Thursday, May 27, 2010

West Malaysia: Fraser's Hill - Setting the Scene

From the coast at Tanjung Tuan Eileen, Bing and I travelled via Kuala Lumpur to one of my favourite places in Malaysia, the mountain resort of Fraser's Hill. We spent two days here (April 6-7), birding, nature watching and just enjoying the view.

The view is, of course, very enjoyable!

Fraser's Hill, besides being an extremely pleasant spot, has the advantage of being surrounded by quite a bit of reasonably undisturbed forest. The powers that be seem determined to "upgrade" the charming little village, with its vestiges of British colonialism, an activity that mostly seems to be accomplished by the addition of a lot of reinforced concrete, but fortunately the Pahang state government has put a freeze on further development. With luck, the area may continue to be a birders' mecca.

It is also something of a botanists' mecca -- 900 species of vascular plants, with 36 endemics!. As far as I am concerned, any place with tree ferns (Family Cyathaceae), perhaps the loveliest plants in the world, is a beautiful spot by definition.

Birders visiting Fraser's Hill always head for the Telekom Loop, a road near the summit lined with tree ferns and surmounted by a telecommunications tower. It is an excellent place to find mixed flocks of mountain birds.

For birds of lower elevations, the best bet is to head for the so-called new road, and alternate way up (or down) the mountain. Some people have even seen tigers here. At various times this road may be either open or inaccessible....

...And at the moment it is being disfigured by some pretty hideous roadworks, apparently in response to a quite significant landslide, so we could only reach it from the top.

I have so many pictures from Fraser's Hill that I have decided to split my entry up into sections. This one, besides scenery, we'll give you a bit of botany (or, in the case of these bright yellow mushrooms, mycology) and invertebrate zoology.

More mushrooms -- and please don't ask me what they are!

Ferns line much of the new road, framing views of the hills in the distance.

I believe this to be Dicranopteris curranii, the roadside fern. It certainly grows along roadsides, where its multi-branching growth habit produces dense, impenetrable thickets.

On the other hand, this common epiphytic fern (whose name, I'm afraid, I do not know) forms highly attractive, discrete clumps, each sprouting from a basin of dead leaves.

This beautiful, coppery-red young frond belongs to another species of fern that I cannot identify, growing along the edge of the new road.

Two contrasting flowers (or, in the first case, inflorescences): does anybody know what they are? I presume that the lower one is a member of the family Amaryllidaceae, but that's as far as I can go.

I do know what this is! It's a bamboo orchid (Arundina graminifolia), and the new road is lined in many places with thickets of the stuff. They do look rather like clumps of bamboo until you notice the flowers. it can be a rather treacherous plant; while trying to take these photographs I managed to fall, slowly, into a deep hole cleverly hidden beneath clumps of orchid stalks.

Fraser's Hill has an interesting spider fauna, including (according to Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia) five species endemic to the region. This, however, is not one of them. It is, instead, one of the giant orb weavers (Nephila spp.), widespread spiders whose huge size, big enough to span your hand and more -- at least as far as the females are concerned; the males are quite tiny -- and immense webs can give arachnophobic visitors to the tropics (not to mention insects and even small birds) the fright of their lives. Fortunately for me, I like spiders, and I find these monsters quite beautiful.

Both these photographs show butterflies of the genus Jamides, known as caeruleans, though as the various species are extremely similar (some can only be identified by dissection of the genitalia) I am not sure which one it is (or they are; these are different individuals, photographed separately along the new road).

These photos are of the same butterfly - a Wizard (Rhinopalpa polynice eudoxia). It is a widespread southern Asian butterfly, the only member of its genus.

These two butterflies were sampling the mineral salts at the roadworks along the new road. I believe that the upper one is one of the crows (Euploea spp.), though there are other butterflies (eg Chilasa spp.) that mimic them. The lower photo is probably of another Euploea, the Magpie Crow (E. radamanthus).

This superb beetle, an immense longicorn I believe, was prowling around some bushes near an old English-style hotel where we stopped for tea.

And to finish our parade of Fraser's Hill invertebrates, here is a truly impressive leech, an animal I'm glad I didn't meet on closer than photographic terms!

Eileen took this shot of me contemplating the view from our apartment balcony at the end of the day. I hope I look happy, because I certainly was!

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