A typical day in the forest . . .

Butterflies gather on the bank of the Muda River.

Butterflies gather on the bank of the Muda River.

After nearly two months of drought, the sky has opened up. The rain started after our morning hike yesterday and has continued to come down. The semi-deciduous forest is covered with fallen leaves, reminiscent of the New England fall. Today, their dry crackle has disappeared, the wetness hushing our footfalls.

On our hike this morning, the forest has been transformed. The many shades of green have grown richer and the air is heavy with moisture. We walk along an old logging road, overgrown since the forest has been better protected. In some places, the buttress roots have created small road blocks in the trail, forcing us to crawl and climb.

Our destination for the morning is a tree. I like big trees so I agree to the excursion, confident that the walk will yield many things of interest. After about an hour, we arrive on a ridge and our guide points down to a clearing. Below us (and above us) is a towering tree, made unique by the manmade structure attached to its side. The tree, called the tualang tree, is used by local men to collect honey. And, sure enough, we can spot three giant beehives hanging on the underside of branches. Although the honey will not be collected for a month or two, the men have already visited to put their climbing system in place – a ladder snakes up the trunk and small rungs are built out into the crown. I estimate that the tree is 180 feet tall, and the rungs reach almost to the top, allowing men to access hives at the outer edges. Our guide explains that 20 men will come to the tree at harvest time. The bravest men will climb up at night when the bees are hovering outside of the hive. Using embers from a fire, they will distract the bees and harvest the honey. Each small bottle will sell for around 60RM ($20.00). The bees pick these trees because they are difficult for the sun bear to climb – apparently they had not counted on men.

Tualang Tree, Ulu Muda

Tualang Tree, Ulu Muda

We hike back to the boat on the same trail, stopping along the way to observe gliding lizards and to watch a red-bearded bee-eater swoop from tree to tree. We arrive back at the lodge just as the rain stars to fall, so we decide to stay close to home for the afternoon. We sit on our porch and venture out each time the rain stops. On one such excursion, we find a giant millipede, around 18 inches long. It grazes on the bark of a mossy tree, the segments of its body rippling with each small movement.

Ant sitting next to a giant millipede, Ulu Muda, Malaysia.

Ant sitting next to a giant millipede, Ulu Muda, Malaysia.

Near dusk, Rick notices a cloud of winged termites emerging just across the clearing. They fly into the air, drifting upward in a line. It does not take long for the birds to notice them as well. In minutes, a volley of birds shoots across the sky, tumbling and diving in an effort to catch the flying insects. At one point, two racket-tailed drongos join the melee, their elegant forms silhouetted against the white sky. Their long tail feathers stream behind them, following like small kites. Of the cloud of termites, only a few make it through the gauntlet.

After the emergence stops, I continue to walk around the grounds of the station. A crested forest lizard bobs its head in a display of dominance as I approach its tree. Mist settles into the clearing. At the last, I can just make out a lone macaque he steadily climbs the branches of the tallest tree, resting in the crown. From below, I envy him the view, looking down on the river, swollen with the day’s rain.

Crested forest lizard, Ulu Muda

Crested forest lizard, Ulu Muda

Ulu Muda Forest Reserve, Kedah, Malaysia.

Tropical fern in the Genus Selaginella. Notice the slight iridescence.




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