Malay Peninsula Extension to the ABA Thailand Birding with a Camera® tour

Southeast Asia has an identity all of its own. It is remarkably different from the northern Asian countries. The region is peppered with steamy lowland jungles with highly desired species like giant hornbills, ornately-patterned barbets and technicolor trogons. The Malay peninsula is different from central and northern Thailand and we can expect a large number of new species, habitats and experiences here. Malaysia can rightly lay claim to some of the dazzling and most wanted birds in all of Asia, from Black-and-Crimson Oriole, Fire-tufted Barbet, Common Green Magpie, Blue Nuthatch, Chestnut-capped and Malay Laughingthrushes, Silver-eared Mesia, and the stunning but rare Himalayan Cutia. The Rufous-naped Pitta even haunts this area, but it is likely to remain a ghost-bird for most of us. Busy flocks contain bulbuls, shrike-babblers, fulvettas, warblers and flycatchers, and there will seldom be a dull moment on the trip. Lower down, on the road to the Gap we might hope to encounter Red-bearded Bee-eater, Silver-breasted or Long-tailed Broadbill, Sultan Tit, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Black Laughingthrush, or several species of forktail, malkohas, barbets, owls, trogons, woodpeckers, kingfishers, leafbirds, bulbuls, babblers, spiderhunters, and flowerpeckers. Some rarities that we would be very lucky to catch up with would include the incredible Rail-Babbler, or Malay Banded Pitta. This short trip visits one of the most famous sites on mainland Asia: Fraser’s Hill. But first we pop in at Bukit Tingii for some prize specialties. Malaysia is a modern country, often at the cutting edge of technology in the region, with a high standard of living; thus the tour is undertaken while staying in comfortable lodging throughout.

Depending on the number of participants, each group may do a slightly modified version of this itinerary based on the needs of each group.

Day 1: Kuala Lumpur to Bukit Tingii. You will be met at the airport and transferred about 90 minutes to the famed Genting Highlands area. Cooler than the muggy lowlands of Kuala Lumpur, we will be shocked to realize how close this forested oasis is to one of Asia’s mega-cities. We might find out first Crested Serpent-Eagle, Black-crested or Ochraceous bulbuls, Blue-winged Leafbird, Black Eagle or perchance even Rhinoceros Hornbill. Flocks contain Green-billed Malkoha, Black-browed Barbet, Grey-throated Babbler, Long-tailed Sibia, Little Pied Flycatcher, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher or Golden Babbler.

We'll hope to find Ferruginous Partridge at Bukit Tingii
We'll hope to find Ferruginous Partridge at Bukit Tingii (Keith Barnes)

Day 2: Bukit Tingii to Fraser’s Hill. We take off early for our vigil at some nearby feeders that are now regular haunts for two amazingly rare birds; Mountain Peacock-Pheasant and Ferruginous Partridge. The former is endemic to Malaysia and was very seldom seen until these individuals were tamed at this feeder. If they come in we are likely to get great pictures of both species. In the afternoon, we shall drive east into the hills and the former British hill station of Fraser’s Hill, one of the most revered birding sites in all of Asia. Four nights will be spent within the pleasant surrounds of Fraser’s Hill, where the well-manicured gardens and native forest hold plentiful hill forest species. Even after our late arrival, it is likely we will bump into some of the more conspicuous inhabitants around town before dark, like Streaked Spiderhunter, Black-throated Sunbird, Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush, Long-tailed Sibia and the spectacular Silver-eared Mesia.

Mountain Peacock-Pheasant sometimes visits feeders at Bukit Tingii
Mountain Peacock-Pheasant sometimes visits feeders at Bukit Tingii (Keith Barnes)

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Days 3-5: Fraser’s Hill and The Gap.With three full days at this enchanting birding location, we can explore both the top of the hill and the lower elevations around the base of the hill, known as The Gap. While the hill is by no means high (just over 1500m/4900ft. at its very highest point), the forests at the bottom and top vary distinctly in character, with species like Bamboo Woodpecker, Black-thighed Falconet, and Orange-breasted Trogon, for example, only occurring around The Gap. Up on the top, mixed flocks are a major feature of birding life, and these can contain such varied species as Red-headed Trogon, Greater and Lesser Yellownape, Green-billed Malkoha, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Black-eared Shrike-Babbler, Golden Babbler, and Blue Nuthatch in the mix. Merely walking the forest-lined roads at dawn can be a great birding strategy, as some normally shy interior forest species emerge at the edge and can be seen feeding along the roads; this can apply to Large Niltava and the handsome Rufous-browed Flycatcher.

