A walk around Pulau Tengah with Ökologie Naturalist Simon Buckell

Simon Buckell, our resident Naturalist at Ökologie, takes you on a virtual guided tour around Tengah Island introducing some of the island’s wildlife as he goes and pointing out the best places to spot a turtle or five!

Back in June last year I was asked if I would like to join the (then BRISC, now Ökologie) team on Pulau Tengah at its early stages to carry out avian and marine wildlife surveys. This kind of opportunity does not come along often and so of course I jumped at the chance and arrived on the Island in September.

During my short but enjoyable time on the Island (7 weeks) we observed and recorded 105 different species of bird on and around the island. Some of the Interesting species included Brown Booby, Christmas Island and Lesser Frigatebirds, Bulwers Petrels, Sooty & Bridled Terns, Red Necked Phalaropes, Nicobar Pigeon, Grey Faced and Oriental Honey Buzzards, Japanese Sparrow-hawks, Black Bittern and a Hoopoe. Common sightings included the colourful Brown Throated Sunbirds, Pied Imperial and Pink Necked Green Pigeons, Black Naped Orioles, White Rumped Sharma’s, Brahminy kites and White Bellied Sea-Eagles that drift lazily in the pale blue skies above.

Several pelagic surveys provided early indications that marine life is rich in the surrounding waters with 3 species of Turtle seen which included Hawksbill, Olive Ridleys and the most numerous being Green Turtle. Dolphins are always a privilege to encounter and I had suspected that they could be in these waters but maybe difficult to locate so when a small pod of 7 Indo Pacific Bottle Nosed Dolphins with a young calf appeared during a routine pelagic trip this proved the importance to both the surrounding waters and our surveys.  Otters have been seen just offshore from the main resort beach as well Turtles, Dugong and a Frasers Dolphin that graced the presence of the lucky few present one afternoon. The list of wildlife is getting longer as the surveys continue but for the purpose of this blog post I thought I would take you for a “virtual” guided tour of the island.

Sunrise at dawn over the island

Small section of the trail

Starting off from the back of the resort area you walk up the small hill and then descend along and in to the forest trail. At first all appears to be quiet but by standing still, being quiet and listening, it is not long before you hear the calls of birds such us that of a White Rumped Sharma, Magpie Robins or even a Mangrove Whistler with a bit of luck. Then as the walk continues you will reach the first viewing area of the eastern side of the island. Here you can take in the scenic beauty that surrounds Batu Batu with the islands of Pulau Tioman, Pemanggil and Aur all clearly visible in the distance. As you continue your walk the forest becomes slighter darker with the dappled rays of sunlight shining through the open areas of the canopy above. Stopping en route and again by listening and looking, species of colourful birds such as Warblers, Sunbirds, Orioles and more can be seen. Not before long you reach the main observation point where again another scenic view awaits you at an elevation of 54 meters above sea level. This time you are at the north face of the island over looking the island of Pulau Rawa and the smaller surrounding islets. Here you can sit down and enjoy the view with some chilled fresh fruit and a refreshing drink and wait to see what aerial species of bird pass over head. Here the list can be impressive with species of migrating Raptor, (diurnal birds of prey) such as Hawks, Eagles and Buzzards with Swifts and Swiftlets, Beeaters, and colourful Black Naped Orioles all having been recorded throughout the survey period.

One of the many colourful Brown throated Sunbirds that are found on the island

As the trail continues you begin your descent where you arrive over-looking the fresh water marsh area to the south of the trail and then you will arrive at the far end of North Beach. Depending on the state of the tide you will now begin to encounter different species of resident bird such as the colouful Collared Kingfishers, Pacific Reef Egrets, Blue Heron, Common Sandpipers and other species of wading birds

North beach at low tide

A Dark Morph Pacific Reef Egret feeds at the exposed reef during low tide at North Beach

A quick look at the marsh area will reveal more resident species such as Dollar-Birds, Pied Imperial and Pink Necked Green Pigeons along with more Orioles present and maybe something more interesting like a Black or Yellow Bittern (again both species were recorded during the assessment surveys). Here there are also always many colourful dragonflies and butterflies resting up on the stems of grass on the water’s edge.

As you continue walking you are soon at the join of North & Long beach Beach where the waters are perfect for a paddle or swim.

Long Beach - perfect for a swim

The area just offshore is of open sea grass and so is an important area for turtles to feed. Grab your mask and fins and take a snorkel if you wish. Here the small, playful and colourful Clownfish may approach close to “investigate” you if you swim in their direction. Or just take it easy sitting under the shade of one the trees and take in the beautiful view but always remember to keep an eye out for those turtles! Depending on the time of year numbers will fluctuate depending the their nesting cycle and you may see one, two, three or more as they come up to the surface for an in-take of air before dropping beneath the surface to feed. We had five Green Turtles all visible at the surface one afternoon as we sat there taking in the view.

As you complete the final stage of your round-island walk you will reach the Ökologie centre and island Beach Bar where our team of researchers and divers will be on hand to answer any questions you have. There is also a small reference book library available for your use.

As you head back to the resort area take in a cold drink of your choice at the restaurant bar, sit in the shade over looking the bay just beyond the reef. It is here where you can see a varied selection of bird and marine life. This area is also good for turtle sightings and otters have been seen feeding and playing in the area as well a Frasers Dolphin and Dugong.

