Birdwatching at Sungai Melayu, Johor

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Sungai Melayu birdwatching

Birding is gaining popularity within the state of Johor, and birdwatching at Sungai Melayu is a lesser-known example. Unlike well-known places such as Panti and Endau-Rompin, Sungai Melayu is conveniently located within the Johor Bahru metropolitan area.

Despite this proximity, Sungai Melayu is relatively pristine and laid-back, and small-scale fishing and aquaculture co-exist with nature. Thus, birdwatching at Sungai Melayu offers birders and photographers an escape from the bustle of city life. Notably, this spot provides a decent chance to see several elusive species, including the Mangrove Pitta and Great-billed Heron.

Birdwatching at Sungai Melayu, Johor

Sungai Melayu (Melayu River) is one of several rivers that drain into the Johor Strait, the narrow strip of sea separating Malaysia from Singapore. The birdwatching location is the river’s estuary, primarily comprised of riverine mangrove forests. Large parts of this forest remain intact, providing a haven for birds and other wildlife. 

The Birdwatching Asia team visited this location in April 2024, chiefly to see the Great-billed Heron. The information presented in this article is mainly derived from this trip.

How to go Birdwatching at Sungai Melayu?

There are two options to go birdwatching at Sungai Melayu, and they are:

  1. Mangrove river boat tour from Kampung Sungai Melayu, on the southern bank of the river.
  2. A small fishing jetty on the eastern bank.
Map of the birding spots
The two birding options are located on opposite banks of Sungai Melayu. However, it takes 20 minutes to drive from one spot to the other.

Option 1: Mangrove river boat tour 

This tour departs from Kampung Sungai Melayu, a small fishing village on the river’s southern bank. The boat tour is run by a co-operative formed by the village residents. Therefore, by going on this tour, you’ll support the local’s livelihoods and promote ecotourism activities here.

Getting here:
  • Search for ‘Ecotourism Kampung Sungai Melayu” on Google Maps or navigation apps.
  • Roughly 25 km from Johor Bahru city centre due to a circuitous access route. 
  • Public transport is limited to taxi or e-hailing services. Be sure to discuss the return trip with the driver beforehand.
  • Upon arriving, you’ll see a blue-coloured building with a Kampung Sungai Melayu boat tour banner. Enquire about the boat tour within this building.
Kampung Sungai Melayu map
Map to Kampung Sungai Melayu.
Boat tour reception building
The blue building serves as the reception building for the boat tour.
Fees and opening times:
  • Open from 8.30 am until 5 pm.
  • The price is RM 35 per person, with a minimum of two passengers for 1 hour. If only one person is going, you must pay RM 70.
  • Note that the boatmen will take Friday 12-2 pm off for Friday prayers.
  • No bookings are required. The tour might be more popular on weekends, though. We visited on Friday morning, and no one else was there. Note that Johor weekend is Friday and Saturday.
How is the birdwatching experience here?
  • You can customise the boat tour to primarily look for birds. Indeed, during our trip there, we requested the boatman to target the Great-billed Heron specifically. Subsequently, we photographed the birds to our heart’s content!
  • The tour will cruise along the river and scenic mangrove forests. The boat is uncovered, and life jackets are provided.
  • Additional information given by the boatmen is especially precious. For example, our boatman (Mr Saad) described the calls of the Great-billed Heron as sounding like tiger roars. A quick search on Xeno-Canto confirms this!
  • Moreover, the boatman will also point out other interesting things, such as snakes and monkeys.
  • We at Birdwatching Asia think this tour is excellent value for money. It’s a fun and rewarding way to go birdwatching at Sungai Melayu.
boat tour
The boats are uncovered but otherwise comfortable enough for four passengers.
Sungai Melayu Great-billed Heron
Thanks to the skill of our boatman, we were able to get very close to two Great-billed Herons. Photos from this angle are only possible from the boat.
Public facilities on-site:
  • Free car parking
  • Restaurant Sri Pantai Asam Pedas Kampung Sungai Melayu. It is quite popular and well-reviewed, with excellent views of JB and Singapore.
  • Small shop selling snacks and drinks
More information:
  • +6011-67796693 – contact information for additional enquiries.
  • Check out Yusufmadi Photography for excellent photos from the tour and surrounding areas.
Poster for the boat tour
Sungai Melayu boat tour poster and contact information

Option 2: Small fishing jetty

This site is a short, paved road that leads to a small jetty on the eastern side of Sungai Melayu.

