Discussion in 'Asia - General' started by Chlidonias, 14 Oct 2016.
Why is Thailand so birdy compared to Vietnam? Have they preserved more habitat?
it is primarily due to a different cultural opinion on food, I think, probably due the proximity or influence of the closest neighbouring countries and the prevalent religion (in Thailand it is pure Buddhism, but in Vietnam a blend of Buddhism and Chinese religions).
In Vietnam, basically everything is food. The main reason there are no birds left in the Vietnamese countryside is simply because they have all been eaten. There is still quite a bit of natural habitat left in Vietnam (albeit a fraction of what used to be there) but that is aggressively poached so most forests are almost as empty as the farmlands. What isn't eaten is smuggled through to China.
In some towns it can be difficult to find any place to eat which doesn't have lists of wild animals on the menu. It is common to see cages sitting outside them holding wild birds, porcupines, bamboo rats - fresh for the table. It is a pretty depressing country to visit in that respect.
Obviously anyone who isn't in Vietnam to look for wildlife isn't really going to notice all of this so much, although the lack of birds seems to be commented upon quite regularly online by regular tourists which I think speaks volumes.
Thailand is a more prosperous country so has a little more luxury in conserving its wild places. Possibly that is also due to being much more stable than Vietnam has been with its centuries of warfare, but I'm not a great history buff so that may be entirely wrong. But in Thailand there simply isn't the "eat everything" mentality of Vietnam and China.
There is a very obvious difference, too, in how animals are perceived between the two countries. In Vietnam they are nothing more than objects, whereas in Thailand there is a great deal more compassion. I was on a bus in Vietnam and saw a wire crate of chickens being brought over on a trolley. A lot of the chickens had their legs dangling down through the bottom because they were packed in like sardines. The trolley slipped, the crate crashed down on the ground, and all those chickens' legs were snapped like twigs. The people moving them thought this was hilarious and spent some time laughing about it, before chucking the crate up on top of the bus. That incident stuck in my mind for obvious reasons but it was just one of many I saw over there.
I'm actually amazed that there are any local conservationists in Vietnam, because they will have been brought up in a culture of animals just being there to be used, and they have to overcome this on a personal level as they grow up, and then try to combat their own country's perceptions of what animals and habitats are worth.
There is still a big wildlife trade in Thailand, but it is largely for pets and not food (e.g. the huge numbers of squirrels and birds passing through the animal markets every year - side-note: I'm going to the Chatuchak Market in Bangkok today). Dogs are considered pets, on the whole, in Thailand whereas in Vietnam they are pets only secondarily. Meat on menus in Thailand is invariably only pork, chicken or fish. Rarely would you see any wild animals featured. Perhaps related is that meat in Thai dishes is generally minimal amounts mixed through rice or noodles.
Summarising the answer: birds are so common in Thailand compared to Vietnam because they aren't eaten.
and I'm back from the Chatuchak Weekend Market. I like to go here whenever I'm in Bangkok to check out what animals are for sale. Sometimes I even buy other items, like clothes.
I don't travel with many clothes - usually just two pairs of trousers, three T-shirts, and a couple of shirts - and after seven months of travelling they start looking a bit worse for wear. The sun in Asia fades everything quite quickly, and often the humidity makes the material start to fall apart. The other day I got my boots stitched together because the soles were separating from the uppers, and I didn't want to spend money on a new pair. I bought a new T-shirt then as well - it is blue with a giraffe on it, and the slogan "I smile because I don't know what's going on". It was the largest size they had and it's still a bit clingy for me. At Chatuchak I found a couple of XL T-shirts for 100 Baht each, so now I will look less hobo-ish. Somewhat.
I went round the fish market first. Particularly interesting here were a couple of tanks of baby paddlefish. I'm not sure I've seen them for sale before.
For the rest of the animal sections I didn't really make any systematic in-roads, just wandered a bit randomly around the alleys to see what would pop up. There were lots of puppies and cats and rabbits, even a few baby goats which wasn't expected, fewer numbers of guineapigs and hamsters, and a lot of domestic-type aviary birds (budgies, canaries, Gouldian finches, that sort of thing). I didn't see any wild birds for sale, surprisingly, and the numbers of squirrels was well down. That may be a seasonal thing of course. Most of them were variable squirrels, with a few Indochinese ground squirrels here and there.
There were a large number of stalls selling pigmy hedgehogs, and a lot more prairie dogs than I've seen there before - easily over a hundred were seen; one shop alone had about fifty in its cages. Sugar gliders were everywhere, and I didn't realise there were colour morphs of them available! As well as the wild-colour there were pale ones and pure white ones, both of them common here. I was also surprised at the number of callitrichids - common marmosets, Geoffroy's marmosets, red-handed tamarins, and a couple of others I didn't recognise. One of the marmoset shops also had a couple of young meerkats for sale.
What was saddening was the number of gliders, marmosets and squirrels which were unweaned and lying in little cages or containers for sale. Most of those would clearly not survive once sold.
I didn't take my camera with me today - I couldn't be bothered with the resulting hassle from the stall-holders - but there are photos from previous visits in the Thailand Other gallery to get an idea of what it's like.
I've put a few photos into the galleries for Thailand Wildlife, Korat Zoo, and Dusit Zoo. Below is one from each gallery (if you click on the photo it will take you quickly to the respective gallery).
That bat picture is truly awesome.
thanks, I like it too. It was a grey old day, which means the background is almost white rather than blue, which enhances the effect I think.
There was a patch of sky which individuals were randomly flying across between trees, but when each one appeared I would only have a couple of seconds to get it in the frame, focus and shoot before it was behind the next tree. This was the only good photo I got of one flying.
Loads of the bats were carrying well-grown young (the one in the photo has a baby on her belly).
