SPOT THE BIRDIE: A variety of habitats where birds can be found at the Borneo Highlands.
By Mary Margaret
The sea to mountain three-day two-night Sarawak Bird Race was flagged off from the coastal village of Buntal, about half way between Kuching and Damai, lying at the mouth of the Sarawak River. Five teams set off from Buntal on this long race.The winning team was composed of two very experienced birders, Anthony and Yeo who sighted 165 species birds over the three days. The UNIMAS students have, as in the past two years participated. This year they took second and third place in the long race with 102 and 101 birds.
Seven teams opted to participate in the short approximate four-hour race held at Borneo Highlands. The team 'Eagle Eyes', also from UNIMAS sighted a phenomenal 46 species of birds during limited time of the race.
The three-day race aimed to provide birders the opportunity to count the birds living in the vast array of ecological habitats in Sarawak, literally from mountains to sea. The requirements and the habits of the birds are as diverse as the habitats. Some like owls are nocturnal, others are more active in the morning, yet others in the evening. Some required primary forest, like the hornbills, whereas others like the Eurasian Tree Sparrow and Barn Swallow have made the habitats created by man their own. Some birds like the edge effect and inhabit secondary forest, have been welcomed into urban gardens. Three days were needed to visit the diversity of habitats at all hours.
KEEP GOING: Tired bird racers on the quest.
Buntal was chosen as the starting point for several reasons. The mudflats are a key stopoverfor migratory water birds that travel the East Asian Australasian Flyway from the northern nesting grounds in Siberia, China and Korea to the southern overwintering areas. This nutrient rich area is estimated to provide a feeding and resting grounds for 6000 migratory water birds. Here, as in the Penrissen Range (the end destination for the bird race) birders might see rare and common species like the Chinese Egret the common sandpiper; both breed in Siberia. And they might have encountered the only resident wader in Sarawak
Malaysian Plover, which has a range from Thailand to Bali. The species of birds seen depends on the ecosystem being observed explaining why the bird racers travelled from the sea to the mountain.
Birders were sighted in Kubah National Park, before moving on to the Penrissen Range, where they might have caught a glimpse of the Argus Pheasant. The marked trails enable access to the interior of the park. Quiet determination is needed to be a successful birder.
Most Birders arrived in the Borneo Highlands on Sunday morning (October 14) as the peaks were poking above the cloud like islands. By Sunday morning (October 14) the rain had cleared and the narrow winding road was alive with birds and bird song from the Magpie Robin, Dusky Munia and the Common Coucal welcoming the tired racers. However, some arrived Saturday; the route was limited to the ingenuity of the team. As birds are generally not active during rainy weather and storms, the teams had to avoid the inclement weather that was prevalent over the three days.
The Penrissen Range is recognized internationally as an Important Bird Area by Bird Life International, a global partnership of conservation groups. Recognized IBA areas have large numbers of threatened or endemic birds and are key biodiversity areas. In this mountainous region, which marks Sarawak’s border with West Kalimantan, about 150 species of birds (or slightly over one quarter of birds species found in Sarawak) have so far been sighted in by MNS members. It is home to 8 endemic bird species: Bornean Barbet; Blue- banded Pitta; Chestnut- crested Yuhina; Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker; Black- sided Flowerpecker; Pygmy White-eye; Mountain Black- eye; Dusky Munia.
The unique area was an appropriate destination for the birders and the terrain and elevation create yet again a larger variety of niches for the birds to fill and an even greater number of birds to be sighted.
The day, despite the fun of the race, had a serious side. The data collected provides wildlife researchers with background information on bird populations and an understanding of their dynamics, for example fluctuations in populations and species composition.And all the participants contributed to this knowledge, while giving the birds the spotlight.