A couple of months ago, some friends went to Bukit Kasut in Niah National Park. According to them, they caught a glimpse of the Borneon Gibbons on the Bukit Kasut Trail. Since then, a plan was hatched to revisit Bukit Kasut, hoping for a chance to see this hard to see primate whose number is presently threatened by severe habitat loss due to deforestation, mainly to make way for agriculture, mostly for oil palms in these parts.
So on 6th June 2010, several MNS Miri Branch trekkers drove to Niah National Park from Miri to rendezvous with the birders who arrived much earlier. The original intention was to pry away one birder, who is also an avid trekker for a quick hike to Bukit Kasut. Our plan was however foiled by an unexpected early morning downpour. Upon arrival at the Park HQ, we were advised by the Park not to attempt the hike up Bukit Kasut, eventhough the rain had stopped as a safety precaution. We went trekking to the limestone caves instead.
Immediately after crossing the Niah River we were greeted by a pair of butterflies that only displayed the brilliant blue colour on their wings when they fly, and the beautiful black and green Rajah Brooke Birdwing butterfly. The forest was blooming at this time of the year, all along the 3km path to the caves abundant butterflies were seen cluttering and fluttering from flower to flower, fractically feeding themselves on nectar.
Bright colorful butterflies, plentiful in Niah along the pathway to the caves.
The heavy rainfall earlier released a distinctively earthy smell to the surroundings, and the clarity of the air was amazing, it felt like walking through the forests in springtime! Up ahead and above we saw a couple of squirrels running on tree branches, foraging for their breakfast. The jungle was also alive with the melodic sounds of birds, it seemed to be coming from everywhere though spotting them in the dark green foliage is no easy matter.
Obviously the jungle provides a good hiding place if ones don’t want to be seen! However, a couple of times, one of two braver birds did venture down to the mid-canopy level and afforded us with good views of them. Faye took her first bird picture with her new compact camera!
On the ground by the side of the concrete path and plankwalk, lizards were seen scrambling in and out of the forest litter while on the railings of the plankwalk we saw many colourful and cool looking snails and hairy caterpillars, obviously also out for a walk after the rain. Where-ever they were going, they were definitely taking the scenic route!
A little snail making its way along the plankwalk , wonder how long it'll take this little guy to traverse the 3000m path to the caves.
Some parts of the path were covered with fallen blossoms. We stopped at a place where it was raining little yellow flowers, soaking in the sweet scent mixed in with the cool breeze. Amongst the flowers and fallen leaves we found an interesting looking bug which we later identified as an assassin bug. Assassin bug (of Reduvidae family) has a curved mouthpiece with which it uses to stab and suck its victim’s juice. Sometimes the prey is much larger than the predator!
The bright red assassin bug, unlike the stealth of a real life assassin who strives to be inconspicous, this one sports ubber bright colors. Self preservation (from being eaten by bigger predators) rules over stealth.
Further on we found a tubular entrance of a stingless bee’s home at the base of a tree next to the path. We spent an enormous amount of time observing and photographing these busy bees doing their daily chores. Stingless bees build their nest deep inside hallow trees. The entrance is formed by a defensive tube which is coated with sticky resin to trap intruders.
Stingless bees as the name suggested don’t have stings, but they can bite, so it is best not to get them angry.
We finally reached the entrance of Great Cave 3 hours later after spending some time at the Traders Cave. Peter and Faye went inside Great Cave to explore the cavern while I opted to stay behind. While waiting for Peter and Faye to return, I scanned the limestone hills opposite the cave for signs of wildlife but it was a very quiet afternoon.
By now, the hot and humid weather had returned. The brisk walk back to Park HQ had us sweating and breathing hard. We ended the day by making a short detour into Batu Niah which afforded us with great views of the limestone hills that made up Niah National Park. Nestled somewhere in the hills is Bukit Kasut.
The sea of tranquility and seemingly bloundless greenery amongst the big trees at Niah Caves National Park.
Even though we did not achieve what we originally set out to do, we did have a wonderful day walking the forest and exploring the limestone caves. We will definitely come back for a hike up Bukit Kasut when the weather is drier.
Sara Wong/MNS Miri/22nd Jul 2010
All images by Sara Wong