 boat ride to the steps of the Mutiara. My friend Anuar Con McAfee (anuarmcafeeATudm.edu.my), who leads groups into the park, has stayed at the Tembeling River View, which is inexpensive but very basic and without air con. The less costly places in Kuala Tahan are not always the best at answering email so it is sometimes necessary to phone them or have a Malaysian agent do the booking for you.
Food - The Mutiara’s restaurant is good. Our package included the breakfast buffet (7-10:30am), a convenient and varied selection of Malaysian and western food. The lunch and dinner buffets were expensive so we ordered off the cheaper menu. A small convenience store at the resort (the “mini-store”) offers bottled water and a wide choice of candy, cookies and soft drinks. If you want healthier snacks in Taman Negara, bring them with you. Across the river from the Mutiara four or five restaurants are moored to the shore on floating barges. We sampled three of them and the food was unremarkable except for the final night when we ordered fresh fish at the Lia. The cook prepared a catfish in ginger and lemongrass and it was superb.
Health and Safety - There is a slight Malaria risk in Taman Negara. We took daily tablets of Malarone but it seemed that few other visitors were bothering with such precautions. Dengue Fever, another mosquito-borne disease found throughout the tropics, is also present. First exposure results in debilitating fever and muscle/joint ache. Second exposure, even years later, may progress into an even more serious hemorrhagic form of the infection. With no vaccine available, the only advice is to take the threat seriously, cover up and use mosquito nettings, coils and DEET-based insect repellent.
The forest presents a range of risks -- from the minimal (snake bite) to the serious (getting lost). We always carried a compass, flashlight, food and water, even on the heavily-traveled trails. Whenever one of us stepped off the path, the other remained behind to guide the venturer back. To avoid dehydration we drank as much water as we could before each walk and always brought along an extra litre each.
Weather - Taman Negara has a reputation as hot and humid, but we never found it unbearable. We spent most of our time under the shade of the canopy, rather than out in the sun. Our June visit coincided with the March through September dry season. “Dry” is a relative term; thunderclouds formed late each afternoon and three times produced drenching, if brief, downpours.
Clothing - Light, loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts and long pants were worn to ward off mosquitoes. Sunscreen and sun hats were not necessary, except on the longer boat rides; the forest was deeply shaded. During one downpour we donned rain jackets, but in the heat and humidity they did not actually keep us very dry. A small umbrella was useful when fiddling with equipment and books in the rain. We wore leather hiking shoes and cotton leech socks (available from the Oriental Bird Club www.orientalbirdclub.org). South Asia’s notorious terrestrial leeches are less active in the dry season, but the socks give peace of mind and keep your pant cuffs clean on the sometimes muddy trails. We never got bit, but unprotected folks were getting hit two or three times a day. When conditions are wet, it is apparently not unusual to have four or five leeches working their way up your legs at once. Generously spraying your shoes and socks with DEET-based repellent provides additional protection.
Equipment - Waterproof/fogproof binoculars are a necessity. For night birding we had headlamps and a big flashlight, a six D cell Maglite. We brought a lightweight scope/tripod, but found it unhelpful in the dense forest. More useful, maybe even essential, was an iPod/speaker combo loaded with tracks from "Birds of Thailand, Songs and Calls" (Tony Ball), "Bird Songs of Singapore" (Singapore Nature Society) and "Birds of Tropical Asia 3" (Jelle Scharringa). We used it to pre-learn songs, contemporaneously figure out what we were hearing, and judiciously lure birds into view. I could not ascertain park regulations with respect to the latter activity, so we were circumspect in this use. Some species responded well to vocal imitations of their calls.
Literature - Allen Jeyarajasingam’s “Field Guide to the Birds of Malaysia” (1999) is an excellent book, but it is getting hard to find and may be almost out of print. A good alternative is Robson’s “Birds of Southeast Asia” (2000), although it has sparser text and plates crowded with extraneous species. Denis Yong and Morten Strange’s “Birds of Taman Negara” (2006) is an essential resource, containing an excellent park checklist and many bird-finding tips. The “Globetrotters Guide to Taman Negara” (2001) by David Bowden features general park information and detailed trail maps. The best available mammal reference is John Parr’s “A Guide to the Large Mammals of Thailand” (2003).
Money - We put everything on a credit card at the Mutiara, but used Malaysian currency to pay for boat journeys, meals at the floating restaurants and purchases from the mini-store. A healthy supply of RM1 bills is useful for water taxi trips across the Tembeling.
Lie of the Land - The Tembeling River flowing in from the north-east and the Tahan River flowing in from the north-west are the main geographic features to get a fix on. Together they form a large U with the Mutiara Resort at its base. The resort runs at least 500 metres along the Tembeling and is reached by a series of steep steps up from the water’s edge (these steps are also the main public access point to the park). At the top of the steps is the resort’s reception centre. To the immediate left is the restaurant. Between the restaurant and reception, and back a bit, is the mini-store.
To the left of the mini-store and back a bit more is the park information office. Visitors staying across the river can purchase park entry and camera permits here. Behind the information office is a series of buildings, including an interpretation centre. To the left of these buildings, and over a minor incline, is the campground. At the back of the campground is the path up the Tahan River to Lubok Simpon (a swimming hole) and points beyond, including the Jenut Muda Trail.
Near the interpretation centre a forest path (now being upgraded to a boardwalk) commences and loops behind the resort all the way to the eastern trailhead near the last chalets. This path is bisected by the short trail from the resort to the Tahan Hide. On the upgraded path, just to the west of the Tahan Hide junction, is the start of the Swamp Loop Trail.
To the right of the reception the chalets begin, numbering 1 through 100 and more. After the last chalet the River Trail starts, a path that runs along the Tembeling past Bukit Teresek (a hill), the canopy walk and other points north-east along the river.
