by Tin Telesforo
Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) members Willem van de Ven, Arnel Telesforo, and Christine Telesforo finished second in the 2017 Selangor International Bird Race held on 22-23 April 2017 in Malaysia. Covering the town of Kuala Kubu Bahru and Fraser’s Hill in Hulu Selangor, the race had participants from the Philippines, Cambodia, Singapore, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Germany. It was part of the Wings of KKB event organized by the Hulu Selangor District Council.
My Selangor International Bird Race weekend officially kicked off Friday evening, April 21st, with a fantastic dinner of Malacca cuisine hosted by Wild Bird Club Malaysia (WBCM). After dinner, Team WBCP–Willem, Arnel, and myself–hopped on WBCM Vice President Mark Ng’s car for the hour-and-a-half drive to Kuala Kubu Bharu (KKB). KKB is the main town of Hulu Selangor District in the state of Selangor.
The international participants were billeted at Sarang by the Brook, a sleek bed-and-breakfast made out of repurposed container vans arranged around a pool. There we met WBCM’s Andrew Sebastian, the Singaporean and Cambodian teams, Dr. Ong of MY Garden Birdwatch, and Ms. Azlina Mokhtar of the Hulu Selangor District Council (MDHS), who is the force behind the Wings of KKB event.
The next morning, Andrew took us birding around the neighborhood. At the road fronting the hotel, what sounded like a Colasisi whizzed by, and it turned out to be a Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot. First lifer of the day! Andrew then drove us to a birdy trail just two minutes from the hotel. We were there an hour or so and chalked up 17 species, about half of which were lifers for me, among them the Gold-whiskered Barbet, Black-and-Yellow Broadbill, and Striped-throated Bulbul.
Back at the hotel, while we were brunching on nasi lemak, a White-rumped Munia with something in its beak zipped into a nearby tree. It was building a nest! It paid no mind to us, which was a treat to the bird photogs. About the same time, a Black Hornbill glided into the forest canopy across the hotel. It perched briefly, long enough for everyone to get a good view. We then heard the unmistakable call of the Crested Serpent Eagle as it emerged from the canopy. Overall, our pre-race list from the vicinity of Sarang by the Brook totaled 22 species.
From Sarang by the Brook, Andrew drove us to Dewan Merdeka for the opening program and race flag-off. The Selangor International Bird Race was part of the annual Wings of KKB event organized by MDHS. We competed in the open category. There was also a university category and a special children’s category, which was introduced only this year. Other than the bird race, there was also a bird photography competition and a bird painting contest open to all school levels.
The race officially flagged off at 12pm. There were 11 checkpoints and participants had to check in and out at each one. Checkpoints 1-8 were in KKB and surrounding areas, while checkpoints 9-11 were up in Fraser’s Hill. Checkpoints were closing 7pm on Day 1 and opening again 7am on Day 2. All lists had to be submitted by 12pm on Day 2.
The first four checkpoints were around the town center. CP1 was right at Dewan Merdeka. We were fortunate to have Mark Ng (who incidentally was also a WBCP member) as guide for the day. We checked out with six species on our list, including a Black-headed Bulbul and a Common Iora. Then we headed downtown for lunch.
Just outside the restaurant, we saw White-rumped Munias in one of the bushes lining the street. But this sighting was in-between checkpoints, so we didn’t log it. We proceeded to CP2 and birded under the noonday sun. Mark advised us to just quickly tick off the common birds, so we could have more time for the special ones up at CP9 (the Old Gap Road at Fraser’s Hill–last checkpoint for Day 1). We left CP2 with eight more species, which included Germain’s Swiftlets and a Coppersmith Barbet.
CP3 had more trees and the roadside was shady, but it wasn’t very birdy. Most of the ones we saw there were already on our list. We left with only three additional species.
CP4 was back at the town center. The checkin desk was at a plaza with kiosks serving local snacks, and behind these was the hill with the historic clock tower overlooking KKB town. The view up there was postcard-worthy, but we only got Rock Pigeons and Common Mynas.
