Festival of wings not overshadowed by smoke haze
Smoke from forest clearance in Indonesia cast an ominous haze over two otherwise successful events hosted by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) to celebrate the World Bird Festival.
The Perak branch of MNS organised the Fourth Taiping Raptor Watch at Scott's Hill, a migration watchpoint for birds of prey on their way south from their breeding grounds to winter in Indonesia and beyond. About 50 birders took part, recording 2,579 Chinese Sparrowhawk, 78 Crested Honey Buzzard, two Japanese Sparrowhawk and a Grey-faced Buzzard.
According to one participant, Kim Chye, “the haze had the organisers worried if any raptor would show up. Fortunately, despite very hazy conditions, the raptors came by in good numbers”.
“The laws on this issue are clear -no clearance by burning- but it is enforcement which is difficult and is best achieved by local governments.” —Richard Grimmett, Head of BirdLife International's Asia Division
Malaysia's annual Festival of Wings was launched in the Kuala Selangor Nature Park (KSNP). In the speech which opened the event, Mohd Daud Terihap, Member of Parliament for Kuala Selangor, said that Kuala Selangor had been identified as a high priority area for tourism. “With Visit Malaysia Year coming in 2007, we are happy to say that KSNP will be further promoted as a major tourist attraction, and our office is willing to contribute funds to this end”.
Two Festival of Wings events were held at Kuala Selangor. More than 235 school children and many other members of the public took part in The Amazing Nature Race. One student said, “it was very tiring as we had to run all over the park looking for the answers and clues. But we had a lot of fun, and we'll definitely come back next year”.
The Festival's 24-Hour Bird Survey covered four main areas in the Kuala Selangor district, including the Raja Musa Peat Swamp forest, Sekinchan rice fields, Jeram coastline and KSNP itself. Despite the haze, 7,845 birds of 140 species were recorded. The highlight for most was hearing the calls of two Dusky Eagle-owls, a Totally Protected Species in Peninsular Malaysia which was once thought to be extinct on this country.
Richard Grimmett, head of BirdLife International's Asia Division, said the smoke which threatened to disrupt the Festival events was probably caused by combination of fires used for clearing logged ground and regenerating scrub, and burning rice stubble after harvest. Burung Indonesia, BirdLife's Indonesian Affiliate, is investigating to what extent surviving blocks of forest are affected. “This is the most critical issue from a biodiversity point of view.”
Grimmett believes that both small farmers and large oil palm plantation interests are involved in the burning. “The laws on this issue are clear -no clearance by burning- but it is enforcement which is difficult and is best achieved by local governments.”