Tuesday, June 30, 2009


MNS Miri has invited Lim Choon Kiat to be the main resource for this Astronomy Camp intended for Miri schoolchildren. He will be assisted by Kong Lih-Shan and Ernyza Endot, both are experienced amateur astronomers from MNS Miri.

CK Lim, as he is better known, has been a keen amateur astronomer for almost 20 years. He has been a member of the USM (Universiti Sains Malaysia) Astronomy Club since 1990, and has participated in numerous astronomy clubs and conferences in the USA over the years. Among the numerous specialties in the field of astronomy, En. Lim has special interest in astrophotography, telescope making and public education on astronomy.

Part I of the event consists of a streetside astronomy, followed by a talk and slideshow at Pustaka Negeri.

Part II of the event is an overnite astronomy camp at Borneo Tropical Rainforest Resort right after the talk at Pustaka.

To introduce amateur astronomy as a fulfilling hobby and to cultivate deep interests in the sciences amongst young people in Miri.

Part I: General Astronomy 11th July 2009

A SMART collaboration between PUSTAKA MIRI and MNS Miri Branch. This segment of the program is open to all Miri schoolchildren, the public and staff of Pustaka Negeri.

Participants will be exposed to general astronomy, handling of telescopes, our galaxy and galaxies around us. The Miri public is invited to drop by and have a chat on astronomy at Miri City Fan and/or Pustaka Miri at the time below:

Day One 11th July
0800 Arrival of Lim Choon Kiat at Kong Lih-Shan at Miri Airport
0900 Streetside Astronomy on Miri City Fan Grounds
Basics about Telescope Use and Handling Telescopes for Astronomy
1200 Break for Lunch
1315 Registration at Pustaka Miri, Registration for Astronomy Camp
1400 Talk and slideshow at Pustaka Miri (open to all)
Basics of Astronomy and The Joys of Stargazing
1600 End of Talk and Slideshow

Part II: ASTRONOMY CAMP 11-12th July 2009

A collaboration between BORNEO TROPICAL RAINFOREST RESORT and MNS Miri Branch.

This segment will give opportunity to participants to gaze at the nite stars, learn more about the Milky Way and other galaxies around us. There will be a segment on rocket building and rocket launching for our future astronauts.

This segment is open to registered paid participants 13-16 years of age with expressed parental consent.

Borneo Tropical Rainforest Resort have agreed to host this one night camp at their facility after the talk and slideshow at Pustaka Miri. Registration for the 1D/1N Astronomy Camp will take place before the talk. Camp participants will be transported to BTRR facility at the conclusion of the slideshow.

The Camp will cover a talk at Pustaka Miri on Saturday, Stargazing and Building Rockets at the core events to be held at BTRR grounds. There will also be additional sessions of familiarization with telescopes and tools for Astronomy at the Pustaka grounds during our streetside astronomy sessions 0900-1100hrs Saturday.

This program is open to all Miri schoolchildren ages 13-16 years old. Parental consent is an absolute requirement during registration. We will open the program to older persons when we have extra slots available.

There will be a $45/student registration fee for those participating in the overnite Astronomy Camp. This will cover transport to-from BTRR to Pustaka Miri; insurance coverage in case of any eventualities; buffet dinner, supper, breakfast and snacks at BTRR.

All participants will be awarded a participation certificate. There will also be a “Top Rocket” prize for best rocket launched.

The following details are required during registration:
1) Parental Consent
2) Parent’s Contact Number

Places are limited to 40 students only.

Parents are encourage to drop-off their children promptly 1330 hrs Saturday 11th July and pick-up 1230-1300 hrs Sunday 12th July 2009.

Day One 11th July 2009
1630 Camp participants hop on a bus to take them to BTRR
1700 Arrival at BTRR,
Check-in and familiarisation
1800 Dinner
1900 Stargazing I
2100 A primer on Making Rockets :
Theory and Practical, Building Rocket
2400 Late nite Supper, Stargazing II and Bedtime

Day Two 12th July 2009
0700 Wake up call
0800 Continue Build Rocket,
Final Touches and Checks
1000 Rocket launch briefing,
Launching of Rockets
Award of certificates, Top Rocket Awards
1130 Closing, End of program
1200 Transport back to Pustaka Miri

Please call Nazeri at 085-453185/016-8542212 or email mnsmiri@yahoo.com for more details.

Astronomy event miniposter.

Checking out the universe at SMK Lutong during our 2008 Astronomy Weekend in August.

