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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Dazzling Birds of Borneo By Mary Margaret

In the jungles, forest enveloped mountains, meandering rivers and paddy fields, sandy beaches, and rocky cliffs birds intricately weave their lives and needs (food, shelter and nesting sites) within these diverse habitats that span the island of Borneo.    Three Sarawak-based photographers, Ch'ien C. Lee, Collin Cheong, and Hans Hazebroek, in partnership with the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre, put together a week-long photograph exhibition, that brought Sarawak’s feathered residents and their habitats to a popular Kuching mall, The Spring.
Oriental Darter,

The larger-than-life still photographs illustrated intricate details of Sarawak’s and Borneo’s birds that inhabit the forests, shorelines and gardens.  Collin, a licensed land surveyor by profession, is a passionate recorder of the natural world. He is particularly interested to highlight the rich natural fauna and flora in Borneo and the importance of conserving them for the future.

His passion is clearly stated in a photograph of an Oriental Darter (‘Anhinga melangaster’) known in Malay as ‘Burung Kosa’, a locally common freshwater resident.  In this surreal photograph its sinuous neck twined amongst near-transparent reeds. 
 Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher

Ch’ien, a botanist by training and a professional photographer, has several publications on Nepenthes, pitcher plants, to his credit (www.wildborneo.com.my). He skillfully caught the very rare and highly endangered Dulit Frogmouth (‘Battachostomus harterti’). This bird, which when sitting appears to be a tiny leaf pile, is marvellously clear against the out-of-focus background. It has a restricted range and can only be found on Mount Dulit and in the Kelabit Highlands in Northern Sarawak.

In another photograph, the intricate details and the long distinguishing tail feathers of the endemic Asian Paradise Flycatcher (‘Terpsiphone paradisi’), captured by Hans was shown in its full glory against the blurred greenish background.

Hans, a geologist by training, has co-authored with Abang Kashim bin Abang Morshidi three books about Sarawak's national parks: including'National Parks of Sarawak',  'A Guide to Gunung Mulu National Park', and 'A Guide to Bako National Park' as well as two publications about Sabah's natural wonders 'Maliau Basin – Sabah’s Lost World' and 'Danum Valley — The Rain Forest' with Tengku Zainal Adlin and Dr. Waidi Sinun. For Hans, photography is an invaluable tool for making the wonders of these forests more accessible to others and to stimulate their interest in the natural world and venturing out into it.
 Asian Paradise Flycatcher

Hans explained that powerful camera equipment is needed to capture these types of surreal, painting-like photographs. This equipment enables the photographer to focus on the details of the bird with little or no interference from the background. He added that patience and a love for wildlife is necessary to get the perfect picture and sometime he takes over a hundred shots to get a single perfect one.

Hans said that the exhibition was organized to stir interest and awareness for the diverse species of birds that inhabit Borneo.  It was popular with shoppers and visitors who popped in for a glimpse of Borneo’s birds. I was enthralled by the photographs and returned to each one several times to breathe in their stunning beauty.   

Bird watching is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the world and it can be carried out almost anywhere and any place.  Bird watching in gardens and parks is the perfect starting point for novices.  The birds can generally be seen as they flit about the garden feeding on insects, resting on branches or feeding on flowers. Colin caught the domestic side of a frazzled Pied Fantail (‘Rhipidura javanica’) feeding several famished hatchlings with wide-open beaks begging for food. This bird is a common garden and open countryside resident that flits about hunting for insects to feed on.
Pied Fantail

For some, as with Hans, Collin and Ch’ien, hobbies can grow into a profession.  Tourist guides who are passionate birders can become involved in the ever-expanding field of bird watching tourism.

The Malaysian Nature Society Kuching Branch (MNSKB), in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism Sarawak (MOTS) organised, a Beginners Birding Workshop BHR from October 29 to 31.  The participants, including 19 tour guides, four park guides and one tour operator, developed bird identification skills as well as those needed to be a bird watching guide. 

Rosli bin Suleiman commented he had learned about bird habitat from the workshop and he intends to become a birding guide. His partner, Dolores Lim, said the training was an eye-opening experience.

