Langkawi Island, Malaysia, 19th - 23rd November 2000

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT


by David Ferguson

In autumn 1999 Malaysian Airlines offered flights from London to Australia and New Zealand which included a side trip to various destinations within Malaysia. On our flight to New Zealand we chose to spend four nights in Langkawi Island, a holiday destination off the west coast of peninsular Malaysia just south of the Thailand border.

Travel details

The flight time from Kuala Lumpur was 50 minutes. We stayed at the Langkawi Holiday Villa. The tour operator was Travelbag whose local representative was Tour East. The car hire company was Kasina. It is worth mentioning that all the people we dealt with were efficient and courteous.

Costs (for 2 people)

Hotel room: £40 per night. £160 in total, pre-paid.

All food and drink: £124. We ate at the restaurants in the hotel. There are also a number of restaurants along the road outside the hotel.

Car hire for one day: £21. Petrol was included.

Boat trip for 5 hours: £60.

Total: £365.

The Langkawi Holiday Villa is one of a number of hotels in the south-west corner of the island. It has 265 air-conditioned rooms, a large swimming pool, three restaurants and a garden which backs onto a white sand beach. It is a very pleasant hotel.

Books and maps

The field guide used was A Field Guide to the Birds of West Malaysia and Singapore by Jeyarajasingam and Pearson which was excellent. The map of the island was obtainable FOC at the airport. Though a sketch map, it proved surprisingly good. The car hire company also provided a similar map.

Day by day

19th November:

A three hour delay to the flight from KL to Langkawi meant I had plenty of time to study the swifts flying outside the terminal building. They were blackish with dark grey rumps and slightly notched tails, but there seemed to be two subtly different species - one slightly bat-like, the other more like a European Swift. It seemed reasonable to suppose they were Edible-nest and Black-nest Swiftlets. There were also Barn and Welcome Swallows flying around.

As the plane made its approach to Langkawi airport it flew low over some interesting salt-pans. A Greenshank was flying below us. After a short bus journey we checked into our room which was on the first floor overlooking the swimming pool. The first bird I saw was an Olive-backed Sunbird on the bougainvillea which was draped over the balcony. This was followed by Common Mynas which were everywhere and proved to be the dominant bird of the hotel area. A walk across the lawn to the beach produced 3 Richard's Pipits and Spotted Doves. A nondescript bulbul-like bird in a large tree remained unidentified.

The beach faced west, was white sand and about 800m long with rocky headlands at each end. Offshore were several tree-covered islands and over the nearest, White-breasted Eagles and Brahminy Kites were flying. Inland, behind the hotel, was a tree-covered ridge which seemed worth exploring if I could find a way to it.

A short walk north along the beach brought us to a lagoon which produced another Greenshank. Among the many Barn and Welcome Swallows flying around were several Dusky Crag Martins. A small accipter flying over quite low was a Japanese Sparrowhawk.

20th November:

I was up at dawn, leaving Jo to have a lie-in, and set off to the ridge. In the damp meadows by the hotel were several Chinese Pond Herons and a White-breasted Kingfisher. On the other side of the road were a pair of Red-wattled Lapwings. I walked south along the road until I came to a track on the left guarded by a pair of iron gates. However, the fence was broken and I made my way up the slope. At the highest point on this track, which gave a fine view of the harbour below and the dozens of islands which lay out to sea, silhouetted by the rising sun, a very overgrown track went off to the top of the ridge. Here I saw pairs of Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Black-naped Orioles and Oriental Pied Hornbills and flocks of White-bellied Munias and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrikes. Four distant Slender-billed Crows flew over fields

The rest of the day was spent in and around the hotel. A weather pattern seemed to be established: after hot and humid sunshine it poured in mid-afternoon for a couple of hours. This was not too inconvenient as it meant we sat on our balcony reading and looking for birds but the only new bird we added was Brown-throated Sunbird. We did notice there was a White-bellied Munia's nest in the bougainvillea by our balcony. We also lounged around the beach where we saw a Puff-backed Bulbul and a Brown-streaked Flycatcher in a large shade tree. A Black-naped Oriole was calling nearby.

21st November:

One of the trips on offer was titled "Eagles and Mangroves". It transpired we were the only two customers so the guide turned up in his car. We drove across the middle of the island to the north-east corner which gave us some idea of the place. The quality of the roads and the opulence of many of the buildings was impressive.

We embarked on a small boat and sailed through mangroves surrounded by dramatic tree-covered pinnacles. According to our guide there were ten species of kingfisher in these mangroves but we only saw one - a White-breasted. The eagles proved to be Brahminy Kites and White-breasted Eagles which came in close as the boatman threw out pieces of fish. Unfortunately my camcorder had become misted up and therefore inoperable so I was unable to get any video. (Tip: if you believe it is secure, leave your optical equipment on your balcony overnight. This way it will not mist up when it moves from the air-conditioned room to the outside). The only new bird we saw from the boat was Pacific Reef Heron. The three immatures we saw were very baffling at the time. Some of the hirundines flying around were probably Dusky Crag Martins.

After the boat trip, which was unproductive for birds but very enjoyable, we walked through some limestone caves which were full of Horseshoe and Pig-faced Bats. On the journey back to the hotel we saw a few Cattle Egrets. We arrived back in the early afternoon just before the afternoon downpour set in.

