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A Report from

Peninsular and East Malaysia, 19th  July-4th August 2012,

Colin and Alison Parnell



Return Milan Malpensa to Kuala Lumpur via Muscat with Oman Air
KL to Sandakan with Malaysia Air
Lahad Datu to Kota Kinbalu with Air Asia
Kota Kinbalu to KL with Air Asia


Is the Malaysian Ringitt, exchange rate €1 to 4RM


Not needed for EU citizens


Anti-malarial prophylactics recommended

Food and Drink

If you go during Ramadan, be sensitive about eating, drinking or smoking in public during daylight. Food is excellent and cheap and road side stalls offer a huge choice.  Food is cooked in front of you so there is a low health risk. Alcohol is expensive and although tap water is safe to drink, people may prefer to drink bottled drinks.

Books and Maps

A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Malaysia by John Bransbury.  An excellent book although it needs updating as some sites no longer exit.
Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore.
Birds of Borneo by Quentin Phillipps and Karen Phillips – a superb field guide.
Malaysia Regional Map from Periplus


Traffic and roads around KL are horrendous.   It is almost impossible to navigate around without a sat nav.  Away from KL, roads are good and traffic is light.  Drivers are calm and courteous. Roads are poorly maintained on in Sabah, Borneo.  Be prepared for long, slow journeys.

Public transport

It is easy to get around on buses.


English is widely spoken.

If we were to do the trip again we would not spend time around KL, going instead straight to Taman Negara for 4 days.  We would probably go to Fraser’s Hill rather than the Cameron Highlands and also spend more time around Sepilok, possible visiting the Rainforest Discovery Centre where there is an canopy walkway.  We would also spend some time in the Mount Kota Kinabalu National Park and probably climb Mount Kota Kinabalu.


19th July – arrival and check into hotel
20th July – Batu Caves, Templar Park
21st July - Selangor
22nd July - Botanic Gardens
23rd, 24th & 25th July – Cameron Higlands
26th July – travel day to Sepilok Resort, East Malaysia
27th July – Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre then travel by boat to Uncle Tan’s Jungle Camp
28th - 31st July Uncle Tan’s Jungle Camp
1st – 3rd August Tabin Wildlife Reserve
4th July  - Return to KL and flight back to Milan Malpensa


19th July

The first birds we saw were Asian Glossy Starlings, from a roof garden at the airport while waiting for another member of our party to fly.  Peaceful Doves, Striated Heron and Common Myna also showed up.

20th July

Black-naped Oriole and White-breasted Waterhen were ticked off from the hotel window.

Since the famous Batu Caves were only 15 minutes up the road,  we paid them a quick visit. The ubiquitous Yellow-vented Bulbuls were in evidence, as well as Pacific Swallows, House and Asian Palm Swifts.    We were surprised to see Eurasian Tree Sparrows were filling the role of House Sparrows in Europe.   They were present in every small and large town.

Leaving the caves after an interesting explanation of the ecosystems in the Dark Cave, we headed north for Templar Park.   The park is very popular with locals and although we enjoyed walking the tracks by the waterfalls, birds were not very much in evidence.  However, a pair of Black-and- yellow Broadbills put in a brief appearance and Grey-rumped Treeswift flew over the car park.

21st July

We drove out to Kuala Selangor Nature Park, on the west coast, adding Dollarbird and Brahminy Kite on the wayAround the reception area were a pair of Oriental Magpie Robins, Ashy Tailorbird and Pied Fantail.

Unfortunately, several of the trails and observation towers were closed and the lagoon was being excavated to provide a roost for birds at high tide, so our choice of trails was strictly limited.    However, we added Grey-capped Woodpecker, Olive-backed Sunbird and Collared Kingfisher to the list.  Remember to take insect repellent when you visit the reserve as the mosquitoes are very hungry!  We spent an interesting hour driving round the roads near Selangor and had excellent views of White-breasted Kingfisher, Large-billed Crow, Spotted-necked Dove, Crested Serpent Eagle, Asian Koel and Black-shouldered Kite.

22nd July

After a fruitless attempt to find the Sungai Batu Mining pools, we concluded that they have fallen prey to the developers machinery, so instead we had a quick trip round a local park.   The locals were out in full force jogging, practicing Tai Chi, riding horses and playing with children.  All to the sound of rehearsing large brass band.   Brown-throated Sunbirds and Common Ioras were among the birds in evidence here.  The rest of the day was spent at the Botanic gardens (please note that the University grounds are shut during the summer at the weekends).  Here we added Glossy Ibis, Pied Triller, Chinese pond heron (which was swimming- surpringly), Coppersmith Barbet and Pink-necked Green Pigeons to the list.

