by Mallika Naguran
Fraser’s Hill straddling the States of Pahang and Selangor, West Malaysia is often an overlooked destination by vacation seekers but not by feathered fowl.
Birds in flight, some from as far as Siberia and islands north of Japan, are spotted in the lower montane forest that peaks at 1,310m above sea level. Some 270 species are spotted at Fraser’s Hill, out of which, 20 are migratory birds, seeking sunny yet cool climes here during treacherous winters of their originating countries.
Which is what draws discerning birders to escape to Fraser’s Hills to spy on these flighty creatures throughout the year. The Fraser’s Hill International Bird Race 2008 on 21-22 June, which began in 1988, saw 8 foreign teams participating alongside 25 local ones under expert, novice and student categories. (Watch video)
Participants did not have to try too hard to spot as many bird species across 2,804 hectares of lush greens. Fraser’s Hill is to birds what honey is to bees, and as proof, the air is filled with chirping and whistling – a joy to nature lovers and walkers alike. In the woods, cicadas compete with the call of birds. No, you don’t need your iPod here.
Even naturalists such as Dev Mahendra who conducts adventure tours based in Langkawi, Kedah is smitten. The Malaysian teamed up with his Dutch business partner Ann-Marie van Goudoever and British mate Chris Hocking, to join the competition forming the minimum requirement of three people in one participating group. This team of twitchers has chased many feathers in top bird watch spots around the world, and had heard about this spot’s reputation for sighting rare species including ones that are near threatened and vulnerable to extinction.
“It is a thrill to bird at Fraser's Hill because some of the birds are of the mountain species and you get the lowland species flying through,” says Dev. “Fraser's is not that big, that means it is easy access to bird the whole area in a couple of days. And because of its pristine forest, most of the species of the main range can be found there,” he adds.
Native to Fraser’s Hill are the silver-eared mesia (its unofficial mascot), fire tufted barbet, long tailed sibia, black throated sunbird, chestnut-crowned laughingthrush and Blyth’s hawk eagle, to mention a few. April to June is a great time to see local resident birds, sometimes nesting or feeding their young. Migrants such as the Siberian thrush, Eurasian woodcock and white-throated needletail are best spotted from October to March (source: Birds of Fraser’s Hill by Morten Strange).
At the Fraser’s Hill Bird Race, participants have to note as many species spotted within 24 hours and submit the data to a panel of judges. The team that reports the most number of species wins prizes such as cameras, binoculars, bush gear and more.
Bird watching aside, this eco-destination delights with its varied heritage trails into the forest, hilly lodges, waterfall and colonial-styled buildings that give Fraser’s Hill its pet name - Little England. The hills are named after a mysterious Scottish adventurer and tin ore trader, James Louis Fraser, who disappeared in the early 1900s. In 1917, the British turned this forest into a hill station, eager for respite from the hot south eastern tropics.
During the Second World War, Japanese occupied Malaya and used the 1 km Hemnant forest trail to avoid exposed roads. Remains of a communications centre still stands in the site – covered in dense forest, this spot gave them radio coverage over a wide area of lowlands.
Trekking through this and other trails with an experienced guide is a great way of discovering this eco destination's heritage as well as biodiversity. K Sanadurai, a local bird specialist, trusted guide and President of Fraser’s Hill Environmentally Sustainable Heritage (FRESH) reckons nature is God’s gift to man. “Trekking into the forest makes people younger and happier,” he jokes, in between giving conservation tips and sharing forest facts.
There are, for instance, 17 species of plant climbers alone in Fraser’s, one of which holds water – great to know in case you are stranded in the middle of the forest. Wild ginger (Zingiberaceae) – and there are a number of species here – has many uses such as spices, dyes, medicines and even perfumes.
Trees are nearly 300 years old here; Durai points out one, nearly half that age, that’s slowly dying. Termites have hollowed out the massive base of the tree and the zillions of insect draw woodpeckers. The pecked out holes on the smooth trunk show where the birds must have had their meals. “The woodpeckers also nest here and their eggs attract snakes and the magpie,” he says.
Such real life lessons on ecosystems are great for children, so parents and teachers, take your kids to Fraser’s Hill during the next school vacation. Explorations in the forest and walk in the crisp cool air will put a smile on your face, not just theirs.
Walking can make you pretty thirsty. A good place to stop and rest aching feet is at the Ye Olde Smokehouse for tea and hot scones, served with fresh cream and homemade strawberry jam. However, be armed with a camera; several bird species especially the long-tailed sibia love the crumbs that stray off the garden table.
Ah, the joys of an immaculate high tea in Little England of Malaysia in the company of little chirpers.
Photos by Mallika Naguran. Bird closeup shots courtesy of Dev's Adventure Tours.
Getting There: Fraser’s Hill is located around 100km from Kuala Lumpur. Take Highway 1 or the North-South Highway. If you come from the south, go through Rawang then turn right from the main highway to connect to Highway 55. This will take you up to The Gap (790m elevation).
Due to landslide on newly-built road, the Old Road is the only way to get up and down the hills, but since it is wickedly narrow, a fixed schedule exists: a gate is open each way for 40 mins starting 7am from The Gap. On the hour, traffic goes up during odd hours. Even hours are reserved for traffic coming down.
Where to Stay: A range of accommodation exists, of which two are:
Sharzan Inn at Jalan Lady Guillemard and near the town centre. It offers modest rooms, suites and apartments with a view of the golf course. Rates from RM150 (Garden View), RM455 (apartment) to RM550 (VIP Suite). Tel: +609 3622300. Enquiry: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Smokehouse Hotel & Restaurant at Jalan Jeriau has Colonial-styled rooms and suites with jacuzzi. Rates range from RM280+ to RM400+ (+10% service charge). Tel : +609-362 2226 Enquiry: email@example.com
What to Do: Jungle trekking, archery, horseback riding, boating, golf and bird watching of course.
What to Pack: A warm pullover or coat as it gets pretty chilly especially at night. A good pair of binoculars and sunhat. For trail walks, a pair of trekking shoes or footwear with good grip as it can get muddy and slippery.
Don’t forget to participate in next year’s bird race in June, organised by Malaysia Nature Society and Fraser’s Hill Development Corporation. Watch this space for updates.
on 2008-06-28 14:14 by Gaia Discovery
WINNERS OF FRASER'S HILL INTERNATIONAL BIRD RACE 2008
Expert Category: IORA from Singapore.
This team spotted 74 different bird species in 24 hours. Now, that's truly amazing!
Ist runner up: CUTIA
2nd runner up: FLYCATCHER
3rd runner up: LANGKAWI
5th position: PRINIAS
6th position: BIRDMAN 1
7th position: SILVER EARED MESIA
LANGKAWI BIRDERS (pictured right), mixed team of Malaysia, Holland and Britain, came in third runner-up for spotting 65 different bird species.
Champion: OSIEKU MONTAGU HARRIER
1st runner up: SULTAN TIT
2nd runner up: SULTAN TIT 2
3rd runner up: WOODPECKER
5th position: GARUDA
Student Category: NYAMUK from Kolej Swasta, Kuala Lumpur
1st runner up: CENGKERIK
2nd runner up: KUMPULAN HARIMAU
Photos courtesy of Nanda Kumaran of Malaysia Nanban Daily.