Thursday, May 11, 2017

Soaring on Wings of KKB 2017

Fire-Tufted Barbet is one of Fraser Hill's star birds (Photo Credit: Willem van de Ven)
My Selangor International Bird Race weekend officially kicked off Friday evening with a fantastic dinner of Malacca cuisine at The Tranquerah in Petaling Jaya, hosted by Wild Bird Club Malaysia (WBCM). 
WBCM’s Josephine Yeo called it a 'bilateral dinner' between WBCM and WBCP. The host had a powerhouse contingent: Andy Lee, Mark Ng, Tang Tuck Hong, Josephine, and birding couple Eileen Chiang and Terence Ang. Other than myself, WBCP had club president Willem van de Ven and Malaysia-based member Arnel Telesforo (soon joining WBCM as well). Our trio was one of the international teams competing in the race that weekend.
Right after dinner, Team WBCP hopped on Mark Ng’s car for the hour-and-a-half drive to Kuala Kubu Bharu (KKB). 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. WBCM’s Andrew Sebastian (who invited us to the race) and the Singaporean team were already lounging by the poolside when we got there. We also met the Cambodian team not long after. Azlina Mokhtar of the Hulu Selangor District Council (MDHS), the force behind the Wings of KKB event, later joined us along with Dr. Ong of MY Garden Birdwatch.
Delightful desserts (Photo Credit: Tin Telesforo)
On their first night in KKB, the international race participants stayed at Sarang by the Brook, a sleek B&B made out of converted container vans (Photo Credit: Tin Telesforo)
Pre-race birding
We planned an early pre-race birding in the neighborhood, but it was raining the next morning, and we found our shoes left by the door soaked from the downpour. Still, by the time the sun peeked out, everyone had managed to find footwear and was ready to bird. 
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.
Then 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.
1. Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot
2. Spotted Dove
3. Black-crested Bulbul
4. Scaly-breasted Munia
5. Red-whiskered Bulbul
6. Zebra Dove
7. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
8. White-throated Kingfisher
9. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
10. Banded Bay Cuckoo
11. Whiskered Treeswift
12. Black-and-Yellow Broadbill
13. Gold-whiskered Barbet
14. Yellow-bellied Warbler
15. Striped-throated Bulbul
16. Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
17. Javan Myna
18. Oriental Magpie Robin
19. Yellow-vented Bulbul
20. Black Hornbill
21. White-rumped Munia
22. Crested Serpent Eagle
Andrew Sebastian took Team WBCP and Team Singapore birding the morning before the race (Photo Credit: Tin Telesforo)
Wings of KKB
From Sarang by the Brook, Andrew drove us to Dewan Merdeka for the opening program. KKB is the main town of Hulu Selangor District in the state of Selangor. 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. 
Team WBCP's Ternel Telesforo
who will be based in Malaysia
this year is excited to join WBCM  
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.

Checkpoints 1-4
The first four checkpoints were around the town center. CP1 was right at Dewan Merdeka where we had the opening program. We were fortunate to have been assigned Mark Ng (who incidentally was also a WBCP member) as guide for the day. We didn’t get to bird at CP1 very long as we had to go downtown for lunch. We checked out with six species on our list. 
Checkpoint 1: Dewan Merdeka
1. Javan Myna
2. Eurasian Tree Sparrow
3. Brown-throated Sunbird
4. Black-headed Bulbul
5. Common Iora
6. Pacific Swallow
We had a hearty buffet lunch at Restoran Sulaiman. Just outside, 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 right after lunch, 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 (Old Gap Road--last checkpoint for Day 1). We left CP2 with eight more new species.
Checkpoint 2: SMK Dato Haji Kamaruddin
1. Germain's Swiftlet
2. Yellow-vented Bulbul
3. Oriental Magpie-robin
4. Asian Glossy Starling
5. Scaly-breasted Munia
6. Zebra Dove
7. Barn Swallow
8. Coppersmith Barbet
9. Common Iora*
10. Eurasian Tree Sparrow*
CP3 had more trees and the roadside was shady, but it wasn’t very birdy. Most of the ones we saw there were already in our list. We left with only three additional species.
Checkpoint 3: Klinik Kesihatan KKB
1. Olive-backed Sunbird
2. Pied Triller
3. Brown Shrike
4. Yellow-vented Bulbul*
5. Coppersmith Barbet*
6. Asian Glossy Starling*
7. Oriental Magpie-robin*
8. Javan Myna*
CP4 was back at the town center. The checkin desk was at a plaza with kiosks serving local snacks, which I thought was tempting if I wasn’t in a race. Behind the snack shacks 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 earlier 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. 
The charming town of KKB has a secret: a House Swift colony is stuck on the ceiling of one of the old buildings here. 
(Photo Credit: Tin Telesforo)