Boats - Water taxis zip back and forth as needed between the resort (north bank of Tembeling), the community of Kuala Tahan (south bank of Tembeling) and the trailhead to Gua Telinga and Bumbun Belau (west bank of the Tahan). The aluminum-hulled taxis have canopy tops for shade and the operators are friendly and skilled. If you stand looking slightly lost at the steps of the resort or on a floating restaurant a boat will come right over. Each trip costs RM1 per person and lasts about 60 seconds. Service starts around 7:00am and runs until at least 10:30 in the evening.
For more ambitious river voyages, long wooden canoes with outboard motors, low seating and shallow draft are used. Two crew come along, one to run the motor and the other to keep lookout up front. These boats are fast, able to force their way up the minor sets of rapids on the Tahan and Tembeling. We booked our trips through the helpful staff at the park information office, just to the left of the mini-store. Getting in and out of the water taxis and river canoes requires a moderate degree of physical agility.
Birding Time - The muzzein at Kuala Tahan´s mosque begins the half-sung, half-chanted, far carrying call to prayer at 5:30am. At 6:00, still in the dark, bird song starts to pick up. By 6:30 the dawn provides enough light to walk towards the trails. At 7:00 we could move through the forest, but the light remained poor until 7:30. The first couple days we skipped breakfast in our eagerness to get birding, but for the remainder of the stay we paid a quick visit to the buffet, finding it did not cut into prime birding time. From 7:30am we walked the trails, returning to the resort at 1:00pm for lunch, a shower and a quick nap. By 3:30 we headed out into the forest again, birding until 7:00, back before darkness set in by 7:30pm.
Malaysian birders recommend February through September to visit Taman Negara. We found June a good time, although we did miss the interesting array of migrants present earlier in the year. The weather was dryish and many birds were singing, nest building, or noisily caring for young. By our third day we were starting to get a feel for the park, but five or six days is perhaps the minimum required for a proper visit.
Birding Taman Negara - West Malaysia has very few of its own endemics, but the wider geographical area, the Sunda (which includes southern Thailand, West Malaysia and the islands of Sumatra, Java and Borneo), has a good number and Taman Negara is an excellent place to see many of them. The total park list is 380 but even experienced birders would be fortunate to see half that in a week’s stay. As relative novices in the tropics, we were happy with 116. We devoted almost all our attention to the forest trails. If we had spent more time in edge habitats we might have added another 20. For keen listers, visits to important bird areas elsewhere in Malaysia such as Fraser’s Hill (montane) and Kuala Selangor (mangrove) will push a two week’s trip numbers above 250. Our daily totals were 39, 45, 49, 55 and 60, reflecting our learning curve and the arrival of our friend Con, who helped out with vocalizations. Of our 116 species, 44 were seen on just one occasion.
Luck played a part in our success. Jambu Fruit-Dove, Red-naped Trogon and White-crowned Hornbill simply presented themselves in front of us. On the other hand, small partridges scurried across our path four times, disappearing before we could identify them. Skill-wise, pre-learning a few key sounds resulted directly in seeing several species. More important than luck or skill was time and patience. The heat, humidity, towering height of the trees and reclusive nature and low population densities of much of the avifauna can make Taman Negara a challenging place to bird. The only solution to these obstacles is persistence.
Our approach was to walk the forest trails at a moderate pace seven or eight hours a day, stopping when something sang nearby or presented itself for a good view. To avoid frustration, uncooperative birds or ones obscured high in the canopy were essentially ignored. This “high-grading” technique suits my limited attention span; others might want to proceed in a slower, more systematic fashion. When things were quiet the beauty of the forest kept us going. So too did the anticipation that something new could be just around the next curve in the trail. Often enough, something was.
Trip reports mention bird waves as an important phenomenon, but we did not really encounter any, perhaps because so many species were engaged in nesting activity. We had better luck with fruiting trees, another highly touted way to spot birds. None of the big ficuses were ripe, but we did find several smaller trees attracting a variety of bulbuls and other frugivores. We did poorly on raptors, pigeons and hornbills as the primary forest on the trails has few openings to scan the skyline. The best place for this work was on the resort grounds. This area also holds species that frequent disturbed and forest-edge habitat.
Each day in the park we would meet up with at least one or two serious birders and they would invariably share their sightings and park tips with us. One important piece of advice from my friend Con was to stay on level ground as much as possible. We found we could walk fairly comfortably for hours on flat terrain, but in the heat and humidity climbing even modest hills was exhausting and caused sweat to pour down our faces.
Night Walks - The tropical forest is an extraordinary place at night. Accordingly, the resort offers special guided walks and at around 9:00 each evening three or four groups would be enthusiastically prowling about the near trails. To avoid this excitement I headed out much later on my own.
The night air is filled with a bewildering array of whistles, hoots, chirps and trills - often unidentifiable to phylum, let alone species. Brown Hawk Owl, Oriental Bay Owl and Gould’s Frogmouth produced noises I could recognize. The Hawk Owl was oblivious to imitations of its call, the Bay Owl came in tantalizingly close (but remained invisible) and after much effort I was able to see the Frogmouth. In addition to all the sounds, the night glitters with the reflecting eyes of spiders and moths and occasionally the glow of phosphorescent fungus. A few times I came across something bigger -- Sambar Deer around the Tahan Hide, two unidentified civets and most interestingly a Slow Loris that allowed close approach and study. Keeping your light’s beam close to your path of vision is the best way to pick up the eye shine of nocturnal animals. It is also important to have at least two lights. That way, if one dies you can still make it out of the forest before dawn. We carried headlamps and a big flashlight and stuck to the main trails, as the lesser paths are tricky to follow at night.
