If we were to do the trip again we would not spend time around Kuala Lumpur, going instead straight to Taman Negara for 4 days. We would probably go to Fraser’s Hill rather than the Cameron Highlands and also spend more time around Sepilok, possibly visiting the Rainforest Discovery Centre where there is an canopy walkway. We would also spend some time in the Mount Kota Kinabalu National Park and probably climb Mount Kota Kinabalu.
Return Milan Malpensa to Kuala Lumpur via Muscat with Oman Air
KL to Sandakan with Malaysia Air
Lahad Datu to Kota Kinbalu with Air Asia
Kota Kinbalu to KL with Air Asia
Malaysian Ringitt – exchange rate €1 to 4RM
Not needed for EU citizens
Anti-malarial prophylactics recommended
FOOD and DRINK
If you go during Ramadan, be sensitive about eating, drinking or smoking in public during daylight. Food is excellent and cheap and roadside stalls offer a huge choice. Food is cooked in front of you so there is a low health risk. Alcohol is expensive and although tap water is safe to drink, people may prefer to drink bottled drinks.
BOOKS and MAPS
A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Malaysia by John Bransbury – an excellent book although it needs updating as some sites no longer exist. A Field Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo by Quentin Phillipps and Karen Phillipps – a superb field guide. Peninsular Malaysia Regional Map (Periplus Travel Maps).
Traffic and roads around KL are horrendous. It is almost impossible to navigate around without a sat nav. Away from KL, roads are good and traffic is light. Drivers are calm and courteous.
Roads are poorly maintained in Sabah, Borneo. Be prepared for long, slow journeys.
It is easy to get around on buses.
English is widely spoken.
- 19th July – Arrival and check into hotel
- 20th July – Batu Caves, Templar Park
- 21st July – Selangor
- 22nd July – Botanic Gardens
- 23rd, 24th & 25th July – Cameron Higlands
- 26th July – Travel day to Sepilok Resort, East Malaysia
- 27th July – Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre then travel by boat to Uncle Tan’s Jungle Camp
- 28th – 31st July – Uncle Tan’s Jungle Camp
- 1st – 3rd August – Tabin Wildlife Reserve
- 4th August – Return to KL and flight back to Milan Malpensa
The first birds we saw were Asian Glossy Starling, from a roof garden at the airport while waiting for another member of our party to fly. Peaceful Doves, Striated Heron and Common Myna also showed up.
Black-naped Oriole and White-breasted Waterhen were ticked off from the hotel window. Since the famous Batu Caves were only 15 minutes up the road, we paid them a quick visit. The ubiquitous Yellow-vented Bulbuls were in evidence, as well as Pacific Swallows, House and Asian Palm Swifts. We were surprised to see Eurasian Tree Sparrows were filling the role of House Sparrows in Europe. They were present in every small and large town.
Leaving the caves after an interesting explanation of the ecosystems in the Dark Cave, we headed north for Templar Park. The park is very popular with locals and although we enjoyed walking the tracks by the waterfalls, birds were not very much in evidence. However, a pair of Black-and-yellow Broadbills put in a brief appearance and Grey-rumped Treeswift flew over the car park.
We drove out to Kuala Selangor Nature Park, on the west coast, adding Dollarbird and Brahminy Kite on the way. Around the reception area were a pair of Oriental Magpie Robins, Ashy Tailorbird and Pied Fantail. Unfortunately, several of the trails and observation towers were closed and the lagoon was being excavated to provide a roost for birds at high tide, so our choice of trails was strictly limited. However, we added Grey-capped Woodpecker, Olive-backed Sunbird and Collared Kingfisher to the list. Remember to take insect repellent when you visit the reserve as the mosquitoes are very hungry! We spent an interesting hour driving round the roads near Selangor and had excellent views of White-breasted Kingfisher, Large-billed Crow, Spotted-necked Dove, Crested Serpent Eagle, Asian Koel and Black-shouldered Kite.
