It’s been a very long time, maybe two or three years since we were last at Kuala Gula; a mangrove bird sanctuary about halfway up the west coast of Peninsula Malaysia. So it was about time we made a return visit. And boy it was worth it!
The Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary is at the northern end of the 51km long Matang Forest Reserve comprising both coastal mangrove and lowland forests. The reserve is a maze of meandering mangrove lined estuaries and inlets and is home to a wide variety of marine, bird and animal life. Access to the reserve is by boat from the small but busy fishing village of Kuala Gula which straddles the northern banks of one of the inlets.
Although Kuala Gula is home to a large number of migrant waders and waterbirds which spend the northern winter months down here, our main target for the day were the Raptors that inhabit this part of the coastline. Fortunately for us we had a very experienced boatman and guide in Tan Eng Chong, an experienced Eco Guide who not only knows the area like the back of his hand, he has the sharpest pair of eyes of anyone I have ever met! Not only can Tan spot and identify birds from hundreds of meters away he’s skillful in guiding the boat in close and perfectly positioning it for the best light. Overall I was pleased with my birds, but actually should have and could have done better as I was not prepared and ready when the best opportunities were available. I now have to live with the hangover of missed chances that will probably never be had again!
The best images of the day were of Osprey’s. These birds are really always something special to see as the effortlessly ride the light breeze above the mangroves searching for prey. One actually took a fish about thirty meters in front of the boat. I missed it as I was phaffing with my camera and tripod instead of being focused on the birds! You know what they say…”You snooze, you lose” so no complaints for falling asleep at the key moment!
Brahminy Kites are probably the most common of all of Malaysia’s raptors, but I still don’t have really top quality shots of them. Today’s results are OK, but definitely I still have to step up my game a notch or two more to get definitive shots of them in flight. Interestingly, once perched in the mangroves next to the channels they can be approached fairly easily and its not too difficult to get some good shots of them on the branch. In the air, as usual it’s all about the light and how close they come.
The mangrove estuaries of Kuala Gula are a haven for a wide variety of Kingfishers. In total we spotted five species in all, but as usual spotting Kingfishers and photographing them was a whole different ball game. Firstly these birds, wherever they are in the world, don’t like us. As soon as we show our face, or to be more specific, turn the lens in their direction, they invariably fly off. However, thanks to Tan’s expert boatmanship we managed to come away with a few shots worth showing.
The first is of a White Collared Kingfisher which was surprisingly obliging in sitting on a dead stick in the mudflats as we glided in as close as we could.
The second guy is a Common Kingfisher; a seasonal migrant to Malaysia, which obligingly perched on the top of a mooring pole in the middle of the channel. These are small birds so it’s was more or less impossible to get the boat close enough for really, really sharp shots. But anyway, we got pretty darned close!
The waterways of Kuala Gula are also a haven for waterbirds and I came away with a good haul of a wide variety of species. But there are just too many to post here. So I thought I would settle for a nice shot of a Little Egret fishing the muddy banks.
One of the interesting aspects of Kuala Gula is that you get to watch the locals fishing the channels for prawns, crabs and cockles and there are always a variety of different boats passing that all make excellent photography subjects. So besides the birds you get a good insight into the local culture of this small Malaysian fishing village.
If anyone is interested in visiting Kuala Gula the GPS Coordinates for the jetty are N04 56.263, E100 28.109. I also highly recommend you get in contact with Tan Eng Chong at (+ 605 890 4895 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org) and hire him to guide you around. You won’t regret it!