Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Nature photography locations near Penang: Juru and Batu Kawan


GPS Location: N 05 18.831   E 100 24.732

Location of Juru, Batu Kawan and Byram

Local fishing fleet at Juru

Juru, Batu Kawan and Byram  are mainland Penang locations that face Penang island. They are accessed from Penang Island via consecutive off-roads along the North-South Highway with Juru being the first in line on the Southern drive.
The shooting territory at Juru consists of a reasonably wide  road that runs parallel to a mangrove forest that is interspersed with inlets hosting a local fishing fleets.  Segments of the road abut the forest directly while others have a tidal ‘ditch’ in between the road and the forest. The road runs North and South so the morning sun lights the forest well. Discerning nature photographers need good light and for birds………..good perches. Batu Kawan has a range of good perches within lens range and Byram has many excellent perches in the form of dead trees, bushes, stumps and randomly exposed submerged wood. Juru does not have a plethora of perches in the clear but you are adjacent to nice forest that is well lit by the emergent sun.

The road and mangrove forest

The forest and muddy tidal ditch

Typical mangrove forest running parallel to the road

Long-tailed Macaques forage in the mud of the mangroves when the tide is out which is really their traditional hunting grounds as they are an ancestral mangrove species that has subsequently adapted to other environments. Some fair sized Mudskippers ply the mud and defend local pools of water during low tide. 

Alpha male Long-tailed Macaque

Mudskippers squaring off

In the months from November through to March Blue-tailed Bee-eaters chase insects along this segment of the coast but they do not nest locally. The local Kingfishers; the Collared and White-throated species can be found in and around the mangrove forest that also hosts Coppersmith Barbets, Sunda Pygmy Woodpeckers as well as Babblers and other insect seekers. Seasonal migrants include the Common Kingfisher.

Blue-tailed Bee-eater with a dragonfly

Collared Kingfisher
Common Kingfisher (migrant)

Coppersmith Barbet at a nest hole

Of the coastal locations it is my opinion that Juru offer the least photographic opportunities of the three area featured.

                                                         Batu Kawan

GPS Location: N 05 15.216   E100 25.103

Dirt track at Batu Kawan

Several members of a family of Smooth-coated otters
A wary Smooth-coated Otter checks the surroundings

Further south along the west coast of mainland peninsular Malaysia and sandwiched between Juru above and Byram below is the photographic location of Batu Kawan. The access road is a somewhat pitted and narrow mud track. Access could be quite weather dependent and an SUV would appear to be a distinct advantage. The north-south-running track offers potential shooting on either side with the west being favoured in the morning and the east in the afternoon. The Eastern side contains a number of isolated trees and stumps in tidal, marshy ponds that are in reasonable range of a 500/600mm lens. The more open seaward side has fewer potential perches  but when the Northern migrants arrive from October to April this is good for waders. During this time the camera-shy Black-capped Kingfishers can be seen here as well as the more ubiquitous and less reclusive local species of Kingfishers. The first sight of any species on my first visit was an extended family of nine Smooth-coated Otters that crossed the road from the seaward side into the marshy pond area..

Black-capped Kingfisher

White-throated Kingfisher

Little Heron

The tall grasses on the edge of the track often contain industrious flocks of munias and the omnipresent squadrons of Pacific Swallows can provide photo opportunities when they alight for rest after zig zagging across the airspaces in search of flying insects.

Chestnut Munia

Pacific Swallow take-off

The ponds obviously provide a food source for the various birds species us photographers seek. The downside of this location is that the ponds are extensively fished by the local human population, making them essentially in competition with the birds. There are more houses being built in the vicinity so in the future the competition could become somewhat lopsided. However species seen here include; Great Egrets, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Little Heron, Red-wattled lapwings, Terek Sandpipers, Pacific Golden Plovers, White-browed Crake and a recent rare recording of Oriental Darters. Raptors are represented by Changeable Hawk Eagles, scavenging Brahminy Kites and the soaring White-bellied Sea Eagles. There are also regular sightings of the ubiquitous White-breasted Waterhen and the skulking, ponderous Water Monitors.

White-browed Crake

White-breasted Waterhen

Water Monitor
Purple Heron

Great Egret

Wood Sandpiper landing

In August I did note one maverick Blue-throated Bee-Eater hunting in the vicinity. Maybe he was on his way home and stopped for a quick bite.

Blue-throated Bee-eater
I have not visited either location with the same frequency as the other locations I consider more photographically productive. I refer the reader to the blog of Choy Wai Mun http://penangbirder.blogspot.com/ a more experienced local birder, other species he has observed at Batu Kawan can be accessed via his citation index on the right of his blog.
Please note also that I consider myself a Nature Photographer and not a dedicated birder and would welcome any corrections, information on potential interesting subjects or any questions that are within my photographic compass.

