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Langkawi - an island of birds and flying beasts


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Ever since I read of @Whyone?'s trip to Langkawi to see the colugo, I knew I had to get to the Malaysian island as well. Langkawi lies northern west of Malaysia and still has lovely spots that are under the radar. the lifestyle is a throwback to those days when kampongs (Malay for villages) make for lovely and warm relationships among residents. 





OH and I was last there some 20 years ago, and that was mainly to rest and relax. We didn’t know what secrets the island harboured then, and in those days, with no demand for nature tours, the infrastructure and availability of services would have been non-existent.


Some 20 years forward, a whole eco-tourism industry has flourished, alongside some controversial practices as well. Birding tours are easily available, mangrove boat trips are provided, boating trips to see raptors at seas are popular although many of the tour operators throw food into the sea to get the eagles flying in. The latter discouraged us to take the sea raptor tour, and given the short holiday (four days) we were on, instead we picked an afternoon birding combined with a night safari and a morning birding tour with Wendy Chin (instagram is langkawi.natureguide/ website is wendynatureguide.com). OH was researching for birding guides, and because she was a one-person operator (which we assumed would make things more convenient, and it was), we decided to go with her. It was a good choice, she is very enthusiastic, very conscientious, hardworking with the right ethos and right ethics (no feeding of animals). She had won the 2016/2017 Malaysian Tourism award for best nature guide.


The top reason for going to Langkawi was to see the colugo (for me) and for that we had to stay in the Andaman resort where the colugo in the wild is a guaranteed sighting. @Whyone? gave valuable advice on where it was, but almost all the hotel staff knew where its favourite roosting spot was – in the south wing, on a tree just next to the corridor leading to the deluxe forest rooms. A family is always there.


The Andaman is located right in the forest, fronting the Andaman Sea. It was affected by the devastating tsunami  of 2004 and a warning in the room to seek higher grounds in case of a tsunami is a reminder of the tragedies in that year. But the views of the turquoise sea from our room were simply stunning. I had forgotten how much I love seaviews. 




Edited by Kitsafari
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We flew direct from Singapore to Langkawi via Jetstar (short journey of slightly over an hour). It was a 40-minute drive to Andaman which is right in the middle of a nature reserve. It wasn’t the most convenient if you want to bird outside of the reserve as it took time to get out of the nature reserve, but being in the forest, we got to see a lot of wildlife. We were upgraded to a seaview room (i think it was because of OH's birthday) which were in the northern wing, which turned out alright since the colugos could be seen in the common corridor and not from the rooms, as I had initially thought.

Morning and evening guided tours are held every day. We did the evening tour on the day of arrival, and we saw dusky leaf monkeys, which hang around the resort a lot, bats roosting at the top of the carporch, tokay gecko (on the roof of the lobby),  a red giant flying squirrel and flying lizards.



and a very blurry photo of the giant red flying squirrel




A family of culogos was stirring when we arrived. it seemed as if the guide knew their schedule! I was perturbed when some of the participants in the tour started using flash since the flying lemurs were getting ready for their flights. Culogos  are not true lemurs, but have a family of its own  Cynocephalidae with 2 sub-species - the Sunda flying lemur and the Philippine flying lemur. there doesn't seem to be much info on them, probably because no studies or research has been done. But I was beside myself finding them at the resort. They have become accustomed to the goings-on of the tourists. In fact on the way to the beach, a couple of colugos were roosting on a tree at eye-level. amazing trust they have in humans. 


during the evening tour, I could just about make out the baby colugo peeking out at us. 



the following morning, we went on our own and managed to get lovely pix of the family again.


baby roosting on the right just below the parent before hiding under the parent. 



parent grooming itself  





a juvenile (with darker colours) hiding beneath the leavesDSC00039.JPG.ab5ece16f9e76e6759f3204991e6d0bf.JPG


parent watching meDSC00045.JPG.e8df01454b8aa11d6030b715634ed182.JPGDSC00037.JPG.b69e17f1a9fec268aeab792b5818add7.JPG

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3 hours ago, Kitsafari said:

OH and I was last there some 20 years ago


We have visited Langkawi 19 years ago ... your TR brings back some lovely but also rainy memories :).

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sorry - took a break to watch the englandvspanama game (with a whole new generation of players from England whom I've never seen before having not watched premier league for a few years now!) and then watched first half of the japanvssenegal game. 


@xelas ahh rain. yes, we had it during the two full days we were there, but in a way we were lucky. it came when we had most of our sightings already.


