A NEPHEW of mine working in Singapore once came back to Taiping for a holiday and wanted to do “some real jungle bashing”.
On previous trips I had taken him hiking on the numerous jungle tracks up Bukit Larut (formerly called Maxwell Hill). These tracks are so well used by the fitness crowd everyday that you can hardly find a leech. So I decided instead to use the track used by the National Geographic Society in their Eco-Challenge event in Taiping in 2004.
This starts at the Burmese Pool area and cuts through the jungle to join the jeep track at the 1.5 milestone (2.4km) mark. It then ascends along the jeep track until the Tea Gardens (5.6km). There competitors would
have followed the stream, abseiled down a waterfall and descended thru a jungle track all the way to the top of the abandoned quarry at the foothill. After gliding down the quarry via a “flying fox”, they would then have continued with their cycling stage.
The organisers had marked the trail by tying yellow plastic tape to the branches on the route. But the track had not been used regularly by trekkers and most was overgrown. Thorny bertam leaves and rattan creepers competed with leeches for our attention.
Soon, the yellow marking tape also disappeared. Fortunately, runners from the Hash House Harriers had made use of this track a few months earlier and the paper trial left by them, though in the final stages of disintegration, was still visible.
After 1.5 hours of hiking, the steep terrain levelled out as the paper trail petered out. I asked my nephew to stay put while I made a sweep of the area to check for any more markers. After a 10 minute search, there was no sign of any trail so I continued walking, using a compass as a guide. As I passed a more open area, I was startled by a large dark brown bird flying off just in front of my feet. It flew just above ground level, dipped erratically and disappeared into the jungle.
From previous experience I suspected it could be a nightjar. The habitat, its size and lack of any white markings excluded the Savanna and Largetail Nightjar. When I looked down to continue my trek, I was surprised to find a single white egg barely 15cm from my foot among the brown leaves on the ground. I took a photo and continued our hike. We had to cut our way through but made it out of the jungle just before dusk.
The next day, I persuaded my nephew to help me carry my digiscope to the same area and we found the bird sitting on the spot where the egg was last seen. This time I took a photo confirming that it was the Malaysian Eared Nightjar.
One week later, my wife Sharon and I hiked up to check on the bird. The bird was sitting on the ground about 30cm from the previous spot. There was a broken egg shell so the chick must have hatched. On closer observation, we saw a fluffy ball under the wing of the adult. To document our observations we flushed the adult and took a picture of the chick and then left the area immediately.
One week later, I hiked up alone to check on the birds. The egg shell was still there, but in spite of doing a spiral search pattern with a radius of 30 metres (centred on the egg shell), I could not find the birds. There had been approximately 14 days from first sighting to my current visit, so it was possible that the chick could have fledged or moved much further from the nesting area.
The Malaysian Eared Nightjar is a nocturnal bird. It can be seen daily, flying high above the forest canopy, calling at dawn and dusk at the foothills of Bukit Larut. Its three-note call is distinct, sounding like “have a driiink” (the call can be heard here: www.xeno-canto.org/37530).
According to www.birdforum.net/opus/Malaysian_Eared_Nightjar, the bird is found in the moist lowland forests of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. The Latin species name is Lyncornis temminckii or Eurostopodus temminckii.
Though easily seen and heard, photographing this bird is a challenge and I was fortunate to have been able to document the bird and its nest. – By Chan Ah Lak