After a fruitless attempt to find the Sungai Batu Mining pools, we concluded that they have fallen prey to the developers machinery, so instead we had a quick trip round a local park. The locals were out in full force jogging, practicing Tai Chi, riding horses and playing with children. All to the sound of a rehearsing large brass band. Brown-throated Sunbirds and Common Ioras were among the birds in evidence here. The rest of the day was spent at the Botanic gardens (please note that the University grounds are shut during the summer at the weekends). Here we added Glossy Ibis, Pied Triller, Chinese Pond Heron (which was swimming – surpringly), Coppersmith Barbet and Pink-necked Green Pigeons to the list.
Most of the day was spent in travelling up to the Cameron Highlands where we were staying at Ye Olde Smokehouse in Tanah Rata. There seemed to be little choice in accommodation: either impersonal high rise apartment blocks or the smaller but more expensive, Smokehouse. En route we picked up Scaly-breasted Munia, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Greater Raquet-tailed Drongo, Oriental Honey Buzzard and Whiskered Treeswift.
The gardens at the Smokehouse were excellent and a pair of Black-throated Sunbirds were flitting around. A walk to Parrit’s Falls (hardly worthy of the name of waterfall!) provided White-throated Fantail, Glossy Swiftlets, Mountain Bulbul, Blue Nuthatch, Paddyfield Pipit, Sliver-eared Mesia, Streaked Wren-babbler, Fire-tufted Barbet and Slaty-backed Forktail.
If you fancy at an excellent Indian meal, then try Bunga Suria in Tanah Rata. An enormous meal for 3 including drinks cost the princely sum of 50RM.
Someone has made an attempt to develop the area for tourists and as a result, there are several walking trails laid out. However, the trails are hard to find and the signs pointing to them are faded and often illegible. Once you find the trails though, they are fairly well maintained. It was sad to see the rivers full of rubbish – the locals evidently use the rivers as rubbish dumps. The trail to Robinson’s Falls came up with Mountain Fulvetta, Chestnut-capped Laughing Thrush, Large Woodshrike, Large Nitlava, Long-tailed Sibia, Greater Yellownape and Little Pied Flycatcher.
Driving up through the immaculate tea plantations added White-rumped Munia to the list.
We wanted to see the sunrise from the Mossy Forest on Mount Brinchang. Unfortunately, we chose a windy day, so the birds were keeping their heads down. We did manage to see White-tailed Robin, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Warbler and Long-tailed Shrike.
Another travelling day when we left the peninsular and flew across to Sabah on the island of Borneo. From the airport at Sandakan we took a taxi to Sepilok Jungle Resort, right next door to the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center. The only new bird was a Crestless Fireback which flew up from the side of the road.
Sepilok was a marvelous place to explore with intriguing sounds coming from every direction. Before breakfast we had managed to identify the local sub species of Magpie Robin, Black Edible Nest Swiftlets, Asian Pied Hornbill, Thick-billed Spiderhunter, Stripe-throated Bulbul, Chestnut Munia and Coppery-throated Sunbird. The Orang Utans at the centre were real posers – they were just asking visitors to photograph them!
The rest of the day was taken up with getting to Uncle Tan’s Jungle Camp. The camp is right on the edge of the Kinabatangan River and the only access is by boat. This is a highly recommended camp but BE WARNED! It is not a luxury camp. The showers are chucking a bucket of river water over yourself and you sleep on thin mattresses. But the food is amazing and if Lan is there, ask him to take you out birding. He is an excellent bird guide. The camp runs a full itinerary of a mixture of jungle treks and river safaris.
The boat safari (which lasts a couple of hours) leaves camp at 06.30. You can ask to go with a guide who is interested in birds. Of course the guide will also point out other wildlife too. We saw lots of Long-tailed Macaques, a female Orang Utan with a baby, Estuarine Crocodile, which is the same species as the salt water croc in Australia and a Monitor Lizard. The birds were good too, with good views to be had of many birds, including Grey-headed Babbler, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Lesser Fish Eagle, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Little Green Pigeon, Crested Serpent Eagle, Wallace’s Hawk Eagle, Storm Stork, Green Imperial Pigeon, Blue-throated Bee-eater and Wrinkled Hornbills. We were surprised to see a pair of Common Sandpipers. Were they breeding there?
