Monday, August 26, 2013

West Malaysia: Panti Forest Rendezvous

Though it is one of West Malaysia's most famous birding localities, I had been disappointed by my first visit to the Panti Forest in Johor.  I had to face the possibility, of course, that my poor showing back in 2010 said more about my bird-finding abilities than about the locale, so when Wilbur Goh of the Malaysian Nature Society (Selangor Branch) organised a four-day trip to the reserve in the company of some real experts, I jumped at the chance to go along.  On February 4, 2012, Wilbur picked me up at the airport in Johor Bahru, and we were soon off for the forest.  Needless to say, I did far better this time than last!

Wilbur had arranged our permits (a necessity for Panti visitors), allowing us to explore both the well-known Bunker Trail, its entrance marked by two enormous concrete bunkers, and a dirt road to the south that proved even better (and gave me good looks, but no photos, of Panti's number one target bird, the Rail-Babbler (Eupetes macrocerus).

Leech (Haemadipsa zeylanica)
Hunting for Rail-babblers involves plunging into the forest itself, giving me an excellent chance to encounter some of the less attractive members of the local fauna.

Leech (Haemadipsa zeylanica)
Thanks to Panti's leech population, I can literally say that I paid for my Rail-Babblers in blood!  This one, straining out for someone to latch on to, is probably Haemadipsa zeylanica.

Though this was definitely a birding trip (as evidenced by such excellent birders as Jasmine and John Steed and Mark Ng), this post is not about birds (that'll come next time).  Instead, we'll look at some of the other things Panti has to offer.

Bird's-nest Ferns (Asplenium sp.)
That can include the plants of which the forest is built: trees, and their loads of epiphytes like these Bird's-nest Ferns (Asplenium sp.)

I am always fascinated by the variety of leaf shapes you can find in a tropical forest.  Here an unidentified plant sports highly elongate "drip tips" that serve to draw away rainwater after a storm, and, below, distinctive "bull's-hoof" leaves identify a member of the genus Bauhinia.

I have no idea what plant bears these magnificent globular clusters of flowers, but there seemed to be quite a lot of them at Panti.

The combination of bright pink stems and  dark bluish-black berries on this plant remind me  of members of the pokeberry family (Phytolaccaceae), but I have no idea if this actually is one.

Is this a ginger of some sort (one of the members of the genus Costus, perhaps)?

And what plant produces these flaming red roots?

 This fungus was being visited by numbers of tiny bees, just visible in the photograph - a good way to segue across three biological kingdoms, from plants to fungi to animals.

 Sticking with insects, here is a rather fearsome ant...

Assassin Bug (Reduviidae)
… and a bright yellow Assassin Bug (Reduviidae).

Tractor Millipede (Barydesmus sp)
Some impressive millipedes crossed our path: this is a  Tractor Millipede (Barydesmus sp).

Giant Millipede (Ommatoiulus sp poss)
Giant Millipede (Ommatoiulus sp poss)
We found this giant millipede, perhaps a member of the genus Ommatoiulus, on the last day of our visit to Panti.

The forest was  much wetter than I recalled from my first visit, and numerous streams and ponds were hunting grounds for all sorts of interesting creatures. I was particularly interested in their dragonflies and damselflies, but, as for the birds and butterflies, those will have to wait for a later posting.

Water Strider (Gerridae)
Water Strider (Gerridae)
 In the meantime, here are some large water striders (Gerridae).

Saddle Barb (Systomus banksi)
The large black blotch below the dorsal fin on these little fishes identifies them as Saddle Barbs (Systomus banksi),  a social species of clear forest streams. Apparently they were once kept in village wells as a sign that the water was safe to drink.

 We found a number of different sorts of frogs, but identifying them from photographs can be tricky. Does anyone know what this is?

Night provides an opportunity to find a few more frogs...

However, this one has me stumped.  When I found it I assumed that the striking orange stripe down the middle of its back would make this species easy to identify.  It turns out, though, that there are a number of Malaysian frogs with the same feature, and I have been unable to decide for sure which of them this is. Frogs can be variable creatures as far as colour is concerned, and I have decided not even to hazard a guess here. Anyone else?

Back in the light of day, we found that even temporary pools caused by the ruts of moving vehicles could be filled with swarms of tiny tadpoles -  presumably the offspring of species with a remarkably fast maturation time.

Four-lined Tree Frog (Polypedates leucomystax)
In one roadside pond I found this  foam nest suspended just above the water surface.

Four-lined Tree Frog (Polypedates leucomystax)
 just across the pond, this little frog – presumably the parent of the eggs buried in the mass of foam -  appeared to stand guard. I think it is a Four-lined Tree Frog (Polypedates leucomystax).

Four-lined Tree Frog (Polypedates leucomystax)
By evening, when we passed by again, the hatchlings had broken free of their nest and fallen into the pond, leaving only a fringe of foam around its supporting leaves.

Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella)
Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella)
A Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella) eyed me from a low bush along the Bunker Trail...

While this unidentified skink checked me out from atop a small stump.

Large Forest Gecko (Gekko smithii)
If you look very closely at the hollow limb you will see a lizard dangling head-down out of it.  It is a Large Forest Gecko (Gekko smithii), and was one of the finds of the trip (and a remarkable job of spotting by John Steed).  It was a long way over our heads, and the tree itself was surrounded by impenetrable shrubbery, so this is as close as I could get.  at up to 35 centimetres long, this is one of the largest of living geckos.

Plantain Squirrel (Callosciurus notatus)
Mammals along the trails included the common Plantain Squirrel (Callosciurus notatus).

Slender Squirrel (Sundasciurus tenuis)
The Slender Squirrel (Sundasciurus tenuis) is smaller than the Plantain Squirrel, and is more strictly an inhabitant of forests.

Southern Pig-tailed Macaque (Macaca nemestrina)
This Southern Pig-tailed Macaque (Macaca nemestrina) peered at me from behind the safety of a tree.

The macaque was investigating the edges of a (surely illegal) campsite in the forest off the southern trail, presumably the work of local hunters or poachers.  There were game guards nearby (who harassed us about the validity of our permits), but the camp appeared to be unmolested.

It's worrisome that they were there, because Panti is also home to some of the few remaining Malaysian Tigers (Panthera tigris), one of which probably left this pug mark in the mud of the Bunker Trail.  The splendour of Malaysia's wildlife is, alas, often matched by its precariousness.

No comments:

Post a Comment