Malaysia is divided into two distinct parts: Peninsular Malaysia and the East Malaysian provinces of Sabah and Sarawak in North Borneo. The two regions are 650km (403mi) apart, separated by the South China Sea. Peninsular Malaysia shares borders with Thailand and Singapore. Sabah and Sarawak border Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of Borneo), and Sarawak surrounds the tiny enclave of Brunei. The Andaman Sea is on the west coast of the peninsula. The east coast of the peninsula, Sabah, and Sarawak all adjoin the South China Sea.
Peninsular Malaysia accounts for 40 percent of the country's land mass. Several mountain ranges run north-south along the spine of the peninsula. There is a wide, fertile plain on the west coast, and a narrow coastal plain on the east. Sabah and Sarawak are covered by dense jungles and have large river systems. Mt Kinabalu (4101m/13,450ft) in Sabah is one of the highest peaks in South-East Asia.
More than 60 per cent of the country is still rainforest, but a government plan to build a huge hydroelectric dam in Sarawak is expected to decimate 27,600ha (69,000ac) of forest, which does not augur well for the future. There are 8000 species of flowering plants in Peninsular Malaysia alone, including 2000 tree species, 800 different orchids and 200 types of palm. Fauna includes elephants, rhinos, tigers, leopards, tapirs, sun bears, orangutans and gibbons. East Malaysia has one of the most abundant and varied bird populations in the world.
Malaysia is hot and humid all year. Temperatures are usually between 20-30°C (68-86°F); humidity is usually 90 per cent. The region has a monsoonal climate, but only the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia has a real rainy season. The wettest season on the west coast of the peninsula is between September and December; on the east coast and in Sabah and Sarawak it's between October and February. Rain, when it comes, generally interrupts the sunshine only briefly; most of it falls in short, strong bursts.
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Bird Watching In Malaysia’s Kinabalu National Park
www.nst.comBy Sharon Ng Kooi Kin. For most people who go to Kinabalu National Park in Sabah, their main purpose would be to climb Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. Some may want to walk about in the Mountain Garden, relaxing and enjoying the cool, fresh air and soaking in the lush greenery of this World Heritage Site.
However, there is an increasing number of visitors who go for other pursuits like jungle trekking and bird watching. I was there recently for a week of intensive bird watching and had a really good time.
The cool climate of Kinabalu around the park headquarters, situated at 1,558m, is quite ideal for bird watching. The Park was gazetted in 1964 and it encompasses an area of 75,370 hectares. It extends in elevation from hot humid tropical rainforest at sea level to the bone-chilling sub-alpine clime at the summit of Mt Kinabalu.
Because of the wide spectrum of vegetation types, 326 bird species (from 47 families and 180 genera) have been recorded in Kinabalu Park. Since there are 420 species of birds on the island of Borneo, this means that 77 per cent can be found in Kinabalu Park alone, of which 17 are endemic species. So it makes very good sense to go to Kinabalu Park to see birds, especially montane birds.
Our accommodations were at the Peak Lodge, a tastefully furnished and comfortable two-bedroom duplex with a fireplace and a long balcony. The balcony affords a fantastic view of the majestic Mt Kinabalu, with the highest point at Low’s Peak, soaring to 4,095m.
It is also a vantage viewing deck for observing and photographing birds, especially in the early mornings and after a downpour.
The first time we sighted the Bornean Treepie, we were so excited, until we realised that they came every day to the trees in front of the Lodge. It is a lifer (first time seen) for us since it can only be found in Borneo.
The roads and grounds around the other chalets, bungalows, hostel and Liwagu Restaurant nearby are busy with birds every morning, joyfully hunting insects which have gathered overnight under street lamps.
If there is a fruiting fig tree, bird waves are frequent. At the 0.5km stone, a bird wave yielded the Short-tailed Green Magpie, White-throated Fantail, Indigo Flycatcher, Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush, Grey-chinned Minivet and Chestnut-crested Yuhina. These birds are relatively unafraid of humans and continue feeding or grooming themselves, quite oblivious to all the excitement they are causing.
You can start bird watching and photography as early as six every morning because of the more eastern location of Sabah. Look out for the Mountain Blackbird around Hill Lodge and the endemic (E) Mountain Blackeye and Dusky Munia. There are also nesting Yuhinas and Grey (Ashy) Drongos.
There is a one-way traffic loop road from the Park HQ to the accommodation units. If you walk against the traffic (so that you can watch out for approaching vehicles), you will be rewarded with the sight of many species of birds. The tree-lined shady road has rest shelters for tired legs and a quick bite or drink.
Another strategic point to park yourself with your scopes, binoculars and cameras is the Kinabalu Balsam Restaurant veranda. A buffet breakfast (from 7am) or lunch (from 11.30am) is available as are hot and cold drinks and ice cream. Some days I just ordered a mug of teh tarik and stationed myself at a balcony corner table to observe the birds for hours. The star bird is the Golden-naped Barbet (E) – not difficult to see but hard to photograph. Watch out also for the Bornean Stub-tail, tailor birds, woodpeckers and whistlers.