Bukit Fraser, or Fraser’s Hill, is one of the prime birdwatching destinations in South-east Asia : It’s only 2 hours away from Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, has plenty of nice accommodations, offers relaxed road side birding, and, most importantly, has lots of birds, as almost 300 species have been recorded on and around the hill.
I spent four days there just before Christmas, a slightly unusual period of the year to visit the place as it’s in the midst of the rainy season. It turned out to be mostly Ok, with some scattered showers but not the sort of uninterrupted 24 or 48 hours downpour that one could expect. The major impediment with the weather was the mist that shrouded the top of the hill in early mornings and sometimes well into the day, leading me to bird the lower parts around the Gap more than i had planned to. On the other hand, the whole place was very quiet on weekdays and not-so-crazy on weekends, and with the humidity and clouds the temperature remained comfortable even at noon, and birds were active pretty much throughout the day.
The logistics for this trip were extremely simple : i hired a car at KL airport (www.simedarbycarrental.com, i ticked the GPS option to help navigating the maze of highways around KL) and booked a room at the Shahzan Inn (decent, 45 USD/night. if you come on a week day, you can certainly turn up without booking and try bargaining). I do recommend that you bring along a copy of Morten Strange’s “Birds of Fraser’s Hill”, and if you don’t you can buy it in town in several shops and hotels. It’s a bit outdated (2004) but remains very helpful to navigate the place and find the birds. The main difference in terms of navigation is the fact that the “new” gap road has been re-opened (it was closed for a long period due to a huge landslide) and circulation is now one-way only on both Gap roads : up on the “old” Gap Road and down on the “new”.
There are numerous options for birding on Fraser’s Hill along the (generally) quiet roads or following the trails at the top of the hill. At the hill station itself and in the gardens surrounding hotels and villas, several species are particularly abundant and tame : Long-tailed Sibia, Silver-eared Mesia, Chestnut-capped (spectacled) Laughingthrush, Streaked Spiderhunter or Black-throated Sunbird to name the most conspicuous. Along forest roads, mixed bird flocks are often met, and their main constituents are : Mountain Fulvetta, Golden Babbler, Grey-throated Babbler (lower), Blue-winged Minla (higher), Bronzed, Lesser (higher) and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, Scarlet and Grey-chinned Minivets, White-throated Fantail, Chestnut-crowned Warbler.
Looking more in details at what i found in the various roads and trails :
– The Telekom loop, usually a birder’s favorite, was slightly disappointing mostly due to the persistent mist at the top of the hill (at 1250m, the loop is one of the highest places in FH). Notable birds were Fire-tufted Barbet, Green Magpie, Malaysian Cuckooshrike, Streaked Wren-babbler, Slaty-backed Forktail, Lesser Shortwing, Blue Nuthatch,
– The Waterfall road turned out to be my favorite place at the Hill, as the lower elevation (the road goes down from 1200m to 900m at the waterfall in a 4km stretch) meant less mist, and a landslide had taken away a big chunk of the road near the top together with most of the traffic, making this usually fairly busy road a pleasure to bird. The most interesting portion was the lower 2km, where the road goes through a disturbed forest but with road sides relatively intact compared to the old and especially the new gap roads, where large clearance have been made to avoid, well, landslides. I found bird flocks were more abundant there than anywhere else, with a nice list of species including : Great Hornbill, Hodgson’s Hawk-cuckoo, Checker-throated Woodpecker, Speckled Piculet, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Red-headed Trogon, Green Magpie, Sultan Tit, Streaked and Pigmy Wren-babbler, Buff-breasted Babbler, Black Laughingthrush, White-bellied Yuhina, Siberian Thrush, White-tailed Robin, Slaty-backed Forktail (at the waterfall), Mugimaki and Ferrugineous Flycatchers, Blue Nuthatch.
– At the hill, i also tried the Bishop and the High Pine trails. I was not lucky with the former, getting mist or rain on both my attempts, and the latter was fairly quiet, only notable being a pair of Black Eagles through the canopy. Ah, and also a small group of Siamangs.
– With misty conditions at the top, i spent significant time at the lower sections of the Gap roads, the Old gap road being the best. Notables at the New Gap road were : Wreathed Hornbill, Blyth’s Hawk-eagle, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Red-headed Trogon, Hill Blue and Rufous-browed Flycatchers, Slaty-backed Forktail. At the Old Gap Road : Wreathed Hornbill, Black-thighed Falconet, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Dusky and Banded Broadbills, Black-bellied Malkoha, Tiger Shrike, Sultan Tit, Streaked Wren-babbler, White-browed Shrike-babbler, Orange-headed Thrush. I also birded a little bit along the main road toward Raub, getting a few more lowland species : Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Striped Tit-babbler.
However, i dipped on the “monsters” of Fraser Hill : Rusty-naped Pitta was never heard and stayed elusive, just as the endemic Malayan Peacock-pheasant and Hill Partridge, or the Marbled Wren-babbler. I had very brief views at dawn on the Old Gap Road at a bird that most likely was Malayan Whistling-thrush (the third and last Peninsular Malaysia endemic found at Fraser Hill), but i would not count it. Unfortunately for this bird, the place that used to be a reliable stakeout at the top of the Old Gap Road is not working anymore. Main gaps in my list also included Long-tailed and Silver-breasted Broadbills (both heard only) and Orange-breasted Trogon. Night birding was disappointing too, only hearing calls of Collared Owlet and Brown Wood Owl without views.
It was nevertheless a nice and easy trip, producing just short of 100 species, and a nice complement to my previous Malaysian experience in Taman Negara, as the elevation in Fraser Hill yields a very different bird list.