We had arranged to collect a hire car at 4 pm, and, on the dot, the car-hire rep appeared. We drove to the salt pans by the airport, which was only fifteen minutes away. Unfortunately there did not seem to be a way in so we birded from the road but all we saw were a pair of Lesser Sand Plovers and a Richard's Pipit. We then drove back past the hotel to the harbour to the south. We parked in a car park because there was an interesting track. Jo opted to stay in the car and I set off with the words "You'll probably see more than me". Well, all I saw was a pair of Oriental Pied Hornbills. Arriving back at the car, Jo greeted me with the familiar words "There's a little brown job in the scrub in front of the car." I sat in the driver's seat and waited. In a couple of minutes the ultimate skulking little brown job appeared - a Lanceolated Warbler. Staying in the car is often the best plan.

22nd November:

As soon as we started driving it began to rain and it rained all day, apparently the first time this had happened for months. The rain did, however, bring the temperature down to a comfortable level. We drove up the road to the island's highest point, Gunung Raya, which was in mist. On the way we saw many Dollarbirds, an unidentified drongo, a Grey Wagtail and a Grey-faced Buzzard which flew low over the road then obligingly perched in a tree. Although the area is a reserve there did not seem to be any way off the road.

From there we drove to the north coast where, at Black Sand Beach, we saw about 20 Lesser Sand Plovers, a Common Sandpiper and two Little Herons. Later, near the Andaman Hotel, two Silver-rumped Swifts flew low over the road. The salt pans produced two Common Sandpipers. And that more or less completed our car-hire birding.

Back at the hotel, the early evening swarm of swallows and swifts included an Asian House Martin and a White-bellied Swiftlet while an Asian Brown Flycatcher frequented the trees round the swimming pool.

23rd November:

We had the morning to kill before the flight back to Kuala Lumpur. The lagoon by the hotel held a White-breasted, a Common, and 2 Collared Kingfishers. There were also a Little Heron, 2 Black-crowned Night Herons, 2 Common Sandpipers, and 3 Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. We walked past the rocky point at the north end of the beach (it was low tide) to the beach beyond. A few hundred metres along this there was a scrubby area, no doubt destined for a hotel. Here we found a flock of about 10 Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, 5 Black-naped Orioles and a couple of Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrikes. This area would probably repay more intensive birding.

In all we identified 39 species which, notably, did not include any seabirds. Given the potential, this is a poor total. I suspect there is much more to Langkawi but finding it may prove difficult.

Bird list

Cattle Egret Several, 21/11/00

Pacific Reef Heron 4 imm, 21/11/00 on offshore islets

Little Heron 2, Black Sand Beach, 22/11/00

Chinese Pond Heron Common by Langkawi Holiday Villa

Brahminy Kite Common

White-bellied Sea-eagle Common

Japanese Sparrowhawk 1, near Langkawi Holiday Villa, 19/11/00

Grey-faced Buzzard 1, Gunung Raya, 22/11/00

Red-wattled Lapwing Pair near Langkawi Holiday Villa, 20/11/00

Lesser Sand Plover 2, salt pans near airport 21/11/00, c20 Black Sand Beach, 22/11/00

Greenshank 1, saltpans, 19/11/00; 1, near Langkawi Holiday Villa

Common Sandpiper 1, near Langkawi Holiday Villa, 1 Black Sand Beach, 1 salt pans

Spotted Dove Several Langkawi Holiday Villa

Edible-nest Swiftlet Common

Black-nest Swiftlet Common

White-bellied Swiftlet 1, Langkawi Holiday Villa, 22/11/00

Silver-rumped Swift 2, near Andaman Hotel, 22/11/00

White-throated Kingfisher Common

Collared Kingfisher 2, near Langkawi Holiday Villa

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Common

Blue-tailed Bee-eater 3, by Langkawi Village Resort

Dollarbird Common Gunung Raya road 22/11/00

Oriental Pied Hornbill Common around Langkawi Holiday Villa

Sand Martin A few seen around Langkawi Holiday Villa

Dusky Crag Martin Several seen near Langkawi Holiday Villa. Probably seen around Pulau Langgun, 21/11/00

Barn Swallow Common

Welcome Swallow Common

Asian House Martin 1, Langkawi Holiday Villa, 22/11/00

Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike Flocks near Langkawi Holiday Villa

Puff-backed Bulbul 1, Langkawi Holiday Villa, 20/11/00

Slender-billed Crow 4, near Langkawi Holiday Villa 20/11/00

Lanceolated Warbler 1, Star Cruises Terminal 21/11/00

Asian Brown Flycatcher 1, Langkawi Holiday Villa

Brown-streaked Flycatcher 1, Langkawi Holiday Villa

Grey Wagtail 1, Gunung Raya, 22/11/00

Richard's Pipit 3, Langkawi Holiday Villa. 1 airport saltpans 21/11/00

Common Myna Abundant

Brown-throated Sunbird 1, Langkawi Holiday Villa, 20/11/00

Olive-backed Sunbird Common Langkawi Holiday Villa

White-bellied Munia Flock on ridge near Langkawi Holiday Villa. Nest under room balcony.

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