Rose Au, in the workshop said that birding tourism is a niche market and that these visitors aim to see rare and endemic species. According to the ‘Phillips Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo’ Borneo has 55 endemic species. Tourists engage guides to ensure that they see ones on their checklist of must-sees. 

Rose, who is the Vice Chairperson of MNSKB, said that some of the hot endemic Borneo species include the Pygmy White-Eye (Oculocincta squamifrons), which is also known as the Borean Ibon. This rare bird of the lower mountains is frequently and easily seen the Borneo Highlands Resort (BHR) in the Penrissen Highlands. 
Participants Bird race 2015 (Alcilla Abby)

The first Sarawak Bird Race, which was organised immediately following the Birding Workshop, on November 1, 2015, was a fun half-day affair that gave an opportunity for the freshly minted and seasoned birders to develop their bird watching and identification skills.  

The participants in a bird race compete to see the greatest number of species within a specified period of time and area.  The top team in this Bird Race went to Eagle Eyes, composed of Hans Hazebroek and James Lee Fung Onn, who saw  33 species. 

Hans advised novice and expert birders to love and respect birds as well as nature.

Ms Connie Christopher Kesa, Principle Assistant Secretary of MOTS in her closing address said that commented, in her closing address, that the next bird race in Sarawak would be organised in 2016 during late October or early November.

The Sarawak Bird Race is the latest addition to the bird race fraternity in Malaysia.  Fraser’s Hill International Bird Race (http://www.tourism.gov.my/en/events/2014/6/frasers-hill-international-bird-race) celebrated its 28th race in May 2015 is the oldest of the group.  It began in 1988 with five competing teams and in 2015 the 23-hour race hosted 44 teams from around the world and 60 secondary and post secondary students.  Interestingly, Lim Kim Keang from Singapore was a member of the 1988 and 2015 winning teams. 
MNSKB Birding workshop

The Sabah Borneo Bird Festival (http://www.borneobirdfestival.com), another internationally recognized Malaysian bird race is in its 7th year.  In 2015 this annual celebration of birds was at the renowned as a bird watching destination Kinabalu National Park from 23 to 24 October. Phillips in his bird watching guide for Borneo indicates that most unique species can be seen at this park.

Sarawak, as lamented by Ronald Orenstein, Anthony Wong, Nazeri Abghani, David Bakewell, James Eaton, Yeo Siew Teck and Yong Ding Li in their 2010 article, ‘Little-Known Area
Sarawak—A Neglected Birding Destination In Malaysia’ published in BirdingAsia, has despite having 22 of the 55 internationally recognized Important Bird Areas (IBA) in Malaysia, along with several national parks, is not well known as a birding destination.  Many birders opt to visit either Sabah or West Malaysia, which have international reputations as birding destinations.  The authors cited several reasons for this including accessibility to the good birding sites and the lack effort to get birders to the state.  Although, it is hoped the Sarawak Bird Race will help to put Sarawak on the bird watching map.

However, there are, as the authors pointed out, several national parks, including Gunung Gading, Kubah and Mulu ,and IBAs including the Penrissen Higlands and Bako-Buntal Bay that are easily accessible and facilities, that host rare species.  The Bako-Buntal Bay is a recognized overwintering stop for numerous migrant shorebirds including the globally threatened Chinese Egret (‘Egretta eulophotes’). Significant numbers overwinter here and it probably has the highest concentration in Borneo.
Birds are intricately woven into the patterns of life in Sarawak, so is it not time for us to gaze in wonder at nature’s miracles?

Pencinta Alam Newsletter - January 2016


Pencinta Alam Newsletter - January 2016

22 Dec 2015

The pdf copy of the January issue can be downloaded below.  Happy New Year 2016!

arrowPencinta Alam - Jan 2016 (English - pdf - 1844 Kb)

Pencinta Alam Newsletter - December 2015

1 Dec 2015

The pdf copy of the December Newsletter can be downloaded below.

arrowPencinta Alam - Dec 2015 (English - pdf - 1624 Kb)  

Monday, December 7, 2015


Kids/family trip to Matang Wildlife Centre on 19. December 2015

Dear members,

Since its school holiday we got a chidren (including parents) activity coming up on Saturday 19 Dec. Could you register with Nicki Neuner via WhatsApp or message at 019 855 0375 or via e-mail: neuner.nicole@yahoo.com . Include your children's names, the names and number of people in your party, birth dates, IC numbers and MNS membership number.  
All details are below.Don't miss the fun and see you there.