One: Boat Trip from Kuala Tembeling to Kuala Tahan - This relaxed boat journey passes through a mixture of marginal agricultural land, secondary scrub and, nearer to Kuala Tahan, some better preserved forest. We traveled during the heat of the day and bird activity was slow. Sightings included one Changeable Hawk Eagle, four Red-wattled Lapwing (on sandbars), numerous Blue-throated Bee-eater, one Stork-billed Kingfisher, three White-breasted Kingfisher, and several each of Pacific Swallow, Striped Bulbul, Yellow-vented Bulbul and Oriental Magpie Robin.
Two: Community of Kuala Tahan (south bank of the Tembeling) - We never birded here but were told that the village, agricultural and secondary forest habitat around the community offers opportunities to see a range of edge and open country birds not present or easy to see in Taman Negara itself. We identified very few sunbirds and flowerpeckers in the park; the dense forest makes it difficult to see these fidgety species. If you are interested in these families then a visit to Kuala Tahan might be advised.
Three: Mutiara Resort - The resort is heavily planted with fruiting and flowering trees that draw species from the forest. The open grounds also provide the chance to see edge habitat birds and the sightlines necessary to scan for hornbills and raptors. We did not spend much time here, but did pick up flyover Rufous-bellied Eagle and Wreathed, Rhinoceros and Oriental-Pied Hornbill. In the trees around the chalets we had Little Green Pigeon and Plaintive Cuckoo. At the campground we saw Maroon Woodpecker and in the late afternoon, a group of Crested Fireback.
Four: Near Trails
“Back Loop” - At the time of writing (July 2007) an un-named, kilometre long, board-walked path was being pushed through the forest from the interpretation centre to the far side of the resort, emerging by the last chalets. We walked all or parts of it several times a day, finding new species on each visit. Highlights included Gray and Buff Woodpecker, Olive-backed Woodpecker, Banded Pitta and Black-capped Babbler. Rufous-tailed Tailorbird was fairly common here and at night this is where I saw Gould’s Frogmouth and Slow Loris.
Bumbun Tahan - Reachable by a short, well-marked path just past Chalet 61, this raised hide looks out over a large clearing and a small pond. It provides a cool place to sit during the hotter parts of the day and a few birds were usually around. We had good looks from the hide at Changeable Hawk Eagle, Emerald Dove (Green-winged Pigeon), Dollarbird and Asian Fairy Bluebird. One afternoon a contented pair of wild pigs wallowed in a mudhole near the pond. Every night there were three or four Sambar Deer at the clearing and on two evenings unidentified civets slinked by.
Swamp Loop - This excellent but poorly signed and maintained little path runs in a rough circle off the “Back Loop”. To find it, walk a few metres in on the trail to the Tahan Hide, make a left onto the "Back Loop" and watch for the start of the Swamp Loop on your right. Cutting through thicker scrubby forest, small woodland pools and taller canopy forest, we had Great Slaty Woodpecker and Banded Broadbill on this trail.
Lubok Simpon Trail - This path begins at the back of the campground and runs 500 metres or so to “Lubok Simpon”, a swimming hole on the Tahan River. It passes through lush riparian habitat, crosses a deep creek gully on a wooden bridge and concludes at an open view of the river. We walked this route several times a day and our sightings included Black and Red Broadbill, Black and Yellow Broadbill, Green Broadbill, Black-throated Babbler, Black Magpie, Malaysian Blue Flycatcher and Plain Sunbird. A fruiting tree near the abandoned pump house revealed one of the trip highlights -- a pair of beautiful Jambu Fruit-Dove. An Oriental Bay Owl was at this same location for two nights. The trail along the Tahan continues far past Lubok Simpon deep into the park but we did not explore it further.
River Trail - This path begins at the eastern edge of the resort by the last chalets and runs north-east along the Tembeling River. Because it leads to two major tourist attractions (Bukit Teresek and the canopy walk), it is heavily traveled and by 9:30am or so it is crowded with visitors. We walked it early morning and late afternoon to avoid the company. Sightings here included Crested Jay, Crested Fireback and, in a large dead tree on the forest side of the trail, Gray-rumped Treeswift and Black-thighed Falconet.
Bukit Teresek and the Canopy Walk - Birders report hornbills and raptors from Bukit Teresek, a low hill accessed off the River Trail, but we passed on this site, put off by the steep climb. We also skipped another attraction farther out the River Trail - the canopy walk. Our experience elsewhere is that such set ups are fascinating to try once, but difficult to bird from.
Five: Jenut Muda Trail - This trail commences immediately past Lubok Simpon and moves inland away from the river, dipping and rising eastward towards Bukit Teresek. We walked it just once, early in our visit before we had found the rhythm of birding Taman Negara. The path passes through tall canopy forest with little ground cover as well as some brushier creek gullies. Our first good sighting came a few minutes in from Lubok Simpon -- a pair of Maroon-breasted Philentoma (Monarch). We continued further, the terrain rose, and as we trudged up hill the call of a Great Argus sounded louder and louder. At the top of the trail we surprised the bird on its path-side dancing ground and watched as it strutted slowly past us. Another trip highlight!
The trail ends where it meets the path up to Bukit Teresek from the River Trail, perhaps 200 metres past the dancing ground. At this point we descended the steep downhill route, eventually hooking up with the River Trail and walking back to the resort. On our way down we encountered a beautiful male Red-naped Trogon at eye-level. In retrospect, a good way to bird Jenut Muda would be to walk it eastward from Lubok Simpon as far as the Bukit Teresek Trail junction and then retrace your steps back to the swimming hole. This would maximize your time in good habitat and keep you on relatively gentle slopes (as opposed to the tough climb on the Bukit Teresek Trail).
