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Sizzling To End The Race At Sepilok

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Saving the best for last, no race is ever complete without experiencing the festivity of Borneo Bird Festival & the grandeur of the hospitality of Sabahans (people of Sabah) with the organisers & Sabah Tourism. After the 6 hour bus journey from Mount Kinabalu, we checked into Sepilok Jungle Resort, another wildlife haven near Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre where we spent 2 nights doing night walks & stargazing. The International Borneo Bird Race 2013 is truly the first of its kind, beginning in the Brunei, ascending to Kinabalu Park & descending to Sepilok lowland forest.

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Birdwatching for some, may be a pastime but for those who pursue the understanding of their behaviour, flight pattern, habitat & nesting activities go far beyond watching. Birders don’t just hang a pair of binoculars around the neck, they now tote big cameras, bazooka lenses & rock-steady tripods to document them. Even then, there are distinctions in bird photographers, one who take pictures for the sake of getting beautiful pictures & the other who go the extra mile to remember the names, geographical distribution, migration routes & their unique bird characteristics. Pictures & videos are used to spread awareness & to create the love of birds for the vibrant display of feathers, courtship & nesting. The Borneo Bird Race attracted 8 teams of likeminded individuals from 7 countries, 3 members in each & all could rattle out names of birds like they lived in their backyard. Rightly so, when they make birding their profession!

Setting out the next morning, the 7th day of the race, birders reached the Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre & proceeded to explore. The pristine jungle here is well mapped out, with marked trails & visible signboards. Some trails have benches or logs for you to sit & rest which makes birding very leisurely here despite the hills you have to walk to get to them.

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On the way to these trails, birds hop from tree to tree in such a flight fashion that it gives a symphony to a bird wave! The participants were in for a treat! Ticking off species in their wanted list as they add on to their competition entry. And on the 8th day of intense racing, one team went home with the Champion’s Trophy. During the opening ceremony of the Borneo Bird Festival 2013 on the 7 June which was opened by the Minister of Culture, Arts & Tourism of Sabah, Datuk Masidi Manjun, Team Philippines, comprising of Adrian Constantino, Mark Jason Villa & Ivan Carenas took home a title to do their country proud as they had come this far to race against the 6 other nations in a relations-fostering event to promote travel-for-birding within the region of Asian birding nations. Team Thailand wasn’t too far behind with their list of birds, taking the 2nd Prize & Team Singapore came in 3rd, with the advent leadership of Kim Seng, who had been entering bird races since 1992! What a great interest that becomes a lifelong adventure!

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Revelling the 9th day of the adventure, participants could finally share information after the race as the took to the trails together. Team Taiwan was birding with Team Philippines as from the start, biologist Wayne Hsu found something in common with Mark, a professional bird guide, in the love of bird-findings & being in the same age group. It was a day of trying for the Bornean Bristlehead, an endemic species which Team Japan was most eager trekking the jungles for as they had even foregone their rest day on the 10th day to make it back to Sepilok Forest to spot the elusive wonder. And they were rewarded!

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In the gaps between, we attended a talk by Team Gujarat’s biologist, Dr. Bharat Jethva, whom I’ve had the pleasure of birding with in two consecutive years of birdwatchers’ conference in Gujarat, India. Speakers like Andy Boyce, whom we had bumped into in Kinabalu Park, was showing his findings in video clips of nesting behaviour, giving us a great insight to the life of these tree-dwellers.

Ending the adventure on the 10th day was the beginning of another as the nations added one another on their social media profile on Facebook. The flurry of pictures & updates denoting their excitement of their 10-day encounters flooded our timeline & with appropriate responses, bridged the distance even further.

The dinners hosted by the Sandakan Town Council & Sabah Tourism cemented relationships & chiselled away the last bits of ice in the participants as they cheered their comrades on in a bid to get the Proboscis Monkey stuffed toy by impersonating an animal seen on the journey. Laughter permeated the dinner, stopping even the waiters who stood to laugh along with us. The jovial sporting mode that they wore transcended barriers of language, culture & nation. An event that stands uniquely Borneo & with a promise of a bigger & better installation next year with the possible inclusion of Sarawak & Kalimantan, Indonesia. You want to make yourself available for it even if it takes 15 days for you win not only the race but a camaraderie that will win you friends for life.

Racing in Kinabalu For Birds

Mount Kinabalu holds a special place in the hearts of Sabahans, being the tallest mountain in South East Asia, its surroundings host between 5000 and 6000 species of plants, 326 species of birds, and more than 100 mammalian species identified making it one of the most important biological sites in the world. Rightly so, it earned a place in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Site. This is right after we got so pampered in Brunei that we left with a heavy heart not being able to see more of what it has to offer. This will make some of us come back for sure.