The morning of the first full day at Langkawi however dawned bright and hot, and told us there would be no rain, yet. after breakfast at the restaurant, we took a walk around the resort starting from the car porch where the guide had said he had heard a pitta the night before. we looked around but found nothing. we walked up the road then down to wind up behind the resort. and then we saw a family of dusky leaf monkeys busily chomping down young leaves from a tree. it was just by the path. another couple joined us and we were busy taking shots of them while they looked curiously at us, and decided to completely ignore us. 


The dusky leaf monkey or the spectacled langur is a very cute furry monkey with a funny face - the eyes are surrounded by white rings, hence its spectacled name, and  a pinkish hairless area around the mouth. the species is very calm and docile, and sadly, on the near threatened list given the rapid loss of habitat, although they are also hunted for meat and illegal pet trade. IUCN reckons there's been a 30% over the last three decades and the decline is continuing. This species is distributed only in peninsular Malaysia, southern Myanmar and southern Thailand. Babies are an adorable golden in colour. 






a while later, we walked up the building to the third floor to have a better look. they were still busy eating but a crowd of really noisy guests walking past on the ground floor made them stop. suddenly a golden bundle threw itself into an adult's arms and they fled back into the trees away from the building. the baby had been hiding and well camouflaged in the bushes all the time and we didn't even notice it when we were taking photos on the ground. 





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while we were taking the stairs up to the third floor, another incredible mammal  made a quiet appearance. I noticed a tree swaying and taking a closer look, saw a large black mammal climbing along the tree. The giant black squirrel, or the Malayan giant squirrel, is a near threatened species and is on the threshold of landing onto the vulnerable list due to a high rate of hunting for its meat, and habitat loss. The squirrel is distributed in India, southern China and Southeast Asia. 

It is a cute big animal and I'll let the photos of it speak for itself. 





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Thanks for this TR @Kitsafari.  You were lucky with mammals for sure.


But you may have added another place to my bucket list and it's full already!


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@offshorebirder yes,we were very lucky with the mammals! and I was very happy with them. would have been icing on the cake if we had also seen a slow loris but it was not to be. :( 


here's a video of the colugo. I'd turned down the volume really low, but as you can hear the chatting was pretty loud, and the camera flashes and torchlights were crazy. The last colugo that was still hanging onto the tree had a baby underneath her. I think she was waiting for us to leave before joining her family. I didn't manage to catch the flight. 





here's also a video of the giant black squirrel. you can see how long its tail is (tails can be as long as 24 inch!) you can hear the deafening sounds of the cicadas.


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The dusky leaf monkey isn't the only primate on the island. The only other primate is the long-tailed or crab-eating macaque which is very familiar with humans. so familiar that we were told there had been cases where the clever monkey entered rooms and opened fridges to empty the snacks. So we were very careful to make sure the balcony doors were locked each time we left. 


this family had just been chased off a housekeeper's trolley of goodies and linen. they had this really sad look on them. 




Some images from our last day on the beach when we encountered the dusky leaf monkeys with another golden baby, and of the colugos just hanging around at eye-level heights. i do wonder if they get any sleep at all with all the guests walking up and down the path to the beach. 



some other images at the resort itself: DSC00073.JPG.c127163fab9bc209eb78e45333df7c65.JPG



and some of the birds in the resort....


Lots of house sparrows...



a white-collared kingfisher or two...



plenty of red-eyed bulbuls flitting around...



raptors in the skies, including brahminy kites and  white-bellied sea eagles





and little transparent crabs scuttling along the beach at low tides



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@Kitsafari - Congratulations on fulfilling your Colugo mission.  They are certainly a most interesting mammal.  We saw plenty on our recent trip to Borneo and even saw one fly which was very nice.  Great pictures of the Black Giant Squirrel and leaf monkeys as well.  That orange baby is great.  If Langkawi also had Tarsiers, I would be there next week!


Thanks for sharing your report.



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6 hours ago, Atdahl said:

@Kitsafari - Congratulations on fulfilling your Colugo mission.  They are certainly a most interesting mammal.  We saw plenty on our recent trip to Borneo and even saw one fly which was very nice.  Great pictures of the Black Giant Squirrel and leaf monkeys as well.  That orange baby is great.  If Langkawi also had Tarsiers, I would be there next week!


Thanks for sharing your report.





Thanks for the comments @Atdahl. I too hope to see tarsiers and black crested macaques one day, though not at Langkawi but further south of us. 

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Now on to the birding tours. The first was an afternoon tour. our package included guide Wendy and transport, although she also caters for those who like to self-drive in Langkawi. But we wanted to enjoy the scenery and relaxed, so we opted for her to provide transport. 