KKB's Bell Tower. It was cooler up here and the view
was postcard-worthy. Best place in KKB to see
Rock Pigeons, Asian Glossy Starlings and
Common Mynas. (Photo Credit: Tin Telesforo)

                                                                            Overall, we had four additions to the list from CP4.
Checkpoint 4: Pejabat Pos KKB
1. Rock Pigeon
2. Common Myna
3. House Swift
4. White-rumped Munia
5. Asian Glossy Starling*
6. Zebra Dove*
Checkpoints 5-8
Checkpoints 5 to 8 were some distance from the town center. We drove in Mark’s car to CP5, and along the way we saw Blue-throated Bee-eaters and a Long-tailed Shrike. Willem spotted a Baya Weaver’s nest. But these sightings were outside the designated checkpoints, so we didn’t log them.
CP5 was more interesting than the first four checkpoints. It was 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 add it to our list.
The special bird here was the Red-Wattled Lapwing. While it wasn’t a lifer for me (had seen it in Thailand), this was my first time to see it up close. We had good views of two individuals. Incidentally, the winner of the bird painting contest had this bird as subject. 
This is one of at least two Red-Wattled Lapwings we saw at the Millenium Park (Photo Credit: Willem van de Ven)
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.
Checkpoint 5: Taman Millenium
1. Blue-throated Bee-eater
2. Paddyfield Pipit
3. White-throated Kingfisher
4. House Crow
5. Red-Wattled Lapwing
6. Yellow Bittern
7. Spotted Dove
8. Striated Heron
9. Striated Swallow
10. Pied Fantail
11. Yellow-bellied Prinias*
12. Long-tailed Shrike*
13. Baya Weaver*
14. Eurasian Tree Sparrow*
This is a Baya Weaver's nest that Willem spotted off the highway on the drive to Millennium Park. It wasn't counted in our race list as it was between checkpoints. (Photo Credit: Willem van de Ven)
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 species from each checkpoint. Dark clouds were rolling in, and we wanted to get to CP9 before it rained. We almost left CP7 with no addition to our list, but an Orange-bellied Flowerpecker appeared just behind the checkout shed as we were about to check out. At CP8, we were about to get in the car without any new tick when a vocal Sooty Barbet flew across the parking lot. Lucky timing!
Checkpoint 6: Jalan Pahang Lama
1. Rufous-tailed Tailorbird
2. White-rumped Munia*
3. Asian Glossy Starling*
Checkpoint 7: Kampung Pertak
1. Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
2. Striated Swallow*
3. Eurasian Tree Sparrow*
4. Barn Swallow*
Checkpoint 8: Sungei Chilling
1. Sooty Barbet