The flight was a short 35 minutes to Kota Kinabalu where we were transported to Kundasang shortly after immigration clearance. We met Tengku Adlin, Chairman of Sabah Tourism Board, when Sabah Tourism hosted the welcome dinner in the cool mountain inn. Vegetation changes were prominent as it spans 4 climate zones. As we ascended every 100 metres, we could even see stars at eye level! The following morning began with a wake up call at 4am for a headstart towards Timpohon Gate by 5:30am. This is where climbers usually begin their ascent up the mountain & we were there for its inhabitants! The birds! And did we see birds! It was also 15 degrees C!!

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Indigo Flycatcher

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Participants at race!

Roger Rajah pointed out to me a particular fern (pteridophytes) whose spores are used as the dusting powder for fingerprints in forensics! How awesome is that? There are 600+ species of ferns here & it would not be surprising if scientists find other miracle uses for them. Taking a stroll down the 4km road to the park’s headquarters, there were beautiful plants popping up in the most unusual of places. Apart from finding several swift nests on ledges of a rock cliff, we found a group of foreigners marvelling at a Bulbophyllum orchid by a tree on the side of the road!

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The Borneo Bird Race is not just about the race but a reason to combine expertise from each of the 7 nations participating to document the most number of bird species. It is a melting pot of minds to find the flamboyant & the elusives of Borneo’s avian life, some endemics, while promoting travel within Asia. Known as one of the most hospitable nations, Sabah has a great expanse of natural resources to marvel at, with the Minister citing to keep 65% of the state to be maintained as forest reserve. What a fine example to set for the country! And if these sightings of wild & rare orchids, magnificent birds, superb bugs & awesome mammals are anything to go by, Sabah will be one big wild secret that’s difficult to keep!

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Bornean Whistler, Pale Faced Bulbul, Black & White Flycatcher(?), Mountain Imperial Pigeon.

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Spores for forensics.

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Keeping quiet was imperative although at times I felt like exploding with delight when I see a bird I hadn’t seen before. The teams were concentrating hard to spot the skittish birds & identifying them through Quentin Phillips’ guide book or Susan Myers’. Most of these birds are lifers to them (also to me) & some of them even went into the trails. There were times when there were no birds at all & that’s when we turn to other flora & fauna. What kept the teams apart during the race (they can’t discuss birds), they made it up during bus rides & pit stops! After breaking for lunch, the entourage embarked on a 6 hour road journey through a picturesque inland to Sepilok in Sandakan. Along the way, we even stopped to see the Bornean Falconet! We can stop a bus for a bird! 😀

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What’s camaraderie if Adjudicators like Alim here, doesn’t take a break to fool around by hijacking the gas tank of a mountain porter??? Here, he poses with a backpack belonging to one of his porter friends who were later seen lugging it up Timpohon Gate!

The remarkable Stewards were always on hand to give advice, tips & suggestions on how to spot the birds & rightly so, a few of them have made the Borneo 400 Club! A club that recognises a record of over 400 species sighted!

Don’t miss my next post on Sepilok Forest as I take a weekend break to cover yet another bird race in Fraser’s Hill!

Don’t Miss Reef Rescuers’ Airing Times

Are you looking forward to the screening of Reef Rescuers tomorrow? I have! Have you been participating in the Astro Kasih Reef Rescuers ”˜7 Days of Sharing’ Facebook quiz? Congratulations to the lucky participants who got their hands on a GoPro camera, you can express your creativity in shooting terrestrial & underwater life now! If you still haven’t got yourself one yet, there’s still time to participate today and tomorrow! I’ve been telling everyone about the fantastic effort by Astro Kasih to clean up unwanted debris in the sea and how you can share in the excitement. It’s all HERE!

Having planned my viewing party for tomorrow’s Premiere of Reef Rescuers on Thursday, 30th May at 7pm, I want my students to know how their activities can impact the environment as it’s a perfect documentary to show new divers how to take up stewardship of the ocean wherever they dive. Debris can choke the reefs and the reef is a home to many species of life with each of them depending on another for survival.

If you can’t get your fellow divers to watch with you, send them an invite through the Reef Rescuers Facebook Events page at https://www.facebook.com/events/320722658059225/. And if you can’t make it tomorrow night, do not fret for there are several repeats as scheduled below:

Repeats on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551)

  • Friday 31st May at 1pm
  • Sunday 2nd June at 5pm
  • Tuesday 4th June at 7pm
  • Wednesday 5th June 12am
  • Wednesday 5th June 1pm

Repeats on Discovery HD World (Astro Ch 571)

  • Friday 31st May at 1pm
  • Sunday 2nd June at 5pm

Till next time, I’m off to stock up on Pretzels & Nuts for my viewing party at my sister’s place. Enjoy the show tomorrow!

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Astro Kasih’s Beautiful Malaysia – Reef Rescuers Programme

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Divers surfacing after a round of cleaning up underwater.