Love Life,Love Nature,
Cynthia Lobato
MNSKB Committee member


Located approximately 35 km from Kuching, the Matang Wildlife Centre lies within Kubah National Park with it's stunning mixed dipterocarp forest. Matang Wildlife Centre houses endangered animals in enclosed areas surrounded by rainforest. The main attraction is the orang utan rehabilitation programme, where young orang utans, who were either orphaned or rescued from captivity, are taught how to survive in the wild. Besides orang utans, the centre cares for a lot of other wildlife such as sambar deer, crocodiles, sun bears, porcupines, bear cats, and a few birds native to Sarawak. The clear jungle stream of Sungai Rayu is inviting to refresh in the cooling water.

Notice for members:

Dear Members,

MNSKB is organising a trip to Matang Wildlife Centre (MWC) for children of MNSKB members on:

Date & Day          :       Saturday 19th December  2015
Venue                :      Matang Wildlife Centre (MWC)
Meeting Time      :       08.45 am at MWC (We suggest that you leave Kuching by 07.45 am.)

Return Time        :       12.30 pm 
Meeting Point      :       MWC Headquarters/ Reception Area
Leader                :       Nicki Neuner

Parents are most welcome to accompany their (grand-)children and enjoy nature together!

08.45 am   :   Briefing about Do's & Don't while at the Wildlife Centre
09.00 am   :   Guided tour around the animal enclosures to introduce the children to Sarawak's endangered wildlife
11.00 am   :   Drawing contest
12.30 am   :   End of activities 

The nearby Sungai Rayu provides a lovely spot for picnic and swimming. The picnic and swimming is optional though and families who want to have a picnic need to bring their own food. Please note furthermore: We will only allow children to swim under the supervision of their parents or an other adult next of kin! MNSKB will not be responsible for any accidents! 

What to Bring:
1.    Rain gear
2.    Backpack
3.    Camera equipment
4.    Dull coloured long trousers and long-sleeved shirts
5.    Mosquito repellent
6.    Sun block
7.    Hat
8.    Hiking boots / sneakers / track shoes
9.    Bottled water
10.  Optional: Packed lunch and snacks (It is not  possible to purchase lunch and drinks at MWC.)
11.  Optional: Swimming gear and towels

Entrance fees:              
Adults:                          RM 10 for Malaysian citizen
RM 20 for non-Malaysians
Children > 18 years:    RM 3 for Malaysian citizens; RM 7 for non-Malaysians
Children > 6 years:      Free of charge
Please be reminded that for participants who are not members of MNS a token of RM 10 will be charged. We do, however, encourage you to join MNSKB.

The maximum number of children  who can join this trip is 30, so it is important that you register. Please register with Nicki Neuner via WhatsApp or message at 019 855 0375 or via e-mail: neuner.nicole@yahoo.com . Include your children's names, the names and number of people in your party, birth dates, IC numbers and MNS membership number.  

Love Life, Love Nature

Disclaimer: Anyone who joins our trip does so at his of her own risk and has to sign an indemnity form. For children a parent has to sign on behalf! MNS is not responsible for accidents or for anyone who leaves our party and continues by himself or herself.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ambal population declining November 15, 2015, Sunday Wilfred Pilo, reporters@theborneopost.com