Six: Bumbun Kambang (June 12-13) - Bumbun Kambang has a reputation as a particularly good place to see mammals and birds, so we made arrangements at the park information office for a one-night stay. Our hide permit (for two) was RM10 and a boat to take us up the Tembeling River to the hide’s trailhead cost RM180 (next day return). At two in the afternoon we met our ride on the steps to the Mutiara, and after a 40-minute trip up river we were dropped off at Kuala Trenggan. This is where the Tembeling and Trenggan rivers meet and the site of an abandoned resort. We set out on the well-marked trail, carrying water, a water filter, foam mattresses, sleeping bag liners, mosquito netting, energy bars and a big flashlight. The trek through tall canopy forest to the hide is advertised as a 45 minute hike, but two hours is a more reasonable estimate if you are going to do any birding. Our walk started well. Five minutes in a male Malaysian Peacock Pheasant cackled loudly and crossed the trail in front of us. A little farther along a White-necked Babbler skulked at our feet as we skirted a small creek gully and shortly thereafter a family group of Ferruginous Babbler appeared along the path. Then the sky darkened and it started to rain, lightly at first, soon very heavily. The path became slippery and obscured and we were happy to reach our destination by 5pm.
Bumbun Kambang is raised some ten metres off the ground on a concrete frame. The hide is wood with a corrugated roof, twelve hard wooden bunk beds and a blood splattered floor (evidence of visitors unprepared for leeches). Between five and nightfall a succession of backpackers emerged from the forest. Everyone was friendly and quiet, but the hide was crowded - nine of the bunks were occupied. Just before dusk a group of Hornbills flew in and began calling. One of them landed on the only bare tree visible -- White-crowned Hornbill, a rarer member of this family.
We slept intermittently through the night, scanning the clearing with our light every hour or so. We saw Malayan Porcupine and Colugo (Flying Lemur) but not the large mammals we hoped for (Tapir, Elephant). Gould’s Frogmouth and Brown Hawk Owl called from the forest. At 4:30am a very, very large rat (body length 25cm, tail 40cm) entered the hide and boldly walked over bunk beds, backpacks and sleeping hikers, gnawing on shoes, clothing and whatever food it could find. Normally I am intrigued by rats, but this one was intimidating. I tried to chase it off, but it stood its ground until I swung my metal flashlight at it. We later learned that someone had recently been bitten by a rat at the hide, badly enough to require serious medical attention. It would seem advisable to hang all food from a cord and hope that your mosquito netting discourages rodents from walking directly on you while you sleep.
At 8:00am after a restless night we commenced our walk back to Kuala Trenggan. Not far from the hide we heard loud crashings and whooshings from either side of the trail. Elephants! I briefly considered approaching them, but wiser heads prevailed and we continued on our walk, a good choice as apparently sneaking up on elephants in the forest is a bad idea. Later along the trail we stopped and listened for a while to the spectacular looping calls of a nearby White-handed Gibbon. Just before the abandoned resort a path leads down from the main trail to a suspension bridge over the Trenggan River. On the far side of the bridge we had Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler and Buff-rumped Woodpecker. At noon we met our boatmen and were back at the Mutiara by 12:30. Compared to the resort area the forest around Bumbun Kambang is slightly wilder and more mysterious. If you do not have the time or inclination to overnight at the hide, a morning hike in and out from a boat waiting at Kuala Trenggan would be a productive alternative.
Seven: Walk to Bumbun Belau (AKA Bumbun Blau) (June 14) - Taman Negara’s forest varies subtly with changes in the underlying geology, variations that in turn affect bird distribution. Seeking a change of scenery, and new birds, we decided to walk to the Belau hide, an area geologically different from the resort. After a quick buffet breakfast we caught a water taxi across the Tahan River to the concrete stairs on the far bank. At the top of the steps we followed the well-marked trail leading to the left to the Belau Hide, a cave, and other points beyond. The trail begins with an arduous climb up a steep hill but then descends gradually to fairly level ground. It passes through tall forest, over a number of small creeks and around an Orang Asli (aboriginal) settlement before reaching the hide. At a broken bridge over one of the creeks we had Rufous-chested Flycatcher.
Bumbun Belau itself is a beautiful structure, immaculately clean and looking out over a small forest clearing. A little way past the building I speculatively played Garnet Pitta, Large Wren Babbler and Malaysian Rail Babbler off the iPod. The Wren Babbler and Pitta immediately replied. The Babbler was close and I was able to see it from the trail. The Pitta would not budge so I set out after it through the thorn and spine festooned under-story, creating a considerable racket. The noise did not bother the bird as I edged closer and closer, but it remained frustratingly invisible, even when I seemed to be right on top of it. Finally I looked up to see it almost overhead, perched on a thick horizontal vine about three metres off the ground, singing in a sunlit patch -- another great Taman Negara moment. Retracing our steps, we headed back to the resort, reaching our chalet at one in the afternoon - a five and a half hour expedition. Another approach to bird this area is to arrange a boat ride to the Yong Hide jetty and then walk inland.
Eight: Boat Trip up the Tahan River (June 16) - On our final morning in the park we took a boat (booked the previous afternoon) several kilometres up the Tahan River. We scheduled our start for the earliest possible time (7:30am), as the Tahan becomes crowded with boats by mid-morning. We motored upriver and drifted back down, returning to the resort by 11:00am, stopping on the way at the Bumbun Cegar Anjing for a brief visit. A small fruiting tree by the hide attracted a succession of bulbuls from the forest. The trip cost RM120 and was scenic, peaceful and added several new species to our list. Key sightings included Lesser Fish Eagle, Black Hornbill, Straw-headed Bulbul and Chestnut-naped Forktail.
