Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Camping at Kuala Niah Christmas Day

Where we were over the weekend, camped 2kms from the rivermouth, along the sandbar of Kuala Niah. The red arrow pointing to the direction of flight of flying foxes spotted that day. Map by GoogleEarth, Track by Musa Musbah.

It was drizzling all the way from where we left off, by the time we reached Kuala Niah, it was still raining. We waited by the shore knowing fully well the stories of the notorious crocodiles of Sg Niah ... eager to get out of the rain, ever so keen to cross Sg Niah. It was still raining then. All eyes were nervously focussed on any little log floating downstream with the landas as we boarded the tiny sampan.

By the time the boat arrived, after we safely made the crossing it was still raining. We then started walking on the sandy beach of Kuala Niah, the rain still hadn't let up. In fact it rained the whole day that day till we reached our first campdubbed "The Hilton". This was way back in December 2008 during our Coastal Long Walk.

I wanted to go back to Kuala Niah and camped on the beach in sunny weather in December, almost assured even then that there would be one glorious sunny day when we'd be back on it's shores.

Sure enough the drive out to the junction from Bekenu was all sunshine unlike how it was 2 years ago almost exactly. By the time we passed the little rickety wooden bridge adjoining the oxbow lake however, it started drizzling. Dark clouds were looming over from the South West. It looked to be another December wet camp-out on Kuala Niah, how "unexpected"!

And it did rain, buckets full by 6pm ... those who stayed behind to cook dinner were soaked. Rit, Erny and Nazeri were happily running around cleaning the 4 siakaps, mixing spices, moving items to less wet zones, keeping the fire going and keeping rain out of the coffee pot. All at the same time.

Those on the boat soaked to their skins too.

It was all but a half hour downpour just before sunset. By the time the rain stopped, we've the table laid, full to the brim with dinner items : steamed siakaps, grilled siakap, siakap masak asam and siakap singgang. These complemented by steamed squid, kelupis and lemang specially brought in for the occasion.

The folks who went on the boat trip came back in time for a steaming dinner of all the above mentioned items. Tall tales of giant sized flying foxes flying overhead in the thousands were related excitedly over dinner.

It was great camping from then onwards. Clear skies with gazillion stars overhead, the moon was a bit late but it did come around by 10pm. Gentle breeze filled the air, the only noise was muffled conversations around the roaring campfire. Kids were busing running around chasing the waves well into the nite.

And then more twinkling stars appeared in the clear nite skies. That made it worth all the rain earlier ... fantabulous!

The splendid weather continued till mid afternoon the next day.

Our campsite under the young casuarinas, the exact entry point to the Niah-Camp1 leg of the December LongWalk 2008.

A muted sunset on Kuala Niah beach, not unlike the one we saw back then either.

The after dinner lull at the campsite.

A male Olive-backed Sunbird found roosting a low branch at the Kuala Niah sandbar.

A female Olive-backed Sunbird on another low branch along the trail on the sandbar. Other birds seen was a pigeon sp. and owl sp. No crocodiles were spotted along the the water's edge ... there was a close call that turned out to be a large log flopping about in the water.

2am Cloud and stars above the pounding waves.

Campers fast asleep outside their tents.

Pre-dawn morning lite with sparkling stars.

View from under the tent as a new day approaches.

The next day along the shores of Kuala Niah holds promises of another great weather day.

Words and images by Nazeri Abghani.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Waterbirds and Wetland Habitats Survey for the Sarawak Coast

A waderwatcher scanning the flats for interesting waterbirds.

A small segment of our extensive coastline, some are very important resting and refueling points for waterbirds as far as Siberia and other far-flung places of the northern hemisphere.

Project Summary:

The extensive coastline of Sarawak is one of the most important wintering grounds for waterbirds in Malaysia. Sarawak contains more Important Bird Areas (IBAs) than any other state in Malaysia . Several of these meet the Ramsar criteria as Wetlands of International Importance (Yeap et al. 2007). The west Sarawak coast regularly records some of the highest concentrations of migratory waterbirds in the country during the annual Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) (Li et al. 2009).

Despite this, the status of waterbirds and their habitats on much of the coastline is virtually unknown. There has never been a comprehensive coastal waterbird survey of Sarawak. Most surveys, such as that carried out between January-February 2006 during the annual Asian Waterbird Census (Mizutani, et al. 2006), and earlier studies (Edwards 1985, 1986a, 1986b, Howes, 1986a) have concentrated on the western part of coastal Sarawak. Other sites which have received some coverage include sections of the Kuala Baram coast and Brunei Bay (e.g., Howes, 1986b).There are AWC volunteer teams coordinated by MNS Kuching Branch and MNS Miri Branch members, and these, together with staff from Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) have provided consistent coverage of some sites since 2007.

The Waterbirds and Wetland Habitats Survey of the Sarawak Coast proposes to survey waterbirds and wetlands habitats along the entire Sarawak coast in a comprehensive and systematic way. The results of this survey will provide a definitive account of the state of waterbird populations and wetland habitats in the state; and a baseline for future coastal wetland conservation efforts.

The field surveys will take place between October 2010 and March 2011, and will utilize the existing teams of AWC volunteers, and collaborations with State agencies. In addition, the project will seek increased partnership with State agencies such as Sarawak Forestry Corporation, Sarawak Forest Department, Sarawak Drainage and Irrigation Department, IBEC; input from the private sector from such companies as Sarawak Shell Berhad, Brunei Shell Petroleum (for work in Brunei waters); and NGOs such as Wetlands International.

Initial surveys to locate key waterbird concentrations will be done by boat and/or plane. Follow-up counts will be done either by boat, or via land access.