Bolhassan and Golong (right) with the bamboo clams locally known as ‘ambal’.
Bolhassan and Golong (right) with the bamboo clams locally known as ‘ambal’.
ASAJAYA: The ‘Bamboo Clam’ season is here again but the catch of this popular seafood has declined over the years.
Bamboo clam locally known as ‘ambal’ or scientifically called ‘solen regularis’ is plentiful at the coastal muddy beach of villages of Asajaya District in Samarahan Division during the September to February monsoon season.
“It’s an important source of income for fishermen in the areas during the peak of the monsoon months in November, December and January,” Asajaya Tengah village head Golong Tahir said when met at the 4th Ambal Exploration 2015 held at Kampung Sambir here recently.
“The alien-like bamboo clam lives inside muddy sand and the way to get it out is to drip watery limestone paste into its burrow using a small bamboo stake, he said.
Golong said it was not easy to catch the clam nowadays as they had to walk one to two kilometres from the coast to the open sandy muddy beach at low tide.
Energy and patience are needed to catch a few kilogrammes of the tasty seafood compared to the days when their habitat was closer to the coast.
He said the clam’s decline in number could be due to over harvesting and water pollution from land clearings and chemicals used on crops that find their way to the coastal area.
Golong said Kampung Sambir, Kampung Beting Sebandi and the coastal areasof Asajaya are still home to the bamboo clam.
He is happy that the government is trying to promote the area through Pesta Ambal annually held in Asajaya. It is organised by Samarahan District Council.
He believed that sustainable management of the bamboo clam would be the best way to ensure the favourite seafood did not perish.
Termat Salleh, 57, was holding a worn-out ‘penugal’ or long wooden stake used to catch ambal over the years.
She said catching the bamboo clam was usually assigned to womenfolk helping their fisherman husbands.
“I joined the programme for the first time this year but I had a bad catch so decided to abandon it,” she said.
“Over the years the bamboo clam population had declined and if only this wooden stake can talk, it would tell you how different it was in the old days.”
Her daughter Norhayatti Derahim, 32, chipped in saying subsequently the womenfolk lost their extra income so she hoped something could be done to sustain the population of bamboo clams.
She said the price of the clams range from RM15 to RM20 per kg though could be a bit lower during the peak season.
Samarahan District Council Public Relations officer Bolhassan Mohamad said the programme was part of Pesta Ambal 2015 to be held at Asajaya Town Square this Saturday.
The festival is expected to be declared open by Asajaya assemblyman Datuk Abdul Karim Hamzah.
More than 50 participants from local committees and government agencies took part in a clam-catching competition during the programme yesterday.
The winner in the open category for local committees was Ameli Merdeka of Kpg Moyan Laut, first runner-up was Semi Undan of Kpg Serpan Laut and second runner-up, Osman Ahmad.
Among government agencies, Rahimah Yusop from Rela came out the winner, Zalisa from JPAM first runner-up and Rahani Undan from Rela, second runner-up.
They will collect their prizes at Pesta Ambal 2015 at the weekend.
The highlight of the day after spending five hours catching bamboo clams under the programme was a ‘Bejamuk Makan Ambal’ where participants and guests were invited to tuck into bamboo clam cooked in a tasty broth.
Samarahan District Council assistant secretary Ngerang Balan @ Freddie, councillors and organising chairman for the programme, councillor Tejuk were also present.
Participants venture to look for ambal at the muddy beach of Kpg Sambir. — Photos by Wilfred Pilo
Participants venture to look for ambal at the muddy beach of Kpg Sambir. — Photos by Wilfred Pilo
Golong checking on the ambal broth.
Golong checking on the ambal broth.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2015/11/15/ambal-population-declining/#ixzz3rXsExl9M

Friday, November 13, 2015

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Rain fails to dampen spirit at bird race in Borneo Highlands Resort

