Monday, November 28, 2011

Weekend Birding at Lambir Hills

An obliging bulbul on a macaranga, and behind him the fruits many birds go for.

Not 4 weekends ago, while visiting Lambir with the kids, we met a birder with his father attempting some bird photography at Lambir Hills National Park with a 500m. His first question was : "Do we have a bird guide?". Short answer : "No, we haven't got one here in Miri unless you engage someone beforehand from tour outfits in Kuching or KL. Those guides in KK would be closest!"

Lambir Hills National Park is a big place. Birdwatching is probably manageable on your own if you know the birds and you are adventurous enough to venture into the trails alone. You'd still need a few days to do the place justice. The Lambir 2002 Birdlist (Shanahan & Debsky) boasts a comprehensive list of 200+ birds. There hasn't been any more complete work to date since then.

For bird photography, it's probably best if you are already aware of where the birds are going to be. This is where local knowledge, perhaps built over the years of birding the area or collective birding experience come into play. A bird photographer can quickly set-up in a designated place known to be having regular bird visits thus guaranteed results.

Over the years, many birders have been to and birdwatched at Lambir. Some of this additional information is added to the list maintained at the Park HQ Office. Occasional visits by Miri birders added some more valuable bird sightings to the list.

If you are visiting for only a day or two, some of the following locales within the Park complex might be useful for you. If you have more time, book yourselves into one of the hilltop chalets and do your photography to your heart's content from your chalet windows. If you feel lucky surely go lug your equipment along the Innoue-Pantu Loop trail, there are a few choice spots along the way for very shy birds that do come out calling once in a while.

My favorite places has always been just around the HQ complex. I'm not looking for any rarities in particular, any bird photograph is an image worth making in my mind. Some of these pictures I have made while checked in at the Hilltop Chalet. One of these days I might just try to lug the 600mm, tripod with Wimberley head as well as other associated accessories into Innoue, it's not yet time for now.

One of my favorite spot is Chalet No. 3 just up the hill behind the temporary canteen just after you've passed the old park office. In between the chalets there are a few nice rhododenrons and macarangas. A few other fruiting plants I don't recognize. These are perfect spots for birdwatching and bird photography without having to lug heavy equipment too far into the trail. During furiting seasons, these spots are a hive of activities. Dusky Munia are commonly seen flitting about the neighbourhood. At least 3-4 kinds of bulbuls and sunbirds make their stops at the macarangas picking up juicy little ripe fruits. Spectacled Spiderhunter, Purple-naped Sunbird and Hairy-backed Bulbul are regulars here.

Fruiting trees are all tell tale signs that the site could be your next productive site as far as birds are concerned.

Chalet No. 3 from across the wooden bridge. A fruiting macaranga in between Chalet 3 and 4 guarantees bulbuls, sunbirds, flowerpeckers and spiderhunters. A rhododendron is also nearby.

Another spot, the camera is pointing to a fruiting tree a favorite of bulbuls, barbets and leafbirds. Occasionally a squirrel or two would drop in.

Little orange fruit (unidentified) a favorite of several species of bulbuls, barbets and leafbirds.

If you are lucky you'll spot nesting Dusky Munia busy flitting back and forth tending or building nest for the season. Bornean Brown Barbet and Greater Leafbird are regularly seen picking up ripe fruits in this area.

Areas surrounding Hilltop Chalet is probably second only to Chalet No. 3. Here if you are early, you can point your lens towards babblers which are very active very early in the morning and late afternoon. There's also an unidentified fruting tree with little black berries and macaranga in front of the chalet. You can shoot all day from the comfort of your chalet living room.

Down the hill from the Hilltop Chalet is a small pond, quiet by the side with a little shelter on it's shore. Here Blue-eared Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfisher have been recorded. Black-naped Monarch stops by for a bath on hot days. Banded Kingfisher so far has been heard but has not yet been seen. You'll be probably be more lucky with the Rufous-backed Kingfisher in the same area.

This little pond is a confirmed favorite of at least three species of kingfisher as well as other birds. Occasionally a terrapin would pop it's head out of the water.

For the more stout at heart, a foray into the Innoue trail just behind the Hilltop Chalet could be just the thing to get you pumping. Other than the babblers, pittas and trogons regularly calls a short distance into the trail. Only a few birders have been privileged with photographs of both species. Further up towards Pantu shelter, sightings of Bornean Bristlehead has been made on numerous occasions. Near a small valley where a wooden bridge cross a little stream, there's a little pool of water on the right where a Banded Kingfisher regularly calls though he has yet to be sighted much more photographed by anyone.

With 200+ species of birds on it's list, those spending a few days at Lambir Hills NP would surely be rewarded with sightings of at least 1/3 of the birds there. A single half day trip maynot be enough for everyone, but it surely rakes up your chances of getting the less regularly seen quarries.

Nazeri Abghani/Nov 2011