Friday, May 29, 2009

Our blog made it to Malay Mail's Cyberspot

Our blog was featured on Malay Mail's Cyberspot Thursday 28th May 2009. You'll see there pictures of some of MNS Miri's favorite subjects and friends:

Or just go to
click on News
click on Cyberspot
our's is titled "A leopard in spider's web".

Monday, May 25, 2009

Belum-Temmenggor Hornbill Volunteer Programme 2009

The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) previously organised two scientific expeditions in 1994 and 1998 into the Belum-Temengor forest complex to document its rich biological diversity and subsequently proposed for its gazzettement as a protected area. During these expeditions, MNS discovered the spectacular mass movement of the globally threatened Plain-pouched hornbill Aceros subruficollis in its thousands.

In Malaysia hornbills can be found in secondary and virgin rainforest. One of the areas hornbills are found in Malaysia is Belum- Temengor in the state of Perak which is a rainforest complex estimated to be 130 million years old.

Always wanted to play an active role in conservation, right smack where the action is thick? This is it. Come join us.

For more details and application form, please visit the original article which can be found on

Easy Birdwatching in Kuala Baram

The old road to Kampong Masjid in Kuala Baram is a nice quiet place for birdwatching. On a good day you can get quite a number of interesting ticks to be added to your birdlist.

The road used to be a busy road when the Kuala Baram ferry was still in operation, serving Sarawakians and Bruneians alike for their daily and weekend commute across Sungai Baram and then across the border for shopping, entertainment and what not. These days with the opening of the ASEAN Bridge, the trunk road is practically deserted saved for a few motorists plying the route from Kampong Masjid and the odd one or two anglers fishing Kuala Baram estuary at the fisheries jetty at the end of the village.

Bird seen 24-05-2009:
Oriental Darter, Dollarbird, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Olive-backed Sunbird, Pied Thriller, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Striated Grassbird, Collared Kingfisher, Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Common Iora, Green Pigeons, Black-headed Munia, Dusky Munia.

The marshes between the road and beach has also provided some very interesting waterbirds over the past year.

Oriental Darter, extinct in West Malaysia, howver still holding on precariously this side of the pond, can be regularly seen feeding, flying over or resting in the marshes fronting South China Sea. There's a healthy breeding population across the border. There's less than ten of these birds sighted this side of the check-point since 2007. Clearing of peatswamps for plantation, farming, development, and hunting are a few of the main reasons which attribute to it's decline in population numbers.

Blue-throated Bee Eater. This is very common allong the powerlines along the Kpg Masjid road feeding on the abundant insects in the area. The more common Chestnut-headed Bee Eater is commonly seen inside the peatswamps itself.

Dollarbird. At least ten of these pretty birds were seen resting on the powerlines and bare trees of the peatswamps during the weekend. Their distinctive orange bill and beautifully indigo mantle is a sight to behold, color details are nicely accentuated in frontlit natural morning light.

The quiet trunk road leading to Kampung Masjid which has seen busier days. The verdant trees along the road provided plenty of shade and cover for the avid birder and birds alike. Throughout the day, smaller birds can be seen in search of caterpillars and other juicy snacks. Velvet-fronted nuthatch, Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker, Common Iora, Olive-backed Sunbird, Pied Thriller are a few birds sighted over the weekend right in these here trees.

A casual birder would only need a good hat, foldable chair, a good birdbook and a flask of tea to enjoy an easy day of birdwatching at Kuala Baram. With luck you may just tick that rare bird or Borneo endemic that's been eluding you all this while.

All photos by MNS Miri.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pak Enche of Kampung Kuala Suai

Kampong Kuala Suai is a sleepy village if there ever was one, many years past it's prime. It's made up of roughly twenty run down wooden houses and almost as many abandoned ones.

One of the main reasons we came to stay the nite in Kampung Kuala Suai was actually to meet up with the Tuai Kampong and the Crocodile Shaman. Our recce guys met with the Tuai back in October and he seemed to be an interesting person to talk to about the village and areas surrounding it. Back in December Pak Yusof also mentioned about a 120 year old shaman which piqued our interest even more.

