Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Elephants and Hornbills in Endau Rompin

Twenty-four keen early birds set off in five vehicles and drove from Kuala Lumpur to Kluang. Some of us found the famous Coffee Shop on the platform of the old Kluang Railway station.
This is a historic building remaining just about the same as when the British built it some 100 years ago. The Coffee Shop must have been the original waiting room. The wooden window frames were obviously made of very hard wood, The Coffee and Kaya buns were as they were years ago. It was jammed with people. The toilet was unchanged since the time it was first built and for this we paid 20sen.

We all assembled at the office of the Endau-Rompin National Park (ERNP) at 12. 30 noon in Kahang. After a quick lunch and registration, we were assigned five 4WD vehicles and drivers who drove for nearly two hours to cover the 56Km to the Visitor’s Centre inside the Park.

When we left Kahang it was raining heavily, and the jeep track was wet and slippery. This made the drive to the Visitor Centre quite an adventure. Before reaching the Park, the first stretch of about 15 km was mainly secondary forest. The rest of the area was just oil palm plantations until we finally arrived at the Park.
Monoculture Palm Oil Plantations

The jeep track was used by lorries carrying logs out from adjacent forests where logging was still going on. We saw many lorries loaded with medium -sized logs.
When we reached Sungai Mas, about half way before reaching the Park, a wooden bridge that once spanned the river was no longer useable. Our driver informed us that it was washed away during the monsoon rain last December. So, a temporary floating bridge made of large -diameter bamboo lashed together with thick ropes became our only means of crossing the river.
Our driver slowly steered the 4WD down a slope in order to get onto the floating bridge, then accelerated up a slope on the opposite bank. It was quite daunting because of the pouring rain!
Bridge Crossing

We arrived at the Visitors Centre during mid afternoon, unpacked and straightaway went on our first birding walk for about three hours.
The first evening dinner served by the Park’s caterer consisted of rice, slightly over-burnt roast chicken, vegetables and fruit. Despite our disappointment, everything was eaten probably because everyone was hungry. There was some speculation as to what birds we could find after dinner. We decided to look for owls, but there was none to be seen. We got back at around 10.30pm . I happened to get up at 4. 30am the next morning. A very keen birder who had just seen an owl signalled for me to follow him. He took me to spot where a Buffy Fish-Owl was still perched on a branch not far from our chalets. This caused great excitement and by 5.30 am, Sunday 8th June, just about everyone had seen the owl.
Buffy Fish Owl

After breakfast, we split into four groups before climbing aboard a pick-up truck , for a 3 KM ride road to Nature Education and Research Centre (NERC). There was an abundance of birds at the NERC.
After lunch we walked the same road going back to the Visitor Centre. Along the way we noticed fresh elephant dung on the jeep track, trampled vegetation and some uprooted wild ginger plants. Sure enough, we soon came across a small herd of elephants; it was very exciting even though it was difficult to see them clearly through the vegetation.

Learning to identify every bird that was seen or heard took a great deal of effort, especially for beginners. However, our group leader John Steed was great at identifying birds and their songs. On our way back to the Visitor Centre a hornbill flew low over us and perched on a tree. It was not difficult to identify it as a Rhinoceros Hornbill, a male bird about a meter long, with a very bright orange-red curved horn attached to its upper mandible, a truly magnificent bird.
Rhinoceros Hornbill

In the afternoon a Black and Yellow Broadbill was spotted feeding a juvenile Indian Cuckoo that was at least twice as big as herself. The Broadbill had been tricked into incubating an egg laid by an Indian Cuckoo and subsequently feeding the ever hungry hatchling as though it was its own offspring.

Juvenile Indian Cuckoo

There were many other interesting sightings and within two adventurous of birding in around the NERC, the four groups collectively identified 102 species of birds. For some of us, almost all of the birds were what birdwatchers termed as ”lifers”, meaning a species seen for the first time by a person. One truly compassionate member, known to us as” Noor “saved a river terrapin from the cooking pot by purchasing it and later releasing it at a safe site. Monday, early morning, was our last time to go out birding before leaving at 11. 30am for our parked the cars at Kahang. After lunch we drove back to KL. It had been a wonderful trip.

Text by Diana van der Elst
Photographs by John Steed*
All images are copyright protected by their owners.

*Photo of River Crossing supplied by....

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