Participants in this year’s Sarawak Bird Race prior to the flag-off.
Participants in this year’s Sarawak Bird Race prior to the flag-off.
KUCHING: The early morning rain did not dampen the enthusiasm of 38 bird lovers who tramped Borneo Highlands Resort (BHR), peering through their binoculars to identify birds dwelling this Important Bird Area (IBA) in the recent Sarawak Bird Race.
The race was organised by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Kuching branch in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism.
Tourism Ministry principle assistant secretary Connie Christopher Kesa and Tourism Malaysia Tourism Development Products deputy director Azhar Musydni Abdul Mutalib flagged off the participants who included 24 from the Beginners Birding Workshop held last month.
The winner in the competition was to be the team that saw the largest number of species within a specified time frame and area.
Winner in this year’s race was team Eagle Eyes comprising Hans Hazebroek and James Lee Fung Onn who saw 33 species.
Second place went to the team of Dolores Lim and Rosli Suleiman who saw 28 species of bird, while third-placed team of Daniel Jee and Hendry Michael Paong saw 27 species.
Connie in her closing address said the next Sarawak Bird Race would be held in late October or early November next year.
BHR located at Borneo Highlands in Padawan was declared an IBA in 2010 for hosting several endemic and endangered species of birds. It is part of a global network created by Birdlife International.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2015/11/05/rain-fails-to-dampen-spirit-at-bird-race-in-borneo-highlands-resort/#ixzz3qbMX6bf6

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The artistic side of Bako National Park

 The Malaysian Nature Society Kuching Branch (MNSKB) and the Sarawak Artists Society (SAS) organised a visit to Bako National Park as a lead up to the conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This trip was supported by the Sarawak Forest Department
The visit, which was on September 27, 2015, introduced SAS members to the beauty of the park while providing artistic inspiration.
The artwork will be displayed in Kuching at The Spring on the 2nd and 29rd November.  Then it will be shown at the conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Kuala Lumpur from 21st November to 20th December.
Rose Au Deputy Chair of the MNSKB led the group through the mangrove forests that edged the cliffs.  These forests are often wrongly thought of being muddy wastelands; in reality they are thriving beautiful communities.
Sebastian Jong, SAS secretary, said he thought the mangroves were just plants, but they have strength that we never knew about. 
Jong said, "They are stronger than anything else by the shore and can stand firm again a tsunami."
The group while sketching saw an international visitor stuck in the mangrove mud and immediately went to show her the way to hard sandy mangrove area where they were drawing.
Rose Au said that this was a warning of hazards and that all visitors should remain with their guides and groups.  They should not strike off on their own.  All members of the group were glad she was safe.
Mary Margaret, MNS member, said that this trip was an exciting opportunity to connect with, be inspired by the stunning Bako National Park and the natural world.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Talk ...In the footsteps of our ancestors. An adventure that relives history, culture and the stewardship of nature.

Dear members,
You are invited to a talk by our member Kim Edwards on The Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge she attended in July 2015.
  • Date: Wed 11 Nov 2015
  • Time: 7.30 PM 
  • Venue: UCSI University, Kuching. Lot 2498, Block 16, Kuching Central Land District, Jalan Tun Jugah, 93350 Kuching, Sarawak

Abstract on the talk:
...In the footsteps of our ancestors. An adventure that relives history, culture and the stewardship of nature. The Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge was all that it promised to be.... and more!
 The adventure began in the quaint and stunning cluster of villages of Ba’Kelalan on July 24th and ended in the picturesque and epicurean town of Bario. What transpired in between was not for the faint-hearted but certainly for those who seek adventure, untouched beauty, local knowledge, physical challenges and insights into Sarawak’s highland cultures, history and forests.

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​About me:
Kim is Australian and has been living in various parts of Asia and travelling the globe since she graduated from university 20 years ago. Whilst working in Tokyo, she happened upon a dashing Orang Ulu - French man in Tokyo and he beckoned her to Malaysia. After a wonderful stint in Kuala Lumpur, family and a need for the outdoors and adventure for their three boys bought them to her husband, Alexis’, hometown of Kuching. They have been residing here for just over one year and they and their family are loving every minute of it.
In Kim’s previous life she worked as a Senior Manager in Compliance for HSBC, Tokyo and HSBC, Cyberjaya. As part of HSBC’s corporate social responsibility programme, Kim was lucky enough to be chosen to take part in a grey whales conservation project in Baha California, Mexico. The challenge of consulting took her into the clutches of PricewaterhouseCoopers for a time until the world of babies called her back home. 
While being a mummy she retrained as a Primary teacher and has been loving the challenge of educating the next generation. In Kuching, Kim has kept herself busy with being a mother and leading the initiative of bringing life and soft skills training to the underprivileged under the banner of PurpleLily Girls.
Admission to talk is free. So bring along some friends. Just register with
mnskuching@gmail.com :att Cynthia before 9 Nov.
 See you there!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The bird that's more valuable than ivory

