Sunday, September 28, 2014

Payeh Maga: Lawas’ Garden of Eden

HORNBILLS, leopards and bears, oh my! Just the thought of coming face to face with even one in the wild, is rare enough and will set anyone’s heart racing, but all three?

It’s not impossible if you are trekking through Payeh Maga near the Lun Bawang village of Kampung Long Tuyo in Lawas District.

Up until a few years ago, Payeh Maga was virtually unknown to the outside world, unheard of even to many Sarawakians.

Today, it is fast gaining international attention as a birdwatching hotspot, thanks largely to a chatty, little black bird – the Bornean Black Oriole (Oriolus hosii).

The presence of the Black Oriole at Payeh Maga first came to light following a preliminary survey in October 2010 by naturalist and wildlife photographer Ch’ien Lee.

The survey revealed a number of endemic bird species, including the Black Oriole which some researchers call Sarawak’s most mysterious bird because so little is known about it.

Subsequent expeditions, surveys and field trips have added to the known number of bird species in Payeh Maga. At last count, based on a survey conducted in February this year by Lee and Yeo Siew Teck, there are so far 183 bird species confirmed to be present, of which 27 are endemic.

These 27 species represent over 50 per cent of the known number of Bornean endemic species so far which include the Bare-headed Laughingthrush (Melanocichla calva), Whitehead’s Spiderhunter (Arachnothera juliae), Bornean Frogmouth (Batrachostamus mixtus) and Mountain Serpent-eagle (Spilornis kinabaluensis).

However, there is potential for this number to be much higher given how little is known so far about the area.

Lee and Yeo estimate the avifauna diversity to probably exceed over 250 species in total.

Thus, it’s little wonder that Payeh Maga is generating so much excitement amongst researchers and birdwatching enthusiasts.

Rich biodiversity

Payeh Maga has much to offer nature enthusiasts as thesundaypost found out during a trip there.

Our base camp for the two-day, one night visit was Camp 1 – a simple wooden shelter built by Forest Department of Sarawak (FDS), also known as Black Oriole camp because of frequent sightings of the said bird near the site.

The three-hour walk to base camp from the main road was not difficult as it followed a disused logging trail. Along the way, our porter and guide Dawat Barok from nearby Kampung Long Tuyo pointed out fresh markings of wild boar, deer and musang in the dirt path still muddy from rainfall during the night.

He said he had also seen sun bears and clouded leopards but at higher elevations.

While villagers from Long Tuyo regularly hunt wild boar and deer here, it is also used as a Gunung Doa (prayer mountain) by the local Christian community.

A small site near a massive natural rock formation about 15 minutes off the main trail has been set aside for this purpose. Each village has its own building and is responsible for maintaining it although there is also a two-storey pastor’s house and a large open-air hall which can easily seat 200 people.

However, the path to the prayer mountain is now overgrown due to lack of use. Dawat said the various villages only visited on special occasions about once a year or once every few years.

According to him, the name Payeh is derived from the surrounding environment (Payeh = kerangas and Maga = name of the area)

Having lived here his whole life, he is as familiar with the area and its residents as they come – as evidenced by his copious knowledge about local traditions and practices as well as impressive outdoor skills.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Payeh Maga: Lawas’ Garden of Eden