Upon arrival at the village, we were ushered to Pak Rahim's house where we put up for the nite. The ladies of the village came over and bergotong-royong to cook dinner for us at the house. Pak Rahim is the younger son of the previous Tuai and are used to the commotion raised up at the house whenever the odd visitors turned up at the village. He took it up upon himself to prepare for us welcoming drinks of fresh coconut, scrumptious dinner and breakfast the next day. Riza and Zakaria took active roles in making sure that everything was in place and ready for the visitors, which this time around was our party of eleven.

We met the Crocodile Shaman, who turns out to be Pak Yusof's uncle ... both Riza's and Zakaria's grand-uncle. Li, the shaman's only son is the uncle to both Riza and Zakaria. The whole village seems to be related to one another ... at least those who are still staying in the village. Most has already left after the logging boom to either Miri or Bintulu. There were many abandoned houses all over the village, even the sole surau has seen better days. The folks we met in the kampong were mostly men and elder women, and there were hardly even a shadow of any kids running around.

Pak Enche, the Crocodile Shaman, is definitely over one hundred years old, at least according to his own estimate. He's Malay, in good health, smokes and was very proud of the fact that he used to walk without a walking staff only a few weeks before our arrival. We talked to him for almost an hour and he was standing all this while, relating to us stories of younger days and his crocodile exploits. He used to work in Penang during the Japanese occupation and was proud of the fact that he was a part of the second World War efforts thwarting Japanese occupation of Malaya.

What interest us most was his crocodilean exploits. Having heard that crocodile shamanism is rare and far in between in these modern days, we were most intrique to get to the bottom of his deeds. "Interesting" is perhaps a mild word to describe Pak Enche's dealings with crocodiles.

One hour was hardly enough time for us to dig up as much as we wanted to about his capabilities with crocodiles. So far these are the few important facts we managed to decipher from our conversations with him:

1) It's based on old Malay mantra's written in Jawi scripts
2) No bait was involved in getting the crocodile out of the water
3) Female crocodiles feature heavily in his shamanism in a rather peculiar way
4) He is last in line, his only son, Li refuse to take up the legacy
5) He has coaxed a huge male crocodile of of the water onto the bank by just tapping on his nose
(the beast was 4 ft high and approximately 33 ft long).
6) He once saved the life of one of his children bitten by a deadly seasnake
7) His secret rendezvous with his crocodile wives in the evenings by the banks of Sg Suai sheltered by fallen nibong palms.
8) His numerous crocodile children

In between items 1-8 listed above, there are probably a long list of other more interesting facts that not many people know about Pak Enche's style of crocodile shamanism. Crocodiles being a prominent feature of daily lives of rural folks in Sarawak, it seemed rather inappropriate and sad that such vast knowledge and storehouse of experience dealing with this reptilian would just dissappear altogether with the passing of folks such as Pak Enche.

Pak Enche seemed willing to share, if you are male and a Malay. His own lament was the fact that not one of his offsprings are interested to learn the craft and partake the family legacy, his own admission "Melanaus (refering to the rest of his Suai extended family) do not have the penchant for reading Jawi scripts, so it's even harder!"

Zakaria, Li and Riza's admitted unabashedly : "We are not strong enough to associate with the female crocodiles! Too scared to go near them." Intriquing proposition.

Pak Enche of Kpg Kuala Suai.

Li standing next to his father.


The Suai-Nyalau Walk

Most of us gathered again for a continuation of the December Long Walk April 24-26th with the aim to complete the 25km Suai-Nyalau section we skipped back in December.

Though not all the original walkers were present, we had with us the main crew : Patricia, Ali, Rabani, Sara and Nazeri. New on the walk this time around were : Anura, CY, Clare and Rosie. Also with us were Faye and Steve, both joining us for the overnite trip but skipping the 25km walk part of the trip. Missing from the original team were : Radhika, Maye, Zeanna and Roslee.

It was great fun assembling the participants from Kuala Lumpur (CY), KK (Rabani, Ali, Pat) and Miri (the rest) in Bekenu. With different schedules, timing and lunchtimes we finally met in the middle of Bekenu roundabout 1300 hrs. A quick lunch, dash for petrol, fresh chickens and other supplies later saw us zipping along the Miri-Bintulu Coastal Highway (dubbed Highway of Terror by some uninformed and prone to dramatics reporter) in four cars towards Suai Bridge.

Almost an hour's wait at the convenience store below the bridge later we were introduced to Ramli Thomas, son of Pak Yusof Gayu, the elder Iban chap we met in Kpg Suai four months earlier. Ramli had the same gait as his father, the same frame and ardour but didn't inherit much of his dad's cheery, affable disposition. Perhaps that only will develops later towards old age, 14 children and after having lived through two wives.