The birds around the camp were worth hunting for too and included Malaysian Blue Fly-catcher, a family of Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds and a spectacular pair of Black-crowned Monarchs.
Another boat safari later in the day treated us to the sight of hundreds of Flying Foxes, the largest of the fruit bats, leaving their roost to go and feed in the nearby oil palm plantations.
In the evening, we were taken on a jungle trek near the camp, wading through sticky mud to stop the fire ants from climbing up our (hired) rubber boots. Our sharp-eyed guide managed to find a roosting Hooded Pitta, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher and Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, as well as a Wolf Spider and an enormous centipede.
Another early morning boat cruise treated us to the sight of many species of birds, adding a Jerdon’s Baza and 2 Whistling Duck to the list, though unfortunately we were unable to say if they were Greater or Lesser.
Birding around the camp turned up 2 new species: Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds and Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds. We also had excellent views of the Hooded Pitta which we had seen roosting yesterday.
The evening cruise gave us excellent views of a Leopard Cat and 2 Buffy Fish Owls.
The day followed the same pattern as the previous day with jungle treks and boat safaris on offer. We added a pair of the rarely seen Black Magpie and Crested Goshawk to our list as well as a family of Bornean Gibbons, while round the camp we were pleased to see a pair of Bold-Striped Tit-Babblers.
The boat safari was as exciting as before with excellent views of Bronzed Drongo, Brown Needletail, Raffle’s Malkoha, Hill Myna, Black-headed Bulbul, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot and Oriental Darter. We also saw more Orang Utan and Silver Leaf Monkeys.
Our last morning in the camp and we were lucky to add Emerald Dove and Rhinoceros Hornbill to our list. We had a long and complicated trip to Tabin Nature Reserve via Lahad Datu using public transport – an interesting experience on badly maintained roads.
Tabin Nature Reserve is another place we would recommend. The reserve has a central core of primary forest, surrounded by well-grown secondary forest. Oil Palm plantations around the periphery attract a lot of mammals and raptors. In the reserve you are not allowed to wander without a guide as in November 2011 a young Australian woman was charged and tragically killed by a bull elephant. The guides are understandably nervous about losing any more clients. However, you can roam freely around the camp and there are some amazing birds to be seen there. As was our experience all over Malaysia, the local people are welcoming and friendly. On a quick walk through the camp we picked up 7 species including a magnificent Blue-headed Pitta and Pig-tailed Macaques.
The night drive from the reserve added Brown Wood Owl to our list plus Palm Civet and Bearded Pig.
Our lodge at the reserve looked over the river and we were treated to a quick view of a Chestnut-naped Forktail as it flew off downstream. On our way up to the primary forest we saw Green Iora, Pied Imperial Pigeon and Mountain Imperial Pigeon. From the primary forest we headed up to the famous mud volcanoes. This is where hot mud bubbles up from far beneath the ground. The mud is rich in minerals and attracts animals and birds. There is a viewing tower overlooking the volcano and from the tower we had good views of Verditer Flycatcher, Scarlet Minivet, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, White-crowned Forktail and Changeable Hawk-Eagle. On the walk back to the track we saw Red Jungle Fowl, with a Crested Fireback hot on its heels, then Purple-naped Sunbird and Red-bearded Bee-eater. This latter bird is most peculiar for a bee-eater. It sits still in the undergrowth, well disguised with its leaf-green plumage. Some people think that insects are fooled into thinking that its bright red breast is a flower. As soon as an insect comes within range, it is snapped up.
On our way back to the camp we were lucky to see Red-eyed Bulbuls, Wreath Hornbills and Bushy-crested Hornbills. A Barred Eagle Owl had just emerged for its night’s hunting as we went by.
Another safari through the reserve allowed us to see a noisy party of Great-Slaty Woodpeckers and a lazily circling Black Eagle. Two Helmeted Hornbills completed our list of possible Hornbills, to our great satisfaction. Chestnut-winged Babblers, Scaly-breasted Bulbul, Thick-billed Spiderhunter and Plain Sunbird were also new for the trip.
