The rise of bird photography in Malaysia has been steady in recent years, and this is all thanks to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, where many go to show their prized photos.
And if you have done a quick search on Google for bird photography, you will see that there is not much information on this subject; hence I have taken the opportunity to provide essential information here.
Bird Photography in Malaysia
Malaysia is one of the more sought after locations for bird photography because of several reasons that make this hobby an easy experience. The country sits just above the equator and just under Thailand with two main seasons – rain and dry season.
Overall, there are an estimated 785 bird species found in Malaysia (According to MNS) and spread well throughout the 15 states, including Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo Island. But if you check Wikipedia, it lists down 834 species of birds in Malaysia recorded to date.
More importantly, Malaysia’s infrastructure is quite well developed, providing easy access to most birding destinations by air, sea, rail or overland by car, bike and even 4×4.
Due to the demand for bird photography before the Covid 19 pandemic, various locations around the country had seen an increase in avian tourism, which saw a small opportunity to capitalise on this special market.
However, you do not create overnight bird guides hoping to be ready in a few months to lead potential photographers into the rainforest. This takes a lot of experience and time, which can result in months or even years.
But one state in Malaysia has seen the future, and they had already trained their guides from decades ago until this very day. And the most important is knowing and understanding what the photographer wants during his or her trip.
Many bird guides in Malaysia speak excellent English, and some even speak a second or third language, but the ultimate concern is the good birding ethics that are practised and shared.
One of the worst ethics in bird photography is feeding the birds for the shot, and most bird guides in Malaysia highly tolerate this. If you are the type that feeds the birds to get the shot, you won’t get a good bird guide.
And if you do bird feeding on your trip, some bird guides will cancel the tour and refund your fees as they do not support this non-ethical practice of bird feeding.
Best Place for Bird Photography in Malaysia
This would be the most popular question asked by bird photographers who plan to visit here, and for this answer, there are actually two recommended places for bird photography in Malaysia which are;
The bird guides in Sabah are all well-trained to handle all kinds of international bird tourists, and you can even find specific language speaking guides in Sabah.
Why Sabah excels in this is also thanks to the Sabah Tourism Board, who over the years has supported and promoted bird tourism to various bird fairs around the world.
And to top it off, Sabah also has its own unique Borne Bird Festival annually at the Rainforest Discovery Centre or RDC, which is also an Important Birding Area or IDC since 2009.
I will also compile a list of place to do bird photography in Sabah, and they are probably the best locations for this. The main reasons are the places’ overall infrastructure, meaning accommodation, roads, guides, services, and so on.
Places to do bird photography in Sabah;
Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDS) at Sepilok, Sandakan
Danum Valley Conservation Area, Lahad Datu
Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Lahad Datu
Kinabalu National Park, Ranau
The best time to do bird photography in Sabah is around August to September, and this is due to the general fruiting season, which attracts a lot of birds to certain fruiting trees. One of the best trees to look out for are the fig trees as it attracts quite many species of birds.
2. Bird Photography in Langkawi
Over in Peninsular Malaysia, there are numerous locations available, but the most convenient place would be Langkawi’s Island in Northern Malaysia. It is here where you can get some great photos of the various Hornbills.
Why Langkawi is selected is because of the complete infrastructure that the entire island provides. Overall, Pulau Langkawi is well-known as a vacation getaway destination that caters to all walks of life.
The balance of nature and beach is perfect, providing an abundance of flora and fauna that impresses nature lovers and bird watchers. There are a few reputable bird guides available on the island, and they can be booked in advance.
Overall, I would recommend visiting Langkawi from around October to March as this is the dry season. Be cautious about booking trips during December and the Chinese New Year period because of the super peak holiday season.
Any other time is excellent, but you should expect rain from April to October, which is not the major monsoon and has less visitors to the island. One of the places I love to stay is at the Tanjung Rhu Resort because of the privacy and natural area for bird watching.
Other Places for Bird Photography in Malaysia
There are many other places where you can do bird photography in Malaysia, but one needs to travel around or book a guide to bring you around. At the end of the day, it also depends on the bird photographer and what he or she wants to shoot.
Let us say that if you want only to photograph the Dulit Frogmouth, you will have to travel to Sarawak’s highlands as that endemic bird has only been spotted there. Also, you will need a local guide to bring you to the specific place where the Frogmouth is seen.
If you want to photograph specific shorebirds, you may need to explore specific areas that are well known, namely the Ash Pond in Kuching, Sarawak or Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary in the state of Perak.
It is subjective and up to the bird photographer on what they want to achieve at the end of the day. But if you are a first-time bird photographer to Malaysia, then the above locations are probably the best, to begin with.
Bird Photography Equipment in Malaysia
Because of the tropical climate, bird photographers to Malaysia must come prepared, and I have narrowed down a list of what you can bring or prepare for your trip;
Raincoat of Poncho – Highly important as it can rain in the rainforest anytime, and you will want to protect yourself.
Camera and Lens Raincoat – These are also important for your gear as when it rains, it can be quite heavy.
Leech Socks – For anyone heading into the rainforest, these are compulsory to wear.
Insect Repellent – I know every country has its own brands, but here in Malaysia, you need a local one that suits our climate.
Local Bird Book – If you want to know the local bird names and other information, you can always buy them here.
If you are booking a specialised bird photography guide for your trip, I would advise that you ask them what is needed for your trip. If you go deep into the rainforest, then it would be unpractical to bring along your hard cases and so on.
To buy some of these bird photography equipment, you may need to pre-buy them in our country you are a visiting traveller. If you are local, you can also look for some of these products at the Bird Watching Malaysia online shop in the near future.
How to Book a Bird Photography Guide in Malaysia?
For now, I am working on compiling a list of the Malaysia bird guides for photography and once I get the detailed information, I will be posting them on this site or even on this article.
If you are planning to visit Malaysia soon for birding or if you need a bird photography guide, you can always contact me from here and I will get back to you.
I hope this article on bird photography in Malaysia has provided you with much-needed information. If you enjoyed reading this, please do follow me on my Bird Watching Malaysia Facebook Group.
I created this article because of the rise of bird photographers in Malaysia and all over the world in the last five years alone. Before this, there were many bird watchers compared to photographers.