Thursday, 27 August 1987

MALAYSIA August 1987: Taman Negara & Fraser's Hills

The final part of a blog recounting a trip to Malaysia that Nick Preston and I made in summer 1987.  Poorly illustrated with scanned slides of dubious quality and heavily reliant on half-forgotten memories ... 

Taman Negara (19-24 August).  We arrived at Taman Negara after a pleasant boat journey up river although the only birds of note were a Stork-billed Kingfisher and 5 Yellow-crowned Bulbuls.  We checked into the dormitory and had a pleasant couple of hours in the clearing seeing Brown Needletail, Red-bearded Bee-eater and Black & Red Broadbill.  We also heard a Garnet Pitta but it was not close.  On my visit in 1982 the ravine off the main trail just before the Bukit Teresek junction had been excellent and we headed that way the next morning.  We’d not gone far when we saw a female Banded Pitta by the trail.  Even better we found a pair at an active nest about 3m up in a tree near the junction.  They were brilliant and we returned to watch them, from a distance, every day.  We had four full days at Taman Negara and spent most of it walking the trails and in the ravines along the river with a couple of visits up to Bukit Teresek and time in the clearing.  I found it very relaxing as I’d seen most of the likely birds on my previous visit although the terrain along by the river was much hillier than I remembered.  I saw two new birds and both were good ones: a superb pair of Crestless Firebacks and two very smart male Jambu Fruit Doves.  We also saw a party of two male and six female Crested Firebacks one evening and a single male another day, Short-toed Coucal, Cinnamon-rumped, Scarlet-rumped and Diard’s Trogons, Oriental Dwarf Kingfishers, Rhinocerous and Helmetted Hornbill (although we only heard the latter), Orange-backed and Grey & Buff Woodpecker, Green and Black & Yellow Broadbills, an excellent Garnet Pitta (with others heard), Chestnut-naped Forktail, Large-footed Wren-Babbler and Sultan Tit.  We left Taman Negara at 11:00 but not before a final look at the nesting Banded Pittas and a fortuitous encounter with a female Great Argus on our way back.  We again saw Stork-billed Kingfisher and Yellow-crowned Bulbuls on the river.  We caught the bus back to Kuala Lumpur and another to Kuala Kubu Bahru where we arrived after dark and spent the night in a cheap hotel.

Nick watching a Banded Pitta nest (top, slightly left of centre) from the main trail at Taman Negara
Banded Pitta nest
forest stream at Taman Negara
black-backed Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher
Sungai Tahan

forest at Taman Negara

Bukit Teresek (shrouded in low cloud) from Bumbang Tahan
view from Bukit Teresek
Fraser’s Hill (25-27 August).  We caught an early bus and the climb up to Fraser’s Hill was on a narrow road with many hairpins.  Traffic was only allowed in one direction at a time but that didn’t stop our driver clipping the retaining barrier and nearly leaving the road.  Nick and I were the only passengers and we both ended up on the floor.  Better that than at the bottom of a steep drop though!  Our enquiries about accommodation soon made it clear that Fraser’s Hill was a very expensive place but it was suggested we tried the Corona at the far end of the town.  It was quite basic but much more reasonably priced which suited us fine.  The only disadvantage was that we had to walk back up through the town to get most places.  We had a couple of days on leech infested trails that the terrain made it hard to get off to look for any ground birds.  We did see Red-headed Trogon, Black-browed Barbet, Lesser Shortwing, Slaty-backed Forktail, Rufous-browed and Pigmy Blue Flycatchers, Streaked Wren-Babbler, Black, Chestnut-crowned and Red-headed Laughingthrushes, Silver-eared Mesia, White-browed and Black-eared Shrike-Babblers, Sultan Tit and Blue Nuthatch.  On our final morning we birded down to the Gap where we saw White-hooded Shrike Babbler.  We got a bus back to Kuala Kubu Bahru and another to Kuala Lumpur where we caught our flight back home.

view from Fraser's Hills

Fire-tufted Barbet at Fraser's Hills
A combination of energy-draining heat and difficult to find species (not helped by us being tape-unaware) made it a hard trip and there were times when nothing seemed to be going right.  We were fortunate to have the time to persevere and in the end saw most of what we’d hoped to at the sites we visited, even if we had to return to Sepilok three times!  It was a trip that wasn’t always a lot of fun at the time (extreme anxiety rarely is!) but it improved with age as the hardships were soon forgotten or looked back on with amusement.  The birds were superb and well worth all the effort and worry.  As ever Nick was the perfect travelling companion, even if I didn’t speak to him one evening – an incident he thought hilarious at the time and me soon after (when I’d caught up with Whitehead’s Broadbill).  Our main disappointment was learning of the newly opened Danum Valley Field Centre a few months after we got back.  Nick made it there 15 years later, I didn’t have the time on that occasion, but we both did 10 years after that (see  I’d quite like to go back again but won’t leave it another 25 years. 

[blogged November 2014]


  1. I enjoyed reading your account Richard, it took me back to 1994 and the three weeks I spent at Taman Negara, Fraser's Hill and Kuala Selangor. I was lucky to see both endemics at FH (the Whistiling Thrush and Mountain Peacock-pheasant) plus excellent views of Cutia and Brown Bullfinch in the High Pines garden. Apparently both have now gone from the site. Sad.

    1. Hi Steve, you did a lot better at Fraser's Hill than we did, well done, and I'm sorry to hear that some of the specialities are no longer there. I'm particularly envious of the peacock-pheasant (we failed with Malaysian at Taman Negara too), one of the guys I was with at the Cameron Highlands in 1982 reckoned he saw one but the rest of us cynics, not with him at the time, thought it probably a lizard (as if there would be any at that altitude). The automatic reaction to being gripped off:-)


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