PANG SIDA NATIONAL PARK
I was really only in Thailand in order to make my way southwards to Malaysia, from where I would be flying home. I had been in Bangkok for a few days, visited a bat temple, visited some zoos ... but I felt like I should go to a national park as well and look for some wildlife. I decided to try out Pang Sida National Park which nobody ever talks about and which I had never visited. It is part of the vast forest complex to which Khao Yai National Park also belongs, so it has the same sorts of animals but no tourists because it is not really in a convenient place.
I had done some reading online. I knew how to get there, and that there was accommodation (tents and cabins) and a restaurant. There wasn't a whole lot else available. I did know there were Bengal slow lorises though, and that was important.
First step was getting to the Mo Chit bus station in Bangkok via the river boat and BTS Skytrain. I was a little later than I wanted to be because I'd been waiting 25 minutes for the boat for some reason, and I didn't get to the bus station until 9.20am. The bus I'd been aiming for was 9am. Instead I had to wait until 10.30am. The bus is the same one which goes to the border town of Aranyaprathet, but you need to get off just before there at the town of Sa Kaeo (or Sa Kaew). You can also take the train which is a quarter the price of the bus (40 Baht versus 167 Baht) but there are only two a day, the first one is way too early at 5.55am and the next one is a bit too late at 1.05pm (it's a five hour trip).
Pang Sida is around 30km from Sa Kaeo, and according to various sources online there are buses from the Sa Kaeo bus station to the entrance of the national park. I wasn't entirely sure this was true, but I made my trip on a Sunday on the reasoning that if there were buses to the park then a weekday would be when I'd be most likely to find them. Apparently Sunday is when the park is busy with day-trippers going there from town for picnics. At the bus station I asked the few employees who spoke English and both of them said that there were no buses to the park. So I took a motorbike out there for 180 Baht. At the park I found that there are songthaews or mini-vans between the park and the bus station, but there was so much dispute over times that I wouldn't be able to give any useful information on how to get them out there.
I got to the park at around 3pm. The visitor centre and accommodation areas are just inside the checkpoint. A few of the staff at the visitor centre spoke some English, enough to have basic conversations, and I have to say that unlike at Khao Yai everyone was extremely friendly and helpful. The bungalows are 800 Baht per night, well outside my budget (but I had expected that). Camping was what I was after, but even that was 300 per night - more than the room in my guesthouse in Bangkok! The restaurant that was supposed to be there was not in operation, presumably because they have no visitors, so you have to walk back out past the checkpoint to a small restaurant there (it's only a few hundred metres).
After my tent was set up I went for a walk up the main road into the park. It seems there actually is only one road. There are some trails off the road much further up - mostly too far to walk to - but otherwise just the road. After a kilometre the seal turns to red dirt and there is a checkpoint with a guard-hut, and I turned around at that point because it was getting late. Only a few common birds were seen - even in late afternoon it was stiflingly hot - but blue-bearded bee-eater is cool, and there was also a very large troop of northern pig-tailed macaques, the 28th primate of this trip. This group was around the visitor centre and campground area every day. Apart for the entirely-white variable squirrels which occur here, I saw no other mammals at all while at Pang Sida.
My plan for the next day was to bird along the paved road first thing in the morning before breakfast, and then to walk to the 6km-mark where there was a trail through grassland to a viewing tower where animals like gaur and dhole may be seen. I would just sit in the tower all day and see if anything turned up, and then walk back at dusk. This did not happen.
The first part went okay, although again the birds were all commoner species. The best of them was a pair of black and buff woodpeckers. A tall bare tree held some sort of fascination for many of the area's birds - in its branches there was a large flock of vernal hanging parrots accompanied by thick-billed pigeons, spot-necked doves, fairy bluebirds, hill mynahs, and several species of bulbuls. After a couple of hours I went for breakfast. At the entry-checkpoint the guard asked where I was going today and I said to the watch-tower. He said I needed to get authority to do that. So I went to the visitor centre and said I wanted to go the watch-tower. The answer was that I was not allowed to walk on the road beyond the paved stretch and that I would need a guide to visit the tower which was 300 Baht.
Now, 300 Baht is not in itself a lot of money (about NZ$12), but it was being added on to the excessive 300 Baht tent-hire, the food and water, and the 200 Baht that I'd already paid as the entry fee to the park. That meant something like 1000 Baht per day which was above my budget. Basically it was like I had paid to get into the park but then needed to pay again to actually go into the park itself. And, obviously, I objected to being required to pay for a guide to sit in a watch-tower. I couldn't even just keep walking along the road when I hit the red dirt, because there was a checkpoint there. Of course anyone in a car or on a motorbike could just sail on through without any hassle, but on foot - absolutely not!
This is the kind of thing where you can look back later and think "it was only 300 Baht" but at the time it has to be judged on your current financial situation. And so what it meant was that I was restricted to one kilometre of paved road running through rubbish secondary forest with only the most common of Thai birds inhabiting it. It was pretty much just a waste of time being there, so the next day I went back to Bangkok. If I'd had more money still, then I may have stayed longer - although I would still have the objection over paying for a guide for nothing, so maybe not. Difficult to say.
For the rest of that morning I sat inside the forest. There's only one trail off the paved road, and it's not even a trail, just a set of steps down to a picnic area by the Pangsida Waterfall (which has no water in it). But I sat on one of the decks there until midday, seeing nothing, then went and sat in a shelter at the campsite where there were a few birds and squirrels. It is so meltingly hot here that as soon as the sun comes up over the hills the road becomes a dead-zone as all the birds flee the heat. There's not much else to do except sit down in the shade somewhere.
Sleeping in a tent in this heat isn't much fun either. Even with the flaps all open it is still like being inside a sweat-box. On the first night my watch stopped working. I think it was killed by the heat.