Closing Thoughts - Malaysia is a friendly and modern country and Taman Negara provides a wonderful introduction to the challenges and excitement of birding south-east Asia’s great forests. Terima kasih (terra-mac-a-say [thank you]) to my friend Anuar Abdullah Con McAfee for his advice and assistance, including picking us up at the end of our stay and driving us on to Hornbill country at Tasik Kenyir on the northeast side of the park. Thanks also to Con’s wife Mutiara Jusuf for making our travel and accommodation arrangements. Thanks to all the birders who have taken the time to write and post trip reports on Taman Negara.
Paul Jones - Ottawa, Canada - pauljodiATmagma.ca
Annotated Bird List – Taman Negara, Malaysia – June 10, 2007 to June 16, 2007
(E = Sunda endemic) Common Name - Latin Name - (status and habitat as per “Birds of Taman Negara” Yong and Strange) - Our sightings
1. Lesser Fish-Eagle - Ichthyophaga humilis - (uncommon, riparian) - One, flushed from a perch on the morning boat trip up the Tahan
2. Rufous-bellied Eagle - Hieraaetus kienerii - (uncommon, forest) - One, soaring low above the resort, mid-afternoon
3. Changeable Hawk-Eagle - Spizaetus cirrhatus - (uncommon, forest) - Two, one on the boat trip to the resort from Kuala Tembeling, the other perched in the trees visible from the Tahan Hide, also heard daily along the River Trail
4. (E) Black-thighed Falconet - Microhierax fringillarius - (uncommon, forest) - Seen almost daily, two or three perched high and tiny in a dead tree along the River Trail, also seen from the Kambang hide - again in a tall, dead tree
Bat Hawk - Machaerhampus alcinus - (uncommon, forest, forest edge) - a distance, large, fast-moving, angular raptor seen in the near dark above the canopy from one of the floating restaurants was likely this species
5. (E) Crested Fireback - Lophura ignata - (fairly common, forest) - Moderately conspicuous and relatively tame around the resort, seen at the campground, Tahan Hide and River Trail
6. (E) Malaysian Peacock-Pheasant - Polyplectron malacense - (uncommon, forest) - One sighting, a male crossed the path in front of us on the hike into Bumbun Kambang, its passing preceded by a loud cackle - the explosive cackle and quieter, querulous “ka-waaaaah?” calls heard daily
7. (E) Great Argus - Argusianus argus - (uncommon, forest) - One sighting, at 8:15am on the Jenut Muda Trail - an individual has cleared a dancing ground just off the path near its junction with the Bukit Teresek Trail - also heard daily, the loud Ka-WOW call is a signature Taman Negara sound.
8. Red-wattled Lapwing - Vanellus indicus - (uncommon, riparian) - Four on river sandbars on the boat trip from Kuala Tembeling to Taman Negara
9. (E) Jambu Fruit-Dove - Ptilinopus jambu - (uncommon, forest) - One sighting, a pair in a small fruiting tree along the trail to Lubok Simpon just before the abandoned pump house
10. (E) Little Green Pigeon - Trenon olax - (common, forest) - One sighting, a pair in a small fruiting tree at the resort
11. Spotted Dove - Streptopelia chinensis - (fairly common, forest edge, riparian) - Several around the resort
12. Peaceful Dove - Geopelia striata - One at the resort
13. Emerald Dove (Green-winged Pigeon) - Chalcophaps indica - (fairly common, forest) - Regularly seen around the Tahan hide, usually fluttering by but seen once perched at eye level in the forest
14. (E) Blue-crowned Hanging-parrot - Loriculus galgulus - (fairly common in forest) - Seen or heard most days, usually overhead, has distinctive call and angular silhouette
15. Indian Cuckoo - Cuculus micropterus - (uncommon, forest) - The melodic “What? What? Who? Who?” song another signature Taman Negara sound, but we never saw one and they seemed oblivious to imitation
16. Plaintive Cuckoo - Cacomantis merulinus - (fairly common, forest edge) - Often heard around the chalets (a sad series of notes, increasing in pace and descending towards the end) but we never saw one
17. Drongo Cuckoo - Surniculus lugubris - (uncommon, forest) - Often heard in the forest (a hurried, rising series of whistles), perhaps the easiest cuckoo to see, responsive to imitation
18. (E) Black-bellied Malkoha - Phaenicophaeus diardi - (fairly common, forest) - One along the River Trail
19. (E) Chestnut-bellied Malkoha - Phaenicophaeus sumatranus - (fairly common, forest) - Two, one at the Tahan Hide, one on the Swamp Loop
20. Greater Coucal - Centropus sinensis - (common, forest edge, riparian) - One seen on the Tahan boat trip - the muffled booming call heard fairly frequently around the resort
21. Oriental Bay Owl - Phodilus badius - (uncommon, forest) - Heard two nights along the Lubok Simpon Trail near the pump house, never seen but responsive to imitation
22. Brown Hawk-owl - Ninox scutulata - (uncommon, forest) - Heard in the distance several nights in back of the resort and at Bumbun Kambang
23. (E) Gould´s Frogmouth - Batrachostomus stellatus - (uncommon, forest) - Up to three heard calling at once behind the resort, responsive to imitation and one seen - one also heard at Bumbun Kambang
24. (E) Silver-rumped Swiftlet - Rhaphidura leucopygialis - (fairly common, forest) - Seen every day, usually just above the canopy in the morning, very distinctive paddle-shaped wings and fluttery flight
25. House Swift - Apus affinis - (uncommon, forest edge, riparian) - Seen daily at resort
26. (E) Grey-rumped Treeswift - Hemiprocne longipennis - (uncommon, forest) - Often around the resort, up to ten roosting in the evening in a tall dead tree by the river bank
27. (E) Whiskered Treeswift - Hemiprocne comata - (uncommon, forest) - Not as common as above species, seen on the Tahan River trip
28. (E) Red-naped Trogon - Harpactes kasumba - (uncommon, forest) - One striking male along the trail down from Jenut Muda on the Bukit Teresek side - Trogons are not very conspicuous in Taman Negara, devoting time to learning their calls would be helpful
29. White-throated Kingfisher - Halcyon smyrnensis - (fairly common, forest edge, riparian) - Seen daily around the resort - we missed two important forest kingfishers, Banded and Rufous-collared, learning their calls would be helpful