Graeme Guy August 2012

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Nature photography locations near Penang: Bukit Hijau and Bukit Panchor

        It is my intention in this article to outline some locations within an hours drive from Penang Island that offer nature photography opportunities. One of my major aims with my photos is to provide illustrations to interested or dis-interested parties as to the beauty of the natural world and what they stand to lose with unthinking and self-interested ‘development’. I prefer to share information rather than sequester it, which too many photographers tend to do. There is always a danger of overpopulation of the long lens brigade that is witnessed currently in land-restricted Singapore. Malaysia is big enough to a greater population of hopefully well-intentioned photographers so my aim is to help them or the overseas visitors. These folk provide the visual window to our precious natural heritage.
       I have separate blogs to the delights of the prime photographic locations in the region so those mentioned below are considered secondary sites. Most will have seasonal variations also. I will add information to these as I visit them more in the future. The information is for photographers, which means avoiding the general public as much as possible.

Bukit Hijau

GPS Coordinates: N 5 30.083   E 100 46.333

Location Map
A mingling of stream and forest

The domain of several primate species and Woodpeckers 

               The park, situated in Kedah State in the Gunung Inas Forest Reserve, is famous for its seven-level cascading waterfalls that result from Sg Mempelam from Gunung Inas that flows through the park. The geological formations are of ancient origin possibly from the Cambrian age. There are large specimens of tualang (Koompassia excelsa) trees hosting beehives within the park (NB. there are small but very aggressive bees and these are to be avoided). There is an open grassed area surrounded by car-parks and some food-stalls with smaller tracks leading to the waterfalls. The area has been planted with local flowering plants that often attract nectar-seekers from the forest catchment area.

Crimson-winged Woodpecker

Blue-winged leafbird

       There are a number of chalets in a separate niche in the park, which attracts a number of picnickers during weekends and public holidays. My main impression of the whole facility is that it is inefficiently run, looks rundown and there is far too much trash that in an eyesore and health hazard. Reports from 8-10 years ago also highlight the abundant trash, which is a sad indictment on the habits of the visitors and the will of the park curators.

Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters

Magpie Robin

        Gibbons howl in the trees and long-tailed macaques and Spectacled Leaf monkeys are common. Sunbirds interrogate the cultivated flowers, Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters chase insects from lofty perches, various species of Bulbuls fly between shrubs, Magpie Robins salute the morning sun with their melodies, White-rumped Shamas add to the sounds, Crimson-winged Woodpeckers probe holes in the trees, Leaf-birds forage for insects and gliding lizards glide from tree to tree.

Olive-backed Sunbird (male)

White-rumped Shama

Male Common Gliding Lizard (Draco sumatranus) displaying

       At the right time this park can be largely photographed from a car. Vehicles are good mobile hides and should be used if possible in preference to walking around with a heavy, tripod-based set-up. The best time is to arrive at dawn during week-days and drive slowly around the roads and the car-parks.

White-throated Kingfisher

Spectacled Leaf Monkey

Bukit Panchor Forest Park

GPS Coordinates: N 5 09.631   E 100 32.889

Located in mainland Penang State Bukit Panchor State Park, or Taman Negeri Bukit Panchor, is a tract of protected forest in Nibong Tebal, Penang. It covers an area of 445 hectares and reaches a height of 416 meters. The Bukit Panchor State Park is located within the Bukit Panchor Forest Reserve, which was established in 1963 in Seberang Perai Selatan. It was created as a general recreational area for the public while at the same time, helping them ‘learn to appreciate the forest better’.
The entrance to this park is rather cryptic but in contrast to Bukit Hijau it is a well-maintained park. For photographic purposes I refer to the flat part of the park as the upward trails would be a challenge to take heavy gear. There are several bat caves in the upper part of the park. The ‘ground floor’ has some rather grand trees surrounding a part of the stream reserved for swimming. There are a number of workers in the park, cutting the grass, sweeping leaves and clearly keeping it tidy. The swimming facility is a little over embellished but this is always better than neglected. At the side of the park a fence separates what appears to be an abandoned orchard and at the end away from the entrance is a boardwalk and mixed regenerated forest. 

Designated swimming area amongst the trees

There are some majestic trees surrounding the stream

A morning visit is recommended for photography and the sun comes over a small hill across the abandoned orchard. In the first light various species of woodpecker do the rounds of their favorite trees, collared kingfishers call to each other from their choice perches, ubiquitous Yellow-vented Bulbul pairs scout the neighborhood, the haunting called of Gibbons cuts the misty morning air, Spectacled Leaf monkeys rummage through the tree-tops while various species of squirrel including the Giant variety run rapidly along a disjointed aerial highway. This is a tripod and long-lens shoot, position yourself near the fence with the morning sun at your back and scan the trees in the morning sunlight for activity. Another place to wait is near the boardwalk and see what passes. I have seen a variety of Bulbuls here as well as a Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot.

Collared Kingfisher

Checker-throated Woodpecker

Common Flameback Woodpecker

This park seems well supplied with great Racket-tailed Drongos and they probe the trees for insects and chase each other around the trees. Several trees, nicely located for photography have clean-cut circular entrances by Woodpeckers strongly suggesting seasonal nesting activity. 

Yellow-vented Bulbul

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo

Plantain Squirrel
Graeme Guy August 2012