On the two nights I had I tried spotlighting along the road and around the campsite. All I found of interest on the first night was a giant forest scorpion on the road. The campsite is thick with trees so I was hoping for civets and lorises but nothing. There weren't even any deer around, unlike at Khao Yai where sambar and muntjac are common. The second night was as equally unproductive, the only animals worth noting being a whip-scorpion and a couple of spiny turtles in a small pool at the campsite.
When I had first arrived at the park, the guard at the checkpoint had told me there was a songthaew or mini-van which went back to Sa Kaeo and to let him know when I was leaving. After finding out that I needed a guide to do anything I asked one of the ladies in the visitor centre about the bus times, and she said a mini-van left from the checkpoint at 6am. This was good because it would get me to Sa Kaeo in plenty of time to catch the 7.33am train back to Bangkok. When I went back through the checkpoint later on my way to eat, I told the guard that I'd be leaving tomorrow morning. He told me the van leaves at 9am (and showed me 9.00 on his phone so there was no misunderstanding). I said that I'd been told 6am at the visitor centre. He said "no, not at 6, but you can get one at 8" (again, showing me 8.00 on his phone). I said "my train is at 7.30, are you sure there's no bus at 6?" He then says "okay, 6am, you be here." I scratched my head. "First you said there was no bus at 6, and now you say there is a bus at 6. Which one is it?" "Yes, there is one at 6am." "Okay, so I'll come here tomorrow morning at 6am, and there will be a bus here?" "Yes."
I wasn't entirely convinced by the conversation - there's a thing in southeast Asia where people will just agree with you even when it is not true. When I was at the restaurant, one of the other girls from the visitor centre came through. I asked her and she didn't know (she at first said there was no bus at all), but asked the shop owners and there was a discussion involving a large degree of confliction, including that I needed to go to the intersection with the main road a kilometre away to catch a songthaew or van. Finally they settled on 9am at the intersection. I went with the girl back to the checkpoint where the guard tells her 8am. I pointed out that he had just told me 6am, to which he replied with "no I didn't."
Back at the visitor centre the bus-time there had now become 8am, although still with a dispute over whether it was at the checkpoint or at the intersection. But 8am seemed to be the fixed time - except that they then told me I could wait at the intersection at 7am! Gaaah. I was getting pretty frustrated by all of this, so decided that I'd just walk down to the intersection before 6am and see what went past. Except I didn't have a watch any more, so it would be "sometime early" rather than anything more specific.
I got up and packed before dawn, and after the sun came up I walked up the road. Along the way I asked at a shop and was told 7am for a songthaew at the intersection. When I got to the intersection I asked at another shop, and was also told 7am. So I think it is safe to say that 7am is correct for the earliest songthaew back to the town. I tried flagging down other songthaews which were passing on the main road but none stopped. I don't know how you determine where they are going because none of them have names or numbers, but clearly they knew where I was going and it wasn't where they were going.
A chap on a motorbike stopped to chat, asked me where I was from and where I was going. Then he rode away, chatted to a woman who was waiting a bit further along for the same songthaew as me, then rode off round the corner. A few minutes later he was back and said that his friend "the teacher" could give me a ride to Sa Kaeo. And that was how I got a free ride to the train station just in time to catch the train. The teacher also offered me a job at her school which I would have taken but to teach English in Thailand you need an TEFL certificate. She said they have five Filipino teachers who teach English there but they need a native English speaker and it is difficult to get one because the white people don't want to take a job in a rural school.
On the way back to Bangkok I saw Oriental pratincoles which were a lifer.
I had a rough plan to get from Bangkok down to Malaysia. I was still hoping for a few more "new" mammals for my life-list because I was so close to 300, and I certainly hadn't added to it at Pang Sida!
I had looked at the dolphin boats which go offshore by the Bang Pakong River south of Bangkok because while they are looking for Irrawaddy dolphins (which I've already seen) they can also see finless porpoises (which I've never seen). However it is the wrong time of year so that was out.
Then I looked at Khanom which is a town on the Thai peninsula, south of Surat Thani. This town is known for its pink dolphins (not well-known, but still known). Their pink dolphins are Indopacific humpback dolphins. Supposedly they are "regularly seen" from a couple of piers there, but that information came from Lonely Planet so I didn't know how accurate it would be. The cost of a boat would be between 1000 and 2000 Baht, kind of expensive when by oneself. I figured I could go there, check out the piers for dolphins, and take a boat if necessary. Then I would continue on down to Songkhla where I wanted to visit the zoo, and then cross the border into Malaysia.
In the end I dropped Khanom and its dolphins from my plan. The more I read about Khanom the more complicated it seemed. Getting to Surat Thani is easy enough, and there are mini-vans from there to Khanom so that's all well and good. But Khanom isn't a proper town, more like a long straggling string of houses and businesses. There's no public transport and the distances are too long to be walking everywhere, and also quite importantly there is no budget accommodation there.
With the pink dolphins out, that meant I would just be spending two days on buses getting from Bangkok to Songkhla. That wasn't going to be fun: the Bangkok to Surat Thani leg alone is at least ten hours. I looked at Air Asia flights and found that I could cover the whole distance in one and a half hours for barely more than the cost of buses and food and accommodation along the way. It didn't take much to convince me of what to do.
While Songkhla does have an airport, the Air Asia flight lands at Hat Yai. For some reason there were quite a lot of Chinese tourists on the flight. I'd already cleverly checked the options for getting from Hat Yai airport to Songkhla for as little money as possible. It's actually dead-easy. From the airport there's a blue songthaew (truck-taxi) for 15 Baht to the clock tower in Hat Yai's town centre, and from there I got a mini-van for 38 Baht to Songkhla which dropped me right at Soi Rong Mueang, which is the road with the cheapest guesthouses in Songkhla. The place I found there is called the Songkhla Guesthouse, directly enough, and has basic fan-rooms for 200 Baht.
