Wednesday, 27 April 2005

Advanced Bird-watching Course, 2005: By Lu Ping Yan

The advanced bird-watching course was held in Kuala Tahan, Taman Negara between the 21st to the 25th of April, 2005.

A week earlier, a briefing was conducted at the MNS headquarters to prepare the participants for what was to be expected and what to bring along for the course. There were four instructors and 16 participants. The instructors were Khoo Swee Seng, Carol Ho, Nina Lai and Yang Chong. Telescopes and photography equipment were strictly prohibited as the emphasis of the course was on carefully observing birds, recognizing bird calls and keeping good field notes. These would help us appreciate the importance and utility of recording observations in a systematic manner, help develop keenness of observation and facilitate subsequent identification of the birds seen. At least, that was what the instructors had hoped.

We set out for Kuala Tahan at 6.30 am on the 21st of April, 2005. Our vehicles formed a loose convoy but we kept in close contact using walkie-talkies.

We reached Kuala Tahan at about 11.30 am. Accommodation was in the form of chalets rented from Rosnah, a quiet woman, who was obviously a strong proponent of the minimalist concept. This clearly showed through her lodgings. Four people to a chalet, two double-decker beds per chalet. Bathing and toilet facilities were communal.

The participants were divided into four groups. Each of us was given a "Bird-Sightings" notebook into which we were supposed to meticulously record:
  1. the name of the trail
  2. weather conditions
  3. time of sighting
  4. a description of the site of the bird sighting (on the ground, in a bush, near or away from water, if in a tree ñ whether at low-level, mid-level or in the canopy)
  5. a description of the bird itself (colour of crown, lores, throat, beak, eye ring, iris, orbital skin, breast, belly, vent, mantle, wings, rump, tail, legs; approximate size; single, in pairs or in groups)
  6. identification where possible and,
  7. to note the call of the bird where possible
The groups took turns going to various trails around Kuala Tahan : The Swamp Loop, the Jenut Muda Trail, the Tabing Trail and the Lubok Simpon Trail.

The group leaders managed time strictly in order to maximize the time available for actual bird-watching. There was a short period of rest after arrival. We then registered with the park authorities and went on the first of our field trips into the trails from 2.00 pm until about 7.00 pm. On the 22nd and 23rd, we were bird-watching from 7.30 am till about 7.00 pm. On the last day, we started at 7.30 am and returned to camp at 1.00 pm.

Dinner was provided and the food was really good. After dinner, the participants assembled in their respective groups to discuss the jottings of their bird sightings for the day with the group leader. These discussions were lively and very enjoyable. Various bird guides were consulted and with the help of the group leaders, most if not all the birds sighted were identified. There were also very accurate imitations of bird calls by some of the group leaders. Not only were these imitations of bird calls amusing and entertaining, they were very educational as well. For many of us now, bird calls will no longer merely be an indication that birds are present, we will now know what types of birds they are. Some of us, though by no means experts in bird calls, find ourselves more attentive and sensitive to bird calls and feel particular joy in being able to recognize a particular call. The evening discussions usually ended by 10.00 pm following which we retired for the night.

Most of the trails were not physically demanding except that some participants found the Lubok Simpon - Jenut Muda trail rather tiring. Three cheers for the group leaders who were splendid. Rumour has it that the members of one particular group under an excellent and exacting leader have developed leg, arm and neck muscles like the Hulk's. Moreover, for these particular group of participants, Linnaeus' method of taxonomic classification with Latin generic and specific names have taken on an endearing and enduring significance!
The collective bird-sightings for this trip :

  1. Black-capped
  2. Horsefields
  3. Abbott's
  4. Scaly-crowned


  1. Gold-whiskered
  2. Red-throated (Heard)
  3. Yellow-crowned (Heard)


  1. Black-and-red
  2. Black-and-yellow
  3. Green (M, F)
  4. Banded (M, F)


  1. Olive-winged
  2. Black-headed
  3. Striped-throated
  4. Straw-headed
  5. Hairy-backed


  1. Slender-billed

  1. Indian (Heard - incessantly)
  2. Plaintive (Heard)


  1. Greater Racket-tailed

  1. Lesser Fish-Eagle

Asian Fairy-Bluebird

Crested Fireback (M, F)

  1. Asian Paradise (Male dark morph, F)

  1. Black
  2. Helmeted (Heard)

  1. White-throated
  2. Blue-banded

Malayan Rail-Babbler

  1. Black-bellied
  2. Raffles'

  1. Black-naped
  2. Rufous-winged (Male common morph, male blue morph, F)

  1. Blue-rumped

  1. Hooded
  2. Blue-winged

Scimitar babbler
  1. Chestnut-backed

White-rumped Sharma

  1. Red-naped
  2. Diard's

  1. Great Slaty
  2. Rufous piculet
  3. Crimson-winged
  4. Banded
  5. Grey-and-buff
  6. White-bellied

The highlights of the trip and everyone's favorite sightings were the Hooded Pitta and the Blue-winged Pitta. For many of us, this was the first time we had ever seen pittas and what a gorgeous sight they were indeed!
At the end of the trip, some of us developed rashes and many of us had aching muscles. I personally found myself very tired and a little sore in the lower limbs and back yet strangely distinctly satisfied and already thinking of joining similar trips in the future. Surely, this must be testimony to how enjoyable and educational this field trip has been to many of us! "THANK YOU" once again to the organizers and group leaders of the "Advanced Bird-Watching Course, 2005"!