Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Road Trip and Trek at Kinabalu National Park

We’re going on a Road Trip to Sabah! We’re planning to drive our way to Kinabalu National Park. So whether its photography, sight-seeing, trekking, scouting for good local food or having random chit-chats with like-minded road trippers … I’m sure there will be something (or more) that will tickle your fancy on route and back.

Tentative itinerary.
4 Nov. - Depart Miri (ETD: 4 pm) and stay the night at either Limbang or Bandar Seri Begawan.
5 Nov. - Drive to Ranau and stay the night. Watch Sandakan Death March Video.
6 Nov. - Half day hike at Kinabalu National Park. We plan to hike till Layang-Layang power station and down. Drive to Beaufort and stay the night.
7 Nov. - Depart for Miri. (ETA : 6 pm)

Volunteer drivers are most welcomed. Seats will be limited to the number of volunteer drivers.
Those interested, please contact Peter Pillai at by 28 October 2011.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Crocodiles : To Cull or Not to Cull?

As appeared in The Star Column Midin Salad by Yuji

"The law says no, scientists call for better management, while for families of victims, there is no option to killing the reptiles wholesale.

IN JULY, controversy arose when state authorities allowed a culling operation along Sebelak River, some 280km from Kuching.

That mission, which lasted a week and with just one reptile killed, followed the death of croc attack victim Mankay Gohen, 42, earlier in May.

Last Saturday, tragedy struck again swiftly and in near total darkness in the same river.
At roughly 4.30am, lifelong fisherman Sulaiman Abdullah, 66, was finishing up a day’s work. He was pulling a protective canvas over some 3kgs of fish and shrimps in his small boat when he was attacked and pulled under.

The victim’s son, Endoi Sulaiman, was an eyewitness. He said his dad surfaced two minutes after the incident.

“He held onto the side of his boat for a few seconds. I don’t think he made a sound, then he was pulled under again. Just gone. Just like that,” recalled Endoi, 41.

The victim was the patriarch of a family of five children and seven grand kids. The Sulaiman family lives close to Saratok at Kampung Melayu Roban.

A kopitiam tauke described his friend Sulaiman as a quiet and honest man, who led a hard and simple life. “His catch was usually quite good. We bought a lot from him and his son over the years,” he said.

The victim’s family are urging authorities to restart culling operations. They say their loss was a reminder that crocodiles and humans could hardly co-exist. Under the present state laws, crocodiles are protected species. This is being reviewed.

To cull or not to cull? Opinions on this vary. More often than not, urban folk say they want crocodiles to remain fully protected, while rural folk want the reptile’s population controlled.
As for me, I’m without a clear opinion on the matter, especially after meeting Sulaiman’s family.
On one hand, I agree that the killing of any protected species must not be encouraged; yet, when you listen to families like Sulaiman’s relating their fears and being hapless against the predator, you find yourself taking their side.

Sulaiman’s wife, Fatimah Entigue, 57, explained, “Of course we all knew the risks, but when you can’t do much to earn money, you stick to whatever you’ve always known.”

Crocodiles are classified as “Appendix One” protected species under the globally recognised “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna”. Sarawak adheres to those international rules, more commonly known as the “Washington Convention”.
But next month, Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) will present a landmark paper at the “International Crocodile Conference” here, urging the global community to reclassify crocodiles from “Appendix One” to “Appendix Two” protected species.

SFC views the proposal as enabling “better management” of crocodile population, its spokesperson told The Star.

He said the state-owned company was confident of winning over public sentiment.
“The number of crocodiles has been increasing over the years in Sarawak, although a lot of people don’t want to accept that fact,” he said.

“Now there are some rivers that are too dense with crocodiles. Our proposal already has several international experts’ support.”

In SFC’s latest survey, Bako River and Santubong River are believed to have the highest crocodile population in Sarawak, at an estimated 3.4 crocodiles per km. (Presently, SFC does not have a statewide estimate of the crocodile population.)

For Universiti Malaysia Sarawak social scientist Dr Andrew Aeria, culling cannot be the only long-term solution to croc attacks.