The next morning I went to the Songkhla Zoo which was a bit of a disappointment in general. I saw lots of grey-bellied squirrels wild around the zoo which was neat - they're not a new species for me or even new for the year-list, but I don't think I've ever seen them as a "wild zoo animal" before. What was a wild lifer was a Malaysian butterfly lizard (Leiolepis triploida), seen running across a path and pausing long enough for me to get a photo for ID purposes (there are several species of butterfly lizards in southern Thailand).
The review thread is here: Review of the Songkhla Zoo, 26 May 2017
Just as a side-note, I've only visited eleven animal collections on this trip but ten of them have been "new" ones for me, including Songkhla Zoo. The only non-new one was the Dusit Zoo in Bangkok. I'll probably be visiting several more non-new ones in Malaysia though, so that'll bring my average down.
In the late afternoon after the zoo-visit I discovered that the area of my guesthouse - just by the market - has street stalls every Friday and Saturday. I wandered around trying various foods, and found a stall selling watches. When I had got back to Bangkok after Pang Sida I went looking for a new watch. It was relatively important to enable me to catch planes and buses on time, and to know what time it was when I woke up in the morning and when lunch-time was. I looked at lots of watch shops and stalls, and all of them were too expensive. Even the cheapest were around the 300 to 400 Baht mark. And I don't mean quality watches, I mean cheap watches that you could buy at K-Mart or The Warehouse for NZ$5. For comparison, 400 Baht is NZ$16. I sure as heck wasn't going to pay more for a watch in Thailand than I would in New Zealand! Here at the Songkhla market the stall I found had a wide selection for 100 Baht each, all exactly the same ones as I'd seen in Bangkok for several times the price. So now I have a watch again.
I stayed an extra day in Songkhla to write up the zoo review (they take a while to compose), so soon I'll be able to go and see what foods the stalls have tonight. Tomorrow I am going to Malaysia, which should entail a mini-van from Songkhla back to Hat Yai, and then a series of mini-vans or buses or something to Penang via the border towns of Dannok (on the Thai side) and Bukit Kayu Hitam (on the Malaysian side). This will be a new border-point for me, and will make the third one I've used crossing between these two countries.
Have you seen dholes anywhere before or would that be a first?
nope, never seen a wild dhole although I have been in lots of places where dholes occur.
In my last post I mentioned how I skipped Khanom and its pink dolphins due to what was, in effect, a combination of apparent-difficulty and probable-expense. Another place I had on my plan but dropped before leaving Bangkok was Langkawi Island. After crossing the border from Thailand I was going to go straight to Kuala Perlis and get a ferry to Langkawi, and then from there go to Penang. I've always wanted to go to Langkawi - most of the island is still forest and it is reportedly a good site for small-clawed otters which would be a lifer for me. One day I really need to do it at the start of a trip, because by the end of a trip when I try to tag it on I'm already too low on funds to go.
Getting to the island is cheap enough, but there is no budget accommodation on the island and also no public transport. For the otters you could just try wandering about, but a better way is to go on one of the mangrove boat tours which are around 160 Ringgits per person. That's really where most of the expense comes into it. With that and the accommodation and other such things, even a couple of days would set me back a week's budget. I emailed JungleWalla Tours a couple of years ago and they said they see otters on about 50% of their trips, but I think they are most commonly smooth-coated otters. Not that there's anything wrong with smooth-coated otters, it is just that I've seen those before so for my money I'd be wanting to see small-clawed otters. One day I'll get there. It is also one of the easiest places to see colugos apparently, for anyone who wants to see one of those.
So with Langkawi discarded for now, I instead went straight to Penang. A mini-van from Songkhla to Hat Yai for 34 Baht (one hour) and then another mini-van from Hat Yai to the Dannok border for 57 Baht (also one hour) was quick and easy. But on the Malaysian side of the border there is nothing. On the Thai side there's a whole town directly next to the immigration checkpoint, but when you get onto the Malaysian side there are no shops, no ATMs, no buses - just ten kilometres of empty road to the town of Changlun. There's no choice but to pay for a taxi if you are like me and have crossed the border on foot. It wasn't too expensive at 20 Ringgits (there are three Ringgits to one NZ Dollar) but I'd rather there had been a bus!
I got dropped at the Changlun bus station where my intention was to get a bus to Butterworth, from where I could get the ferry across to Penang Island. There was no bus to Butterworth. Or, rather, there was a bus but not until 6.30pm. It was only 11am (I later realised my watch was, of course, still on Thai time which is an hour behind Malaysia, so it was actually noon). I went round each of the ticket stands, but no dice. Was there a bus to Alor Setar, which is half-way and from where there are more regular buses? Not until 2pm, but I'd have to wait and see if there were any free seats. A taxi would cost me 50 Ringgit I was told. I looked around and surprisingly saw another backpacker walking into the bus yard. I asked where he was going. Penang. Did he want to split the taxi fare instead of waiting three hours for the bus? Sure. I didn't really want to pay another taxi fare but I also didn't want to wait three hours for a mini-van which may not even have any seats. And it turned out that Alor Setar is almost 50km from Changlun so it was a pretty good price really.
It was about half an hour to Alor Setar by taxi (an hour by bus apparently), and at the bus station there were buses running every hour to Butterworth. They only cost 11 Baht and take an hour. Then from Butterworth I just popped across the strait on the ferry and spent yet another hour walking round and round the streets of Georgetown trying to find somewhere cheap enough to sleep! There were several hotels named "Budget Hotel" - their rooms were 80 Ringgits. Some had dorms for 30 Ringgits. I wasn't paying 30 Ringgits to sleep in a room with six other people. Eventually I found a place called Eng Loh Hotel which has very basic and run-down rooms for 30 Baht. Good enough for me. It is actually on the same street as the place I stayed last time I was in Penang, the Couzi Couji. In 2014 this was named "Couzi Couji: Party Hostel" - now it is named "Couzi Couji: Boutique Hostel"! Their prices are the same as the "Budget Hotels".
