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Sunday, November 14, 2010

More than counting birds

MAJESTIC: Towering tree ferns shade the trail.

Mary Margaret
THE three-day two-night Sarawak Bird Race’s final destination was the Borneo Highlands Resort in the Penrissen Range. Yes, the day was about birding — seeing, hearing and identifying — but there were also other activities.
In addition to bird racing, visitors to the Borneo Highlands Resort on the day learnt about birds and their value, as well as the natural world.
The beauty of birds was captured on film and (close-up) shots of rare and shy birds enticed the eye.
Visitors were also encouraged to get first-hand jungle experience by signing up for a walk through the Ridge Trail from the resort to the viewpoint at the Sarawak-Indonesia border.
This fascinating trail that scoots along the border has many stories to tell from the features of the land.
The first could be from the two towering durian (Durio sp) trees standing 
guard by a clear mountain stream. If seeds could talk, imagine the tale of their beginnings.
A hunter or a farmer may have tossed them after lunch. Or did a hungry monkey drop them? The answer is lost in the mists of time.
Needless to say, the fruit continues to be savoured by durian lovers — man and otherwise.
Trees do not exist independent of other life. Numerous insects and other invertebrates live amongst the foliage, as do birds and other animals such as squirrels.
Cave fruit bats (Eonycteris spelea) are responsible for most pollination of durian flowers. Without the bats, there would be no fruit.
This single, relatively simple example demonstrates that no living creature is an island.
SPLASH OF COLOUR: Beautiful flowers can be seen along the Ridge Trail.

As we move deeper into the forest, the trail passes through a slightly marshy bit. Next to the trail is a short-stemmed rather bushy palm (Arecaceae), known as buah salak.
Salak (Salacca zalacca) has fronds that can reach six metres and is cultivated in Indonesia.
The fruit is known as snake fruit because its outer scales resemble those of its namesake. The white flesh is sweet, acidic and quite tasty.
The path then heads upwards where mixed dipterocarp forest gradually takes on features of the submontane forest. It becomes cooler and mossy.
Large tree ferns become more frequent. These majestic ancient plants generally have large divided fronds.
There are many fig trees along the trail and around 90 of the more than 1,000 species are found in Sarawak.
A few, like the strangling figs, grow rapidly into large conspicuous trees, but most 
are small trees found along streams, embedded in rocky cliffs or on landslips.
The unusual vase-shaped fruits are vital sources of food for birds — including hornbills, monkeys, squirrels, civets and large herbivores such as wild boar.
Each species of fig has a complex and fascinating relationship with a corresponding fig wasp.
The pollination of the flowers that lead to the development of fruit only occur in the presence of the correct species of fig wasp.
The female wasp wriggles its way through the scales of the fruit that protect the flowers growing inside this 
protective covering. Here it lays its eggs and dies.
The eggs hatch, the female wasps leave. After mating with the males and receiving a dusting of pollen, they lay eggs inside of figs to continue the cycle of life not only of the plant, but all the life that twirls around it and the forest.
When the trail emerges, visitors can look from the viewpoint into the rugged beauty of the valley far below.
If we are true to ourselves, we recognise that despite the power of the 21st century’s technology, the strength, beauty, complexity and power of nature is greater.

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