International birders gather in Fraser’s Hill for the annual Bird Race. Sager Ahmad joins in the fun
THE Fraser’s Hill International Bird Race went into its 25th edition with bird watchers (birders) gathering on the hill station on June 23 and 24, trying to outdo one another in identifying as many birds species as possible.
Forty-three teams, which were divided into three categories (advance, novice and student), comprised birders from Australia, Singapore, Canada, Japan, Mexico and India with the majority from Malaysia.
Taman Negara Flycatchers emerged as the champion in the Advance Category with team members Romlan Jaafar, Mohd Asrul Abdullah and Amazani Deris — all Taman Negara employees — getting lucky in their 13th attempt at joining the race. Scoring the highest at 72 points, they took home the challenge trophy, binoculars, books on birds, personal trophies and certificates.
The second spot went to IORA, a team comprising diehard birders from Singapore — Sutari Supari, Ali Jaafar and Rehan Yusoff who scored 71 points.
Sutari, a licensed nature tour guide for students from Singapore to places of interest in Johor, has been coming to Fraser’s Hill for the Bird Race without fail since 1989 (a year after the inaugural race). He has co-authored a book, Burung-Burung Bukit Fraser, with fellow birder, Mike Chong. In the past, his team has emerged the champion in several bird races.
The third place went to Ibisbill (66 points), also from Singapore while the teams Cutia (62), T-Birds (58), Pheasants (57) and Niltava (55) won consolation prizes.
Winners in the Novice Categories were teams (all Malaysians) Perovince (47), Ketupa Ketupu (45) and Red-Billed Maikoha (43).
Celebrating its Silver Jubilee this year, the event was held as a circuit with the first event held mid last month at Awana Genting Resort near Genting Higlands.
Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen, who officiated the event, was delighted at the enthusiastic participation of birders, most of them regulars to the event.
She urged everyone to help keep Fraser’s Hill clean and safe as otherwise the pristine hill station would lose its charm.
She unveiled a RM5.2 million project to build an English Tea House with rose gardens on a hill slope in the hill station by June next year.
“This will give visitors the chance to relax and enjoy tea, English style, in the cool ambience overlooking rose gardens and the lush tropical forest with the Titiwangsa Mountain Range in the distance,” she said.
The International Bird Race gave Fraser’s Hill a carnival-like atmosphere, with buntings and decorations on every lamp post and corners (especially in the town centre with its signature clock tower). We witnessed the rare traffic jam with cars and buses jostling for space. Otherwise, the place is often quite calm and traffic is smooth. To add to the carnival mood were 200 young motorcyclists who rode from Raub to accompany the minister’s entourage.
The event was jointly organised by Fraser’s Hill Development Corporation, Genting Highlands, Tourism Pahang, Tourism Malaysia, Malaysian Nature Society and WWF, among other organisations.
The bird race has often been misunderstood, with people having the impression that the event involves birds racing or being raced against each other.
It is in fact a fun race involving teams of three bird watchers, each competing to spot, identify and record the most number of bird species, within the 2,804 hectares of the forest of Fraser’s Hill.
Participants fan out armed with binoculars, cameras, books on birds, camping gear and food. Most spend overnight on the tracks crisscrossing the hill station for the best chance of spotting their feathered friends.
The information is kept in the national database on birds.
Over 250 species of wild birds have been spotted on Fraser’s Hill, comprising migratory birds coming from as far as Siberia in Russia and North Japan to escape the harsh winter. Others are indigenous birds endemic to highlands especially Fraser’s Hill. Some of the birds found here are Chestnut Capped Laughing Thrush (Rimba Mata Putih), White Throated Fantail (Murai Gila Gunung), Blue Winged Minla (Rimba Murai Sayap Biru) and Mountain Imperial Pigeon (Pergam Bukit).
Side events held in conjunction with the Interantional Bird Race include talks and workshops on birding, drawing and craft competition among children as well as exhibitions by the various government agencies.