Fortunately, the White-rumped Munias we saw during lunch were still at the same bush, and this time were able to add them to our list. Mark also showed us a House Swift colony stuck on the ceiling of one of the old buildings in town. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Overall, we had four additions to the list from CP4.
Checkpoints 5 to 8 were some distance from the town center. We drove in Mark’s car to CP5 at Taman Millenium, and along the way we saw a Long-tailed Shrike and lots of Blue-throated Bee-etaers. Willem also spotted a Baya Weaver’s nest. But these sightings were outside the designated checkpoints.
CP5 was at mostly flat with stretches of lawn, some ponds, and clumps of trees. A couple of Paddyfield Pipits met us right after we checked in. We were also happy to see the Blue-throated Bee-eater again and to add it to our list. The special bird here was the Red-Wattled Lapwing. We had good views of two individuals. While it wasn’t a lifer for me (saw it first in Thailand), this was my first time to see it up close. We also found out later that the winner of the bird painting contest had this bird as subject.
Mark also saw two Yellow-bellied Prinias, but they had dived behind the trees before any of us could get a good look. We didn’t add them to the official list, but we had 10 additional species from here.
Checkpoints 6 to 8 were not very productive, but luckily we didn’t zero out. We only did quick passes but managed to add at least one new species from each checkpoint. We ticked off the Rufous-tailed Tailorbird at CP6 (Jalan Pahang Lama). We almost left CP7 (Kampung Pertak) with no addition to our list, but an Orange-bellied Flowerpecker appeared just behind the checkout shed as we were about to leave. At CP8 (Sungei Chilling), we were about to get in the car without any new tick when a vocal Sooty Barbet flew across the parking lot. Lucky timing!
Fraser’s Hill was almost an hour’s drive from CP8, and just before we got there the rain that had been threatening since CP5 finally poured. Thankfully, Mark had a stock of big and sturdy umbrellas in his car. Right after we got off at the Old Gap Road, a flock of Little Cuckoo-doves flew overhead. We proceeded down the road and stopped at a bend where we heard bird calls. Shortly after, we saw a Grey-breasted Spiderhunter, two Orange-bellied Leafbirds, a Streaked Spiderhunter, and two Maroon Woodpeckers.
We then walked back to where we parked. It was still raining, so we took shelter by the Prayer House where a Black-crested Bulbul eventually showed up. While waiting for the rain to let up, I updated our official list, which was by now soaked from the downpour.
Then suddenly, the huge, sparsely leafed tree in front of us was alive with birds! It was still dark and drizzly, so we could hardly make out their plumage and markings. But with Mark’s top-tier binoculars, he was able to describe them to us. They were Verditer Flycatchers, Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrikes, Ochraceous Bulbuls, and a Black-browed Barbet. Then across the street from us, a Dark-necked Tailorbird called and went out in the open. I could hardly keep up listing them while verifying the ID in the field guide.
On the way to the checkout desk, we passed by a group of university-level participants. I sat with them and pored over our list. Suddenly there was an excited commotion–an Asian Fairy Bluebird was spotted! We hardly got over our excitement when a huge raptor flew in and perched in front of us–a Crested Serpent-Eagle! Literally just minutes before I brought our list to the checkout desk, a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo appeared followed by a Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot. With the 15 species we got from CP9, we ended Day 1 of the bird race with 47 species.
Just before dark, we set off for Shahzan Hotel where we would spend the night. The route the next morning was CP11 (SJK Bukit Fraser), CP10 (Jalan Mager Bukit Fraser), then down to CP9 again. The race list should be in by 12pm at Shahzan Hotel.
Mark, who had been a stellar guide on Day 1, couldn’t stay for Day 2. Josephine of WBCM was kind enough to take over.
CP11 was a short walk from the hotel, and when we got there we were met by a din of bird calls that were frustratingly strange to us. One of the calls belonged to the Spectacled (Chestnut-capped) Laughingthrush, which obligingly showed itself a few meters ahead. Willem spotted tiny yellow birds, which turned out to be Everett’s White-eyes. We hadn’t walked far when a Grey-chinned Minivet flew in.