Ever wondered what’s it like to have a little underwater camera that produces megapixels of high definition videos? Beginning on 24 May 2013, you can have a go at the Astro Kasih Reef Rescuers ”˜7 Days of Sharing’ Facebook quiz that runs until 30 May 2013 to get selected for a GoPro camera giveaway & there’s one given away daily! In bringing you the longest underwater clean up, held at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park off the shores of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Astro Kasih team organised a GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ attempt from 6th ”“ 13th April 2013 ”“ a total of 7 days or 168 hours ”“ the same length of time that the quiz will run! The initiative was started to create greater awareness on marine conservation – with the help of 134 volunteer divers from Malaysia and across the world, working at 14 dives sites around the park, in an epic, non-stop 168-hour, seven-day underwater clean-up mission.

Astro Kasih’s Beautiful Malaysia programme is a volunteer initiative undertaken by Astro employees for the betterment and advancement of the community that we live in. Being one of Astro’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives under its environment pillar its main focus is to raise awareness on preserving the environment with community engagement for environmental activities. You can give your comments & suggestions as they welcome ideas on the Astro Kasih Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/astrokasihmalaysia.

Astro Kasih Beautiful Malaysia includes a coral transplanting project in 2011 at Ribbon Reef in Tun Sakaran Marine Park, Sabah ”“ an effort that achieved certification by the Malaysia Book of Records with 777 corals transplanted. To learn more, just surf over to www.astrokasih.org/beautifulmalaysia. The purpose of Astro Kasih’s initiative is to help the many underprivileged villages and children in Sabah since 2009. Their activities include building and repairing amenities and infrastructure and contributing to the improvement of educational resources for the kids.

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Volunteer divers posing with their haul.

You may not have been aware of this record-breaking attempt, hence, a 30-minute television special showing an insider perspective of what it takes to plan and execute such a huge marine conservation project will be aired on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551) and Discovery HD World (Astro Ch 571) on Thursday 30th May at 7pm. This is a collaborative effort by Astro with Discovery Network to produce Reef Rescuers. Watching it will not only get you into the charms of the purpose of Astro Kasih but to get you involved in this upcoming premiere of Reef Rescuers, through a special quiz!

In that duration each morning you will be given a chance to a multiple choice question that you must answer by 7pm on the same day. You only need to submit your real name, email address and phone number for authentication purposes should they need to call you about the giveaway. Last but not least, you’re needed to spread the word on the Reef Rescuers programme and quiz through a Facebook status update that says “I just took the Reef Rescuers quiz about the world’s longest underwater clean-up in Sabah, Malaysia. Take the quiz today and get selected for a GoPro! Catch the 30-minute documentary on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551) and Discovery HD World (Astro Ch 571), premieres 30 May, Thursday, 7pm.” If your sharing can help educate someone about the ocean’s reefs, imagine how much destruction you can help prevent! Share away & save a reef! After that, check back on the Astro Kasih Facebook page after 10am the next day to know if you’ll be getting your hands on a GoPro camera courtesy of Astro Kasih. It is easier to receive notifications if you click ‘Like’ on the page.

If you are a diver, don’t stop there! Watch it with your fellow divers to see if you get ideas from the Reef Rescuers to safeguard your patch of reef! Connect & invite them on the Reef Rescuers Facebook Events page at https://www.facebook.com/events/320722658059225/. Remember to use the Red Button on your Astro remote control during viewing to get more info, chat on Twitter, see an info feed, or check out their other giveaways.

After you surf over to join the quiz, you can also look around for ways to keep Malaysia green or engage in sustainable living. If you prefer to check out the best places for scuba diving or cool places to travel to, have a look at the conversations on the Discovery Southeast Asia Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/DiscoverySEAsia. There’s always something cool to discover every day!

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The Astro Kasih’s team and the divers commemorating their extraordinary achievement with a group photo. Amongst them is my NAUI Course Director, Michael Tong!

Borneo’s Most Happening Event of The Year!

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What do you get when you put a flock of birders, bird photographers & birding enthusiasts in a 130 million year old forest??? An animated pandemonium of ornithologists at the international Borneo Bird Race 2013! We are heading to the heart of Brunei & Sabah for a chance to capture on media, over 680 species of resident & migratory birds, 350 of which are in Sabah! Tell me if that’s not reason enough to be electrified! Birders from Hong Kong, Thailand, Philippines, India, Taiwan, Japan, Brunei & Malaysia will be on the path of flight to congregate for this event.

The pristine forests have been teeming with avian life since the beginning of time & participants will be competing for coveted prizes in the form of cameras & cash from Nikon & various sponsors. Sabah Tourism Board is equally excited to co-host the event at a grand scale as the Bird Race will take off in Ulu Temburong in Brunei before flying over to Kinabalu Park to find montane birds and make the descent to Sepilok, Sandakan for the 5th instalment of the Borneo Bird Festival 2013! Covering coastal regions, freshwater swamps, lowland forests, to the hills and mountain ranges of Sabah, this 10-day expedition will be The Big Year of the East!

I can hardly wait! Preparing my feathers to fly soon!

Will be giving updates on-the-fly from 31 May – 9 June 2013 so follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my FB!

Next, the Bird Photography Contest! Stay tuned!

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