• BirdForum is the net's largest birding community dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE!

    Register for an account to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

Advice for Malaysia itinerary (1 Viewer)

pbjosh

missing the neotropics
Switzerland
Hello all,

I'm now back home after a very successful, if tiring almost two months in Malaysia and Indonesia. Three weeks of solo birding, then three weeks of generally enjoying Sabah and Bali - birds, mammals, beaches, food, everything - with my better half, then a final week of birding in East Java, Bali, and Lombok at the end.

I am going to put a report for Sarawak on Cloudbirders at some point here as there is little published information. However here is some feedback and tidbits on various sites for people who find this thread in the future:

- Renting cars in Malaysia is affordable and straightforward, roads and navigation are easy, it was definitely the right decision for me.
- Bukit Tinggi (aka Berjaya Hills) is good for a morning for the two game birds, and with luck Rail-Babbler. I jammed a Maroon-throated Philentoma there, but otherwise thought it didn't really merit extra birding time.
- Fraser's Hill is enjoyable and logistically easy, though Marbled Wren-Babbler is pretty taped out it seems. I stayed at Stephen's Place which worked well with early breakfasts. eBird shows that the dark swiftlets there are Germain's which contradicts field guide info about them being lowland/coastal birds in Pen Malaysia. I crossed paths with Dave Bakewell who assured me that they are in fact Black-nest. I took Dave's experience/opinion as more authoritative than unknown birders who are self perpetuating Germain's reports on eBird, but I don't authoritatively know which they are or if more than one species of dark swiftlet occurs. Meh.
- Merapoh is good birding from a closed, sealed track that goes 10km or so into the park. One or two park vehicles might pass in a morning birding, essentially you have it to yourself. The few trails away from the track are muddy, overgrown, hard to follow, and not worth birding generally. Merapoh is good for Great Hornbill and theoretically better for Garnet Pitta than Kuala Tahan, though I surprisingly never heard Garnet Pitta in 2 days at Merapoh and 4 at Kuala Tahan! Large Frogmouth is still just across the bridge entering the park. The town of Merapoh has little to recommend it. A couple basic homestays and two basic restaurants that are both quite greasy but perfectly serviceable.
- Kuala Tahan is well documented everywhere. I preferred Kuala Tahan to Merapoh over all. Staying in town and crossing the river is easy and cheaper than the Mutiara resort, though the resort isn't terribly expensive and looked nice. Birding is good in the gardens. Had I been with my partner I would have happily stayed in the resort. Being there solo I didn't see any advantage. I stayed at Delimah Guesthouse/Homestay which worked very well as they were happy to accomodate a real breakfast at an early hour. I ate dinners and some lunches at the Mutiara restaurant as the food quality was excellent, the price quite reasonable and enjoyed having salads, cold drinks, and less greasy meals readily available. An a la carte meal with a cold drink and a cold beer was usually about 50-60 Ringgit. You can eat greasy noodles and get a cold beer in town for about 20. I did well bird wise here but had 0 game birds in Merapoh or Kuala Tahan.
- I will write up a more detailed Sarawak report but briefly: Klias is easy to get to and bird. Hook-billed Bulbul isn't too hard. I never even heard Gray-breasted Babbler and heard from others that it's not been seen there in the better part of a year, perhaps no territories near the boardwalk at the moment. The Flowerpeckers are really high in the canopy and difficult to ID, a scope would have helped a ton. Oriental Bay Owl was easy just at the beginning of the boardwalk, literally only 10-20m from the dormitory. The park guard said that it is reliably around there. The only tricky thing with Klias is leaving - I got lucky and got a ride with a park employee but got the impression that might not be a reliable thing to plan on.
- Paya Maga is excellent, excellent birding. Black Oriole is trivial, singing all day from exposed perches around the cabin and along the trail above the cabin. I saw it a few times per day without trying. Lots of other good birds, I found nesting Cream-eyed Bulbul on the track in and will upload a recording to XC soon. Bornean Frogmouth is easy to hear and proved maddening to see. A bit of rain and perhaps being out of season didn't help but ultimately I spent 3-4 hours out each night for 3 nights. I heard 1-3 individuals each night but only twice had responsive birds. One was down a slope that even I couldn't see a way to descend, and despite 2+ hrs of it calling from various locations not too far below me I never saw it. The other was way uphill and I bushwhacked up very steep terrain and through some really unpleasant rattan and chased it for nearly two hours without ever seeing it :(
