Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tanjung Tuan Raptor Watch, Port Dickson

27th - 28th Feb 2011

We arrived Tj Tuan at around 7:00am on Saturday's morning. The 900m walk up the slope was  challenging for me as much as the OHBs crossing the seas. Half the time I was thinking I should have just brought my panasonic LX5 to shoot video handheld instead of full bazooka setup that seemingly weigh more than a ton!

Lighthouse of Tj Tuan

We reached the lighthouse 35mins later, with our mouth half-open grasping for air, like the OHBs, but we soon forget the physical exhaustion for the view of Staits of Melacca was simply spectacular, something uncommon on this part of the world. 

With our gear fully setup, we met a visiting birder from UK by the name Brian who had accompanied us for two days at the lighthouse, and Mark & Jasmine of MNS Selangor, together with two other colleagues, had came weeks earlier for the annual raptor count (Feb-March). 

Mark on left and Brain on right, who once asked why a restaurant in 
Malaysia was named "Soon Fart (Fatt) Eating House"

Wei Luen on left and Ming on right

Our gear were setup along the narrow passage against the Lighthouse perimeter wall, or, inches from hell as there was basically nothing to grab should we slipped and make the historic 80m plunge in 2 sec, maybe that could explain why the meat-eating juvenile White-bellied Sea-eagles was grinning and making frequent coastal passing through out our stay.

Brian not only cracked jokes to entertain us but helped monitoring the 
appearance of sharks and sea turtles at all time before the OHBs arrive......

and besides the Green Turtles that often surface to breathe briskly, 
sharks of 3-4' long were often seen too swimming around the turtles.

White-bellied Sea-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)
Helang Siput * 白腹海雕 *  シロハラウミワシĐại bàng bụng trắng
Pygargue blagreorliak bielobruchýБелобрюхий орланนกออก

9:00 am, lots of boats packed with tourists were arriving down the bay and stop for mins gave me the feeling that we were the subjects of their photography interest instead,  I still have no idea why they were brought here by the tour operator except many were seen snapping pics of us, oh, must be the Lighthouse i guess!

By 10:00am, nothing really exciting happened though except tourists keep arriving by boats and a couple of Van Hassett Sunbirds came on and off the dried tree, and a pale morph CHE which made an sudden appearance just 30' down the cliff. It perched quietly for almost 30mins and when Brian suggested that it looked like a Northern Goshawk immediately sent us into frenzy shooting mode, hoping a good full-body shot would make us famous for the sighting in Malaysia!

Changeable Hawk Eagle (Spizaetus cirrhatus)
Helang Hindek * カワリクマタカ
Aigle huppéorol viactvarýИзменчивый Орелเหยี่ยวต่างสี

And by 10:30am, the migratory OHBs started to arrive in small quantity, and we were thankful that the Sun was rising on the East, right behind us, meaning we were sheltered by the wall until about 11.45 noon. 

"Ok, we have two male OHBs at 10 o'oclock 500m away, one female at 2 o'oclock 600m away" said Mark, who's announcement was heard clearly as the MNS has set up the tent right above us. And Brian did not help either by saying "Its quite normal to see a few birds for the day if the condition was not favorable"

And Mark was trying to keep us awake by telling us that more than a 1000 were sighted a day earlier, and he together with his colleaques, were constantly monitoring the sea with bino and scope, "They will come," said Mark in confidence, "....ok, onother two just flew over the oil-rig one km away on the right.." and I was about to fall asleep upon hearing that......Zzz...z. 

"What about the 1000 OHBs you had just mentioned!!" - I screamed loud in my heart! 

By 11:30, all out of sudden, Mark asked us to get ready as he saw something BIG coming, but our sleepy eyes couldn't see a thing as we  had drove up to Tj Tuan from JB at 4am and none of us had any sleep the day earlier. 

"30 @ 10 o'oclock, 20 @ 11 o'clock, another 50.......all coming our way" Must a a joke right I told myself.

But a moment later, our eyes started popping and our jaws dropped, as hundreds of OHBs started to appear in the misty sky across the horizon, in slow motion as there were still very far. We rushed into position and getting ready to fire as if the OHBs were about to attack us.

The scene reminded me of rolling credits in the Star Wars movies, except now we watch it upside down and in reverse, i.e. the spread of birds become wider and wider and bigger each second past. 

The raptors came in flocks of 20-30 and truly a spectacular sight for all of us. Imagine 45mins later, 702 were recorded which equates to a raptor every 4 sec arriving! In fact the 45mins shooting frenzy was exhausting, but with full excitement and satisfaction. 