Ramli quickly shred our well-planned routes and timing to bits almost as soon as we presented our maps to him.

Sg Telong: big river, infested with crocodiles, bridges have all but collapsed ages ago. There were also three rivers that looked tiny on a google map: big rivers, many crocodiles, no bridges including an extra river we didn't see on the map. Changing our route away from the coast would mean walking an extra 3 hours inland in the midst of plantation burning. It didn't help our spirit that at lunchtime we were related a story by a guy who went fishing on one of those rivers of many crocodiles whose eye-eye distance spans more than a foot across. It'd be nice to meet such a crocodile on tv but on in person.

All this even before we even begin loading our packs and gear into our intended boats to Suai!

However, Ramli was quick to re-built up our confidence with "Don't worry, crocodiles do not disturb people!". "We swim across those rivers all the time!" "You only need a tin can to make some loud noises before swimming across!" and the best of all "Just bring a long staff and stab the water once in a while!" Rebuilt our confidence he did in a way but not by much.

We collectively decided on a safer method befitting our collective adventurous spirit of the day : we'll cross all the rivers by boat! We decided not to test the ferocity of these crocodiles. Best leave that to the kampong folks and experts only. Folks used to living with crocodiles as their neighbours have built a healthy respect for the animal ... phrase such as "they don't disturb kampong people" and "they know us" are commonly heard during conversations revolving around crocodiles. Of course getting first hand evidence to negate or prove this only comes about when it's a little too late for a change of heart.

We hopped on the boats and continued our journey to Kampung Kuala Suai after thanking Ramli for all his timely advise, and assurances of warm reception by the villagers. He provided us Riza (Ramli's own son) and Zakaria (Pak Yusof's son) as his envoy to take us to the village. The Tuai Kampong was away on business, it was Ramli's prerogative to ensure our visit was a memorable one.

The mighty Suai was quiet when our boats journeyed along it. Several kingfishers, egrets (Little Egrets and Great Egrets), large monitor lizards and a couple of juvenile crocodiles were all that was sighted along the way. We did notice huge tracks of cleared forests as a result of alleged illegal logging as well as clearing of large tracks of land for oil palm plantation. Weeks before the whole of Suai and Niah was enveloped in a thick smoke coming from massive land clearing efforts in the area.

Burning up of Suai, this took place a week before our journey.

Kpg Kuala Suai at low tide.

Early morning at the estuary of Sg Suai.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Birds from WMBD 2009 in Miri and Similajau

This year World Migratory Bird Day 2009 is celebrated at two locations in Sarawak's Northern Division, in Miri and Similajau National Park.

Birdwatching excursions catering to MNS members and the public were organised to several interesting locations in Miri with the purpose of introducing WMBD, waterbirds and birds in general. Reception from the public was rather lukewarm this year due to another big do, Miri Jazz Festival which fell on the same weekend. Nonetheless, several avid birders and closet-jazz fans turned up and braved our early morning forays into the peatswamps for unparalleled views of wild ducks and darters. Almost sixty wild ducks and six darters sighted!

The Miri WMBD will culminate with a Drawing Coloring Contest and Talk to be held at Pustaka Miri from 1300 hrs onwards on Saturday, 16th May 2009.

The Similajau WMBD event can be classed as a roaring success! Almost eigthy children, ten teachers from two schools, staff and family members of Similajau Park and SFC-Bintulu Regional Office, volunteers from Grand Perfect, MNS Miri made the weekend a truly enjoyable and educational wekend for all involved. Led by Denis Degullacion of Borneo Bird Club, both participants and crew were introduced to some very interesting birds of Similajau National Park. The Black Hornbill, typically seen literally walking around the park on other days were not seen during this particular weekend however ... this calls for another trip, Denis!

Special thanks go to all volunteers and participants from SFC-Bintulu Regional Office, Similajau National Park, Grand Perfect and MNS Miri for their tireless effort and dedication. A collossal thank you goes to Denis for sacrificing his valuable long weekend to talk birds, share his passion and slides and educate the children and participants in general about this wonderful activity.

Till WMBD 2010!

