Malaysia ranks among the world’s 17 mega species. Malaysia’s location on the Australasian cross-migratory paths also makes it a host to 120 or so migratory birds. All in all with over 600 species to be seen in the Peninsula and about 580 species in Malaysian Borneo, Malaysia has emerged as a bird watching heaven.
Over half of Malaysia’s land mass is covered in rainforest environments or at least plantations. With the diversity of habitats, there are many places having abundant bird life to choose from. As the various bird-watching and nature sites around the country are easily accessible, it is easy to understand why bird-lovers are drawn to Malaysia. In the last two decades bird watching has become a popular and fast growing hobby in Malaysia and most bird watchers belong to nature societies or bird organisations. As most birds here are found in diverse habitats studies have been carried out on the birds to find out about their behavior and conserve their habitats. These studies are carried out by local and international bird and nature conservation organisation.
Bird watchers visiting Malaysia maybe able to contribute to the knowledge on many bird species where information and data are still needed. Examples of such information include breeding, nesting, distribution, behavior, bird habitats and bird migration data. Interested bird watchers are encourage to contribute or take part in the various activities and conservation projects carried out by bird organisations. Bird conservation efforts and activities contribute to the welfare of birds and their habitats so that bird watchers can continue to enjoy these birds in their forest areas and natural environment.
Many birds are common to both Peninsula Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak but some species, known as endemics, are unique to a certain location, such as the Malayan Whistling Thrush in the Peninsula. On Borneo, there are over 30 endemics including the Borneo Blue Flycatcher and Yellow-rumpled Flowerpecker in Sabah. The Malaysian rainforests can be generally divided into three distinctive habitat types – coastal mangroves, lowland rainforests and montane or mountain forests. Swampy mangroves forest ecosystems where salt and freshwater environs meet on the coastline fringe are home to birds such as the Common Kingfisher. Lowland rainforests, including freshwater swamp, peat and hill dipterocarp forests, remain the most extensive habitat for over 200 birds and are crucial to Storm’s Stork and Green Imperial Pigeon. Mountain forest generally occur above an elevation of 900m, where species such as the Mountain Peacock-Pheasant and Mountain Blackeye thrive in the cool damp climates and stunted trees of these high altitude regions. While each habitat provides an excellent concentrated birding experience, in Malaysia it is not difficult to visit several sites in different ecological zones to enjoy the variation in bird life.
POPULAR BIRDING SITES
With the increase in nature and environmental awareness, more and more sites have been identified where birds can be observed and there are also bird sanctuaries designated around the country. For the serious enthusiasts, a comprehensive itinerary spanning the Peninsular and Borneo could include: Kuala Selangor, Fraser’s Hill, Taman Negara, Bako National Park in Sarawak, Kinabalu Park and Danum Valley in Sabah. For beginners or those who are limited to around Kula Lumpur, there are several excellent bird watching sites within a few hours drive from the city. One new area that has made a name for itself in birding cycles is Putrajaya Wetlands, a human-enhanced wetland environment that has begun to attract both birds and bird-watchers, less than an hour south of Kuala Lumpur. For a pleasant day trip, check out the Kuala Selangor Nature Park, a mangrove swamp along the west coast that supports 130 bird species and some seasonal migrants including the rare Spoonbilled Sandpiper.
Fraser’s Hill and Cameron Highlands both offer lush green hill surroundings with panoramic views and hiking trails where bird life abounds. Those with more time may want to travel further inland into Malaysia’s premier national park, Taman Negara, where dense ancient lowland forests are home to over 300 bird species. Another popular site is Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary on the Perak coast, where endangered Milky Storks congregate. Over in Borneo, The Kota Kinabalu City Bird Sanctuary, a feeding ground for many species of resident birds and several migratory species from Northern Asia is easily accessible from the capital of Sabah. Kinabalu Park, a World Heritage Site with its own endemics such as the Kinabalu Warbler, is just two hours away from the city. Many good birding sites can be found in Sarawak, such as Gunung Mulu National Park. Sarawak endemics can also be found, such as Hose’s Broadbill in the Kelabit Highlands.
BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY IN MALAYSIA
Malaysia is blessed with lush tropical rainforest and many other habitats which are home to a vast array of birds. With more than 746 species of tropical resident and migrant birds, there are ample opportunities for bird photography and other bird related activities in Malaysia. Most of the resident birds in Malaysia are exquisite colourful. Therefore, many birds here are much sought after by bird and wildlife photographers. The natural habitats and forest settings offer photographers ideal backdrops for bird photography. Bird photography can be carried out in many bird watching areas in Malaysia.
Birds can be found in various habitats including beach areas, coastal mudflats, mangrove areas, lowland forests and mountain forests. These habitats can be found in the many national parks, nature parks, wildlife reserves and recreational forests in both Peninsular Malaysia as well as Sabah and Sarawak. Bird photography can be carried out quite easily using various basic photographic equipments. The advancement of the dig iscoping technique photography has made this a very popular method of bird photography in Malaysia and this technique is also practiced by photographers worldwide. In recent times, digital single lens reflex cameras are popularly used to take bird photographs. It is a rewarding hobby, which combines patience, skills and knowledge in choosing bird species and habitats.
BIRD STUDY & BIRD CONSERVATION
With the great diversity of birds found in Malaysia, birds and bird habitats are constantly facing challenges to their existence due to development, habitat loss and other factors. Some bird species are dwindling or facing the danger of extinction. Some conservation organisations in Malaysia carry out bird studies and conservation projects to assist in the conservation of birds. These organisations include the Malaysian Nature Society and the Asian Raptor Research & Conservation Network. Among others, the MNS carries out studies on the Plain Pouched Horn bill at the Temengor Forest Reserve in Perak. The ARRCN regularly conducts conservation projects in Malaysia and Asia. One of its projects is the Asian Raptor Migration Survey project where migration data are collected from member countries in Asia. It also carries out ecological and biological studies by collecting data on the Wallace’s Hawk Eagle, Bat Hawk and the Black Eagle. Visiting bird watchers have a chance to participate in bird studies and projects and get a unique experience in these conservation projects. They may take part in the bird study experience by contacting the various bird conservation organisations.