MIRI has one of the best landscapes in Sarawak — wonderful beaches, steep majestic cliff faces, numerous waterfalls, wetlands, lush green hills, limestone caves, meandering rivers and streams and old tropical rainforests all within driving distance.
These largely pristine vistas are also teeming with wildlife, especially exotic migratory birds, and other wonders of nature which have since become the favourite subjects — in analogue or digital form — of many an avid nature photographer for the sheer joy of conservation.
There are many good photographers in Miri, each with their own area of interest and expertise.
This week we focus on three Mirian shutterbugs who have been trying their best to put the environs of the Resort City on the world map of nature photography. They have been like triplets over the past 10 years, ‘shooting’ birds, flowers, animals, tiny fungi, getting their feet wet, perhaps occasionally slipping down slopes in the ulu and even being scared by some big snakes and wild animals.
These three good friends, united by a common passion for photography and a love for the outdoors and the beauty of nature are Jool Othman, Yusop Sulaiman and Morilee Mahar.
As friends of Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Miri branch president Musa Musbah, the trio were part of the heart-warming and much followed campaign — alongside many Mirians — to make Piasau Camp a nature park reserve.
Now they are helping to raise awareness of the exquisite Kuala Baram Wetlands, which resonates with an exuberance of wildlife, especially native and migratory birds, and is a potentially rich tourist attraction worthy of conservation.
Affable and soft-spoken Jool has been photographing nature specifically over the past 10 years.
He started after feeling awe and wonder towards nature’s many spectacles, especially the myriad winged species adorning the wilderness with their diverse colour schemes and breaking the quietude of the natural environment with a cacophony of bird sounds.
“Birds are good models because they are natural and interesting — unlike human models who have to be directed how to pose,” he said.
Jool and his two friends usually go for outings during the weekends and public holidays often in a group of five or six — and sometimes with birding friends from Brunei.
He usually goes out into the wilderness alone “if no one replies my SMS”.
Jool said there are a few good birding spots in Miri. The Kuala Baram Wetlands is always his first choice. There, he noted, more birds could be photographed such as Brahmin Kites, a few species of kingfishers, terns, wild ducks from as far away as China, herons, eagles, different types of pigeons, egrets and hornbills.
“Joining the MNS has enriched my life. I also made new friends,” he said.
He strongly believes most people, after getting to know about nature, would begin to love and protect its gifts such as wildlife.
“I would really like to see adults helping the younger generation treasure nature. And the best place to start is in school which plays a very important role in nature conservation.
“The Wildlife and Nature Photography Club and the Brunei Birders Photography Club also help me understand more about photography and nature, especially bird photography. I enjoy going out with the members, and the events are made better when Yusop Sulaiman and Morilee Mahar join me. The three of us really make a very good team,” Jool said.
Morilee and Yusop nodded in agreement when he added: “Just to share with nature our love and respect for the trees and all living things, and treating them like our best friends and family makes me happy. This is the thing we should be doing.”
To teachers and other adults, he advised: “The best place to start with young children is school. Teachers can play their part by bringing students for walks around the school compound, asking them to draw or sketch insects, birds, plants or trees that they see.
“I was inspired to love nature by my American biology teacher who always took us out to identify plants. And I do hope the price of photographic equipment will not be too high if we want to encourage even students to learn about nature photography.”
Centre of attraction
The Oriental Pied Hornbills of Piasau Nature Park Reserve provide ample opportunities for nature photography. They have become the darlings of local photographers.
One nature photographer who has been spending time taking pictures of them is Morilee from Mukah, who has been working with Sarawak Energy Sdn Bhd since being transferred to Miri 10 years ago.
Whenever he has time to travel outside Miri, he takes time to do some photography to record his travels, especially in the rural areas.
Morilee has spent many weekends with Jool and Yusop at the Kuala Baram Wetlands. As a Melanau, he has a lot knowledge about the local life and a great love for the sea, the hills and the wildlife. His photographs speak volumes of his expertise.
He said he and his two buddies enjoyed a 10-year friendship cemented by a common passion for wildlife photography.
“The Kuala Baram Wetlands encourages young and old to venture out of the concrete jungle for a day’s adventure in the wilderness — and now the Piasau Nature Park Reserve has also been attracting many nature lovers, especially to the nature walks at the park on every third Saturday of the month,” he added.
Morilee was one of the first photographers and MNS members to help campaign for Piasau Camp to be gazetted as a nature park reserve. The Oriental Pied Hornbills in the area — with all their lovely names such as Jimmy, Faridah, Juliet and now Musa and Cecilia — have a lot of fans. Today, these much-loved emblematic birds have become the icons of Miri’s wildlife.
Being rather shy, Morilee does not say very much but his photographs have graced MNS web pages and the Facebook pages of the Kuala Baram Wetlands and the Save Piasau Oriental Pied Hornbills campaign.
He is very generous in sharing his photos with friends and the public, and is always happy to print his wonderful snapshots on A4 paper to help friends identify birds, butterflies and other wildlife.
A tip from Morilee: The pedada trees attract fire flies.
In many of the estuarine and riverine areas in Mukah, Miri and Sibu where pedada trees grow, these winged lightning bugs (beetles) illuminate the night with flashes of light for a marvellous sight.
Morilee stressed: “We, therefore, must treasure the presence of pedada trees in our lives. We are all looking forward to another firefly-watching and photography night with MNS in Miri.”
Pedada trees are found along the coastal inter-tidal mangrove mudflats. They produce an unusual looking wild fruit (resembling a gasing or spinning top) which the Malays call buah pedada or asam laut (tamarinds) plucked from saline sea waters after dropping from the pedada tree. Buah pedada is also known as sour berry or crab apple.
Having a head-start
Yusop, who trained as a geologist, had a head-start in photography when he joined Shell.
He needed to make geological reports for his company and that meant taking photos of rocks, sand and anything that has to do with geology. He has not looked back since.
Though now a retiree, he continues to ‘shoot’ beautiful images like birds, insects and nature in general.
“The best moment is when you achieve your target with good results. Also, we have to expose children to nature conservation and promote nature awareness walks and talks in school.
And if possible, organise after-school nature awareness and appreciation activities like visits to nature parks. It is also good to form nature clubs in schools.”
Yusop said good nature photos would definitely make the public aware of their surroundings as well as what nature means to daily life and the future, adding that the involvement of community leaders in the Kuala Baram Wetlands and Save the Oriental Pied Hornbills in Miri programmes is incredibly important.
“Their direct participation in nature walks, camps and talks also inspire the public, especially from the younger generation.”
Nature photography with the help of nature lovers like these three photographers will help put Miri, and perhaps Sarawak, on the global tourist map.
Furthermore, many shutterbugs like them will reflect the passion of award-winning photographer Caroline Mueller who said: “I often wished I could capture and share the sudden moments of beauty that I would see all around me.”
And Frank Lloyd Wright, the world renowned architect with a great love for nature, said it all: “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”