Birdwatching at Kuala Rompin – Trip Report

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Kuala Rompin birdwatching

In early March 2024, I went on a short weekend trip – birdwatching at Kuala Rompin. This small town is located on the eastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia. In 2023, the town became a magnet for birdwatchers as several rare species were spotted nearby.

These included the Knob-billed Duck, Green-winged Teal, Tufted Duck and Spotted Redshank. However, my visit wasn’t to see these rarities (they’re not present in 2024). Rather, we had other targets in mind. Additionally, I was curious to check out the birding areas in general.

Birdwatching at Kuala Rompin – Trip Report

For this trip, I joined fellow birdwatching.asia colleague Ashwin and two other friends. Our main targets were:

  1. White-faced Plover – Recently elevated to full species status, this close cousin of the Kentish Plover is still shrouded in mystery.
  2. Chinese Egret – A globally vulnerable egret that’s challenging to distinguish from other white egrets in non-breeding plumage.
  3. Cinnamon-headed Green-Pigeon – A gorgeous Treron pigeon that’s difficult to see outside certain areas. Kuala Rompin is a well-known location for it.
  4. Wrinkled Hornbill – It is quite uncommon in Malaysia as their preferred habitat is quickly dwindling.

The plover and pigeon would be my lifers. I’ve seen the egret and hornbill before; nevertheless, these uncommon species are always a welcome sight. Finally, It’s always great to see the delightful Malaysian Plover, the only plover resident in Malaysia. 

Birdwatching at Kuala Rompin – Location 1: Kuala Pontian Beach

After a 4 hour drive from Kuala Lumpur, we wasted no time and headed to our first birding spot – Kuala Pontian beach. Only 10 minutes from the town centre, this secluded sandy beach straddles the mouth of the Pontian River. We arrived at high tide, but no birds were in sight – except for a lone Common Sandpiper. Making matters worse, it was windy and drizzling. Were we at the right place?

Here they come!

We needn’t be worried, though, as the shorebirds arrived when the tide receded. First, the Sand-Plovers arrived, followed by the Terek Sandpipers. Then, as if by magic, a flock of Sanderlings materialised on the sand. We missed their arrival since we were too busy looking through our scopes. True to their reputation, the Sanderlings ran helter-skelter along the water’s edge, looking for food. Seeing these adorable little waders running on their short legs was endearing!

Kuala Rompin Sanderlings
A decent flock of Sanderlings arrived at the beach. I counted around 50 of them. The inclement weather didn’t faze them one bit!

Malaysian residents

Above the high tide line, we spotted two pairs of Malaysian Plovers. They were well camouflaged against the sand, driftwood and rubbish. My encounter here was reminiscent of the birds I saw at Lok Kawi beach in Kota Kinabalu. Like there, the plovers were relatively confiding and allowed a close approach. 

The Malaysian Plovers prefer the drier parts of sand and generally don’t mix with the other plovers/shorebirds. Indeed, it was entertaining to see them chasing away any nearby shorebirds!

Kuala Rompin Malaysian Plover
This male Malaysian Plover wasn’t very shy and gave us good views. It’s rather similar to the Kentish Plover. The difference lies in the scaly-looking upperparts (uniform looking in the Kentish – refer to the Kentish photo).
Malaysian Plover male and female at Kuala Rompin
The female Malaysian Plover has less black on the collar and head compared to the male. These two are presumably a pair.

Feeling Kentish

Next up was a flock of Kentish Plovers. Most were in their breeding plumage, readily distinguished from the Sand and Malaysian Plovers. Kentish Plovers seem to be more common along the sandy beaches of the east coast. Indeed, I’ve only seen small numbers along the mudflats of Selangor, my home state.

Mersing Kentish Plover
Unfortunately, I failed to obtain decent photos of the Kentish Plover during this trip. This photo was taken in Mersing in 2023. I include it here for comparison with the other plovers. Note the black line between the eye and the bill—compare with the White-faced Plover below.

Fair and lovely

While the Kentish Plovers were good birds, we were on the lookout for its less numerous cousins. Using our scopes, we scanned the birds closely. Sure enough, at least one White-faced Plover was spotted amongst the Kentish flock. Lifer #1!

The White-faced is very similar to the Kentish; however, it lacks the black lores of its relative. This makes for a pale-faced complexion – hence the name. 

Kuala Rompin White-faced Plover
The pale complexion of the White-faced Plover makes it look rather cute! Notice the lack of black marking between the eye and the bill.

The egret

One Chinese Egret joined in the fun. The bird was spotted foraging energetically along the waterside. The bird was so engrossed in its foraging that it seemed oblivious to our presence, allowing us to obtain great views.