White Bellied Sea-Eagle

The sun setting as seen from the restaurant bar

Hope to see you on Pulau Tengah some time soon.

Simon

Simon left our island and Malaysia in November 2011 and followed the birds migrating south. Since then, he has been in New Zealand and most recently in North Western Australia on a Wader ringing expedition. He will be returning to Batu Batu and Pulau Tengah in two weeks time as our resident Naturalist. The guided nature walk will be one of the Ökologie activities available at Batu Batu. Read more about Simon’s travels on his blog

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A hotchpotch of goings-on at Batu Batu

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted about where we’re at on Pulau Tengah. And then it all piles-up and there’s just too much to write about. So here’s a little list / synposis to get us up to date:

Since I last posted things have been moving and we’re hopeful that Batu Batu will be open (if not to everyone – at least to our guinea pig friends) in April 2012. Right now, we have a full work force on the island – Hashim, Sham and Rastam are moving to finish all the structures in the main resort – mainly finishing touches like the walls around each villa’s outdoor shower, steps up to the verandah, indoor finishings to ready the villas for the arrival of Su San and her concrete polishing team.

A big barge arrived about a week ago and brought with it tonnes and tonnes of material plus a big digger. The pool has been dug and is currently being worked on. Some coconut trees had to go – but some were transplanted and others will be used as bumpers for our jetty’s legs. Tee, Leong and his men are busy working on the interiors for our two mock-up villas. I’ll wait to show some pics when they are ready (hopefully within a couple of weeks).

Ian the BRISC architect from Arkitrek has visited us twice to place the BRISC buildings. Work on the Long Beach should start soon. Frank Wilson a sewage and waste water expert also visited us and is now designing a state of the art water system for Batu Batu – so that you can safely drink water out of all resort taps without needing to boil it, the grey water will be recycled to flush the loos and we’ll have plenty of good (and non-smelly!) compost for our vegetable and herb garden.

I visited Hugues and Roberto in Yogyakarta a few months back and they have been busy working on a furniture proposition for Batu Batu – lovely FSC-certified recycled teak furniture. Here’s a picture of their workshop with the old wood piled in the centre. I’ve also stuck in a rendering done by their designer Bayu – who creates amazing 3D images of Batu Batu from scratch so you can get an idea of what things will look like with the furniture in place.

Last week we had Hung from Ho Chi Minh City visit us on PT – a curtain-maker who has provided curtains and blinds for various Six Senses resorts in Vietnam. And we also announced that Evert Onderbeke will be joining Batu Batu as Executive Chef in the new year. We are very excited about this as Evert has excellent credentials – Executive Chef at High Tide KL – winner of Time Out KL’s Best Seafood Restaurant, himself shortlisted for Outstanding Chef of the Year 2010 and mentored by 2-Michelin star chef Roger Souvereyns. We are really looking forward to working together with Evert to create a great dining experience for our guests – conducive to the location and in the spirit of the resort’s aim to source locally and sustainably. Evert will join us in the new year which gives him some good time pre-opening to make friends with the local fishermen, source the best ingredients and create the right menu. We’re really looking forward to some great food!

Talking about making friends with fishermen, we have Simon Buckell – a volunteer from the UK with excellent birding experience – working with us at the moment, conducting some initial studies and creating observational logs on PT and the surrounding area’s wildlife. Together with Hakim, a Wild Asia intern, Simon has been having a taste of life on PT over the past weeks as well as experiencing life onboard local fishing boats with some local fishermen. We’ll get some of his stories posted on the blog in the near future – but here are some of his pictures so far.

On an entirely different subject, we’ve ordered some lovely bikinis for the BB Boutique from Mileti – a new Singapore-based swimwear company. It can be very difficult to find good swimwear out in these parts and we’re pleased to have found and to be supporting a local business. Here’s a sneak preview of the swimwear you might find at the BB boutique.

And last but not least, a couple of people pointed me towards Dominic Sio (thanks Niki and Mike!), a Penang-ite returned from years in Europe – described as a branding genius, a veteran of the fashion / creative / design / branding industry – Dom is helping us create Batu Batu The Brand. Here are a few inspirational ideas he has been feeding us with.

Until next time…

Dave Bakewell’s Birds and Rock Pools

I wanted to point you towards a blog post by Dave Bakewell about a long weekend spent at an evolving Batu Batu with ourselves and some other friends from Wild Asia last month. Dave is a Wild Asia Associate and “birder” / bird specialist / enthusiast / expert based in Malaysia and has taken some great photos of birds in-and-around Pulau Tengah. He’s also taken some very good pictures of the island’s tidal reef or rock pools (all taken from above water). Do take a look – Dave’s post has the actual names and descriptions of the birds so I’ll leave you to investigate further there.

I’ll post more in the not-too-distant future about the weekend and the birth of BRISC (Batu Batu Reef & Island Study Centre) – a very exciting project! Until then – enjoy some of these lovely photos (stolen from Dave’s blog – thanks Dave!).

And one last pic of the BRISC founding team leaving the Pulau Tengah (as Reza points out – shame that Dato CJL was taking the picture and didn’t get into the pic or we’d have had 3 generations of BB/BRISC).

From left to right: Rastam (one of our head-builders), Mei, Dave, Chew, Mathieu, Cher, boatman, Winelyn, Dada, Shiya and Reza.