Helmeted hornbillImage copyrightScience Photo Library

The illegal trade in elephant tusks is well reported, but there's a type of "ivory" that's even more valuable. It comes from the helmeted hornbill - a bird that lives in the rainforests of East Asia and is now under threat, writes Mary Colwell. 
It wouldn't be wise to go head to head with a helmeted hornbill. They weigh 3kg and have their own built-in battering ram - a solid lump of keratin (a fibrous protein) extends along the top of the bill and on to the skull. This "casque" can account for as much as 11% of a bird's weight. 
In all other species of hornbill - there are more than 60 in Africa and Asia - the casque is hollow, but the helmeted hornbill's is solid. The males use it in head-to-head combat and both sexes use it as a weighted tool to dig out insects from rotting trees.
Helmeted hornbills live in Malaysia and Indonesia. On the islands of Sumatra and Borneo their maniacal calls and hoots resonate through the rainforest. They tend to eat fruit and nuts and are often referred to as the "farmers of the forest" as they spread seeds widely in their droppings. 
They have a wingspan of up to 2m (6ft 6in), striking white and black feathers and a large patch of bare skin around the throat. They have a reputation for being secretive and wary, though, and you're more likely to hear them than see them. 

A carved hornbill casqueImage copyrightScience Photo Library

They have good reason to be shy - thousands are killed each year for their casques, shot by hunters who sell the heads to China. 
Between 2012 and 2014, 1,111 were confiscated from smugglers in Indonesia's West Kalimantan province alone. Hornbill researcher, Yokyok Hadiprakarsa, estimates that about 6,000 of the birds are killed each year in East Asia. 
The casque, for which hunters are willing to risk arrest and imprisonment, is sometimes referred to as "ivory". It's a beautiful material to carve, smooth and silky to the touch, with a golden-yellow hue, coloured by secretions from the preen gland - most birds use their heads to rub protective oils from this gland over their feathers, legs and feet.
For hundreds of years it was highly desired by Chinese craftsmen who made artefacts for the rich and powerful, and by Japanese netsuke carvers who made intricate figures for the cords on men's kimonos. Many of these objects made their way to Victorian cabinets in the UK when netsuke collecting became fashionable in the 19th Century.

A carved hornbill casqueImage copyrightScience Photo Library
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"There are some records that showed the hornbill ivory was presented to the shogun," says Noriku Tsuchiya, curator of the Japanese section at the British Museum. "Unfortunately by the early 20th Century the hornbill became very rare because of hunting and now legal trade is limited to certified antiques." 

Illegal it may be, but trade continues undercover, and hornbill ivory is worth about £4,000 ($6,150) per kilogram - three times more than elephant ivory. The killing of Africa's elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns is well reported, but the helmeted hornbill's plight often slips under the radar. "If no-one pays attention, this bird is going to become extinct," warns Hadiprakarsa.
The helmeted hornbill has been culturally significant for thousands of years - it is the mascot of West Kalimantan and the Dayak people of Borneo believe the bird ferries dead souls to the afterlife, acts as a sacred messengers of the gods and consider it a teacher of fidelity and constancy in marriage. Killing it is taboo. 
But it's not just hunting that threatens this slow breeding creature - its habitat is also under pressure. As the appetite for palm oil grows in the West, developers are encroaching on Asia's rainforests. Researchers at the National University of Singapore estimate that Borneo and Sumatra are losing nearly 3% of their lowland rainforest every year. 
As a result, the helmeted hornbill "is considered Near Threatened, and should be carefully monitored in case of future increases in the rate of decline," according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
So the bird faces a double whammy - losing its head to ivory carvers and its home to supermarket products. I'm not sure I fancy its chances. 

Helmeted hornbillImage copyrightDoug Janson