- Ba'kelalan I thought was kind of lousy for diurnal birding. Expensive transport to the birding location, and the Bario road is a steep, sun-baked dirt track with the forest inexplicably cleared back 5-10m from the road on either side. The terrain generally too steep to go off track. I didn't find many good birds there but hiked a ton and got a lot of sun. Sang, the owner of the homestay, finder of the Dulit Frogmouth, and person who coordinates things for you, is a teacher and is generally only available to guide evenings for the Frogmouth if you are there during the week. Fortunately, I got the Frogmouth first evening at a new territory that's not published anywhere AFAIK. Its also much further from town and a vehicle would be mandatory to get there, so I'll say just go with Sang and I won't publish GPS for the site. Bornean Frogmouth occurs as well, along the lower part of the Bario Rd. I ultimately heard three but never had a bird that was responsive and anywhere near accessible. Either called once, or called a few times really distantly and in a place I couldn't get it. Back to day birding - if you accept the fairly expensive services of a local guide/driver during the day, the guide I had, Sang's nephew, was pretty useless and had a not fully functional vehicle. Basically a waste of money. A much better plan is to get a moto ride to the point of the Bario road you want, then walk back. If you do this, better to take a box lunch and enough water and sunscreen. Pre-booking your flight out is mandatory as it fills up every time according to the locals.
- One other note - I saw and heard many Serpent-Eagles at both Paya Maga and Ba'kelalan. All of the birds I heard were Crested Serpent-Eagle. All of the birds I saw perched were Crested Serpent-Eagle. I get the impression that Kinabalu Serpent-Eagle is probably a highly strung bird, to be honest, and would not assume that any Serpent-Eagle seen there is Kinabalu unless you get a great look at a perched bird or clearly hear a bird.
- Mt Kinabalu was fantastic, not much to add to all that is widely known/written other than I stayed in the inexpensive "hostel" type accommodation in the park and generally ate lunch/dinner in town as I wasn't too impressed with the restaurants in the park. They weren't terrible but not as good as the Mutiara restaurant at Kuala Tahan.
- Sepilok was really dry and we saw very few birds but some great herps and the guided nightwalk at the Rainforest Discovery Center is highly recommended, saw a ton and it's just 90 minutes and either 15 or 30 Ringgit / person (sorry I've forgotten if we paid 30 each or total). The Orangutan Rescue Center was ok but we ended up seeing Orangutans at the Rainforest Discovery Center, Kinabatangan, and Gomantong, so could have just easily given it a miss. In the town of Sepilok we stayed at Sepilok Nature Resort and really liked it. Gorgeous grounds, excellent room, lots of Flowerpeckers, Hornbills and more in the gardens, pretty good food, not too expensive.
- At Kinabatangan we went to Kinabatangan Jungle Camp. We paid for their "birding tour" which was kind of expensive, in order to have more boat time and a private boat. The camp is a bit rundown but the setting is still nice and we still enjoyed our time immensely. An Orangutan with a couple-year old juvenile in camp for over an hour one day was a highlight of the trip for sure. Good birds in the camp (Bornean Wood-Owl, Storm's Stork, lots more) and good birding from the river. Our "guide" was really not a birding guide. I knew the birds and song better than she did and this was my first trip to SE Asia and I didn't study bird song particularly well, to be honest. She did know a good current location for White-crested Hornbill which was good. She was pretty useless beyond that in terms of birds, but was very friendly and happy to go where we wanted / do what we wanted, and was very good at spotting mammals, getting us another Orangutan and lots of other cool critters along the way. We really enjoyed Kinabatangan but I would be hard pressed to recommend Kinabatangan Jungle Camp, honestly.
- Gomantangon was a nice visit though there were no White-nest/Black-nest/Mossy-nest Swiftlets nesting when we were there, they nest 3x/year and had recently finished and all the nests were already harvested. Our guide from KJC wasn't even aware that 4 species of swiftlets nest in the cave, or how to distinguish the nests, to make clear that she really was not a birding guide. There were tons of Plume-toed on nests just near the entrance to the cave that a local guide confidently told us were Mossy-nest despite their glossy blue backs and white vents, so go figure. We also had two or perhaps three Orangutans at Gomantangon which was excellent, and numerous Bat Hawks in the evening.
- Danum Valley Field Center was spectacular. Arranging the visit went ok, we booked direct, though it took some time initially to get them to answer us. Ultimately I coordinated everything with Suzan Kilin at the office in Lahad Datu, communicating via WhatsApp. Her number is +60 13 884 6968. At DVFC we stayed in the dorms and ate in the dining hall and had no problems with noise. It would be nice if breakfast were earlier. Perhaps on a return visit I would bring cookies/granola/etc for breakfast but would still eat at least dinner and perhaps lunch in the dining hall. DVFC now has a good number of backpacker type tourists visiting, perhaps 10-20 in the dorms per night, mostly booked with Sticky Rice or River Junkies on 2N/3D packages with guides. We once got asked to leave the trails in the grid. At the time we assumed the person who asked us was a ranger, so we left the trails. We later found out he was a guide for Sticky Rice Travel. After a few days there we figured out that he was kind of an ass, frankly, and no one else seemed to mind us being on the trails, neither rangers nor the rest of the Sticky Rice and River Junkie guides, though we made an effort to be discreet. It does seem like they might be getting a bit stricter with all the backpackers visiting but I think if you just avoid the higher traffic trails (Rhino Pool particularly), particularly from just after breakfast until early afternoon, it seems to be the same situation as ever for birders.
