Saturday, May 08, 2010

5th-7th May 2010: Whistling Thrush Project, Cameron Highlands

Having covered the traditional higher elevation localities at Cameron Highlands on our previous trips, Kim Chye and I wanted to check out suitable habitat lower down in the hopes of finding Malayan Whistling Thrush.

Literature states that the altitudinal range of Malayan is 750 - 1,750m asl, so we drove up the old road from Tapah to Ringlet, stopping along the way at likely-looking spots once we'd reached the 750m threshold.

This was the first place we spent time. A group of Semai tribesmen recognized the picture of a whistling thrush straight away, and said that 2-3 birds use this stream. They call it "Cep talak", which apparently means 'the bird that lives behind the waterfall' - an accurate description of favoured Blue (but not, as far as we know, Malayan) Whistling Thrush nest sites. Despite waiting for a few hours in the evening (when they told us one regularly flies down the stream), we were not successful in either hearing or seeing one. Best birds here were Pygmy and Streaked Wren-babblers, Silver-breasted and Long-tailed Broadbills.

The following morning we followed a jeep track down from the MNS Boh Field Centre above Ringlet to where it entered good forest at about 950m.

Amazing purple seed pods! Anyone know which tree they belong to? [Quentin Phillipps and Ooi Chin Hock kindly supplied the answer - the tree is Saraca sp. Thanks guys!]

We had a brief view of a Whistling-Thrush along the stream that ran beside the track; disappointingly it was a Blue, as the habitat looked good for Malayan. There was a mix of submontane and montane species here such as Scarlet Minivets, Bushy-crested Hornbills, Buff-breasted Babblers and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrikes.

We met a group of young Semai boys out hunting with catapults. They had three Blue Nuthatches in their bag. As can be seen, they had already plucked one of them, and all were destined for the pot. I find it hard to condemn hunting by local 'orang asli'. They hunt for food (in the main), and this place is their home. Their use of natural resources around them is not nearly as damaging as the destruction of habitat and use of resources by the more 'civilized' among us.

A few raptors we saw whilst driving - a Black Eagle...

...followed by a Blyth's Hawk-Eagle

This juv Yellow-breasted Warbler was being fed by its parent on Gunung Brinchang.

A juv male White-tailed Robin at the summit (2031m asl). It was interesting to see Oriental Magpie Robin and Common Tailorbird up there as well!

I never tire of watching Pygmy Wren-babblers - half bird, half mouse!

Almost inevitably, one responds whenever we play the call of a whistling-thrush!

Not sure what this butterfly is. I spotted it resting on foliage at about 1,900m asl. The species it most nearly resembles in Corbet and Pendlebury's "Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula" is Taenaris horsfieldii, but this seems unlikely, given that the species is only known from one location in Johore. Can anyone help identify it?

I think this is a Low's Squirrel.

Our last day was a repeat of the first, except that this time we travelled the new road, from Cameron Highlands to Pos Slim. We found a Blue Whistling Thrush singing at dawn at the pump house at Kampung Kuala Terla.

We found an interesting looking forest stream at about 1275m, and a whistling-thrush responded to a recording of Malayan Whistling-Thrush. We only got the briefest of flight views, and the only time it called, it sounded like Blue, so we left it undecided, and worth another look in future.

Several other stops at likely-looking streams and waterfalls yielded no whistling-thrushes but some stunning scenery.

But for how much longer???

A fine adult Blyth's Hawk-Eagle catching the early morning sun.

Joined by a pair of thrill-seeking Red-eyed Bulbuls!

Further down the road we came across this logging camp.

We discovered that the operations had been suspended after the Perak Forestry Department had impounded the camp two months ago pending an investigation into its legality. It's good to see that some action is being taken, though sad to see so many trees now lying in rotting piles. We couldn't help wishing that action had been taken much much earlier.

We spotted this feline loping along the trail.

On closer inspection it proved to be 'only' a Leopard Cat, which is the commonest wild cat in Malaysia. I've seen them quite often at night in oil palm plantations; this is the first time I've seen one in its natural habitat and in the daytime.

A couple of dragons to finish...

Orthetrum pruinosum...

...and O. triangulare.

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