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Thursday, October 28, 2010

A journey of a thousand miles

As you read these words, day or night, there are birds aloft in the skies over our heads, migrating.
Bird migration is the one truly unifying natural phenomenon in the world, linking the continents together in a way that even the great weather systems, which roar out from the poles but fizzle at the equator, fail to do. It is an enormously complex subject, perhaps the most compelling drama in all of natural history.
 That such delicate creatures undertake these epic journeys defies belief. Only recently have scientists discovered that some shorebirds apparently fly nonstop from the southern tip of South America to the coast of New Jersey, a journey of ten days — 240 hours of uninterrupted flight. In all, scientists guess, more than 5 billion birds annually weave this incredible tapestry across the hemisphere.

Because they travel such extraordinary distances, often with differing requirements for food and shelter along the way, migratory birds pose one of the toughest conservation challenges in the world. In the past, conservation programmes focused on saving breeding areas, but experts now realize they must also save wintering grounds and migratory stopovers if this global web isn’t to unravel.

There are serious signs that the web is fraying. In Malaysia alone, it is estimated that migratory waterbird numbers have decreased by 23% in the last 20 years. Many species of migratory waterbirds depend on interconnected networks of wetlands. These sites also benefit people by providing clean water and opportunities for fishing, agriculture, recreation and tourism. However, despite their importance, wetlands are amongst the world’s most threatened ecosystems. Nature conservationists now realize the smartest approach is to recognize the trouble early and try to stabilize populations while they are still relatively common. This recognition, coupled with an impending sense of crisis, sparked an unprecedented international conservation effort, probably the largest and most ambitious in history, involving many countries in research, education, and habitat protection.

One such multinational approach is the Partnership for the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Launched in November 2006, the Partnership is an informal and voluntary initiative, aimed at protecting migratory waterbirds, their habitat and the livelihoods of people dependent upon them. There are currently 23 partners including 11 countries, 3 intergovernmental agencies and 9 international non-government organisations. An estimated 50 million migratory waterbirds travel along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway annually. Although the government of Malaysia has not yet signed-on to this Partnership, nature conservation organizations like the Malaysian Nature Society, are taking efforts at the site level to raise awareness about migratory waterbirds and to work with local communities and other interested parties to ensure that the important migratory waterbird habitats are regularly monitored, and to advocate for their protection.

In Sarawak, the Bako-Buntal Bay is perhaps the most important stopover site for migratory waterbirds. An estimated 6,000 migratory birds – including some critically-endangered species use this as a feeding and resting area on their annual journey from the cold climate of Siberia to the warmer climes of Australia, and back again.

One noteworthy visitor to the Bay area is the Chinese Egret (Egretta eulophotes). It breeds in Russia, North Korea, South Korea and mainland China, and then migrates south through Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The main wintering grounds appear to be in the Eastern Visayas (Leyte, Bohol and Cebu) in the Philippines. It is classified as Vulnerable (a ‘Vulnerable’ species is one is likely to become Endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve). The biggest threat to this species is habitat loss. The current population is estimated at between 2,600 and 3,400 birds. Annual waterbird counts in the Buntal area over the past years revealed that about 12% of the total world’s population of this species visits the area each year, which makes the area of tremendous global conservation importance.

On Friday, 8th October 2010, about 100 members of the Kampung Buntal community joined MNS-Kuching Branch members and other bird enthusiasts to celebrate the importance of the Bay area for migratory waterbirds.  

Organized as part of the community outreach events under the year-long Sarawak Waterbird Survey project, the event was aimed at raising awareness, particularly among the younger generation living in the area, about the importance of the Bako-Buntal Bay area as a stopover site for migratory birds and the need for everyone to work together to protect the important habitats for these birds.

Rebecca D’Cruz of the MNS Kuching Branch presented a talk on migratory waterbirds and the importance of the Bako-Buntal Bay area. She spoke about the wonders of bird migration and the amazing feats that these tiny feathered creatures are able to perform, the species that regularly visit the Bay area, and the threats that they currently face along their migration route.