Solar attraction on the grounds of Pustaka Miri at our Astronomy Weekend last August.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Kingfishers of the World

Kingfishers are a group of brightly colored birds with short legs and tails, big heads, and long powerful beaks. They eat insects, small vertebrates, and fish and are almost always associated with water. They nest in burrows in the ground, in tree trunks, river banks, or termite mounds. The family has worldwide distribution with a total of approximately 86 species. Fifteen of these are recorded in the Greater Sundas. ("A Fieldguide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali", John MacKinnon and Karen Phillips, 1993).

"Halcyone, goddess of the winds, married Ceyx, King of Trachis. Soon after their marriage, Ceyx was drowned in a storm at sea. The grieving wife, having learnt of his death in a dream and overwhelmed with sorrow, jumped into the sea close to the spot where Ceyx's ship was wrecked.

The gods took pity on Halycone and restored Ceyx to life, at the same time changing both husband and wife into kingfishers so that they might live happily together, always close to the element of water. The gods also promised that when Halcyone and her descendants were hatching eggs in their nests, which were supposed to be made of fish bones floating on the tide, the winds would be stilled and the waters calmed.

It was said that the seven days prior to the shortest day of the year in December was the time to build their nests and the seven days afterwards to hatch the eggs."

Kingfishers nest in holes, but the nest is invariably lined with fish bones, which are discarded after fish is eaten.

excerpt from "Kingfishers of the World" by Les Knowles and Jim Nitchen, 1995.

Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis

This species has the largest range of all the kingfisher family, being found throughout the Paleartic region to the Oriental region and eastwards far into the Pacific Islands. ("Kingfishers of the World", Les Knowles and Jim Nitchen, 1995)

Stork-billed Kingfisher Halcyon capensis

Frequently seen in open country and cultivated areas where it's slow deliberate flight is very noticeable. A very aggressive bird that will actively defend it's territory against other birds up to the size of a fish eagle. Although it always lives in pairs it invariably hunts in a solitary manner. ("Kingfishers of the World", Les Knowles and Jim Nitchen, 1995).

Collared Kingfisher Halcyon chloris

Widely distributed from the coast of Eritrea to as far east as Tonga and Samoa. There are a great many variations, approximately 50 subspecies, of Halcyon chloris throughout it's wide range. Variations in color, markings, size and voice give a rise to differences that requires much more information and research for these differences to be fully resolved. ("Kingfishers of the World", Les Knowles and Jim Nitchen, 1995).

Blue-eared Kingfisher Alcedo meninting
Photograph by Karim Madoya aka sinoorita

A mainly lowland species up to 350m, favours small streams and rivers in evergreen forest areas but also sometimes seen in cultivated areas and forest clearings where there is dense marginal vegetation; seldom seen in coastal areas. It is very shy and secretive in it's habits and very difficult to locate. ("Kingfishers of the World", Les Knowles and Jim Nitchen, 1995).

Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher Ceyx erithacus
Photograph by Karim Madoya aka sinoorita

This is a kingfisher of mature evergreen and damp decidous woodland and is also to be found in estuarine mangrove areas. It's flight is very fast and direct along woodland waterways. ("Kingfishers of the World", Les Knowles and Jim Nitchen, 1995).

Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata
Photograph by Karim Madoya aka sinoorita

To be found along the fringes of wooded streams, in mangrove areas along the coast and in estuaries. Also seen in cultivated areas of paddy fields and grassland away from woodland, up to 1000m. It's flight is very powerful and direct. ("Kingfishers of the World", Les Knowles and Jim Nitchen, 1995).

Ruddy Kingfisher Halcyon coromanda
Photographed by Choo Tse Chien

This kingfisher frequents forested streams and mangrove areas at the coast and has been recorded up to 2,000 metres. It is most difficult to observe as it sits in dense cover in the forest vegetation for long periods without movement. ("Kingfishers of the World", Les Knowles and Jim Nitchen, 1995).

Banded Kingfisher Lacedo pulchella
Photographed by Karim Madoya aka sinoorita

This species is exclusively a forest kingfisher rarely seen near water. Found sparsely distributed from the lowlands up to 1,500 metres in wet rain forests. It's activies has been described as 'woodpecker- like' by Harrison. ("Kingfishers of the World", Les Knowles and Jim Nitchen, 1995).

Rufous-collared Kingfisher Actenoides concretus
Photographed by Karim Madoya aka sinoorita

A kingfisher of the forests, its population is sparse and very local in lowland forest areas and overgrown rubber plantations where it is found up to 700 metres and up to 1,600 metres in Borneo. The lowland population is found near forest streams, but the population in higher areas is to be found away from the water. ("Kingfishers of the World", Les Knowles and Jim Nitchen, 1995).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Birdwatching in Lambir

Site 1. This fringes north-eastern border of the park where the top of canopy crane is visible. We have not tried this route yet, it could possibly yield some more interesting birds ... elusive forest kingfishers perhaps.