Dr Aeria points to a wider set of social-economic problems rural fishing communities face. It’s all to do with poverty, he said.

“Don’t just blame the crocodiles. Crocodiles will do what they do naturally. The government must look at poverty factors.

“At places where there is no water supply, people bathe in the river. When there is no jetty for fishermen, there are more risks,” Dr Aeria said.

“We should not think too badly of the crocodiles. Instead, see it this way: Every attack is partly testament to society’s neglect of the poor.”

So, to cull or not to cull? For people in the interior, for those who depend entirely on rivers as a food and income source, their sentiment on culling is clear.

It is now up to the authorities to make a clear and convincing case for their proposed reclassi-fication. No doubt, there will be objections.

But in stating whatever objections we have, as a society we must also act on the wider set of problems facing our poor.

To cull or not to cull? Your thoughts?" By Yuji, Midin Salad Column, The Star.

The International Crocodile Conference organised by Sarawak Forestry Corporation in Kuching, Sarawak this week (19-21st October) aims to explore these very questions. Would it be a win-win solution for both man vs wild or yet again another triumph over nature by man, croc handbags and belts as trophies for the victor.

Which side of win-win are you on? Every year 6,500 human lives are lost in road accidents; in the past 50 years, 100 Sarawakian lives were taken by crocodiles ... the measure at which we are dealing with the lost seems hugely in imbalance, perhaps we should take cars off the roads instead. To me, it's clear that the smartest living reptile alive is being made scapegoat by those with less gray matter than it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Camping at Suai Beach : Ritz Carlton

Nazeri, Zeana, Maye, Radhika, Mad Ali, Sara and Roslee about to cross the river from Hilton 2 heading out to Kpg Kuala Suai Dec 2008. Photo by Rabani HM Ayub taken on the 3rd day of our trek..

One of the reasons for making this trip was to observe dark skies in Suai, another was to recollect fond memories of camping in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of like minded friends back in 2008.

We first camped out at the location dubbed Hilton Camp2 during our Long Beachwalk back in December 2008. It was serendipity that we reached the site slightly later than expected and by then were not able to cross the river due to high tide, thus camped by the riverside instead. Tired, hungry, we ran out of food as well as water. A few minutes after setting camp, heavy storm clouds approached, it rained heavily and all we had was soaked. As night settled in, the skies glowed with brilliant stars. The glorious sunset and nightscenes that evening were perhaps the most memorable; not the blisters, not the oats and tuna sandwich dinner; not the rainwater tea or the lurking single crocodile we spotted in the river at dusk. After 3 days of walking, the smiles on everyone's face that night was priceless.

This 2011 trip had young pre-adults with us. Rabani, Sara and I were the only ones from the long beachwalk crew that could make it. Musa who was on the original recce crew prior to the Longwalk was also determined to come along with us for the 2 nites camping. Phillip, Adeline, Liza, Ben, Darren, Tiffany, Kenisha, Kendrick, Ali, Shamsul and Abdul were first timers to the area.

We drove to Kpg Kuala Suai through the oil palm plantation. The drive over was smooth and without much drama ... other than the depressing rows upon rows of palm oil; a dozen perplexed looking Indonesian plantation workers we passed along the road who was immediately engulfed in dust behind us.

What's more depressing was perhaps the newly opened up acreage of plantation : recently bulldozed zones, blackened tree stumps still standing while others with lingering amber. The area had been burnt all the way from the edge of the existing plantation to the coast. Another area of peatswamp undergoing conversion by fire.

With backpacks fully loaded we had everyone walking with their own rations for the 3days-2nites camping including 3.o L water. After 1.5 hrs of walking, we made camp at an inactive river, recently sanded up and choked with logs. There was plenty of room for our tents in the sand, plenty of wood to keep the fire going over the two nites. The new campsite was quickly dubbed, "Ritz Carlton". Hilton 2 was not 40 minutes away.

