DID you know that birding is a very popular activity these days and that people travel across the world to see a specific bird that might not be the most colourful, but is a rare or endemic species? Tourists might come just to see a hornbill because Sarawak is often advertised as the Land of the Hornbills.
For real birders, it is a challenge to find a tiny bird that is on their bucket list. One of the most sought-after groups of birds by real birders are the pittas, which are very beautiful, but a challenge to see or find in the forest since they are very shy.
Some other birds are beautiful with bright colours but others a bit dull in some people’s eyes, but for birders that may be the one they want to photograph or see through their binoculars (called bins by birders).
Birders will write in their birding notebooks the bird species, place and date. As a guide, you don’t show them birds that are common and easy to see in many places but try to locate the one they came to see.
Another rare bird is the Bornean Bristlehead, which is endemic to Borneo and birders will fly from the United States of America or other places, and pay a lot of money for a good guide to show them this particular bird. They don’t want to see it in a cage or in a bird park, but want to walk around in the forest and hope to see it.
I was lucky being one of the 25 participants to join a three-day workshop sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism in collaboration with Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Selangor and Kuching branches. They successfully held a Beginners Bird-Watching Workshop for licensed tourist guides from the Sarawak Tourist Guides Association as well as Sarawak Forestry Corporation staff and park guides.
Participants compare their notes with field guides.
The three-day workshop in August took place at Borneo Highlands Resort (BHR), a popular birding destination in Sarawak, which is also an Important Bird Area. Endemic birds of Borneo that can be seen at Borneo Highlands, but are hard to find elsewhere, include the Bornean Barbet and the Pygmy White-eye or Bornean Ibon. Dusky Munias are endemic but not specifically for Borneo Highlands.
Two trainers from MNS Selangor branch explained how to use binoculars and bird field guidebooks, to draw a bird and add details that you see through the binoculars, adding colours to the parts you see and how this helps to identify (ID) the bird. Some of the participants were park guides and others tourist guides and some hoped to become good bird guides.
Wildlife conservationist, naturalist, writer and birder Ron Orenstein explained how much people would pay to get a good bird guide with good recommendations by other birders through Facebook or other social networks or blogs. He gave the inspiring talk ‘Birding Tourism in Sarawak’.
The guides were hoping to improve their skills by attending this workshop. The trainers also played the sounds of several birds and told us to learn to listen, to try to ID the birds by means of their calls. We also had to study bird field guidebooks in our free time and go out and learn how birds behave, listening to the sounds. I must say it’s not very easy and will take some time to be able to ID a bird from its sound.
Early the next day from 7am till 10am, we went in different groups with a trip leader and started looking around. We learned not to point at birds since they might get scared thinking you are pointing a gun at them, to be as quiet as possible by only whispering to each other and to wear dull clothes.
We slowly looked around. We saw many birds flying so fast that we could not identify them so they didn’t count. My group was lucky to see nine different birds. They had to sit still on a branch to give us enough time to write down what we saw through our binoculars. In class we had to check with our notes, discuss and look in a bird field guidebook on Bornean birds.
Another field trip was from 3pm till 5pm and it was hard to see birds, but birds also rest when it’s hot and become more active in the late afternoon.
We birded at different locations around BHR to ID birds. With the basic birding skills acquired over the weekend and spending time birding and reading bird field guidebooks, the trainers assured participants they should be able to ID birds within a reasonable time.
The trainers were impressed with participants’ enthusiasm and hoped a few participants would become serious birders and bird guides.
The impression I want to leave behind is to instil a love for birding and protecting their habitats, while at the same time sharing our birds’ diversity with people from around the world.
For more go to http://ronorenstein.blogspot.com, http://birdiwitness.blogspot.com, www.xeno-canto.org, and http://ibc.lynxeds.com.
Also read ‘Phillips’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan’ by Quentin Phillips and Karen Phillips, and ‘A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo’ by Susan Myers.