- In Bali we stayed two days at The Bajul Ecolodge in the Menjangan resort. The breakfast was good, nothing special, though we invariably got too few forks/napkins and then like 5 knives each morning. Comedic in a Fawlty Towers, charming way. You get a slight feeling that it is the red-headed step child of the Menjangan proper - the staff don't really know exactly how everything works, though the rooms and setting are lovely and well maintained. We ate lunch/dinner at the Octagon restaurant (no lunch/dinner available at Bajul proper). A touch expensive but not out of reach, and the food was really quite good. Dinners with a couple drinks worked out to about $30-45 for two, lunches with iced tea or lemonade worked out to about $20 for two, though we again appreciated eating salads and having variety from fried rice and fried noodles. The Bajul Ecolodge itself was about $80/night and we felt it was very nice, very quiet and relaxing, and worth the money despite the staff their being a touch odd/very mildly Fawlty-Towers as mentioned. A day snorkeling trip to Menjangen Island was booked directly with Sea Rovers (who operate the trip you would buy from Menjangen as well) for roughly 1/2 the price that Menjangen offers. The snorkeling was excellent and I had distant looks at Beach Thickknee and Great-billed Heron on the beach at Menjangan Island. In the Menjangan resort/reserve area itself, we saw the same pair of Black-winged Starlings multiple times, always in the same area close to the bird observation tower. The tower is at -8.1376, 114.5558. The Starlings were pretty reliably around -8.1388, 114.5557. As this seems to be the only pair reliably seen in the area any more, I would suggest not using playback and instead just spending time there (or from the obs tower) morning and evening and you should find them. I saw them 4 times I think, they are conspicuous if not vocal. Bali Myna has fortunately gotten pretty common at this point in the same general area. They were quite vocal and very conspicuous. We saw up to 18 per morning/evening walk. Most of the other birds there are easy with the exception of Bar-winged Prinia which apparently is now heavily trapped and is actually quite difficult to connect with anywhere on Bali.
- We spent two nights in Sidemen which was nice, reputedly what Ubud was like 20 years ago before becoming so popular. Birding was poor and I saw little beyond the most common birds and a couple Javan Kingfishers, a few Munia, and a Lesser Coucal. My overall impression of Bali and the rice terraces and temples was "very scenic but behind every instagram-worthy photo is a ton of trash, traffic, and the incessant roar of scooters." I enjoyed Bali but wouldn't return, and our time at Bajul/Menjangan was the highlight for me.
- We spent three nights on Gili Meno which was relaxing. Beaches aren't great for swimming but the island was very relaxing. The lagoon held egrets and migrant waders though I didn't see anything too uncommon. I only saw one Lemon-bellied White-eye, and saw no Munias. I get the impression they are trapped there.
- Pulau Serangan (near Denpasar) is closed (has been for two years) due to luxury hotel development. Who knows what will be left of the site. Phooey.
- I took the ferry to Jawa Timur (East Java) from Gilimanuk and took a taxi to the town of Tamansari, where I stayed in a homestay run by, and visited the hides run by Sam of Erek-Erek Jungle Park. Sam's number is +62 831 1181 7366. He speaks pretty good English. Essentially I stayed in his homestay for two nights, he and his helper drove me around on scooters (to the hides each morning, and then wherever I wanted on the mountain). they brought breakfast to the hide in the morning and I ate lunches of cookies/bars and dinners in town. You pay a modest entrance to Erek-Erek park, and pay a modest "guiding fee" and they provide the worms and the like. There are now two hides. White-faced / Gray-breasted Partridge sometimes comes to either/both hides, it didn't for me, but I saw one without too much problem higher up by going bushwhacking after one vocalized off the side of the road. However I saw Horsfield's Thrush fantastically well at the upper hide, a pair of birds, awesome. Many other nice birds come to the hides - Javan Banded-Pitta, Rusty-breasted Whistler, White-bellied Fantail, Temminck's Babbler, Horsfield's Babbler, Pale Blue Flycatcher, Indigo Flycatcher, Javan Whistling-Thrush, Lesser Shortwing, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Little Pied Flycatcher. I felt that a couple hours at the hides each morning was worthwhile. The rest of the time I spent walking the road. I had a frustrating experience with what was nearly certainly Javan Flameback just at the clearing near the upper hide at Erek-Erek. I initially saw the bird distantly, briefly. I used playback and then 5 minutes later found the bird again much closer, but it seemed to always have the head, critically the cheek and nape, behind lianas/vegetation, and then flew and I never saw it well. I was sort of 70% convinced it was Javan Flameback. However, later, talking with Hery Kusumanegara (arguably the most experience/expert of the guides in Bali), he was extremely confident that Common Flameback does not occur on Ijen and the bird could not have been anything other than Javan. Sam (from Erek-Erek) had said that he has seen Javan only once and has seen Common. However Sam is not yet an expert at the bird ID there, doesn't have a field guide yet (I really wanted to leave him my guide but still needed it for a few more days - if someone visits and can give him a copy of the new guidebook, please do!), and I suspect is ID'ing male birds as Common Flameback and once saw a female with yellow crest which he correctly ID'd as Javan Flameback. In any case if anyone knows more about the Flamebacks there please drop me a line. After two full days at Ijen, I asked Sam what I owed him and he suggested about $80 for two nights