A dusk drive out from the camp added Dusky Munia to the list and we had a splendid view of a bull Elephant. These elephants are much smaller (and rarer) than their African cousins. A Giant Flying Squirrel flew right over our heads – amazing and a Leopard Cat put in a brief appearance. On the drive back into camp we were entertained by huge flashes of lightning from a distant tropical storm. Near at hand, fireflies flickered and overhead the first of the shooting stars from the meteor shower rained down.
Our last morning in the camp before starting the long journey back to KL and home. We enjoyed the sight of a nesting colony of Glossy Swiftlets in one of the ruined buildings in the camp. An endemic White-crowned Shama was very obliging and a pair of Brown Barbets was feeding in the trees.
And last but not least, 2 White-breasted Woodswallows were nesting at Lahad Datu airport. From the departure lounge of KL airport we could see Black-naped Terns over the sea while a pair of Lesser Coucals were hunting in the grass and bushes at the side of the runway.
SYSTEMATIC BIRD SPECIES LIST
- Red Junglefowl – 1 Tabin
- Crestless Fireback – 1 Cameron Highlands
- Crested Fireback – 1
- Tabin Storm’s Stork- Seen regularly at Uncle Tan’s and 1 at Tabin
- Glossy Ibis – 2 in the Botanic Gardens, KL
- Black-crowned Night Heron – 1 on the Kinabatangan River
- Striated Heron – Widespread
- Chinese Pond-Heron – 1 in the Botanic Gardens, KL
- Grey Heron – 1 at Kuala Selangor
- Purple Heron -Widespread
- Great White Egret – Widespread
- Little Egret – Common on the Kinabatangan River
- Oriental Darter – Frequent on the Kinabatangan River
- Jerdon’s Baza -1 on Common on the Kinabatangan River
- Oriental Honey-buzzard – 1 Cameron Highlands
- Black-shouldered Kite – 1 near Kuala Selangor
- Brahminy Kite – Widespread
- White-bellied Sea Eagle – Common on the Kinabatangan River
- Lesser Fish-Eagle – Common on the Kinabatangan River
- Grey-headed Fish-Eagle – Common on the Kinabatangan River
- Crested Serpent-Eagle – 1 Cameron Highlands, several Uncle Tan’s and Tabin
- Crested Goshawk – 1 on the Kinabatangan River (Indian)
- Black Eagle – 1 at Tabin Changeable
- Hawk-Eagle – Seen twice at Tabin Wallace’s
- Hawk-Eagle – Seen twice on Kinabatangan River
- White-breasted Waterhen – Widespread
- Common Sandpiper – Several seen on Kinabatangan River, 1 at Tabin
- Black-naped Tern – Several over the sea at KL airport (Feral)
- Rock Pigeon – Common around KL
- Spotted-necked (Turtle) Dove – Widespread
- Emerald Dove – Seen twice at Tabin
- Peaceful Dove – Common round KL
- Little Green-Pigeon – Seen 4 times in trees on Kinabatangan River
- Pink-necked Green-Pigeon -1 seen in KL, 1 in trees on Kinabatangan River
- Large Green Pigeon – 1 at Tabin
- Green Imperial Pigeon – Common at Tabin
- Mountain Imperial Pigeon – 1 at Tabin
- Pied Imperial Pigeon – 1 at Tabin
- Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot – Seen twice at Tabin
- Common/Asian Koel – 1 seen near Selangor
- Raffles’s Malkoha – 1 in trees on Kinabatangan River, 2 at Tabin
- Lesser Coucal – 1 at Tabin
- Barred Eagle Owl – 1 at Tabin
- Buffy Fish Owl – 1 in trees on Kinabatangan River, seen twice at Tabin
- Brown Wood Owl – Seen twice at Tabin
- Glossy/White-bellied Swiftlet – Common and widespread
- Black-nest Swiftlet – Common and widespread
- Brown-backed Needletail – 2 over Kinabatangan River