I was hoping to sneak in a quick lifer mammal on my first day in Malaysia. In a trip-report I had read that yellow house bats could be seen emerging from a temple on Jalan Muntri in the evening while it was still light enough to identify them by colour (with binoculars). This street was only about five minutes walk from my hotel, so I went over there before dark. I waited a while and eventually saw a few bats flying around up in the sky. It was light enough to see them, but they were against the sky so even with binoculars they just looked like small dark bats. No way to identify them like that. No bats came out of the temple or the other buildings either, they were just flitting around quite high in the air. I tried again the next evening with the same non-result.
After a day spent visiting the Penang Bird Park - see a sort of review here Penang Bird Park - Penang Bird Park, 29 May 2017 - on the day following I planned on going up to Penang Hill early in the day to look for birds and mammals. Penang Hill is 830 metres high and cooler than the city - the British used it as one of their hill-stations for convalescing. Today it is one of the main tourist attractions. At the top there is a small aviary collection which I thought I'd check out, an Owl Museum, a cafe called the David Brown Restaurant, and ... wait a minute! ... checking ... yes, the David Brown Restaurant. How about that.
So I took bus number 204 from the bus/ferry terminal complex which is maybe five minutes walk from my hotel. All the Rapid Penang buses seem to be two Ringgits for whichever route you take. Or maybe that is just a tourist fare. It is 45 minutes to the bottom of Penang Hill where there is a funicular station - a funicular is a cable-railway up a sloping track. There I discovered that the funicular fare is 30 Ringgits for foreigners (versus 10 for locals). I did not want to pay 30 Ringgits to go to the top of a hill - that's a night's accommodation, or something like five or six meals. But more so, I did not want to pay three times what a local would be paying for the exact same seat. That's outrageous. Being a stubborn sod, I went and got back on the bus.
Instead I went to the Botanical Gardens. To get there I had to go all the way back to town - although I got off at the Komtar Station which is more central - and got the bus number 10. From Komtar to the gardens was close to an hour's trip, so by the time I got to there it was 11am. There were a number of commoner birds around but really it was a bit too hot. I decided to just look for colugos.
First mammal of the day was a troop of crab-eating macaques climbing about on the fernery roof. I took a set of steps leading up into forest and came across a plantain squirrel running through the trees. The trail was nice - I imagine early morning it would be a great place for birds. Unexpectedly, I found a trilobite larva on a rotting log. Trilobite larvae are not, obviously, actual larvae of trilobites, but rather a bizarre kind of beetle which looks sort of like a trilobite.
After two hours of scanning all the trees in the forest I found a colugo. If you don't know what a colugo is, imagine an animal kind of like a flying squirrel except creepy-looking instead of cute, with bulbous unblinking eyes. They are strictly nocturnal so during the day they just cling to tree trunks, their mottled fur blending them in against the lichen-covered bark. I've seen lots of colugos but they are really neat animals and I like to look for them whenever I'm in colugo-country. Because they literally never move during the day they aren't that easy to find, even where they are common. You have to spend a lot of time staring at trees.
There were several reptiles around the place, including a flying dragon, a clouded monitor up a tree in the forest and a water monitor by a stream, and a lot of red-eared terrapins in one of the ponds. On the way out of the gardens I came across a pair of dusky langurs feeding in a low tree on one of the lawns, making the fourth mammal for the day.
Lastly for the Penang part of this thread, I went on a day-trip to Taiping to visit the zoo. I have been to Malaysia many times, but somehow have never made it to the Taiping Zoo. It is the oldest zoo in the country, having being opened in 1961, and yet was supposed to be amongst the best in Malaysia (and Asia) so this trip I made sure I got there.
Taiping is only two hours from Penang but the buses are infrequent. I had checked the day before at the station and found only two companies doing the route. Starmart's bus left at 9am while the earliest Konsortium bus was 10.30am. Both of them actually went to a town called Kumanting, and from there you have to take a local bus the last few kilometres to Taiping itself. I turned up at 8.30am the next morning and bought a ticket for the 9am bus. At 9.15am I checked with the lady at the ticket counter when the bus would be there. "A few minutes" she said. At 9.40am I checked again. "A few minutes" she said. At 9.45am I realised that the conductor for a nearby Konsortium bus was yelling "Kumanting! Kumanting!" to attract any last-minute stragglers. I rushed over, he said he would wait, and I ran back inside to get a ticket for that bus instead. The lady at the Starmart counter refused to give me a refund on the other ticket, despite their bus not having turned up. It was only an 8 Ringgit ticket, but it effectively meant that I'd had to pay twice to get to Taiping.
The review of the Taiping Zoo is here: Taiping Zoo - Taiping Zoo review, 31 May 2017
While I was at the zoo I was in the tourist office there, idling flicking through a kid's conservation booklet made of laminated pages in a ring-binder, and saw a familiar-looking serow photo being used. This one, in fact: maned serow (Capricornis sumatraensis) | ZooChat
But your photo is not from Taiping but rather from Chiang Mai?Why would they use your photo?
because it is of the same species. The photos in the booklet were just gathered from internet sources to illustrate the animals they were talking about. I don't mind them using my photo because it is for a good and non-commercial reason.
They should have given you free entrance for the photo though
well I was only 99% sure it was my photo - I had to check it later on Zoochat to make 100% sure.
I went to Khanom during my last Thailand trip since a friend of mine has a bunch of bungalows right on the beach (which she also rents out, in case you ever end up going there)) where you can see the dolphins (Muay Boran Khanom camp). We did take a boat out one day to look for the dolphins but sadly didn't see any, which according to her was pretty unusual.