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Red-bearded Bee-eater has a strange growling call that alerts one to its presence in the forest
Red-bearded Bee-eater has a strange growling call that alerts one to its presence in the forest (Sam Woods)

The rasping, near constant calls of the stunning Fire-tufted Barbet are a regular sound at Fraser’s, as is the “dripping tap” song of the Little Cuckoo-Dove, the deep hoots of the Mountain Imperial-Pigeon, and the monotonous calls of the Black-browed Barbet; during our few days here we are sure to run into some, or all, of these. The hill is crisscrossed by trails, which give access to shyer interior forest birds like Pygmy Cupwing (a possible new family for some), Lesser Shortwing, and Streaked Wren-Babbler. Some of the scarcer species found in this location include Red-bearded Bee-eater, Common Green Magpie, Collared Owlet, Silver-breasted and Long-tailed Broadbills, Sultan Tit, Mountain Leaf-Warbler, Malayan and Black Laughingthrushes, and the endemic Malaysian Whistling-Thrush. Overhead we’ll be on the lookout for aerial birds like the common Glossy Swiftlet, an ever-present; or the impressive Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle or Black Eagle; and, at the lower levels, the graceful Gray-rumped or Whiskered Treeswifts, likely new families for first time visitors to Asia, or even the Rufous-bellied Swallow, a Malaysian endemic. While we are birding in the lovely climate on the hilltop (a regular weekend retreat for modern Malaysian from the heat of Kuala Lumpur, and formerly for the British gentry during colonial times), we may also run into some of the mammals in the area, like a large black gibbon, the Siamang, or one of the regular troops of Banded Leaf-Monkeys that roam the hillsides. On one of these nights we may linger near The Gap at dusk to watch the emergence of Malaysian Eared-Nightjars, which hawk insects over the treetops at dusk.

Flocks will be scoured for the dashing Sultan Tit on Fraser's Hill
Flocks will be scoured for the dashing Sultan Tit on Fraser's Hill (Iain Campbell)

Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush is a garden bird on Fraser's Hill
Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush is a garden bird on Fraser's Hill (Iain Campbell)

Day 6: Fraser’s Hill to Kuala Lumpur. After another full day in the area, perhaps targeting the lower elevation species on our way back to Kuala Lumpur we might encounter gems such as Banded, and Black-and-yellow broadbills, Red-naped, and Diard’s trogons all possible, along with hordes of babblers and bulbuls. The mature, giant Dipterocarp trees, which can be great for woodpeckers; can produce Banded, Checker-throated, Maroon, and Rufous Woodpeckers! By checking fruiting trees we might find Gold-whiskered and Red-throated barbets, Asian Fairy-Bluebird, and Asian Pied-Hornbill. At the and of the day we will return to Kuala Lumpur where we spend our final night near the airport.

Black-and-yellow Broadbill is a diminutive stunner. Fortunately they are noisy enough to notice
Black-and-yellow Broadbill is a diminutive stunner. Fortunately they are noisy enough to notice (Nick Athanas)

Day 7: Departure. The tour ends this morning in Kuala Lumpur. A shuttle is available to take you to the international airport.



You must be an ABA member to book this tour. Becoming a member is easy, just visit the ABA website.

PACE: Relaxed to moderate. We will be up and in the field by 06:00 am most mornings, and enjoying the best of the days birding and photography. However almost every day will be one where we can enjoy a post-lunch rest break, and given the heat and humidity this gives both participants and the birds a change to recharge. In the afternoon we start around 3 pm and go out till dusk. There is only a single call for a pre-dawn start at Bukit Tingii, and there may be a few optional nocturnal excursions at Fraser’s Hill, which has some great night birds and mammals. Peninsula Malaysia is compact, and there are no long drives on this delightful bird-filled tour. There may be a one or two packed breakfasts, but all lunches and dinners are sit-down affairs.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. At Fraser’s hill, most of the birding is done from easy track or roads, with some short excursions onto hilly trails at Fraser’s Hill. You can expect to walk around 2 miles (3 km) per day on average.

CLIMATE: Hot and humid at the Gap (mostly 74°-88°F, 23°-31°C) and cool and comfortable at Bukit Tingii and Fraser’s Hill (mostly 50°-68°F, 10°-20°C). It is not the rainy season, but rain can still come at any time, often in the afternoons in the form of thunderstorms.

ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent, with private facilities throughout. All accommodations have private en-suite bathrooms, full time hot water, 24-hour electricity, and internet.

EXPECTATIONS: We can expect to see nearly 150 species on our short extension, and photograph many of them.

GEAR: Binoculars are essential. The leaders will have scopes, but you are welcome to bring your own. We will be spending a lot of time in montane forest, although birds are still relatively tame compared to other places in SE Asia. A 300mm or 400mm with teleconverters are good options, and a good 100-400 zoom would also be fine; a longer lens, if you have one, would uesful in some situation, but it is by no means required.


TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Visas are not currently required for citizens of the US, Canada, the UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Visas are currently required only of a few nationalities, mainly in Africa and the Middle East. Travel requirements are subject to change; it’s always a good idea to double check six weeks before the tour, or ask our office for help.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers and lodge/restaurant staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 6; meals from lunch on day 1 to breakfast on day 7; reasonable non-alcoholic drink at meals (between meals, only safe drinking water will be provided); Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 6; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from day 1 to day 6; transport to the airport on day 7 (this will likely be a hotel shuttle bus).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips for luggage porters (if you require their services); flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.