Site 2 aka Old Lambir logging trail, we've been here several times and have yielded Black and Yellow Broadbill, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Green Broadbill, Brown Barbet, Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Black-thighed Falconet, Malkoha and others

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Scrambling up Bukit Kasut, Niah NP

On 1st June 2009, two MNS Miri members decided to check out Madu and Bukit Kasut trails in Niah Caves National Park as part of a recce in preparation for our upcoming post trip event in conjunction with 62nd MNS National AGM to be held in Miri 3rd week September 2009.

The start of Madu trail is about 900m of comfortable stroll on plank walk and cement path from the archaeology museum opposite Park HQ across the Niah River. Madu trail follows Sg Subis – a small tributary of the mightier Sg Niah, and skirts along the western side of Subis Limestone, all the way up to Bukit Kasut trail. This particular forest trail can be wet and very muddy especially during the rainy season or after especially heavy downpour, many less fortunate souls have returned with one trekking shoe short. We picked a day that was relatively dry thus making our small adventure all the more enjoyable.

The forest habitat here is mainly riverine (or alluvial), peat swamp and limestone vegetation. We had the opportunity to cross Sg Subis at several places along the trail, on all accounts the view is most scenic and calming typical of any other rainforest enclaves we have come to know. Typical great examples of huge buttress roots and strangler figs can also be seen in many places along the trail. The air is filled with a cacophony of unfamiliar sounds. We heard plenty of birdcalls which indicated that this is a super place for birdwatching. Just a day before a separate party of MNS Miri members photographed and recorded the enigmatic calls of the Chestnut-rumped Babbler not far from here (article below). Continuous chirping of crickets and other insects filled the air. Those with an affinity for carbonates will be happy here. This forest trail offers a lot in terms of depositional carbonate structures, well-preserved with all the erosional imprints (rainwater, river and sea waves) from ages gone by. Clear carbonate depositional sequences can be observed along the trail at very close quarters.

The first 20 minutes of Bukit Kasut trail to the foothill of Bukit Kasut is flat similar Madu trail. The limestone hill is not considered high at 205m but it is very steep and presents a good challenge to any beginner to moderate climbers. Towards the last part of the climb, trekkers are aided by sections of ropes and long aluminum ladders fitted to the steepest slope. After an hour of strenuous, adrenaline pumping climb, we found ourselves at the summit with a beautiful view of the surrounding area overlooking the rainforest canopy of the National Park and the quaint Batu Niah township. We spent 40 minutes at the summit exploring the area and taking notes of the surrounding vegetation, resting and listening to traditional gong music wafting up the air from the town below, Batu Niah was apparently celebrating Gawai. The entire experience was as close to surreal as one can get at this elevation surrounded by old growth rainforest.

The climb down the limestone hill was as difficult as the climb up and for us it took approximately the same amount of time. Nevertheless, by 3:30pm, we were back in Park HQ, none the worse for wear except for some slight muscle soreness and scuffed trekking shoes.

Most people come to Niah Caves National Park to see the famous neolithic caves and artifacts of a millennia past. The Madu and Bukit Kasut trails offer a different kind of activities - jungle exploration and for the more active, a bit of adventure and adreline pumping sort of fun climbing and scrambling up the steep limestone hill we know as Bukit Kasut.

Admiring events that took place over geologic time imprinted on rocks exposed on present day.

Carbonate boulders strewn around the forest floor.

Swiftlets nest harvesting station at on one the caves leading to Bukit Kasut summit.

Strangler figs close to overwhelming its gracious host.

Article by Sara Wong and Michael Lim
Photographs by Sara Wong

Monday, June 1, 2009

A primer to Niah Caves National Park, Batu Niah

The Park is "located on the Sungai (river) Niah, about 3 km from the small town of Batu Niah, a 110 km short car journey to the south-west of Miri in northern Sarawak. The trip is shorter via the new coastal highway passing thru quaint townships of Bekenu and Sepupok.

The park was first gazetted as a National Historic Monument in 1958, gazetted as National Park on 23 November 1974 and was published to the public on 1 January 1975.

The Park is one of Sarawak's smaller national parks, but it is certainly one of the most important and has some of the most unusual visitor attractions. The park's main claim to fame is its role as one of the birthplaces of civilisation in the region. The oldest modern human remains discovered in Southeast Asia were found at Niah, making the park one of the most important archaeological sites in the world.

