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Umgawa Q&A Series: Mike H.N. Chong

Mike is a naturalist specializing in birds, wildlife and biodiversity surveys and studies. He has been involved in birdwatching, bird/wildlife surveys and birds/nature conservation for the last 35 plus years. He has written numerous papers on birds and a book “Khazanah Burung Bukit Fraser – Panduan Bergamber” (in B. Malaysia). Currently he is Country representative of the Oriental Bird Club (OBC) and member of IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group.

1. What is unique about birdwatching in Langkawi?

Langkawi is unique as you can combine birdwatching with the history of the island (e.g. Legend of Mahsuri), culture, adventure (e.g. Ziplining) and natural features (e.g. UNESCO acclaimed GeoPark) among other experiences. Not many birding areas in Malaysia offer this interesting combination.

However, birdwatching (or birding in birdwatchers’ lingo) is also unique here as you may find a high concentration of hornbills in a relatively small area i.e. on an island habitat.

2. Could you name some of the more interesting (exotic) birds in Langkawi?

Usually we do not describe our local birds as “exotic” as exotics are usually referred to foreign or imported birds. There are some interesting birds more easily seen in Langkawi, that are not found or are difficult to see elsewhere in Malaysia. These include the Mountain Hawk Eagle, Great Hornbill, Brown-winged Kingfisher, Blue-winged Pitta and Black-hooded Oriole. Two locally endemic species, Mountain Hawk Eagle and Black-hooded Oriole can only be found in Langkawi and nowhere else in Malaysia.

3. Please share a few tips for the beginner

For beginners the essentials needed are: a pair of binoculars (binos with 8x or 10x magnifications are best), a small notebook to take notes in the field, wear earth coloured clothes e.g. brown, green, grey, khaki etc., useful to have a bird field guide book for birds identification.

4. Must it always be so early in the morning? And why is that?

Early morning is best as birds start feeding actively at this time (as in the early bird catches the worm!). There are also less chances of rain in the morning! Late afternoon is also good as birds are generally active again around this time until about early evening

5. What are some of the big DON'Ts about birdwatching in Langkawi or in general?

Generally, there are certain guidelines or etiquette when we start birdwatching. We must always put the welfare of birds first when birding in the forests and in their habitats. Never use taped or digital play-backs of their calls as this will create enormous stress for the birds. Abstain from disturbing, giving too much attention and going close to nesting birds as this may cause birds to abandon their nests and chicks. Prolonged observations are justified if we have valid reasons to study nesting birds.

6. What are the benefits and positive effects of birdwatching?

Birding takes us outdoors to enjoy nature and combines it as a recreational activity. It is also very relaxing and offers relief from modern day stress. It also improves our patience and powers of observation and details. Identifying bird species and observing a beautiful forest bird in its full colorful glory gives us enormous satisfaction and accomplishment. Appreciating birds also encourage us to be involved with birds, nature and forest conservation.

7. What are the negative effects of birding and bird photography?

There is generally no negative effect of birding as it is a non-intrusive activity if ethics are followed. However, of late unethical bird photography methods indicate very negative effects on birds and birding areas. Photographers now feed wild birds with mealworms, play bird call recordings non-stop and cut/modify habitats to take photos of nesting birds. All these grossly unethical methods will have negative effects and disturbance to birds, their natural habits/ecology and long-term survival. The methods may seem non harmful to a human's perspective but many negative implications may result from these very intrusive actions to take perfect bird photos!

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