Our main targets were hornbills and we needed to get to Gunung Raya, the highest point of Langkawi, in the evening hours for the sightings, if we were lucky. 

she picked us up at the hotel lobby and we headed out first to an area close to Andaman Resort, along Datai Road. We were there for the small birds. we saw sunbirds, black-headed bulbuls, flowerpeckers, red-eyed bulbuls, asian fairy bluebirds. I think we tried for the blue-winged pitta which had been seen along the road previously. but no luck with the pitta here. 




black-headed bulbul



Asian fairy bluebird


after about 40mins there, we called a stop and to head to Langkawi's tallest mountain. But mid-way I needed a loo break, so Wendy decided we still had time to drop by  Kubang Badak jetty to search for the elusive brown-winged kingfisher. This particular kingfisher can only be found in Langkawi in all of Malaysia, which makes it very special. 

The kingfisher proved elusive. we did see an ashy drongo on the cablewires and an oriental dollar bird but the light was very harsh.











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At 881m or over 2600 feet over sea level, Gunung Raya is the island's tallest mountain. Tourists and residents alike drive to the top daily to view the sunsets or climb an observation tower for a view of the island. The mountain contains a forest reserve where you can do treks along the trails. wildilfe photographers and birders alike come  to this spot for birds, but today we were the only ones.

This was the place to see oriental pied hornbills,  wreathed hornbills and great hornbills, the only three hornbill species available in Langkawi, out of 10 species that you can find in Malaysia. 


we passed some oriental pied hornbills but we didn't stop for them, as we get them in Singapore . I was getting anxious that we wouldn't see the hornbills as the light began to fade. But Wendy spotted the wreathed hornbills in a distant tree top right int he middle of the valley. there was a pair -a female and male, and one was feeding the other. The male has a large yellow pouch bar with a black band while the female has a blue pouch. The hornbill gets its name from flattened wrinkle bands like a wreath at the base of its casque.  





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after the wreathed hornbills flew off, we drove further up the mountain. once again, wendy's sharp eyes caught the sight of one Great Hornbill. we stopped along the road to have a better look. the magnificent bird is one of the largest hornbill species. It can grow up to 130cm or 51 inch long, weigh up to 4kg and live up to 50 years in captivity. The male is larger in size and has reddish eyes. DSC00143.JPG.cbb5b82454e19e9ef4aedd7d030b2007.JPGLKW-21.JPG.9b73a4bc3c645fdcdc8171f73661be97.JPG


as the hornbill flew across the valley, a few others rose from their hidden spots to join it. 




and then we got excited as there were already a few other hornbills in the trees at the new spot, including a wreathed hornbill enjoying the setting sun and minding his own business, while a juvenile great hornbill relaxed on its own. 





wreathed hornbill



juv great hornbill



suddenly, they all took off, flying into the distance. Wendy watched them, and then piled us back into the car as she had seen them landing at a spot where we had done a loo break. as we reached that spot, the trees were bare. Disappointed, she said we might as well hang around till dark to look for boobooks and owls. so we chatted around the car, ate slices of her bread, and took a loo break. 

just as we were about to finish, Wendy broke out in a cry: They are back! and what a return. small flocks of the great hornbills flew high in the skies above our heads, and the flocks kept coming. in all i reckon there were about 15-20 of them. it was quite a special sight to watch them fly and roost in the trees above us. I'm sorry my photos are poor, the light was really almost gone. 


I claim artistic flight in motion!DSC00245.JPG.7eed3b3008784f9d35c54e54bd64c9a0.JPG


meeting in mid-airDSC00246.JPG.f69e5386b58a769f9ea4dbc9ded69bfd.JPGDSC00247.JPG.7a9a7fa33816e1bc313e8f42cdd09dcf.JPGDSC00251.JPG.c523b9525a15ca0fbe0df1a2da0a3bec.JPG






just ignore the commentary!




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Wonderful Hornbill action @Kitsafari!

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wow, looks like an awesome trip and a fabulous place! Love the Squirrel and the Colugo! I wonder how complicated that would be to add to a Thailand trip (which we are hoping to do in 2019...) Hmmmm!

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Not that complicated as Langkawi is very close to the Thailand border. Just timing is important, due to monsoon.

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@offshorebirder thank you for the kind comments. 


@janzin @xelas is right. Langkawi is pretty close to the thai border and is on the western side of the peninsular mainland Malaysia. I did a quick check and couldn't find a direct flight between langkawi and Bangkok but there may other flights I did't see. 