- Asian Palm Swift – Common around KL House
- Swift (Little Swift) – Common around KL
- Grey-rumped Treeswift – 6 at Templar Park, KL, seen 3 times at Tabin
- Whiskered Treeswift – 3 Cameron Highlands, seen twice at tabin
- Scarlet-rumped Trogon – 1 at Tabin
- Red-headed Trogon -1 Cameron Highlands
- Dollarbird – Common and widespread
- Stork-billed Kingfisher – Common on Kinabatangan River
- White-throated Kingfisher – 1 near Selangor, 1 in Botanic Gardens, KL, 1 at Uncle Tan’s
- (White-)Collared Kingfisher – Seen three times on Kinabatangan River
- Blue-eared Kingfisher – Seen three times on Kinabatangan River
- Red-bearded Bee-eater – 1 seen at Tabin
- Blue-throated Bee-eater – Common on Kinabatangan River and Tabin
- Bushy-crested Hornbill – Seen three times at Tabin
- Oriental Pied-Hornbill – Common at Uncle Tan’s and Tabin
- Black Hornbill -Seen twice at Tabin
- Rhinoceros Hornbill -Seen twice at Tabin
- Helmeted Hornbill – 2 birds seen at Tabin
- White-crowned Hornbill – 2 birds seen at Tabin
- Wrinkled Hornbill – Birds seen at Uncle Tan’s and Tabin
- Wreathed Hornbill – Seen twice at Tabin
- Fire-tufted Barbet – 5 birds at Parrit Falls, Tanah Rata
- Coppersmith Barbet – 1 bird calling at the Botanic Gardens, KL
- Brown Barbet – 2 birds at Tabin
- Grey-capped PygmyWoodpecker – Kuala Selangor
- Greater Yellow-naped Woodpecker – 1 Robinson Falls, Tanah Rata
- Common/Golden-backed Flameback – Kuala Selangor
- Grey-and-buff Woodpecker – 1 at Tabin
- Great Slaty Woodpecker – 4 at Tabin
- Black-and-red Broadbill – 1 at Uncle Tan’s
- Black-and-yellow Broadbill – 1 at KL, seen twice at Tabin
- Blue-headed Pitta – Seen twice at Uncle Tan’s
- Hooded Pitta – Seen once at Tabin
- Golden-bellied Gerygone – 1 bird in Cameron Highlands
- White-breasted Woodswallow – 2 birds at Lahad Datu airport
- Common Iora – Seen at Botanic Gardens, KL and twice at Tabin
- Green Iora -Seen three times at Tabin
- Large Cuckooshrike – 1 in Cameron Highlands Pied Triller – 1 in Botanic Gardens, KL
- Scarlet Minivet – 1 at Tabin
- Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike- Seen twice at Tabin
- Long-tailed Shrike – Seen at Uncle Tan’s
- Black-naped Oriole – Common round KL and seen once at Uncle Tan’s
- Bronzed Drongo – 2 seen on Lokan River
- Greater Racket-tailed Drongo -Seen at Uncle Tan’s
- White-throated Fantail – Frequent and widespread
- Pied Fantail – Frequent and widespread
- Black-naped Monarch – Seen at Uncle Tan’s Black
- Magpie – 2 birds seen in trees on Kinabatangan River
- House Crow – Common in towns
- Large-billed/Jungle Crow – Common and widespread
- Pacific Swallow – Common and widespread
- Dark-necked Tailorbird – Family at Uncle Tan’s
- Ashy Tailorbird – Common at Uncle Tan’s
- Rufous-tailed Tailorbird – Seen round KL and atTabin
- Ashy Tailorbird
- Black-headed Bulbul – 2 seen at Tabin
- Scaly-breasted Bulbul- 1 seen at Tabin
- Stripe-throated Bulbul – 1 seen at Uncle Tan’s
- Yellow-vented Bulbul – Common and widespread
- Olive-winged Bulbul – Seen three times at Tabin
- Red-eyed Bulbul – Common at Tabin
- Hairy-backed Bulbul – 1 seen at Tabin
- Mountain Bulbul – 3 seen in Cameron Highlands
- Mountain Leaf Warbler -Several seen in Cameron Highlands
- Yellow-breasted Warbler – Several seen in Cameron Highlands
- White-chested Babbler – Seen twice at Tabin
- Sooty-capped Babbler – Frequently heard in dense undergrowth
