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Natural History



Birding the Northern Forest

Ulu Muda Forest Reserve, Kedah

By Glenda Noramly

Reproduced from "Suara Enggang", a bi-monthly bulletin of the Malaysian Nature Society

Muda river, KedahThe double note booming of the Green-winged Pigeon - a.k.a the Emerald Dove - is common around the forests near Tasik Muda. But don't jump to the conclusion that you are hearing the actual bird…it may be bird trapper using an ingenious arrangement of bamboo pipe and plastic tubing that, with a little practice, can produce a sound that is identical to the call of the species. Fooled birds approach a pet decoy bird and end up in the cooking pot… All strictly illegal, of course, but the villagers of this area have been eating the pigeons for generations with no apparent decrease in the population. As long as it continues only as a local practice by a handful of villagers for local consumption, there is probably no harm done.

It did however, provide Lim Kim Chye, Reza Azmi and myself with a moral dilemma: should we report the men who proudly showed us their skills and gave us two of the beautifully handcrafted pipes, or should we just ignore the transgression - doubly difficult for me as I am always saying that hunting is becoming a major regional problem and "We should do something about this!"

Moral problems aside, we had a great time birding this area. We first stayed near Kampung Gubir in Kedah and puttered around Tasik Muda and Tasik Pedu by open boat (courtesy of World Wide Fund for Nature, Malaysia {WWFM} for whom we were doing a report and survey) and walked the trails and roads of the area.

Fisherman, Muda dam, KedahThe road that leads into Tasik Pedu is great for forest edge birding and produced such gems as the Red-crowned Barbet. The lake itself had out-of season Ospreys, Lesser Fish Eagles, and opportunities to explore the coastlines after Large Wren Babblers and the Hooded Pitta - all against a backdrop of forest-clad hills skirting the redstone ridges that mark the boundary to Thailand. There were several trails through forest beautiful enough to take your breath away, among trees that seem to have stood for eternity in regal grandeur…and where there is the chance to stand and stare at a calling Rufous Kingfisher--or chase that elusive Large Wren-babbler again. (Is there any other bird as aggravatingly loud and enticing, that walks so close, yet stays so magically hidden?). The chorus of White-rumped Shama song was background music to every daylight hour.

At night we went owling with what could have been called a distinct lack of success, except that we saw an obliging Cologo and kept spotlighting civet cats of various varieties (which led to endless arguments about just what we had seen…Kim Chye and I are birders, not mammal experts, after all). Was that really a Ferret-Badger, unrecorded from the Peninsular Malaysia before? It certainly seemed more badger than civet to me.

All in all, a working trip that was more fun than work because the terrain was so spectacular and the birding was so good. Recommended birding territory for anyone, and WWFM is to be commended for working towards its conservation.


A double room at the Muda Lake Resort, run by MADA (Muda Agricultural Development Authority) costs just $ RM 60.00 with air-con but no hot water in the attached bathroom. There is the Lake Pedu Mutiara (golf) Resort (stunning place, but in danger of disappearing into the lake as dam levels rise) and Desa Pedu Resort at the up-market end, or cheaper accommodation (including dormitories) at other nearby resorts at Pedu. Look up the WILDBORNEO.net Travel Directory for more information.

Details of the May 2001 trip

132 species of birds were found in the area during the course of this 5 day survey. Five new species were added to the list for Kedah State. One globally threatened species (Straw-headed Bulbul) was found, the number of hornbill species (7) seen indicates that it is an important area for this family of birds, and there was evidence that the Hooded Pitta may still be resident in Kedah - at least three were heard calling, at two different locations, and this, remember, was mid-May when migratory birds should have been long gone (the extreme date known for migratory Hooded Pittas is May 5th). The calls on the 18th and 19th May are then the first recent evidence to suggest the species is still breeding in the state. (The resident sub-species is assumed to be Pitta sordida muelleri and observers of resident birds are asked to note the colour of the crown: brown for P.s.cucullata and black for P.s.muelleri.). Nine flat lowland forest specialist species were found during the course of this survey:

  • BLUE-RUMPED PARROT Psittinus cyanurus
  • BLACK HORNBILL Anthracoceros malayanus
  • ORIENTAL PIED HORNBILL Anthracoceros albirostris
  • RED-CROWNED BARBET Megalaima rafflesi
  • GREAT SLATY WOODPECKER Mulleripicus pulvrulentus
  • HOODED PITTA Pitta sordida
  • BAR-BELLIED CUCKOO-SHRIKE Coracina striata
  • FERRUGINOUS BABBLER Trichostoma bicolor
  • HILL MYNA Gracula religiosa
  • (Note: also Masked Finfoot from previous surveys)

The author would like to thank WWFM for the opportunity to visit the area, particularly Reza Azmi for organising the ground logistics and for being great company, and Hymeir Kamarudin.

  • Jeyarajasingam, A., and A.Pearson, (1999). A Field Guide to the Birds of West Malaysian and Singapore, OUP, N.Y.
  • Jeyarajasingam, A., and M. Strange, (1993) Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysian and Singapore. Suntree, Sing.
  • Medway, Lord, and D.R.Wells, (1976) The Birds of the Malay Peninsular, Vol V. Witherby/Penerbit University Malaya.
  • Wells, D.R., (1999). The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular, Volume One, Non-Passerines. Academic Press, Lond.
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Photos (from top): Muda river and fisherman on Muda lake, Kedah - © WILDBORNEO.net


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