The East Asia-Australasian Flyway (the Flyway) is one of nine major migratory waterbird flyways around the globe. It extends from within the Arctic Circle in Russia and Alaska, southwards through East and South-east Asia, to Australia and New Zealand in the south, encompassing 22 countries. Migratory waterbirds share this flyway with 45% of the world's human population.

The Flyway is home to over 50 million migratory waterbirds - including shorebirds, anatidae (ducks, geese and swans) and cranes - from over 250 different populations, including 28 globally threatened species.

There are currently 700 sites recognised as internationally important to migratory waterbirds along the flyway, many of which are located adjacent to human settlement and vulnerable to rapid social and economic development pressures.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Talk & walk: Spiders Galore! 26 & 28 October 2010

Hello members,

Please keep your diaries free for the 26th & the 28th Oct.

There'll be a talk by a well known expert on Southeast Asian spiders on the 26th Oct 2010.
Dr Joseph Koh who is on a brief one month visit here for will give us with a fascinating insight on "Defence strategies of Southeast Asian spiders". As we've never had a talk on spiders before, this will be an interesting one to attend. So bring your friends along!
Venue of talk: UCSI Sarawak Campus auditorium (Jalan Tun Jugah, near the roundabout to the airport)
Time: 7.30pm. 

 For those who are interested, Dr Koh will conduct a night walk along the Red & Blue Trail at Permai Rainforest Resort from 7.20pm on the 28 Oct 2010 to search for spiders in the forest there. He will demonstrate the "eye shine technique" and show how one can easily spot nocturnal spiders. First timers will be surprised at the diversity and sheer numbers of spiders one can observe at night, especially members of Lycosidae (wolf spiders) wandering spiders (Ctenidae) and Sparassidae (huntsman spiders).  Later in the evening (maybe after 9 pm), we may be able to see those Araneidae (orb-web spiders) which tend to build web at night. Joseph will do a walking commentary on their natural history and possible identities as and when we spot them. He will also demonstrate how to distinguish male from female spiders. Although it is not impossibleto spot the spiders with hand-held torches, it would be much easier with headlamps. Please remember to load the lights with fresh batteries since it would be a 3-hour walk. There will be plenty of opportunities for macro-photography with a flash.

It would make a nice evening to head over to Permai early and have dinner while watching the sunset before starting off on the walk. The Rainforest cafe closes at 10.30pm.

Venue of walk: Permai Rainforest Resort (Red & Blue Trail)
Time: 7.30pm - 10.30pm
What to wear/bring: Suitable clothing (such as long sleeved shirts), sensible shoes as you will be walking on the trails & not on resort pavements, headlamps, torch, extra batteries, raincoat, plenty of water & snacks.
Where to meet: The Rainforest Cafe


Saturday, October 23, 2010

A morning with the Singai Expedition

                                                            HUGE: A giant gita tree.
By Valerie Mashman
The purpose of the Singai expedition led by Professor Dr Andrew Alek Tuen from UNIMAS is to document the biodiversity of flora and fauna and history and the culture of the people who come from Mount Singai with a view to further developing the area for ecotourism. We were pre-empting this by taking a morning to see for ourselves, as visitors, what there was to see.
Mount Singai with its unique flat summit is an icon on the skyline from Kuching; and for the Bidayuh, it is original home of the eight Bidayuh Kampongs who speak the Singai dialect. Over the last eighty years these villages, now called Sagah, Bobak Tengah, Browing, Daun, Sinibung, Tanjong Bowang, Tanjong Poting, Atas, Sudoh, Apar, Barieng, Segong have resettled around the base of the mountain.
 At the base camp at Kampong Tanjong Bowang students were measuring and collecting data on the fruit bats they had collected. There was talk about the squirrels and tarsiers that had been collected and later released the night before. We were shown photos of the colourful array of birds - from sleek dark shamas to brightly coloured-rufous backed kingfishers and emerald green broadbills - that had been recorded. 
As we were led up the trail to the Catholic Memorial Pilgrimage Centre we heard tailor birds in the trees. In the past, their call would have affected decisions on our journey, as these were important omen birds.  At the beginning of the trail we noticed a tall bamboo marker that had been set by members of the local community to demarcate the perimeter of their land. The process of marking boundaries is in anticipation of an official survey of land.
The main trail up to the Pilgrimage Centre is an ancient track as old as the sites of the settlements at the top – perhaps even 300-400 years. Today many pilgrims come to the site of the first Catholic Church outside of Kuching and recite the Stations of the Cross on the way. The local community together with the Catholic Church fundraise every year to maintain and extend the hardwood plank walk and to provide facilities at the centre.
We were led off the main path to see a stream, which feeds the gravity water system of the village below, which flowed off a fifty-foot outcrop of rock.  During the monsoon season it is a dramatic waterfall called “ribuan kada”, ribuan means waterfall and kada means bat). All along the path the expedition members had placed traps for butterflies suspended from the trees and rodent traps on the ground and nets at intervals to catch bats and small birds. 