23rd July

Most of the day was spent in travelling up to the Cameron Highlands where we were staying at Ye Olde Smokehouse in Tanah Rata.  There seemed to be little choice in accommodation: either impersonal high rise apartment blocks or the smaller but more expensive, Smokehouse.

En route we picked up Scaly-breasted Munia, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Greater Raquet-tailed Drongo, Oriental Honey Buzzard and Whiskered Treeswift.

The gardens at the Smokehouse were excellent and a pair of Black-throated Sunbirds were flitting around.   A walk to Parrit’s Falls (hardly worthy of the name of waterfall!) provided White-throated Fantail, Glossy Swiftlets, Mountain Bulbul, Blue Nuthatch, Paddyfield Pipit, Sliver-eared Mesia, Streaked Wren-babbler, Fire-tufted Barbet and Slaty-backed Forktail.

If you fancy at an excellent Indian meal, then try Bunga Suria in Tanah Rata. An enormous meal for 3 including drinks cost the princely sum of 50RM.

24th July

Someone has made an attempt to develop the area for tourists and as a result, there are several walking trails laid out.   However, the trails are hard to find and the signs pointing to them are faded and often illegible.   Once you find the trail though, they are fairly well maintained.   It was sad to see the rivers full of rubbish – the locals evidently use the rivers as rubbish dumps.

The trail to Robinson’s Falls came up with Mountain Fulvetta, Chestnut-capped Laughing Thrush, Large Woodshrike, Large Nitlava, Long-tailed Sibia, Greater Yellownape and Little Pied Flycatcher.

Driving up through the immaculate tea plantations added White-rumped Munia to the list.

25th July

We wanted to see the sunrise from the Mossy Forest on Mount Brinchang.  Unfortunately, we chose a windy day, so the birds were keeping their heads down.  We did manage to see White-tailed Robin, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Warbler and Long-tailed Shrike.

26th July

Another travelling day when we left the peninsular and flew across to Sabah on the island of Borneo.  From the airport at Sandakan we took a taxi to Sepilok Jungle Resort, right next door to the Orang Utan Rehabilitation  Center.   The only new bird was a Crestless Fireback which flew up from the side of the road.

27th July

Sepilok was a marvelous place to explore with intriguing sounds coming from every direction.   Before breakfast we had managed to identify the local sub species of Magpie Robin, Black Edible Nest Swiftlets, Asian Pied Hornbill, Thick-billed Spiderhunter, Stripe-throated Bulbul, Chestnut Munia and Coppery-throated Sunbird.

The Orang Utans at the centre were real posers – they were just asking visitors to photograph them!

The rest of the day was taken up with getting to Uncle Tan’s Jungle Camp.  The camp is right on the edge of the Kinabatangan River and the only access is by boat.   This is a highly recommended camp but BE WARNED!  It is not a luxury camp.  The showers are chucking a bucket of river water over yourself and you sleep on thin mattresses.   But the food is amazing and if Lan is there, ask him to take you out birding.   He is an excellent bird guide. The camp runs a full itinerary of a mixture of jungle treks and river safaris.

28th July

The boat safari (which lasts a couple of hours) leaves camp at 06.30.   You can ask to go with a guide who is interested in birds.   Of course the guide will also point out other wildlife too.  We saw lots of Long-tailed macaques, a female orang utan with a baby, estuarine crocodile, which is the same species as the salt water croc in Australia and a monitor lizard.  The birds were good too, with good views to be had of many birds, including Grey-headed Babbler, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Lesser Fish Eagle, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Little Green Pigeon, Crested Serpent Eagle, Wallace’s Hawk Eagle, Storm Stork, Green Imperial Pigeon, Blue-throated Bee-eater and Wrinkled Hornbills.  We were surprised to see a pair of Common Sandpipers.   Were they breeding there?

The birds around the camp were worth hunting for too and included Malaysian Blue Fly-catcher, a family of Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds and a spectacular pair of Black-crowned Monarchs.

Another boat safari later in the day treated us to the sight of hundreds of Flying Foxes, the largest of the fruit bats, leaving their roost to go and feed in the nearby oil palm plantations.

In the evening, we were taken on a jungle trek near the camp, wading through sticky mud to stop the fire ants from climbing up our (hired) rubber boots.   Our sharp-eyed guide managed to find a roosting Hooded Pitta, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher and Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, as well as a Wolf Spider and an enormous centipede. 