Oriental Honey-buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus)
Helang Lebah * 東方蜂鷹ハチクマDiều ăn ong
Bondrée orientalevcelár chochlatýОсоед хохлатыйเหยี่ยวผึ้ง

The OHB species exists a few different morph and according to Mark, 7 different patterns of feathers have been recorded previously although i did not ask if that related to different morphs.

This poor OHB almost could not make it as it was descending fast on 
approaching the lighthouse...... 

While many arrived effortlessly across the 40km stretch judging from their speed and height, many were struggling obviously in absence of thermals across the Straits. As they fly towards the forested cape of Tj Tuan,  many were with their mouth open, flapping their wings vigorously in the last minute. 

I saw at least 6 that were flying in few feet above water as they head towards the shoreline, and two were seen dive almost vertically into the forest after soaring a brief height over the land. And it's sad to learn that some were seen before drowning in the sea, barely 100m from the shore. 

Understandably Tj Tuan was chosen by the raptors for their fly path because at 40km wide, it is the shortest route between Island of Sumatra and Malaysia. But not all the 700+ raptors counted heading to the Lighhouse though. Some were seen heading further south and some were further North.

The two WBSEs were making frequent low pass directly above us as hundreds of OHBs were circling  high up over the Lighthouse. WBSE is awfully huge compare to the OHB but when it's outnumbered by the hundreds, there is nothing the WBSEs could do except to retreatr silently after a while. 

Sunday, however was not that exciting as by 12:00noon, only 42 were sighted and we had to leave by then to check out Eagle Ranch by 1:00pm. 

Many thanks To Mark and Brian as well for their company and grateful that we did not fall off the cliff due to hunger as Mark has helped buy lunch for all of us, spicy and hot "mee-goreng" (fried noodles with chili), and it was the first time we see a British eating the spicy mee-goreng too, amazing!

The location where we shot the OHBs also gave us the opportunity to shoot a variety of species that came perch around, Red-eyed bulbul, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Blue-earred Barbet (calls was heard but no show), and Purple-throated Sunbirds make frequent visit to a dried tree 20' down the cliff. Other than that, resident raptors (WBSE, BK, and CHE) were making frequent passes at low level  

Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike...

Black-naped Oriole

CHE pale morph

Brahminy Kite

Pig-tailed Monkey taken while we were walking down the 900m slope

And this is not funny!
Unless you visit Tj Tuan on RW Day which is scheduled on March 12th and 13th this year, the lighthouse is out of bound to the public, hence you are likely to set up your gear along the narrow passage facing the sea for the panoramic view. 

But a lot of local visitors and tourist from overseas are passing thru the passage for a glimpse of the Melacca Straits.  Use spikes on your tripod to minimize slip as passerby tend to grab your tripod as support as they walk around your setup, so move the setup in and grab your tripod firmly, meaning stop shooting despite seeing a giant big-foot flying across the sea, so to allow passerby walk pass safely in confidence.

 once you stand behind the setup and getting into position to shoot, your 
tripod legs are just 3-4" from the edge, unless you desperately wanting 
to get rid of your old gear....

Eagle Ranch!
Many resort and apartment hotels around the Tj Tuan areas were fully booked since two weeks ago but thank to Terrence Ang's assistance, we managed to book our rooms with Eagle Ranch, a resort located 10km from Tj Tuan, There are lots of activities available for the adventurous souls such as horse riding, obstacle course, go-cart racing. fun games etc. 

If I were to take this course, I am not surprise it would take days to complete!

 Double room for this Kampong Style House @ RM250-00 per night 
inclusive of breakfast, lots of Swallows around to test your BIF skill.

 RM150-00 per night for this.

 view from our balcony.

Breakfast at D Barrel hall.....serves the usual local spicy food and 
scramble eggs, hot-dog , and porridge.

And you must try this.....

While on our way home via the old road leading to Melacca, we decided to stop at a roadside stall for food after seeing row of customer cars were parked there. Something must be good was what Wei Luen said and we concurred, Never mind the lack of facility and proper flooring, the Nasi Arab got to be the best I have ever tasted.  I will be back for more for sure!

5-Star from me on the Nasi Arab, ignoring everything else that is!

If you are keen to go for the raptor watch, here is the useful link;


  1. Wow! Did you manage to get video clips for 100 of OHB flying passed you?
    Anyway, very nice capture.

  2. Wow! Amazing CHE! I think you did well to correctly id it. If it had been seen further away or without such good views, I think it would have stumped us all!

  3. Pretty awesome sight seeing all those raptors coming at you.

  4. Replies
    1. Hi Mac, I have hard time recalling the exact location, if I go again for the RW this month I should be able to log it for you! :)