Almost three quarters of the way up we were shown the site of the bori tugal where in times before Christianity, rites of protection and fertility were performed prior to clearing land for farming – these rites ensured a successful burning and clearing of the land before padi planting. We had passed this area on the main path many times on our way up, as we prayed the Stations of the Cross without realizing that the land was also used in the past for this ritual purpose for the people settled at the top of the mountain.  Cremations took place towards the eastern side of the mountain. The last cremation specialist we were told did not always do a thorough job as he was as scared of the spirits in the forest as much as anyone else and always crept away back to the village before finishing.
We were taken off the main trail at the top near the Pilgrimage Centre to see the old sites of some of the original longhouse settlements on the mountain. These were to be mapped using GPS equipment. Off the main paths in the fruit groves, surrounded by clumps of bamboos and wild gingers we were shown the belian posts (taas) that had been the main supports of the old longhouse and the three supports for the baruk, the head house. We saw the foundations of the old settlements at Kampong Daun and Kampong Giang and heard stories from our friends of the childhood journeys to streams to collect water in bamboo cylinders as their grandparents had still lived up the mountain some fifty years ago. These settlements had been built relatively close to each other and often consisted of two or three or more longhouses and a baruk
The forest was rich in resources for the original eight settlements: fruit trees of durian,  langsat, rambutan,  ancient tapang trees and other huge hardwoods, bamboo for flooring and walls for houses  and rattan for baskets and mats . There were tall “nyuok” ( Arenga sp. ) palms that were used to extract effervescent toddy from the flower, the “tuak nyuok”, which was consumed in the evenings while the men folk socialized. It was believed that the “nyuok” palm could bring prosperity to a community .We were also thrilled to see a giant yam flower bunga teboug( Amorphaphallus sp.) in bud. The teboug plant features in local legends.
The most significant site, for Dr Andrew Alek Tuen, was the home or rather the palace of his great grandfather Orang Kaya Kasag who was the Raja or chief of the Bisingai. The site is called Tipa’an.  It was on the flank of the mountain by a bamboo grove and unmarked – all significant traces of the original house dwelling had been conserved  offsite by his descendants  for safekeeping . Doors and even belian shingles had been safely kept. These testified that this dwelling was special as most houses had simple sago palm thatch roofs. It was a great thrill for Dr Andrew to be able to trace his ancestry to this place.
For the Bidayuh the oyak where the stream water was channeled in to a bamboo pipe was an important place for collecting water and bathing. ‘Oyak Moning’ was used by Kampong Daun and also by Father Westerwoudt, the first Catholic missionary to Singai, who stayed close to the village. He would call out “good morning” to the villagers and the story goes the bathing place took its name after his greeting – Oyak Moning.
After this we were taken further into the forest to see a very tall and great “gitie” tree (pelai, Alstonia sp.). This tree was the centre of important warrior rituals (katang) for the men folk of the whole Bisingai tribe  that mustered courage before a headhunting expedition. The rituals would continue for a couple of days.  One can imagine the tree's powerful size could encourage the men to be courageous in warfare. It was also said that this tree grew straight to the sky so that God could use it as a ladder to come down to earth.
FOR RESEARCH: A trap for butterflies is seen suspended
from a tree.
The walk had given us a great insight into the history of this magnificient mountain. The stories of the original settlements, the places linked with rites and rituals, enriched our understanding of its importance. The wealth of forest resources, the diversity of bird and animal life are very much valued by the local communities. We look forward to learning about the findings of the expedition that is covering 18 aspects of the mountain with a view to conservation and ecotourism.
LEGENDARY: The teboug plant (Amorphaphallus sp)
features in local legends.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Paya Maga expedition

