An extraordinary birdwatching experience

Birds of Belum Temenggor

The area of Belum Temenggor has been recognized by Birdlife International as an “Important Bird Area” (IBA: MY07 – Belum-Temengor). Although the rainforest complex is split by a road and traditionally the North and South regions have been called, respectively, Belum and Temenggor, in reality it is one single ecosystem, with both areas having similar habitats and bird populations.

Some 316 known bird species, many of which are restricted to the Sundaic lowland and montane forests, have so far been recorded in Belum Temenggor rainforest. These include eight species listed as “vulnerable”: the Mountain Peacock Pheasant (Polyplectron inopinatum), the Wallace’s Hawk Eagle (Spizaetus nanus), the Masked Finfoot (Heliopais personata), the Large Green Pigeon (Treron capellei), the Short-toed Coucal (Centropus rectunguis), the Bluebanded Kingfisher (Alcedo euryzona), the Plain-pouched Hornbill (Aceros subruficollis) and the Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus). In addition, some 56 other species are considered “Near threatened”. The area is of outstanding importance for threatened Sundaic forest birds, and this high avifaunal diversity, coupled with the large number threatened species.

Oriental Pied Hornbill
Oriental Pied Hornbill

Hornbills Shangri-La

The importance of Belum Temenggor, however, lies in the fact that its forests are home to large numbers of hornbills. It’s the only site on Earth where all of the ten known species of Malaysian hornbills can be found: Plain-pouched HornbillWhite-crowned HornbillBushy-crested HornbillWrinkled HornbillWreathed HornbillBlack HornbillOriental Pied Hornbill, Rhinoceros Hornbill,  Great Hornbill and Helmeted Hornbill.

Other Bird Species

Dead trees can host specimens of Blyth’s Hawk Eagle (Spizaetus alboniger) or the smaller Black-thighed Falconet (Microhierax fringillarius). Other relatively common sightings in Belum Temenggor include the Blue-rumped Parrot (Psittinus cyanurus) and the Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot (Loriculus galgulus). Fruiting trees attract – besides hornbills – other frugivores such as green pigeons, barbets, leafbirds and bulbuls. Five species of barbet have been recorded including the Red-crowned Barbet (Megalaima rafflesii) and the Redthroated Barbet (M. mystacophanos).

Bulbuls are well represented, with 20 of the 26 Malaysian species occurring. The rare Straw-headed Bulbul can sometimes be heard vocalizing its rich, bubbly calls from the lakeside forest edge. The Sunda region is well known for babblers and Belum Temenggor rainforest is no exception, with at least 30 species present. Among those, the most likely to encounter are Chestnut-winged (Stachyris erythroptera), Chestnut-rumped (S. maculata), Fluffybacked Tit (Macronous ptilosus), Sootycapped (Malacopteron affine), Short-tailed (Malacocincla malaccensis) and Brown Fulvetta (Alcippe brunneicauda) babblers. Other closed-forest species that are easily seen include the Black-and-Yellow Broadbill (Eurylaimus ochromalus), the Green Broadbill (Calyptomena viridis) and the Dark-throated Oriole (Oriolus xanthonotus).

Temenggor Lake has few waterbirds, with only the usual egrets and herons being seen occasionally. However, its fish population are food to several piscivores. The Lesser Fish Eagle (Ichthyophaga humilis) is widespread and in the rain season is joined by ospreys (Pandion haliaetus). While several species of kingfisher can be spotted all the year long: such as the Blue-eared Kingfisher and sometimes the Blue-banded Kingfisher.

Sea white belly eagle
Sea white belly eagle

Birdwatching activities

Birdwatching within the State Park are usually carried on small river boats. From the lake and its stream visitors can get excellent sightings and views of hornbills on their daily migrations to fruiting trees scattered throughout the forests. The same boat cruising are productive for sighting larger species, kingfishers and edge foragers.

Trails can be found throughout various places surrounding the lake giving access into the rainforest ecosystem. From here, visitors can expect to see endemic species as Trogons, Peacock-pheasants, Paradise-flycatchers and many others. Camping in the rainforest would allow time and chances to observe smaller babblers, bulbuls, flycatchers, nectar feeders and leaf gleaners.

Check for bird-watching activities listed in Belum and Temenggor. For those who do not have the time or budget to bird in the Royal Belum State Park, it is possible to enjoy birding in the Temengor area. In either case, visitors will be in company of nature guides that will help to gather in best spots for photography and observation. It is recommended to bring along binoculars or other optics, photographic lenses of 300mm and above; it’s always useful to have some guidebook at hand to recognize the species.

The best time to Visit Belum Temenggor for watching mass flights of hornbills and other species is from July to October, when the birds congregate and move south into Temenggor. During these months, flocks fly out at dawn heading North to feed and return South in the evening to as yet undiscovered roost sites, deep in the Temenggor part of the rain forest.

Bird ethics and bird-watching rules

Visitors of Belum Temenggor must adhere and follow these good practices and guidelines while looking for and observing bird species in the protected area:

  • Do not overplay recordings of bird sounds or try to avoid playback altogether (constant playback is counterproductive anyway).
  • Leave nests untouched. Do not break or move branches or leaves for a better view, rather move yourself away from them.
  • Do not gather people around nests, distance yourself from the nests.
  • Do not point laser lights at birds (or any other type of light).
  • Minimize or avoid altogether the use of flash strobes in bird photography.
  • Do not point torch light into the eyes of night birds, or overuse artificial light.
  • Do not chase or go after ground birds for a better view. You could impact their foraging.
  • If you see visitors interfering with the wildlife or plants, inform the park authorities or the police.
  • Report any ringed/banded birds to Malaysian Nature Society.