The area was quickly turned to a home away from home : 2 big fireplaces and working kitchens with an unlimited open space for everyone. RC would've made a perfect basecamp for longer stays except for the lack of flowing freshwater.

That first nite we were afforded magnificent views of the Milky Way; we found the Suai dark skies we were after. Scorpio was right in the middle of the display as the sun dipped below the horizon; Orion came later towards the start of the next day over a beautiful cloudless sky right over our campfire.

The next day we walked over to Hilton 2 along the beach: tide was low, the day bright and overcast, the air fresh from South China Sea.

For the short 40 minutes walk over, those who participated in the Long Beachwalk recollected the events from 3 years back : the magnificent beach scenery, quiet and deserted; the friendship we honed over the few days of hard slog and blistered feet as well as the motives each one of us had for undertaking the longwalk.

The glorious sand at Suai, at times a bit muddier depending on the season.

The crew of 2011 Ritz Carton camping weekend looking sprightly and refreshed after 3 days and 2 nites out in the middle of nowhere. (Rabani and Nazeri not in the picture).

Our home away from home, by the time we left on Sunday, the area was clear of logs ... it's an open spacious sandy place perfect for sunseekers.

All around the campfire just after dinner.

Going back was like both saying "hello" and "goodbye" at the same time. The quiet and deserted beach wouldn't be quiet and deserted for long. Big changes to the landscape already took place along much of the the coastlines. We were glad to have walked the place many years back experiencing it in the last few years of its pre-existing state. Hopefully there'd be a few more years of that which would remain, if only just.

There would always be Milky Way, Scorpio and Orion I guess in the dark of Suai nights, traversing the skies over similar stretches like Hilton 2,and Ritz Carlton. That is before something more sinister takes to the skies.

Scorpio and the Milky Way just after sunset from Ritz Carlton.

Read more on Scorpious here.

Write-up and pictures by Nazeri Abghani, MNS Miri, Oct 2011

Birdwatching in Bakelalan II

Cikgu Sang Sigar encouraging birdwatching as a hobby amongst his students at SK Bakelalan.

It was almost a year ago that a bunch of us dropped in on Bakelalan to do a bit of birdwatching. Though there was a bunch of us, there were perhaps 3 birdwatchers among us intent on birding in the area. We were actually there to trek GunungMurud Oct 2010, the birders however were quickly roped into giving a crash course on birds and birdwatching to SK Bakelalan through Sang Sigar, assistant principal and proprietor at the guest house we stayed at.

It's always pleasant birdwatching in Bakelalan, by the time we left after scaling Gunung Murud, Yeo Siew Teck compiled a list of 123 birds but not all restricted to the kampong area. Ashy Drongo, Black-headed Munia, Orange-breasted Flowerpecker, Striated tit Babbler were ticked just around the village paths. The rest were ticked along our trek to the summit and back. It remains that at least more than half of the birds on our list were acquired in the easy places around the settlement.

The potential for birdwatching in the surrounding area has not been adequately explored, many past birders to the area has expressed exasperations over the lack of knowledgeable bird guides in the area. It's still a very recent hobby here as far as the locals are concerned. The question then arise : who are the best persons to bird the area other than the very persons living there 24/7. The proposal was simple : teach the local youngsters about birds, in time they will be our new resource for birdwatching and bird conservation locally in the area. After all Gunung Murud, Batu Lawi and Pulong Tau are all within walking distance from Bakelalan.

Thus started the ad-hoc preliminary initiative to teach the local children about birds and the wholesome hobby of birdwatching. Introducing the birds to these young people could very well increase their awareness of our feathered friends and ultimately their appreciation and conservation. Yeo, Nazeri, Sara, Chris and Faye initiated the first basic lessons back in Oct 2010; this year Peter, Nazeri, Amer and Ali embarked on exposing a second batch of students to birds and birdwatching.