Just got the email from Chien Lee, who represented us on a recent scientific expedition to Paya Maga, organised by Sarawak Forest Department (SFD) in collaboration with Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC).
Paya Maga is located at Ulu Trusan, Lawas at an altitude of 1500-1800 metres. The site can be accessed via Kampung Long Tuyo by four wheel drive vehicles followed by a trek of around 5-6 hours.
A total of 70 participants from SFD, SFC, Sarawak Biodiversity Center, Malaysia Nature Society, Geoscience and Minerals Department, World Wildlife Fund Indonesia, University Kebangsaan Malaysia, University Malaysia Sarawak, Forest Department of Brunei and University of Brunei darussalam have taken part in the expedition.The team was led by Dato Professor Emeritus Dr Haji Mohamad Abdul Majid, Fellow Academy of Sciences Malaysia. The research groups, which includes geologists, botanists and microbiologists, will be divided into various disciplines of studies including Flora, Fauna, Bioculture, Water Quality and Geology.

Here are some of the birds Chien Lee have photographed (from left to right: Whitehead Broadbill Calyptomena whiteheadi, Black oriole Oriolus hosii, Orange-breasted Trogon Harpactes oreskios; the black oriole is indeed an exciting find as it has escaped birders for years in Sarawak, so congratulations to Chien Lee to capture him sharply in frame!!)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Introducing Quentin Phillipps

Quentin Phillipps was born in Sandakan, Sabah and has been interested in the wildlife and natural history of Sabah all his life. Educated at Sabah College, Bedales and Kings College Cambridge, at age 17 he won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year (junior section) for the first-ever photograph of a nesting Chestnut-headed Thrush (taken at Poring).
Quoted from www.amazon.com “This is the most up-to-date and user-friendly guide to the birds of Borneo, covering Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and Kalimantan. This guide gives descriptions of 664 species living or reported on the island, including 51 endemic species. These are superbly illustrated in 141 color plates with more than 2,000 full color bird images, including most of the sexual variants and immature forms of polymorphic species. Quentin’s sister, Karen did the illustrations. Each plate is accompanied by species descriptions covering nomenclature, length, voice, range, distribution and status and habits, with distribution shown by detailed thumnail maps. There are seven habitat plates, 12 regional maps showing Borneo's top 130 birdwatching sites, fast-find graphic indexes to the birds of Kinabalu and other habitats and a full overview of vegetation, climate and ecology.”
Quentin will be our guest of honor for our upcoming bird race next week. You can buy this book and get it signed at our booth during short race on 10 Oct at Borneo Highland Resort.

