- 2009/03/24 Soaring high in the sky

Once again, Malaysia's coastal hill forest at Tanjung Tuan, Malacca, became the centre of attraction for thousands of migratory birds of prey and tourists alike during the recent annual Raptor Watch Week.

Organised by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), the event saw more than 4,000 visitors including avid bird watchers gathering to get the rare glimpse of the majestic birds on their annual migratory flight.

With about 20.5 nautical miles of the Malacca Straits separating Peninsula Malaysia and Pulau Rupat, Sumatra, Tanjung Tuan is the closest point in the country to Indonesia.

Image: Tanjung Tuan is Malaysia's only coastal hill forest which is a protected bird sanctuary and forest reserve.
Tanjung Tuan is Malaysia's only coastal hill forest which is a protected bird sanctuary and forest reserve.



Due to this geographical factor, birds of prey on their annual winter and spring migration from China, Russia, Mongolia and Siberia use the coastal area here to ride the thermal drafts as they make their way to and fro Pulau Rupat, Sumatra.

It is sight to behold to see various birds such as the Oriental Honey Buzzard, Crested Honey Buzzard, Chinese Goshawk, Grey-Faced Buzzard, Japanese Sparrow Hawk and the Black Baza flying in large numbers overhead.

MNS head of communication Andrew J. Sebastian said that growing awareness of the unique natural phenomenon had led to the event becoming one of the more popular nature outings for families and students from around the country. He said the birds migration season would begin mid February till mid April.


Image: Time to migrate: A Crested Honey Buzzard from Pulau Rupat, Sumatra riding the thermal draft above Tanjung Tuan.
Time to migrate: A Crested Honey Buzzard from Pulau Rupat, Sumatra riding the thermal draft above Tanjung Tuan.



Since counting began on Feb 14, he noted that more than 18,000 birds of prey were recorded flying pass the Tanjung Tuan area. "This is the first time that MNS has placed volunteers in the area for 65 days to keep tabs on the number of birds. In the past, we used to carry out the census for 16 days only. However, the number of volunteers have grown over the years and we are now able to keep count throughout their migration period," he said when met here.

Besides bird watching, the weekend event also offered participants educational and recreational activities such as a nature and mangrove walks and family oriented games.

Sebastian said that MNS was pleased to see that more locals becoming more aware of the significance of Tanjung Tuan as one of Malaysia's natural wonder. In fact, word had spread about the Raptor Watch that avid bird watchers from Australia, Britain, Finland, Japan, Singapore, Philip-pines and Thailand had come to witness the phenomenon and enjoy nature, he added.

He hoped the Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry would consider Malacca's application to declare Tanjung Tuan as a natural National Treasure. "By declaring as a a national treasure, Tanjung Tuan would be assured of the protection to ensure that future generations would be able to enjoy its uniqueness and natural beauty,Ē he said.


Image: Keen birdwatcher: Motoko Saeki from Japan was among the foreign participants who gathered at Tanjung Tuan.
Keen birdwatcher: Motoko Saeki from Japan was among the foreign participants who gathered at Tanjung Tuan.



Meanwhile, Kimihiro Kuno, 43, an avid bird watcher and professional photographer from Japan, said he was pleased that he made the trip here. "I have only done bird watching and photographing them in my country. This is my first time out of Japan and I am glad that I came to witness and photograph the event here,Ē he said, adding that he came to know of Raptor Watch through a friend. Kimihiro, who was accompanied by his friend Motoko Saeki, 33, said that he would spend about a week here before heading back to Japan.

Though located in Negri Sembilan some 15km across the border, Tanjung Tuan or Cape Rachado remains part of Malacca owing to its unique past.


Image: Avid bird watchers at Tanjung Tuan scanning the skies for the migratory birds.
Avid bird watchers at Tanjung Tuan scanning the skies for the migratory birds.



Located at the peak of the hill is the country's oldest light-house built in the late 1520's by the Portuguese who conquered Malacca. The Dutch had continued its use after capturing Malacca from the Portuguese in 1641.

It later came into the hands of the British 1824 and has continued to perform its function following Independence in 1957. Today, it houses a revolving MEASAT Radar used for transmissions and communications.

The waters off Tanjung Tuan are considered by mariners to be a graveyard for shipwrecks owing to its shallow waters and fast eddy. Several wrecks were discovered off the waters here in the early 1990's with the Tourism Ministry salvaging the 17th Century Dutch ship Middleburg and Portuguese galleon San Salvador between 1993 and 1995.

The coastal hill is also linked to 15th Century Malacca Sultanate Empire. There is an ancient grave at the foot of the hill that is said to belong to Parameswara, the founder of Malacca.

Also in the vicinity is the famous rock imprint of Hang Tuah's right foot. Sadly, the actual rock was blasted by construction workers in the 1920's and what remains is a remnant of the rock minus the foot imprint.

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