Project Objectives:

1) Conduct a survey of the entire coastline of the state of Sarawak to identify key waterbird sites and to identify and count waterbird populations during the northern winter period of October 2010 to March 2011.

2) Produce a report on the findings of the survey which can function as a basis for future policy and management strategies for wetlands and waterbirds in Sarawak.

3) Build capacity of members, participating stakeholders and volunteers in waterbird identification and monitoring and wetland habitat surveys.

4) Increase awareness of the importance of the Sarawak coastline for waterbirds and wetland habitats at local, national and international levels through CEPA, training, publications and sharing of output with stakeholders and relevant organisations.

5) Forge working relationships in matters related to waterbird biodiversity and wetland habitat conservation between MNS and other NGOs, government agencies, schools and universities, and private corporations in Sarawak and other areas of Malaysia.

6) Document the process of the survey, from initiation to completion, as a model for replication in other areas of Malaysia.

The project itself is designed to take place within a 12-month period. However, there are several ways in which it will contribute to the ongoing conservation of Sarawak’s coastal wetlands and waterbirds:

1. It will help to improve AWC coverage in future years by:
a. Identifying priority sites
b. Capacity-building skills and experience among volunteers, and by enlarging the volunteer-base
c. Involving more agencies in collaborative surveys

2. It will provide key baseline data for efforts
a. to protect important sites, such as Bako-Buntal Bay
b. to designate new IBAs and
c. to strengthen claims for Ramsar site status
d. by the government to gazette and protect important wetlands

3. It will raise awareness of the importance of wetlands for humans and wildlife in the media, schools and the public. This will have an ongoing positive influence and should lead to increased MNS membership in Sarawak.

4. The project will provide a valuable blueprint for similar coastal surveys of other parts of Malaysia

The Sarawak Waterbirds Survey (SWS) team would like to call on volunteers for the survey of the following sectors (please refer to the survey map):

Trip 1 = 01-05th December 2010 : Sector 1 to 4
Trip 2 = 07-11th December 2010 : Sector 11, 12
Trip 3 = 15-20th December 2010 : Sector 13, 14, 15
Trip 4 = 27-31st December 2010 : Sector 16, 17 based in Pulau Bruit
Trip 5 = 07-12th January 2011 : Sector 29 to 36 based in Miri
Trip 6 = 13-17th January 2011 : Sector 22 to 28 based in Bintulu
Trip 7 = 19-25th January 2011 : Sector 5 to 10
Trip 8 = 05-13th February 2011 : Sector 37 to 40 based in Limbang/Lawas
Trip 9 = 21-27th February 2011 : Sector 18 to 21 based in Mukah

Southwestern sectors, please click on image for a larger version. The circle represents current available data on the presence and numbers of waterbirds in the area. This project will be able to update the distribution map of a significant portion of the coastline of Sarawak.

Northeastern sectors, please click on image for a larger version. The least studied portion of the coastline, this project would enable to contribute significantly to scant existing data in key sectors such as the Limbang-Lawas areas.

For those interested to participate in surveys of sector 1-21, please contact Anthony Wong of MNS Kuching Branch.

For those interested to participate in surveys of sector 22-40, please contact Nazeri Abghani of MNS Miri Branch.

In your email please state the sectors that you are interested in and the dates that you are available, we'll follow-up with the rest of the pertinent questions.

Anthony and Nazeri will answer any relevant questions you may have and put you through to Daniel Kong (Field Coordinator) and/or Rose Ngau (Field Logistics) once you've decided to be a part of the survey team for each sector.

As this is a wide-spread survey covering the entire coast of Sarawak, we'll need as many volunteers we can get.

So, we'll see you in the field!

This project is partly funded by Malaysian Nature Society Merdeka Fund, Shell Sustainable Grant 2011 and Hornbill Skyways.

1. Mizutani, A., Kato K., Tanaka K., Ichikawa, T., Mawek Z., Auby I. (2006) A Report of Wintering Waterbirds Status Along the West Coast of Sarawak – Results of AWC 2006. Sarawak Forestry Kuching, Sarawak
2. Sebastian, A., (2005) Waterbirds Count in Western Sarawak. Suara Enggang 3 (May-June):23-25
3. Gregory-Smith, R., (1999). Status of Waders, Terns and Ardeids in Sarawak, 1994-96. Sarawak Museum Journal LIV(75):276-287
4. Edwards, P. J. and Haxby, J. B. (1989) Evaluation of Sarawak Wetlands and Their Importance to Waterbirds. Report No. 5 – Pulau Bruit Revisited. Report No. 47, AWB, Kuala Lumpur.
5. Edwards, P. J. and Parish, D, and NWPO (1986a) Evaluation of Sarawak Wetlands and Their Importance to Waterbirds. Report No. 2 – Western Sarawak. INTERWADER. Publication No. 6, Kuala Lumpur.
6. Edwards, P. J. and Parish, D, and NWPO (1986b) Survey of the Western Coastline of Sarawak to Evaluate the Status of Wetlands and to Identify Key Sites for Migratory Waterbirds – Preliminary Report INTERWADER. Report No. 3, INTERWADER Kuala Lumpur.
7. Howes, J. and NWPO, (1986a) Evaluation of Sarawak Wetlands and Their Importance to Waterbirds. Report 3: Pulau Bruit. INTERWADER Publication No. 10, INTERWADER,Kuala Lumpur
8. Howes, J. and NWPO, (1986b) Evaluation of Sarawak Wetlands and Their Importance to Waterbirds. Report 4: Limbang-Lawas Districts of Brunei Bay. INTERWADER Publication No.14, INTERWADER, Kuala Lumpur

MNS-BCC Waterbirds Group/Dec 2010
Maps by Anthony Wong
Photographs by Nazeri Abghani