Learn more about bird-watching

FLASHBACK: The 2009 Mini Bird Race. — Photo by Mary Margaret

BORNEO is the third largest island in the world covering 740,000 square km.
The top third consists of Sabah, Brunei and Sarawak with the Indonesian state of Kalimantan a large
and varied area at the bottom.
Most bird-watching has been done in Sabah and the rest of the island has been under-studied. To enable people to take up the pastime of birdwatching here in East Malaysia, some pocket guides were published recently — the best compiled by Charles M Francis in 1984 is ‘Birds of Borneo’ by the Sabah Society. This book is still available in bookshops in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.
The most well-known bird guide is Bertram Smythies’ ‘The Birds of Borneo’.
Some interesting statistics according to Smythies (2000) are that Borneo has over 620 species of birds,
434 are known to breed here and 39 are endemic and of these four are only found in Sabah.
Susan Meyers and Quentin Phillipps both recently published bird field guides.
Phillipps is launching a revised book this year.
We are fortunate to have him attend and give a talk on the Birds of Borneo during the Sarawak Bird
Race at the Borneo Highlands next Sunday (Oct10).
Borneo has a single endemic family, Pityriaseidae, which contains a single species: the Bornean bristlehead.
In addition, there are the following endemic genera:Haematortyx — the crimson-headed partridge,
Chlamydochaera — the black-breasted fruithunter, Oculocincta — the pygmy white-eye and Chlorocharis— the mountain blackeye.
The Bird Race was started for several reasons, one of which was to introduce bird-watching to a wide
range of people.The first Mini Bird Race in the Borneo Highlands situated in the Penrissen Range was on Oct 19, 2008.
Sixteen teams competed that first year and the following year we had 25.
Both winning teams each year have been from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).
Now the third race will take on more habitats —from sea to mountain.
So far at the Borneo Highlands there has been documented sightings of eight endemic Bornean

Bornean barbet (Megalaima exima)
This bird was previously known as black-throated barbet and is one of the smallest barbets in
Borneo. Its voice is characterised by very fast repeated ‘took’ notes, seemingly without taking a
breath in between.
Like other barbets, it is a cavity nester (tree holes) and feeds mostly on fruit. Barbets are small, stockybodied birds with rather large heads, which gives the appearance of a stubby neck.
The majority of barbets are multi-coloured and have striking plumage.

Blue-banded pitta (Pitta arquata)
The species is described as ‘uncommon’ in at least parts of its range. In 1900, the famous naturalist Robert Sheflord wrote that it was very common on Mount Penrissen. Its voice is a long drawn-out whistle.
This small plump reddish bird hops around on theground hunting for insects.

Chestnut-crested yuhinia (Yuhinia everetti)
This is a common submontane bird. It is small, greyish with brown crest/ crown and white underside.
The birds travel in noisy flocks eating insects, seeds, and berries.

Yellow-rumped flowerpecker (Prionochilus xanthopygius)
The male has blue above with yellow underside and reddish patch on the breast.
This tiny bird feeds at flowers, also fruit and insects. It is seen commonly at Melastoma bushes and is
found from the lowlands to submontane zones.

Black-sided flowerpecker (Dicaeum monticolum)
This is another tiny flowerpecker. The male has blue above with scarlet throat and breast. It eats
small insects and fruits and is mostly a montane species usually seen singly.

Pygmy white-eye (Oculocincta squamifrons)
This tiny bird is olive-grey above and yellowish-whitebelow. It is a montane species and travels in small flocks. It eats insects, berries, and seeds. Unlike most white-eyes, the white eye ring on this species is difficult to see.

Mountain black-eye (Chlorocharis emiliae)
This is the ever-present montane bird in Borneo. It is smallish and has dark olive-green plumage with a distinctive black lore and eye ring.
It travels in small flocks, feeding at flowers and seeking insects among leaves. It has a pleasant melodious song.

Dusky munia (Lonchura fuscans)
This is a very common bird from the lowlands to submontane habitats. It is entirely brownish-black
with a typical thick munia bill. It travels in groups and feeds mostly on grass seeds, but also insects and fruit. It flies low to the ground.
These are a few of the birds that participants in the Sarawak Bird Race could catch a glimpse of.

For a complete list of possible birds that Bird Racers might see go to
If you are you up to the challenge and would like to join the Bird Race go to
borneohighlands.com.my or contact Bernard via benard@borneohighlands. com.my.

Bird Race is coming ! - starts 8th October 2010 at Buntal.

