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   Introduction  

From moss covered mountain ranges to muddy mangroves, the Malaysian landscape teems with hundreds of birds which thrive in the tropical environment. With over 600 species inhabiting the peninsula and some 580 species in Borneo, it is easy to understand why bird watches are drawn to Malaysia. Due to the diversity of habitats, there are many places with abundant birdlife to choose from. An activity for the family or small groups, bird watching is made more interactive with more eyes to peer into thick bush or scan the skies as well as by sharing the different markings of the birds seen by fellow participants.

 

   Habitats  
Malaysia is separated into two main birding regions - Peninsula Malaysia, and the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo. Many birds are common to both geographic areas through some species, known as endemics, are unique to a certain location, such as the Malayan Whistling Thrush in the peninsula and the Borneo Blue Flycatcher and Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker in Sabah.

Underscoring the importance of forests, birding activities are concentrated in three distinctive habitat types - mountain forests, lowland rainforests and mangroves. Mountain forests generally occur above an elevation of 900 meters, where species such as the Mountain peacock-Pheasent and Mountain Blackeye thrive, in the cool damp climates and stunted trees of these high altitude regions.

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 Stock and Green Imperial Pigeon.

Other birds such as the Common Kingfisher depend on the mangrove forest ecosystems where salt and freshwater environs meet on the coastline fringe. While each habitat provides an excellent birding experience, try to visit several sites in different ecological zones to enjoy the variation in birdlife.

BIRD WATCHING SITES

Bukit Larut (Maxwell Hill) Perak Mountain forest
Kuala Selangor Nature Park Selangor Mangrove forest
Cameron Highlands Pahang Mountain forest
Genting Highlands Pahang Mountain forest
Taman Negara Pahang Lowland rainforest
Fraser's Hill Pahang Mountain forest
Kinabalu Park Sabah Mountain forest
Kota Belud Bird Sanctuary Sabah Lowland rainforest
Danum Valley Sabah Lowland rainforest
Bako National Park Sarawak Lowland rainforest
Cunung Mulu National Park Sarawak Mangrove

   Easy Access Sites  
For the first-time bird watcher or the avid amateur, there are three excellent bird watching sites within a few hours drive from Kuala Lumpur. These sites are easily accessible by bus or car and are equipped with a variety of accommodation for those who wish to spend time away from the city.

Fraser's Hill and Cameron Highlands both offer lush green surroundings with panoramic views and walkable hiking trails where bird life abound. 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.

In addition, those with more time may want to travel further inland into Malaysia's premier national park, Taman Negara where dense lowland forests are home to over 200 bird species.

The Kota Kinabalu City Bird Sanctuary, a refuge and feeding ground for many species of resident birds and several migratory species from Northern Asia is easily accessible to visitors to the capital of Sabah on the island of Borneo.

   Seasons  
The tropical climate of Malaysia allows bird watching to be a year-round activity. Of course, visitors will have to keep the rainy season in mind when planning excursions and take along rain gear or a poncho. Rain usually falls heaviest from September to December in the west coast and from October to February in the east coast and in Sabah and Sarawak. Migratory birds use Malaysia's west coast flyway to travel to Sumatra and beyond with peak movements in April and October.

As with all wildlife, all possible care and respect is to be given to the birds and their habitats. It is illegal to harass, disturb, shoot or capture any bird in a gazetted bird sanctuary and trafficking in protected species is prohibited under the Protection of Wilf Life Act 1972 in Peninsula Malaysia, with separate acts enforced in Sabah and Sarawak.

Permits from the Forestry Department of the various states may be needed at some bird sanctuaries. Bird watchers are advised to check with their guides or tour agent.

PRACTICAL BIRD WATCHING TIPS

  • A pair of binoculars helps to locate and identify distant and high flying birds.
  • Field guidebooks are useful references to identify different species by their plummage, colour and habit preferences. Bring a notebook to jot down your findings and observations.
  • Wear drab coloured clothing to blend in with the surroundings. Long sleeved cotton shirts, long pants and leech socks help protect you from insects and leeches.
  • Field boots will keep feet dry and provide traction on slippery terrain.
  • most birds are active in the morning and late afternoon when the temperature is cooler. Consult your guide book as to when are the best times to spot a particular species.
  • Many birds have regular feeding habits and patterns. A good place to watch for shorebirds is at mudflats during low tide.
  • Some parks have covered hides, both elevated or at ground level. These assist bird watchers and photographers alike.
  • When photographing birds, use long - range lenses and flash equipment as there may not be sufficient natural light.

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