29th July

Another early morning boat cruise treated us to the sight of many species of birds, adding a Jerdon’s Baza and 2 Whistling Duck to the list.   Though unfortunately we were unable to say if they were Greater or Lesser.

Birding around the camp turned up 3 new species: Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds and Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds.  We also had excellent views of the Hooded Pitta which we had seen roosting yesterday.

The evening cruise gave us excellent views of a Leopard Cat and 2 Buffy Fish Owls.

30th July

The day followed the same pattern as the previous day with jungle treks and boat safaris on offer.   We added a pair of the rarely seen Black Magpie and Crested Goshawk to our list as well as a family of Bornean Gibbons, while round the camp we were pleased to see a pair of Bold-Striped Tit-Babblers.

The boat safari was as exciting as before with excellent views of Bronzed Drongo, Brown Needletail, Raffle’s Malkoha, Hill Myna, Black-headed Bulbul, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot and Oriental Darter.  We also saw more Orang Utan and Silver Leaf Monkeys.

31st July

Our last morning in the camp and we were lucky to add Emerald Dove and Rhinoceros Hornbill to our list. 

We had a long and complicated trip to Tabin Nature Reserve via Lahad Datu using public transport –  an interesting experience on badly maintained roads.

Tabin Nature Reserve is another place we would recommend.   The reserve has a central core of primary forest, surrounded by well-grown secondary forest.  Oil Palm plantations around the periphery attract a lot of mammals and raptors.  In the reserve you are not allowed to wander without a guide as in November 2011 a young Australian woman was charged and tragically killed by a bull elephant.   The guides are understandably nervous about losing any more clients.  However, you can roam freely around the camp and there are some amazing birds to be seen there.   As was our experience all over Malaysia, the local people are welcoming and friendly.  On a quick walk through the camp we picked up 7 species including a magnificent Blue-headed Pitta, and pig-tailed macaques.

The night drive from the reserve added Brown Wood Owl to our list plus Palm Civet and Bearded Pig.

1st August

Our lodge at the reserve looked over the river and we were treated to a quick view of a Chestnut-naped Forktail as it flew off downstream.  On our way up to the primary forest we saw Green Iora, Pied Imperial Pigeon and Mountain Imperial Pigeon.  From the primary forest we headed up to the famous mud volcanoes.  This is where hot mud bubbles up from far beneath the ground.  The mud is rich in minerals and attracts animals and birds.  There is a viewing tower overlooking the volcano and from the tower we had good views of Verditer Flycatcher, Scarlet Minivet, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, White-crowned Forktail and Changeable Hawk-Eagle.   On the walk back to the track we saw Red Jungle Fowl, with a Crested Fireback hot on its heels, then Purple-naped Sunbird and Red-bearded Bee-eater.    This latter bird is most peculiar for a bee-eater.  It sits still in the undergrowth, well disguised with its leaf green plumage.   Some people think that insects are fooled into thinking that its bright red breast is a flower.  As soon as an insect comes within range, it is snapped up.

On our way back to the camp we were lucky to see Red-eyed Bulbuls, Wreath Hornbills and Bushy-crested Hornbills.  A Barred Eagle Owl had just emerged for its night’s hunting as we went by.

2nd August

Another safari through the reserve allowed us to see a noisy party of Great-Slaty Woodpeckers and a lazily circling Black Eagle.  Two Helmeted Hornbills completed our list of possible Hornbills, to our great satisfaction.  Chestnut-winged Babblers, Scaly-breasted Bulbul, Thick-billed Spiderhunter and Plain Sunbird were also new for the trip.

A dusk drive out from the camp added Dusky Munia to the list and we had a splendid view of a bull Elephant.   These elephants are much smaller (and rarer) than their African cousins.   A Giant Flying Squirrel flew right over our heads – amazing and a Leopard Cat put in a brief appearance.  On the drive back into camp we were entertained by huge flashes of lightning from a distance tropical storm.  Near at hand, fireflies flickered and overhead the first of the shooting stars from the meteor shower rained down.

3rd August

Our last morning in the camp before starting the long journey back to KL and home.   We enjoyed the sight of a nesting colony of Glossy Swiftlets in one of the ruined buildings in the camp.  An endemic White-crowned Shama was very obliging and a pair of Brown Barbets was feeding in the trees.

4th August

And last but not least, 2 White-breasted Woodswallows were nesting at Lahad Datu airport.  From the departure lounge of KL airport we could see Black-naped Terns over the sea while a pair of Lesser Coucals were hunting in the grass and bushes at the side of the runway.

Systematic Lists

Phillipps' Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo
Quentin Phillipps & Karen Phillipps: Buy from or

  • 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 669 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.


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