Checkpoints 9-11
CP9 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’s car had a stock of big and sturdy umbrellas. 
Right after we got off, a flock of Little Cuckoo-doves flew overhead. After a quick toilet break, we proceeded down the road and stopped at the 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 now almost soaked from the downpour. 
Then suddenly, as if by magic, 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 Mark, with his top-tier binoculars, 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 saw a group of university-level participants gathered around. I sat with them and pored over our list again. There was suddenly 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. 
It was getting dark, and Mark had to drive us to Shahzan Hotel. It was a longish drive through narrow, hilly terrain, but when we got there we were totally charmed. The hotel was just off the roundabout with the iconic Fraser’s Hill clock. It was surrounded by pine trees and flowering plants, and our room had a view of the hills and the town below. We had an hour to spare before dinner, so we freshened up, rested, and sent proof of life to everyone back home.
Checkpoint 9: Old Gap Road
1. Little Cuckoo Dove
2. Grey-breasted Spiderhunter
3. Orange-bellied Leafbird
4. Streaked Spiderhunter
5. Maroon Woodpecker
6. Black-crested Bulbul
7. Verditer Flycatcher
8. Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike
9. Black-browed Barbet
10. Ochraceous Bulbul
11. Dark-necked Tailorbird
12. Asian Fairy Bluebird
13. Crested Serpent Eagle
14. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
15. Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot
Shahzan Hotel. Silver-eared Mesias, Long-tailed Sibias and Orange-bellied Leafbirds abound in the grounds.
(Photo Credit: Tin Telesforo)
The route the next morning was Checkpoints 11 down to 9, then go back up to submit the race list by 12pm at Shahzan Hotel. Mark, who had been a stellar guide on Day 1, couldn’t stay for Day 2, and Josephine was kind enough to take over. 
CP11 was a short walk from the hotel, and when we got there we were met by a cacophony of bird calls that were so frustratingly strange to us. One of the calls belonged to the Spectacled (Chestnut-capped) Laughingthrush, which obligingly showed itself a few meters ahead. Willem then spotted tiny yellow birds, which turned out to be Everett’s White-eyes. We hadn’t walked far when a Grey-chinned Minivet flew into the woods. 
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. We initially thought it was a Pygmy Wren-Babbler, but Josephine pointed out that the pygmy would be much smaller. 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, Eileen and Terrence 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 figure it was female or 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. It was a disappointment, but Arnel and Willem decided to explore the road beyond the next curve, and they both got good views of the barbet from there. 
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.
Checkpoint 10: Jalan Mager Bukit Fraser
1. Spectacled Laughingthrush
2. Everett’s White-eye
3. Grey-chinned Minivet
4. Slaty-backed Forktail
5. Streaked Wren Babbler
6. Javan Cuckooshrike
7. Bronze Drongo
8. Blue-winged Minla
9. Common Green Magpie
10. Mountain Tailorbird
11. Black-and-Crimson Oriole
12. Long-tailed Sibia
13. Fire-tufted Barbet
14. Little Pied Flycatcher
15. Black-throated Sunbird
16. Little Cuckoo Dove*
17. Dark-necked Tailorbird*
By mid-morning we were at CP11, the last checkpoint. The driver dropped us at a random spot along the picturesque road, so we could walk 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 the road, 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 the driver was waiting. I got in the car 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 CP11 birding with nine species, bringing our total bird list for the race to 73, excluding the two mystery birds. 
Checkpoint 11: SJK (T) Bukit Fraser
1. Mugimaki Flycatcher
2. Large Scimitar Babbler
3. Oriental Honey-buzzard
4. Long-billed Spiderhunter
5. Fire-breasted Flowerpecker
6. Blythe’s Hawk Eagle
7. Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher
8. Striped Tit-Babbler
9. Golden Babbler
10. Orange-bellied Leafbird*
11. Mystery flycatcher, female (Ferruginous Flycatcher?)*
12. Mystery flycatcher*
18. Silver-eared Mesia*
19. Long-tailed Sibia*
* Species not included in the official race log because they were (1) already included in previous checkpoints; (2) recorded in between checkpoints; (3) recorded outside the race area; (4) not seen by any of the participants, just the guide; or (5) cannot be IDed conclusively.
End of the race. Team WBCP ended the race with 73 species, and won second place to Cambodia.
(Photo Credit: Josephine Yeo)
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, and to the other teams for the new friendships formed. Last but not the least, much thanks to Andrew for inviting me to this event.
Text by Tin Telesforo