Days 1 - 2
FLY TO KUALA LUMPUR
Our birdwatching tour to the Malay Peninsula begins with a non-stop British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur, where we arrive on the afternoon of day two.
Our local guide Lee will be waiting to welcome us and we make a short journey to our hotel at Shah Alam. Night Shah Alam
SHAH ALAM & KUALA SELANGOR
At the nearby gardens at Shah Alam and in the botanical gardens there we will have a gentle introduction to some of the bulbuls and munias, including White-headed Munia in the cultivated fields. Our 'target bird' here is the fine Hooded Pitta that winters in the gardens, and we might also find a Blue-winged Pitta if we are very lucky - we were in 2018! In local parks, we have a chance of the noble Barred Eagle Owl.
After lunch we head for the coast at Kuala Selangor, where after checking in at our hotel and perhaps a brief siesta, we will visit local rice fields that host hundreds of egrets and swarms of swiftlets. For those with energy and enthusiasm to spare there will be the option of a short outing after dinner this evening in hopes of finding Buffy Fish Owl or Large-tailed Nightjar. Night Kuala Selangor
KUALA SELANGOR TO FRASER’S HILL
The heat and humidity builds rapidly on the Malaysian coast so we will want to make the most of the cool hours of the early morning for a return visit to Kuala Selangor. With its extensive mangroves and brackish swamps, this pleasant coastal wetland is home to a very different range of birds and mammals than we are likely to see elsewhere. Our first Pink-necked Green Pigeons, Coppersmith Barbets, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and Asian Glossy Starlings await at the Kuala Selangor Nature Park - a splendid mangrove reserve at the mouth of the Selangor River. The large and imposing Buffy Fish Owl occurs in the area – but we will have to get there early!
Brahminy Kites and White-bellied Sea Eagles soar in the skies above the fishing village, where an excellent boardwalk leads out through the mangroves. From here we have chances of seeing several specialist mangrove feeders, including Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, the lovely Mangrove Blue Flycatcher and the more sombre Mangrove Whistler - along with the big Black-capped and Stork-billed Kingfishers, Common Flameback, Laced Woodpecker and Brown-throated Sunbird. Smooth-coated Otters and Long-tailed Macaques, as well as the much scarcer Silvered Leaf Monkey can sometimes be seen. If our visit coincides with low tide, there may be waders on the mud along with gesturing Fiddler Crabs and several kinds of mudskipper.
After a lovely lunch on the banks of the river, we will take a brief look at the local mudflats – hoping that the tide is not too far out – in search of a wonderment of waders, including Terek and Broad-billed Sandpipers. Our journey northeast heads past Selangor Dam, where we stop to look for the ‘beefy’ Rufous-bellied Swallow. By late afternoon, we should be climbing up into the Genting Highlands to arrive at one of Malaysia’s best-loved birding spots - Fraser’s Hill - at the start of a three-night stay. Night Fraser’s Hill
Days 5 - 6
Fraser’s Hill is a former tin mine and colonial hill station, established by the British to escape the stifling heat of Malaysia's coastal lowlands. Set amidst the Peninsula’s cooler montane forest and with magnificent views into the surrounding hills, it’s a delightful location in which to seek out a wealth of bird species restricted to Malaysia’s central highlands.
Lured into the forest by the ‘Siren songs’ of Siamangs and White-handed Gibbons, the range of species to be found here is indeed impressive! We will bird at a leisurely pace along roadsides and forest trails at elevations between ca. 820 and 1320 metres. Especially at the higher levels, birds tend to remain active throughout the day and our time will be filled with such treats as Dark Hawk-cuckoo, Collared Owlet, Fire-tufted and Black-browed Barbets, Greater Yellownape, Long-tailed Broadbill, Black-and-crimson Oriole, Common Green Magpie, Golden Babbler, Chestnut-capped and endemic Malayan Laughingthrushes, Silver-eared Mesia, Blyth's and Black-eared Shrike-babblers, Chestnut-crowned and Yellow-bellied Warblers, Little Pied and Rufous-browed Flycatchers, and the energetic Streaked Spiderhunter... With luck, and an early start, we might also come across Malayan Whistling Thrush, a scarce and retiring endemic.
From the extensive network of forest trails we have chances of finding the elusive Malaysian Partridge, Rusty-naped Pitta, Yellow-vented Pigeon and Blue Nuthatch. All forest birding requires a combination of skill, patience and luck, but with Lee’s local expertise and amazing hearing our chances of success are greatly increased. One evening we will head out hoping to see Brown Wood Owl, Grey Nightjar and perhaps a Mountain Scops Owl calling - though actually getting to see one is rather more of a challenge! Nights Fraser’s Hill
FRASER’S HILL TO BUKIT TINGGI
We’ll spend a final morning at Fraser’s Hill, picking off some of the few remaining new birds. Local feeding stations are often frequented by Rufous-browed and Mugimaki Flycatchers, and Large Niltavas - the males brilliant in their cobalt-blue plumage. Understated Buff-breasted Babblers sneak out from the vegetation, but Streaked and Pygmy Wren-babblers are rather more loathe to do so.