homestay, two days of transport on Scooter, breakfasts, two days entrance to Erek-Erek and two days of their "guiding". I felt that this was honestly too little, particularly considering how they both basically spent their days waiting at various points to give me scooter rides and the like, so I paid him closer to $125 and he was very happy. Overall Sam seems to be the only person in the area motivated by conservation - his helper is an ex bird trapper who he hired, who now works with him to keep the birds coming to the hides every morning, and the two of them are trying to work to educate others to stop trapping, and trying to work to enact local laws to better protect the forest. I felt Sam was very honest and sincere and it was a case of eco-tourism dollars incredibly well spent. I would recommend Sam and his homestay and hides highly for anyone visiting Ijen.
- From East Java I went back to Bali via the ferry. I had a day and a half or so in Bali to catch up with the odds-and-ends birds that I'd not yet seen in Java or Bali, which was a really random list of birds, some theoretically common, some harder, most of which I didn't have good locations for, and which was going to require a lot of moving around from site to site. I was exhausted by this point in the trip and not keen on a long hot day on a scooter in which I wouldn't probably see half of the birds I was targeting. I ended up hiring Hery Kusumanegara as a guide for the day. The most I've ever spent on a bird guide, and the first time I've paid for a guided day of birding versus just going independently in a long, long time. However it was absolutely a good call for me at the time. I had a nice air-conditioned vehicle and Hery knows the sites for all the random birds I was missing like the back of his hand. By lunch time we had cleaned up 13 really random species by going to literally 12 locations, each one a seemingly random tree or small dirt track or the like. Notably impressive was he told me Black-naped Fruit-Dove is easier near Gilimanuk than at Bedugul and we drove down a particular bit of road slowly at about 12:30pm in blasting heat until he saw the right species of tree fruiting. We hopped out and found a perched bird in about 45 seconds! Very successful in the end, then we used the rest of the day to go up to Bedugul where we didn't ultimately find the last couple hard birds I was missing up there, but where he still detailed to me all the territories he knew for the birds I wanted to look for. The next morning I still missed a few of the harder birds up there, but nothing critical - all species that are easier elsewhere. Notably, though, there is a pair of Javan Hawk-Eagle that, per Hery, and per my experience, reliably soar above the hill behind the Terate Bang Temple (-8.276, 115.148) around 9-10AM each morning. I saw a bird soaring at 9:05am then again about 9:20am, getting good and definitive looks - definitely not pale-morph Changeable Hawk-Eagle.
- On Lombok I stayed at Sammy Homestay, along the road up to Kerandangan park. It was about $15 / night, nice owner, dinner available and quite tasty, good free breakfast, and the closest inexpensive place I could find to book online. Located approx -8.487,116.041. From here it's a bit over 1km walking (or asking for a scooter ride) to the park. 100,000 Rupiah entrance to the park. There was a pretty strong, quite hot/dry wind blowing and I thought it might end up being a long night as initially I heard no Scops-Owls and then only the occasional distant response. However after about 1/2 hour a bird started calling further back along the track, only about 100-200m from the entrance. I went back and it was in a thicket kind of high overhead. While craning around and changing angles trying to find it perched, a second bird started calling just behind me and was easily located in the open. In the end it only took about 35 mins despite the wind. The next morning I hiked the main trail almost to the end. The last 100-200m gets quite overgrown and there are some tree falls. Just about here I found Cinnamon-banded KF at -8.4696,116.0631. I never heard the Drongo and was starting to get a bit worried as it was getting hotter and later in the morning, but luckily on the way back out/down, saw a brief flash of a dark bird sallying back in the trees quite a ways, and found it perched. This was at about, at -8.4716, 116.0601.
- There is a quite reliable stake-out for Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch near the town of Surunadi. Local contact/guide is Sadli +62 877 61557374. He does not speak English but I had my homestay and then taxi driver call him to coordinate. We met him in Suranadi and I hopped on his scooter. We went a few kms to a random hedgerow between rice paddies and walked right up to a small flock of Parrotfinches in a small tree at mid day. Then I got out the book and pointed to Five-colored and Pale-headed Munías. With my very rudimentary Bahasa and some gesturing and google translating, he said Five-colored are rare, which I knew. We went a couple km to an area with ripening rice and saw stacks of Munías in a hurry, though no Five-colored. Then had a walk around the 50 ha municipal forest reserve which was birdless at midday, not surprisingly. At the end he had shown me around for almost two hours. I asked him how much I could pay him and he said it is up to me. I gave him 200k and he was very happy. Again I felt like it's a case of eco-tourism dollars well spent. The Parrotfinch could really easily get trapped or disappear but having a local who keeps an eye on them and can show them to you is great. For me after the total expense of the trip, the difference between giving Sadli $5, $10, or $15 is nothing, but I'm sure it is a notable difference for him.

