Malaysia: The Asia Introtour

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 pittas and technicolor trogons. Southeast Asia can rightly lay claim to some of the dazzling and most wanted birds in all of Asia, from Malayan Peacock-Pheasant to Malayan Banded Pitta to Red-naped Trogon to the enigmatic Rail-Babbler, this part of Asia has its fair share of both the beautiful and the odd. This short tour visits the three premier sites on mainland Malaysia: Kuala Selangor for a dose of mangrove species and coastal birds, then Fraser’s Hill, one of the most famous sites in all of Asia, for an array of hill forest birds, before dropping down into the sweaty lowlands at Taman Negara, a park loaded with spectacular birds, the likes of which draw people there from all over the world, frequently to return again. This park is so rich in birdlife it is sometimes referred to as “Malaysia’s Amazon”! This is an especially rich region for woodpeckers, with some intensive, longer, tours in this area having yielded more than 20 species! 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.



Day 1: Kuala Lumpur. You will be met at the airport and transferred to our hotel in Kuala Lumpur for the night.

Fire-tufted Barbet is a conspicuous resident on Fraser's Hill
Fire-tufted Barbet is a conspicuous resident on Fraser's Hill (Iain Campbell)

Day 2: Kuala Selangor Nature Reserve. We will depart Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, very early to make it to the coastal plain of Kuala Selangor for dawn. The early start will be worthwhile though, as the mixture of mangroves, coastal scrub, and pools though are sure to add a suite of birds found nowhere else on the tour. Our morning targets in the mangroves shall include Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, Mangrove Whistler, and Golden-bellied Gerygone; while other species that may only feature on this day could include Brahminy Kite, Collared Kingfisher, Pink-necked Green-Pigeon, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Brown-capped Woodpecker, Greater and Common Flamebacks, Common Iora (a likely new family for many), and White-bellied Sea-Eagle. 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. Three 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.

The outrageously colored Silver-eared Mesia is common on Fraser's Hill
The outrageously colored Silver-eared Mesia is common on Fraser's Hill (Iain Campbell)

Days 3-4: Fraser’s Hill and The Gap.With two full days in 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.

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, 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)

Day 5: Fraser’s Hill to Taman Negara. On this day we will swap one of Southeast Asia’s top birding locales for another, of a very different kind. After a final period in the morning birding the hillforests around Fraser’s Hill we will set off for Taman Negara, Malaysia’s premier national park. Arriving in the afternoon, we shall check in to our comfortable resort on the edge of the forest and pick up our first birds right around the resort, many of which, will depend on what flowering and fruiting shrubs are present at the time. However, some of the exciting possibilities include the scarce Straw-headed Bulbul (along with an assortment of other bulbuls, including Red-eyed, Stripe-throated and Yellow-vented); Black-thighed Falconet, Blue-crowned Hanging-Parrot, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Jungle Myna, Gray-breasted Spiderhunter, and Brown-throated Sunbird.

Yellow-eared Spiderhunter can be found around Taman Negara
Yellow-eared Spiderhunter can be found around Taman Negara (Iain Campbell)

Days 6 – 7: Taman Negara While this is a popular park, by taking a short boat ride, we will quickly leave the crowded trails behind and visit some of the less-visited ones, where not only are we likely to be alone, we will also be in the best areas of the park for birding, with achingly beautiful species like Green, Banded, and Black-and-yellow Broadbills, Malayan Banded and Garnet Pittas, and Red-naped, Scarlet-rumped and Diard’s Trogons all possible, along with hordes of babblers and bulbuls. One of the trails we will visit is also dotted with mature, giant Dipterocarp trees, which can be great for woodpeckers; and can produce Great Slaty, Banded, Checker-throated, Maroon, and Rufous Woodpeckers have all been recorded in this area! Our time will be split between walking forest trails, and checking for fruiting trees in the resort, which can attract birds like Gold-whiskered and Red-throated Barbets, Asian Fairy-Bluebird, and Asian Pied-Hornbill. The species list for Taman Negara exceeds 300 species, and so the varied and rich possibilities are entoxicating; we could find birds like Crested Fireback, Stork-billed, Banded and Rufous-collared Kingfishers, Crested Jay, Tickell’s and Malaysian Blue Flycatchers, Black-billed and Raffle’s Malkohas, and Black-and-red Broadbill. We may also find mammals around Taman Negara too, with possibilities including the spectacular Giant Squirrel, Malay Civet, and both Asia’s smalles deer (the tiny Lesser Mouse-Deer), and Asia’s largest (the hulking Sambar). The area is also rich in nightbirds, and so there will be optional nightwalks for birds like Sunda Scops-Owl, Gould’s and Large Frogmouths.

Oriental Pied Hornbill is the most common hornbill in Malaysia
Oriental Pied Hornbill is the most common hornbill in Malaysia (Iain Campbell)

Day 8: Taman Negara to Kuala Lumpur for DEPARTURE/START BORNEO TOUR. As many flights leave from KL in the evening; after some final birding in Taman Negara we shall return to Malaysia’s capital, either for international departures or to fly on to join our exciting Borneo tour, for a swathe of Bornean endemic birds (it boasts more than 40 only found there), and the best mammal viewing in southeast Asia.

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)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Relaxed-moderate. We will be up and in the field by 06:00 am most mornings, and enjoying the best of the days birding. 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 no call for pre-dawn starts, although there may be a few optional nocturnal excursions at both Fraser’s Hill and Taman Negara, which have 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: Moderate. At Kuala Selangor and Fraser’s hill, most of the birding is done from easy track or roads, with a some short excursions onto hilly trails at Fraser’s Hill. At Taman Negara, almost all the birding is done from trails. Most of these are well laid out and fairly flat, but there are a few steeper bits, and if there has been rain overnight, the trails can be slick. You can expect to walk around 2 miles (3 km) per day on average.

CLIMATE: Hot and humid at Selangor and Taman Negara (mostly 74°-88°F, 23°-31°C) and cool and comfortable at Fraser’s Hill (mostly 50°-68°F, 10°-20°C). June-July 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 superb, with private facilities throughout. All accommodations have private en-suite bathrooms, full time hot water, 24-hour electricity, and internet.

WHEN TO GO: This tour can be run year round. We often run it in June/July because that is when it can connect to our Borneo tour. However, just about any time of year can be good, although we might recommend some tweaks to the itinerary if you want to run a custom tour at different times of the year.

OTHER INFO:

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 7; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to lunch on day 8; if any meal includes nothing to drink, Tropical Birding will pay for reasonable non-alcoholic drinks; between meals, only safe drinking water will be provided; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the evening of day 1 to the afternoon of day 7; one arrival airport transfer per person (transfer may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they arrive at the same time); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from day 1 to day 5 and on day 8; all required boat transport while at Taman Negara; entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary.

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.