It wasn't too hard to get there though since AirAsia has a Fly'n'Ride Service. So I flew into Nakhon Si Thammarat, got picked up at the airport right away (and comparativeley cheap too) and then my friend picked me up from the drop-off point.
The only thing was that the government was putting these giant tubes in the ground to get freshwater to one of the islands out there. Don't know if that has or had any impact on the dolphins or how long it's gonna take to finish...
I have been at Taman Negara for the last week. This is Malaysia's first and most-famous national park (the name itself just means "national park"). I've been here four times now, although on the second visit I got very sick immediately upon arriving and never actually made it into the park. I'll probably be here another few days but today is pouring down so I thought I'd write and post the "getting here" part of the account.
Leaving Penang for Taman Negara I thought I might take the train as for a multi-hour trip trains are more comfortable than buses, and in Asia they are much the same price (or often much cheaper). For this route the bus takes five-plus hours while the train takes four, so it is also faster. I had only thought about this the night before leaving though, so hadn't bought a ticket in advance. The train left at 7.30am but unfortunately it was fully-booked already so I ended up on the bus anyway.
The bus terminated at the TBS station in Kuala Lumpur which was good because I knew there was a city-train straight from there to the Pekililing bus station, from where my next bus would be leaving for the town of Jerantut. I got to Pekililing at 2.20pm - narrowly missing the 2pm bus. The next one wasn't until 4pm. It is three and a half hours to Jerantut, so I had to stay overnight there.
There are a few budget hotels and guesthouses in Jerantut. In the past (in 2006!) I have stayed at the Greenleaf Guesthouse but they were full on this night, so I found a place called the Sri Emas Hotel. Their single fan-rooms were 20 Ringgits, but they also had "hostel" rooms for 15 Ringgits which turned out to only have two beds inside (as opposed to a normal dorm room) and because the hotel was otherwise empty I didn't have to share it.
It is Ramadan at the moment so most people are fasting all day, meaning that it can sometimes be difficult to find somewhere to eat during the day! I went out not-so-early to find some breakfast and to check on the bus times to Kuala Tahan (the village at Taman Negara). It had been too late when I arrived to find out the bus schedule - there was nobody at the bus station to ask - but in the past the buses were spaced through the day so I wasn't worried. I went to the station and there was a bus sitting there. I asked the driver when he was leaving? 8am. It was about to hit 8am right now. When was the next bus? 1pm - and there were no others. Just two buses a day now.
The driver said he would wait for me while I rushed back to the hotel and got my bags. It is an hour and a half to Kuala Tahan and I still hadn't had anything to eat yet. More importantly, I had forgotten to go to an ATM. There are no ATMs in Kuala Tahan and no towns along the way. I had been going to get out some money in Jerantut the night before, but decided I could just as easily do so in the morning after breakfast, but then because I was in such a rush to get back to the hotel and then back to the bus I completely forgot until the journey was well underway.
There wasn't much I could do about it. When we got to Kuala Tahan I deposited my bags at the Liana Hostel which has 15 Ringgit dorm beds, bought some bananas for breakfast, and got back on the bus to Jerantut to get some money. So I made three bus trips today, an hour and a half each, just because I forgot to go to the bank.
When I got back to Kuala Tahan (again) in the afternoon, I walked round all the guesthouses to check prices. Usually when at Taman Negara I alternate between the Liana Hostel and the Tembelling River View Hostel, but the latter got washed away in a flood a couple of years ago. I was pretty sure Liana was still the cheapest, and so it proved to be. There was one other place with 15 Ringgit dorms, but otherwise they were 25 or 30 for a dorm bed, and single rooms were mostly 60 to 90 Ringgits.
I'm not going to the Kumbang Hide this time (that's where you can see tapirs) because the boat trip up there is 130 Ringgits and even if I manage to share a boat I don't want to spend more money than is necessary. So I'm restricting myself to walking. My costs will just be the accommodation, and food and water. I did do one Night Safari though, which is 40 Ringgits.
Yesterday I saw my 700th bird for this trip, which was an olive-backed woodpecker Dinopium rafflesii. It was also a lifer, which is doubly-good, and my 42nd wild woodpecker species.
TAMAN NEGARA continued
I had a bit of a break from writing this - I left Taman Negara a week ago and hadn't written any of the entry while there - so this might not be the best reading. The longer one leaves writing about a place the harder it is to complete.
As always I was staying in the little village of Kuala Tahan on the opposite side of the river from the national park. There is accommodation on the park side as well, in the Mutiara resort, but that is - how shall we say? - kind of expensive. The dorms alone are 80 Ringgits a night. For comparison the Liana Hostel where I was staying was 15 Ringgits a night. The benefit of staying in the resort is that one can be in the park at any hour whereas otherwise you are relying on the boat service, but really this isn't even an issue. The boats start at 7am, which is more or less when it gets light, and finish at 10pm. There is a small problem in that the earliest of the floating restaurants along the river doesn't open until 8.30am, but I got around that by just buying potato bread from one of the mini-marts each afternoon for my breakfast the next day. It is too hot in the afternoon to bother looking for wildlife, so I'd come back across the river for lunch, and then return around 4 or 5pm.
It was fairly busy for the first few days because I'd arrived on a Friday. Weekends are busier than week-days due to the park's proximity to Kuala Lumpur. For two nights later in the week I actually had the dorm room to myself, although after that I had to share with some Brazilian girls. It's a hard life I lead.
On one of the afternoons I was at the river to get a boat across. There was a long-boat of new tourists arriving so the crossing-the-river boat had to wait until that had moved away. A French girl got off the long-boat, came straight over to me, and asked "Are you from New Zealand?" "Er, yes." "Are you the guy who's been travelling all over Asia for a year?" "Yes... I guess that's me." "Can I come out in the forest with you today, or tomorrow morning?" It seems my level of wandering-naturalist fame has reached France. Finally!