In any case - I hope all this information helps someone someday. Please feel free to drop me a line with any questions if you end up reading this in the future and are planning a trip. And thank you again to everyone who offered advice and who shared gen, stakeouts, contacts, etc along the way!

Cheers,
Josh
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
Hello all,


- There is a quite reliable stake-out for Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch near the town of Surunadi. Local contact/guide is Sadli +62 877 61557374. He does not speak English but I had my homestay and then taxi driver call him to coordinate. We met him in Suranadi and I hopped on his scooter. We went a few kms to a random hedgerow between rice paddies and walked right up to a small flock of Parrotfinches in a small tree at mid day. Then I got out the book and pointed to Five-colored and Pale-headed Munías. With my very rudimentary Bahasa and some gesturing and google translating, he said Five-colored are rare, which I knew. We went a couple km to an area with ripening rice and saw stacks of Munías in a hurry, though no Five-colored. Then had a walk around the 50 ha municipal forest reserve which was birdless at midday, not surprisingly. At the end he had shown me around for almost two hours. I asked him how much I could pay him and he said it is up to me. I gave him 200k and he was very happy. Again I felt like it's a case of eco-tourism dollars well spent. The Parrotfinch could really easily get trapped or disappear but having a local who keeps an eye on them and can show them to you is great. For me after the total expense of the trip, the difference between giving Sadli $5, $10, or $15 is nothing, but I'm sure it is a notable difference for him.


Cheers,
Josh


I'll bet he was, many guides charge that for a whole day in Indo!
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top