Although the archipelago of Langkawi had about 100 islands, the main island called Palau Langkawi was the largest. With habitats varying from mangrove swamps, and rice paddy wetlands to mountainous peaks, there was enough food sources to support over 200 species of birdlife. Development, as usual played havoc with the environment however we had a very successful morning on Gunung Raya, thanks to bird guide extraordinaire, Wendy Chin.
It was the highest peak in Langkawi with an altitude of 881 meters and was covered with various species of tree and plant life. Weather sculptured limestone formations made rugged profiles against the very clear blue sky. Fortunately, the high winds affecting much of the coastal shores were apparent only along the summit ridges. The dense rainforest remained green due to the occasional water seepage points descending Gunung Raya Reserve Forest. Home to creatures like the Dusky Leaf Monkeys, Macaques, Giant Black Squirrels and leaping lizards which Wendy readily indicated. (Fortunately, we did not see any Cobra Snakes which were mentioned!) Occasionally, a break between the peaks afforded a view towards the Andaman Sea however the haze affected the panoramic photo. Although there was a large structure on the summit, D’Coconut Hill Resort, we didn’t venture that high. Our interest was for all things feathered.
The main target was seeing all three Hornbills. (Any other birds were a bonus)
Nothing was guaranteed, we could only hope. Wendy had tried to prepare us for a disappointment as the previous day hadn’t been very successful due to the wind…
When first hearing those very Great Hornbills, it was the sound of their wing beat as they approached that had us craning our necks upward. Since their wingspan could be as wide as 175cm it was little wonder that we heard the whooshing in the core of our chests. The yellow band of colour running between their black and white wings caught the light brilliantly. We were especially luck to have a mating pair land in a tall tree long enough to really observe their features as they cleaned and preened. Wendy had her spotting-scope quickly mounted, focused and zoomed onto the pair. Wow ! what detail. The most recognizable feature of Hornbills was the casque, which is a hollow structure located on top of the very large curved bill. Wendy told us that the colour will change with maturity. Also the mandibles will become more serrated as they age due to wear. Whilst we have seen Oriental Pied Hornbills eating fruit and mostly figs, Great Hornbills were more omnivorous especially during breeding season. Wendy informed us that they have been known to eat lizards and small mammals. I, personally love all the extra information to fully appreciate these magnificent creatures.
The noticeable difference between the sexes: males have larger beaks and casques and a red eye which looked actually black due to the dark eye-ring. The female eyes were light with a red eye-ring.
To view the Wreathed Hornbill, we had to continue higher and higher up the mountain side. It was actually as we were waiting for a then unidentified raptor to reappear that Hans whilst gazing at the panorama had a hornbill flash through his field of vision. Simultaneously, Wendy was shouting and re-positioning her scope. She already knew it was a Wreathed Hornbill. This time, the distance was a challenge for my camera but the most important features for identification were clear. Using Wendy’s scope was a bonus.
Although a large bird it was smaller than the Great Hornbill. Noticeably different was the colour of its wings, all black and the tail was completely white. The Hornbill’s name comes from its striped casque, which bears a flattened wrinkled band, or wreath, at the base of the bill. (More than one ridge on the wreath may form in a year, and some front ridges may even drop off. Up to nine ridges may be present at any time.) Ours was a male with a creamy head and reddish plume from the nape. The yellow gular pouch with a distinct black stripe is also distinctive. Females are distinguished by a black head and neck and blue gular pouch. They apparently collect fruit in their neck pouch and hide them in caches.
The Oriental Pied Hornbill was heard and fleetingly seen. Considering I had fabulous views of them on Pankor and Rebak Islands, I wasn’t particularly concerned.
The following bird list was compiled by Wendy on 17 Feb 2017. They are in order of sighting and only include birds I personally saw. Wendy could identify the calls of many species that were around us, but I prefer not to include them.