30. Stork-billed Kingfisher - Halcyon capensis - (fairly common, riparian) - One on the Tahan River trip, one on the boat ride from Kuala Tembeling
31. Blue-throated Bee-eater - Merops viridis - (fairly common, forest edge, riparian) - Seen daily around the lodge and on the Tembeling River
32. Dollarbird - Eurystomus orientalis - (uncommon, forest edge) - Seen daily from the Tahan Hide, hawking insects from the far tree tops
33. (E) White-crowned Hornbill - Berenicornis comatus - (rare, forest) - A group of three were seen and heard from Bumbun Kambang, one obligingly perched in the open - Taman Negara is frustrating country for hornbills - their varied vocalizations and heavy wing-beats are frequently heard, but it is difficult to catch a glimpse of them in the primary forest
34. Wreathed Hornbill - Rhycticeros undulates - (uncommon, forest) - Two sightings from the resort grounds, each of high flying birds going south to north over the Tembeling, hornbills seem to be on the move in the morning and evening and this is when we usually saw them
35. (E) Black Hornbill - Anthracoceros malayanus - (fairly common, forest) - One sighting on our Tahan boat trip, a group of three perched in a tree over the river
36. Oriental Pied Hornbill - Anthracoceros albirostris - (fairly common, forest) - Three sightings around the resort grounds
37. (E) Rhinoceros Hornbill - Buceros rhinoceros - (uncommon, forest) - Frequently heard around the resort and on the forest trails, glimpsed three times
38. (E) Helmeted Hornbill - Rhinoplax vigil - (uncommon, forest) - Heard most days but never seen, distinctive call a signature Taman Negara sound - it is a sublime experience when you are deep in the forest and Helmeted Hornbill, Great Argus and White-handed Gibbon are calling nearby
39. (E) Red-throated Barbet - Megalaima mystacophonos - (uncommon, forest) - Heard daily, never seen - we did poorly on barbets, lacking the patience to learn the vocalizations and track down calling individuals
40. Blue-eared Barbet - Megalaima australis - (fairly common, forest) - Heard daily, never seen
41. (E) Checker-throated Woodpecker - Picus mentalis - (fairly common, forest) - Five sightings, our most frequently seen woodpecker - we found woodpeckers to be generally conspicuous and cooperative in Taman Negara, it was always worthwhile to track down any drumming, tapping or calling individuals
42. (E) Olive-backed Woodpecker - Dinopium rafflesii - (uncommon, forest) - One sighting of a very noisy pair on the Back Loop
43. (E) Orange-backed Woodpecker - Chrysocolaptes validus - (fairly common, forest) - One sighting of a very noisy pair near the start of the trail to Lubok Simpon, a great bird with prominent wing-flashes
44. (E) Maroon Woodpecker - Blythipicus rubiginosus - (uncommon, forest) - One sighting of a very noisy pair at the campground
45. (E) Buff-rumped Woodpecker - Meiglyptes tristis - (fairly common, forest) - One near Kuala Trenggan, fairly low in the under story
46. (E) Buff-necked Woodpecker - Meiglyptes tukki - (fairly common, forest) - Four sightings
47. (E) Grey-and-Buff Woodpecker - Hemicircus concretus - (uncommon, forest) - One male, inconspicuous in the high/mid canopy on the Swamp Loop, a really great bird
48. Great Slaty Woodpecker - Mulleripicus pulverulentus - (uncommon, forest) - One sighting of a noisy group of three along the Swamp Loop, working near ground level on a dying tree
49. Black-and-Red Broadbill - Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos - (fairly common, forest edge, riparian) - Seen almost everyday near Lubok Simpon, also four sightings on the Tahan River trip, the most conspicuous broadbill
50. Banded Broadbill - Eurylaimus javanicus - (uncommon, forest) - One along the Swamp Loop
51. (E) Black-and-Yellow Broadbill - Eurylaimus ochromalus - (fairly common, forest) - One sighting near Lubok Simpon, fairly high in the canopy, often heard calling
52. (E) Green Broadbill - Calyptomena viridis - (uncommon, forest) - Seen on four separate occasions along the Lubok Simpon and River Trails
53. (E) Garnet Pitta - Pitta granatina - (uncommon, forest) - Heard three times, one tracked down in an epic forest crawl near Bumbun Belau, the bird was oblivious to my noisy efforts to proceed quietly through undergrowth, the air and foliage were vibrating with the sound of its song when I finally looked up to see it perched and singing on a thick horizontal vine
54. (E) Banded Pitta - Pitta guajan - (uncommon, forest) - A trip highlight, heard calling fairly frequently from the forest, one or two cooperative males also seen at point blank range on three occasions on the Back Loop, every birder we talked to was picking this bird up here, a source of great joy
55. Pacific Swallow - Hirundo tahitica - (common, forest edge, riparian) - Seen daily at resort
56. Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike - Hemipus picatus - (uncommon, forest) - One, mid-canopy near Lubok Simpon
57. (E) Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike - Hemipus hirundinaceus - (fairly common, forest) - One near the resort, high in a dead tree
58. Scarlet Minivet - Pericrocotus flammeus - (fairly common, forest) - Two sightings
59. Common Iora - Aegithina tiphia - (uncommon, forest edge) - Seen a few times in the trees by the restaurant
60. (E) Lesser Green Leafbird - Chloropsis cyanopogon - (common, forest) - One sighting - we saw leafbirds everyday but most were not identified to species
61. Blue-winged Leafbird - Chloropsis cochinchinensis - (common, forest) - Two sightings, the easiest Leafbird to identify
62. (E) Straw-headed Bulbul - Pycnonotus zeylanicus - (common, forest edge, riparian) - Twelve individuals in four groups along the Tahan River on our boat trip, our only sightings
63. Black-headed Bulbul - Pycnonotus atriceps - (common, forest) - Four sightings - small groups of bulbuls of one species or another were frequently encountered on the brushier sections of the forest trails, the myriad calls and songs they produced, and the sometimes fleeting views, left many unidentified to species
64. (E) Puff-backed Bulbul - Pycnonotus eutilotus - (fairly common, forest) - Four sightings
65. Stripe-throated Bulbul - Pycnonotus finlaysoni - (common, forest edge) - Seen daily around the resort