Getting here:
  • Search for ‘Port Memancing Kampung Sungai Danga’ on Google Maps/navigation apps.
  • Despite the name, the jetty is located at Sungai Melayu, not Sungai Danga (an adjacent river).
  • Roughly 12 km from JB city centre.
  • Public transport is limited to taxi or e-hailing services. Be sure to discuss the return trip with the driver beforehand.
  • There’s space to park at the end of the road.
  • There are no public facilities on-site. However, the jetty is located near several residential areas where food and other facilities are available.
fishing jetty directions
Map to the fishing jetty
Path to small fishing jetty.
The start of the road leads to the fishing jetty. You can park at a clearing further down this road, near the jetty. We spotted the Mangrove Pitta barely 50 metres away from here.
How is the birdwatching experience here?
  • The road leading to the jetty is less than 500m long and quite birdable. Along this path, look for the Mangrove Pitta, sunbirds, kingfishers, etc.
  • The jetty is good for the Great-billed Heron, Lesser Adjutant and raptors. Be alert for raptors swooping down to catch fish.
Sungai Melayu Mangrove Pitta
Look for the Mangrove Pitta along the path to the jetty.

What birds to look for when birdwatching at Sungai Melayu?

The lists below are non-exhaustive.

Target species:
  1. Great-billed Heron
    • A very uncommon resident heron in Malaysia. 
    • Most sightings in the country have been around the southern Johor coast and eastern Sabah. 
    • Sungai Melayu is quite reliable for this impressive heron. 
    • Look for them during low tide, when they’ll be foraging along the way to the village.
  2. Mangrove Pitta  
    • Widespread along the mangrove forests of Peninsula Malaysia, but generally uncommon, elusive and challenging to see. 
    • There is at least one bird along the road leading to the fishing jetty. Listen for its call.
  3. Ruddy Kingfisher 
    • I’ve yet to see this astoundingly beautiful kingfisher, which is sporadically seen here; thus, seeing one requires a bit of luck!
Other notable species:
  1. Lesser Adjutant
  2. White-bellied Sea-Eagle
  3. Brahminy Kite
  4. Osprey – migratory raptor that specialises in eating fish.
  5. Various herons and egrets
  6. Blue-eared, Collared and Stork-billed Kingfishers
  7. Common Flameback
  8. Rufous Woodpecker
  9. Black-and-Red Broadbill
  10. Ashy Tailorbird
  11. Abbott’s and White-chested Babblers
  12. Copper-throated Sunbird –  A large sunbird that inhabits mangrove and coastal forests.
  13. Crimson Sunbird 

Check out the eBird checklists from our trip here. It’ll give you a better idea of what to expect. Kindly ignore the strikethroughs on the links below. The links are working and clickable.

Anything else other than birds?

Yes! Look out for various mangrove wildlife, especially during the boat cruise:

  1. Several mudskipper species
  2. Banded and Largescaled Archerfish congregate near the jetties.
  3. Snakes, such as the Reticulated Python, Mangrove Snake and Mangrove Pit-Viper.
  4. Saltwater Crocodile (according to our boatman, there’s one in the area)
  5. Smooth-coated Otters
  6. Long-tailed Macaques and Dusky Langurs.

The river cruise is also great for photography, with the mangrove forest canopy especially beautiful.

Timing for birdwatching at Sungai Melayu

  • Resident birds are present year-round. Migratory species are typically present from late August until early May.
  • Low tide is better as the birds will be more active during this time. Check tide-forecast.com and refer to Sembawang, Singapore tide charts.
  • Mornings are preferable, as afternoons may bring rain showers. Avoid midday, as it gets really hot and humid.

More photos

Mangrove forest surrounding Sungai Melayu
Relatively pristine mangrove forests flank Sungai Melayu. These forests provide a haven for birds and wildlife and a source of food and income for local villagers.
Mangrove tree canopy
The arching canopy formed by the mangrove trees is a highlight!
Boat tour jetty
The jetty at Kampung Sungai Melayu. This is where the boat tour departs. The local villagers also utilise it.
Sungai Melayu Dollarbird.
The Dollarbird is a common but attractive bird. This one was seen carrying food back to its nest.
Sungai Melayu Osprey
This Osprey was spotted searching for fish at the small fishing jetty.

Conclusion

Birdwatching at Sungai Melayu is suitable for various mangrove birds, including the elusive Mangrove Pitta and Great-billed Heron. The location is conveniently located within the Johor Bahru metropolitan area, thus making it relatively easy to visit.

The site is also relatively pristine, providing a welcome break from the urban jungle. Finally, by perusing the boat tour to go birdwatching, visitors will simultaneously support the resident’s livelihood and promote local ecotourism.

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