Differentiating the Chinese Egret from other white egrets is challenging, especially in non-breeding plumage. The main confusion species is the Little Egret and white morph Pacific Reef-Egret. Our egret was still in its wintering plumage, but the identifying features were visible:

  • Greenish-yellow legs. Longer than the reef-egret. In flight, the feet are well clear of the tail.
  • The bill is mostly dark but has yellow at the base of the lower bill.
  • The lores (area in front of the eye) are noticeably kinked downwards, giving it an angry expression.

Check out this article by Dave Bakewell for identifying tips – this website helped me a lot!

Kuala Rompin Chinese Egret
This flying shot of the Chinese Egret shows a few identification features. Notice the dark bill with a yellowish bill base and kinked lores. Also, the greenish-yellow legs, with the feet well clear of the tail when flying.
Foraging Chinese Egret
The Chinese Egret was seen foraging very actively along the water’s edge. Kind of like a Little Egret that’s had too much coffee!

All in all, an excellent start to our birdwatching at Kuala Rompin trip. 

eBird checklist Kuala Pontian Beach March 2024 (higher resolution photos here).

Birdwatching at Kuala Rompin – Location 2: Selendang Paddyfields

Most of the afternoon was spent at the beach; however, we decided to check the nearby paddyfields before sunset. These were the same paddyfields that harboured all those rarities in 2023. We didn’t expect anything special for this trip, though.

We only managed 40 minutes of birding before it got too dark. Unsurprisingly, there were no rarities; nevertheless, there were large flocks of Asian Openbills and Eastern Cattle Egrets. The usual herons and egrets, Waterhens, and Lesser Coucals were present. Finally, a decent flock of Oriental Pratincoles was spotted flying around at dusk.

This location definitely merits further exploration in the future.

eBird checklist Selendang Paddyfields March 2024

Birdwatching at Kuala Rompin – Location 3: Leban Chondong / Jalan Kampung Lanjut

The pigeon – lifer #2

The next day, we set off to a nearby peat swamp forest to get our pigeon and hornbill. The day started early and promisingly, as the first bird we spotted was the Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon! Several birds were perched on a dead tree along the road, providing good views. However, the strong backlighting meant the photos were sub-par. 

This sought-after species is tricky to see within Peninsular Malaysia, largely due to habitat loss. These pigeons prefer peat swamps and mixed-swamp forests as their home. Unfortunately, this habitat has been largely cleared within the peninsula, with Johor and southern Pahang as the last strongholds. Thankfully, the pigeons seem to be locally common in Kuala Rompin, as it was the most numerous green pigeon we saw.

Cinnamon-headed Green-Pigeon male
The orange head and neck of the male Cinnamon-headed green pigeon made it instantly recognizable.
Female Cinnamon-headed Green-Pigeon
The female is less distinct and is similar to other female green-pigeons.

Monsoon

Buoyed by that success, we went hunting for other species. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate; torrential rain came and went several times. It seemed our trip just caught the tail end of the monsoon season. Unsurprisingly, the Wrinkled Hornbills didn’t appear (too wet for them?). Nevertheless, we still spotted some good birds, including four species of green pigeon: Black Magpie, Banded Broadbill, Oriental Pied Hornbill, and Lesser Adjutant.

eBird checklist Leban Chondong March 2024

Back Home

Due to the weather, we had to end our birding session early and head back to KL before lunch. We did, however, stop for a short birding session at Talang, Negeri Sembilan. This produced a flock of Dusky Broadbills, which was a nice end to our birdwatching at Kuala Rompin trip.

Talang Dusky Broadbill
The Dusky Broadbills at Talang was a great find, as I haven’t seen this species since 2019. The flock was quite loud, which revealed their presence to us.

More information

For more detailed information on birdwatching at Kuala Rompin, check out the link below:

Head to the following link to find out more about birdwatching at Talang:

Conclusion

Despite the inclement weather and long drive, our birdwatching trip to Kuala Rompin was worthwhile. We encountered most of our target species and other good birds. Certainly, Kuala Rompin is an intriguing birding location, and I look forward to exploring it further in the future.


REFERENCES

Puan, C.L., Davison, G. & Lim, K.C. (2020). Birds of Malaysia. Covering Peninsular Malaysia, Malaysian Borneo and Singapore. Lynx and BirdLife International Field Guides. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

BirdLife International (2024) Species factsheet: Treron fulvicollis. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/cinnamon-headed-green-pigeon-treron-fulvicollis on 22/03/2024.

BirdLife International (2024) Species factsheet: Egretta eulophotes. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/chinese-egret-egretta-eulophotes on 22/03/2024.

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