Birdwatching is a relaxing way to get into the outdoors or it can also be adventurous. You can do it from your home garden or go into serious jungle for it.
Why do we love birds? They are lovely creatures with colourful splashes on their wings and they can sing wonderfully. Imagine waking up and hearing the melodious chirping of bulbuls, magpie robins and swifts.
Birds such as the magnificent Peacock Pheasant and hornbills are fauna which play a significant role in balancing our ecosystem.
It’s easy to take up birdwatching (also called birding). You just need a pair of binoculars to observe birds.
A birdwatcher should also wear green, brown or grey clothes in order to be camouflaged amidst the natural environment.
When one sees a magnificent bird like the Rhinoceros hornbill with an orange reddish crown, one also has to hide in the bushes – if the cackling bird catches sight of you, it will fly away immediately.
Sometimes, when venturing into the wilderness, you may also encounter real adventure. Once I drove to Merapoh, near the Pahang side of Taman Negara (National Park) with my friend Connie Khoo. We drove on a narrow trail in the middle of the forest and after hours of birding, we decided to have our lunch (we often bring sandwiches or cook noodles for meals).
“Watch out! The siamang gibbons are after us!” shrieked my friend.
We caught sight of the huge black gibbons scrambling down trees towards us. We grabbed our equipment, food and bags and drove off at once. These great creatures are fascinating – they jump from tree to tree carrying their babies and scare away smaller macaque monkeys and squirrels.
Often when birding, we can also see other wildlife. I have seen a little mouse deer foraging for food in the nearby forest and huge Crested-serpent Eagles catching snakes and geckos for meals.
Watch out also for the White-throated Kingfisher in your home garden, eating rats and frogs. On the coast, you may see large Brahminy Kites catching fish and sometimes even baby monkeys for their dinner – indeed birdwatching can be dramatic!
Malaysians need to safeguard ecosystems and the flora and fauna they sustain. Studies show that West Malaysia is home to 210 species of mammals and 620 species of birds, with thousands of insects and wildlife species.
One way to take up birdwatching is to join the Malaysian Nature Society or MNS.
I’ve joined the birdwatchers at MNS for some time and it’s good that they have cooperated for decades with organisations such as Bird Life International to protect our feathery friends.
The Bird Conservation Council has organised excellent events like the Raptor Watch in Port Dickson to for the pubic to appreciate and observe fascinating large birds (raptors) soaring in the sky.
In March every year, thousands of people come to watch about 40,000 raptors doing their annual migration, flying dramatically across the most narrow point in the Straits of Malacca from Sumatra to the lighthouse on a promontory at Tanjung Tuan, Port Dickson, before continueing their journey northwards.
Volunteer members from MNS will then count the number of these majestic birds for conservation studies.
Similarly, in October, MNS members will drive to Taiping, Perak and Betong, Kedah to count raptors with dedication.
Apart from raptors, members also observe hornbills in Lake Temenggor, near the Belum State Park of northern Perak. While Sarawak may be called the Land of the Hornbill, few people know that the forests of Belum and Temenggor have more species of beautiful hornbills!
Another bonus is that wild elephants are also quite easy to see here.
When I started birding, I followed Connie Khoo who lives in Simpang Pulai, Perak, near lovely caves. We went birding near a lake and saw colourful Plaintive Cuckoos perched on lilies in the pond.
“Red ants on your feet!” I warned her.
“Shhh!” whispered Khoo, giving me an annoyed look. Birders have to keep very quiet for birds are easily startled.
Despite the fiery ants on the ground, she stood really still, focussing her camera. Bird photographers can spend hours taking photos of just ONE lovely bird.
It started to drizzle and I opened my white umbrella to shelter us.
“No! Throw away your umbrella! You have to use a green umbrella!” she hissed , looking most perturbed.
Well, a birder has to carry brown or grey bags and umbrellas to avoid chasing birds away – some even drive green cars! Such is the dedication of those who are serious in this hobby.
Birders go to Kuala Koh (the Kelantan entrance of Taman Negara) to see elusive birds such as the Bamboo Woodpecker. There are huts with beds for overnight stays.
When we were hiking one day, we went far into the jungle and caught sight of a sun bear. Birding can be fun and we’ve caught glimpses of lemurs, tapirs and mouse deers.
Once, when we were in the middle of a virgin jungle in Ulu Muda, eastern Kedah, we saw elephants and even a tiger!
Another popular place is Maxwell Hill in Taiping. The mountains have different birds than the lowlands and it is easier to spot colourful birds in the cooler air.
One can walk the whole day in the cool atmosphere and photographers can take leisurely photos of the Dusky Broadbill, fiery Red Trogons and other iridescent birds. We usually stay in the Nest, a quaint hilltop bungalow – the caretaker is a great cook.
Frasers’s Hill is another splendid place for bird lovers. There are many hotels and apartments there and birders can enjoy just sitting in the garden while watching birds frolicking in the trees.
We also go trekking on some of the forest trails there. One can watch in delight as huge Brown Wood owls owls catch large beetles for meals in the misty evening air.
Interested in birdwatching? Contact MNS at firstname.lastname@example.org or the writer at email@example.com. You can also find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/sbbgbirdgroup.