Tuesday, June 25

Countdown to Sarawak Bird Race 2011

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WHAT is a bird race? Despite the name, a bird race is not a race (flying, walking, running or swimming) between two or more birds. It is a race between teams of birders out to spot and identify the greatest number of species of birds in a specific period of time. It is a fun way to get in touch with nature, increase awareness of birds and be a citizen scientist.

COLOURFUL SIGHT: The red-crown barbet is one of the birds that may be spotted during the race. — Photo by Yeo Siew Teck

However, there is a serious side. The data collected provides wildlife researchers with background information on bird populations and an understanding of their dynamics, for example f luctuations in populations and species composition.

This is important because bird populations around the world are generally declining, reflecting the deterioration in the global environment. In Malaysia, the most well known is the Fraser’s Hill Bird Race, which started in 1999 and has found international recognition.

The Sarawak Bird Race, which began with a mini-race in 2008, has gradually been put on the bird-watching map. This year, the race, which is jointly organised by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), Borneo Highlands Resort and Permai Rainforest Resort, will run from the sea to the mountain.

Next Saturday (Oct 29), the race will begin with talks, walks and workshops about birds and the natural world; all of which are open to those who wish to spend the day (from morning to evening) by the seaside at Permai Rainforest Resort.

Dr Pilai Poonswad, an international expert on hornbills will enlighten visitors on this key indicator and trophy family. There will also be talks on swiftlets and migratory birds.

John Arifin, a Singapore-based photographer who contributes to various regional magazines including Asian Geographic, will facilitate a workshop on photographing wildlife. In addition, members of the MNS Bird Group will introduce birding to beginners. A night walk will take you out of your comfort zone and into the sights and sounds of the deep dark jungle.

Next Sunday, the race heads off to the mountains where the half-day Sarawak Bird Race will begin from the Borneo Highlands Resort.

This resort, which sits at approximately 1,000 metres in the Penrissen Highlands, is nestled on the Kalimantan border. The proximity of primary and secondary forest, farms and gardens, and the golf course creates a range of ecological niches for a great number of bird species to occupy (more to count).

The Penrissen Highlands was recognised as an Important Bird Area last year, as it hosts several endemic and endangered species. Sightings of eight endemic Bornean species have been documented at the Borneo Highlands Resort, including exciting species such as Bornean barbet (Megalaima exima), blue-banded pitta (Pitta arquata) as well endangered trophy species such as the black hornbill. These birds, once seen, are remembered.

A range of family focussed activities (in addition to the actual bird race) including nature walks, a children’s programme and a photograph exhibition are planned for Sunday.

The Sarawak Bird Race 2011 is sure to be fun and educational. For details go to birdrace2011.borneohighlands.com.my or www.facebook.com/sarawakbirdrace.

Remember – birds are important.