66. Yellow-vented Bulbul - Pycnonotus goiavier - (common, forest edge) - Seen daily around the resort
67. (E) Olive-winged Bulbul - Pycnonotus plumosus - (common, forest) - Two at the Bumbun Cegar Anjing fruiting tree
68. (E) Cream-vented Bulbul - Pycnonotus simplex - (common, forest) - One at the Cegar Anjing hide fruiting tree
69. (E) Red-eyed Bulbul - Pycnonotus brunneus - (common, forest) - Perhaps the commonest bulbul in the forest
70. (E) Spectacled Bulbul - Pycnonotus eyrthrophthalmos - (fairly common, forest) - Two at the Cegar Anjing hide fruiting tree
71. (E) Yellow-bellied Bulbul - Criniger phaeocephalus - (uncommon, forest) - Three sightings, other brief glimpses not distinguishable from Grey-cheeked Bulbul
72. (E) Buff-vented Bulbul - Iole olivacea - (common, forest) - Four sightings, this is a rare example when the illustration in Allen J’s guide fails to capture the bird, see the images on the Oriental Bird Club’s website for a more accurate depiction, note especially the slightly fierce expression and ruffled reddish-brown cap and brown back
73. (E) Hairy-backed Bulbul - Hypsipetes criniger - (fairly common, forest) - Seen most days along the trails
74. (E) Streaked Bulbul - Hypsipetes malaccensis - (fairly common, forest) - One family group along the Lubok Simpon Trail
75. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo - Dicrurus paradiseus - (common, forest, forest edge) - Seen and heard daily, peculiar vocalizations were often tracked down to this species
76. Asian Fairy Bluebird - Irena puella - (fairly common, forest) - Seen every day
77. (E) Crested Jay - Platylophus galericulatus - (uncommon, forest) - Two sightings, both of family groups along the River Trail before the cutoff to Bukit Teresek, responsive to imitation - not a rare bird but another trip highlight - the crest is as long as the tail
78. (E) Black Magpie - Platysmurus leucopterus - (uncommon, forest) - Bell-like call heard fairly frequently, groups seen from Bumbun Kambang and along the trail to Lubok Simpon, responsive to imitation
79. Large-billed Crow - Corvus macrorhynchos - (fairly common, forest edge, riparian) - One noisy family group seen along the trail to Lubok Simpon near the pump house
80. (E) Black-capped Babbler - Pellorneum capistratum - (fairly common, forest) - Three sightings (Back Loop and River Trail), tracked down by following the ventriloquil “Weep” song as they walked along the forest floor, a really neat looking bird
81. (E) White-chested Babbler - Trichastoma rostratum - (fairly common, forest) - One family group of three along the Tahan River on our boat trip
82. (E) Ferruginous Babbler - Trichastoma bicolor - (uncommon, forest) - One family group along the trail to Bumbun Kambang
83. Abbott´s Babbler - Trichastoma abbotti - (fairly common, forest, forest edge) - Heard most days
84. (E) Sooty-capped Babbler - Malacopteron affine - (uncommon, forest) - This and the next two species were seen most days in small family groups along the forest trails near the resort
85. Scaly-crowned Babbler - Malacopteron cinereum - (uncommon, forest) - See above, leg colour (pink, not gray) was the best objective mark to quickly distinguish it from next species
86. (E) Rufous-crowned Babbler - Malacopteron magnum - (fairly common, forest) - See above
87. (E) Large Wren-babbler - Napothera macrodactyla - (uncommon, forest) - One sighting of a family group near the Belau Hide, a fairly skulky bird with a highly ventriloquil song
88. (E) White-necked Babbler - Stachyris leucotis - (rare, forest) - One skulking in a creek gully along the trail to Bumbun Kambang, an exciting sighting of an apparently seldom seen bird
89. (E) Black-throated Babbler - Stachyris nigricollis - (uncommon, forest) - A single sighting of a family group in thicker scrub along the Lubok Simpon Trail, a great looking bird, responded aggressively to an imitation of its call
90. (E) Chestnut-winged Babbler - Stachyris erythroptera - (fairly common, forest) - The most frequently seen babbler, soft hooting call often heard as well
91. Striped Tit-babbler - Macronous gularis - (fairly common, forest, forest edge) - Seen or heard most days but skulky
92. (E) Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler - Macronous ptilosus - (fairly common, forest) - Two sightings, both in thick, scrubby habitat, one on the trail near Kuala Trenggan, the other near Bumbun Cegar Anjing on the Tahan River
Malaysian Rail-Babbler - Eupetes macroserus - (uncommon, forest) - No sight or sound detected of this key Taman Negara target species - we were listening attentively for its drawn out monotone whistle but heard nothing - we did immediately pick up the similar Garnet Pitta song on three occasions - the Jenut Muda Trail and the area around Bumbun Belau are apparently good places to try your luck with Rail Babbler
93. Oriental Magpie-robin - Copsychus saularis - (common, forest edge) - Abundant around the chalets
94. White-rumped Shama - Copsychus malabaricus - (fairly common, forest, forest edge) - Frequently encountered in the forest, has a beautiful and varied song with a distinctive flute-like quality
95. (E) Chestnut-naped Forktail - Enicurus ruficapillus - (uncommon, forest) - One, flying across the river on our morning trip up the Tahan
96. White-crowned Forktail - Enicurus leschenaulti - (rare, forest) - One, paying a brief visit to the pool at Bumbun Kambang
97. Common Tailorbird - Orthotomus sutorius - (fairly common, forest edge) - One only, near the fish pond at the interpretation centre
98. Dark-necked Tailorbird - Orthotomus atrogularis - (common, forest edge) - Seen daily around the resort grounds
99. (E) Rufous-tailed Tailorbird - Orthotomus sericeus - (uncommon, forest) - Seen daily along the Back Loop, more of a forest bird than the two above
100. (E) Rufous-chested Flycatcher - Ficedula dumetoria - (uncommon, forest) - An inquisitive singing male along the trail from Kuala Tahan to Bumbun Belau at the broken bridge
101. (E) Malaysian Blue Flycatcher - Cyornis turcosus - (uncommon, forest, riparian) - One on the trail near Lubok Simpon, picked up after a tip from a British birder - Thanks!
102. Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher - Cyornis tickelliae - (fairly common, forest, forest edge) - Many heard along the Tahan River and the River Trail, only a few sightings
103. Grey-headed Flycatcher - Culicicapa ceylonensis - (fairly common, forest) - Three seen along the trail to Bumbun Kambang
104. (E) Spotted Fantail - Rhipidura perlata - (uncommon, forest) - Seen most days, lower to mid-canopy, has a House Sparrow-like call note
105. Black-naped Monarch - Hypothymis azure - (fairly common, forest) - Four sightings
106. (E) Maroon-breasted Philentoma - Philentoma velatum - (uncommon, forest) - Single sighting of a pair along the Jenut Muda Trail
107. (E) Rufous-winged Philentoma - Philentoma pyrhoptera - (fairly common, forest) - Single sighting of a pair along the trail to Lubok Simpon
108. Asian Paradise-flycatcher - Terpsiphone paradise - (fairly common, forest) - Three sightings along the forest trails
109. Common Myna - Acridotheres tristis - (fairly common, forest edge) - One or two around the resort
110. Hill Myna - Gracula religiosa - (fairly common, forest) - Heard daily from the forest
111. (E) Plain Sunbird - Anthreptes simplex - (fairly common, forest) - One male, mid-canopy 200m in from the start of the trail to Lubok Simpon, we did very poorly on Sunbirds, Spiderhunters and Flowerpeckers, preferring to search for deep forest charismatic species rather than these fidgety little birds
112. Little Spiderhunter - Arachnothera longirostra - (fairly common, forest, forest edge) - Two sightings
113. (E) Long-billed Spiderhunter - Arachnothera robusta - (uncommon, forest) - One sighting from Bumbun Kambang
114. (E) Grey-breasted Spiderhunter - Arachnothera affinis - (fairly common, forest) - Three sightings
115. (E) Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker - Prionochilus maculates - (fairly common, forest) - Two sightings
116. Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Passer montanus - (fairly common, forest edge, riparian) - One or two daily around the resort
Mammals (Reference: John Parr’s “A Guide to the Large Mammals of Thailand” (2003))
1. Asian Elephant - Elephas maximus - Heard very close by on the trail to Bumbun Kambang but not approached - apparently a herd had visited the hide’s salt lick the night before we arrived
2. Colugo/Sunda Flying Lemur - Cynocephalus variegates - One of these interesting animals spent several nighttime hours hanging from a tree near Bumbun Kambang
3. Slow Loris - Nycticebus coucang - One sighting on a night walk along the “Back Loop” - a great animal, unafraid and approachable
4. Long-tailed Macaque - Macaca fascicularis - Frequently seen around the resort
5. White-handed Gibbon - Hylobates lar - Spectacular looping calls heard each morning, sometimes very nearby, never seen
6. Malayan Porcupine - Hystrix brachyuran - Two nocturnal sightings, one under the chalet next to the Tahan Hide Trail, the other at the Bumbun Kambang pool
Squirrel sp. - Squirrels are a prominent part of the Taman Negara ecosystem, but we had difficulty identifying them. We picked up a copy of the “Guide to the Large Mammals of Thailand” from the excellent Malaysia Nature Society Bookstore in Kuala Lumpur after we left the park. With the retrospective assistance of the guide, we likely saw Plantain Squirrel, but three or four other species remain unidentified.
7. Long-Tailed Giant Rat - Leopoldamys sabanus - Judging from the illustration in the “Mammals of Borneo” guide, this was likely the species we saw at Bumbun Kambang - big with an extremely long thin tail. We also had a visit from an unidentified rat in our chalet at the Mutiara, any food you have with you there should be placed in the refrigerator for safe keeping and salt soaked clothing should not be left in the open.
Civet sp. - three sightings of unidentified civets, two at the Tahan Hide and one at the Kambang Hide
8. Eurasian Wild Pig - Sus scrofa - A common and friendly presence on the resort grounds, with family groups strolling around or snuffling under the chalets
9. Sambar Deer - Cervus unicolor - Three or four each night at the Tahan Hide
Mouse Deer sp. - We had close views of two mouse deer on the Lubok Simpon Trail, but they were facing away from us and we could not determine if they were Greater or Lesser