The last time I was at Taman Negara was in 2011, and there have been some changes. Previously there was a short boardwalk by the resort and most tourists didn't stray far from here. Now the boardwalk has been extended almost all the way to the Canopy Walk, including the whole of the Swamp Loop (now called the Forest Loop - or maybe it was always called the Forest Loop and only birders called it the Swamp Loop to deter non-birders from entering). In the other direction the whole River Trail and most of the Jenet Muda Trail are boardwalked. At first I thought this might be good for creeping and sneaking, but in actuality the boardwalk is so creaky that you can't sneak up on anything. I felt like Charles Darwin trying to spot a great argus on the Beagle, but never being able to get close because the boards of the ship's deck were creaking so badly in the swell. The boardwalk isn't even maintained - there were parts where a falling branch would have destroyed a section and it would be just sitting there smashed, and clearly having been so for months or years.
As always, finding any animals was jolly hard work. Taman Negara is one of the most difficult forests I've been in. The trees are so huge that most of the birds you see are a hundred feet too high to be able to see properly, and because the local Orang Asli are still permitted to hunt there all the larger mammals are pretty shy, except in the immediate vicinity of the resort. It did seem more difficult than usual though, and perhaps the boardwalk is to blame. There were a lot more people on what used to be pretty quiet trails and most people visiting national parks are not exactly stealthy. I met a local birder from Kuala Lumpur who has been coming to the park for twenty years and he said it is getting harder every year to find the birds. Still, it is the sort of place where every day you see a few more identifiable birds and the longer you stay the more you see.
Because of the "getting to the park" events (in the preceding post) it was afternoon before I crossed the river for the first time. I didn't see much at all - plantain and grey-bellied squirrels and crab-eating macaques were the only mammals - but the birds included several new "year birds" (and "trip birds", but not "life birds") such as short-toed coucal, grey-cheeked bulbul, and chestnut-winged and white-breasted babblers.
I was hoping the boardwalk would make spotlighting easy, but my attempts came to nought. The sun goes down about 7.30pm but it doesn't get properly dark until 8pm, and then you only have two hours before the last boat (although you could arrange a later time for a higher price). I was on the boardwalk leading to the Canopy Walk - this is one of the places I used to spotlight when it was just a dirt trail. Now it was the haunt of the Night Walks. After the fourteenth group passed me in forty minutes I just gave up and went back across the river. I got the impression the boardwalk had been built just for the purposes of doing Night Walks for the resort guests. The groups are so noisy and there is so much light that they aren't going to be seeing anything except insects and spiders. I think to see any mammals along that route you'd have to be there well after midnight.
The following nights didn't go any better, although I discovered that the Night Walks only use that one trail - they don't go on the Swamp Loop or the River Trail. I didn't see anything on any of the nights, although I did hear a few owls.
On one night I did a Night Safari. This was a bit more depressing than expected. The Night Safari is a jeep-drive through an oil palm plantation not far from Kuala Tahan. These plantations are rubbish for wildlife in general because they are monocultures, but leopard cats and owls like them because they are full of rats, and civets can live in them by eating the palm fruit. Pretty much any Night Safari you would have gone on would have resulted in leopard cat sightings. Now the plantation has been cleared of all the old palms and re-planted with baby palms. Previously it was like driving through a forest, even though I knew it wasn't, but now you can see the extent of the plantation - hill after hill of nothing. It's huge. You can see the headlights and torches from the other vehicles on neighbouring hills. Giant Panda described them as looking like moon rovers. To me it was like being in the abyss, with the lights coming from deepsea submersibles. Kind of eerie.
There were no leopard cats or, indeed, any other mammals. Two painted bronzebacks were seen ("brown-backed tree snakes" according to the spotter), tangled amongst ground-hugging vines because there were no trees left, and one brown wood owl. I was a bit confused over the owl. I knew it was a brown wood owl and not a spotted wood owl - just the week before I had been photographing the two species literally side-by-side at the Penang Bird Park - but when I checked the field guide it said that the brown wood owl is only in broadleaf forest and the spotted wood owl is the one found in plantations and degraded habitats. This was definitely not broadleaf forest - there was no longer a tree of any kind for probably several kilometres. However, looking online, I found photos on Oriental Bird Images of brown wood owls taken in this very plantation. I'm not sure how long they will last there now though. It will be at least two years before the plantation is a "forest" again. I did, in fact, wonder why the Night Safari doesn't move to a different plantation but I think there aren't any others near enough so they are stuck with the barren hills.
Where the River Trail boardwalk diverts off to the Jenet Muda boardwalk, there is a mud trail continuing on to the Tabing Hide. I did this trail just once. I had leech socks on so no bites, but when I got back to the resort and emptied my boots there were at least fifty leeches in each one. Just balled masses of them, trying desperately to get through the socks into my tasty tasty flesh.
What was more interesting on this trail were trilobite larvae. I had seen one at the Penang Botanical Gardens the other week, and here I found four at once, on one log. I've never seen more than one at a time before so I don't know what attraction this log held for them. Perhaps it was their mating season.
There was nothing seen from the hide except a slender squirrel, but on the way back I spotted a cream-coloured giant squirrel in the canopy. This species is common in Borneo where it comes in all sorts of colours (hence I tend to prefer the name variable giant squirrel) but on the mainland it just comes in solid cream or red and is seemingly not as common as the black giant squirrel.
Another non-boardwalked trail I did was the one to the Blau and Yong Hides, over a side-river from the resort. Strangely there were no more than a few leeches here, although the mosquitoes were certainly swarming. The trail clearly isn't used much any more, being pretty overgrown in parts and littered with fallen trees around which detours must be made. This was a lot more work than just walking along a boardwalk and by the time I got to the Blau Hide I was one hundred percent drenched in sweat. There was literally not a dry inch of clothing on me. And I did not see a single vertebrate along the way!