After lunch, we return to the hotel and load up for a two-hour drive to another hilltop resort - Bukit Tinggi. This will be our base for one night in readiness for an early morning start tomorrow near the Japanese Garden. Night Bukit Tinggi
BUKIT TINGGI TO TAMAN NEGARA
Rising early we'll have a quick snack and drive to an area near the Japanese Garden, then walk out to a viewing area in readiness for two ‘five-star’ birds. Over the past two years at Bukit Tinggi, birders have been able to see the highly sought-after Mountain Peacock-pheasant and richly coloured Ferruginous Partridge. Both are normally very elusive and hardly ever seen, but they come each morning to a feeding area here and show off their splendour! We have a good chance of seeing them today before returning for a late breakfast in readiness for our drive to Taman Negara.
We head first towards Krau Forest Reserve and nearby wetlands. The sedge-fringed lakes may hold Yellow Bittern, and the surrounding trees offer the huge-billed Golden-whiskered Barbet and Oriental Pied Hornbill. In the forest we also have our first chance of Garnet and Malayan Banded Pittas, plus many bulbuls and Whiskered Treeswifts.
We'll aim to arrive at Kuala Tahan, headquarters of the Taman Negara National Park, late in the afternoon and in good time to settle into our comfortable air-conditioned chalets at Taman Negara Mutiara Resort, which will be our base for the next four nights. Night Taman Negara
Days 9 - 11
TAMAN NEGARA NATIONAL PARK
Each day we will set off to explore the excellent system of forest trails close to our lodgings, or take short boat rides out along the Sungei Tahan. If we can locate a fruiting tree, we’ll find this welcome but short-lived food supply draws innumerable frugivores such as pigeons, hornbills, barbets and bulbuls. While many of the park’s birds and mammals can be difficult to observe in the depths of the forest, our extended stay at Taman Negara allows ample time to try for them. Whatever we see, birding here is always exciting and over the coming days we are in for a real treat!
Walking within Taman Negara’s immense, timeless forests is a humbling experience. Largely unchanged for millions of years, the forest giants - towering up to 50 metres above our heads - dominate this environment. Birds are everywhere in the forest, but often occurring at surprisingly low densities or roving in mixed feeding flocks - so we may go some time before actually seeing one!
As we gradually become accustomed to birding within the forest however we will start to realise that there is always something to watch - from the endless processions of termites to a plethora of beautiful butterflies. We should also come across a fascinating range of mammals, among them perhaps Dusky Leaf Monkey, Greater Treeshrew and the beautiful Prevost’s Squirrel. Taman Negara is home to many of Malaysia’s larger mammals too, but the likes of Asian Elephant, Tiger and Malayan Tapir are retiring and only rarely observed.
Despite the many distractions, birds will always be uppermost in our minds. Lesser Fish Eagle, Black-thighed Falconet, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, the amusing Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, Plaintive Cuckoo, Square-tailed Drongo-cuckoo, Raffles’s, Black-bellied and Red-billed Malkohas, the outsize Malaysian Eared Nightjar, Silver-rumped Spinetail, Brown-backed Needletail and the lovely Blue-banded Kingfisher are among the many species we could see. As emerald Red-throated and Golden-whiskered Barbets ‘chok’ monotonously away from the lofty forest canopy, there are also more than fifteen different woodpeckers to watch for - including the huge Great Slaty and White-bellied, Crimson-winged and the amazing Orange-backed. Then there are all those fabulous broadbills to enjoy: Black-and-yellow, Black-and-red, Banded and Green.
Spectacular pheasants are well represented at Taman Negara. Daily, we will hear the loud resonant calls of Great Argus. Yet despite this bird's enormous size, actually seeing one is remarkably difficult! Exquisite Crested Firebacks are usually a little easier, with small parties emerging to feed on the trails in the early mornings. Trogons invariably feature high on everyone’s list of personal favourites, a sudden burst of vivid colour bringing the middle storey to life and betraying the presence of Scarlet-rumped, Diard’s and Red-naped. Above them, parties of hornbills crash through the upper branches in search of fruiting figs; Black, Rhinoceros, Helmeted and White-crowned Hornbills are among eight species present at Taman Negara.
This is one of the best places to hear the loud and beautiful song of the Straw-headed Bulbul, a now rare riverine species threatened by the cage-bird trade.
Down on the shady forest floor - though like the pheasants, always difficult to see - handsome Garnet and Malayan Banded Pittas are among several of these jewel-like terrestrial species to watch for during our stay. Dressed in more subtle shades, Taman Negara’s babblers include Abbott’s and Chestnut-winged, Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler and Pin-striped Wren-babbler... And we haven’t even started on the plethora of sunbirds, bulbuls and other small birds that await us! While an evening’s 'owling' adds the prospect of Brown Hawk Owl, along with Gould’s and Blyth’s Frogmouths. Three nights Taman Negara
KUALA LUMPUR, FLY LONDON
We'll enjoy a final morningofbirding followed bylunch at Taman Negara before leaving this wonderful National Park and travelling back to Kuala Lumpur. After an evening meal at a superb local restaurant, we return to the airport, say farewell to our local guide and board our British Airways late evening flight home.
Morning arrival in London, where our birding tour to the Malay Peninsula concludes.