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The rest of the night was quiet. We tried to find owls along Gunung Raya with Wendy trying to lure them out with a callback. a scops owl responded but flew past us in the dark across the road. we couldn't find it after that. we decided to try for boobook further down the mountain but halfway down, OH saw an Asian palm civet doing a tightrope walk on electrical cables but it fled when we reversed the car for a better look. then the skies opened and the heavy rains fell and that put an end to our night safari. 


we then looked ahead to our morning birding tour. At 7.30am, that's a luxurious lie-in for those used to African safari hours! still it gave us a bit of time for breakfast which started at 7am but had some food ready before then. This morning's targets were pittas and Ms Brown Wing KF. First though, wendy thought we should try for the black-crowned night heron, which is resident in singapore but uncommonly seen. 

So we headed to Kuala Melaka. It was a pretty long distance from Andaman resort, so we were quite late arriving at the bridge and the herons had headed on to roost in the thick bushes lined along the river . while wendy scanned for a straggler, I took in and admired the views. 

Padi fields were in the distance and a range of mountains was at the background. the rains from last night formed thick clouds of vapour at the mountain tops, and the chill laid a layer of mist above the padi fields. a flock of egrets rose from the rice fields and flew around the area, while a solo purple heron winged closer to us. Swiftlets teased us with their roundabout flights under the bridge. 

It was quite a soothing view. 






Wendy managed to locate a shadow of an adult black-crowned heron and set up a scope for us to have a better look. but it was hiding well inside the bush. 




Fortunately, a juvenile heron was more obliging, perching on a branch in a more open spot. 





Other birds were less shy - a black-naped oriole, common crows, yellow-vented bulbuls, a greater racket-tailed drongo, a llittle heron were hovering near. I saw a crow attacked a small bird then it went into the bushes but I couldn't find it. 




Edited by Kitsafari
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Next target was Ms Brown-Wing as Wendy liked to call it, and since we were going to be at the mangroves, we were going to try for the mangrove pitta. Ms Brown-Wing kingfisher was a no-show sadly at the jetty terminal. we hung around as Wendy walked around to look for it and I took a few shots of the laid-back, rather idyllic spot of a place that has long long gone from the sights of Singapore. it brought back a sense of nostalgia and longing for the days when we could sit back and have a cup of coffee and watch the birds and cats go by. 





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the road that runs into the jetty cuts through a large swathe of mangroves. and this was where we went to for the mangrove pitta. we heard two pittas responding to each other, and they taunted us as they flew across the road. a flash of red suggested a ruddy kingfisher and OH was fast enough to nail that. LKW-36.JPG.b9edfafc69a20d31435019f7c430c9cd.JPG


then droplets of rain soon became larger drops and we dashed to the car. But it wasn't over. Wendy persevered and worked hard for the pitta. with the rains still falling and the windows were half opened, she spotted a flash of colour. At last! the beautiful mangrove pitta, half hiding in the lower branches far inside the mangroves. 





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We went off to another area, also by the river, to look for Ms Brown Wing but the bird stubbornly refused to show. So we had to settle for other birds and some picturesque views. 




little grebe



red-wattled lapwing



ruby-cheeked sunbird



a copper-throated sunbird female



Little egret



and a handful of brahminy kites, including a juvenile



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Wendy had one more spot to check - she wanted to show us the blue-winged pitta, another beautiful bird quite similar to the mangrove pitta. We spent quite sometime there during which we were eaten alive by mosquitoes. we survived but the pitta showed up but played intensive hide-and-seek with us. we slowhands were unable to see it and so the mission failed. It was time to leave, but Wendy had one more card up her sleeve. She had heard the pitta on the grounds of Andaman resort, so we would make one last attempt there. 

once she parked the car in front of the resort entrance, she did a call back. we could hear it and just as I was getting out of the car, a shadow flitted at the corner of my eye. Looking up, i excitedly called out - here it is! and there it was indeed, after making us chase it all over the island, we got to see it back at the resort. 




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And that wraps up our short trip to Langkawi. I was pretty delighted I got to see the colugos close at hand, and watch them glide, and then got an awesome sighting of the great hornbills. Langkawi is still a pretty idyllic island but is fast developing. I hope it will be a long time before it becomes another commercialised Bali or Phuket. 

Wendy is an excellent guide, very enthusiastic and hardworking, principled and passionate about the island's wildlife.  

Thank you to each and every one of you who took time to read the report, and took the trouble to like and/or comment. 



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Thank you for a very enjoyable report. It looks like a really nice place for mammals and birds. The cologu is a real highlight.

Lovely photos, and the very fine writing we have come to expect!

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It was so enjoyable to relive the Langkawi through your trip report, @Kitsafari! It gave me a huge nudge into Malaysia direction.

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