Forty thousand years ago, the Niah Great Cave sheltered human life. Here lies the oldest human remains in Southeast Asia, along with many other relics of prehistoric man. Today the Cave is home only to bats, swiftlets and other specially adapted forms of life. However, a few locals still venture into the dark interior to collect guano (bird and bat droppings used as fertilizer) and bird's nest.

The famous Painted Cave is another highlight of the visit to Niah Cave. Here, little human-like figures drawn in red haematite watch over a gravesite where the bodies of the dead were each laid in its own boat-shaped coffin. The Great Cave and Painted Cave have been declared as National Historical Monuments.

The Caves are accessible via a raised plankwalk that winds through lowland forest vibrant with birds and butterflies. Apart from the Caves, visitors can explore several kilometres of forest trails to feel the richness of tropical rainforests, climb a 400m tall limestone ridge or visit an Iban longhouse located near the Park boundary. Visitors can also rent a boat or walk along the river from Park headquarters to Batu Niah town."

The above description was lifted from Sarawak Forestry Corporation's website on Niah NP.

In conjunction with Malaysian Nature Society 62nd National AGM September 2009 taking place in Miri, the Secretariat and MNS Miri are offering a special 3D/2N post-trip visit to the park for members attending the AGM. For more details on the package, please contact Wee Chin at membership@mns.org.my

The neolithic cave paintings discovered in Painted Cave within the Niah Caves complex has been adopted at the emblem for the national park and proudly displayed at the park headquarters. All visitors to the park are required to register at the park office. Information about the park as well as bookings for accomodation and guides can be made here as well.

The park has choice accomodation available, the VIP chalet comes complete with modern trappings of home at $500/nite. Air-conditioned, equipped with a large verandah constructed entirely of belian wood overlooking the main river. This is made for a memorable family weekend stay at the park. Other well maintained chalets come in both AC and fan cooled clean and well-maintained units also constructed entirely of wood.

A new wharf which has just been completed serves as a convenient point to ferry passengers across the river to the park proper. The boat runs daily between 0900hrs to 1930 hrs and cost $1/person each way. Arrangement for pickups past 1930 hrs can be made with the boatman at a reasonable agreed time and rate. The river crossing takes less than 5 minutes. Swimming is not advisable due to the presence of crocodiles in the river.

The museum complex (blue roofed) as view from across the river. The facility holds an interesting array of artifacts discovered within the Niah Caves complex. The structure is built on a raised concrete stilts and built mostly of wood, a perfect place to saunter in the late afternoon to listen to the sounds of the rainforest. White-bellied Sea Eagles, Pied Hornbills and other smaller birds has been sighted from this vantage point.

Typical birds in the park from the top: male Black Hornbill, Chestnut-rumped Babbler, unid. flycatcher, Cream-vented Bulbul, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Pacific Swallow and White-bellied Sea Eagle. Bat Hawks and pittas has been sighted at the park. Other smaller birds such as sunbirds, spider-hunters and barbets are regularly sighted at the accomodation complex.

The park also harbours an interesting array of insect life, a small selection of which is shown above. Butterflies from the top are a West Viscount Tanaecia munda, what's left of a Malayan Jezebel Delias heningia, a Great Mormon Papilio memnon, and a Great Orange Tip Hebomoia glaucippe. The female stick insect (top photo) must have been at least 1.5 ft long compared to her smaller dimunitive male partner.

Other than insects, encounters with reptilians and amphibians like lizards, frogs and snakes are almost guaranteed for visitors with keen eyes.

The well maintained rainforest plankwalk that traverses the 3km walk from the museum complex to the entrance of the Niah Caves complex afford visitors with ample opportunity for memorable encounters with nature without much great effort. There are numerous stopping points along the way for those wanting to break their walk into smaller segments in order to soak in to the max what the Niah forests has on offer.

Trader's Cave.

Stalactite and stalagmite formations in Trader's Cave.

A visit to Niah National Park is incomplete without exploring the cave complex. This is the entrance to the Niah Caves complex after 3km easy trekking on the plankwalk, at the mouth of the Great Cave. From here further forays into Burnt Cave, Moon Cave and Painted Cave can be made. Visitors are encouraged to bring a small torchlight and be equipped with sturdy shoes with a good grip (addidas kampong is footwear of choice for those in the know ... there millions of bats and swiftlets all over the caves system. Swiftlets nest and bat guano are regularly collected by the local people and form an important part of the local economy since the very early days of trade.

We'll see you at the caves?