Migratory birds make Malacca’s mangrove forest their home

Allison La I, The Star 14 Nov 09;

MALACCA: This state may be renowned as an international tourist destination possessing modern trappings coupled with old world charm, yet little is known of its hidden jewel along the city’s coastline that is a haven for thousands of migratory birds.

One such area is the mangrove forest along the Bandar Hilir coastline fronting the Pulau Melaka reclaimed island, where thousands of birds flock to roost just as the sun begins to set.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Bird Conservation Committee (Waterbird Groups) co-ordinator Ang Teck Hin said he was impressed after seeing the abundance of birds, especially the graceful white egrets.

Despite the city’s coastline having undergone changes due to reclamation since the 1980s, he said there remained small pockets of mangrove forest that continue to support a rich eco-system.

“It is heartening to see how resilient Mother Nature can be if you consider that the coastline is reclaimed and not natural.

“Yet the mangrove managed to take root and flourish in just a decade, to become home to myriad species of waterbirds,” he said when met at Pulau Melaka recently.

Ang, who was promoting the Pulau Melaka Bridge as a bird-watching area, said there were some 3,000 white cattle egrets (bangau kerbau) and about 200 black-crowned night heron (pucung kuak) sighted.

He noted that a large number of the birds had originally roosted at a patch of gazetted mangrove in Ujong Pasir next to the Portuguese Settlement but had moved here recently.

“We were informed that there used to be almost 2,000 egrets and several hundred of herons there. However, recent development and noise disturbances have forced them to relocate here,” he said.

He noted that these two particular waterbirds were protected species, with a good number of the white cattle egrets having made Malacca their permanent home despite being migratory in nature.

He said the mangrove, covering less than 3ha, is used by some 20 species of migratory birds which roost here to escape the harsh winter months in Siberia, Mongolia, northern China and Central Asia.

“They migrate and spend their winters in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia during the months of August to April.

“Then they fly northwards again to their breeding grounds starting from March,” explained Ang, adding that Malacca was one of their stopovers on this passage as well as being the final destination in the cold season, wintering here for six months.

Meanwhile, MNS Negri Sembilan & Malacca branch chairman Lim Ming Hui was excited at the sighting of two new migratory bird species, the Eurasian Curlew (kendi besar) and Pacific Golden Plover (rapang kerinyut), at the mangrove forest here.

“Not many people would take up bird-watching as a hobby but at least we have opened their eyes to the rich bird life found along the Malacca city coastline.

“Hopefully, there will be greater awareness for the need to protect this unique habitat,” she said.

Besides roosting at the mangrove, she said the waterbirds would usually feed along the mudflats during low tide.

More than 300 tourists and members of the public were at the site recently to watch the graceful birds as they returned to the mangrove.

Banda Hilir assemblyman Tey Kok Kiew said he would push the state to gazette the area as a bird-watching site.

He added that besides helping to preserve nature, the bird-watching activity could also attract tourists.