Josephine mentioned that the Slaty-backed Forktail was often seen on that road, and true enough, one came out from the underbrush. Farther down the pavement, a wren-babbler also came into view. It was a Streaked Wren-Babbler. We stopped where we heard more bird calls, and soon we had Javan Cuckooshrike and Bronzed Drongo on our list. Then we saw a bird that we thought was a Mountain Fulvetta, but Josephine pointed out the flash of blue on its wing. It was a Blue-winged Minla.
As we were figuring this out, WBCM’s birding couple Eileen Chiang and Terence Ang walked by. They stopped few meters ahead and alerted us to a Common Green Magpie. We hurried over and saw two individuals. In the same area, Arnel spotted a tailorbird that was distinctly more yellow than the others we have seen so far. It was a Mountain Tailorbird. Then a black bird called out from a tree behind us. Josephine said it was Black-and-Crimson Oriole, which I thought was strange because I didn’t see any crimson at all. I turned out to be a juvenile.
We were nearing Singapore House when a small flock of Long-tailed Sibias flew in. This was followed by a quick glimpse of the Fire-tufted Barbet, one of Fraser Hill’s star birds. Behind the Singapore House, I came eye-to-eye with a tiny bird with a round, ultra-white belly. It was a Little Pied Flycatcher. We walked back to the checkout desk, but just before we got there Josephine pointed out some birds in the bush by the road. They were Black-throated Sunbirds. We had a good 15 species more on our list upon checkout.
By mid-morning we were at CP10, the last checkpoint. We were dropped along a picturesque road and we walked the rest of the way. We didn’t have to wait long before the first of several Mugimaki Flycatchers appeared. We then heard a loud and distinct call, and Josephine identified it as that of the Large Scimitar Babbler. But it never showed itself.
Not long after, several raptors emerged from the forest canopy. We were expecting the Blythe’s Hawk Eagle, but Josephine said these were not it. We waited to get a good view, and sure enough the distinct ‘chicken neck’ soon became visible. They were Oriental Honey-buzzards. Farther down we spotted a Long-billed Spiderhunter in the brush, followed by a Fire-breasted Flowerpecker.
We continued walking slowly, and after half a kilometer the Blythe’s Hawk Eagle finally made an appearance. It actually showed itself a few more times throughout the morning. A few meters from there, we saw a tiny mostly-yellow bird flitting about on a viny branch. It was Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher.
Then we had a dry spell for at least a kilometer–no new birds seen, no familiar calls heard. We came to a short bridge where our driver was waiting. I got in right away to have a drink, but Willem and Arnel wanted to check out the bridge first, and Josephine went with them. They took a while, so I looked out the car window to see what was keeping them.
Just then a bird perched on a tree across the road at my eye level. I didn’t need my bins to see that it looked like a Mangrove Blue-flycatcher, only a bit duller, probably because it was in the leafy shade. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I noted it in my personal log for looking up later.
The others were on the same side of the road just a few meters ahead, so I thought maybe they saw the same bird. But when they got back in the car, they were excited about something else. Arnel showed me a photo of what looked like a female flycatcher, only we didn’t know which one. We checked the field guide and discussed possible IDs, but we never reached a definite one. So we now had two mystery birds, but only one was photographed.
After the mystery birds, we ticked a Striped Tit-Babbler that was calling loudly but didn’t show itself, and a Golden Babbler. We concluded our CP10 birding with nine species, bringing our total bird list for the race to 73, excluding the two mystery birds.
Winners were announced in the afternoon. Team WBCP placed second in the open category! The Cambodian team won first place, and the Sudan/Ethiopia team placed third.
My bird race weekend turned out perfectly, thanks to the meticulous preparations done by everyone at MDHS. KKB is a charming town, and if not for this event I wouldn’t have known about it. Birding Fraser’s Hill was on my bucket list, and to be able to do it with Mark and Josephine was such a treat. I’m very grateful to WBCM for the warm welcome, to the other teams for the new friendships formed, and to Andrew Sebastian for inviting me to this event.