The Blau Hide had a notice on the door, "closed until further notice". I went in anyway and it was a real mess. It looked like it had been abandoned for at least a couple of years. There were ferns starting to grow on the floor where light came in from one of the windows, and the benches were beginning to rot. But in the trees outside I saw an olive-backed woodpecker, not only a lifer, but also the 700th bird of the trip and my 42nd woodpecker. There were slender and plantain squirrels too, and just up the trail was a Prevost's squirrel. I've seen this last species on Sumatra and Borneo but for some reason, despite them supposedly being common, never on the mainland. The ones I've seen most of are the pluto subspecies of Sabah which are pitch-black with a red belly. The mainland subspecies is much more brightly-coloured - you'd need to Google a photo to see what I mean. Unfortunately the one I saw was too high up to photograph.
Along the trail to the Blau Hide there had been disconcerting amounts of large animal droppings, as in the sort of droppings an elephant might deposit. They weren't fresh so I wasn't too worried about encountering one, but I was still wary. I tried to wave it aside by pretending they were from gaur or banteng and not an elephant. I figured the Yong Hide would be in as bad a state as the Blau Hide, but wanted to go see anyway. A few hundred metres up the trail from Blau, though, I heard an elephant rumbling followed by breaking branches. The rumbling that elephants make is quite distinctive. Maybe there is some other animal in the forest that makes elephant-rumbling noises, but I wasn't going to go find out. I turned around and went back the way I'd come. You really don't want to meet a wild elephant on a forest trail. On the way back I spotted a three-striped ground squirrel, which was a good return I guess.
Most of my days at Taman Negara I spent on the boardwalks. I would usually sneak slowly around the Swamp Loop and then go sit in the Tahan Hide for a bit, or I would use the River Trail. I found an Amorphophallus right beside the River Trail boardwalk, although sadly someone had broken its leaf down. Amorphophallus is also known as the titan lily for its gigantic flower spathe. It grows just a single multi-branched leaf which looks like a small tree. I propped the leaf back upright, hoping it might recover, but I think it had been killed. Nearby were some hollow logs in which horseshoe bats were roosting. I was going to try and get some photos to ID them later, but accidentally spooked them before I could. So I just left them alone from then on.
Mammal-wise, on the Swamp Loop I saw a lone white-thighed langur and on the Jenet Muda Trail a large troop of dusky langurs. White-handed gibbons were heard every morning, and I missed seeing them on the Swamp Loop one afternoon by less than an hour (another guy had got some video of them before I came along). There were lots of squirrels about, but no black-banded squirrels were seen. Nor any shrew-faced ground squirrels which I was particularly looking out for - these look just like common tree-shrews (of which I saw a few) and the only place I've seen them before is at Taman Negara. None on this visit though. Lesser mouse deer were seen most days, with probably four or five different individuals between the two boardwalked areas. Some muntjacs were seen from the Tahan Hide, and wild pigs were common around the general area.
As mentioned, finding birds at Taman Negara is a trial. There are some great species here. Crested fireback pheasants were seen most days. On my first visit to the park I found crested wood partridges easily on the Swamp Loop but never since. I'm not sure if they are still found in this area or not. One pheasant I had not managed to see previously, or at least not well enough to "count", was the Malayan peacock-pheasant. On one of my other visits a peacock-pheasant had walked across a trail I was on, but when I put up my binoculars the lenses steamed up and I couldn't see a thing. This is a big problem at this park because it is so hot and humid here, and it is frustrating indeed when it happens if the bird you want to see is a "new" one. Anyway, that pheasant had disappeared before I could see it properly. This visit, as I was walking around the Swamp Loop, I came across Ti (the Kuala Lumpur birder I mentioned earlier) who had seen a peacock-pheasant walk across the boardwalk a few minutes before. I moved as quickly and quietly as I could in the direction it had gone, and amazingly I actually saw it. I couldn't photograph it through the undergrowth, let alone the low light levels, but I got to see it fantastically well. That made the third peacock-pheasant I had seen on this trip (the others being grey peacock-pheasant at Kaeng Krachan in Thailand, and Germain's peacock-pheasant at Cat Tien in Vietnam), so from zero species to three and I saw all of them well. On a later day I came across the same peacock-pheasant and then just ahead a male crested fireback stepped up onto the boardwalk. I could literally look from one to the other from where I was standing. It can't be often that a birder can see two different species of rainforest pheasants at the same time!
I couldn't find any pittas while at the park, but that's normal for me. In fact on this whole trip the only pitta I've seen is Indian pitta in Sri Lanka and India. On the River Trail where there's access down to the bank at a swimming spot, a blue-banded kingfisher came flying in and landed on a nearby branch, one of six lifers seen over the ten days I was at the park. The best lifer for me was while I was trying to find what was up in a fruiting fig tree. There was a lot of debris falling through the lower trees but I could not see anything. I figured it had to be primates or hornbills, because it seemed likely to be something large. Whatever it was I never saw it in the tree (although I saw a Malayan black hornbill nearby later, so it was probably those). While craning my neck I spotted something small and green with a bright red beak in the crook of a branch. It was a male blue-rumped parrot. These are common enough but I haven't ever managed to see them in the wild, apart for possible fly-bys. They are really unobtrusive when perched, just sitting silently or clambering slowly about like lorises. Neat little birds.
DavidBrown Shoe Fauna Alert
Number .... two? I haven't kept track. I think it's only two. The tropics really are disappointingly uneventful for lethal invertebrates climbing into ones' shoes.
1) Leeches! Lots and lots of leeches. Although technically "shoe fauna" are only the species found in your footwear in the morning, not the ones which get in while you're out walking.
2) An earwig! A teeny tiny earwig came out of one of my boots when I shook them out one morning. Awww! I think I'll call him Lewis.
Separate names with a comma.