Dear MNS Kuching Branch members and MNS friends:
Well the third Bird Race is coming next week! - starts 8th October 2010 at Buntal.
MNS is holding a Waterbird Community Awareness Talk at the Dewan Buntal at 2.00pm by Rose Au to highlight to school children and the nearby residents of the importance of the migratory birds who come to Buntal each year.
MNS members are welcome to attend the launching of the Bird Race at Buntal.
The Flag Off for the Bird Race will be held at 3pm after the Community briefing.
The tide will be right for people to see waders from vantage points from Seafood Restaurants on the coast.
It is not too late- We are still looking for participants for the Race ! - it covers more area and runs for 2 days. So far there are 9 teams and we hope for more to sign up this week. The Race starts in Buntal at 3pm on the 8th October and takes the contestants through Kubah, Semenggoh and Borneo Highlands where the Race ends at 10.30am on Sunday the 10th October.
We are having fun and educational programmes for visitors to Borneo Highlands on this Sunday - with a Mini bird Race from 8.30am - 12.00noon. Make the day trip this Sunday 10 October and go on the jungle walk - come suitably attired with proper footwear for walking, hat,  insect repellant and sun block. Light snacks will be available for purchase. This is not all we have going on!
There will be exhibition of Sarawak birds from Sea to Mountain on display.
We will have digiscoping demonstrations / Beginners binocular training and merchandise including Bird Guide Books for sale. Our special guest Mr Quentin Phillipps will be on hand to sign his Birds of Borneo Guide Book and will give an interesting talk on his experiences.
We have volunteers to help on the event and we look forward to an exciting time.
Please inform any interested birding enthusiasts who can to take part. This will help to build our knowledge of the birds around Kuching and hopefully add to the existing lists. You can check out the types of birds on i-witness. Check out the Sarawak Bird Race 2010 at www.birdrace2010.borneohighlands.com.my and sign up to have an interesting time next weekend.
Kind regards
Sue Teal
KBBG KB Secretary

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Featuring "A friendship with birds" by Amar

Those of us who work closely with children will know Amar (Dato' Dr. Amar-Singh HSS), who is a senior consultant Paediatrician with the Ministry of Health and Head of the Paediatric department at Ipoh Hospital. His passion for children is infectious for those around him. Little known to us, he is also a passionate birder. He took me out for my first birding trip in Ipoh, and seeing hundreds of egrets and herons like chinese paintings was not something to be forgotten easily. That outing has slowed down my pace whenever I go on my solitude hikes, and start to appreciate all the little beautiful creations in nature.
Amar gave me his copy of "A friendship with birds" last year. As he told me himself, this book is not meant to be a field guide, but it is fully illustrated, which is a delight to a beginner like myself. I love the story how he and Im (Amar's wife) rescued the baby Pied Fantail. The illustration of a family tree of a bubul family showed the close relationship of the couple and their garden birds.
The bird species are described in five chapters: ten commonest bird in our garden, the less common ones, the occasional ones flew across, other common birds in town, and unusual visitors. All these are described in a chatty way, which makes it an interesting read.
For those interested in getting a copy, we will be selling them at MNS booth during our upcoming Borneo Highland Birdrace 9-10 Oct.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Catch trailers of EFF award winning films on Malaysia's FIRST green web channel, 1HijauTV

Dear Friends

Catch trailers of EFF award winning films on Malaysia's FIRST green web channel, 1HijauTV  
You have GOT to believe this! Malaysia now has it's own GREEN broadband web channel, featuring all sorts of green programmes from shows on healthy sustainable living to those showcasing latest green technology adopted globally. Called1Hijau.TV, these green broadcasters will be working with the team at EFF to promote the Festival to an international audience.1Hijau.TV will also be broadcasting some of EFF's activities and performances on site. So you might just see yourself on the web soon.
This is the perfect timing for Malaysia to jumpstart its green initiatives and wake the entire nation up with 1Hijau.TV.
Fusing high end broadband technology and the passion for environmental protection in the country, 1Hijau.TV was an instinctive progress to merge technology and environment to send an urgent message across to all Malaysians – the need to start a green movement to protect the very soil that gave life to all 26 million of us here.

1Hijau.TV aims to set precedence on the creation of a well-exposed society to all environmental issues – whether locally or globally. Featuring a plethora of local and international green programmes, 1Hijau.TV aspires to be the country’s first green reference internet television site. Whether you are a student, a concerned housewife, a professional corporate player or an academic, 1Hijau.TV is the country’s one-stop channel for everything green.
1Hijau.TV is an initiative of the Ministry of Green Technology, Water and Energy (KeTTHA).