- Streaked Wren-Babbler- Seen once in Cameron Highlands
- Grey-throated Babbler – Seen once in Cameron Highlands
- Grey-headed Babbler – seen at Uncle Tan’s
- Striped Tit-Babbler – 1 seen at Tabin
- Spectacled/Chestnut-capped Laughing-thrush – Several seen in Cameron
- Highlands Silver-eared Mesia – Seen 3 times in Cameron Highlands
- Brown Fulvetta – Common at Uncle Tan’s
- Mountain Fulvetta – 1 seen in Cameron Highlands
- Long-tailed Sibia – 2 seen in Cameron Highlands
- Everett’s White-eye – 2 seen in Cameron Highlands
- Asian Fairy-bluebird – A pair seen in Tabin
- Asian Glossy Starling – Widespread
- Hill Myna – Seen three times at Tabin
- Jungle Myna – Seen near Selangor
- White-vented/Javan Myna – Seen at Botanic Gardens, KL
- Common Myna – Common and widespread
- Lesser Shortwing – 1 seen in Cameron Highlands
- Oriental Magpie-Robin – Common round KL and Cameron Highlands
- White-crowned Shama – 2 birds seen at Tabin
- White-tailed Robin – Several birds seen in Cameron Highlands
- Chestnut-naped Forktail – 1 bird seen at Tabin
- Slaty-backed Forktail – 1 bird seen at Tabin
- White-crowned Forktail – 1 bird seen at Robinson Falls, Cameron Highlands
- Rufous-chested Flycatcher – 1 seen at Uncle Tan’s
- Asian Verditer Flycatcher – 2 birds seen at Tabin
- Malaysian Blue-Flycatcher – 2 birds seen at Uncle Tan’s
- Large Niltava – 2 birds seen at Robinson Falls, Cameron Highlands
- Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher – Several birds seen in Cameron Highlands
- Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker – Feeding in trees in motorway service area on way to Cameron Highlands
- Ruby-cheeked Sunbird – Common at Tabin
- Plain Sunbird – Single birds seen in the Cameron Highlands and Tabin
- Brown/Plain-throated Sunbird – Single birds seen at KL and Tabin
- Purple-naped Sunbird – Single bird seen at Tabin
- Copper-throated Sunbird – Single birds seen in KL and Cameron Highlands
- Olive-backed/Yellow-bellied Sunbird – 2 birds seen at Selangor
- Black-throated Sunbird – Seen on 3 days in Cameron Highlands
- Scarlet/Javan Sunbird – 1 bird seen at Uncle Tan’s
- Little Spiderhunter – 1 bird seen at Tabin
- Thick-billed Spiderhunter – Single birds seen at Uncle Tan’s and Tabin
- Streaked Spiderhunter – 1 at Uncle Tan’s
- Tree Sparrow – Common and widespread
- White-rumped Munia – A group of birds seen in Cameron Highlands
- Dusky Munia – A group of birds seen in Tabin
- Nutmeg Mannikin/Scaly-breasted Munia- 5 birds seen in Cameron Highlands
- Black-headed/Chestnut Munia – Common at Uncle Tan’s and Tabin
- Paddyfield Pipit – Single bird seen near Parrit Falls, Tanah Rata
LIST OF MAMMALS SEEN
- Common Treeshrew Batu Caves
- Horsefield’s Fruit Bat Batu Caves
- Large Flying Fox Kinabatangan River and Tabin
- Colugo Tabin
- Hose’s Langur Lokan River
- Silvered Langur Lokan River
- Proboscis Monkey Lokan River
- Pig-tailed Macaque Tabin
- Long-tailed Macaque Common and widespread
- Bornean Gibbon Kinabatangan River, Tabin
- Orang Utan Sepilok, Kinabatangan River, Tabin
- Giant Squirrel Tabin
- Prevost’s Squirrel Uncle Tan’s
- Plain Pygmy Squirrel Uncle Tan’s
- Red Giant Flying Squirrel Tabin
- Malay Weasel Cameron Highlands
- Common Palm Civet Kinabatangan River, Tabin
- Leopard Cat Kinabatangan River, Tabin
- Asian Elephant Tabin
- Bearded Pig Tabin
- Greater Mouse Deer Tabin
Colin and Alison Parnell