In any rural setting, any available resource is quickly associated as food resource. The time is now if not 70 years ago to make the people of places of conservation value like Bakelalan, Bario and others more connected with the conservation work that are taking place elsewhere in bigger less bird diverse area. It might not be too late for the rural children to appreciate birds on a higher aesthetic level rather than quickly to associate it to a bowl of soup at the dinner table. Once these youngsters value birds more than just as a food resource, it will become clear to them that conservation is the only right path to follow.

Black-headed Munia, found in abundant numbers near grassy areas of Bakelalan.

Perched in the paddyfield.

Looks to be a perfect spot for early morning and last afternoon birdwatching, high up in the hills.

White-breasted Waterhen looking wary by the edge of the paddyfield.

With sufficient investment in time and effort from the school, its teachers and birdwatching fraternity, we hope that one day there'll be more birders in Bakelalan both in the form of a local as well as in the form of the paying tourist variety.

Bird list of Ba’Kelalan from 18th till 21st October 2010 (not limited to Bakelalan village) by Yeo Siew Teck

1 Cinnamon Bittern Flying over / In flight
2 Little Egret Feeding
3 Black Eagle Flying over / In flight
4 White-breasted Waterhen Heard and seen
5 Common Sandpiper Heard and seen
6 Spotted Dove Perched
7 Lesser Coucal Heard call only
8 Glossy Swiftlet Flying over / In flight
9 Gold-whiskered Barbet Feeding
10 Mountain Barbet Feeding Endemic
11Bornean Barbet Heard call only Endemic
12 Rufous Woodpecker Heard call only
13 Crimson-winged Woodpecker Pecking
14 Banded Broadbill Heard call only
15 Black-and-yellow Broadbill Heard call only
16 Golden-bellied Gerygone Heard and seen
17 White-breasted Woodswallow Perched
18 Ashy Drongo Perched
19 Pied Fantail Heard and seen
20 Pacific Swallow Flying over / In flight
21 Yellow-bellied Prinia Heard call only
22 Yellow-vented Bulbul Heard and seen
23 Rufous-tailed Tailorbird Heard and seen
24 Ashy Tailorbird Heard and seen
25 Black-throated Wren-babbler Heard and seen Endemic
26 Asian Fairy-bluebird Heard call only
27 Oriental Magpie-robin Heard and seen
28 Yellow-vented Flowerpecker Feeding
29 Orange-bellied Flowerpecker Heard and seen
30 Plain Flowerpecker Perched
31 Brown-throated Sunbird Heard and seen
32 Crimson Sunbird Feeding
33 Little Spiderhunter Heard and seen
34 Eurasian Tree Sparrow Feeding
35 Dusky Munia Heard and seen
36 Black-headed Munia Flying over / In flight
37 Grey Wagtail Heard and seen
38 Red-breasted Partridge Heard call only
39 Cattle Egret Feeding
40 Crested Serpent-eagle Flying over / In flight
41 Little Cuckoo-dove Perched
42 Thick-billed Green-pigeon Feeding
43 Banded Bay Cuckoo Heard call only
44 Greater Coucal Heard and seen
45 Bornean Frogmouth Heard and seen Endemic
46 Whiskered Treeswift Hawking for insects
47 Rufous-collared Kingfisher Heard call only
48 Stork-billed Kingfisher Heard and seen
49 Rhinoceros Hornbill Heard call only
50 Helmeted Hornbill Heard call only
51 Maroon Woodpecker Heard call only
52 Banded Broadbill Heard call only
53 Black-and-yellow Broadbill Heard and seen
54 Golden-bellied Gerygone Heard and seen
57 Scarlet Minivet Heard and seen
58 Bornean Whistler Foraging Endemic
59 Spangled Drongo Heard and seen
60 Spotted Fantail Heard call only
61 Black-headed Bulbul Heard and seen
62 Black-crested Bulbul Heard and seen
63 Red-eyed Bulbul Perched
64 Ochraceous Bulbul Heard and seen
65 Ashy Bulbul Heard and seen
66 Arctic Warbler Foraging
67 Yellow-bellied Warbler Heard and seen
68 Black-capped Babbler Heard call only
69 Chestnut-backed Scimitar-babbler Heard call only
70 Grey-throated Babbler Heard and seen
71 Striped Tit-babbler Heard call only
72 Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush Heard and seen Endemic
73 White-browed Shrike-babbler Heard call only
74 Brown Fulvetta Heard and seen
75 Chestnut-crested Yuhina Feeding Endemic
76 White-bellied Yuhina Heard and seen
77 Pygmy White-eye Feeding Endemic
78 Rufous-winged Philentoma Heard call only
79 White-tailed Flycatcher Perched
80 Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher Heard call only
81 Greater Green Leafbird Feeding
82 Bornean Leafbird/Kinabalu Leafbird Feeding Endemic
83 Olive-backed Sunbird Heard and seen
84 Grey-breasted Spiderhunter Heard and seen
85 Crested Serpent-eagle Flying over / In flight
86 Blue-crowned Hanging-parrot Flying over / In flight
87 Drongo Cuckoo Heard call only
88 White-crowned Hornbill Heard call only
89 Whitehead's Broadbill Perched Endemic
90 Bornean Treepie Heard and seen Endemic
91 Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hawking for insects
92 Black-and-crimson Oriole Foraging
93 Black-naped Monarch Heard call only
94 Crested Jay Heard call only
95 Scaly-breasted Bulbul Heard and seen
96 Temminck's Babbler Heard call only
97 Rufous-fronted Babbler Heard call only
98 Black-capped White-eye Feeding
99 Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Foraging
100 Dark-sided Flycatcher Hawking for insects
101 Verditer Flycatcher Perched
102 Ruby-cheeked Sunbird Perched
103 Wreathed Hornbill Flying over / In flight
104 White-throated Fantail Heard and seen
105 Short-tailed Green Magpie Heard and seen
106 Sunda Bush-warbler Foraging
107 Mountain Blackeye Feeding Endemic
108 Flavescent Bulbul Perched Endemic
109 Yellow-breasted Warbler Foraging
110 Mountain Wren-babbler Heard call only Endemic
111 Eyebrowed Jungle-flycatcher Heard and seen Endemic
112 Barred Eagle-owl Heard call only
113 Brown-capped woodpecker Drumming/Pecking
114 Grey-chinned Minivet Heard and seen
115 Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike Hawking for insects
116 Blyth's Hawk-eagle Flying over / In flight
117 Pink-necked Green-pigeon Feeding
118 Indian Cuckoo Heard call only
119 Red-billed Malkoha Foraging
120 Chestnut-breasted Malkoha Feeding
121 Scarlet-rumped Trogon Heard call only
122 Orange-breasted Trogon Heard & Seen
123 Grey-cheeked Bulbul Heard call only