Similajau National Park sunset 10-05-09. The WMBD 2009 program at Similajau saw a corporate body and volunteers working together to bring a worthwhile awareness program to their surrounding community. Nearly 70 children attending schools near the park received first hand lessons on birds and birdwatching from experienced birders especially flown in for the event. Park staff and family members participated enthusiastically in the weekend program. Everyone's already getting psyched up for WMBD 2010 ... we are ready to explore the trails of the park for more interesting birds.

A Large-tailed Nitejar perched on a lamp post at the parking lot of Similajau National Park 10-05-09. A nite excursions that follows the road to the park revealed more than 12 nite-jars perched along distance markers and power lines. A total of threes species of owls and one small mammal (either a moonrat or small wild feline) were also detected.

Denis of Borneo Bird Club getting the sights adjusted for a pair of Long-tailed Parakeet for staff and friends of Similajau National Park 10-05-09. There's nothing like a 60x magnified view of a bird to truly appreciate nature's intricate beauty and design.

A young birder focussed on a Mountain Imperial Pigeon at Similajau National Park during it's celebration of WMBD 2009, first for the Park, first for Bintulu 10-05-09. Excellent collaboration between Similajau National Park, SFC Bintulu Regional Office with expert help from Denis of Borneo Bird Club, Joanes, Belden and Dave of Grand Perfect, Musa and Rosie of MNS Miri. Generous contribution and support from the park, it's staff and Regional Office made this first time event a roaring success.

Teachers and students getting their binos and guidebook sorted before heading out to the secondary forest near the SK Kpg Masjid, Bekenu 10-05-09. There were plenty of species typical of open grassland and forest edge to keep the children fully captivated. This is the children's second birdwatching excursion in a year ... clearly more birding sorties are called for. Photo by Sara Wong, MNS Miri.

Students checking out the typical birds on a laptop at SK Kpg Masjid, Bekenu prior to the birdwatching excursion with our little birder friends from Bekenu 10-05-09. Photo by Sara Wong, MNS Miri.

Schoolchildren getting their firsthand lessons on birdwatching at Similajau National Park under expert guidance from Denis Degullacion, Borneo Bird Club and Anne King, PIC Similajau National Park. Photo by Musa Musbah, MNS Miri.

Getting down to the business of watching birds at Similajau National Park 09-05-09. Photo by Musa Musbah, MNS Miri.

Denis covering the finer details of a spotting scope and digiscoping to next generation naturalists 09-05-09. Photo by Musa Musbah, MNS Miri.

Getting excited about birds, 09-05-09. Photo by Musa Musbah, MNS Miri.

Joanes and Dave from Grand Perfect helping to show the children some of the birds that can be found that Similajau National Park 09-05-09. For some of this children this is their first visit to the park as well as their first try at birdwatching. From first impression, we think they are very excited about the birds thatthey see. Photo by Musa Musbah, MNS Miri.

MNS Miri birdwatchers eyeing the Curtin Lakes from a distance 09-05-09. The small lake shelter quite an amazing number of waterbirds.

'Weapon of Mass Destruction' seen at a location nearby 09-05-09. Sandmining activities are agressively pursued at the lots neighbouring the lakes.

Wandering Whistling Duck in flight at the lake 09-05-09. Other birds seen: Cinnamon Bittern, Yellow Bittern, White-browed Crake, high number of Common Moorhen, six Oriental Darters, Black-winged Kite, a large unidentified raptor, Striated Grassbird, Intermediate Egret, Purple Heron, Cattle Egret, Lesser Coucal, Zebra Dove, andYellow-bellied Prinia.

Wandering Whistling Ducks at Curtin Lakes 08-05-09. Must've been a good year for the ducks of lakes, we spotted almost 50-60 youngsters circling around the lake this time around.

Prints made by a male non-breeding Watercock seen in the area. We managed to flush it out of hiding for proper id.

Chestnut Munia amongst the tall grasses 08-05-09 at Kuala Baram Vegetable Farm. Other sightings : Lesser Coucal, White-breasted Woodswallow, Blue-breasted Quail, Dusky Munia, non-breeding Watercock, Striated Grassbirds, Yellow-bellied Prinia.

Oriental Pratincole 08-05-09 Kuala Baram Vegetable Farm, standing ground. A juvenile was seen moments before. Three pairs were sighted from this site.

Oriental Pratincole 08-05-09 Kuala Baram Vegetable Farms.