Malaysia and Vietnam Trip 2017: Fraser Hill – Bishop’s Trail

8 years ago, Jens came alone to Malaysia with high expectation to sweep out the entire endemic bird species under his belt. Well, every birder know that this was an impossible mission. There would always one or two species that slipped out of your list, no matter how hard you tried to find it. Most of the time it would be one of the rarest bird in that area, one that no bird guide will ever dare to put it under “guaranteed” list. However in some cases, it could be one common species that almost every birder has seen in that area, but strangely you can’t find it for the whole trip. Jens has the second case, and his “boogey bird” is the Black Laughingthrush.

Jens told me that he was staying in Fraser Hill for a week, trying to find as much bird as possible. He did a good job though, even finding the Mountain Peacock Pheasant–a very rare bird that is deemed impossible to see in this area! However he failed to see Black Laughingthrush, which is not so common but still easy to see, based on some bird trip report that I’ve read. So when he came to Fraser Hill again, he put this bird as the main target for the trip.

The day before, we consulted mr Durai about where to find Black Laughingthrush in this area. He mentioned some places, but noted that the most probable spot to find it would be around The Lodge, close to the nothern end of Bishop Trail/beginning of Maxwell trail. He told us to download some recording of Black Laughing thrush to call them out, as well as some rarer bird like Rusty-naped Pitta and many more.

So that day, we started early just after breakfast. The mist was much thicker than yesterday, and there were no bird on the feeder. We walked around the main road toward Bishop Trail and found nothing.. exceptionally nothing, apart from our little friend Streaked Spiderhunter. At the lower entry of Bishop Trail, I saw a glimpse of a something green flying past the gate–Common Green Magpie! I called Jens who walked a few meters ahead whilst trying to get closer to take some pictures. The lighting was very bad at the time, but fortunately the bird was very tame as it stayed long enough for me to get some decent pictures.

Common Green Magpie
Common Green Magpie

This initial sign of good luck didn’t stay long, however. Suddenly, the sour and spicy Tom Yum soup from last night started to kick in. I had a very strange addiction towards spicy things, but my stomach is not strong enough for my appetite! As we entered the asphalt road towards The Lodge, my stomachache was so bad that I told Jens to go ahead. I went to the bushes to…do my thing, and there I spotted some flowerpeckers and babblers that I couldn’t identify.

As I caught up with Jens and swallowed two diarrhea pills, he pointed to a flock that he just found. He told me that among the usual bird from yesterday, he found two Lesser Yellownape that nowhere to be seen again. I was nervous that I would missed that bird, but they somehow we managed to get back to the flock and it gave me a decent view of that woodpecker. We also found a fruiting tree that was full of barbets and bulbuls, but strangely no pigeon or something else.

Black-browed Barbet

After waiting for such a long time at The Lodge and found no Black Laughingthrush, we decided to hit the dirt trail and hoping for a better luck. We went to Maxwell’s Trail first, but the trail condition was so bad with some fallen trees that blocked the way. We went to the other direction instead (Bishop Trail), and that was the time when we heard a distant Great Hornbill calling.

The trail condition was slightly better than Maxwell, but it was full of mud from last night rain. We saw some sign of Wild Boar on the dirt, probably the one who messed up the mud on the trail. The vegetation was very good, a perfect habitat for mountain bird, but there were no birds to be seen until very rear end of the trail, on a wooden platform overlooking the forest below. There, suddenly we saw two funny Siberian Thrush, followed by a spectacular flock containing Long-tailed Broadbill, Crow-billed Drongo, and many more. We also saw a funny behavior of Golden Babbler pair collecting nest material somewhere around the bushes.

Crow-billed Drongo
Ashy Bulbul

Just a few meters from that hut, I saw a distant red flash flying on the lower bushes. It was a trogon, and I tried very hard to describe its location to Jens (it was so full of twigs, and I was too tired to speak proper english). Initially we thought that it was just another male Red-headed Trogon, but then we didn’t see the diagnostic white band around the neck. We figured out that it was Diard’s Trogon, another main target of Jens! We were surprised to see this trogon high up on Fraser’s Hill, as the book say it is mainly a lowland species.

We went back to the asphalt road and straight to the hotel. When taking a lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, we stumbled upon another birder from Sri Lanka (somehow I forget his name). We took our lunch together, sharing some bird information whilst watching the sibias on the bird feeder. He said that he came to the famous Hemmant Trail this morning, the one with the yellow “do not enter” band that we saw before. Turned out there was a huge log blocking the trail, so it was completely inaccessible after a couple hundred meters. Jens decided to stay away from that trail, despite it had the biggest chance to see the Rusty-naped Pitta.

Long-tailed Sibia
Fire-tufted Barbet

At the afternoon we decided to try the Mager Trail again. Unlike the other day, there were no bird flock on that road at all. We completely missed everything, apart from the constantly narcistic Mugimaki Flycatcher on the lower branches. We managed to see a new bird though–a distant Large Hawk Cuckoo that took a whole debating evening to identify!

The rain comes that night and there were no nightjar nor owl to be heard. We decided to call it a day and having a very nice dinner, without Tom Yum for sure! At the end we didn’t see any Black Laughingthrush at all, but Jens didn’t loose his hope. We decided to go to the same trail tomorrow and a hoping for better luck.


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