Last year we donated 2 Susan Myer's Birds of Borneo Fieldguide to Cikgu Sang and the community. This year we left another copy to the teachers who will be the torchbearers for this rural birdwatching effort.

It is hoped that by Jan 2012, we will have at least one AWC survey conducted in Bakelalan and by later by June a "MY Garden Birdwatch" event executed by the students and teachers with help from the birdwatching fraternity. Next trip : "How to enter Bakelalan bird sightings to BIW!"

Write-up and photo by
Nazeri Abghani, MNS Miri, Oct 2011

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sarawak Bird Race 2011 - Because Birds are Important

The Bird Race returns for the 4th time with more activities and plenty of fun. This year Bird Race is jointly organised by Borneo Highlands Resort (BHR) together with Malaysian Nature Society (MNS)Kuching Branch and Permai Rainforest Resort (PRR) aiming to involve the surrounding communities, promote bird watching, and educate the communities on the importance of birds’ preservation to the environment. This year’s tagline is “Because Birds are Important”.

The Sarawak Bird Race 2011 will be held on the 28th October 2011 to 30th October 2011. The launching of the Bird Race will be on the 28th October followed by seminars/workshops on birding on the 29th both at Permai Rainforest Resort and end on the 30th with the race at Borneo Highlands Resort.

Interested members from Miri are encouraged to contact Peter Pillai ( before 11 October 2011.